Cursed Rats, Doll Dreams, and Latin American Folktales: 10 New Children’s Books to Read in June

When I visit the bookstore, I often look for stories with surprising plots or unusual settings, but when I finally settle down to read, it’s the characters who keep me turning pages. The best storybook heroes escape their bindings, all funny and weird and fizzing with spirit—and many of the best, I’d posit, can be found in children’s books. As a young reader, I dreamed of befriending Ellen Raskin’s Turtle Wexler, Mildred D. Taylor’s Cassie Logan, and Arnold Lobel’s Toad. (As an adult, I feel more certain every day that I have become Toad.)

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The heroes of this month’s new tales are especially compelling. There’s a boy who dreams of sharing his art with the world, a girl who’s brave enough to challenge the unfairness of a good behavior chart, a kid who’s absolutely determined to make a best friend at any cost, a stubbornly self-reliant teen, and a four-foot-tall rat, just for starters. I loved spending time with all of them, and I hope you’ll share a few of their stories with your own funny, fizzy weirdoes.


Bo Lu, Bao’s Doll
(Abrams, June 18)
(recommended for ages 4-8)

How does a child’s world change when they realize for the first time that their parent is a person, too? In Bao’s Doll, by author-illustrator Bo Lu, Bao dreams of owning the expensive, blonde doll that all her classmates have. But Mama doesn’t understand Bao’s dreams, and Bao doesn’t understand her mama, who grew up in an orphanage in Taiwan and led a childhood very different from Bao’s.

As Bao and Mama begin to see the world through each other’s eyes, the blue tones of Mama’s sadness and the reds of Bao’s frustration merge into a colorful celebration of love and empathy. The emotionally expressive illustrations make this debut picture book a particular treasure.

A Song for August: The Inspiring Life of Playwright August Wilson - Denmead, Sally

Sally Denmead, A Song for August: The Inspiring Life of Playwright August Wilson (illustrated by Alleanna Harris)
(Levine Querido, June 4)
(recommended for ages 4-8)

Debut author Sally Denmead and veteran illustrator Alleanna Harris team up in these pages to create a vibrant biographical portrait of August Wilson’s childhood. Before he became one of America’s most influential playwrights, chronicling the Black experience on stage, August was a boy growing up in 1950s Pittsburgh. He loved to read and write, but after facing years of racial discrimination and ostracism at school, he left the classroom and decided to learn all he could from library books, the blues, and the artistic community around him.

Denmead’s just-right prose invites young readers to imagine August as a kid like them—a kid with a song inside—and Harris’s light-filled illustrations beautifully capture the emotional arc of young August’s life. An author’s note offers more avenues for further reading and exploration.

Ava Lin, Best Friend! - Fang, Vicky

Vicky Fang, Ava Lin, Best Friend!
(Candlewick, June 4)
(recommended for ages 5-8)

It’s the beginning of the school year in this illustrated chapter book series starter, and newly minted first grader Ava Lin is determined to make a best friend. After all, her cousin Nikki met her best friend in first grade.

Fortunately, Ava already has lots of ideas for things to do with a best friend—and lots of ideas for her top 117 pets, and for things you can put in your pockets, and for where to put those things when there’s an unfortunate laundry incident and your mom doesn’t let you wear clothes with pockets anymore. But will she be able to convince her new classmate, Kushi, that she’s best friend material?

Hilarious and endearing, Ava Lin is a worthy companion to beloved chapter book heroines like Dory Fantasmagory.

Night Stories: Folktales from Latin America: A Toon Graphic - Liniers

Liniers, Night Stories: Folktales from Latin America (introduction by David Bowles)
(TOON Books, June 4)
(recommended for ages 7-9)

Night Stories is a perfect choice to share with young comics lovers at any hour of the day. In this clever cartoon-style collection, a brother and sister share three not-too-scary bedtime stories, all adaptations of Latin American folktales. Liniers, the award-winning Argentine cartoonist, blends together myth, mystery, and plenty of humor as he retells stories of the Iara (a dangerous mermaid), La Lechuza (an owl-like creature that calls people to their death), and La Luz Mala (a demonic light that causes gauchos to gallop for their lives).

Compelling backmatter grounds the tales in their broader cultural context, but even learning more about the history of these stories won’t stop a few delightful chills from running down readers’ spines.

Bibsy Cross and the Bad Apple - Scanlon, Liz Garton

Liz Garton Scanlon, Bibsy Cross and the Bad Apple (illustrated by Dung Ho)
(Knopf, June 11)
(recommended for ages 7-10)

Liz Garton Scanlon, whose picture books are must-reads at our house, turns her talents to chapter books this month, kicking off a new series for sparky, big-hearted young readers. Bibsy—not Elizabeth, thank you—is an eight-year-old who loves “weekends and waving / and being just that teensiest bit wild.”

Bibsy has a lot to say, and her parents think that’s wonderful, but her third grade teacher, Mrs. Stumper, doesn’t agree. More often than not, Mrs. Stumper moves Bibsy’s good-behavior paper apple into the dirt at the bottom of the classroom corkboard, inspiring Bibsy to prove (through science, even!) that no third grader deserves to feel rotten.

Poetic line breaks and plenty of art by bestselling illustrator Dung Ho complete the kid-friendly package. Happily for readers who fall in love with Bibsy, a sequel, Bibsy Cross and the Bike-a-Thon, publishes simultaneously.

Ratty - Selfors, Suzanne

Suzanne Selfors, Ratty (illustrated by Lavanya Naidu)
(Viking, June 18)
(recommended for ages 8-12)

Suzanne Selfors’s newest book for young readers is fun, cozy, heartwarming, and full of rats. (Well, it’s mainly about one particular rat, but he’s a big one.) Although Ratty Barclay was born human, the Barclay family curse worked its surprising magic a few minutes after he entered the world, transforming him into a human-size rodent. Now, at age thirteen, Ratty and his uncle Max have returned to the old Barclay home on Fairweather Island in an attempt to break the curse and turn Ratty back into a human boy.

Is it a coincidence that the first person they meet on the island is a girl named Edweena Gup, who happens to be the island’s most passionate (and only) rat-catcher? Featuring wonderful black-and-white illustrations by Lavanya Naidu, Ratty is perfect for reading independently or sharing with a classroom or family.

Anatomy of Lost Things - Stout, Shawn K.

Shawn K. Stout, Anatomy of Lost Things
(Peachtree, June 18)
(recommended for ages 8-12)

This perceptive middle grade novel is told from the point of view of three different kids: Tildy, Leon, and Nell, each struggling with their own kind of loss, each with a voice so unique and strong that you want to experience the world alongside them just to see how they’ll describe it. Tildy’s mom has just returned to their Maryland town after disappearing for a while, Nell’s mom is refusing to take Nell back to their hurricane-damaged home in Florida, and Leon wants to save his grandmother from the Depths of Despair by contacting his grandfather in the spirit world.

With a poet’s instinct, Shawn K. Stout weaves the kids’ stories together with tales of precious family objects—a bugle, a necklace, a candlestick, a robot—into a tapestry of a novel that’s both funny and bittersweet.

Release the Wolves - Bachmann, Stefan

Stefan Bachmann, Release the Wolves
(Greenwillow, June 25)
(recommended for ages 8-12)

Stefan Bachmann (The Peculiar) is a master of truly scary storytelling, and I am a big old chicken, so why do I keep reading his books? Because they are splendidly written, that’s why.

The first chapters of Release the Wolves will draw you in, as inescapable as an old iron trap set for monsters, and just like that you’ll be lost in the magic of story. It’s compellingly narrated by Argo, a boy who lives in a bleak country where generational monster releases are only temporarily kept at bay. Argo believes that another wave of attacks is about to begin, but with the elders unwilling to act against their enemies, it may be up to Argo and Ana, the king’s monster-hunting daughter, to try to change their own fate.

Give this book to your bravest middle grade and teen readers, or read it yourself with all the lights on.

There Is a Door in This Darkness - Cashore, Kristin

Kristin Cashore, There is a Door in this Darkness
(Dutton, June 11)
(recommended for ages 12 and up)

Kristin Cashore, author of the Graceling books and the excellent Jane, Unlimited, returns with a new, beautifully crafted novel for young (and not-so-young) adults. There is a Door in this Darkness is set in our world—our world in late October 2020, specifically, when political anxieties punctuate each pandemic-flattened day and it feels dangerous even to stand near a maskless person on the sidewalk.

But there’s a glimmer of magic at the edge of this world, one that even Wilhelmina Hart—member of the high school class of 2020, grieving the loss of a beloved aunt—can’t ignore. (Would you be able to ignore a fortune teller’s weird prophecy about stale donuts? Or a message with your name in it that fell from the sky?) Only the non-magical demands of my own everyday life stopped me from reading this fascinating book in one sitting.

Looking for Smoke - Cobell, K. A.

A. Cobell, Looking for Smoke
(Heartdrum, June 4)
(recommended for ages 13 and up)

If you loved Karen M. McManus’s One of Us is Lying, you’ll want to get your hands on Looking for Smoke. Written by debut author K. A. Cobell, an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Nation, this twisty mystery shines a light on the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

When Samantha White Tail is found murdered during the annual North American Indian Days gathering on the Blackfeet Reservation, the four teenagers who saw her last—Mara, Brody, Loren, and Eli—are all considered suspects. They don’t all get along with one another, and each of them had their own reasons to dislike Samantha, but will they be able to uncover the truth about her death?

Narration duties are shared among the four teens, and readers will quickly develop their own theories and allegiances as they race through the book.

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