9 engaging summer picks for young readers from The Next Chapter children's book panel
Michele Landsberg, Bee Quammie and Ken Setterington share some favourite kids' books for the summer break
It's summertime, which means school is out soon — the perfect chance for kids to curl up with an engrossing read, or for parents to read a fun story to their little ones.
The Next Chapter's children's book panel is back to recommend nine books to engage young readers during the summer break.
Michele Landsberg is a writer, activist and grandmother, Bee Quammie is a broadcaster, writer and mother of two, and Ken Setterington is a writer, uncle and retired children's librarian.
They spoke with Shelagh Rogers about some of the books they think will keep kids both entertained and educated this summer.
Moonwalking by Zetta Elliott and Lyn Miller-Lachmann
Bee Quammie: "This is a verse novel for ages 10 to 14. It's a really creative story that takes place in 1980s Brooklyn. And our two main characters are described as an artistic punk-rock lover who befriends an Afro-Latino math geek and graffiti artist. So you can already tell these two characters have a lot to them.
This book does a great job of putting words to emotions in unique ways.- Bee Quammie
"This book does a great job of putting words to emotions in unique ways that I think will resonate with young folks."
A Garden of Creatures by Sheila Heti, illustrated by Esmé Shapiro
Michele Landsberg: "In this garden lives a cat who's the colour of buttercream, and then a little bunny who's the colour of toast, and the smallest bunny who's very soft. But one day, the toast-coloured bunny dies. And this leads to sadness, of course, and a lot of provocative and profound questions — and no pat answers, I'm happy to say.
"When friends die, they don't just vanish — they become part of our world. And missing them is sad, but it's a way to keep them close in our hearts. A beautiful book for any child."
City Streets Are for People by Andrea Curtis, illustrated by Emma Fitzgerald
Ken Setterington: "Andrea lives with her family in Toronto, where she grows vegetables, wanders the ravines and spends as much time as possible on her bike. And that's what this book is about — how do we make the city sustainable?
"It looks at the cities around the world, like Copenhagen, where there are more bikes than people; or the fact that subways are environmentally friendly — in Beijing they have over 400 stations. It's a fun book to read, but it really does make you think."
Maya and the Robot by Eve L. Ewing, illustrated by Christine Almeda
Bee Quammie: "One of the main character's loves is science and technology. Not only is it great in terms of representation — Maya is a young Black girl who is engaged and invested in STEM — but it also touches on a hopeful resilience.
"There's the idea that things might be tough now, but something better might be coming."
The Genius Under the Table by Eugene Yelchin
Michele Landsberg: "I wasn't really going to include this book because I thought it might be far away from children's interests, but then the world changed when Russia invaded Ukraine. And then I thought that a memoir about a very funny, gifted, exuberant, artistic child growing up under Stalinist repression might give kid readers not only the fun of this wonderfully hilarious memoir, but a sense of what it is like to live under a dictator and in such oppressive conditions of fear and silence.
I think any kid who's interested in world affairs would love this extremely vivid depiction of life in communist Russia."- Michele Landsberg
"I think any kid from 10 or 11 and up, especially one who's interested in world affairs, would love this extremely vivid depiction of life in communist Russia as it was."
Ken Setterington: "It highlights Thorncliffe, a neighbourhood in Toronto that is totally multicultural. The school that the main character Sami goes to is the largest elementary school in North America. There's such respect for the community, and it's a heartfelt story.
Any kid who reads this is going to be totally absorbed, and there's going to be more than a few tears by the end of this book.- Ken Setterington
"Any kid who reads this is going to be totally absorbed. And I'd say there's going to be more than a few tears by the end of this book. It's beautiful. And speaking about hopeful resilience, that's how it is with Sami as she finds her way and realizes that there is a community that loves her."
Bee Quammie: "This beautiful picture book is beautifully written from the perspective of a pregnant woman who is speaking to her baby as she prepares for their arrival.
"Tasha's author's note at the end of the book details that she wrote this to shine a light on various Indigenous understandings and practices, particularly around the idea that babies choose their parents."
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Michele Landsberg: "It is a book about climate change, but there is not one preachy word in the whole book. It's really about how we can overcome dire circumstances by our practicality, good sense and determination. And it's illustrated very elegantly by Jon McNaught."
The Family Tree by Sean Dixon, illustrated by Lily Snowden-Fine
Ken Setterington: "I think it's the kind of book that a child will read and then want to create their own family tree of those people that mean so much to them. It looks at all different types of families, and it's just fun and powerful and something that's going to get kids excited to look at their own lives."
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.