Founded by The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress and Pizza Hut (who would’ve thought?), National Young Readers Day is a holiday dedicated to celebrating the enrichment that reading can bring to young minds. Since its origin in 1989, this day has served to highlight children’s literature, as well as the children themselves. Reading to children is an invaluable tool to help young minds learn and grow in ways that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

To celebrate this national holiday and the important message behind it, we want to honor some of the freshest kid lit of 2021! Take a look at these eight books and consider picking these titles up for the young reader in your life!

Wonder Walkers
Written and illustrated by Micha Archer (Nancy Paulsen Books)

When two children beat boredom by going on a walk, they bring the spirit of adventure along with them. That sense of adventure takes them to the base of mountains, to winding riverbanks and dazzling meadows. The book’s prose is sparse, relying instead on the illustrations — beautifully arranged collages that burst with patterns and colors. But the words that do grace each page are carefully chosen, providing a glimpse into the children’s thought process. “Are shells the shore’s necklace?” One asks the other as they sit on a beach. “Is the ocean the world’s bath?” Wonder Walkers is a lavish feast for the eyes that is sure to spark curiosity in young readers’ minds.

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Tomatoes for Neela
Written by Padma Lakshmi
Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (Viking Books for Young Readers)

You may know her as the creator and host of Taste the Nation, from her appearances on Top Chef or from her various bestselling cookbooks. Now, culinary legend Padma Lakshmi shines in her debut children’s book Tomatoes for Neela. This book, illustrated by Caldecott Honor-winner Juana Martinez-Neal, tells the story of a young girl named Neela who loves cooking with her amma. As the two shop at the Saturday morning market, Neela thinks of her paati, far away in India, who helped create so many of the recipes that Amma cooks. Wanting to feel closer to Paati despite the distance, Neela is determined to make her paati’s famous tomato sauce. This sumptuous book tells a heartwarming story of food, culture and family.

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Milo Imagines the World
Written by Matt de la Peña
Illustrated by Christian Robinson (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)

On a New York City subway ride, a young boy named Milo doodles the commuters around him. He imagines what their lives could be like; how the man with the crossword puzzle might live in an apartment full of cats or how the boy in the suit might live in a castle. But Milo soon realizes that when you base your expectations on appearances alone, you miss out on the full picture. The author-illustrator duo behind the Newberry Medal and Caldecott Honor-winning book Last Stop On Market Street reunite once more, creating a thought-provoking story about the varied lives we humans lead and the similarities that unite us all. See what other books we think go along with Milo Imagines the World!

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Mel Fell
Written and illustrated by Corey R. Tabor (Balzer + Bray)

Mel Fell tells the story of a brave little bird named Mel who’s still learning how to fly. On her first attempt out of the nest, things don’t exactly go perfectly; readers will turn the book sideways and upside down as they track Mel’s less-than-stellar flight path. But despite her struggles, Mel is determined to try again. Her courage and perseverance will have readers cheering for her as she flies high. With a whole cast of charming woodland animals and a vitally important life lesson, Mel Fell is a book worthy of a spot on every bookshelf.

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The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art
Written by Cynthia Levinson
Illustrated by Evan Turk (Harry N. Abrams)

This lyrical and lovingly rendered children’s book tells the story of Ben Shahn, a prominent Jewish artist and activist of the 20th century. Cynthia Levinson’s prose weave together the threads of Shahn’s childhood — how because of his father’s involvement in workers’ rights protests, his family was exiled from Lithuania before immigrating to the United States. As a result of his own hardships, Shahn had a strong sense of justice as well as a keen eye for observation. Illustrator Evan Turk creates evocative paintings that are sure to transfix readers. Combined, Levinson and Turk’s work tells an unforgettable story of creativity, justice and hope for what we can achieve when we care for our fellow humans.

Take a look at what we thought of Evan Turk’s other book You Are Home.

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The Rock from the Sky
Written and illustrated by Jon Klassen (Candlewick)

From the mind that brought you the hilarious tale I Want My Hat Back comes The Rock from the Sky, a zany children’s book that may just be unlike anything you’ve read before. The story follows Turtle, who is in the process of showing his friend Armadillo his favorite spot to stand. Armadillo disagrees, however, and bets that he can find a better spot. Unbeknownst to the two of them, a meteor is free-falling through the atmosphere, headed straight for where they’re arguing. Jon Klassen’s book tells an eccentric story of chance and averted disaster, as well as what happens when strong personalities crash. Kids will be enraptured as the story twists and turns and will be sure to get a good laugh from The Rock from the Sky.

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The Water Lady: How Darlene Arviso Helps a Thirsty Navajo Nation
Written by Alice McGinty
Illustrated by Shonto Begay (Schwartz & Wade)

On a Navajo reservation in New Mexico, a young boy named Cody wakes up and checks his family’s water barrels to see that they’re empty. Like many other families on the reservation, Cody’s family lives without access to clean water, and can’t rely on taps or pipes to get the water they need. That’s where Darlene Arviso comes in; once she’s done driving students to school, she trades her school bus for a tanker truck, which she fills with 3,000 gallons of water. By driving this water onto the reservation, Darlene Arviso is able to care for her community and aid them where other authorities have failed. The Water Lady teaches children about this extraordinary woman and informs them about the plight of water insecurity in the United States.

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Shy Willow
Written and illustrated by Cat Min (Levine Querido)

Author and illustrator Cat Min tells the story of Willow, a rabbit who is remarkably, painfully, unbelievably shy. Living in her abandoned mailbox of a home, Willow is content to watch the world from afar and pass the time drawing by herself — it feels safer to her that way. But one day a letter drops into the mailbox; it is a special birthday request from a little boy named Theo, addressed to the moon. Willow feels responsible for the note and faces her fear of leaving the mailbox in order to fulfill this birthday wish. As Willow embarks on her journey, readers will be dazzled by the lush illustrations. But even more inspiring is the story of Willow herself, who overcame her fear in order to help Theo, and ended up discovering a world far beyond what she could have imagined while locked away in her mailbox.

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