Finding a Home in Stories: 10 New Children’s Books to Read in May

As a young reader, I loved any book in which the characters created a home for themselves. The Boxcar Children moved into their boxcar, the kids in The Egypt Game created their own little world behind an antique shop, and I swooned. I can’t have been the only one, either, because so many great children’s books are preoccupied with the concept of home: finding it, leaving it, keeping it, rebuilding it after it’s been lost. Now that I’m an adult, this preoccupation makes sense to me.

Even the very youngest readers understand that a search for home is a search for love, safety, and community—the fundamental needs we all have, regardless of age or circumstance.

In each of the new children’s books that delighted me this month, home looks a little different. For some characters, it’s a magical library, a house full of fun-loving witches, or a bed and breakfast with a mind of its own. For others, it’s a country they’ve had to leave behind, a dream just out of reach, or a place to which they’re determined to return.


Up High - Hunt, Matt

Matt Hunt, Up High
(Nosy Crow, May 7)
(recommended for ages 2-5)

As far as I know, author-illustrator Matt Hunt is a grown-up. Fortunately for all of us, though, he’s overcome this obstacle to remind us what it’s like to observe the world from the very best perch of all: atop a parent’s shoulders. In this quietly charming picture book, a young child and his dad venture out into their busy city. When the cars and bustle feel too overwhelming, Dad lifts his little one up high, and the art’s perspective shifts to show us all the interesting things you can see from a spot like that (like Dad’s hair, excellent for pulling!).

But there’s plenty of joy to be found in being small, too, a message Up High delivers with just the right amount of unpreachy sweetness.

Insha'allah, No, Maybe So - Roumani, Rhonda

Rhonda Roumani and Nadia Roumani, Insha’Allah, No, Maybe So (illustrated by Olivia Aserr)
(Holiday House, May 14)
(recommended for ages 3-7)

Kids around the world know how disappointing it feels when things don’t go the way they’d hoped, and caregivers around the world know how hard it can be to respond to kids’ questions when the only real answer is, “I don’t know…we’ll have to wait and see.” In Insha’Allah, No, Maybe So, Ranya asks Mama if they can visit the park together, but she gets frustrated when Mama replies “Insha’Allah,” the Arabic phrase that means “God willing.”

As Ranya and Mama bake cookies, plan a slumber party, and wait to see if the weather will clear up for that trip to the park, Mama explains that insha’Allah doesn’t mean no, exactly—but sometimes we can’t know for sure what the future holds. With humor and warmth, sisters and co-authors Rhonda Roumani and Nadia Roumani craft a story that’s both culturally specific and truly universal. Olivia Aserr’s accompanying artwork is full of thoughtful details that make this book feel like home.

Let's Go! - Flett, Julie

Julie Flett, Let’s Go! haw êkwa!
(Greystone Books, May 7)
(recommended for ages 3-8)

I’ve never tried skateboarding, but after reading Let’s Go! haw êkwa!, I’m a little bit in love with it anyway. Thanks to beloved Canadian author-illustrator Julie Flett, I can summon up the rumble of pavement under my wheels and the whoosh of wind against my face.

With spare, poetic text and evocative images, Flett brings readers of all ages into the world of a child gathering the courage to skateboard as fully as Ezra Jack Keats brings us into The Snowy Day. Flett, who is Cree-Métis, includes a note to readers explaining the Cree idiom haw êkwa! (“okay and” in English), along with some Cree words that describe skateboarding and its intuitive flow state—a state this picture book manages to capture on every page.

Hocus and Pocus and the Spell for Home - Capetta, A. R.

R. Capetta, Hocus and Pocus and the Spell for Home (illustrated by Charlene Chua)
(Candlewick, May 28)
(recommended for ages 5-8)

If your young reader loves the enchanting hijinks of The Princess in Black, introduce them to this illustrated chapter book about Hocus and Pocus, two puppies who turn up one day at the Shelter for Slightly Magical Pets. They are at least slightly magical: Hocus can see two minutes into the future, while Pocus can turn your bad feelings into brightly colored bubbles (which he promptly eats). The pups are determined to be adopted together, and when they meet a friendly witch named Jinx, they’re willing to break every rule in the spellbook to move in with her. My family read this story together in one sitting, laughing at the inevitable magical messes, enjoying the slew of colorful, joy-filled illustrations, and looking forward to the next book in the series.

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow - Dimopoulos, Elaine

Elaine Dimopoulos, The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow (illustrated by Doug Salati)
(Charlesbridge, May 21)
(recommended for ages 8-11)

There’s not much in this world that’s nicer than a cozy adventure tale narrated by a witty rabbit. In last year’s The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow and its sequel out this month, The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow, Elaine Dimopoulos introduces us to Butternut, a young leporine storyteller of uncommon talent.

In the first book, Butternut and her friends help animals in danger; in the second, Butternut struggles when she’s not cast in the meadow’s big summer show, and she begins to wonder if the traveling turkey theater troupe might pose a threat to her community of creatures. Caldecott medalist Doug Salati provides the black-and-white illustrations that give both books the feel of treasured classics designed to be read aloud and shared.

The Secret Library - Magoon, Kekla

Kekla Magoon, The Secret Library
(Candlewick, May 7)
(recommended for ages 8-12)

Eleven-year-old Dally longs for adventure. When her beloved grandpa dies, Dally inherits a mysterious map that leads her to the Secret Library, a building full of magical books that transport Dally through time to help her learn hidden truths about her own ancestors.

As Dally uncovers each secret, she has adventures galore, but she also begins to understand the full arc of of her family’s story and her own place within it. Like a magical librarian, award-winning author Kekla Magoon guides readers on a clever, warm-hearted journey through history—and if those readers are anything like Dally, they’ll enjoy every moment.

Puzzleheart - Reese, Jenn

Jenn Reese, Puzzleheart
(Henry Holt and Co., May 14)
(recommended for ages 9-12)

Part puzzle mystery, part magical adventure, and part family story with a heart as big as a house, Puzzleheart is one of those pitch-perfect middle grade novels that’s just the right fit for lots of different kinds of readers. Twelve-year-old Perigee is nervously excited when they and their dad arrive at Grandma’s place, a rambling (oh, and sentient!) house full of puzzle rooms, riddles, and other oddities.

But not everything runs like clockwork here, and Perigee realizes soon enough that their family’s complex relationships are a puzzle that’s even more difficult to crack than the ones hidden in the walls. Jenn Reese’s emotionally honest depictions of the ways we hurt and help the people we love will stick with readers for a long time to come.

Plain Jane and the Mermaid - Brosgol, Vera

Vera Brosgol, Plain Jane and the Mermaid
(First Second, May 7)
(recommended for ages 10-14)

I’m always excited for a new book from cartoonist Vera Brosgol, who brings tremendous artistic talents and a wonderfully quirky sense of humor to her work, including the picture book Leave Me Alone! (about a grandmother who travels into space and beyond for a little peace and quiet) and the graphic novel memoir Be Prepared (about a harrowing stint at Russian summer camp).

Brosgol’s most recent outing is a graphic novel with a fairy-tale-style twist: After an “incredibly plain” girl named Jane loses her home, she has to venture into the sea to rescue Peter, her potential fiancé—and, more importantly, her ticket to a life of independence—from the beautiful mermaid who’s kidnapped him.

We Mostly Come Out at Night: 15 Queer Tales of Monsters, Angels & Other Creatures - Costello, Rob

Rob Costello (editor), We Mostly Come Out at Night: 15 Queer Tales of Monsters, Angels & Other Creatures
(Running Press, May 21)
(recommended for ages 13-18)

Teens of all genders and orientations will find magic, chills, and plenty to ponder in this spellbinding anthology of “weird, wonderous, and very queer monster tales” by fifteen writers of young adult fiction. The authors explore elements of queer identity through fantasy and metaphor, weaving stories that inspire, unsettle, and linger in the imagination like the very best folktales.

Alexandra Villasante’s salty-sweet update of The Little Mermaid; Val Howlett’s funny/poignant/terrifying riff on the Bloody Mary legend; and Naomi Kanakia’s take on the surprising perks of being a troll when everyone around you is an elf are just a few highlights of this unique and powerful collection.

Eyes Open - Miller-Lachmann, Lyn

Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Eyes Open
(Carolrhoda Lab, May 7)
(recommended for ages 14-18)

Author Lyn Miller-Lachmann has a particular talent for writing vivid, emotionally affecting historical fiction for young adults. Her novel Torch, about the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, won the 2023 Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and she returns to the YA scene this month with Eyes Open, a novel in verse set in Portugal in 1967.

Fifteen-year-old Sónia has grown up under the Salazar dictatorship, and she dreams of writing poetry and living in freedom with the Communist boyfriend she idolizes. Sónia thinks of herself as a poet, not an activist, but as her circumstances change and her loved ones face injustice under the authoritarian government, she discovers that she can use her gift for words not just to praise the others she sees as heroes, but to do heroic deeds of her own.

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