If you’ve come here looking for picture books about summer, you’ve come to the wrong place. None of these books are actually about summer; some may not even occur during the summer season. But there’s something about each of these books that evokes a summer feeling. Whether it’s getting lost on your bike for the entire afternoon, eating a delicious, juicy watermelon, digging holes in the backyard, or going camping for the first time — these incredible picture books have that nostalgic summer vibe.
The charming, whimsical Chirri & Chirra books are famous in Japan and have started to gain recognition in the states. In this first book, Chirri and Chirra take a bike ride and end up lost in a forest where they stumble upon delightful situations: a woodland cafe, a bakery, a hotel — greeted by delightfully hospitable animals. It reminds me of being a young girl, riding my bike around our neighborhood until dusk. That feeling of getting “lost” — lost in my imagination — dreamily riding my bicycle ’round and ’round. It was magical, and Chirri & Chirra captures that feeling.
In Pizzoli’s award-winning book, a crocodile absolutely loves watermelons, he can’t get enough, but he’s terrified of swallowing a seed. What will happen if he does? He imagines all types of scary situations and decides it’s best if he never eats watermelons again! But can he resist? Is there anything to fear? This is such a fun book that kids can totally relate to. Our family pulls it out every summer, and each time, it’s a favorite!
Published in 1948, this Caldecott-winning book has become a classic. It’s a delightfully simple story about Little Sal and Little Bear, who go blueberry-picking in the late summer to prepare for the cold winter months. Unfortunately, they get mixed up and find themselves on a parallel adventure. The repetition of lines plus the use of onomatopoeia draws young kids into the story. This is one that you’ll keep in your home library forever.
The artist and creative director, Kenesha Sneed, debuted her first picture book, Many Shapes of Clay, this year. This book is beautifully crafted with graphic shapes and soft, muted color tones. It’s a modern-day fable about grief and a young girl Eisha who discovers the joys and hardships of the creative process. Sneed does a lovely job of gently weaving these themes together. Eisha’s mom makes beautiful ceramics. Intrigued, Eisha makes her own. Its shape reminds her of lemons and how she and her father used to pick them together. When her creation breaks, she deals with loss and discovers how she can piece it back together into something new.
While this book is remarkable for its rich, evocative illustrations by Leonard Weisgard, what really excites me is Margaret Wise Brown’s strange, surreal, rhythmical story. Brown, without a doubt, is a gifted poet and storyteller. Yet, despite her posthumous success, I feel she’s underrated. Her story Goodnight Moon has become one of the most popular children’s books of all time. It’s a gift at almost every baby shower. But ask adults whether they actually like the book; most say they don’t or that they don’t understand it. Brown’s experimentation and unusual approach to storytelling are what I find so magnetic.
In The Little Island, Brown describes life on the island throughout the seasons. Her writing is soft and atmospheric but unpredictable. Like Goodnight Moon, many felt this book was “too weird” and disliked how the “sweet story” is broken up by an odd diversion where a little cat visits the island and asks philosophical questions. I think this part makes the story. Without it, this would just be a short lovely book about an island, but with it, there’s a jolt, a break in the rhythm that throws you off-guard — which is exactly what I crave in fiction.
This exquisite book floored me when I first read it, and still, every time I reread it, I end up smiling and exclaiming, “Such a great book!” to my children. So much so that my kids now say it to me when we finish the book. It’s a fabulous message of acceptance and self-discovery, but its simplicity keeps it from becoming too saccharine. The illustrations are mesmerizing — it deserves a Caldecott Medal!
If you read my spring picture book recommendations, you already know that I love Tomi Ungerer! (Watch the documentary “Far Out Isn’t Far Enough.” Tomi is such a badass!). In the 1950s, many children’s books were terribly uninspiring; Ungerer brought his quirky imagination and taste for rebellion to the children’s publishing world and was unsurprisingly rejected. That was until he found the ingenious children’s book editor Ursula Nordstrom, who had an incredible eye for innovative talent. She worked with Margaret Wise Brown and Ungerer’s friends Maurice Sendak and Shel Silverstein. But eventually, Tomi’s antiwar posters and erotica artwork cast him out of the kid-lit industry in America and England. So while there are likely a few famous books you may have heard of, a lot of his incredible work is unknown to the mass public.
Much like his award-winning book Crictor, Emile is the story of a helpful animal who gains affection outside of its natural habitat. Emile is an octopus who saves a deep-sea diver from a ferocious shark. He ends up coming to land to stay with the diver, and we discover more of Emile’s incredible talents, one that helps save them again, but this time from a dangerous group of smugglers!
Swimmy is one of the most beautiful picture books I’ve ever seen. You’re immersed in the majestic underwater world through Lionni’s imaginative use of stamps and paints. It’s an unconventional story of a fish named Swimmy whose family are eaten by a giant tuna fish. Sad and lonely, Swimmy travels the ocean discovering the beauty of the life around him and starts to feel better. Soon he discovers another school of fish and uses his creative ingenuity to help save them from impending disaster!
Growing up in the 1980s, camping was the thing we did every summer. I spent the sweltering days in Big Basin, waking at sunrise for “jungle” breakfast, idly inner tubing down the river, singing folk songs by the campfire — these were the days before the internet and cell phones and that slow way of life felt like the only way of life. In The Camping Trip, Ernestine’s aunt invites her on her very first camping adventure. Ernestine is eager to experience the magic of camping, but once there, she quickly realizes that camping is a lot harder than she’d imagined. It’s a story about discovery and pushing yourself past your comfort zone. I have to admit, it’s been about 25 years since I’ve gone camping, and much like Ernestine, I’m unsure it’s worth all the trouble, but I’m willing to try. There’s also an encounter with a banana slug, which is one of my favorite creatures ever!
Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett are truly a dream team when it comes to picture books. The combination of Barnett’s dry humor and sly subversiveness with Klassen’s clean, paired-back imagery allows readers to fill in the blanks. There’s a clever interplay between the words and images that I don’t find in many other picture books.
Sam & Dave Dig a Hole was the first book we owned by this dynamic duo, and it changed my view of the picture book form. In this story, Sam and Dave are in search of adventure. They dig a hole in the yard, but the story makes twists and turns, and Sam and Dave keep missing these giant gems. We’re left guessing and wondering what will happen, and in the end, there’s a subtle surprise. But can you suspend your disbelief?
Julie Morstad’s picture books are some of my most cherished. Whether she’s working with another illustrator and creating the whole shebang, she creates a wonderfully whimsical world that I want to live in. The Swing was one of the first board books I bought my daughter when she was a baby. Stevenson’s classic poem, The Swing, is brought to life by Morstad’s delightful and expressive pictures. It brings back that nostalgic, summery feeling of swinging high up in the sky, feeling the breeze swoosh through your hair. This is a great book for toddlers!
Layla’s Happiness is the poet Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie’s debut picture book. It’s the story of 7-year-old Layla and the everyday experiences that bring her happiness. As you can see from this list of books, I’m often drawn to subversive stories, but sometimes, I like a sweet, straightforward book, especially when it’s a story about the simple pleasures in life. Happiness comes in all shapes and sizes for Layla. From eating spaghetti without a fork to the color purple. Here at Glitter Guide, our mission is to search for the “flashes of delight” — the small moments that dazzle us and bring us joy. These moments don’t cost anything; these are simple delights from nature and experiences. This book is a wonderful reminder that the simplest things are often the most profound.