10 of the Best New Children’s Books Out May 2024

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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.

Happy May, kidlit readers! May and October are my two favorite months of the year. In May, the flowers are blooming, the birds are singing, the weather is warming, and I’ll likely be taking my daughter on our first creek hikes of the year. It’s also my birthday month! It feels like winter is truly over, and it’s time for new things, and new books, of course. As always, May children’s book releases are phenomenal and I’ve so enjoyed reading them. There’s something for every type of reader.

May children’s book releases explore many diverse experiences. In May picture book releases, a Cherokee girl moves, a Moroccan library tells its story, an anxious child learns to love a pet, Muslim children become friends, and a young girl experiences persecution during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. In May middle grade releases, a Chinese American girl discovers a magic paintbrush, a Pakistani American experiences harassment, a nonbinary kid has their first romance, a Hindu boy discovers what it means to be brave during the British Partition of India, and a girl learns to value beauty from within. All of May children’s book releases were fantastic, and I can’t wait for everyone to get a chance to read them, too.

To read reviews of even more of May children’s book releases, make sure to subscribe and follow my reviews on Book Riot’s kidlit newsletter.

May Children’s Book Releases: Picture Books

Cover of Being Home by Traci Sorell & Michaela GoadeCover of Being Home by Traci Sorell & Michaela Goade

Being Home by Traci Sorell & Michaela Goade (May 7; Kokila)

Most picture books about moving depict a child who doesn’t want to move or feels nervous about it. While those books are needed, Sorell instead shows a child who looks forward to moving. A young Cherokee girl and her family are leaving the city to move closer to family on a Cherokee Nation reservation. The picture book opens with the girl saying goodbye to her old home. Her mother tells her they’re on a new path, “One that leads us to / our ancestors’ land / and to our people.” The girl is ready and excited to follow the path. Once they arrive at their new home, relatives come to help and celebrate and explore with the girl. Goade’s illustrations are warm, joyous, and vibrant. It’s a beautiful celebration of Indigenous culture and what it means to be home.

Cover of Behind My Doors: The Story of the World's Oldest Library by Hena Khan & Nabila AdaniCover of Behind My Doors: The Story of the World's Oldest Library by Hena Khan & Nabila Adani

Behind My Doors: The Story of the World’s Oldest Library by Hena Khan & Nabila Adani (May 7; Lee & Low Books)

This wonderful nonfiction picture book is told from the unique perspective of the oldest library in the world—the Al-Qarawiyyin Library in Fez, Morocco. The library is born in 859 when Fatima al-Fihri uses her inheritance to build a mosque and school, with a library to serve both. For centuries, the library enjoys prestige and relishes in the scholars who visit. But slowly people stop visiting, and the library falls into disrepair. In 2012, the government hires the architect Aziza Chaouni from Fez to restore the library. This is a really magical and accessible glimpse into a library’s history with soft and warm illustrations.

Cover of Growing Up under a Red Flag by Ying Chang Compestine & Xinmei Liu Cover of Growing Up under a Red Flag by Ying Chang Compestine & Xinmei Liu

Growing Up under a Red Flag by Ying Chang Compestine & Xinmei Liu (May 7; Rocky Pond Books)

This is the first picture book memoir that I know of that takes place during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Compestine was three when Mao Zedong declared a Cultural Revolution and punished educated people like Compestine’s parents, who were doctors and taught Compestine English. When she turned five, they were no longer allowed to read or speak any foreign languages, and the leader of the Red Guard came to live with them to ensure compliance with all of Mao Zedong’s rules. Eventually, the Red Guard arrested Compestine’s father, and she doesn’t see him again until she’s a teenager. This is a compelling glimpse into an important historical moment accompanied by dramatic and moving illustrations. A short author’s note with photographs follows.

Cover of Sister Friend by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow & Shahrzad MaydaniCover of Sister Friend by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow & Shahrzad Maydani

Sister Friend by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow & Shahrzad Maydani (May 7; Abrams Books for Young Readers)

This heartwarming picture book grapples with the too-common struggle of finding friends when you look different and come from a different culture than everyone else. Ameena is the only brown girl and Muslim in her class. The other kids don’t really play with her. At recess, she plays an old game her Momma taught her alone. When a new student arrives, Sundus, who is brown like Ameena and wears a hijab, Ameena hopes they can be friends. But Ameena’s too-hasty words make Sundus believe she’s making fun of her. However, when the two attend the masjid together, Sundus realizes that Ameena can also be the friend she seeks. This special friendship book has gorgeous, soft illustrations that feel like a hug.

Cover of Neat Nick's Big Mess by Chad OtisCover of Neat Nick's Big Mess by Chad Otis

Neat Nick’s Big Mess by Chad Otis (May 7; Rocky Pond Books)

Nick loves everything to be just so—tidy, organized, planned. Nothing out of the ordinary, unexpected, or messy. But sometimes Nick’s concentration on everything being neat and tidy makes him feel lonely. So, his mom buys Nick a big, hairy, happy dog as a surprise. This doggo is not neat. He’s squishy and slobbery and messy and excitable. Can Nick learn to love this slobbery mess? Can the dog help Nick break out of his shell? This is such a sweet and funny book for anxious kids.

May Children’s Book Releases: Middle Grade

Cover of Plain Jane and the Mermaid by Vera BrosgolCover of Plain Jane and the Mermaid by Vera Brosgol

Plain Jane and the Mermaid by Vera Brosgol (May 7; First Second)

This delightful Eastern European fairytale graphic novel set in a nebulous historical time explores the idea of beauty. Jane has always known she’s plain; her wealthy parents made sure of that, constantly critiquing her eating, face, and demeanor. When her parents die, Jane learns that girls can’t inherit property. Her horrible male cousin will receive everything and kick her out of the only home Jane’s ever known. Jane will receive an inheritance if she marries, so she finds the most handsome boy in the village—the fisherman’s youngest son—and asks if he’ll marry her. He hesitantly agrees, wanting to escape a life of catching fish, but then a beautiful mermaid lures him into the ocean. Jane isn’t about to let her handsome fiance go, so she goes on a quest into the ocean’s depths to save him. This is so very entertaining. Fairy tale readers of all ages will love it.

Cover of Lion of the Sky by Ritu Hemnani Cover of Lion of the Sky by Ritu Hemnani

Lion of the Sky by Ritu Hemnani (May 7; Balzer + Bray)

This moving middle grade verse novel occurs during the British Partition of India. Twelve-year-old Raj, who is Hindu, loves flying kites with his best friend, who is Muslim. Raj is the middle child and often feels like he isn’t good enough in his father’s eyes. Raj loves cooking, but his father sees that as women’s work. His father wants Raj to excel at math so he can work in the family’s tailor business, but numbers swim for Raj. He and his family are initially excited about India’s independence, but then they learn they will be forced to move into what is now considered ‘India.’ During the harrowing journey, Raj’s younger sister is lost. Once they arrive at their new home, more difficulties face the grieving family. Thankfully, everything begins to improve thanks to Raj’s bravery, which is something he struggles to understand from the beginning. This is a lovely novel that I flew through despite the length.

Cover of Any Way You Look by Maleeha SiddiquiCover of Any Way You Look by Maleeha Siddiqui

Any Way You Look by Maleeha Siddiqui (May 7; Scholastic Press)

This is a fantastic and relatable novel about consent and fashion. Sixth grader Ainy, who is Pakistani American, and her family are going through hard times financially. Her father has moved back to Pakistan to care for his mother with cancer. Their family has moved into a friend’s basement, unable to afford their apartment’s rent. Ainy really wants to work in her mother’s clothing store, and her mother finally agrees. Her older sister gets a job at a coffee shop to help the family. When boys harass Ainy, she feels like she needs to deal with it herself. Her family is so busy and worried; she doesn’t want to add to their burdens. Ainy begins wearing a hijab like her older sister, hoping the boys will leave her alone. She feels guilty about this, knowing wearing a hijab should be about faith rather than hiding. When the hijab fails to deter the boys, she finally tells her family. This also has friend drama and first crushes.

Cover of The Magic Paintbrush by Kat Zhang, Phoebe Zhong, & Eric DarnellCover of The Magic Paintbrush by Kat Zhang, Phoebe Zhong, & Eric Darnell

The Magic Paintbrush by Kat Zhang, Eric Darnell, & Phoebe Zhong (May 21; Crown Books for Young Readers)

This is such a fun first book in a new illustrated fantasy series full of Chinese folklore. Seventh grader Amy has always loved art but feels like her art has been stuck in a bit of a childish rut lately. When she visits her Lao Lao in Flushing, the two bond over art. One day, while Amy is using Lao Lao’s jade paintbrushes, the bird-headed tiger she creates comes alive! She realizes Lao Lao’s jade paintbrushes are magic. Meanwhile, a university student in China has been hunting for the magic paintbrushes. This is a fast-paced, exciting fantasy read.

Cover of Upstaged by Robin EasterCover of Upstaged by Robin Easter

Upstaged by Robin Easter (May 28; Little, Brown Ink)

I smiled so much while reading this sweet, queer middle grade graphic novel romance. Ash (they/them) and Ivy (she/her) always share a cabin at a musical theater summer camp. This is the last year they can attend the camp, and Ash wants it to be the best year yet. But Ivy and Ash are put in different cabins, and Ash, who has a crush on Ivy, worries that Ivy is falling for her fellow costar in the musical they’re performing—”Ella,” a retelling of Cinderella. Ash doesn’t know how to tell Ivy they have a crush on her, and their worries are ostracizing them from other caring campers.

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