School’s finally out, meaning kids can read what they want instead of what’s required. We asked children’s librarians in New Jersey to shed light on this summer’s must-reads.

“There are so many wonderful books coming out, from new titles by favorite authors like Mo Willems to more nonfiction written in a picture-book style,” says Brittin Clark, a children’s library associate at the Ridgewood Public Library.  And reading in the summer is more than just fun. “Studies have shown how important it is that kids continue to read over break to prevent the ‘summer slide,’” says Clark. “What I love most about summer is kids have the freedom to choose what excites them, and that makes reading more fun.” These expert-recommended reads will get your little ones to hit the books all summer.

My Heart Fills With Happiness

By Monique Gray Smith
Orca Book Publishers. $9.95. Ages 2–5.

Seeing the face of someone you love, feeling the sun’s rays on your skin, listening to stories…This sweet board book teaches the tiniest readers to appreciate the little things. The author and illustrator are strongly connected to their Canadian-Aboriginal communities, so the bold, colorful pictures feature indigenous kids and grown-ups. Kids get a cultural lesson without even knowing it, and you’ll both fall in love with the touching story.

Have You Seen Elephant?

By David Barrow
Gecko Press. $16.99. Ages 3–6.

This absurdly funny tale about a boy playing hide-and-seek with an elephant will have both parents and kids in stitches. Rich, warm pictures by author/illustrator David Barrow contrast nicely with the ridiculousness of an elephant trying to hide in a lamp or behind window curtains. An ending with a twist adds to the hilarity. “Books where you can interact with your child while you’re reading them and he can interact with the story, are always popular,” says Clark. “Children are going to love finding the elephant even when the young boy in the story can’t.”

The Thank You Book

By Mo Willems
Disney-Hyperion. $9.99. Ages 4–8.

New York Times best-selling author Mo Willems has done it again with his latest and last in the much-loved Elephant and Piggie series. In this farewell book about two besties, Piggie decides she needs to thank absolutely everyone in her life. Gerald the Elephant, the cautious worrier of the two, is afraid she’ll forget someone, but Piggie insists she won’t. She then expresses her gratitude to all the familiar faces from previous books in the series, which your little fans will love.

The Airport Book

By Lisa Brown
Roaring Brook Press. $17.99. Ages 5–7.

Taking a plane trip on a summer vacation with the kiddos? Bring this one along, especially if they’re new to flying. “This is a great intro to air travel with a sock monkey packed along for the ride,” says Clark. The poignant story follows a preschooler and other passengers from drop-off through check-in, security and arrival. The book reassures novice fliers and helps parents put it into perspective, too.

Are We There Yet?

By Dan Santat
Little, Brown. $17.99 . Ages 4–8.

Long car rides are never fun—time seems to slow down. But what if it slowed down so much, it actually went backward. In a clever take on the “Are we there yet?” refrain, this book actually turns upside down for a few pages. “The beautiful illustrations will entertain a child for days on a long trip,” says Emily Witkowski, children’s librarian at Maplewood Memorial Library. “Reading this before or during the journey helps kids understand it’s an opportunity to exercise their imaginations.”

Hoot and Peep

By Lita Judge
Dial Books. $17.99. Ages 3–5.

Owl Hoot is super excited for his little sister, Peep, to be big enough to join him on the rooftops. He can’t wait to teach her about being an owl. But maybe Peep has something to teach her big brother too…about imagination. “What’s so sweet about this book is that the younger sibling gets a chance to show her big brother that he doesn’t know everything,” says Clark. “And kids on both ends of the relationship will learn that it’s okay to march to their own beat.”

Flora and the Peacocks

By Molly Idle
Chronicle Books. $17.99 . Ages 3–6.

The third book in a series about the dancing, daring Flora takes on the unique challenges of being part of a group of three friends. Kids will love lifting the flaps that reveal gorgeous illustrations of Flora and her two peacock pals. The story shows children that no matter what problems crop up, true friends will find a way to work it out and have some fun while they’re at it.

The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window

By Jeff Gottesfeld
Knopf. $17.99. Ages 5–8.

This book tells the story of Anne Frank from a perspective of the tree outside her window. As an “afterward” explains, the horse chestnut really existed. It died in 2010, after which its seeds and saplings were planted worldwide as a symbol of peace. “It’s a gentle introduction to a tough topic,” Clark says, “and I like the message of hope we get from the tree’s saplings growing all over the world.” The tale is gorgeously illustrated with the gentle, sepia tones of Peter McCarty’s artwork.

Rain Fish

By Lois Ehlert
Beach Lane Books. $17.99. Ages 4–8.

Author and illustrator Lois Ehlert expertly lays out the pros of recycling, collecting and making the best use of what you already have in this story. Young readers will love making friends with the rain fish collages “created” from everyday materials like discarded paper, old socks, fall leaves and orange peels. Writing that these colorful fish “hide in debris until rain sets them free,” Ehlert encourages kids to think about what they might use to make their own rain fish.

Thunder Boy Jr.

By Sherman Alexie
Little, Brown. $17.99. Ages 2–5.

Names mean a lot to children. So they’ll relate to this funny story about Little Thunder, a Native American boy named after his dad Big Thunder who’s not the least bit happy about it. “Author Sherman Alexie helps kids understand another culture by bringing it up as a topic they can relate to: being embarrassed by parents and family,” says Witkowski. “He deals with this topic with great humor and sensitivity—and he delivers again for the younger kids.”

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine

By Laurie Wallmark
Creston Books. $17.99. Ages 5 and up.

Written by a New Jeresy author, this beautifully done picture-book biography of renowned poet Lord Byron’s daughter Ada is the perfect nonfiction choice for kids in kindergarten and grade school. It tells the true story of a girl who’s able to figure out how to write a computer program 100 years before they’re a reality.

Eat Your U.S. History Homework: Recipes for Revolutionary Minds

By Ann McCallum
Charlesbridge. $15.95. Ages 7–10.

This charming picture book is the latest in the series in which kids learn important history lessons through cooking and recipes. Whether you’ve got mini-foodies or picky eaters in the house, they won’t be able to stop smiling all the way through (in between bites of the made-for-kids eats you’ll be whipping up together).

Study Hall of Justice

By Derek Fridolfs
Scholastic. $12.99. Ages 8–12.

This graphic novel about a young Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman meeting as kids and forming a junior detective agency is already flying off the shelves, with grade-school readers everywhere—superhero-obsessed or not—devouring it. (Think Wicked, but with their favorite caped crusaders as the protagonists rather than the characters in The Wizard of Oz.)

Raymie Nightingale

By Kate DiCamillo
Candlewick Press. $16.99. Ages 10 and up.

In this story, Raymie Clarke’s father has left home. Raymie thinks if she wins the “Little Miss Central Florida Tire” competition, he’ll come back. She forms an unlikely friendship with two other contestants who are also going through hard times. DiCamillo weaves loneliness, loss and other complex themes using heartfelt, prose children will understand. “What’s great about DiCamillo is her unusual characters,” says Witkowski. “I can’t wait to read this one myself!”

Maybe a Fox

By Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee
Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books; $16.99. Ages 10–14.

In this imaginative fantasy tale about two sisters, the narration switches between the perspective of a young girl named Jules, whose super fast sister Sylvie disappears while out for a run, and that of a fox born in an alternate world that shares the same gift of speed. “It’s beautifully written, equal parts heartbreaking and hopeful,” says Witkowski. “It teaches your kids sensitivity and empathy in a subtle way.”

Save me a Seat

By Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan
Scholastic Press. $16.99. Ages 8–12.

Joe and Ravi are as different as can be. Joe, who’s big and lumbering, has stayed in his hometown all his life, while small, athletic Ravi has just come to America from India. Joe’s best friends have recently moved away, and the popular school bully has picked up on both boys’ vulnerabilities. In this story, alternately told from Joe’s and Ravi’s points of view, they team up to battle the mean kid—and learn that maybe they aren’t so different after all.

Grayling’s Song

By Karen Cushman
Clarion Books. $16.99. Ages 10–12.

Harry Potter fans will be hooked on this coming-of-age story about a girl named Grayling who goes on a quest to save her mother, a healer and “wise woman” turned into a tree by evil forces. Grayling’s world includes other unusual characters like a shape-shifting mouse, a radiant enchantress and a wizard who can predict the future with cheese! The awesome “girl power” message and the magical setting make this one a winner.

Draw the Line

By Laurent Linn
Margaret K. McElderry Books; $17.99. Ages 12 and up.

This wonderfully crafted graphic novel is about a kid who doesn’t fit into small-town Texas. Adrian Piper is an artist who loves science fiction and happens to be gay, but prefers to act “invisible.” He’s only comfortable sketching superheroes. When a hate crime grips his neighborhood, everything changes. Ultimately, he decides that staying out of the fray isn’t always the right thing to do.