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20 Diverse Picture Books About Summer

Summer is here which means no school, vacation, outdoor play, pools and beaches, and lots of sun. This year is already breaking heat records, but there’s no better way to escape the heat than taking lots of reading breaks indoors.

While in the past there hasn’t been much diversity in seasonal picture books, that is happily changing, and these twenty children’s picture books about summer depict children and families from a variety of races, cultures, abilities, and backgrounds. They also center joyful summer experiences.

It’s vital for picture books about BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and/or disabled characters depict joy. While more serious narratives have their place, if the only stories children hear about BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and/or disabled characters center trauma, than there’s a problem. Children crave joyful, hilarious, and fun-filled stories, and those stories should not only center on white, cis-het experiences.

All children are deserving of joy. All children should be able to see themselves, and children who aren’t like them, experiencing that joy in picture books. I also love seeing these characters in nature-themed picture books, which has also been scarce in the past. While more of these books are being published, there’s still a great need for more, especially those centering intersectional identities.

Make sure to check out and read these twenty picture books about summer before kids head back to school!

And Then Comes Summer by Tom Brenner, illustrated by Jaime Kim

This rhythmic celebration of summer follows children over the course of one summer. Brenner writes the prose in the second person and opens the book with Johnny jump-ups and children happily packing up their things on the last day of school. Throughout the summer, children open lemonade stands, ride bicycles in a 4th of July parade, play hopscotch, travel to a lake for vacation, and more. Every page is an absolute joy. Jaime Kim’s warm illustrations are so evocative of the summer.

Summer is for Cousins by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Abhi Alwar

Ravi, the narrator in this delightful summer vacation picture book, used to be the youngest of the seven cousins, but this year there’s a new baby. Ravi loves spending the summer at the family lake house with all his cousins. He especially looks up to his oldest cousin, Dhruv, and wonders if he remembers that they share favorite ice cream flavors.

The cousins spend a fun summer together — digging moats at a beach, tire swinging into swimming holes, biking, and more — culminating in a big family dinner the cousins make together, with Ravi in charge of dessert. With vibrant illustrations and heartwarming characters, this picture book will make readers of all ages smile. There aren’t enough picture books depicting cousins, and this one is sure to become a classic.

When Summer Comes: Exploring Nature in Our Warmest Season by Aimée M. Bissonette, illustrated by Erin Hourigan

In this lyrical picture book, a family of five spend their summer exploring, from local farmer’s markets to forests full of animals and hidden swimming holes. The soft and colorful illustrations by award-winning artist Erin Hourigan are so beautiful and happy, with lots of background elements for children to notice, like a family of turtles climbing over a log or butterflies flitting through a meadow. There are two other books in this series: When Winter Comes, available now, and When Fall Comes, which will be released in September. I imagine a spring-themed picture book will be coming soon as well.

Wild Summer: Life in the Heat by Sean Taylor, Alex Morss, illustrated by Cinyee Chiu

A child and grandfather spend a summer day together in this lovely intergenerational picture book, which is also part of a series. When summer arrives, a young girl can finally visit her grandfather in his new home. Together they explore the meadow outside his home, where grasshoppers chirp and a stream trickles by. At the stream they discover a dragonfly, and the girl learns about why water is so important and why wildlife thrives around it during the summer months.

Eventually, the two make their way down to the beach and find fossils before swimming together. Back matter includes a description of what summer is as well as a list of land animals, plants, and ocean life that can be found in the summer months. Also check out Winter Sleep and Busy Spring.

Sari-Sari Summers by Lynnor Bontigao

Nora so looks forward to her summers spent with Lola, her grandmother, in the Philippines. She helps Lola in her sari-sari store, where anything can be bought, like toys or salty kropek or mung beans. The mango tree outside the sari-sari store has grown so big this year. When a heatwave hits, people stop visiting the sari-sari store, and Nora worries about being sent back home.

However, when she notices the mango tree has dozens of ripe mangos, she gets an idea. She asks Lola if they can make and sell ice candy using the mangos. Lola agrees, and the ice candy is a huge hit in the community. This is such a heartwarming intergenerational picture book and includes a recipe for ice candy in the back!

When Lola Visits by Michelle Sterling, illustrated by Aaron Asis

In this poetic picture book, a young girl describes what summer feels like when her grandmother visits from the Phillippines. “It smells like cassava cake covered with smooth and glossy custard,” she says as she and Lola peek into the oven where the cake is cooking. The two spend their days splashing at the beach, enjoying delicious Filipino dishes, and having family celebrations, but too soon it’s time for Lola to say goodbye. However, she leaves a sweet treat for the young girl to remember her by until the next summer. This is a beautiful intergenerational picture book.

Paletero Man by Lucky Diaz, illustrated by Micah Player, translated by Dr. Carmen Tafolla

Latin-American award-winning musician Lucky Diaz writes this delicious and rhythmic picture book which includes a link to listen to the song that inspired the book! It’s the hottest day of the year in Los Angeles, and a young boy can’t wait to buy a paleta from Paletero José to help him cool off. On the way to find Paletero José, the narrator passes Tio Ernesto, who runs a tamale stand, Ms. Lee’s BBQ stand, his friend Frank at the bike shop, and more. He can hear Paletero José’s music and his call, but he can’t find him! When he finally does reach the paleta stand, he realizes he has a big problem — he’s lost his dinero! How is he going to cool down with a delicious paleta now? This is such a fun book to read aloud, and there’s also a bilingual English and Spanish version.

The World Belonged to Us by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Leo Espinosa

I love all of Jacqueline Woodson’s children’s books (The Year We Learned to Fly, The Day You Begin), and this one is just as good, and based on Woodson’s childhood experiences. Summer has arrived in Brooklyn, and as children stream out of schools on the last day, they know the block is theirs for the summer. Bigger kids take care of younger ones as the children laugh and play without adult supervision. Children hopscotch, double dutch, turn on fire hydrants, chase ice cream trucks, and generally have a fantastic time until their mothers call them in for dinner. The retro-style illustrations evoke the 1970s when Woodson would’ve been that child leaping through the streets.

Papá's Magical Water-Jug Clock by Jesús Trejo, illustrated by Eliza Kinkz

Mexican American comedian Jesús Trejo’s debut picture book is a funny and heartwarming summer picture book based on this author’s childhood. A young Jesús is excited to go to work with his landscaper Papá on a hot day. Papá puts him in charge of the water jug. When the water is all out, Papá tells Jesús, it will be time to go home. However, Jesús is more than a little overzealous with his water distribution. As he and Papá go from house to house, he liberally shares his water with sweater-clad dogs, a horde of cats, and more. Far too soon, the water runs out, and Papá still has many more houses to go. This picture book is available in both English a Spanish.

Cooler Than Lemonade by Harshita Jerath, illustrated by Chloe Burgett

Eva loves coming up with ideas, and this summer she decides to start a lemonade stand with the help of her younger brother. However, her neighbor Jake, who lives across the street, also sets up a lemonade stand. How can she compete? She tries different flavors and advertising, but no matter what she does, Jake has something better up his sleeve. That is until she comes up with her most brilliant idea yet — she can make kulfi! Instead of Jake and Eva being rivals, they decide to team up, Eva with her kulfi stand and Jake with his lemonade. Back matter includes a description of this Indian recipe as well as a recipe. This is a wonderful read-aloud about competition and community.

Sweet Pea Summer by Hazel Mitchell

Hazel’s mother needs to spend the summer at the hospital, so Hazel goes to live with her grandparents until her mother is doing better. She’s worried about her mom but loves helping her grandfather in the garden. Grandpa puts her in charge of the sweet peas, and with help from some adorable cats, she takes care of the sweet peas and watches them grow. At the end of the summer, Hazel enters the sweetpeas at a local flower show. Hazel is initially sad that her mom isn’t there to see her win a prize, but then she gets the best surprise yet — her parents have come, and her mom is feeling better! This is such a sweet picture book, and I love the very British illustrations.

Our Pool by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Nothing says summer like a day at the pool, and in Lucy Ruth Cummins’s latest book, a child and caregiver spend the day at the city pool. From the moment the narrator wakes up, they can tell today is a Pool Day. And the narrator isn’t the only one to feel that way: many people are heading to the pool. Once there, the child gets lathered in sunblock and jumps into the pool. All kinds of people are enjoying the pool. Cummins’s prose is so lively and evocative: “Like a fish out of water, I’m suddenly flopping, flailing, straining toward the pool’s edge as Mom coats me from head to pinky toe in slippery, slimy sunblock.” Her illustrations are bright and colorful. This is the perfect picture book to read to any child who loves going to the pool.

The Boy Who Cried Poop! by Alessandra Requina, illustrated by Guilherme Karsten

This hilarious picture book will have kids cackling. An older sister narrates the story about one fateful day at the swimming pool on the first day of a family vacation. The author bases the story on a real childhood occurrence while on vacation. The sister, her younger brother Marc, and their father are excited to be the first at the pool, but almost as soon as he hits the water, Marc claims he needs to poop.

So the three tromp back up the several flights of stairs to their hotel room, where Marc then says he no longer needs to poop. This happens several times, and each time the family goes up and down the stairs, they meet ever more ludicrous sights. The third time this happens, the dad has had enough. There’s no way he can walk back up all those stairs, again. Unfortunately, it’s this time it finally happens — Marc poops in the pool. However, instead of being body-shamed, something unexpected happens: everyone at the pool shares their own embarrassing poop stories. It’s a body positive and incredibly fun read aloud.

When You Can Swim by Jack Wong

This stunningly illustrated and poetic picture book describes the many joys that can be found swimming in natural areas. It opens with a young child who is nervous about learning to swim, but an adult tells her of the many things she will discover “when you can swim.” From floating and watching trees pass by to diving off bridges and conquering the waves, each page spread shows different children and adults enjoying water in a variety of ways. The picture book closes with the same child and adult at the beginning at a swimming pool, ready for swim lessons to begin. Back matter includes the author’s story about being nervous about swimming as an immigrant child in Canada and the clashing cultural attitudes he heard from his family surrounding swimming. He eventually learned to love swimming, particularly in natural areas. I predict this new picture book will win some awards.

This Beach is Loud! by Samantha Cotterill

When a young boy wakes up, he’s so excited to go to the beach with his dad. But once there, however, he feels overwhelmed. The sand is too hot and gets everywhere, and there are too many people. Everything is just so loud! His dad prompts him to breathe deeply and count and tap. With some calming exercises, Dad and son are able to enjoy the beach together. Cotterill developed the Little Senses series for neurodivergent children. This is one book of four. The others are Nope. Never. Not For Me!, Can I Play Too?, and It Was Supposed to Be Sunny.

Fatima’s Great Outdoors by Ambreen Tariq, illustrated by Stevie Lewis

This fun debut picture book about camping and exploring nature is written by the founder of @BrownPeopleCamping, Ambreen Tariq. Fatima Khazi can’t wait for her family camping trip over the weekend. She’s had a rough day at school, experiencing both bullying and a bad grade on a math test. She and her family listen to Bollywood songs on the way to their camping site, and despite some initial setbacks, she has a fun day exploring nature. She finds so much happiness and peace in being outside. This is the perfect book to bring along to any summer camping trips.

Dusk Explorers by Lindsay Leslie, illustrated by Ellen Rooney

In this lyrical picture book, children explore their suburban neighborhood at dusk on a summer evening. Children play tag, climb trees, catch beautiful flickering fireflies, splash in creeks, and more. When they hear their parents yell for them, they know it’s time to return home. This playful picture book ends with an invitation to readers to become dusk explorers. This is a great read aloud for those long summer days.

My Ocean is Blue by Darren Lebeuf, illustrated by Ashley Barron

In this poetic picture book, a young girl with cerebral palsy and her mother enjoy a day at the beach. “This is my ocean,” she says, and continues by describing the ocean. Barron’s vibrant, paper-cut illustrations are beautiful, as is Lebeuf’s poem. It’s a gentle, lovely picture book and part of a series about observation. The other books include My City Speaks and My Forest is Green.

Natsumi’s Song of Summer by Robert Paul Weston, illustrated by Misa Saburi

Natsumi, who lives in Japan, is having a very special summer. Her cousin, Jill from America, is visiting for her birthday! She’s both excited and nervous, but from the minute her family picks Jill up from the airport, the two are instant friends. Jill wants Natsumi to show her everything. The two share watermelon at the beach, dance at the obon festival, listen to cicadas, and more. Weston wrote this sweet picture book about friendship as a series of tanka poems. Back matter includes a description of tanka poems and more information about cicadas in Japan.

The Night Is Yours by Abdul-Razak Zachariah, illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo

Written as a letter from a son to his daughter, this picture book follows a young girl, Amani, as she plays hide-and-seek with other children at an apartment complex one summer evening. When it’s Amani’s turn to be it, she patiently finds one child after another. However, she has trouble finding the last hiding child. As the father watches from the window, Amani’s frustration turns into calm, and she’s finally able to find the last child, right before parents call for their children to return home. Written in lyrical prose, this is such a lovely and empowering story and is one of my daughter’s favorite picture books.

About the Author:

Margaret Kingsbury posts about children’s books on Instagram @BabyLibrarians. She writes for Book Riot and BuzzFeed Books, and her essays have also appeared in Parents, The Lily, School Library Journal, and more. In her free time, she writes children’s books she hopes will be published one day, hikes with her daughter, and rearranges her books.


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