Summer Reads: eight beautiful and thoughtful books for children

Summer Reads: eight beautiful and thoughtful books for children

We’ve reviewed a range of 8 beautiful books for children, perfect for summer reading. Suitable for a range of ages.

Just Like Grandpa Jazz

By Tarah L. Gear, illustrated by Mirna Imamović, Owlet Press

Grandpa Jazz is a master storyteller. But his grandson, Frank, is not always sure which stories are made up and which are true. Did he really fall into a volcano? Did his dog actually stand guard over him while his mother washed clothes in the river? We discover Grandpa Jazz came to the UK as a young man to work in the NHS, and when Frank learns he was treated differently to the white passengers on the journey over, he feels sad. “If I’d been with him on that ship, we wouldn’t have been together,” he says. Grandpa Jazz is getting ready to return to Mauritius for a holiday, and Frank sees his own suitcase in the boot next to Grandpa’s. Now it’s Frank’s turn to create stories of his own. Through this beautifully depicted intergenerational relationship, Tarah L. Gear explores the way in mixed-heritage families, “privileges and negative experiences [exist] side by side”.

Sunshine at Bedtime

By Clare Helen Welsh, illustrated by Sally Soweol Han, Storyhouse Publishing

In this glorious tale of rocket-free space travel, Miki and her mum fly through the solar system to discover why, in summer, it’s still light at bedtime. It is a question that has puzzled my 4-year-old recently, and the book provides a beautiful explanation. The story is full of adventure and love, as Mummy shows Miki from space how the Earth spins on its axis and orbits the sun, so she can see for herself why night and day happen, and how the seasons are created. There is such warmth in the illustrations – in the interactions between Miki and Mum, and in the way the Earth, the sun and the moon are depicted, all with sleepy smiles. A lovely story and a wonderful resource to support children’s natural fascination with the world.

Let’s Go Outside

By Ben Lerwill, illustrated by Marina Ruiz, Welbeck Editions

This simple picture book perfectly captures the joy of being outside. Each spread evokes a different experience of the outdoors – making dens, splashing in puddles, rolling down hills – and is a powerful reminder of the everyday wonders it offers to all of us, for free! With sumptuous illustrations, rich in detail and movement, Let’s Go Outside is a celebration of the freedom children feel, in their bodies and their imaginations, when they play outside.

Tomorrow is a Brand-new Day

By Davina Bell, illustrated by Allison Colpoys, Scribble

I just love this book! It recognises all the big feelings children have, which – sometimes – lead them to make (what adults might call) mistakes. It’s written in joyful verse, and the children in the illustrations are wildly and beautifully irreverent – they make faces at newborn babies, cut off chunks of their hair, they snatch, spill food, write on walls. And then they feel awful. I know this feeling so well. I used to feel terrible shame and fear as a child when I’d been ‘bad’! If only I’d had this book to encourage me to let it all go. The book recognises there could be all sorts of reasons why we did what we did. And we won’t feel the way we do forever. Everything can be mended. Apologies can be made. We can learn from our mistakes and move on. Tomorrow is a Brand-new Day is a reminder not to allow ourselves to be defined by our slip-ups. And, no matter what we do, or how awful we feel, we are loved.

The Wild Garden

By Cynthia Cliff, Prestel

Jilly and her grandfather live in Mirren, a village with rows of colourful houses and a communal garden with neatly planted vegetables. But Jilly and Grandpa like to explore the wilderness beyond, weaving between trees, spotting animals, foraging for meals. When the villagers plan to expand the garden, Jilly and Grandpa worry for their wild place. They invite the villagers to venture there with them, so they can see its wonders first hand. Only then will they know the magic it holds and understand the need to protect it. This is a lovely story that encourages us to think about how we can support nature to flourish. It’s about biodiversity and community, and it introduces ideas of ecological gardening and sustainable food growing. There is so much to look at on every page: the illustrations are packed with glorious detail of the wild garden’s plants and animals.

Antarctica: The Melting Continent

By Karen Romano Young, illustrated by Angela Hsieh, What on Earth Books

This is a fantastic book about Antarctica. It explores the incredible ice continent, “so vital in maintaining our planet’s balance”, which “depends more than anything on our actions”. It covers how it was formed and what it looks like now, Antarctic exploration, some amazing recent discoveries – including a 68-million-year-old egg from a giant swimming reptile, the handful of plants and animals that live there, and the people who work there. Of course Shackleton and the early explorers are mentioned, but I love that this book profiles the scientists there today, many of them women, who are rushing to understand what will happen to the world when the Antarctic ice melts. Their work is so urgent. The book is beautifully illustrated and laid out, with wonderful maps and diagrams that make the information easy to digest. Hugely exciting and inspiring.

Our Time on Earth: Animal Lifespans from the Mayfly to the Immortal Jellyfish

By Lily Murray, illustrated by Jesse Hodgson, Big Picture Press

Each species’ allotted lifespan is encoded within its DNA, we learn in this captivating book. Some cram a lifetime into a few hours, while those with decades take life at a more leisurely pace. The book begins with the mayfly. When the adult emerges from its larval stage, it has 24 hours to mate and for the female to lay her eggs before it dies. Each year in May, I love to see the beautiful yo-yo dance of the mayfly. I never realised I was witnessing such a fast-paced life. A huge range of animals are covered – among them, 4-month-old Labord’s chameleons, 20-year-old grizzly bears, 70-year-old saltwater crocodiles, and the immortal jellyfish, which from its final stage of life, “can transform itself back into a polyp, only for its life cycle to begin again”. Beautiful illustrations fill every page, and the stories of each life are fascinating. I found it profound to look at our planet’s animals through the lens of an individual’s time on Earth. Life is fleeting. We all will come and go, and the book is a gentle reminder to tread carefully so that those after us might enjoy their time here too.

Around the World in 80 Trees

By Ben Lerwill, illustrated by Kaja Kajfež, Welbeck Editions

This book gives us a world tour of trees. Organised continent by continent, it profiles different species found in each area. It’s full of fascinating information about the featured trees. For example, the African baobab has a thick trunk to allow it to store large amounts of water during dry months. And it also has more general information about the lifecycle of trees, the way their leaves work, and their ability to communicate with each other through their root systems. We learn about the many ways trees are important to us: “they give us food, materials, shelter and medicine”; they are important culturally and spiritually; and, of course, they keep the air cool and moist, creating an environment in which we’re able to live. There are gorgeous illustrations throughout, and a pull-out “family tree of trees” showing how the 80 trees featured relate to each other.


Reviews by Alice Ellerby

We feature a range of book reviews for adults, teens and children in each issue of JUNO, published bi-monthly. 

First published in Issue 83 of JUNO. Accurate at the time this issue went to print. 

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