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Summer Books For Kids, Young Adults, And The Young At Heart

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We’ve just gotten through the weirdest and hardest school year ever, and parents and teachers everywhere are hoping that kids will spend some time reading this summer.

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe and her guests talk about the best new books for young readers.

Guests:

  • Devin Redmond, teacher and librarian, Coralville Central Elementary

Toddler Board Books and Very Young Picture Books

“Bubbles” and "Blankie" by Ben Clanton
Recommended by Abbey Paxton
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"Catch that Chicken" Atinuke ill. Angela Brooksbank
Recommended by Devin Redmond
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“Festival of Colors” by Kabir & Sarishta Sehgal, ill. Vashti Harrison
Recommended by Abbey Paxton
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"Glow" by Ruth Forman, ill. Geneva Bowers
Recommended by Abbey Paxton
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"Jungle Night" by Sandra Boynton
Recommended by Abbey Paxton
“It's the almost perfect bedtime book — until of course, it's not. There's also a Yo-Yo Ma soundtrack that goes underneath it, where we hear the cello making some of the animals' snoring sounds.”
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Picture Books

"Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon" by Kat Zhang, ill. Charlene Chua
Recommended by Devin Redmond
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"Balloons for Papa" by Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia, ill. By Erika Meza
Recommended by Abbey Paxton
”It's a book that gently guides young readers through some big feelings. And the way that Eric Cammisa does this through illustrations, everything is kind of in grayscale, except for these balloons that are sort of the center of the story. And as the story goes along, the palette moves from grayscale and the pops of color, and warms toward the end in a kind of sunny way ... it's a really beautifully told book. It's a perfect book to expand children's vocabulary around sadness, and around how important it is to come together as a family during hard times.”
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"Bear Island" by Matthew Cordell
Recommended by Devin Redmond
This is “a quieter story about love, loss, grief, and then growth.” “The illustrations in this book go from a sepia tone to colorful, and then back and forth, kind of like the ups and downs of life. 'Bear Island' might deal with a sad subject, but I thought that the story was more realistic in seeing the ebbs and flows that we all go through. So rather than being a sad book, it just felt more realistic.”
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"Don’t Hug Doug" by Carrie Finison, ill. Daniel Wiseman
Recommended by Devin Redmond
“I thought that this was a great book. Right now a lot of us are excited to give hugs, but we do have to respect people's boundaries. It is a funny and silly book, just dealing with that subject.”
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"Imagine a Wolf" by Lucky Platt
Recommended by Abbey Paxton
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"Mel Fell" by Corey R. Tabor
Recommended by Devin Redmond
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"Milo Imagines the World" Matt de la Peña, ill. Christian Robinson
Recommended by Devin Redmond
“To take his mind off his anxieties. He looks around at his fellow passengers and he draws pictures of where he thinks they're off to … his book is a great reminder that we can all leave our assumptions about people at the door and it's a book that is thought-provoking and it will definitely be a great conversation starter.”
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"The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story" by Tina Cho, ill. Jess X. Snow
Recommended by Abbey Paxton
“It's very set in time and space and you're learning about this tradition, but it feels also like this magical real-life mermaid.”
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"Something’s Wrong!: A Bear, a Hare, and Some Underwear" by Jory John, ill. Erin Kraan
Recommended by Abbey Paxton
This is “the silliest woodland friendship story.” “This is a great read-aloud, very fun. You will be laughing with your kids, for sure, through this one.”
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"Teatime Around the World" by Denyse Waissbluth, ill. Chelsea O'Byrne
Recommended by Devin Redmond
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“Yes and No” by Elisha Cooper
Recommended by Sarah Prineas
“All I will say about this is that ‘Yes’ is the dog and ‘No’ is the cat.”
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“Your Place in the Universe” by Jason Chin
Recommended by Sarah Prineas
A picture book about scale and perspective — “the size of the galaxy and how big things are and space, what space is … he starts out with kids standing on earth, and then he draws the camera back and back and things get bigger.”
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"Zonia’s Rain Forest" by Juana Martinez-Neal
Recommended by Devin Redmond
Martinez-Neal “teaches kids about some of the most beautiful animals and birds found in the Peruvian Amazon.” “At the end of the book, readers can learn about the Ashaninka people, who are the largest Indigenous group living in the region. And the teacher/librarian in me loved the works cited at the end as well.”
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Early Readers

“Chick Chat” by Janie Bynum
Recommended by Sarah Prineas
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"Fitz and Cleo" by Jonathan Stutzman, ill. Heather Fox
Recommended by Abbey Paxton
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"Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-Be-Best-Friend" by Dawn Quigley, ill. Tara Audibert
Recommended by Abbey Paxton

"Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey" by Erin Entrada Kelly
Recommended by Abbey Paxton
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"Someone Builds a Dream” by Lisa Wheeler, ill. Loren Long
Recommended by Sarah Prineas
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“It's (about) all kinds of different things in our world, and shows how they were created from idea to actualization. And the illustrations are great, because it has their diverse groups of people.”

"A World of Plants" by Martin Jenkins, ill. James Brown
Recommended by Abbey Paxton
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Middle grade (4-6)

"Amari and the Night Brothers" by B. B. Alston
Recommended by Abbey Paxton
Alston's book is a “big, world-building fantasy.” ”Alston was inspired to create an unapologetically Black heroine, and kind of thinking about 'what if the kids like me got into Hogwarts?'… it doesn't shy away, either, from things going on in our here-and-now world of privilege and wealth.”
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"Amina’s Song" by Hena Khan
Recommended by Devin Redmond
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"Ground Zero" by Alan Gratz
Recommended by Devin Redmond
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“Katie the Catsitter” by Colleen A.F. Venable, ill. Stephanie Yue
Recommended by Devin Redmond
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"The Lion of Mars" by Jennifer Holm
Recommended by Devin Redmond
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"Pawcasso" by Remy Lai
Recommended by Abbey Paxton
“This is a perfect summer break pick because it starts on the very first day of summer break. A+ dog content … it’s a total delight.”
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"Red, White, and Whole" by Rajani Larocca
Recommended by Devin Redmond
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“Rez Dogs” by Joseph Bruchac
Recommended by Sarah Prineas
Bruchac “is a notable Indigenous author, and I love all of his work. ('Rez Dogs') is a novel in verse, so it is going to be accessible to lots of middle-grade readers … novels in verse, a lot of times, aren't necessarily like poems. They're novels where the sentences are broken down into much more manageable chunks visually on the page. And so I think, especially reluctant readers, can find these books more accessible.”
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"A Shot In The Arm!: Big Ideas That Change The World” by Don Brown
Recommended by Sarah Prineas
Brown is “funny, and he always drills down to the really important, sometimes hard to talk about, stuff ... if you want to contextualize what's going on with the COVID-19 vaccine, this is a great book to turn to to look at the history of vaccines and why they work and why they're good.”
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“Skunk and Badger” by Amy Timberlake, ill. Jon Klassen
Recommended by Sarah Prineas
“This is a quirky, funny book ... it's, especially for the kid who's a little offbeat. This is a really, really fun read.”
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"Starfish" by Lisa Fipps
Recommended by Abbey Paxton
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"Trouble in the Stars" by Talk of Iowa guest Sarah Prineas!
Recommended by Devin Redmond
“Five out of five stars. And I'm actually smiling right now thinking about the main character... I think it would make a great family read-aloud, and a classroom read-aloud, if a teacher were willing to help all the students understand what was going on.”
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Young Adult

“Concrete Rose” by Angie Thomas
Recommended by Devin Redmond
"Concrete Rose" is a prequel to "The Hate U Give,” written by the same author. ”The book was so human, and it was so honest. And actually Nic Stone, who's another important author, in her review in the Washington Post, talked about how Thomas's greatest skill is crafting characters that give even adult readers insight into their younger selves. And going on, it says it gives us permission to let our guards down and be a little more legitimately human.”
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"Deadly Education" by Naomi Novik
Recommended by Sarah Prineas
“Her books are funny, because they really do blur — they have young protagonists but they read older… it's really very intense, very dark, but also weirdly funny.”
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"Kate in Waiting" by Becky Albertalli
Recommended by Sarah Prineas
“She's tapped into the young adult culture and actual high school kids. Her dialogue is witty … and there is so much drama. It kind of reminds me of Glee along with, like, a John Green novel.”
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"The Left-Handed Booksellers of London" by Garth Nix
Recommended by Sarah Prineas
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"Luck of the Titanic" by Stacey Lee
Recommended by Sarah Prineas
"It's not an easy, necessarily, read, but it's really good. It's very intense and very fun.”
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“A Sitting in St. James" by Rita Williams-Garcia
Recommended by Abbey Paxton
“It's a big historical fiction crossover, for grownups too. Definitely one that I would recommend for that 16 and up or emotionally mature teen.” “Williams-Garcia, she's just a masterful, masterful writer and thinker, and talks about writing this story, because she's been, you know, just so moved by the cyclical nature of racism and brutality in our country, and hoping to encourage real discussion of history and our collective history. So if teens are reading it this summer, I would definitely say make sure they're supported with a lot of contexts and a lot of conversation.”
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“Yolk” Mary H.K. Choi
Recommended by Devin Redmond & Abbey Paxton
“It kind of just totally captures that foiling feeling of being a young adult and figuring out what to do with your life and these big, complicated questions of family and identity. And Mary H.K. Choi is just a very engaging writer. It's totally cinematic. You can see it.” - Devin
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Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Dennis Reese is the mid-day host for Iowa Public Radio
Caitlin Troutman is a digital news producer at Iowa Public Radio
Matthew is a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa