The undead. Necromancy. Ominous swamps. Immense white alligators. My first novel, A Small Zombie Problem, is a darkly humorous mystery, jam-packed with eccentric characters, sinister motives, and spine-tingling page-turners.
And yet, if you asked me to select one illustration that best captures the heart of this story, it wouldn’t be one that reflects the passages of dramatic action or creepy suspense that fill the pages. It would be the quiet, seemingly insignificant image that accompanies this essay.
“I’m lonely, Aunt Hydrangea,” said August simply.
With primary influences such as Edward Gorey, Tim Burton, and Neil Gaiman, it’s hardly surprising that my debut novel should feature a zombie in the title. But to a large extent, the walking dead, the crumbling mansions, and the gloomy corners of Southern Gothic are merely pretty packaging. Whatever look-at-me subject matter I chose to wrap it in, my first foray into middle grade fiction was always destined to be about childhood loneliness at its heart.
no no 9780553539554 A Small Zombie Problem https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/253064/a-small-zombie-problem-by-kg-campbell/ by K.G. Campbell
I was 4 when I attended the first birthday party I can recall. My arrival at that event numbers among my earliest memories, suggesting that it left a big impression. And I can tell you why: I was terrified! Other children, I discovered to my horror, were loud and violent and utterly dreadful. And thus began a lifelong struggle with social interaction.
I simply did not fit. The other boys were too physical. The girls were too bossy. All the kids seemed to shriek and yell and barrel through the world with abandon. Like animals! By some random spin of nature’s wheel, I had arrived here ill-equipped to connect with my peers. So, I retreated. Adults began to refer to me as “shy.” “Sensitive.” A “lonely only.”
In this enlightened age of empathy and inclusion, we are encouraged to embrace — to celebrate — our individuality and uniqueness. And indeed, I do own my introversion now. I no longer regard it as problematic. Alone time is not only desirable but necessary to my kind.
But there’s a big difference between alone time and loneliness. In our grown-up sophistication, we might imbue the latter with a certain romantic melancholy: “a lonesome watering hole,” “a lovely, lonely princess.” But loneliness by its very definition is a negative state. An antisocial hermit who rejects all human contact is not lonely. A child who longs to belong is.
As a youngster, I would observe the interaction of siblings or friends with both an aching sense of yearning and a level of dread that proved to be an insurmountable obstacle. Imagine longing to enter the cozy, busy tavern beyond the window while stubbornly refusing to quit the tranquil solitude of the foggy street. Childhood loneliness can be a complicated matter.
August DuPont, A Small Zombie Problem’s protagonist, experiences crushing loneliness as the result of situational rather than psychological factors — a simpler, more tangible premise. But I hope my presentation of his predicament conveys some of the sadness that lingers around any lonely child, a sadness they will likely not identify until later, in retrospect.
I poured all of this into the above image. Many will miss it for its subtly. Publishers prefer us to capture emotion with facial expression; it’s more direct and satisfying for the audience. But occasionally I choose to dial up the poignancy of a moment by harnessing body language. Applied sparingly, it can be incredibly powerful in a cinematic way.
I used it for the reunion of the heroine and her squirrel in Kate DiCamillo’s Flora and Ulysses. The protagonists’ faces are entirely concealed, but Flora’s knees have buckled, and she has slumped to the floor. Ulysses clings to the girl’s hoodie as if he will never let go. No expressions, yet the reader sees everything they need to know and feels everything they’re meant to feel.
Here, Aunt Hydrangea’s neck bows with sorrow as she is brutally confronted by her nephew’s misery. Her shoulders slump with guilt as the child in her protection quietly demands release from the solitude she has imposed upon him. This image is filled with emotions too complex to rely on facial expression alone; it’s an ode to a lonely childhood.
Like so many others, reading was a lifeline for me, particularly between the ages of 8 and 16. The worlds and characters created by Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Alan Garner (yes, I grew up in the UK), filled a gaping void. Entrenched in a blanket-fort with my dog and a family-size bag of potato chips, I was in heaven. Not a sign of loneliness or sadness in there.
And like so many others, it was my voracious appetite for reading books as a kid that led me to pursue writing them as an adult. I could — perhaps should — tell you that I selected the theme of my first novel in an act of benevolence, an attempt to throw the same lifeline to another blanket-fort dweller sheltering from the raging storm of childhood. After all, coming across someone just like yourself, even a fictional someone like August DuPont, can make the loneliness seem less lonely.
Such a claim wouldn’t be entirely untrue. Of course, I want my books to spread joy. Of course, I hope they might be of some small benefit to someone. But perhaps my motivation in selecting its theme lay a little more in my desire for A Small Zombie Problem to be, quite simply, good. To be authentic. To have heart.
And if you want authenticity, if you want tangible, relatable heart, you know what they say: write what you know.
At one time or another, almost every child has fantasies about their toys coming to life — so it’s no wonder that Toy Story is such a beloved franchise for kids and their parents.
When I was young, I tried to catch my toys in the act. I would silently creep up to my bedroom, then whip open the door as fast as I could. If only I was quiet and quick enough, I would see my toys walking and talking. Of course, I never caught my toys doing anything but sitting right where I left them, but that didn’t stop me from trying.
Whether you love the friendships, the adventures, or the mere idea of toys coming to life, we’ve rounded up nine fantastic books for readers who love Toy Story.
no no 9780670063369 Corduroy 40th Anniversary Edition https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/314447/corduroy-40th-anniversary-edition-by-don-freeman-illustrated-by-don-freeman/ by Don Freeman
For the past 40 years, the story of Corduroy has delighted generations of readers. This darling tale of a stuffed bear with a missing button is one of the most beloved toys-come-to-life books and a must-read for fans of the Toy Story series. (Ages 2 – 5)
9780385375665 The Velveteen Rabbit https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/191202/the-velveteen-rabbit-by-margery-williams-illustrated-by-william-nicholson/9780385375665/ by Margery Williams, illustrated by William Nicholson
Originally published in 1922, this classic book is full of wisdom and heart. Adored by children and adults alike, the charming story about a stuffed rabbit and the boy who loves him will have you reaching for the tissue box. (Ages 3 – 7)
9781620916308 In the Middle of the Night https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/588667/in-the-middle-of-the-night-by-laura-purdie-salas-illustrated-by-angela-matteson/ by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Angela Matteson
From toys to pencils to food in the fridge, inanimate objects come to life when everyone is sleeping, enjoying shenanigans before dashing back to their places at morning’s first light. Bursting with imagination, this is a fantastic bedtime story kids are sure to love. (Ages 4 – 8)
9780763662547 Toys Galore https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/228640/toys-galore-by-peter-stein/ by Peter Stein, illustrated by Bob Staake
Bright illustrations and plenty of imagination await in this rhyming celebration of toys and creativity. Whether they’re homemade or store-bought, toys of all shapes and sizes fill the pages of this adorable book. (Ages 4 – 8)
9780307245939 The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/40399/the-miraculous-journey-of-edward-tulane-by-kate-dicamillo/ by Kate DiCamillo
Edward is the prized toy of a girl name Abilene. He’s self-centered and proud — until the day he gets lost. As he travels from place to place, Edward learns to open his heart to the people who come in and out of his life. This bittersweet tale has captured the hearts of children (and parents) everywhere. (Ages 6 – 9)
9780385736619 Toys Go Out Series https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/87063/toys-go-out-by-emily-jenkins-illustrated-by-paul-o-zelinsky/ by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
Lumphy, StingRay, and Plastic belong to a little girl who loves to play with them. Together, they explore their home, embark on adventures, and survive trips through the washing machine. Sweet and magical, this modern classic is a favorite of toy-loving children. (Ages 6 – 9)
9780553511635 Teddy & Co https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/247100/teddy-and-co-by-cynthia-voigt-illustrated-by-paola-zakimi/ by Cynthia Voigt, illustrated by Paola Zakimi
If your reader likes feel-good stories, you’ll want to pick up a copy of Teddy & Co. It’s about a group of toys living peacefully on an island together when new, unknown toys arrive. Soft and nostalgic, this tale celebrates friendship, kindness, and learning to get along with others. (Ages 7 – 10)
9780736439985 Toy Story 4: The Junior Novelization https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/600297/toy-story-4-the-junior-novelization-disneypixar-toy-story-4-by-rh-disney/ by RH Disney
When Bonnie’s homemade toy comes to life, Woody and the rest of the toys help him find his place in their family. This action-packed book retells the story as it appears on the big screen and is the perfect companion read for kids who can’t get enough of the latest movie. (Ages 8 – 12)
9780525477686 Winnie the Pooh https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/594905/winnie-the-pooh-by-a-a-milne-illustrated-by-ernest-h-shepard/ by A. A. Milne, illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard
Every child needs a copy of Winnie the Pooh on their shelf. The friendship between Woody and Andy (and now Bonnie, too!) is reminiscent of Pooh and Christopher Robin: both are heartfelt relationships between beloved companions. (Ages 8 – 12)
My oldest child has a passion for maps. (This is ironic because my own struggle to find my way around is a longstanding family joke.) Maps can be endlessly intriguing to children. They can inspire wonder about faraway places and evoke fantasies about interesting journeys, or give a new perspective on a familiar location. They’re a tool but can feel like works of art in their own right.
To satisfy my son’s fascination (and compensate for my own spatial-thinking shortcomings), my family has sampled many books that include maps — and pored endlessly over our favorites. If you have a map-lover in your household, these kid-approved titles are the perfect offerings.
no no 9781426331749 National Geographic Kids My First Atlas of the World https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/566520/national-geographic-kids-my-first-atlas-of-the-world-by-national-geographic-kids/ By National Geographic Kids
My son brought this book home from his school library and offered up this spontaneous review: “Mom, I know some of my other map books have more information, but I really like this one because it isn’t too crowded. I can find the places I want to find more easily.” The uncluttered yet appealing design of the maps and the succinct yet satisfying captions mean this volume completely lives up to its title’s claim as being appropriate for a child’s first atlas. (Ages 3 – 6)
9781524772000 Me on the Map https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/572583/me-on-the-map-by-joan-sweeney-illustrated-by-qin-leng/ by Joan Sweeney, illustrated by Qin Leng
I relied on this title every year as a classroom teacher and have found it equally helpful at home. A young girl explains her place in the world using gradually expanding maps reminiscent of nesting dolls — her room, her house, her street, her town, her state, and so on. As a kid, wrapping your head around different location terms is so confusing! This book has been a helpful reference for questions like “Is Boston a country?” There are also plenty of chances to talk about concepts like bird’s-eye view and 2-D versus 3-D. Kids might be inspired to draw maps of their own rooms, homes, and neighborhoods, too! (Ages 3 – 7)
9780399160721 Henry’s Map https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/311927/henrys-map-by-david-elliot-illustrated-by-david-elliot/ By David Elliot
Henry the pig prefers to have “a place for everything, and everything in its place.” When his farm feels disorganized and chaotic, he has the perfect solution: he’ll draw a map showing where every animal can be found. His project sparks plenty of barnyard enthusiasm, but when all the animals run to a nearby ridge to view the farm as shown on the map, they realize all the animals Henry drew are missing! This sweet story provides a creative introduction to maps for young readers. (Ages 4 – 8)
9780763626822 The Once Upon a Time Map Book https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/78610/the-once-upon-a-time-map-book-by-b-g-hennessy/ by B.G. Hennessy, illustrated by Peter Joyce
When I handed my daughter a copy of King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry, she looked skeptical. She reluctantly agreed to read it with me after I told her it was one of my favorite stories when I was her age, and her skepticism quickly morphed into enthusiasm as she fell in love with the book. Together, we laughed, cried, and cheered as a young Moroccan boy traveled to France and England with his beloved horse.
Watching her connect to the story brought back a flood of memories about my first time reading the book. It was like introducing my daughter to a much younger version of myself — one she could relate to and identify with. I highly recommend other parents share their favorite childhood books, a sweet activity with multiple benefits.
1. Forging emotional connections.
Every night, I sit on the end of my daughters’ beds and read them the stories I’ve cherished for decades. This distraction-free time gives my kids the chance to ask questions about the book we’re reading, the “olden days” when I was a kid, and whatever else is on their minds.
My 9-year-old especially adores this time together and the deeper connection she feels to her family because of it. Reading her a book that holds significant meaning for me brings us together in a whole new way.
2. Sharing a piece of our childhoods with our kids.
There’s nothing better than watching my kids’ reactions to books I’ve loved my entire life. They chattered with excitement when Charlie found his golden ticket in Roald Dahl’s classic and pulled the covers over their blushing faces when Almanzo asked Laura if he could walk her home in the Little House series.
In these moments, it feels like I’m reaching through time and connecting my childhood with theirs. Books have always been important to me, and sharing the stories that shaped me is nothing short of magical.
3. Introducing our kids to different kinds of stories.
Every generation has books that define them. For my kids, it’s mostly fantasy and realistic fiction. By reading my childhood favorites to them, my kids step outside their comfort zones and try new genres, authors, and writing styles. My 9-year-old didn’t know she loved folklore until we read my favorite collection of Japanese children’s stories together. My 11-year-old became obsessed with wilderness survival stories when I read Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins to her.
4. Getting to enjoy the book all over again.
Most of these stories hold up over time, and I find myself sucked right back into my favorite fictional worlds. Rereading books I adored as a kid brings back all the warm and fuzzy feelings I associate with childhood — it’s like running into an old friend and instantly getting lost in a great conversation.
While my kids have their own tastes in books, I’ll keep reading them my childhood favorites, too. The magic of seeing them fall in love with a cherished story is worth every skeptical look they can possibly throw at me
In this era of vibrant storytelling, graphic novels often get kids reading voraciously — they’re visually appealing, complex stories told through lively art and dialogue. From coming-of-age plots to fairy tale retellings, these kid-favorite graphic novels are must-haves for any classroom library. Don’t be surprised if these books become the most checked-out on your shelf.
no no 9781101935866 5 Worlds Series https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/531311/5-worlds-book-1-the-sand-warrior-by-mark-siegel-and-alexis-siegel-illustrated-by-xanthe-bouma-matt-rockefeller-and-boya-sun/9781101935866/ by Mark Siegel and Alexis Siegel, illustrated by Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller, and Boya Sun
First the Five World’s beacons begin to fail, then the capital is attacked. Three unlikely friends — a sand dancer, a robotic star athlete, and a boy from the slums — join forces to fix the beacons and stop the war. Lush illustrations, captivating characters, and an exciting, otherworldly plot will hook readers from the first page.
9780553535174 The Golden Compass Graphic Novel, Complete Edition https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/250447/the-golden-compass-graphic-novel-complete-edition-by-philip-pullman/9780553535174/ By Philip Pullman
Philip Pullman’s modern classic — beloved by kids everywhere — is a whole new experience in this graphic novel adaptation. Lyra and her daemon’s epic journey to the North is captured in all its imaginative, full-color glory. The utterly absorbing complete edition is perfect for kids who loved Pullman’s original story, and for those who’ve been too intimidated to try it.
9780375867934 The City of Ember https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/206280/the-city-of-ember-by-jeanne-duprau-adapted-by-dallas-middaugh-art-by-niklas-asker/ by Jeanne Duprau, illustrated by Niklas Asker, adapted by Dallas Middaugh
Another modern classic told anew, Jeanne Duprau’s The City of Ember follows the story of two brave young friends living in a doomed post-apocalyptic city that’s experiencing foreboding blackouts. When Lina and Doon discover a cryptic ancient message, they’re determined to find a way out of the city and convince the rest of its residents to follow them into the unknown.
9781524719371 The Cardboard Kingdom https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/552031/the-cardboard-kingdom-by-chad-sell/ by Chad Sell
One neighborhood — home to sixteen quirky kids — is transformed into the Cardboard Kingdom again and again in this graphic novel packed with heart. The royal residents of the Cardboard Kingdom use their endless imaginations to create all sorts of fantastical situations, as they also navigate the emotional ups and downs of adolescence.
9781616554316 Soupy Leaves Home https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/549210/soupy-leaves-home-by-written-by-cecil-castellucci-illustrated-by-jose-pimienta/ by Cecil Castellucci, illustrated by Jose Pimienta
The unique, sophisticated artwork in this one will draw readers in and transport them back to 1932 as a young runaway girl befriends a kind, rail-hopping paternal figure who shows her the way to California. Both Pearl “Soupy” Planket and Remy “Ramshackle” Smith have difficult paths to reckon with as they embark on an odyssey across America and hope for brighter futures.
9781536200553 Snow White https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/546174/snow-white-by-matt-phelan/9781536200553/ by Matt Phelan
Noir adaptations of classic tales are all the rage these days, and award-winning graphic novelist Matt Phelan adds to that atmospheric body of work with his “Snow White” retelling set in Roaring Twenties New York City. Young Samantha White’s troubles hit all the right notes and then some, including her heartwarming friendship with a group of street children called “the Seven.”
Summer reading is meant for playfulness, imagination, and brave new worlds. June’s best book releases feature a sparkling new creature that’s half-llama, half-unicorn; middle grade novels packed with magic, mermaids, and zombies; and YA reads that spin tales you’ve never heard before. Keep your family reading all season long with stories they won’t want to leave.
yes no Picture Books 9780525554592 I Am Not a Fish! https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/605810/i-am-not-a-fish-by-peter-raymundo/ by Peter Raymundo
Former Disney animator Peter Raymundo — known best for his work on Tarzan, Lilo & Stitch, and Mulan — brings his talents and humor to the story of Edgar the jellyfish, who’s experiencing a bit of an identity crisis. Edgar doesn’t feel like all the other fish in the sea, but are labels all that important anyway?
(On Sale: 6/4/19)
9781984851529 Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Construction Site https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/602469/richard-scarrys-busy-busy-construction-site-by-richard-scarry/ by Richard Scarry
Celebrate Richard Scarry’s 100th birthday with a Busytown-based board book featuring all the fun (and messy) activities of a bustling construction site. Complete with Scarry’s much-loved, colorful characters and captions for each type of truck, crane, and bulldozer, it’s a great addition to your little builder’s library.
(On Sale: 6/4/19)
9780593122068 I Love My Llamacorn https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/610519/i-love-my-llamacorn-by-danielle-mclean-illustrated-by-prisca-le-tande/ by Danielle McLean, illustrated by Prisca Le Tandé
We can all agree that llamas and unicorns are pretty superb. And now, with the imaginative stylings of Danielle McLean and Prisca Le Tandé, a brand new, glittery species has entered the picture: the llamacorn! Don’t be surprised if your little one starts attaching horns to all their stuffed-llama’s foreheads after reading this one.
(On Sale: 6/4/19)
9781524773205 Big Boys Cry https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/564502/big-boys-cry-by-jonty-howley/ by Jonty Howley
This sweet picture book encourages boys to express their emotions and reminds all readers that they’ll feel better after doing so. Levi is scared about his first day at a new school, and in trying to help, his dad tells him that “big boys don’t cry.” But throughout Levi’s day, he sees all sorts of men — including his dad — express a wide range of healthy feelings.
(On Sale: 6/11/19)
9780525553441 Nope. Never. Not for Me! https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/589150/nope-never-not-for-me-by-samantha-cotterill/ by Samantha Cotterill
In the newest addition to the Little Senses series, author-illustrator Samantha Cotterill gently explores the concept of trying new foods, particularly for picky eaters and children on the autism spectrum or with sensory concerns. The simple story and illustrations reassure kids that trying new things can be a positive experience.
(On Sale: 6/18/19)
9780593094044 Llama Llama 5-Minute Stories https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/610475/llama-llama-5-minute-stories-by-anna-dewdney/ by Anna Dewdney
Fans of Llama Llama, his friends, and Mama will eat up this new collection of stories that can be read in five minutes or less. Equally suited for read-alouds and independent reading, young readers will follow along as Llama learns to swim, loses a tooth, goes camping, celebrates a birthday, and more.
(On Sale: 6/25/19)
9780241358764 Where Is Peter Rabbit? https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/600363/where-is-peter-rabbit-by-beatrix-potter/ by Beatrix Potter
This lift-the-flap book is a delightful and interactive entry to Beatrix Potter’s world of Peter Rabbit. Little readers will have a ball playing hide-and-seek with Peter, and the rhyming text is perfect for early cognition and vocabulary-building.
(On Sale: 6/25/19)
yes no Middle Grade 9780451479532 All the Greys on Greene Street https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/567256/all-the-greys-on-greene-street-by-laura-tucker/ by Laura Tucker
In 1981 SoHo, 12-year-old Ollie’s days are filled with art. Her dad restores antique paintings, her mom creates sculptures, and Ollie herself roams the streets of New York with an artist’s keen sensibilities. But one day her dad disappears, and a stranger keeps calling about a missing piece of art. Ollie’s determined to figure out what’s happened in this quietly stunning debut novel.
(On Sale: 6/4/19)
9780553539554 A Small Zombie Problem https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/253064/a-small-zombie-problem-by-kg-campbell/ by K.G. Campbell
A new fantasy series is in town, this time following a lonely young boy and the fables and secrets that hover around the family he’s just getting to know. August is elated when an unknown aunt invites him to attend school with his cousins, but chaos ensues when an unwelcome — and undead — guest follows him home.
(On Sale: 6/4/19)
9780451480163 Sea Sirens https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/573447/sea-sirens-by-amy-chu-illustrated-by-janet-k-lee/ by Amy Chu, illustrated by Janet K. Lee
In this resplendent graphic novel inspired by L. Frank Baum’s The Sea Fairies, described as an “underwater Wizard of Oz,” a Vietnamese American girl and her one-eyed cat find themselves in an oceanic kingdom at war. With the Sea Siren mermaids besieged by the Serpent King, will Trot and her cat be able to help, and — perhaps more importantly — find their way home?
(On Sale: 6/11/19)
9780525515241 The Girl Who Sailed the Stars https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/566372/the-girl-who-sailed-the-stars-by-matilda-woods/ by Matilda Woods, illustrated by Anuska Allepuz
Matilda Woods charmed readers with her whimsical debut, The Boy, The Bird & the Coffin Maker, and her second book — full of magical realism, adventure, and dazzling prose — is sure to follow suit. The youngest of seven sisters, Oona Britt may not be the brave son her parents were promised, but when she sneaks aboard a ship, she proves that bravery isn’t a gendered trait.
(On Sale: 6/25/19)
yes no YA 9780451481467 The Haunted https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/598561/the-haunted-by-danielle-vega/ by Danielle Vega
Given Danielle Vega’s fame as YA’s Stephen King, it’s no surprise that The Haunted is thrillingly creepy. Hendricks is ready to start over in the tiny, unassuming town of Drearfield, New York, home to the Steele House, which is notoriously haunted by ghosts. But when Hendricks herself begins to feel haunted, she can’t tell if it’s the ghosts or her traumatic past coming to call.
(On Sale: 6/4/19)
9780525554912 Patron Saints of Nothing https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/602453/patron-saints-of-nothing-by-randy-ribay/ by Randy Ribay
Filipino-American teenager Jay Reguero is on track for the rest of his life: it’s the last semester of high school, and he’s ready to move on to college. And then tragedy strikes: his cousin Jun is killed in the Philippines, and no one wants to talk about it. Author Randy Ribay weaves two poignant coming-of-age stories that lead to divergent futures.
(On Sale: 6/18/19)
9781524713966 DEV1AT3 https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/547515/dev1at3-deviate-by-jay-kristoff/ by Jay Kristoff
In the second installment of Jay Kristoff’s LIFEL1K3 trilogy, best friends Eve and Lemon find themselves on different sides of the fight for humanity and no longer able to tell the difference between enemies and allies. The two have been drawn into separate communities — Eve with her fellow androids, and Lemon with other powerful abnorms — as they all hunt for an elusive key.
(On Sale: 6/25/19)
9781984812346 Wicked Fox https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/599547/wicked-fox-by-kat-cho/ by Kat Cho
An urban fantasy combined with Korean folklore, Wicked Fox tells the star-crossed love story of Miyoung and Jihoon. Miyoung has a gumiho soul: she transforms into a nine-tailed-fox that feeds off the energy of men — until she rescues Jihoon from a goblin and loses her fox bead. Jihoon doesn’t realize he now holds Miyoung’s life in his hands, and dark forces spell doom for one of them.
(On Sale: 6/25/19)
As end-of-school-year activities ramp up and summer plans are solidified, I’m a little bit nervous about the summer slide.
I have two daughters. My oldest has been a voracious reader from the moment she could open a book — she regularly plows through multiple books in the course of a day. My youngest is a struggling reader who loves stories but becomes understandably frustrated when she can’t seem to crack the code. Getting her to read this summer is going to be … less than fun.
I created this Summer Reading Challenge with both kids in mind. It will add an extra layer of excitement for strong readers, and it will allow reluctant readers to incorporate some of their strengths into their reading experience.
Just promise one thing: You won’t make this a chore. Instead, encourage a lifelong love of books and reading by making this a fun adventure. If your child is struggling, read along with them. If they hear an activity and come up with their own version that’s more fun for them, let them run with it. The important part is that they’re engaging with books on a regular basis.
Below you’ll find a preview of five ideas from our Summer Reading Challenge. Want more? Scroll down to download a printable version of all 20 ideas!
We’d love to see what your family does with these challenges. Tag us on social media @ReadBrightly and use the hashtag #brightlychallenge for a chance to be featured!
See how many silly places you can read this summer: on a trampoline, under a table, in the bathtub, in a closet with a flashlight. Have a friend or family member keep track, too. At the end of the summer, compare your lists and pick your favorite spots.
Start a pen pal book club. Not going to see your BFF much this summer? Start a book club and send each other letters about the book(s) you’re reading. Little readers who aren’t writing yet can send thoughts to friends and relatives in video form instead.
Weeklong challenge: Read a different book by the same author each day.
Read a picture book or graphic novel. When you’re done, continue the story with artwork in the style of the illustrator.
Cut up construction or scrapbook paper and create a paper chain to keep track of how many books you read this summer. Write a mini book review on each of the links.
Once was, parents who were gay or who were raising gay or transgendered children had a hard time finding their family’s faces and feelings in the pages of children’s books. No more. Ever since Heather Has Two Mommies appeared on shelves in 1989, more books, geared to everyone from the youngest tots to questioning tweens and teens (not to mention to their parents), are filling the gap and helping families grow in understanding.
no no 9780525580126 My Two Moms and Me https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/566971/my-two-moms-and-me-by-michael-joosten-illustrated-by-izak-zenou/ by Michael Joosten, illustrated by Izak Zenou
This sweet board book features a diverse array of families with lesbian mothers going about their daily routines, including playdates, pool-dates, and bedtime reading. Published in 2019 with artwork by an acclaimed fashion illustrator, it’s a welcome follow-up to Heather Has Two Mommies. Don’t miss My Two Dads and Me by the same creators! (Ages 0 – 3)
9781582462622 Daddy, Papa, and Me https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/197676/daddy-papa-and-me-by-by-leslea-newman-illustrations-by-carol-thompson/ by Leslea Newman, illustrated by Carol Thompson
Like the above author-illustrator duo, Leslea Newman and Carol Thompson add their unique touch to the rainbow-family compendium with Daddy, Papa, and Me and Mommy, Mama, and Me. Rhythmic text and charming illustrations make these board books a must-have for all families. (Ages 0 – 3)
9780399557972 The Adventures of Honey & Leon https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/545043/the-adventures-of-honey-and-leon-by-alan-cumming-illustrated-by-grant-shaffer/ by Alan Cumming, illustrated by Grant Shaffer
Theater and film star Alan Cumming and his husband Grant Shaffer were inspired to chronicle the adventures of their rescue dogs during their dads’ travels. It turns out, Honey and Leon tail their dads and rescue them at every turn. Their adventures continue in the Scotland-based sequel, Honey & Leon Take the High Road. (Ages 3 – 7)
9780763690458 Julián Is a Mermaid https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/567578/julian-is-a-mermaid-by-jessica-love/ by Jessica Love
This gorgeous Stonewall Award-winning picture book stars Julián, a child coming to understand their gender nonconformity after a joyful encounter with three women dressed as shimmering mermaids. Julián fantasizes about dressing up like a mermaid too, and wonders what his Abuela will make of it in this celebration of self-love and individuality. (Ages 4 – 8)
9780399555312 Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/538691/pride-the-story-of-harvey-milk-and-the-rainbow-flag-by-rob-sanders-illustrated-by-steven-salerno/ by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Steven Salerno
Young readers can now learn the momentous and inspiring story of the Gay Pride Flag, created in 1978 by social activist Harvey Milk and designer Gilbert Baker. More than a history, Pride vibrantly illuminates the reach and timelessness of the rainbow flag, a global symbol of equality and inclusion. (Ages 5 – 8)
9781524719524 Stonewall: A Building, an Uprising, a Revolution https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/552076/stonewall-a-building-an-uprising-a-revolution-by-rob-sanders-illustrated-by-jamey-christoph/9781524719524/ by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Jamey Christoph
Pride author Rob Sanders adds another title to the LGBTQ+ historical canon with Stonewall, the moving story of the 1969 police raid and ensuing protests that played a crucial role in the gay civil rights movement. Narrated by the Stonewall Inn itself, this accessible and empowering book is an essential piece of pride history. (Ages 5 – 8)
9780385376556 https://assets.readbrightly.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Misadventures-of-the-Family-Fletcher.jpg The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/231491/the-misadventures-of-the-family-fletcher-by-dana-alison-levy/ by Dana Alison Levy
The Fletchers are no different from any modern American family — four brothers, various pets (some possibly imaginary), soccer, plays, and pesky neighbors. The fact that the fathers are gay and a few of the brothers are adopted? That’s just background, showing readers without telling them that there as many definitions of family as there are families. (Ages 8 – 10)
9780451479402 Zenobia July https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/565955/zenobia-july-by-lisa-bunker/ by Lisa Bunker
Zenobia July is a hacking and coding prodigy who’s attending a new school as a girl for the first time. Though she’s recently lost her family of origin, she creates a chosen family in the LGBTQ+ community. Bunker’s also the author of Felix Yz, an imaginative story with several characters who are queer and gender fluid. (Ages 10+)
9780525517498 The Whispers https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/576472/the-whispers-by-greg-howard/ by Greg Howard
A fantastical coming-of-age story about loss, friendship, and identity, The Whispers centers around 11-year-old Riley, who believes in wish-granting fairies known as the whispers. Riley embarks on a journey with his friend Gary to find the whispers and ask for his mom to return, and maybe also for his crush Dylan to like him back. (Ages 10+)
I am not the first person to write about the importance of representation in kid lit, nor the thousandth, but as an out trans author of LGBTQIA+-themed middle grade titles, I do think I’m positioned to put my own inflection on the topic. So, here are three things I’m trying to accomplish by writing the stories I do.
Author Goal #1: I want all kids to have the chance to read realistic, human characters that feel like themselves. My sense of mission here comes from my personal experience of how it feels to not find such characters. When I was a shy, unexpressed trans girl making my way steadily through the juvenile section of my local public library back in the ’70s, I did not find a single book that had an out trans character in it. If I had, I might have been able to speak my truth much sooner. As it was, not seeing anyone like me in books (or in comics or movies or on TV or in the world), it took me well into adulthood to even get started on claiming my truest and best life.
My favorite feedback from readers is when I hear from a kid — or someone helping a kid find books to read — that one of my stories has become that child’s favorite re-read. I had books that I read over and over again too, and even though they didn’t show me myself directly, they still sustained me and gave me strength. It makes my heart glow to think maybe I’m helping other young rainbow humans in the same way.
Author Goal #2:I want to entice other readers to read about their rainbow peers. This one is a tough sell, I’m beginning to learn. I gather my books often get pigeonholed as “message” or niche books and only recommended to kids like those mentioned above. In hopes of breaking through that roadblock, I strive to craft stories that are compelling as stories and more than just “my teenage LGBTQIA+ life.”
In my first book, Felix Yz, Felix is incidentally gay, but the main plotline involves him being fused with an alien and counting down to a risky procedure to separate them. In Zenobia July, my new book, Zen’s trans identity is more central to the story — as the novel opens, she’s about to go to school as a girl for the first time — but it’s not the only thread. She is also a coder/hacker prodigy who solves a cybercrime. Both books are nerdy as all get-out too, so I hope to draw in the larger fringe reading population.
Author Goal #3: I want to depict the nurturing power of the LGBTQIA+ community. This is probably the edgiest of my three goals. In Felix, as an unpublished writer, I included lots of LGBTQIA+ characters just for fun and to see what it would look like. I was surprised by some Goodreads reviews that basically said “Too many!” as though there were an unspoken statutory limit. My reaction was to do the same thing again in Zen, and this time very much on purpose. As the story opens, she has lost her family of origin. How does she survive? Through the sustaining power of LGBTQIA+ friends and family of choice.
By writing realistic and relatable young rainbow characters, I hope to give solace to such humans and to help others come to see them as regular, unthreatening folks just like themselves. I hope to chip away at an overly binary definition of “normal,” which still prevents LGBTQIA+ youth from moving freely through the world as an accepted part of the gloriously jumbled mix of humanity.
yes yes Books by the Author: 9780425288511 Felix Yz https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/545679/felix-yz-by-lisa-bunker/ by Lisa Bunker 9780451479402 Zenobia July https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/565955/zenobia-july-by-lisa-bunker/9780451479402/ by Lisa Bunker
Is there anything better than falling asleep to the sound of someone reading to you? Whether it’s a sweet picture book or an exciting adventure, we’ve got perfect recommendations for a range of ages — because you’re never too old to be read to! Listen to these as a family for a new evening routine, or pair audio with thumbing through a picture book together. Either way, your young readers are sure to have wonderful dreams.
no no 9781984886569 Corduroy Audiobook Collection https://www.penguinrandomhouseaudio.com/book/605388/corduroy-audiobook-collection/ by Don Freeman, B.G. Hennessy, and Viola Davis, read by Viola Davis
Most of us are familiar with the story of Corduroy, a small teddy bear waiting for a child’s friendship. This collection celebrates the character’s 50th anniversary with a new story by Academy Award winner Viola Davis, Corduroy Takes a Bow, and new recordings of the collection read by Davis herself — a perfect voice to fall asleep to. (Ages 2 – 5; available in digital download)
9780593103807 A Piglet Named Mercy https://www.penguinrandomhouseaudio.com/book/608253/a-piglet-named-mercy/ by Kate DiCamillo, read by Mark Bramhall
Fans of the New York Times-bestselling Mercy Watson series will love this origin story of how porcine wonder Mercy the piglet arrived on Deckawoo Drive to bring love and chaos to everyone she meets. What could be cuter than a piglet prequel? (Ages 2 – 5; available in digital download)
9780525638759 Carmela Full of Wishes https://www.penguinrandomhouseaudio.com/book/549616/carmela-full-of-wishes/ by Matt de la Peña, read by the author
Carmela is following her big brother through the neighborhood when she finds a lone dandelion sprouting from the pavement — but when her brother tells her she has to make a wish, she can’t think of just the right wish to make. Newbery Medal winner Matt de la Peña (Last Stop on Market Street) delivers a moving ode to family and to dreamers with melodic text and expressive narration. (Ages 3 – 5; available in digital download)
9780593153604 Dragons Love Tacos https://www.penguinrandomhouseaudio.com/book/309024/dragons-love-tacos/ by Adam Rubin, read by the author
Dragons love tacos — every taco ever created. They especially love tacos with salsa, but if it’s too spicy, there might be some trouble. Adam Rubin narrates his beloved, bestselling picture book so you and your young one can focus on the illustrations … or dreaming of tacos yourself. (Ages 3 – 7; available in digital download)
9780593153628 Dragons Love Tacos 2 https://www.penguinrandomhouseaudio.com/book/318034/dragons-love-tacos-2-the-sequel/ by Adam Rubin, read by the author
If you’re jonesing for more taco-loving dragons in your life (and really, who isn’t?), don’t miss the time-hopping sequel! The dragons are devastated to learn that tacos have gone extinct, but they’re determined to set things right, even if it means pulling a little time heist.
9780593162835 Lucy & Clark https://www.penguinrandomhouseaudio.com/book/621077/lucy-and-clark/ by Ashley Iaconetti & Jared Haibon, read by the authors
The Bachelor stars Ashley Iaconetti and Jared Haibon share a charming story about the magic that happens when you find the gumption to believe in yourself — inspired by their real-life (and real-cute) pups. (Ages 3 – 7; available in digital download)
9781984884190 The Epic Adventures of Huggie & Stick https://www.penguinrandomhouseaudio.com/book/317263/the-epic-adventures-of-huggie-and-stick/ by Drew Daywalt, read by the author
This “surefire read-aloud for any wannabe hero” (Booklist) pairs the always chipper Stick with the perpetually grumpy stuffed bunny Huggie for a wild adventure! Together, this unlikely duo survives an odyssey around the world that’s sure to send your young reader to sleep with exciting dreams. (Ages 4 – 8; available in digital download)
9780593152003 Don’t Let Them Disappear https://www.penguinrandomhouseaudio.com/book/563903/dont-let-them-disappear/ by Chelsea Clinton, read by the author
Bestselling author Chelsea Clinton introduces listeners to twelve endangered species by sharing what makes them special, what factors are endangering them, and what we can do to help. Much as she encouraged young feminists with She Persisted, Clinton turns to budding environmentalists with this captivating listen for animal-lovers. (Ages 4 – 8; available in digital download)
9780525643500 Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, Books 1-2 https://www.penguinrandomhouseaudio.com/book/592334/good-night-stories-for-rebel-girls-books-1-2/ by Francesca Cavallo & Elena Favilli, read by a full cast
Two hundred brief portraits of extraordinary women throughout history come together in this phenomenal collection, read by a full cast including Alicia Keys, Ashley Judd, Danai Gurira, Esperanza Spalding, Janeane Garofalo, Mozhan Marnò, Phillipa Soo, Rowan Blanchard, and Samira Wiley. It’s perfect bedtime listening for inspiring young girls and boys to dream big. (Ages 4 – 8; available on CD and in digital download)
9781984837882 The Day You Begin https://www.penguinrandomhouseaudio.com/book/299104/the-day-you-begin/ by Jacqueline Woodson, read by the author
National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson’s poignant message emboldens young listeners to find the courage to connect, even when they feel nervous or different from those around them. A sweet read for life transitions and your everyday variety of growing up, Woodson’s trademark warmth shines through the story. (Ages 5 – 8; available in digital download)
9781984887023 The Phantom Tollbooth https://www.penguinrandomhouseaudio.com/book/89124/the-phantom-tollbooth/ by Norton Juster, read by Rainn Wilson
Emmy Award-nominated actor Rainn Wilson (of The Office fame) reads beloved classic The Phantom Tollbooth, about an apathetic boy who finds his life turned upside down when a mysterious tollbooth appears in his bedroom. Transported to the bizarre land of Dictionopolis, Milo comes to realize life isn’t so dull after all. (Ages 8 – 12; available on CD and in digital download)
9780593102947 A Wrinkle in Time https://www.penguinrandomhouseaudio.com/book/607523/a-wrinkle-in-time-archival-edition/ by Madeleine L’Engle, read by the author
Pulled from our vault is Madeleine L’Engle’s own narration of her Newbery Medal-winning novel, A Wrinkle in Time. This cornerstone of the children’s book canon introduces iconic heroine Meg Murry, who along with her brother, Charles Wallace, adventures through time and space to rescue their father. (Ages 10+; available in digital download)