We get it, parents. You limped across the finish line of distance learning and now have an entire summer stretching ahead with far fewer structured activities than in previous years.
Summer reading is still on, though. (This is good news. Really.) And this year, you have a veritable smorgasbord of digital options to augment the summer reading experience, from virtual book clubs to online art tutorials with notable children’s book creators.
Here’s your cheat sheet, sorted by age group. We’re not going to color-code your schedule, but hold on to this for when they lament, “I’m so BORED!”
This is the perfect season to read Austin author Lindsay Leslie’s inspiring “Dusk Explorers” (Page Street Kids, $17.99). It’s a lovely ode to the magic that happens during summer twilight, from the fireflies and frogs on display to games of tag and climbing trees. Leslie showcases an array of low-tech delights through a group of young suburban friends, sweetly depicted by illustrator Ellen Rooney, who spill out of their homes and dive into the world around them. Read it in the late afternoon and then challenge your wee ones to live out their own versions of the text as the sun dips toward the horizon.
The explosion of online content has been particularly fruitful for picture book aficionados. And that includes appearances from authors, many of whom are now hosting virtual readings that eliminate the part where you pack the kids into the car along with snacks, hunt for a parking spot and hope that they’re quiet during the presentation.
Austin’s BookPeople, which typically hosts more than 300 in-person events each year, is steadily re-booking its events calendar virtually. At 3 p.m. June 8, picture book fans can watch Meena Harris discuss “Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea” (Balzer + Bray, $18.99), about two sisters who decide to turn an empty courtyard into a playground. It’s inspired in part by her aunt, California Sen. Kamala Harris. As with most of the store’s virtual events, tickets are $5 to join via Zoom without a book purchase; buying the book includes Zoom entry. Pro tip for the summer: Check the store’s online calendar regularly, as virtual events often have a shorter lead time.
You should definitely still read aloud to your kids, but now you’ve got lots of digital backup from best-selling authors and celebrities. Save With Stories, the brainchild of actors Jennifer Garner and Amy Adams, has recorded more than 250 read-aloud videos since mid-March, all posted to Instagram with captions that encourage donations to Save the Children and No Kid Hungry. Here is Meghan Markle reading “Duck! Rabbit!” while Archie squirms royally in her lap and Sugar Ray Leonard reading “The King of Kindergarten.” Lin-Manuel Miranda is on hand to offer bilingual storytime with “El gallo que no se callaba!” Head to @savewithstories on Instagram and choose a few books a day for the witching hour.
Erin Entrada Kelly won a Newbery for “Hello, Universe,” told from the perspective of four middle-schoolers. Now in “We Dream of Space” (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, $16.99) she shares her gift for shifting perspectives with the story of three siblings, set in 1986 as the fateful launch of the space shuttle Challenger nears. Bird is a tinkerer who dreams of being NASA’s first female shuttle commander; arcade aficionado Fitch’s anger erupts regularly; and Cash misses the basketball he used to play before he broke his wrist (the failing grades, though, still persist). Though they’re siblings, they often circle in different orbits, each trying to deal with their increasingly toxic home life. Kelly’s skill at mapping the bonds of family shine here – you’ll root for these three as they develop hard-won resilience.
Parents of gamers, Austin author Mari Mancusi’s newest may just lure your screenager away from the headset. “Dragon Ops” (Little, Brown, $16.99) is an augmented reality theme park set on a previously deserted South Pacific island. A trio of beta players, including gamer Ian, his tech-despising sister Lilli, and their legend-in-his-own-mind cousin Derek, have been invited to try the game out over spring break, before the park opens to the general public. But something goes wrong, and they’re trapped inside the game, with no clues about how to escape the fire-breathing dragon Atreus. It’s a twisty, fast-paced adventure that melds the real-life consequences of Jumanji with a mashup of the best medieval and high-tech details.
Yes, Shuri is part of the Marvel universe, and yes, this “Shuri” (Scholastic, $17.99) absolutely counts as real summer reading. Nic Stone, whose backlist includes New York Times best-selling and critically acclaimed novels for young adults (“Dear Martin”) and middle graders (“Clean Getaway”), here creates a story that centers the brilliant younger sister of T’Challa. Shuri must investigate why the heart-shaped plants that are the source of Black Panther’s power are dying off.
Does your young reader finish a book and then ask why a character chose a certain path, or wonder how the author managed to surprise them with a plot twist halfway through? Book clubs have long been a forum for such chats, but there are even more online options since life went Zoom. Austin Allies, a nonprofit that provides a wide range of family volunteer opportunities, hosts a free monthly book club aimed at ages 8-12 that has pivoted online from its usual in-person home at BookPeople. Their next virtual gathering, at 12:30 p.m. June 20, will focus on Pablo Cartaya’s middle-grade debut, “The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora.” Visit austinallies.org to register.
Online resources for this age group also include ample hands-on art tutorials from children’s illustrators. Jarrett J. Krosoczka, creator of the popular “Lunch Lady” and “Platypus Police Squad” series and a National Book Award finalist for his graphic memoir “Hey Kiddo,” offers a daily YouTube video dubbed “Draw Every Day with JJK.” Topics have ranged from unicorns and robots to headier subjects like the importance of boredom. Other YouTube highlights: Grace Lin teaching how to draw a Chinese crab and Prosperity Toad, Debbie Ridpath Ohi using a broken crayon as prompts for great pictures, and Christian Robinson’s tremendous “Making Space” video series on creating art.
Celebrated middle-grade author Jewell Parker Rhodes (“Ghost Boys”) will discuss her new book “Black Brother Black Brother” (Little, Brown, $16.99) at 6 p.m. June 15 via BookPeople. It’s an affecting look at the school-to-prison pipeline through the story of two brothers. She’ll be joined by young-adult author Kelly McWilliams, whose dystopian “Agnes at the End of the World” benefited from the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books’ mentorship program. Visit bookpeople.com/event for Zoom tickets.
Elizabeth Acevedo is the author of the National Book Award-winning “The Poet X” and last year’s “With the Fire on High.” Her newest, “Clap When You Land” (HarperCollins, $18.99) looks back in more ways than one — it marks her return to verse novels and it was inspired by the 2001 crash of an American Airlines flight from New York bound for the Dominican Republic. “Clap” introduces us to two sisters, Yahaira in New York and Camino in the Dominican Republic, who don’t know about each other until their father, who’s been traveling between the two countries, perishes in a plane crash. Acevedo’s story wows in its ability to evoke powerful layers of emotion in a few words.
Novelist Kelly Yang’s first foray into young-adult territory draws on her own experience as one of the “Parachutes” (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, $18.99) of her title — Chinese students sent by well-off parents to learn at American private schools. Claire’s parents dispatch her from Shanghai to California, where she lives with a host family that includes Dani, a Filipino scholarship student at Claire’s new school. While the two clash at first, they eventually bond (and fight back) against harassment and assault. Yang’s story encompasses privilege checks as well as empowerment, and it should serve as an important conversation starter with your teens about navigating such situations. Extra credit: Read Yang’s “Medium” essay about the assault she suffered at Harvard and how it informed this book.
Felix is a 17-year-old black trans artist who desperately hopes his summer art program will help him win a competitive scholarship to Brown University. He’s always questioning — where he falls on a fluid gender and sexuality spectrum, who is out to get him with abusive anonymous messages in his school, and most importantly, whether he’s worthy of love. In “Felix Ever After” (HarperCollins, $18.99), Kacen Callender shows us the power of self-discovery and self-acceptance through Felix’s experience, which resists easy categorization.
The new Hunger Games prequel, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” (Scholastic, $27.99), takes a deep dive into the teenage years of evil-ruler-to-be Coriolanus Snow. Suzanne Collins wanted to explore nature vs. nurture in this story, set 64 years before the original book and showcasing Snow’s time as a university student chosen to mentor the tribute from much-maligned District 12. While the love relationship with magnetic Lucy Gray feels a tad stretched, fans will adore seeing the origin stories of trilogy hallmarks like mockingjays and drone-delivered supplies. The book is a Barnes and Noble pick for its virtual YA book club: After a live Instagram discussion that happened May 29, the recording will post to the bookseller’s YouTube channel, which also features a plethora of other book discussions and author read-alouds.
Young adult powerhouses Margaret Stohl and Melissa de la Cruz will talk about their newest collaboration, “Jo and Laurie” (Putnam/Penguin, $18.99) at 4 p.m. June 5 via Zoom, with equally popular YA author Rainbow Rowell (“Eleanor and Park”) moderating. Stohl and de la Cruz reimagine “Little Women” as a romance in which headstrong scribe Jo and boy-next-door Theodore “Laurie” Lawrence repair to New York City, part for college, and then reconnect when Laurie has a fiancée. Visit bookpeople.com/event to reserve your spot.