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12 Of The Best New Children’s Books Out July 2023

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Margaret Kingsbury

Contributing Editor

Margaret Kingsbury grew up in a house so crammed with books she couldn’t open a closet door without a book stack tumbling, and she’s brought that same decorative energy to her adult life. Margaret has an MA in English with a concentration in writing and has worked as a bookseller and adjunct English professor. She’s currently a freelance writer and editor, and in addition to Book Riot, her pieces have appeared in School Library Journal, BuzzFeed News, The Lily, Parents, StarTrek.com, and more. She particularly loves children’s books, fantasy, science fiction, horror, graphic novels, and any books with disabled characters. You can read more about her bookish and parenting shenanigans in Book Riot’s twice-weekly The Kids Are All Right newsletter. You can also follow her kidlit bookstagram account @BabyLibrarians, or on Twitter @AReaderlyMom.

I can’t believe it’s already July! My preschooler starts kindergarten in just one more month, and I am not ready. Where does the time go!? Until then, we plan to spend the hot July summer days reading, crafting, and creek hiking. July is also Disability Pride Month, and I highly recommend checking out some children’s books with disabled characters by disabled authors. I do have a couple of new ones on this list of July children’s book releases, like Dancing Hands — a picture book centering Filipino sign language — The Fire, the Water, and Maudie McGinn — a contemporary middle grade novel with an autistic main character — and Once in a Blue Moon — a historical middle grade novel about a boy with agoraphobia.

Other July new children’s book releases include clever nonfiction picture books, thrilling middle grade fantasies, and moving portrayals of communities coming together. While this month had fewer new releases for me to choose from than in previous months, my top 12 picks are just as fantastic. I hope you find some good books to read with your kids over the summer in this list of July children’s book releases. Reading is a great way to escape the heat and have fun!

July Children’s Book Releases: Picture Books

Cover of Hands-On Science: Matter by Schaefer

Hands-On Science: Matter by Lola M. Schaefer, illustrated by Druscilla Santiago (July 11; Charlesbridge)

This interactive nonfiction picture book takes readers into the science lab for some experiments in matter. From smashing clay to experimenting with cherries, readers learn about mass, evaporation, the three states of matter, and more. Interactive elements include tilting the book, pretending to blow into a straw, stirring, opening and closing doors, and more. None of the elements involve pop-ups or flaps, which makes this sturdier than other similar interactive books. Back matter includes an experiment kids can do at home. Interactive picture books tend to be favorites at home, and it’s a great way to introduce scientific concepts.

Cover of Spanish is the Language of My Family by Genhart

Spanish Is the Language of My Family by Michael Genhart, illustrated by John Parra (July 11; Neal Porter Books)

Manolo knows how to spell many Spanish words, but when he receives the vocabulary list for the school spelling bee en Español, he panics. There are so many he doesn’t know! However, he does have the best partner to practice with — his abuela. As they practice for the spelling bee, Abuela tells Manolo about how schools forced her to speak English as a child and punished students who spoke Español. Manolo is proud to be learning his family’s language and carries that pride to the spelling bee. Back matter includes author Genhart’s personal connection to this story as well as a brief history of Spanish discrimination in schools from the 1930s through the 1960s. It’s a poignant and engaging intergenerational picture book with so many avenues for further discussion and engagement.

Cover of The Skull by Klassen

The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale by Jon Klassen (July 11; Candlewick)

This delightfully dark picture book retells a Tyrolean folk tale of the same name. It opens with a young girl named Otilla running away from something unknown, running deep into the forest for a long, long time until she comes to a big old house inhabited by a talking skull. She and the skull chat, and she learns a headless skeleton haunts and chases the skull at night. Otilla is determined to help the skull, who has been so kind to her. This is a longer-than-average picture book — much like Klassen’s previous picture book The Rock from the Sky — with Klassen’s trademark dark humor. As a fairy tale fiend, this is my favorite of his books. I loved the dark, atmospheric art and the simple, joyful moments between Otilla and Skull. Fairy tale and horror readers of all ages will love it.

Cover of Dancing Hands by Que

Dancing Hands by Joanna Que & Charina Marquez, illustrated by Fran Alvarez, translated by Karen Llagas (July 18th; Chronicle Books)

Sam’s next-door neighbors speak with their hands — which she calls dancing — instead of their words, and she wonders what they’re saying. When she accidentally meets Mai, one of her neighbors, the two quickly become friends, even though they frequently have miscommunications. When Mai teaches Sam how to dance with her hands, Sam learns about Mai’s dreams and can tell her about her dreams as well. This is a beautiful picture book about friendship. The simple line drawings with bright pops of color depict the budding friendship so sweetly. The end pages include Filipino sign language words, and the back matter includes a discussion of Filipino sign language and sign languages worldwide. It’s a phenomenal book for kids to learn more about sign language and about being a good friend.

Cover of When Rubin Plays by Zhang

When Rubin Plays by Gracey Zhang (July 18; Orchard Books)

Gracey Zhang is quickly becoming one of my favorite illustrators, and her newest release is my daughter’s favorite. Rubin lives in a tiny town — Santa Ana de Velasco in Bolivia — amid a big forest and loves listening to the orchestra play, which includes his sister on cello. The orchestra maestro gives him a violin and bids him to practice, but the notes Rubin plays are pretty ear-splitting. He continues to practice quietly, but when no one is around, he escapes to the forest to play, where an eager audience adores his violin’s screeching — an audience of cats! On concert day, Rubin initially plays quietly, but with the encouragement of his sister, he lets his violin cut through the air. Soon, the cats come howling into the concert hall. My daughter was clapping wildly for Rubin the first time we read this together. It’s the perfect blend of realism and imagination that will make kids laugh and help them feel validated.

Cover of What a Map Can Do by Balkan

What a Map Can Do by Gabrielle Balkan, illustrated by Alberto Lot (July 18; Rise x Penguin Workshop)

This detailed nonfiction picture book is an excellent way to teach kids about all different kinds of maps and how they work. A friendly raccoon introduces readers to various maps, starting small with a map of Raccoon’s bedroom, then bigger to a map of Raccoon’s house, neighborhood,  city, and more. Readers also visit a museum and park and learn about map keys, how to tell directions with a compass rose, types of roads, and more. Raccoon asks children for help finding paths. As a follow-up activity, have kids make maps of their own bedroom, house, and neighborhood!

July Children’s Book Releases: Middle Grade

Cover of Light Comes to Shadow Mountain by Buzzeo

Light Comes to Shadow Mountain by Toni Buzzeo (July 11; Holiday House)

This moving historical middle grade occurs in a small Appalachian Kentucky town during the Great Depression. Electricity is coming to Spruce Lick, and Cora Mae Tipton could not be more excited. She especially can’t wait for electricity to come to her school, and her best friend, Cielly, agrees. Not everyone in Spruce Lick agrees, however. Cora’s mother — a local herbalist and pregnant — thinks electricity will mean people forget their way of life, and it’s expensive. The school can’t afford it. So Cora and Cielly decide to host a fundraiser, but even when they manage to raise the funds, the school and townspeople are divided on how to use the money. It’s a lovely book historical fiction readers will adore.

Cover of Hope in the Valley by Perkins

Hope in the Valley by Mitali Perkins (July 11; Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Twelve-year-old Indian American Pandita Paul is having a rough summer. Her mother died several years earlier, and the house has an unspoken rule to never speak about her. It makes Baba too upset. But Pandita is beginning to forget her, so she launches Operation Remember Mama. Step one in the operation is to spend time at the abandoned farmhouse across the street, where Mama used to take her, and read Mama’s letters. However, the operation immediately hits a snag when Pandita learns the farmhouse will be demolished to build affordable housing. This is the Silicone Valley in the 1980s, and the city is desperate for affordable housing options. Pandita decides to join a historical preservation society in their calls to preserve the house, but her older twin sisters are advocating for affordable housing. Meanwhile, Pandita’s father has signed her up for summer theater camp even though she hates theater, and he’s started dating again. To make matters worse, Pandita loses her mother’s letters. This is a beautifully written middle grade.

Cover of Once in a Blue Moon by Flake

Once in a Blue Moon by Sharon G. Flake (July 11; Knopf Books for Young Readers)

Set in 1939, this tender historical novel-in-verse explores grief, agoraphobia, and life as a Black child in North Carolina. James Henry’s mother and beloved dog died at sea months ago, and ever since then, he has had severe anxiety whenever he steps outside. His only ally is his twin sister Hattie, who defends James against bullies and family members alike. Gran tells them a blue moon is coming, and on blue moon nights, wishes come true. James and Hattie believe that if they can make it to the lighthouse on the night of the blue moon and make a wish, James will be healed. But their journey to the lighthouse is fraught from the start.

Cover of The Fire, the Water, and Maudie McGinn by Pla

The Fire, the Water, and Maudie McGinn by Sally J. Pla (July 11; Quill Tree Books)

Maudie has autism, and her mom and stepdad never let her forget how she doesn’t fit in and how her reactions to situations are just wrong, much like Maudie herself. Her stepdad often gets angry with her, and her mom has even made a sob video on social media about how hard life is being an autism mom. Maudie is so relieved to be spending the summer with her dad and hopes she can find a way to stay with him and escape her stepdad and mother. But when wildfires strike California, Maudie and her dad have to evacuate. They make their home in a camper near a beach town where Maudie’s dad grew up. Her mother is not happy and wants Maudie to come home, claiming Maudie won’t be able to handle the change. But Maudie intends to stay, and she also has grown to love surfing. Over the summer, she makes friends that help her realize her worth, which makes her even more reluctant to return to her mom. This is a powerful and very relatable novel with a fantastic ending.

Cover of Haru, Zombie Dog Hero by Oh

Haru, Zombie Dog Hero by Ellen Oh (July 11; HarperCollins)

This entertaining middle grade with big stakes is told from three perspectives: 11-year-old Luke, his dog Haru, and Penelope the cat. Evil is brewing in the small Virginia town of Painted Lake, and it all stems from Sinclair Industries, a factory that is polluting the lake. But it turns out pollution is only one evil among many. When one of the Sinclairs claims Haru bit her, Luke’s family is forced to hand him over to authorities. Haru becomes part of biotechnological experiments at Sinclair Industries and barely makes it out to warn Luke. It may already be too late, however; animals are beginning to change. The family needs to flee Painted Lake fast, but Haru is starting to change as well. This is a really fun and smart twist on zombie stories that tackles big issues like racism, climate change, and corporate greed. It would make a really great series!

Cover of Abeni's Song by Clark

Abeni’s Song by P. Djèlí Clark (July 25; Starscape)

I am a huge fan of Clark’s adult fiction (Master of Djinn, Ring Shout), so I was thrilled to hear about Abeni’s Song, his debut middle grade, and the first in a series. On the day of the Harvest Festival, the village’s witch woman appears, telling the villagers that she has given them three warnings of the ensuing war and that they’ve all gone unheeded. She insists on collecting her payment — a child — and to 12-year-old Abeni’s horror, her mother offers her to the witch. Shortly after, the war does indeed come, and witch women aided by a goat-man playing the flute lead all the villagers away, except her. She’s determined to save them and embarks on a quest to find them. Along the way, she befriends porcupine spirit Nyomi and panther spirit Zaneeya. This West African middle grade fantasy is a blast and will be enjoyed by middle grade readers and Clark fans alike.


If you’d like to read about more new children’s book releases, check out my list of April children’s book releases, May children’s book releases, and June children’s book releases. If you want to check out even more July children’s book releases, sign up for the twice-weekly The Kids Are All Right newsletter, where middle grade author Karina Yan Glaser and I review new children’s books and books on a theme.

And you can find a full list of new releases in the magical New Release Index, carefully curated by your favorite Book Riot editors, organized by genre and release date.