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Arts & Life

Talk of Iowa’s 2022 summer reading recommendations for kids and young adults

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After a challenging school year, summer is here, and so is summer reading.

Iowa children’s book experts joined Charity Nebbe on Talk of Iowa to share recommendations for kids of all ages to stay engaged with reading this summer.

Guests

Board books

The Button Book by Sally Nicholls
"It's not often you find a book that is guaranteed to crack kids up, but The Button Book has achieved it. Every page has a button that you can encourage your little reader to press to make a silly sound. Previously published for preschoolers as a picturebook, this new edition brings it to the toddler crew."
Recommended by Becky Preston
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Hands On! by Anne Wynter
"Wynter brings us an interactive toddler adventure where readers can practice all the fantastic things hands and feet do from the perspective of a toddler. This is the perfect age to read a few pages and imitate the actions!"
Recommended by Becky Preston
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I'm Thinking of a Farm Animal by Charlotte Guillain
"Kids love interactive books, especially at the toddler age. Readers are given many hints about what animal is hiding. The pull tabs make this classic theme come to life and toddlers will love making animal sounds as they reveal the answer to the guessing game on each page."
Recommended by Becky Preston
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Picture books

Anzu: The Great Kaiju by Benson Shum
"A kaiju is supposed to be scary and destructive, but what if they love flowers and happiness?"
Recommended by Devin Redmond
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Big Truck Little Island by Chris Van Dusen
"A big truck gets stuck on a small island’s tiny road, blocking traffic and bringing the entire island to a standstill. But in an act of ingenuity, teamwork, and trust, townspeople on either side of the roadblock trade cars so each can complete their day’s tasks while the big truck gets unstuck. What makes the story even more fun is that it's based on a true story from a small island off the coast of Maine, and Van Dusen includes those details in the afterword."
Recommended by Amanda Lepper
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Crocodile Hungry by Eija Sumner
"This one will have adults and kids laughing out loud. Crocodile is hungry but he can't seem to find any food he wants in the fridge. He tries to go all over the place looking for something to eat with some dramatic results. He just can't understand the response he gets from animals and people as he tries to quiet his rumbling tummy. Preschoolers will eat this one up!"
Recommended by Becky Preston
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Fluffy McWhiskers Cuteness Explosion written by Stephen W Martin and illustrated by Dan Tavis
"Fluffy McWhiskers is a cat so cute, those who lay eyes on her immediately explode due to the cuteness overload. Fluffy takes the losses to heart and decides to make herself scarce, to better protect humanity. A deserted island seems to offer the perfect solution, but poor Fluffy is incredibly lonely. Until she meets a big-eyed pug so cute, their explosion powers cancel each other out. This book is not only irresistibly cute, it is immensely funny."
Recommended by Amanda Lepper
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Knight Owl by Christopher Denise
"A sweet (and suspenseful!) picture book about a little owl who always wanted to be a courageous and clever knight."
Recommended by Devin Redmond
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Mina by Matthew Forsythe
"Matthew Forsythe has a talent for writing children’s books with dry humor and stunning colored-pencil illustrations. Mina is the story of a young mouse with a dim-witted, but well-meaning parent. Her father brings home many inconvenient things from the world outside their tree home — tin cans to make his jokes louder, stamp art he thinks will be “worth something” someday. But he crosses the line when he brings home a “squirrel” that’s really a cat. Mina’s instincts tell her they’re in for trouble. There’s a fun twist to the story when it comes to what saves Mina and her father."
Recommended by Amanda Lepper
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Out of a Jar by Deborah Marcero
"A picture book that tells the story of what happens if we bottle up our emotions, rather than feeling them."
Recommended by Devin Redmond and Amanda Lepper
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Pink, Blue, and You! by Elise Gravel
"This is an easy and accessible book that offers great questions between the reader and listener about gender and gender stereotypes."
Recommended by Devin Redmond
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Skater Baby by Jack Noel
"A funny book about a baby who escapes from lots of adults in the community — on a skateboard!"
Recommended by Devin Redmond
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Trees by Tony Johnston
"Look no further for your perfect summer read. Each page shows trees from a different angle with truly stunning artwork that all ages will marvel at. This oversized book will make you crave a walk in the forest and will help grow a love of the natural world."
Recommended by Becky Preston
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What Goes Inside? by Magda Gargulakaova
"This title is more like a game than a story! On one side of the spread there is a box or container, and the reader is challenged to guess what is inside. The next side will show dozens of possible answers. I can't think of a better vocabulary builder. After reading this you might be tempted to make your own matching drawing, or play the guessing game with everyday situations."
Recommended by Becky Preston
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Early Readers

Doggo and Pupper Save the World by Katherine Applegate
"Another early reader book about two friends who are very good helpers, even when one might be feeling extra afraid."
Recommended by Devin Redmond
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The Good Egg by Jory John
"This book follows the good egg as he tries to decide what to do at a talent show, but doesn't think he has anything special to bring to the table."
Recommended by Becky Preston
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I Really Want a Bigger Piece by Ziefert
"Really Bird books help kids process really big feelings. In this story, Really Bird really wants to have the same sized piece of the pie as their friends, and they talk about sharing equally."
Recommended by Becky Preston
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It's a Sign by Jarrett Pumphrey
"Kids adore the Elephant & Piggie series, but when they're done it can be hard to know what to read next. Luckily there is a spin-off of books called Elephant & Piggie Like Reading where new authors are recommended by our familiar friends with the same wonderful illustrations and humorous stories. Each story has an intro from Mo Willems with his characters! It's a Sign follows some new friends who are learning to write so they can make a sign for their club!"
Recommended by Becky Preston
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J.D. and the Great Barber Battle by J. Dillard
"A beginning chapter book about a third-grader who becomes his community’s favorite barber! This book has about the same amount of words as Magic Tree House and Junie B. Jones."
Recommended by Devin Redmond
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Look What We Can Do by Candy James
"A funny beginning reader book about two friends who really want to win a talent show!"
Recommended by Devin Redmond
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Secret Spy Society: The Case of the Missing Cheetah and Secret Spy Society: The Case of the Curious Scouts written and illustrated by Veronica Mang
"On a dark and stormy night, three curious girls discover the existence of a secret society formed by the great female spies of history. The girls are enlisted to help one of the spies, the glamorous, Jazz-era dancer and actress Josephine Baker, track down her missing pet cheetah. The books offer great adventure and fascinatingly true information about talented and brave women of the past. A third in the series is already planned."
Recommended by Amanda Lepper
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Graphic Novels

The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza by Mac Barnett and Shawn Harris
"A LOL comic about a cat who must rescue the moon from a pack of rats eating it! It’s also about a ragtag group of friends."
Recommended by Devin Redmond and Amanda Lepper
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Just Roll with It by Lee Durfey-Lavoie & Veronica Agarwal
"A girl with anxious and OCD tendencies relies too much on her 20-sided die to help her make decisions. A great book about learning about our mental health."
Recommended by Devin Redmond
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Middle grade and chapter books

The Girl in the Lake by India Hill Brown
"India Hill Brown is a master of writing scary stories for kids that will make you shriek but also teach you about history. She weaves in research about segregation and its impact on the Black community, both in the past and the present day."
Recommended by Becky Preston
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The Last Cuentista, by Donna Barba Higuera
"Newbery winner about a girl who travels to another planet after an apocalypse. Despite efforts from the Collective to erase all memories, Petra remembers her life on Earth, her love for her family and her abuelita’s folklore."
Recommended by Devin Redmond
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The Lion of Mars by Jennifer L. Holm
"Bell is a pretty normal kid, except for the fact that he lives on Mars. Part of the American settlement, he isn't allowed to make contact with any of the other countries, even for emergencies. Everything is running smoothly until the adults start to fall ill and the kids have to break the rules to stay alive. This is such a great sci-fi book for kids because it will get them asking questions and imagining how different life can be based on what you experience and how you are raised. For instance ... on mars algae loaf is a normal dinner. YUCK!"
Recommended by Becky Preston
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New From Here by Kelly Yang
"A book about leaving 15 years of life in Hong Kong and moving to San Francisco in the very early days of the COVID-19 pandemic."
Recommended by Devin Redmond and Amanda Lepper
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The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill
"A story of generosity and kindness coming from a community’s most feared inhabitant."
Recommended by Devin Redmond
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Pony by RJ Palacio
"Pony, a horse, Silas, a boy, and Mittenwool, a ghost, and their adventures across the American landscape. This book is set in the mid-1800s."
Recommended by Devin Redmond
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Premeditated Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce
"Published in 2020, author Elizabeth Bunce’s middle-grade debut, Premeditated Myrtle won the prestigious Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery in 2021. Born and raised in Ames, Bunce devoured classic mysteries as a child. Her Myrtle Hardcastle series, now numbering three books, is set in Victorian England with a heroine that refuses to be constrained by gender norms. Obsessed with criminology, 12-year-old Myrtle sets out to investigate the mysterious circumstances surrounding her wealthy next-door neighbor’s death. Though written for grade-schoolers, Bunce’s plot development is sophisticated, keeping readers on their toes with surprises at every turn. Fun detail: the Campanile that plays a major role in Book 2 is modeled after Iowa State’s iconic Campanile."
Recommended by Amanda Lepper
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Wild River by Rodman Philbrick
"Survival enthusiasts will love Philbrick's latest! A group of kids gets stranded without adults after a flood washes away their campsite. To survive, they have to work together and pool resources, but that turns out to be the hardest thing of all when one group member turns out to be a bully. Fans of Hatchet will love the nature details!"
Recommended by Becky Preston
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Young adult books

Gallant by Victoria Schwab
"Dark family secrets, a haunted mansion, a secret world? Teens who love fantasy will be hooked! Our main character, Olivia, grows up in an orphanage thinking she has been abandoned. One day she gets an invitation to come back to her family home and it is just chock-full of secrets and a very moody cousin. She also communicates with sign language, which gives the reader a unique perspective because we know what she is saying, but many characters do not. She can also see ghouls and she is trying to uncover the secret behind why she was abandoned as a child. This is a great story for the full range of teen ages, as it manages to be haunting without excessive gore."
Recommended by Becky Preston
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The Girl from the Sea by Molly Ostertag
"This is a very sweet love story. Morgan is a teen girl who is imprisoned by her idea of how other people see her. She is part of a group of friends and a family that are all caught up in their own problems and fail to see how much Morgan is struggling. The truth starts to come out, however, when she is saved from drowning by a girl with her own very magical secrets."
Recommended by Becky Preston
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I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston
"California transplant Chloe Green moved to small-town Alabama with her moms to care for her dying grandma, and they ended up staying to see Chloe through graduation from an elite, Christian, high school. Chloe is obsessively chasing valedictorian honors, and the only thing standing in her way is Shara Wheeler – the epitome of private-school perfection: beautiful, blonde, smart, dates the quarterback, walks the straight-and-narrow. But a month before graduation, Shara kisses Chloe, then disappears. Determined not to win valedictorian by default, Chloe sets out to track Shara down. The story is heavily influenced by McQuiston's experience in Christian private school in Louisiana, a topic she addresses in a note to her readers in the front of the book. While the book addresses heavy topics like homophobia and religious trauma, I Kissed Shara Wheeler is ultimately a joyful book about friendship and finding ourselves."
Recommended by Amanda Lepper
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I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys
"A historical fiction book about a boy living under Romania’s tyrannical dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989."
Recommended by Devin Redmond
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Kiss and Tell by Adib Korrahm
"This contemporary romance really digs into issues all teens have, but with the flashy setting of a boy band on tour. Hunter grapples with what his image is supposed to be and how it contrasts with the realities of his life. Korrahm has such a strong voice, it is easy to feel the internal conflict along with Hunter. This is such an emotional book but it's also a lot of fun!"
Recommended by Becky Preston
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The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
"Eight-year-old Billy wants to head west on the Lincoln Highway, chasing their mother, who left them years prior. Everett, burdened by responsibility at 18 years of age, wants to forge a life in a booming city where he can put his skills as a jack-of-all-trades to use. Their journey is thwarted, however, by unexpected events that lead them on an epic journey. This is a beautiful story of hope and innate goodness – a picture of both the promise of America and the ways in which the country has failed so many of its people. A wholly original, yet timeless story. You will love each and every one of the characters. And the cherry on top? Ames makes an appearance!"
Recommended by Amanda Lepper
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Adult readers, check out Talk of Iowa’s 2022 summer book guide. You can also check out what the IPR staff is reading, and share your latest favorites with the rest of our audience.

And, for even more IPR book content, check out the Talk of Iowa Book Club. The July selection is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. You can also chat about book club selections and other literary interests with Charity Nebbe and hundreds of other readers in the Talk of Iowa Book Club Facebook group. You can also see what the IPR staff is reading here.