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Summer is here and with it comes prime opportunities for expansive reading lists. And what better way to beat the heat than to explore some books with those same summery settings? So without further ado, here are my top five picks for summer children’s books. 

Because of Winn-Dixie, Kate DiCamillo

You can’t have a book list for summer without Kate DiCamillo. She is the authority on warm summery settings in her children’s fiction. It’s just delightful, and Because of Winn-Dixie is one of her best expressions of that skill.  

The story focuses on Opal who has just moved to a small town in Florida with her preacher father. On an errand to the grocery store for her dad, Opal finds a stray dog that she instinctively names after the grocery and takes home. As the summer progresses, Winn-Dixie becomes a gateway for Opal to turn the strange town and it’s residents into a home full of friends. 

Because of Winn-Dixie is a masterfully written book that showcases just how incredible DiCamillo is at her craft. Opal is an incredibly relatable character to any reader. Throughout the book, Opal wrestles with abandonment from her absent mother and wonders about her own feelings of belonging in her new surroundings. Her struggles to make friends and reach her father are softened by the sweet way her newfound canine friend plows them both into new friendships and adventures. It’s a charming read with the perfect summer feel. 

Summerlost, Ally Condie

This book was such an unexpectedly delightful find. I picked it up by chance and found myself dropping so easily into the story. 

The book follows Cedar, a young girl gearing up for the first full summer following the unexpected and tragic deaths of her father and brother, Ben. After a chance encounter with a boy named Leo, Cedar gets a job at a local Shakespearian festival. As the summer progresses, she and Leo become entangled in mysteries surrounding the theater and themselves, leaving them hunting for answers as their friendship grows. 

This book evokes all those summery feelings of beating the heat and finding new adventures while still holding a great deal of substance and emotion. Between the tragedy her family faces and the lasting trauma from it, Cedar has a lot that she’s processing in a single summer. Yet the weight of the subject is balanced incredibly well by her sweet and mischievous friendship with Leo. The reader is given the full force of grief and trauma, but is never weighed down to the point they can’t enjoy all the simple, sweet moments in between. 

The Land of the Forgotten Girls, Erin Entrada Kelly

This book was heartbreaking and beautiful in equal measure. Like Summerlost, I picked this book up on a whim without much expectation and was genuinely surprised by the depth I found there. 

The story follows Soledad as she tries to care for her younger sister, Ming, in their increasingly difficult world. And it’s not easy. Their sister and mother are dead, their father has married a spiteful, mean woman, they’ve moved from their home in the Phillippines to the US, and their father has gone on a trip and decided to never come back. Sol feels constantly hampered by the weight of her world, and now that they are out of school for the summer, she is constantly berated by her vicious stepmother. To escape and protect Ming, Sol begins creating elaborate, enchanting stories. But when Ming starts believing that their mythical Auntie Jove is coming to take them away, Sol must face the repercussions of reality fast approaching her young sister. 

The Land of the Forgotten Girls is not the most cheerful summer read out there, but it is a great one to address themes of loss, guilt, hope, forgiveness, and perseverance. Throughout the story, Sol wrestles with each of these themes in turn and the outcome of her struggle speaks to any young reader while still retaining a message of hope. Sol and Ming may not find the great wonderful things they’re dreaming of, but they find that having each other is enough. Through ups and downs, The Land of the Forgotten Girls showcases the strength of sisterhood in the face of adversary. 

Raymie Nightingale, Kate DiCamillo

DiCamillo strikes gold again with Raymie Nightingale. This sweet book is a fantastic romp through the world of a preteen and is full of charm and just a hint of the ridiculous. 

Raymie Clarke is a young girl who’s father just ran off with the Dental hygienist in their Florida small town. Determined to bring him back, she enters the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition in the hopes that he will see her picture in the paper and come back home. She’s smart and capable so there shouldn’t be anything to it, but there are two problems: Beverly Tapinski and Louisiana Elefante. It’s hard to imagine two greater opposites to collide with the determined and unsure Raymie Clarke. The more time Raymie spends with these unlikely friends, the more her sense of order and dependability is disrupted until she’s forced to wonder if she had any say in anything in the first place. Before long, Raymie is forced to ask herself if she had any control to begin with and if there are some things you just can’t fix.

This story has that same thread of longing that can almost always be found in DiCamillo’s books. Raymie struggles to understand why her father would want to leave and the weight of that question and the lack of control it leaves her with is incredibly relatable to so many readers. As Raymie’s summer days spin out of control, a reader can’t help but feel all the uncertainty along with her in the best way possible. You can’t help but fall in love with her quiet, determined spirit and laugh at the way it collides so terrifically with her wild new friends. Raymie’s story is full of her and quiet grit that anyone could benefit from reading. 

Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt

And of course, last but certainly not least, is the ultimate summer children’s book. Natalie Babbitt’s whimsical fantasy is the absolute epitome of the perfect summer read. If you don’t believe me, just read the first page and you will find yourself fully feeling the heat of an August day no matter where you are. 

The story follows young Winnie Foster who feels stifled by her family constantly keeping her cooped up. Wandering in the woods one day, she meets a mysterious teenage boy named Jesse Tuck. When Winnie becomes mixed up with the rest of his family, she finds herself embroiled in a wild adventure of immortality, mysterious enemies, and fierce family love. 

Whimsical is the best word for this book. Winnie’s adventures with the Tuck family are both charming and whimsical while having a deep sense of heart the entire time. The Tuck’s love for each other (and in turn Winnie) is a central and core part of the story all while they wrestle through the big questions of immortality and what gives life meaning. With the backdrop of late summer heat, Tuck Everlasting is the perfect book to round out any summer reading list.

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