Inside: Children’s book suggestion for every day in July. Updated for 2021. We only pick stories that are unforgettable, informative, and fun, with creative plots, and imaginative illustrations.
July is named after Julius Cesar, the Roman politician and military general who played a crucial role in the rise of the Roman Empire. After Cesar was assassinated, the Roman Senate decided to name his birth month after him, and what was previously Quintilis became July.
In the Northern Hemisphere, July signifies summer and all that goes with it: ice cream, fireflies, hot dogs, and juicy watermelon. Sandy beaches, laughing friends, and shark tales. Bugs, fairies, mud, and gardening. Car trips, volcanoes, and water sports.
In July, we also celebrate the National Days of America, Canada, and France, as well as the birthdays of E.B. White, Frida Kahlo, Nelson Mandela, Sir Edmond Hillary, Amelia Earhart, and Henry Ford.
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Books for July
July 1 – Alligator Pie, Dennis Lee (Canada Day)
Canada Day is an annual celebration of free and United Canada and a great excuse to learn more about its fascinating history and people. One of our favorite picture books set in Canada is Out of the Woods (we told you about it last month), and one of our favorite Canadian authors is Robert Munsch (his book Mud Puddle was on our June list). Now let me tell you about our favorite Canadian book of poetry.
The first time I flipped through the pages of Alligator Pie, I instantly knew I had to buy it. One of the most useful tools in my parenting arsenal is a collection of catchy poems I can recite by heart in emergencies. When the toddler is refusing to put her shoes on or when the preschooler doesn’t want to leave the park or get out of the tub, all I have to do is use my most enthusiastic voice and start reciting something my kids love. They can’t help but start listening with great attention and forget to oppose whatever it was they were resisting. It works every time!
The Alligator Pie is full of fun and catchy rhymes. At the moment, my toddler ‘s favorite is,
“Singa songa sea I’ve got you by the knee. // Singa songa sand I’ve got you by the hand. // Singa songa snail I’ve got you by the tail. // Singa songa seat and it’s time to eat.”
Of course, I tickle the body parts mentioned in the story before carrying her to the table and planting her in her seat. As a result, we never have battles about stopping play and eating. I can’t recommend this book enough!
July 2 – Space Case, Edward Marshall (World UFO Day)
Space Case is not only our favorite UFO book; it’s one of my most favorite children’s books of all times. When a UFO lands on the corner of Maple and Elm, nobody seems very surprised. Perhaps that’s because it’s Halloween night and everyone looks a bit strange. But when Buddy takes the UFO home, his parents are sure to figure something is not right. Or will they? The story is absolutely hilarious.
July 3 – The Cloud Spinner, Michael Catchpool (International Plastic Bag Free Day)
This book is perfect for budding environmentalists and visual connoisseurs alike. In a magical kingdom lives a wise cloud spinner, who, with the whirl of a wheel, turns clouds into thread, and, with the clickety-clack of a loom, turns the thread into clothes. The only problem is that the more clouds he takes, the less it rains. And the king of the land is just not at all concerned with the environmental havoc he’s bringing down upon his people.
The incredibly unique illustrations appear aged and cracked like medieval frescoes. Something about the use of colors and proportion in the artwork is riveting and invites repeat exploration. It’s a great book to help us think about our choices, respecting natural resources, and taking only what we need. It also offers an easy segue into the science of clouds and the water cycle.
July 4 – How to Bake an American Pie, Karma Wilson (Independence Day)
We finally found an excellent book for the 4th of July that appeals to kids of all ages. The beauty of this book is that it takes concepts like “American pie” and “melting pot,” and songs like America the Beautiful and The Star-Spangled Banner, and whips it all together into one satisfying dish.
The rhyming text makes it super fun to read. See for yourself.
“Here’s how to bake an American pie (first-ever made on the Fourth of July):
Preheat the world until fiery hot with a hunger and thirst to be free.
Now find a giant melting pot on the shores of a great shining sea.
Pat out a crust of fruited plains, then spread it as far as you dare.
Fold in some fields of amber grains, enough for all people to share.”
Mix in courage, spice with ideas, add some secret ingredients like faith, hope, and love, and once it’s ready, serve as many as wish to stop by.
If it reads like a recipe, that’s because it is. The etching-like ink and watercolor illustrations show an adorable feline and a canine stirring, mixing, and baking. My kids’ favorite page is when they break off the rainbow pieces to add to the pie.
One of my older kids said, “what a clever story!” and my youngest said, “read it again.”
July 5 – Tek: The Modern Cave Boy, Patrick McDonnell (Anti-Boredom Month)
This imaginative and unique book is a favorite with everyone in my house. It’s made to look like an i-pad complete with a battery icon that is draining with each page you read until it reaches zero. The story is about Tek, your typical troglodyte child, who is addicted to his phone, tablet, and game box. He never wants to leave his cave and never notices the Ice Age going by. He would have missed the whole dinosaur period, too, if only volcano eruption hadn’t crushed his gadgets.
The writing is funny, and so are the illustrations. The whole premise is adorable and a great tool for talking about technology obsession and being addicted to one’s own “cave.”
July 6 – Little Red, Bethan Woollvin (Fractured Fairy Tale)
This is the story of Red Riding Hood like you’ve never heard it before. You will be smiling and nodding your head while reading about this spunky girl, who can outwit the wolf and save the grandma (no woodcutter’s help required, thank you very much).
We love the repeated refrain, “Which might have scared some little girls. But not this little girl.”
A bit of dark humor, “Which was unlucky for the wolf.”
And the dramatic illustrations that are all done in three colors—red, black, and grey. My kids love the unique twist, and this book quickly became everyone’s read-aloud favorite.
July 7 – Ask Me, Bernard Waber (Father-Daughter Take a Walk Together Day)
This gorgeously illustrated story about a father and daughter taking a walk together is simple but moving. On the front endpaper, we see a father and daughter getting dressed. Then on the following dramatic double spreads (mostly in red hue), we see them taking a walk through the park and sharing a conversation. To help the conversation flow, their lines are written in different ink without quote marks or attributions.
The young girl talks about her love of geese, frogs, butterflies, horses, ice cream cones, and stories. The book ends with their discussion about her approaching birthday and goodnight kisses.
July 8 – Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos, Monica Brown (Frida Kahlo’s Birthday)
Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist inspired by Mexican folk art and nature. There are a great many picture books about Frida Kahlo and for a good reason. She spent most of her time in agonizing physical and emotional pain, and yet she lived life with passion and painted with abundance.
This biography stands out in my children’s eyes because it features Frida’s many pets and my kids love animals. Frida had two spider monkeys, a parrot, three Xolo dogs (the same breed that hunted with the Aztecs thousands of years ago), two turkeys, an eagle, a black cat, and even a fawn. On the bright pages of this book, your kids will learn basic facts about Frida and why many of her 200 paintings feature animals.
July 9 – The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? Mo Willems (National Sugar Cookie Day)
The moment you read The Duckling Gets a Cookie on the title page, accompanied by a drawing of a pigeon with his hands on hips who grumbles, “I do not like the look of that title,” you know you’re gonna love it. Mo Willems’s flair for the comical and his extraordinary ability to convey so much emotion and passion with just a few strokes of a pencil make all of his books genuinely entertaining.
The lesson in this book is that making your requests in polite ways is more likely to bring about the desired effect. Inspirational Laboratories created some fun math games to go along with this book.
July 10 – Blueberries for Sal, Robert Mccloskey (Pick Blueberries Day)
Here is an old-time classic you will find on many summer reading lists. When Sal falls behind her mom on a blueberry hill, she follows the noise in the bushes and ends up following a bear. Meanwhile, on the other side of the hill, Little Bear is following Sal’s mother. Both the bear cub and the little girl end up following the wrong mother. It’s hard to believe, but all the illustrations in the book are done in just one color—dark blueberry ink.
July 11 – A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White, Barbara Herkert (E.B. White’s Birthday)
Today is the birthday of the talented E.B.White, who is best known for Charlotte’s Web. I love the way he weaves together the narrative and his exquisite style of humor. When we listened to the audio version of The Trumpets of the Swan read by the author, I was laughing so hard I had to pull over.
This gorgeously illustrated picture book biography of E.B. White will help you discover the man behind those famous stories: his childhood surrounded by animals; his love of nature; his work for a New York magazine; and his marriage, children, and a dream house in Maine. You’ll also learn how writing filled him with joy from an early age and how he came up with ideas for Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web. The brown-ink-and-watercolor drawings are just stunning.
FYI: This year Discovery Channel Shark Week runs July 11th and through July 18th.
July 12 – If You Spent a Day with Thoreau at Walden Pond, Robert Burleigh (Henry David Thoreau’s Birthday)
When you live a busy life, it’s easy to switch into autopilot and forget to smell the roses. This kid-friendly biography of American philosopher and naturalist Henry David Thoreau is a great reminder to stop and feel the sun on your skin, and to “dream awake.”
In this story, a fictional young boy knocks on Thoreau’s door early in the morning, and they spend the day enjoying the great outdoors. My kids said that they like this book because it’s about nature. I love it for the beautiful paintings filled with serenity and freedom.
If you want to learn even more with your kids about Thoreau, check out a series of picture books by D.B. Johnson. Henry Builds a Cabin, Henry Hikes to Fitchburg, and Henry Climbs the Mountain. In this series, the biographical facts from the life of Thoreau are presented with humor, and Thoreau himself is a great, big bear.
July 13 – The Great Fuzz Frenzy, Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummer (Tennis Month)
The Great Fuzz Frenzy is about a tennis ball that fell down a prairie dog hole. The dogs fought over it, played with it, and picked the fuzz out of it. The writing is funny, and the illustrations have a dramatic brown background. The most edge-of-the-seat page is when one of the prairie dogs is grabbed by an eagle. My kids always enjoy reading this book and asked me to share it with you.
July 14 – Madeline, Ludwig Bemelmans (Bastille Day or the National Day of France)
Just as American Independence Day is more commonly called the 4th of July, so French Independence Day is more commonly known as le 14 Juillet or the 14th of July. On this day, 230 years ago, French people stormed the fortress-prison in Paris called Bastille, a symbol of oppression and injustice. It marked a turning point in the French Revolution and the beginning of the end of feudalism.
“In an old house in Paris
That was covered in vines
Lived twelve little girls
In two straight lines.”
Thus begins the unforgettable story of a little girl named Madeline who lives in a French boarding house sometime after World War I. Richly satisfying and evocative, this is one of the books, that makes all my kids gather over it the moment it comes out. There is something about Ludwig Bemelmans rhyming and Madeline’s lovable personality that makes it addictive (in a good way). It has a bit of everything: an exploration of Paris from a child’s perspective, a bit of drama that involves an ambulance ride, and Caldecott Honor illustrations.
July 15 – The Shark Lady, Jess Keating (Sharks)
Every year, my kids enthusiastically anticipate the arrival of Shark Week. This year it’s July 11-18, and of course, we need a shark book or two to help us celebrate. The Shark Lady is a powerful and inspiring true story about Eugenia Clark, a woman who devoted her life to studying sharks. Faced with enormous obstacles, Clark rolled up her sleeves and got to work breaking stereotypes about girls and sharks one myth at a time. The illustrations are beautiful, and the moment we saw this book, we knew we had to buy it.
July 16 – Verdi, Janell Cannon (World Snake Day)
This is a very informative book, but you don’t even realize it because the narration is so compelling. At the center of the story is a young python that lives on a small tropical island. He is curious, energetic, enthusiastic, and not yet very good at thinking things through before doing them. Your kids will totally identify with Verdi!
By the end of the story, you will learn a lot about pythons and fall in love (if you are not already) with snakes. Blending natural science with a good story, and using acrylics and pencil for beautiful illustrations with a three-dimensional feel, Janell Cannon has created a wonderful adventure tale that’s perfect for everyone, not just snake enthusiasts.
July 17 – Make Way for Dumb Bunnies, Sue Denim (Humor)
“Early one morning, the Dumb Bunnies were spending some quality time apart… [but as] dark clouds rolled in, and thunder flashed brightly,” they decided it was a good time to go to the beach. Of course, being as dumb as they are, the bunnies just can’t get anything right. My two younger kids can’t stop laughing and pointing out how they can fix their mistakes. My two older kids still love it, too, and keep asking how they can become as funny as Sue Denim. Sue Denim has a gift for light and silly humor that appeals to kids.
July 18 – Desmond and the Very Mean Word, Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Nelson Mandela International Day)
Nelson Mandela was born on July 18th one hundred years ago, and he is most famous for his message of peace and his nonviolent activism. Mandela famously said, “Forgiveness liberates the soul,” and this is what Desmond Tutu discovers in this book. When a red-haired boy calls Desmond a bad name, all he wants to do is to “get back” at him. But when he gets a chance to do that, it doesn’t make him feel better.
“Our hearts are fragile and easily hurt. This is why we are given a way to heal them—it’s called forgiveness,” says Father Trevor, Desmond’s mentor in the story. And slowly but surely, Desmond learns the power of words, the secret of forgiveness, and finds a way to do the very thing that sets his heart free. Written by the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize about his own experience and illustrated with gorgeous oil paintings, this is a thought-provoking book that you will enjoy reading with your kids.
July 18 – Should I Share My Ice Cream, Mo Willems (National Ice Cream Day)
On a hot summer day, while Elephant is trying to decide if he should share his ice cream cone with Piggie, his best friend, the ice cream melts. Oh no! You wouldn’t believe what Piggie ends up doing for Elephant to cheer him up. Or maybe you’ll figure it out. But don’t worry. Even if you do, you’ll still enjoy the book because it’s Mo Willems, the funniest children’s author of our times, and he never disappoints. Humor aside, the book will teach kids a valuable lesson about sharing.
July 19 – Flotsam, David Wiesner (Beach)
As the temperature climbs and the trips to the beach are resumed for the season, we reach for Flotsam. It’s our family tradition. In this wordless story, a boy finds a mysterious, barnacle-covered object on the beach. It turns out to be an underwater camera, and when the film is developed, the boy is treated to the incredible images of underwater life as never seen before. But that’s not all; the last image offers another mystery that leads to even more amazing discoveries.
The book ends with the boy throwing the camera back into the water, and my kids are still hoping that it will wash up on our shore someday. David Wiesner is a two-time Caldecott winner, and his intricate illustrations are engaging and expressive. Flotsam offers great inspiration never to stop wondering and investigating. It also encourages kids to pay attention and study the details. (We love the boy’s “sciency” beach gear: magnifying glass, microscope, and binoculars).
July 20 – First to the Top: Sir Edmund Hillary’s Amazing Adventure, David Hill (Sir Edmund Hillary’s Birthday)
Little Ed was a small and shy boy from a little town in New Zealand who dreamed of adventure. By the time he grew up, he was tall and strong, and become the first person to reach the top of Mt. Everest, the world’s highest peak. My kids were impressed with how much preparation, training, and hard work goes into climbing. They also were shocked to find out that the actual climbing isn’t the only hard part. Lugging tents, food, oxygen, and other supplies while climbing is just as challenging.
This is a great book about courage to explore the environment where each step can be your last, as well as determination to conquer the unforgiving terrain despite the pulse-stopping cold. Colorful illustrations and engaging writing make this biography accessible even to small kids.
Related: today is also International Cake Day and we happened to have a yummy collection of Books about Cake right here on the blog.
July 21 – The Burger and the Hot Dog, Jim Aylesworth (National Hot Dog Day)
“A burger and a hot dog // One day had a nasty spat. // The burger got insulted // ‘Cause the hot dog called him flat.” Whether it’s blueberries feeling blue, a cherry on top that doesn’t want to be eaten first, or a fistfight between the burger and the hot dog, this food poetry collection is funny. My kids love the idea of the foods having such dramatic and emotional lives. And after reading this book, they spent a whole lunch recently trying to come up with a poem about ketchup called Gretchen that wants to move from our fridge in Chicago to Hawaii to become a sketch artist.
The energetic artwork by Stephen Gammell, a recipient of a Caldecott Medal and two Caldecott Honors, is hugely appealing to kids. When I read that in this book he used coffee for the brown hues to keep with the food theme, I couldn’t wait to share it with my kids because they’re known for their experiments with food (check out: kitchen art).
July 22 – Spencer and Vincent: the Jellyfish Brothers, Tony Johnston (Sea Day in Japan)
“Spencer was a jellyfish. Vincent was also. They lived together in the sea, their wet and shining home” until a wave of “superior magnitude” swept Vincent away. Spencer tried to follow, but he was “pathetically” slow, so he appealed to a whale for help, and it reacted in a most “sympathetic” way.
This sea story about brotherly love uses a lot of big words. My kids LOVE the big words, so they enjoy this story immensely. The story is sweet, and the underwater scenes are visually appealing.
In Japan, today is Marine Day, also known as Sea Day, or Ocean Day. It’s a national holiday, and many people mark the day with a trip to the beach. What are you doing today?
July 23 – Wilma Unlimited, Kathleen Krull (Summer Olympics)
Summer Olympics 2020 is scheduled to begin today July 23, 2021, and for the first time in modern history, it won’t allow any international visitors. Let’s read up about some awesome Olympic athletes who knew a thing or two about hardship.
Wilma Rudolph, the world’s fastest woman and the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics game, did not have an easy start in life. In fact, you might say that the odds were stacked against her. Born prematurely, the 20th child (yes, 20th!) of a poor family in a small Tennessee town, she was stricken by polio at the age of five and was not expected to walk again. But nothing could stop Wilma, not the debilitating effects of polio, not high school pregnancy, nor gender barriers (until her all track-and-field events were men’s domain).
I think there is something pretty powerful that separates great athletes from everybody else. It’s the ability to live through hard times and become stronger for it (which is something we all need).
This book is part of our Women’s History Month Collection. Check it out!
July 24 – A Picture Book of Amelia Earhart, David Adler (Amelia Earhart’s Birthday)
Children are drawn to mysteries, and, of course, one of the greatest mysteries of our time remains what happened to Amelia Earhart on her last flight. We’ve read quite a few books about her, and this is the only one my kids are willing to read more than once.
An engaging combination of text and illustration traces her life from her birth in 1897 to her disappearance in the vast Pacific ocean just before her 40th birthday. Amelia Earhart broke many aviation records, wrote bestselling books, and helped to form an international organization for female pilots. But her biggest accomplishment, in my eyes, is her courage to be the person she wanted to be, went after her dreams, and never stopped trying.
July 25 – The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel with Louis Bleriot, Alice and Martin Provensen (On this day in 1909, the first overseas flight happened.)
This is the true story of a man who didn’t let obstacles get in the way of his big dream. When Louis Bleriot saw the first airship flying over his city, he decided to build his own flying machine, and he did …eight years and hundreds of crashes later. On July 25th, 1909, Louis Bleriot became the first man to make an international overseas flight by crossing the English channel. For this and his further contributions to the field of aviation, he was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame.
The book is written with wit and humor. And the captivating artwork won a Caldecott Medal. Our favorite illustration is when Bleriot is lost in fog over the channel. We marvel at the incredible shades of burnt orange and rust with dramatic patches of white clouds surrounding a tiny plane on all sides. We hold our breath as “[Bleriot] sits motionless, not touching the steering level, and lets the plane go where it will.” Even though we already know how the book ends, this is the page where we are soaked in suspense, anticipating another disastrous crashing just like all the other flights mentioned earlier in the book. But as we turn the page, the perspective changes. And now the plane is huge, and we are right on top of it looking down at the English coast with small people down below. Is it possible that Bleriot finally succeeded? Yes, he did. It’s a talented book, and we highly recommend it.
July 26 – The Little House, Virginia Lee Burton
No doubt, a book about the passage of time might put you in a melancholic mood, especially when it’s written by an author with a talent for reaching readers’ emotions. But read it anyway.
At the center of this heart-warming story is a happy little house that sits on a hill and watches the years go by. The children grow up and move away, and the lights of the city creep closer until one day the little house is surrounded by trucks, automobiles, gasoline stations, apartment houses, schools, stores, and garages.
There are no more fields of daisies and apple trees dancing in the moonlight, but don’t worry. Virginia Lee Burton won’t leave you without hope. She finds a happy ending for The Little House. The story won a Caldecott Medal for its lovely drawings, and if you’re feeling philosophical, here you will find a set of thoughtful questions to help you discuss the interaction of humans and nature, industrialization, curiosity, and more things that the book inspires.
July 27 – The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes, Duncan Tonatiuh (Walk on Stilts Day)
In this beautiful book, award-winning Mexican-American author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh captures the majestic beauty of a little-known Aztec creation legend. Forty miles outside of Mexico City, there are two volcanoes and this story explains in a thoroughly captivating fashion how they came to exist. (Google “Popocatepetl” for spectacular eruption photos from last summer).
Power, betrayal, and love come together in a style that is surprisingly similar to the Romeo and Juliet story (nothing is new under the sky). We love the inclusion of words from the Aztec (Nahuatl) language, the traditional language of the area before the Spanish conquistadors arrived. How cool! (My kids tell me our next pet is going to have the Aztec name Citlalli (see-tla-lee: star).
I have written so much, but I still haven’t told you about unique illustrations. Most illustrations are two-dimensional, trying to reflect the three-dimensional reality of life. In this book, all things are intentionally depicted as flat or 2-D, and all the characters have the same face. But despite the same face, there is no confusion about who is who because each participant in the story is given a distinguishing item of clothing.
July 28 – Beatrix Potter and Her Paint Box, David McPhail (Beatrix Potter’s Birthday)
For over one hundred years, The Tale of Peter Rabbit has delighted parents and children all over the world. But did you know that when Helen (Beatrix) Potter wrote it, several publishers rejected the book? Miss Potter ended up self-publishing a small number of copies. They disappeared so fast that one of the big publishers reconsidered. When it was officially launched in 1902, the book became an instant bestseller.
The tale of a naughty bunny who didn’t listen to his mommy has a universal appeal, but how did Miss Potter come up with this story? Who is Miss Potter anyway? And how did she learn to illustrate her own work? In the picture book biography Beatrix Potter and Her Paint Box, we learn a lot of interesting things about her childhood—her love of nature, writing, drawing, homeschooling, and her pets.
July 29 – Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, Peter Brown (International Tiger Day)
Should Mr. Tiger have fun and be wild or be proper and bored? Of course, it’s better to live one’s own truth. The only problem is that it takes Tiger’s friends some time to catch up with his radical views, and the path of a leader might be lonely and the journey uncertain.
Make room on your kids’ bedside table for this creatively illustrated story of a transformation. Written by talented author and Caldecott Honor illustrator Peter Brown, its central message of individuality and self-expression is sure to appeal to your kids.
International Tiger Day today is a great excuse to learn more about tigers. Did you know that the population of tigers has declined 96% in the last hundred years? Thanks to conservationists’ tireless efforts, the numbers are finally on the rise again, but, sadly, both the Bali and Caspian tigers are now officially extinct.
July 30 – Eat My Dust! Henry Ford’s First Race, Monica Kulling (Henry Ford’s Birthday)
Henry Ford, considered one of the 20th century’s most influential people, is best known for introducing assembly-line models to car manufacturing, bringing the costs down and making cars affordable to the non-rich for the first time in history. In this cutely illustrated story, we learn how Henry Ford raised money to begin building his dream car. He entered a car race! He’d never been in a car race before, but he believed that his car was built better. His wife was worried for his life, but Henry Ford was determined to win, and he did.
July 31 – Amos & Boris, William Steig
This is one of the most powerful picture books we’ve ever read. Originally published 50 years ago, this heart-warming book is a remake of the classic Aesop fable, The Lion and the Mouse.
There are a great many themes you can discuss with your kids after reading this book. My favorite is the importance of doing good just because you can without expecting anything back. When a giant whale goes out of its way to help a tiny mouse, he doesn’t know that the mouse will save his life a few years later.
The book is pretty lengthy, so you might need to set out more time than for a typical picture book to go slow, and absorb the beautiful vocabulary and charming illustrations. Here is a tease:
“One night, in a phosphorescent sea, he marveled at the sight of some whales sprouting luminous water; and later, lying on the deck of this boat gazing at the immense, starry sky, the tiny mouse Amos, a little speck of a living thing in the vast living universe, felt thoroughly akin to it all.”
Isn’t it beautifully evocative and deeply satisfying all at once? It’s just the kind of writing you want to expose your children to.