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Summer State of Mind with Madison's Art Cart

This post includes a collection of our favorite summertime reads - books that capture that summer state of mind - long, sunny days outside, melty popsicles, and the freedom to dream and explore with friends and family.

Summer is the perfect time to discover new books at your local library or at a visit with our Big Red Reading Bus. Click here for our summer programming schedule and here for more information about the Madison Public Library summer reading program.

This post also includes a fun painting activity sponsored by Madison’s Art Cart! We love collaborating with Art Cart, especially in the summer when both our buses hit the road!

The Art Cart is co-sponsored by the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and MSCR. It is a free, traveling art program that provides creative, outdoor art-making experiences to children ages 3+ and their families. Activities include both group and individual projects, with a variety of materials. During a typical summer, Friday afternoons feature plaster casting on the beach and the third the week of July features the re-painting of the Vilas Park Shoe -- a Madison tradition!

This summer, you can find both us and the Art Cart at Mobile Madison events - MM is a collaborative group of organizations that bring free, mobile activities to a multitude of Madison neighborhoods. Find the summer schedule here.

For more information about the Art Cart and for their summer programming schedule, click here.

Below, we’ve included a sample of an activity children recently completed at a visit with the Art Cart. This is a great painting activity to do with kids of all ages, and one that is sure to result in lots of beautiful one-of-a-kind artwork!

For this activity, kids were tasked with completing a blind contour drawing. Blind contour drawing is the process of your brain and hand connecting - you draw by visualizing your subject instead of looking at the paper. Check out the supplies needed and easy steps below!

Blind contour drawing


  • Water color paper

  • White pastel crayon

  • Watercolor paints and brush


1: envision what you look like in your head

2: with a white pastel crayon, quickly draw yourself

3: with watercolors, paint to reveal your self portrait!

Summer is the best time to take advantage of free programming by organizations like Art Cart and the Madison Reading Project! We can’t wait to see you on the road.

Don't miss these summertime books:

You can find more of our summer book recommendations on our Bookshop page.

Paletero Man

Author: Lucky Diaz | Illustrator: Micah Player | Publisher: HarperCollins

Paletero Man is the perfect summer treat! On a hot day in Los Angeles, nothing sounds better to our narrator than an ice cold paleta - he has to find Paletero José! He dreams of all the delicious possibilities while venturing down Eighth Avenue and greets some of the special mainstays in his community. When he finally finds Paletero José, he realizes he’s lost all his dinero! Oh no! Can his neighborhood friends save the day?

This is a beautiful representation of the birthplace of the immigrant street food vendor culture in Los Angeles. It also includes Spanish words throughout, and is available in an entirely Spanish version. We LOVE this book!

Ice Cream Face

Author/Illustrator: Heidi Woodward Sheffield | Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

We cannot help but relate to the main character in this story - he loves ice cream so much, he thinks it should be eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner! There is only one thing worse than not having it every meal, though, and that’s waiting in line for it. He hates having to watch others enjoy it when he cannot. This is a fun book that teaches and explores a wide range of emotions - all relating to eating ice cream. Ice Cream Face is so relatable it can be used to discuss emotions, coping strategies and of course, ice cream!

It Began with Lemonade

Author: Gideon Sterer | Illustrator: Lian Cho | Publisher: Dial Books

Like so many kids, the character in this book wants to sell lemonade to her community but is disappointed to find that her street is already full of other kid entrepreneurs! So instead, she finds herself by the riverside where she encounters many super thirsty and yet very unexpected customers. This creative and imaginative story is so much fun!


Author: Sacha Cotter | Illustrator: Josh Morgan | Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

This is a great book for instilling confidence and finding the strength to listen to your own voice. In Cannonball, a child is finally ready to attempt the PERFECT cannonball. Everyone he encounters gives their own advice, and before too long, he’s completely confused and unsure of himself. It’s not until he listens to his own voice that he finds his own unique style and is able to pull it off!

This book is also a celebration of indigenous Polynesian culture and includes a glossary of Maori words.

Sakamoto’s Swim Club: How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory

Author: Julie Abery | Illustrator: Chris Sasaki | Publisher: Kids Can Press

Sakamoto’s Swim Club is a beautiful story told in short, rhythmic prose. When a science teacher observed children playing in the irrigation ditches on a sugar plantation, he offered to take responsibility for them and teach them how to swim. This inspirational story tells the real-life story of how one teacher with a dream coached his students all the way to the Olympics.

The World Belonged to Us

Author: Jacqueline Woodson | Illustrator: Leo Espinosa | Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

This book will be nostalgic for many grown-up readers. The World Belonged to Us is a lively and bold tribute to the way children used to play in the summer - mostly unsupervised and free to do as they pleased, as long as they made it home for dinnertime. The big kids took care of the little ones, and they worked together to solve their own problems. Hopscotch, hide-and-seek and tag kept them entertained for hours. This is such a joyful representation of a neighborhood of children who feel like anything is possible during the freedom of summer.

Fatimas Great Outdoors

Author: Ambreen Tariq | Illustrator: Stevie Lewis | Publisher: Kokila

Fatimas Great Outdoors is such a special book. It chronicles the experiences of Fatima and her family as they camp for the first time. As immigrants, it’s not something they’ve ever done and yet, many of their experiences remind them of their home in India. Fatimas Great Outdoors shows how nature can bring feelings of joy, peace and belonging.

Ambreen Tariq is the founder of @brownpeoplecamping - a movement to help diversify our outdoor spaces. This book is part of that movement - it celebrates South Asian Americans enjoying public land.

Dream Street

Author: Tricia Elam Walker | Illustrator: Ekua Holmes | Publisher: Anne Schwartz Books

Dream Street is a magical and warmhearted story that can help anyone feel like a dreamer. It details each neighbor that is part of the Dream Street community - sharing their hopes, dreams, and passions. Everyone is special and everyone has something incredible to contribute. This story is both deeply individualized and yet somehow, completely universal.

This book features longer passages on each page, so we recommend it for children who have a longer attention span or encourage you to read it in sections and revisit it daily. Whatever you do, don’t miss this book!

Let’s Go on a Hike!

Author: Katrina Liu | Illustrator: Heru Setiawan | Publisher: Katrina Liu

Follow a biracial family and their dog as they encounter all sorts of plants and animals on their family hike. This rhythmic and sweet story is perfect for the nature-lovers in your lives! It captures the wonder, beauty and joy of being outdoors while also demonstrating the importance of respecting and caring for nature. Let’s Go on a Hike! includes many learning opportunities as well.

This book is also available as a bilingual version featuring Simplified Chinese, Pinyin and English.

Lobstah Gahden: Speak Out Against Pollution with a Wicked Boston Accent!

Author: Alli Brydon | Illustrator: EG Keller | Publisher: Sourcebooks Explore

Lobstah Gahden is a rare gem that will make your kids laugh and learn. This book is about two grumpy lobsters and their quest for victory - both want to win the Swell Gahdens contest, but they discover they have to rely on each other to save their gardens from the trash threatening them both.

We highly recommend reading this hilarious book in your best Boston accent to really get the whole effect, and by the end, we guarantee you will feel inspired to better protect and care for the ocean.


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