8 to 3: Summer reading recommendations for kids and more

A young boy smiles as he and an older boy read a book together
Ahmed Hassan, 7, reacts as he and Jerry Riggings Jr., 16, read “Aliens Love Dinopants” at Urban Barber College on July 10, 2019, in San Diego.
(Hayne Palmour IV/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

This is the June 21, 2021, edition of the 8 to 3 newsletter about school, kids and parenting. Like what you’re reading? Sign up to get it in your inbox every Monday.

Hi, and welcome to the 8 to 3 newsletter. I’m Laura Newberry, a reporter on the education team, and I’m filling in for the vacationing Sonja Sharp.

Last week, I gave you some good and hopefully stress-relieving news: The best way to prepare your kids for returning to the classroom in the fall is to just let them be kids — to explore and have fun and indulge their curiosity.


The experts I interviewed told me that parents should certainly encourage summer reading, but without forcing any sort of academic agenda on their kiddos. They have to be interested in a book if they’re going to get anything out of it.

Still, the world of children’s literature is vast, and I wanted to give you and your little ones some solid options to choose from. So I endeavored to find exceptionally thoughtful and timely books recommended by some of the nation’s best librarians.

It probably comes as no surprise that the 2021 summer reading lists reflect the tumult of the last 16 months. Librarians are intentionally spotlighting books by diverse authors that grapple with themes of social injustice, multicultural identity and experience, and the pandemic itself.

Librarians at Los Angeles Public Library — Joanna Fabicon, Beth Gallego, Phoebe Guiot, Llyr Heller, Andy Howe, Melanie Pentecost and Caitlin Quinn — curated a book list especially for this newsletter, and I’m excited to share it with you.

“I mainly added titles that not only would pull the teens into the story during these turbulent times, even if they dealt with the social issues they may be dealing with in life, but those that they may see themselves reflected in — escapism plus a mirror,” said Heller, a librarian who specializes in young adult literature.

Without further ado, here are LAPL’s picks for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Happy reading!


“Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us” by Lauren Castillo, 2020
“Your Place in the Universe” by Jason Chin, 2020
“Milo Imagines the World” by Matt de la Pena, 2021
“Three Billy Goats Buenos” by Susan Middleton Elya, 2020
“Swashby and the Sea” by Beth Ferry, 2020
“Imagination Vacation” by James Gigot, 2019
“Where’s Baby?” by Anne Hunter, 2020
“In a Jar” by Deborah Marcero, 2020
“Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story” by Kevin Noble Maillard, 2019
“What Will These Hands Make?” by Nikki McClure, 2020
“A New Day” by Brad Meltzer, 2021
“Bear Came Along” by Richard T. Morris, 2019
“Hike” by Pete Oswald, 2020
“Outside, Inside” by LeUyen Pham, 2021
“¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat” by Raúl the Third, 2020

“Amari and the Night Brothers” by B.B. Alston, 2021
“The Only Black Girls in Town” by Brandy Colbert, 2020
“Shine!” by J.J. Grabenstein and Chris Grabenstein, 2019
“Magic Misfit” series by Neal Patrick Harris, 2020
“Hide and Seeker” by Daka Hermon, 2020
“Lupe Wong Won’t Dance” by Donna Barba Higuera, 2020
“The Parker Inheritance” by Varian Johnson, 2018
“Get a Grip” by Sarah Kapit, 2020
“Song for a Whale” by Lynne Kelly, 2019
“Con Quest!” by Sam Maggs, 2020
“The Season of Styx Malone” by Kekla Magoon, 2018
“The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone” by Jaclyn Moriarty, 2018
“Mañanaland” by Pam Munoz Ryan, 2020
“A Wish in the Dark” by Christina Soontornvat, 2020
“The List of Things that Will Not Change” by Rebecca Stead, 2020
“Alice’s Farm: A Rabbit’s Tale” by Maryrose Wood, 2020

“A Trot & Cap’n Bill Adventure” by Amy Chu, 2020
“Ballad of Song Birds and Snakes” by Suzanne Collins, 2020
“Eventown” by Corey Ann Haydu, 2019
“Notorious” by Gordon Korman, 2020
“Dragon Pearl” by Yoon Ha Lee, 2019
“Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky” by Kwame Mbalia, 2019
“Camp So-and-So” by Mary McCoy, 2017
“To Night Owl From Dogfish” by Holly Goldberg Sloan, 2019
“The Fabulous Zed Watson!” by Basil Sylvester, 2021
“Dragon Hoops” by Gene Luen Yang, 2020

“The Companion” by Katie Alender, 2020
“A Song of Wraiths and Ruin” by Roseanne A. Brown, 2020
“The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling” by Wai Chim, 2020
“The Voting Booth” by Brandy Colbert, 2020
“Daughters of Jubilation” by Kara Lee Corthron, 2020
“Legendborn” by Tracy Deonn, 2020
“Wings of Ebony” by J. Elle, 2021
“Excuse me While I Ugly Cry” by Joya Goffney, 2021
“Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir” by Robin Ha, 2020.
“Every Body Looking” by Candice Iloh, 2020
“The Henna Wars” by Adiba Jaigirdar, 2020
“Last Night at the Telegraph Club” by Malinda Lo, 2021
“Nubia: Real One” by L.L. McKinney, 2021
“Out Now: Queer We Go Again” by Saundra Mitchell, 2020
“A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow” by Laura Taylor Namey, 2020
“Everything Sad Is Untrue: A True Story” by Daniel Nayeri, 2020
“The Left-Handed Booksellers of London” by Garth Nix, 2020
“Charming as a Verb” by Ben Philippe, 2020
“The Girls I’ve Been” by Tess Sharpe, 2021
“Today Tonight Tomorrow” by Rachel Lynn Solomon, 2020
“All These Monsters” by Amy Tintera, 2020.
“Zoe Rosenthal Is not Lawful Good” by Nancy Werlin, 2021
“Parachutes” by Kelly Yang, 2020

Other summer reading lists for kids worth checking out:

Assn. for Library Service to Children: Recommendations for kids up to eighth grade. This list was created as a resource for children’s librarians to share with patrons, so you know it must be good.

San Francisco Unified School District’s summer reading list, curated by librarians at SFUSD and San Francisco Public Libraries: Books for grades pre-K to 12th.

New York Public Library’s summer reading book list: Picks for babies through high school.

Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature: Best books of 2020, according to this research center for children’s literature based in Inglewood.

An elite private school acknowledges decades of allegations of abuse

K-12 education doesn’t get much more elevated than at the Thacher School, which occupies 427 bucolic acres in Ojai, and offers outstanding academics along with horse riding and other outdoor pursuits for its 259 boarding students. It may be the closest thing California has to the exclusivity of an East Coast prep school. The cost per student: $64,700 a year.

None of that, it appears, protected students.

In an extraordinary, 90-page public disclosure last week, the school detailed episodes of alleged rape, groping, unwanted touching and inappropriate comments by multiple faculty members dating back 40 years. Here’s the remarkable story from my colleagues Brittny Mejia, Matt Hamilton, Melissa Gomez and Harriet Ryan.

Google Earth view of Thatcher School in Ojai.
(Google Earth)

A somewhat similar accounting is under way in Santa Rosa, where the only private, independent college-prep school in Sonoma County is being rocked by allegations against a single teacher. Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Does your child need a COVID-19 vaccination?

Times health and science reporter Melissa Healy writes about a growing debate over the wisdom of vaccinating young people — a debate that exists outside the usual divide between anti-vaxxers and pro-science types. “No one is arguing that COVID-19 immunizations for kids should stop altogether,” Healy writes. “Rather, a debate has erupted over the need to inoculate healthy children as soon as possible and according to the two-dose regimen authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.”

Last week, we told you about plans by music legends Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine to spend whatever it takes to create a new magnet high school in South L.A. that would target kids who struggle in a traditional high school setting. This week, it’s A-lister George Clooney and a gaggle of other stars (Don Cheadle and Kerry Washington among them) who are planning to bankroll a magnet high school near downtown L.A. that will give underserved students an opportunity to get a leg up in the film industry. “It doesn’t make sense that Los Angeles of all places, ground zero for Hollywood, isn’t more of a part of this movement to get more underrepresented people into the pipeline,” Clooney told my colleague Ryan Faughnder.


Every year, the state of California allocates billions of dollars to be used to support the neediest students, including English learners, students from low-income families and foster students. Those dollars don’t always get to the intended targets, however. In the latest example, The Times’ Paloma Esquivel reports, the state Department of Education found that San Bernardino County school officials failed to properly use some $150 million intended for the neediest pupils. County officials disagree, saying the state’s findings prove that “there was no misuse or misappropriation of the funds.”

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Warriors are out, Josiah Royce is in (and other news from around California)

For more than a century, Fresno High School’s sports teams were known as the Warriors. That came to an end in December, when school board members decided the mascot was racist and voted to replace it, much to the consternation of many alumni. This past week, the school board voted to spend $456,000 to buy merchandise featuring the school’s new mascot, Royce Hall. No, not the building at UCLA (although that’s nearly as famous a symbol as the Bruin mascot). Fresno High has its own Royce Hall, older than UCLA’s and also named for California philosopher Josiah Royce. Fresno Bee.

That development might be seen as one skirmish in the culture war battlefield over “critical race theory,” the idea that race is a social construct that shapes our society and is the hidden hand behind government actions such as redlining — or the treatment of Native Americans. (Here’s a useful primer from EducationWeek.) Republicans across the country have strenuously objected to any efforts to introduce critical race theory into public school curricula. San Diego is one of the latest places where the issue has exploded. San Diego Union-Tribune.

Around California, the state is offering grants to schools to grow food under the Department of Food and Agriculture’s Farm to School program. Here’s a look at several Central Valley projects. Modesto Bee.

Finally, we pass along this very bittersweet Father’s Day story about a 37-year-old Burbank man. Last August, James Alvarez was walking on a sidewalk in Anaheim with his pregnant wife when a driver jumped the curb and hit her. Yesenia Lisette Aguilar died, but her baby was saved by an emergency C-section. On Sunday, Alvarez marked Father’s Day with his 10-month-old daughter, Adalyn Rose, who has already uttered her first word: “Dada.” You may want a supply of tissues handy before reading. Orange County Register.


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