Books·Reading List

8 picture books to inspire and engage kids this summer

From family tales to adventures in nature, these Canadian children's books are ideal summer reads to delight kids — and kids at heart.

The school break is an ideal opportunity to introduce kids to these Canadian picture books that touch on all the great things about summertime: family, nature, fun adventures and much more!

I Hear You, Forest by Kallie George, illustrated by Carmen Mok

I Hear You, Forest is a nature-themed picture book by Kallie George, left, iIllustrated by Carmen Mok. (Greystone Kids, Luke Spencer Byrd)

Summertime is the perfect time for kids to explore nature — including taking walks in the forests near where they live, or during family camping trips.

I Hear You, Forest reminds kids that when they step into the forest with their ears and hearts open, they can hear some marvellous things. From the rustling of leaves sharing their secrets to small beetles balancing on the branches, the closer children listen, the more they can learn.

Kallie George is a Vancouver-based writer for children whose books include the Heartwood Hotel series and Anne Arrives. Her next picture book, I Hear You, Ocean, also illustrated by Carmen Mok, will be published in fall 2022.

Carmen Mok is the Ontario-based illustrator of numerous books, including Waiting for Sophie by Sarah Ellis, Look at Me Now by Carol McDougall and Shanda LaRamee-Jones and Percy's Museum by Sara O'Leary.

The Sun is a Shine by Leslie A. Davidson, illustrated by Slavka Kolesar

The Sun is a Shine is a picture book written by Leslie A. Davidson (left) and illustrated by Slavka Kolesar.  (Orca Book Publishers, Sarah Mickle Photography, David + Katie)

The Sun is a Shine is a picture book about the wonder of weather systems across the world. By way of vibrant illustrations and poetic language, The Sun is a Shine reflects the power of the sun and through the lens of cultural diversity, geography, science and gratitude. 

Leslie A. Davidson is a retired teacher, writer and grandmother based in British Columbia. Her previous picture books include In the Red Canoe, which was shortlisted for the Shining Willow Award and has been translated into French. Davidson won the 2016 CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize for her essay Adaptation.

Slavka Kolesar is a B.C.-based artist, illustrator and painter. She has illustrated books such as La Légende de Carcajou (which was a finalist for the Governor General's Award) and was the 2017 TD Summer Reading Club illustrator.

The Magic Shell by Jillian Christmas, illustrated by Diana G. A. Mungaray

The Magic Shell is a story of finding one's family roots by Jillian Christmas, left, and illustrated by Diana Mungaray. (Flamingo Rampant)

Ever pick up a shell on the beach during a beautiful summer's day? When Pigeon Pea has a lot of questions about their family background one afternoon, Auntie entrusts them with a magic cowrie shell that whisks Pigeon Pea back in time and across continents to meet, celebrate and feast with their ancestors.

The Magic Shell is for ages 6 to 8.

Jillian Christmas is an educator, activist and community organizer who focuses on increasing anti-oppression initiatives in spoken word. She is the former artistic director of Vancouver's Verses Festival of Words.

Raised in Stoneville, N.C., Diana Mungaray grew up enthralled by the world around her. She began her artistic journey painting watercolour pine trees in her composition book, before going on to study animation and interactive design.

Out Into the Big Wide Lake by Paul Harbridge and Josée Bisaillon

Out Into the Big Wide Lake, written by Paul Harbridge, left, and illustrated by Josée Bisaillon, is about a girl with Down syndrome who takes on new challenges one summer. (Tundra Books)

During the summer break, many kids get the chance to visit family members near and far. In Out Into the Big Wide Lake, a young girl with Down syndrome gains confidence and independence through a visit to her grandparents — a story inspired by the author's sister.

It's Kate's first time visiting her grandparents on her own at their lakeside home. She's nervous but learns how to make deliveries by boat, gets to know the neighbours and even becomes fast friends with Parbuckle, her grandparents' dog. But when her grandfather takes ill, it's suddenly up to Kate to take on some newfound responsibilities.

Out Into the Big Wide Lake was the winner of the 2022 Ezra Jack Keats Award for writing and was nominated for the 2021 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustrated books.

Paul Harbridge is a Toronto-based author and illustrator originally from Muskoka, whose work is influenced by the lakes and forests he grew up around. His children's book When the Moon Comes was named a finalist for the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustrated books. 

Josée Bisaillon is a children's book writer and illustrator based outside Montreal. Her other books include Leap!, written by JonArno Lawson, and The Snow Knows by Jennifer McGrath.

When I Listen to Silence by Jean E. Pendziwol, illustrated by Carmen Mok

When I Listen to Silence, written by Jean E. Pendziwol, left, and illustrated by Carmen Mok, turns the spotlight on imagination and creativity. (Groundwood Books)

Summertime is an ideal time for creativity to flourish — silence and stillness allows kids' imaginations to run wild.

In When I Listen to Silence, a child listens attentively while the trees sway back and forth as they begin to dance. Soon some bears join in the child's drumming — making so much noise that they wake up a dragon! The dragon's smoky breath fills the sky and the wind forms a knight on a steed that gallops through the stars.

The child's adventure continues, as one wonderful flight of fancy leads to the next, from pirates to mermaids to whales, until they find themselves sitting silent once again among the trees.

When I Listen to Silence is for ages 3 to 6.

Ontario-based writer Jean E. Pendziwol is the author of the novel The Lightkeeper's Daughters and several children's books, including Once Upon a Northern Night, Me and You and the Red Canoe and The Red Sash.

Carmen Mok is a studio art graduate of the University of Waterloo and a craft and design graduate of Sheridan College. She has illustrated 11 children's books to date, including Luna's Green Pet by Kirsten Pendreigh, which will be published in August 2022.

In the Clouds by Elly Mackay

In the Clouds is a picture book by artist and educator Elly MacKay that reminds young readers that the sun isn't the only special thing in the sky. (Tundra Books)

In In the Clouds, a bored and curious little girl wishes for a bit of sunshine on a cloudy day. But a friendly bird soon whisks her off for an adventure in the sky, where she can contemplate questions both scientific and philosophical in nature: how do clouds float? Or carry the rain? Where do they go when they disappear? Do they have memories? Have they ever seen another girl like her?

In the Clouds captures how even cloudy skies can inspire wonder and stimulate the imagination.

Elly MacKay is an award-winning picture-book maker based in Owen Sound, Ont. She is the author and illustrator of several books, including Butterfly ParkRed Sky at Night and If You Hold a Seed.

Martin and the River by Jon-Erik Lappano, illustrated by Josée Bisaillon

In Martin and the River by Jon-Erik Lappano, left, illustrated by Josée Bisaillon, a young boy discovers that the joys of nature can be found even in the big city. (Groundwood Books)

In Martin and the River, young Martin loves to play by the sparkling river near his house under the bright sunshine. He watches the great blue herons and looks for crayfish and otters, and lies in the tall grass near the water.

But one day Martin's parents tell him they have to move away. When he visits his future home, none of the city's urban charms compare with his beloved river. But when Martin's parents show him a small stream running through the park, Martin discovers that his connection to nature can be just as special in the big city.

Martin and the River is for ages 3 to 6.

Jon-Erik Lappano is a children's book author from Ontario. His picture book Tokyo Digs a Garden won the 2016 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature (illustration).

Since 2005, award-winning Quebec-based artist Josée Bisaillon has illustrated more than 30 children's books and contributed to newspapers and magazines around the world.

Sun Wishes by Patricia Storms, illustrated by Milan Pavlovic

Sun Wishes, written by Patricia Storms, left, and illustrated by Milan Pavlovic, is a companion to their 2019 picture book Moon Wishes. (Groundwood Books)

In this sequel to 2019's Moon Wishes, the sun travels across the sky lighting up our gloomiest days, celebrating a bountiful harvest and delighting in the diversity of life all around the world.

The sun's warm wishes will inspire young readers' curiosity, gratitude, and also spur them to step outside to enjoy its light all summer long (and in other seasons, too!).

Sun Wishes is for ages 3 to 6.

Patricia Storms has worked as a short-order cook, a library technician and a graphic designer, but her favourite thing to do by far is to make books for kids. She is the author and illustrator of The Pirate and the Penguin and Never Let You Go. She also collaborated with her husband, Guy Storms, to write Moon Wishes, illustrated by Milan Pavlovic.

Milan Pavlovic is a Toronto-based illustrator, graphic artist and educator. He is the illustrator of several children's books, including The Boy Who Invented the Popsicle by Anne Renaud, Seamus' Short Story by Heather Hartt-Sussman and Son of Happy by Cary Fagan. His first solo picture book, Sonata for Fish and Boy, was published in 2021.

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