Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Talk of Iowa's 2023 summer book guide for kids and teens

Whether your child has just begun reading or can't get their nose out of a book, local experts have summer picks perfect for them.

Board books & picture books

10 Cats, written and illustrated by Emily Gravett

Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering, youth service coordinator for the State Library of Iowa in Des Moines

“What happens when one white cat and nine other cats find red, blue and yellow paint cans? Color chaos — that’s what readers will see in this simple color and counting gem. The book counts up from one to 10 — and you see the cats play and stretch — until four cats with patches bust open the red paint can and encourage the other cats to play and frolic in the blue/yellow paint. Kids learn which colors make green, purple and orange — while counting! Colorful and purrfect for preschool and older toddlers!”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

100 Mighty Dragons All Named Broccoli by David LaRochelle; illustrated by Lian Cho

Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

“This comical counting adventure follows 100 mighty dragons all named Broccoli as they each embark on their own journey until there’s one dragon left, who retreats to a cave for the winter and reemerges in the spring with a special surprise!”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

A New Green Day by Antoinette Portis

Recommended by Mary Taft, book buyer in the children’s department at Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City

“Concept book of nature appreciation. A single natural phenomenon is shown and described on each page, with a brief, bright, abstract image and deftly described context. By the end, you feel you’ve read a poem in homage to a phenomenon of nature.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

A Unicorn, a Dinosaur and a Shark Walk Into a Book, written and illustrated by Jonathan Fenske

Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

“A unicorn, a dinosaur and a shark walk into a book. Sounds like the perfect setup for a joke, right? Well, the narrator thinks so! In fact, the narrator thinks it’s the best book ever, but the animals in this quirky, funny picture book aren’t amused – and they won’t cooperate with the narrator. Readers can follow along and laugh as the three animals try to escape the book!”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

Big Kids No Everything by Wednesday Kirwan

Recommended by Mary Taft 

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

Evergreen by Matthew Cordell

Recommended by Mary Taft 

“A picture book written in episodes on the trials of courage in Buckthorn Forest for the timid squirrel Evergreen on a quest to deliver soup to her sick grandmother. A hoot to read dramatically, with action-packed, squirrel-colored illustrations by Cordell, creator of fabulous Caldecott winner Wolf in the Snow.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

Grandad's Pride by Harry Woodgate 

Recommended by Bethany Fast, store manager at Reading in Public in West Des Moines 

“If you haven't read the prequel, Grandad's Camper, you should, but both books work as their own standalone stories as well. ‘Pride is like a giant party where we celebrate the wonderful diversity of our communities and demand that everyone should be treated with equality and respect, no matter who they love or what gender they are,’ Milly's grandpa says when she finds one of his old pride flags in his attic. With that mission statement in mind, Milly and her family throw their own Pride celebration in her grandad's small seaside village. This book can teach readers of all ages the ways that they and other members of their community can celebrate Pride, in big ways and small. Any book with older queer characters holds significant meaning and should be cherished.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis

Recommended by Mary Taft 

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

How Dinosaurs Went Extinct: A Safety Guide by Ame Dyckman; illustrated by Jennifer Harvey

Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

“During a hilarious family trip to the museum, a dad “describes” to his son how 23 different species of reckless dinosaurs met their … fate. Brachiosaurus swallowed their gum. Velociraptors picked their nose. Spinosaurus swam after eating. T-Rex – didn’t change his underwear … gross. Very funny picture book with great illustrations! I love how they add the pronunciation of each dinosaur for caregivers reading this book to kiddos! Great for a dinosaur storytime — or for any young dino enthusiast!

Find from your local bookstore |Find at your local library

Let’s Celebrate Juneteenth by Tonya Abari, Art by Tabitha Brown

Recommended by Bethany Fast

“Abari, a freelance journalist and book reviewer, whose words have been published by the likes of Publishers Weekly, USA Today, and Good Housekeeping, has partnered with illustrator Tabitha Brown to create a bright and engaging glance into Juneteenth: the cultural celebration, the food, the music and the deeper meaning of emancipation. With very few words -- perfect for keeping even the smallest reader's attention — Abari conveys so much about the atmosphere of a Jubilee celebration. There's also a fantastic blurb in the back pages explaining more in-depth the importance of Junteenth and its significance in American history.”

Find from your local bookstore|Find at your local library

Manolo & the Unicorn by Jackiw Azua Kramer & Jonah Kramer, illustrated by Zach Manbeck 

Recommended by Bethany Fast

“With the gorgeous pastels and neons used in Manbeck's illustrations, this mom and son author team introduce to you Monolo's world, a world of wonder and awe and curiosity. A world that he searches constantly for an evasive creature -- a unicorn. When the Wild Animal Parade project is announced at Manolo's school and the children are invited to dress up as their favorite creature, Manolo is met with mockery. Not only are unicorns imaginary, his classmates say, but they are certainly not for boys. Anyone who wants to encourage their children to preserve their sense of wonder, and to freely explore their own identity, should add this simple story to their shelves.”

Find from your local bookstore|Find at your local library

Naming Ceremony by Seina Wedlick, illustrated by Jenin Mohammed 

Recommended by Bethany Fast

“This book is a celebration of the West African tradition of a naming ceremony, where friends and family gather to give a new baby names whose meanings are considered blessings. The illustrations reflect this celebration of West African culture with beautiful African and Caribbean-inspired patterns. Big sister Amina welcomes her friends and family as they arrive and share their selected names for her newborn baby sister, and Amina hopes the one she has selected will convey her love as much as all the others. This would be a wonderful selection for any child welcoming a new member of their family!”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

No One Owns the Colors by Gianna Davy, illustrated by Brenda Rodriguez 

Recommended by Bethany Fast

“‘If pink is for girls, then it's also for squirrels, because no one owns the colors.’" When kids are small, they have so few choices; adults tell them where to be and when, what to do. It's so important to give children the power to make the choices they can, and so much of that lies in their self-expression. This gorgeously illustrated book likens the colors children wear and enjoy to the colors found in nature, and points out the absurdity of assigning colors to certain genders. As the mom of two little boys who know their own minds and their own preferences, books like this are a great reminder that society has assigned some pretty ridiculous standards, and kids can -- and should -- shirk them.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

Quackers by Liz Wong

Recommended by Mary Taft 

“A cat who begins life among only ducks thinks that he is a duck, until he ventures out into a more cat-oriented world. Happily, he can be both! The Ugly Duckling with a silly twist…”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

Sometimes It’s Nice to Be Alone by Amy Hest, illustrated by Philip Stead 

Recommended by Mary Taft 

“A fabulous feat of picture book perfection. Behind glasses as big and blank as Orphan Annie’s eyes, a lone little girl considers the pleasures of solitude. Casually, she decides that she could also enjoy the company of a friend. As she ruminates, a small stuffed toy sits nearby. Is it listening? Every child in this situation knows the answer — yes! And when they turn the page, there is the proof! The stuffed toy comes alive, and plays like a friend. This picture book masquerades a predicament that is familiar to any child who longs for a playmate, and it shows that, with a good imagination, you can enjoy being alone as well. Philip Stead’s rustic, richly colored transfer prints have a gauzy effect, like looking through a veil of imagination. Sharp-eyed listeners will anticipate the plot, spying the benign stuffed toy that will burst onto center stage of the little girl’s fantasy. Empathetic and sweetly sly, readers and listeners will enjoy sharing time together with this story.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

The Night Tent,  written and illustrated by Landis Blair

Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

“Watson is having trouble sleeping. He doesn’t want to know about the creepy crawlies under the bed; however, he notices a mysterious light coming from under his covers which leads him down a path through a forest and onto a magical adventure. This is a beautifully illustrated book that’s perfect for bedtime – or a tent storytime with blankets under the stars.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

Twenty Questions by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Recommended by Mary Taft 

“A basic book of story prompts. Reluctant storybook listeners are lured into supplying the story themselves! Wonderful, suggestive pictures tease out interpretive skills.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

Early readers

Detective Gordon: A Case With a Bang by Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Gitto Spee 

Recommended by Mary Taft 

“The last projected for this favorite series. Spee’s whimsical character sketches convey homey, sweet humor for detectives Gordon and Buffy who solve mysteries with wit, insight and intervals of cake-eating.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

I Did It! written and illustrated by Michael Emberley

Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

“This comic-style beginning reader shows a girl who tries, again and again, to learn how to do something. She tries to build a block tower. It falls – and she yells “I can’t do it!” She tries to climb a rope, catch a baseball, climb a tree – and she fails only to yell, “I can’t do it!” When she tries to ride a bicycle, her animal friends provide words of encouragement. When she gets it – she yells, “I am doing it!” with a hilarious and sweet ending! I Did It! has simple sentences, colorful illustrations and repetitive text for kids and students learning to read! Winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

Nat the Cat Takes a Bath, written and illustrated by Jarrett Lerner

Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

“Nat is a gray cat who needs to take a bath. He’s stinky, has flies swarming around him and Nat is hesitant. He asks for a towel, bubbles and a bath toy, but Nat still won’t get in the tub because the cat is afraid of getting wet, but Pat the Rat isn’t! This book has repeating sentences/phrases and words to help beginning readers learn to read with engaging pictures. A winner!”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

Stink: Superhero Superfan by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds 

Recommended by Mary Taft 

“The latest installment in an every-kid, relatable chapter book series. Great pro-nerd pathos as Stink solves a mystery of an old-fashioned comic superhero using newly acquired skills in science.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

Too Small Tola Gets Tough by Atinuke, illustrated by Onyinye Iwu  

Recommended by Mary Taft 

“Experience the pandemic in Nigeria with Tola, in this third in the series. The family all do their part to rally to the situation and Tola uses math skills to save the day! Perfect complement of illustration to story.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

Middle grades

A First Time for Everything by Dan Santat (Graphic Novel)

Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

“Dan shares his three-week trip overseas in Europe that changed his life. In middle school, Dan is a good kid, and never gets into trouble. He helps his mother at home due to her illness. At school, Dan is bullied – even girls make fun of him and he feels invisible. He doesn’t understand why he’s even going on this trip to France, Germany and England – since the same mean girls are going as well. However, this trip changes Dan as he discovers himself – and his first love as he develops a crush on Amy. This heartwarming, funny graphic novel features a QR Code in the front of the book where kids can listen to his music mixtape on Spotify (music from Talking Heads, Madonna, De La Soul, The Cure and Depeche Mode, to name a few.) He tracked down his classmates (and Amy) for this graphic memoir. Worth the read!”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

Moonflower by Kacen Callender 

Recommended by Bethany Fast

“This is another great pick by a nonbinary author, whose own story is reflected in their work. Moon is suffering from depression, so much so that when they travel to the spirit realms every night as they sleep, they hope they won't return to the land of the living. (So an obvious content warning here is some thinly veiled parallels to suicidal ideations.) When the spirit realm is threatened, Moon battles monsters and shadow creatures, and through this journey they start to learn that adventures and love await them in the land of the living, as well. This one explores some heavier themes regarding mental health, gender identity and suicidal ideations, so parents may want to give it a skim or even read it alongside their kiddos.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

Nic Blake and the Remarkables: The Manifestor Prophecy by Angie Thomas

Recommended by Mary Taft

The Hate U Give proved that Angie Thomas could write a compelling realistic story for teens. Now she tries her hand at a middle-grade novel and comes up aces. Her fantasy plot is fast-paced, infused with African folklore and realistic characters having magical powers.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

School Trip (Book #3 of the New Kid series), written and illustrated by Jerry Craft (Graphic Novel)

Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

“Jordan enters his last year of middle school. He receives an acceptance letter from an art school, which is exciting and nerve-racking for him: he loves art more than anything, but does he really want to be the new kid once again? Jordan and his friends are overjoyed to learn they'll be taking a school trip to Paris, but when they see that Andy the bully will be joining them, they feel deflated and nervous. The art style stays true to Craft's first two books, and the creative approach to demonstrating mood and tone shines through in the illustrations. Craft emphasizes racism, classism, and differences in worldview by creating extreme juxtapositions with the roommate pairings on the trip, which also results in comic relief and laugh-out-loud moments.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

The Labors of Hercules Beal by Gary D. Schmidt

Recommended by Mary Taft

“The mythical hero transposed onto a young boy’s life as a school assignment. The classic story creates a counterpoint for a poignant story of tragic loss, grief and recovery. Schmidt has a great, grounding, droll narrative voice that keeps you rooting for the struggling protagonist.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

The Moth Keeper by K. O'Neill 

Recommended by Bethany Fast

“Full disclosure: O'Neill could spill ink on a page and I would buy it and recommend it to everyone. Their first graphic novel series, the Tea Dragon Trilogy, is among my favorite books of ALL time. O'Neill's characters are always almost but not quite human, with animal characteristics and elements of magic used as a huge part of their world-building. Anya, the protagonist, is taking her place as Moth Keeper -- a huge responsibility, as the moths pollinate the sacred flowers that allow the night village to live in the dark. I'd read this to a 5-year-old, I've read and enjoyed this myself. Seriously, anything by K. O'Neill is a winner. Queer representation is a huge element in all of their books, as are deep, meaningful relationships among people and nature.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

The Swifts: A Dictionary of Scoundrels by Beth Lincoln 

Recommended by Mary Taft

“A who-done-it set in a country manor house with a clever, colorful cast of characters and plot twists and suspense starring the maligned Shenanigan. For language lovers, especially.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

You are Here: Connecting Flights by Ellen Oh

Recommended by Mary Taft

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

Young adults (YA)

Every Day: The Graphic Novel by David Levithan, illustrated by Dion MDB 

Recommended by Bethany Fast

“This was actually a really popular book when I was in high school, newly given a graphic novel adaptation. David Levithan was (and remains) hugely popular among younger millennial readers, among the likes of John Green and Sarah Dessen. Every morning, "A" wakes up in a different body; different genders, different races, different circumstances. A lives 24 hours in their bodies, and then A leaves -- and wakes up as someone else. A lives by strict guidelines that reduce his effect on the lives he temporarily shares, until he meets someone that changes everything. Suddenly, A wants nothing more than to be noticed and remembered. This is a beautiful story, made even more accessible with beautiful illustrations.”  

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

Imogen, Obviously by Becky Albertalli

Recommended by Mary Taft

“A fresh, relatable story about a girl so caught up in queer advocacy that she nearly forgets that she is straight. A fast, fun read.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

Liar’s Beach by Katie Cotugno  

Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

“Want a book to read by the pool? Liar’s Beach delivers it. Cotugno, known for YA romances, takes a spin on the Agatha Christie classic murder mystery, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Michael Linden – or Linden to everyone – is staying at Martha’s Vineyard with his prep-school roommate Jasper at Jasper’s family home – August House. Linden doesn’t belong there, and he’s full of secrets. All of their friends have something to hide after one of their prep school friends is found dead in Jasper’s pool. All of Linden’s friends write it off as an accident – however, Linden’s childhood friend, Holiday Proctor – thinks otherwise. If you liked one of my favorite teen mysteries – We Were Liars – you’ll enjoy this poolside thriller.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

Miles Morales: Suspended by Jason Reynolds; illustrated by Zeke Pena (Book #2) 

Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

“Sixteen-year-old Miles Morales has had it. After being bitten by a spider and saving the world as Spider-Man, the last place he wants to be is in-school suspension after he stood up to his history teacher. Miles finds a long boring day turning into one that has his spidey senses tingling as he goes head-to-head with an unexpected enemy who has the power to destroy the world's history, especially Black and Brown history. Reynolds’ mix of storytelling and poetry – along with Pena’s black/white/gray illustrations make this a quick and action-packed read.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

Nick and Charlie by Alice Oseman 

Recommended by Bethany Fast

“YES, this IS the same Nick and Charlie from the Heartstopper comics, AND the beloved hit Netflix series. Fast forward two years into their relationship, and Nick is off to University, leaving his boyfriend, Charlie, behind at high school. Anyone who went through this kind of transition with a partner, or even just friends or siblings, can relate to Charlie's anxiety and/or Nick's excitement. This one's a quick read and a great addition to the Oseman Universe. It's actually a re-release of a story that has existed for some time, just released in novella format.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

Nigeria Jones by Ibi Zoboi  

Recommended by Mary Taft

“A coming-of-age story of a Black girl who finds herself challenging her upbringing even while using it to empower her. Loved imagining the character growing up with a social movement, but finding her own relation to it.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be by Shannon Gibney 

Recommended by Bethany Fast

“This memoir of Gibney's own experience as a transracial adoptee is part autobiography, part speculative fiction. What's especially unique about this selection is that Gibney weaves in reproductions of her own adoption paperwork, family photographs, interviews and medical records, as well as essays on the struggles of the adoptee experience. There's a lot of discourse around adoption right now, especially private and transracial adoption and adoptees' voices are absolutely imperative to those discussions.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

Warrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley  

Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

“Readers in this thriller are back in Sugar Island as Perry Firekeeper-Birch, the niece of Daunis, notices the rising number of missing Indigenous women starts circling closer to home, as her family becomes embroiled in a high-profile murder investigation. With greedy grave robbers seeking to profit off what belongs to her Anishinaabe tribe, Perry begins to question everything. Worth the read! Angeline is also our All Iowa Reads Teen Author for her previous work, Firekeeper’s Daughter.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

You’re Not Supposed To Die Tonight by Kalynn Bayron 

Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

“This YA LGBTQ horror gem is on NPR’s Summer Books List for 2023. Charity is working her dream job: she’s a “Final Girl” at Camp Mirror Lake – a horror-themed interactive tourist attraction. During the last weekend of the season, people start disappearing and one person dies. Charity and her girlfriend, Bezi – must find out who the killer is while uncovering secrets of Camp Mirror Lake.”

Find from your local bookstore | Find at your local library

Josie Fischels is IPR's Arts & Culture Reporter, with expertise in performance art, visual art and Iowa Life. She's covered local and statewide arts, news and lifestyle features for The Daily Iowan, The Denver Post, NPR and currently for IPR. Fischels is a University of Iowa graduate.
Caitlin Troutman is a talk show producer at Iowa Public Radio
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa