Tender is the Heart: 12 New Reads for the Young and Young at Heart

May is here, and with it a roundup of picks for young readers and the young at heart. And what do all these books have in common? There is a level of tenderness in each one of them. From snail BFFs to ballerinas, cryptids to car camping, each story is sure to make your heart sing. Read on to find your new favorite book!

Recommended by Chelsea

Big By Vashti Harrison Cover ImageBig

This is a powerful read. Sparse, intentional words paired with lush illustrations tell an important story of self-acceptance and remind readers about the power of words.

Recommended by Jake

When his beloved pet slug Gustav goes missing, young mushroom Little Cap must face his fears and leave his cozy home on a journey to find him. Gorgeous illustrations and a heartwarming story make for a delightful read.

Recommended by Chelsea

A Bed of Stars By Jessica Love, Jessica Love (Illustrator) Cover ImageA Bed of Stars

By Jessica LoveJessica Love (Illustrator)

A young child is taken camping with her dad to better understand their place in the universe. This is the picture book young Chelsea desperately needed to soothe her to sleep.

Recommended by Rae Ann

Four Eyes: A Graphic Novel (Four Eyes #1) By Rex Ogle, Dave Valeza (Illustrator) Cover ImageFour Eyes: A Graphic Novel (Four Eyes #1)

By Rex OgleDave Valeza (Illustrator)

Sixth grade is a year of adjustment for Rex. Bullies, girls, and navigating the lunchroom are difficult, and that’s even before he starts wearing glasses. This true story of learning to fit in and find your community is a must read.

Recommended by Ashby

Pebble and Wren By Chris Hallbeck Cover ImagePebble and Wren

Sent out to determine their special powers, Pebble is scared until finding Wren. The young monster and young human become friends, eventually communicating telepathically. Wren helps Pebble make sense of the world, explaining things like thermodynamics of refrigeration. Their adventures lead to friendship in a story that will make you laugh and smile and want to have Pebble come to your house!

Recommended by Hannah P.

Dear Mothman By Robin Gow Cover ImageDear Mothman

By Robin Gow

When his best friend (and the only other trans boy in school) passes away, Noah feels more alone and misunderstood than ever. Longing to connect with someone who knows how he feels, Noah starts writing letters to The Mothman: a red-eyed, winged cryptid who may or may not be hanging out in the woods behind his house. This story broke my heart and put it back together again.

Recommended by Rae Ann

Nat for Nothing: A Graphic Novel (Nat Enough #4) By Maria Scrivan, Maria Scrivan (Illustrator) Cover ImageNat for Nothing: A Graphic Novel (Nat Enough #4)

By Maria ScrivanMaria Scrivan (Illustrator)

It’s a new year in middle school and Nat is looking for a club to join. When she meets a new student, they want to start a comics club. But what should they do when the principal says no? The appearance of Nat’s cat and dog at the beginning of each chapter adds humor to this already laugh-out-loud story. (See the rest of the series here!)

Recommended by Chelsea

Bianca Torre Is Afraid of Everything By Justine Pucella Winans Cover ImageBianca Torre Is Afraid of Everything

This novel truly has everything: a little romance, a self-discovery journey, and a dash of murder. It’s all delightfully narrated by Bianca, whose voice is funny, endearing, and authentic. I enjoyed every page and missed the characters when I finished.

Recommended by Katie

Ander & Santi Were Here: A Novel By Jonny Garza Villa Cover ImageAnder & Santi Were Here: A Novel

This book is perfect. That’s my review. Anything else I say will be woefully inadequate. But that’s probably not enough, is it? Ander and Santi Were Here is a beautiful story of queer first love, of fighting for that love when the cards are stacked against you, and for finding your own way in this world. I loved this book with my whole heart.

Recommended by RJ

Lion's Legacy By L. C. Rosen Cover ImageLion’s Legacy

Lion’s Legacy is a queer Indiana Jones for a new generation. Between ancient puzzles and action-packed adventure, this story takes a serious look at family, queer community, and what it means to own your history.

Recommended by Chelsea

Warrior Girl Unearthed By Angeline Boulley Cover ImageWarrior Girl Unearthed

Perry Firekeeper-Birch’s summer plans of fishing and lazing are upturned when she wrecks her Jeep and owes her Auntie Daunis for the repairs. Instead she interns for her Ojibwe Tribe and kindles a passion for the repatriation of her ancestors’ remains and cultural artifacts. Easily one of my top reads of this year, Warrior Girl Unearthed is a page-turning heist novel that not only entertained me but educated me.

Recommended by Rae Ann

The Magician's Elephant Movie tie-in By Kate DiCamillo, Yoko Tanaka (Illustrator) Cover ImageThe Magician’s Elephant

By Kate DiCamilloYoko Tanaka (Illustrator)

This is the story of a boy seeking his lost sister, a community looking for hope, and the elephant that answers.

Sprout Book Club: May Selection

When You Can Swim By Jack Wong, Jack Wong (Illustrator) Cover ImageWhen You Can Swim

By Jack WongJack Wong (Illustrator)

The May 2023 Sprout Book Club selection is When You Can Swim by Jack Wong. The beautifully-illustrated scenes celebrate the anticipation of learning to swim and the joy found in connecting with others in a shared activity.

Early praise for the book:

“In visually inventive, lovingly finished pastel-and-watercolor spreads and sinuous lines of prose-poetry, debut author-illustrator Wong showcases myriad children encountering the joys of swimming.” – Publisher’s Weekly, starred review

Sprout Book Club is the book subscription box for picture book lovers. Every month members will receive a first edition picture book. Set up a subscription for yourself or buy a gift membership for your favorite picture book lover for 3, 6, or 12 months. 

Spark Book Club: May Selection

Ellie Engle Saves Herself By Leah Johnson Cover ImageEllie Engle Saves Herself

By Leah Johnson

The May 2023 Spark Book Club selection is Ellie Engle Saves Herself! by Leah Johnson. After a freak earthquake in her town, Ellie wakes up with a gift. She can bring anything back to life with her touch. When a video of her using her new superpower goes viral, her life in middle school will never be the same.

Early Sparks for the novel:

“This fast-paced, humorous novel will have readers racing to the end as they fall in love with Ellie’s quirky and authentic personality.” – Kirkus, starred review

Spark Book Club is the first editions club for middle grade readersEvery month members will receive a first edition middle grade novel — plus a letter written by the author especially for club members. Makes a great gift for the independent reader! Sign ups are available for 3, 6, or 12 months.

ParnassusNext: May Selection

Imogen, Obviously By Becky Albertalli Cover ImageImogen, Obviously

By Becky Albertalli

The May 2023 ParnassusNext selection is Imogen, Obviously by Becky Albertalli. Imogen is the World’s Greatest Ally. She is looking forward to visiting her best friend at college for the weekend. When she arrives, her friend confesses she told her friends they used to date. Now Imogen must keep up the charade. As she spends more time with a cute college girl, she begins to wonder if the charade is the truth.

Early praise for the novel:

“Imogen’s journey feels authentic and sincere, and readers will find it difficult not to fall for her….Fresh, endearing, and heartfelt.” –Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

ParnassusNext is the book subscription box for YA lovers. Every member of ParnassusNext receives a first edition hardcover of each month’s selected book, signed by the author. There is no membership fee to join — and no line to stand in for the autograph. Not only will you have one of the best YA books of the month when it comes out, you’ll have it straight from the author’s hands, with an original, authentic signature! Set up a subscription for yourself or buy a gift membership for your favorite YA reader for 3, 6, or 12 months.