When I was a kid, my favourite memories of summer vacation often involved finding a cool spot of shade under a tree and reading away the afternoon, or staying up late into the night to finish my current novel. I was (and still am) a voracious reader. With two up-and-coming readers of my own, I’m always on the lookout for new books that will engage and entertain my children the same way they did when I was a kid reading under the covers.
Take a look at some of our choices for children’s books this summer from our friends at Raincoast Books, and scroll all the way down to enter to win a selection of these for your own kids!
Click on the titles or cover pictures to see these books on Amazon.
Imagine That! Let Your Mind Run Wild by Yasmeen Ismail
I’m not sure who related to this picture book more: my 4-year-old daughter who shares Lila’s active imagination, or me every time I ask my girls to get ready to leave the house. Lila doesn’t mean to get distracted, but how can she not when putting on her shoes is like wrestling with a giant octopus? When she balances on a stool, she imagines she’s riding a zebra in the circus. When she rides her scooter, she’s actually driving a chariot drawn by flying horses.
Despite all the distractions along the way, Lila and her mother finally arrive at Grandpa’s. He puts Lila up on his shoulders, and she imagines she’s exploring the treetops of a busy jungle. Soon Grandpa joins in the pretend play, because as he says, “It’s so much better with a friend!” The final page shows Mom sitting on a bench and reading, presumably doing some imagining of her own.
Ismail’s vibrant, primary watercolours mirror Lila’s brash enthusiasm for life, and on the spreads that illustrate her imagined scenarios, even the text itself dispenses with conventional straight lines and seems to fly fancifully across the page. This one is perfect for lazy summer afternoons reading in the back yard. (Suggested ages 3-6.)
Born in 1922, Eugenie Clark grew up in a time when it was very unusual for women to earn advanced degrees, become researchers, or go deep sea diving. But Eugenie never let any of that stop her. She followed her passion for marine biology and demystifying shark behaviour both in the laboratory and in the open ocean, breaking stereotypes all the way. That’s how Eugenie became known as “The Shark Lady”.
I love introducing my girls to books with strong female role models. Eugenie’s persistence, curiosity, and enthusiasm for scientific inquiry are an inspiration. This isn’t actually mentioned in the book, but when we did some extra research online about Eugenie, we discovered that she was half Japanese. As children with mixed backgrounds themselves, my girls thought that was very interesting.
This large picture book boasts big, colourful illustrations of Eugenie’s life and the beautiful sea creatures she was devoted to. Even the endpapers are decorated with drawings of some of the sea life that inspired her, along with their scientific names. The last few pages include additional information about sharks, an illustrated timeline of Eugenie’s life, and a bibliography of suggested reading. (Suggested ages 4-8.)
Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books by Michelle Markel
Balderdash! is the story of John Newbery, an 18th century publisher. Newbery is widely considered to be “The Father of Children’s Literature”. He lends his name to the Newbery Medal, the first children’s book award in the world, awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children that year.
Prior to Newbery’s time, books for children were “preachy poems and fables, religious texts that made them fear that death was near, and manuals that told them where to stand, how to sit, not to laugh, and scores of other rules.” Newbery believed that children’s books ought to be fun, appealing, and engaging, so that’s what he published. The title Balderdash! refers to his response to the idea that reading these types of books would turn children wild.
Each page is illustrated with hand drawn scenes of 18th century England and a mix of typefaces made to look like they’re inked on an old-fashioned printing press. The last couple of pages offer more information about Newbery and suggested reading. (Suggested ages 4-8.)
Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner
A mother and son lazily drift along in a row boat, quietly watching and noticing all the living creatures that make up the pond’s ecosystem. Illustrated in a watercolour palette dominated by restful blues, the perspective changes from spread to spread, looking out across, over, and under the surface of the water, showing how they all interconnect. An illustrated index at the back of the book provides more information about the animals featured in the book, as well as further reading about pond life and ecosystems.
This beautifully illustrated picture book is almost meditative, and it’s one of our current favourites at bedtime. Each spread is full of details to pore over and discover anew with every reading. (Suggested ages 4-8.)
Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder
This little volume is perfectly sized for small hands. It features four short stories following brothers Charlie and Mouse through a day in their lives – waking up, organizing a neighbourhood party, opening a small business, and inventing the “bedtime banana”. Simple to read and charmingly illustrated, these are great little stories to read either one at a time or all together. (Suggested ages 4-8.)
Charlotte the Scientist is Squished by Camille Andros
I was really looking forward to checking out this book starring a little girl bunny (Tee’s big into bunnies right now) who uses the scientific method to solve problems. In this cute story, Charlotte finds it difficult to do her experiments in her very crowded house (because bunnies, remember?), but after flying in a carrot-shaped rocket to the moon (see the endpapers for a detailed schematic!), she learns that being alone isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Eventually, Charlotte figures out how to have the best of both worlds – space for herself and time with her family too.
The story itself is amusing, and the bunny characters are charmingly hand drawn. While the initial description of the scientific method is accurate, and I love the idea of explaining the scientific method in a story that small children can understand, the way in which it’s put this into practice lacks some rigour to me. Charlotte’s hypothesis is: “If I can get rid of my brothers and sisters, I will have room to be a real scientist.” She then proceeds to conduct experiments to try to make her siblings disappear, which seems like a bit of a stretch of the way we typically operationalize hypothesis-testing. Still, this book is a nice way to introduce the scientific method, and the clear summary will help children find other examples of this method of reasoning. (Suggested ages 6-8.)
Wallace and Grace and the Cupcake Caper by Heather Alexander
This early chapter book features Wallace and Grace, two best friends who make up the Night Owl Detective Agency. The dynamic duo gather clues and employ deductive reasoning to solve the mystery of who stole Monty the Chipmunk’s cupcake. In addition to the simple detective story, the book also teaches interesting facts about forest animals. Not to spoil the plot, but we’ve learned how chipmunks, groundhogs, and snakes hibernate, and that certain birds like to collect shiny things for their nests.
Kay and I enjoyed reading this together over the course of several bedtimes, and the simple words and sentence structure will be ideal once she starts reading independently. (Suggested ages 6-8.)
Emily and the Spellstone by Michael Rubens
I’ve mentioned before that Tee is a huge Harry Potter fan. With all her spare time this summer, I thought she’d like to try some new books about magic, and if her reluctance to put this book down for dinner or bedtime is any judge of things, I was right!
12-year-old Emily has just moved, and she’s feeling pretty alone. Her parents just don’t understand, and she’s also the target of a mean girl at her new school. All she wants for her birthday is a cellphone, but it isn’t to be. Instead she finds a magic “spellstone”, a stone in the shape of a smartphone complete with magical “apths”, which houses a demon named Gorgo inside. When Emily releases Gorgo from the stone, the pair of unlikely friends are thrust on an unexpected adventure. As the Stonemaster, Emily discovers she has special powers she must learn to embrace to save her little brother.
Emily and the Spellstone is aimed at middle school readers (grades 4-7), but Tee was an early reader and at 7 years old, she reads a fair bit above her grade level. The writing is appropriately challenging for her (not too easy, not too hard) and seems to engage her growing sense of humour and wordplay. Tee says she really likes Emily and Gorgo, and the story has definitely kept her engrossed. Seems like a win to me! (Suggested ages 8-12.)
Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones
Time Stoppers is the first book in a new urban fantasy series for middle schoolers (grades 4-7). Annie Nobody is a foster child living with the latest in a series of uncaring foster families. She makes friends with Jamie, a boy fleeing his troll family, and the pair of them discover a whole new world of magic in Aurora, a hidden community populated by magical creatures. Annie learns that she isn’t a nobody at all; she’s a Time Stopper, a human with the power to control time. Annie, Jamie and their new magical friends Bloom and Eva (an elf and a dwarf) embark on a quest to bring back a magical garden gnome statue and fight to protect their new home from a giant crow and the evil demon Raiff.
Be aware some story elements may be a bit dark for younger readers. Annie is a foster child and experiences neglect and abuse. Jamie’s family plans to eat him when he turns 13. But the two children display character and pluck, and the story reinforces positive messages around the importance of kindness, friendship, and working together. (Suggested ages 8-12.)
Win a Summer Reading Package
One lucky This West Coast Mommy reader will win a summer reading package from Raincoast Books! The winner can pick any three books from the the ones we just reviewed.
Enter to win in the giveaway widget below. This giveaway is open to residents of Canada, 18+. All the winner’s entries will be verified.
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Disclosure: I received sample items for review. All opinions expressed are completely honest and my own, based on my personal experience. Your experience may differ. This post contains affiliate links. This West Coast Mommy is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. I will receive a small commission if you purchase through my link, at no additional cost to you. This income helps pay for the operating costs of my website – thank you for your support!