It’s time for SUMMER READING!!!! Woohoo!! This year Barnes & Noble (yes, physical bookstores do still exist) is bringing back their popular summer reading program. Your kid reads a bunch of books, then they get to choose a FREE book at Barnes & Noble!
Of course, only certain titles are available for free. Because I’m obsessive about what comes in our book basket, I figured I should take a peak at what the bookstore is offering before I let my kids go crazy. Here’s a brief review of EVERY title on the Barnes & Noble prize list. (These are books they can WIN, not a suggested reading list. Kids can read any books to complete the challenge, they’re just limited in what free books they can choose.)
Prizes can be claimed in-store only starting July 1, 2023. Popular books may run out quickly, so if only a few are right for your family, try to complete the challenge earlier in the summer for the best selection.
Heads up that the titles in Spanish are only available in Spanish, but I still reviewed them…in English. Also, I tried to note anything that I would want to know about in each book, but please, still preview them! Because we’re ok with fart jokes, but you might not be! We also don’t do romance in elementary ages, so I might steer you away from books that are actually great for your family. (If you don’t know how to quickly preview a chapter book, I have a free resource with detailed instructions.)
Finally, some of the books are exclusive to Barnes & Noble. That means I can’t provide links to them, and in most cases, I’ve reviewed the normal edition. So, I’m assuming our good friends at Barnes & Noble didn’t change too much for their exclusive editions, but do let me know if you come across anything egregious.
If you click on the book title it will take you to the Amazon page to purchase the book. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Picky Christian Mom Review of EVERY Free Book from Barnes & Noble Summer Reading 2023
GRADES 1 & 2 – Barnes & Noble Free Books for Summer Reading 2023
Grumpy Monkey Freshly Squeezed – This is a graphic novel chapter book, not to be confused with the Grumpy Monkey picture books featuring the same character. Nothing in here I found objectionable, it’s just fun and silly. Definitely for fans of humor like that in The Bad Guys or similar series.
Ivy & Bean – This is the first in the series, Ivy and Bean. Ivy and Bean are two early elementary age friends. They play witchcraft/witches/spells/etc., and one of them says she is a witch, so heads up if your family steers away from that. They also have bad attitudes and aren’t super nice to their siblings in this particular book of the series. We’ve read a few books in this series, I think they’re “fine,” but don’t encourage my kids to read them.
I Want My Hat Back (B&N Exclusive Edition) – Cute and funny! I don’t know what it means that this is an “exclusive edition,” I trust they haven’t changed the original too much, or added anything questionable. The rabbit does get eaten…so definitely slap-stick type humor.
Link + Hud: Heroes by a Hair – This is a fun story that switches between prose and comic book panels. It’s about two brothers who are trying to get their babysitter fired. They have active imaginations and get into mischief. It’s quite slap-sticky, some teasing and general trouble making. I like it.
Los tipos malos (The Bad Guys) – LOVE The Bad Guys series in our home. There are a ton of fart jokes, and just crude humor, but overall fabulous series with no complaints from me. It’s a graphic novel.
Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea! – This is the first book in the Narwhal and Jelly series. We LOVE this series in our home. It’s a cute friendship story, driven by ridiculous jokes. They do have one reference to how narwhals evolved. Heads up that in new editions, the author does not refer to Narwhal as a boy or girl, and the pronoun used is, “they.” I took this to mean that the author was trying to make space for readers to “see” themselves in the character, independent of gender, but I know not everyone feels that way, and avoid the new editions. In older editions they refer to Narwhal as “he.”
Owl Diaries / Unicorn Diaries (B&N Exclusive Edition) – We enjoy this series in our family. Especially this first book in the series, I’d feel extremely comfortable having in our book basket. Some of the later books have a few content considerations, but this first one is awesome! I especially like the sweet family dynamics. I’m unsure what makes this edition a B&N Exclusive, so maybe give it a quick flip through at the store.
The Princess in Black and the Mermaid Princess – I really like The Princess in Black series! It’s about a princess who saves the day by being a ninja. This is book 9 in the series. You don’t HAVE to read the series in order, but if your kids have, they might understand the concept a bit more. (If you google this series you will see that some people have strong feelings about book 10 of the series, The Princess in Black and The Prince in Pink. I personally am fine with that book, but some other popular conservative reviewers are not, so I wanted you to know about it so if your child falls in love with the series, you can preview that one and see if it’s ok for your book basket.)
Rainbow Fairies Book #1: Ruby the Red Fairy (B&N Exclusive Edition) – My understanding is that this is a new edition of the old Rainbow Fairies books that have been around for literally decades. As long as they didn’t change anything, these are darling and totally clean! There are cute black and white line drawings throughout, and the reading level is fairly low, so this is a great option for kids just dipping a toe into chapter books.
Ready to Catch Reader: Magical Creatures (B&N Exclusive Edition) – This is the popular picture books by Adam Wallace packaged into one book, and tweaked a bit to make them “leveled.” That just means the vocabulary is aimed at first and second grade readers. The original stories are totally clean and ok for kids, but I haven’t double checked them in this new edition because it just came out. It is definitely for the youngest readers, since it’s just picture books, and not a longer form story like everything else on this list. The stories in the book are Ready to Catch a Unicorn, Ready to Catch a Dinosaur, and Ready to Catch a Dragon.
Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveteers – This is book one of The Questioneers Series. I think this book’s content is great! It’s about failing and trying again, and how engineers make the world a better place. Just a heads up that the main character does have a pride flag in her room. There’s no mention of it (or anything related) in the story AT ALL, just the room decoration.
GRADES 3 & 4 – Barnes & Noble Free Books for Summer Reading 2023
Animal Rescue Friends – These are stories meant to tell a relationship truth, but packaged to be appealing to tweens, especially animal lovers. Nothing negative that I could find, I think it’s an excellent option! It is a full color comic book, so will be a quick read. It appears to be marketed more to girls, but it is appropriate for both genders, and both are main characters.
Katt vs. Dogg – Slapstick and silly, like all Patterson/Grabenstein books. There are lots of potty humor jokes. We love a good fart joke in our family, so I’m fine with it, but FYI it’s in there. They do use words like “dumb” and “stupid,” so heads up if that’s something your child emulates if he reads it too much, you might want to pick one of the other ones on this list.
Laugh-Out-Loud: The 1,001 Funniest LOL Jokes of All Time – Super clean, nothing objectionable. (I have actually written a guest post on the author’s website. I would be super comfortable with everything he writes being in our book basket.)
Loki: A Bad God’s Guide to Being Good – I haven’t read a single paragraph of this one, so when I started this review I literally wrote that our family isn’t into Marvel…Uhh, thank goodness I double checked what it was about, because this has NOTHING to do with Loki from the Marvel universe. It’s actually about the Norse god Loki as an 11 year old. The book is generously illustrated, and reviewers all comment on how hysterical it is. Again, I haven’t read it, so I don’t know if it has anything objectionable, but from the little research I did, it looks like it’s ok. Just keep in mind that Loki is the god of mischief, or something like that.
The Magician’s Elephant – The main character sees a fortune teller, and there’s some magic, however absolutely nothing I’d be concerned about. There’s no agenda, and would be a fabulous choice for your book basket. It’s extremely well written! Stylistically, it’s the most well written book available for free from Barnes and Noble in this 3rd/4th grade category.
Mihi Ever After – This is another retelling of fairytales, a prominent theme on this book list! This puts a Korean spin on fairy tales. I actually wasn’t able to get a hold of this one before I wanted to get this list out, but I’ll come back and update if I do. From what little info I could find online, it sounds like it’s a flipped traditional princess story, with girl-power themes.
Rebel Girls: Madam C. J. Walker Builds a Business – This is a beautifully illustrated biography about an incredible woman from American history. I love that the illustrations are in color, and how easy the story is to follow. Even though it’s a biography, the style is for younger readers. Heads up that there are some very sad, dark things that are a part of the story, like a lynching, and slavery, and racism.
Sobreviví los ataques de tiburones de 1916 (I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916) – This is a historical fiction account of the 1916 shark attacks. It’s totally clean…except for the whole sharks attacking thing. My kids find this series too scary, but that’s just due to sensitivity level, and if the idea of sharks won’t scare your little people, this is a great Spanish option!
What Is the Women’s World Cup? – A nonfiction option, we love to see them! This short book talks about the history of the Women’s World Cup, and lots of female soccer players. I didn’t get a chance to read it cover-to-cover, but it seems clean. Of course, pro athletes don’t always make the best role models, so that would be the only thing that might make me want to flip through it one more time before handing it to my child.
Who Would Win? Ultimate Shark Rumble – My son loved the Who Would Win? series. It dissects the fighting capabilities of different animals. Occasionally the books have passing mentions of evolution, I can’t remember if this one in particular does. But I still highly recommend! It’s a great (in my opinion, probably the best) nonfiction option on this list!
Wish – So, this is one of those books that teachers will all recommend. It is written in a beautiful way, and there are a TON of of social emotional connections to be made. However, you should be aware that there are also some really heavy concepts. The main character is 11, and her mom abandons the family, there are mild swear words, smoking, grownups fighting, and just general family dysfunction. It does get resolved, and I do think that I overall would be fine with my kids reading it, but I would probably push it up a grade level. I’m not exactly sure who decided it should go in the 3rd and 4th grade level, because there’s a lot of heavy concepts being introduced.
Wishtree – Overall I think this book is fine, but I don’t necessarily agree it’s for third and fourth graders to read independently. It deals with racism and stereotypes and some heavier topics that might be best with a little guidance. However, I have heard families have read it out loud with even younger kids with great success, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. Overall clean, and strong literary merit. It’s also short, so could be an easy “win” for a reluctant reader.
GRADES 5 & 6 – Barnes & Noble Free Books for Summer Reading 2023
Anne of Green Gables – Clearly, this is an incredible classic story, and should be on your bookshelf. The only thing that makes me pause about it is that it’s not a fair or accurate representation of kids from hard places, so keep that in mind if you’re a fostering family and that will bug you.
The Bookwanderers (Pages and Co. Series #1) – The main character’s mom goes into a book and gets pregnant by one of the book characters (and they aren’t married or anything). That was a “no,” from me because of our young kids and that being just a weird premise, but could be ok for older readers with some guidance. That’s really the only thing in the whole book that would give me pause. It’s also a tad slow to start up, so not what I would recommend for a reluctant reader, but the story does pick up.
City Spies (City Spies Series #1) – Great choice, nothing questionable or bad, EXCEPT that the “bad guys” are the foster parents. That might not be a good option for some families. Other than that, it’s a fabulous series, clean and well done.
Daughter of the Deep – This is by the author of The Percy Jackson books, but this isn’t one of the many spin offs or anything. It’s a retelling of the classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Honestly, while I appreciate a lot of what Riordan writes, this is probably not my personal favorite. There are references to a young character’s period and cramps (like, multiple references…in an under the sea ADVENTURE book marketed to tweens of both genders…), the bad guys don’t really have any consequences, and the overarching theme feels like “Corporations are evil.” Which, yeah, a lot are, but also, people are evil!
El Principito (The Little Prince) – A classic! It has lovely little lessons for all ages in it, but is still very appropriate for children. The concept of a wandering prince from outer space is a tad trippy, but it’s great.
From the Desk of Zoe Washington – The main character is trying to figure out if her dad is lying. This is a normal YA topic, unreliable parents, but is not every family’s favorite book trope, so FYI if that isn’t your jam. This is also a direct quote from the book: “Of course, I knew about the Black Lives Matter movement, how Black people all over the country were getting shot by police for no good reason.” That theme plays throughout the book.
Invisible Emmie – The writing style is simplistic, there are comic book style illustrations throughout, and it is a quick read. I think it’s a good style for reluctant readers who are looking for simpler text, but not the slapstick humor of some of the other books marketed to reluctant readers. However, there’s a ton of middle school drama that’s just…a lot. Kids are SO mean to each other! And there’s rumors and gossip and love notes and crushes. Characters do grow, but you need to be aware there’s some bumps along the way.
The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell – This is the first book of The Land of Stories series. These are retellings of what happens after the classic fairy tale or princess story ends. Overall, I think the stories are fun and really entertaining. HOWEVER, there is a bunch of romance and romantic relationships. Even using words like “passionate” to describe characters kissing, or using kissing or a physical relationship to solve problems. Because I’m a total prude when it comes to romance in elementary books, we’re saving these books for a few years, and I won’t be pushing my 5th grader toward them. There is a gay couple in book 6 of the series, but not in this specific book.
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness – This is the first book in The Wingfeather Saga. Our family loves this series! It is written by a Christian author, but is not really a “Christian” book. It does have strong morals and a God-figure, and a Christ-like figure and story arc. HIGHLY RECOMMEND. (The series is fairly dark, there is clear evil. But all is redeemed in the end of the four books…though there are still consequences.)
Skandar & the Unicorn Thief – This is the first book of the Skandar series. It seems ok, but heads up that the main character is 13, so has teenage problems. The series is known for being quite dark, and the unicorns aren’t friendly, but more savage and scary. If you have a sensitive reader, would be worth previewing, but as far as I can tell there are no other content considerations.
The Stonekeeper (Amulet Series #1) – Graphic novel lovers, rejoice!!!! This is a clean graphic novel. I’d be very comfortable with my kids reading it – no profanity, overt sexual content, etc. There are some scary scenes, including a parent’s death. Also, magic and “inner voice” type stuff, “follow your heart,” etc. Although I don’t think it’s outside of the realm of normal fantasy content for this age group, if your child is too intrigued by that, might want to steer them toward a different book on this list.
Sweet Valley Twins: Best Friends – This is not the original Sweet Valley Twins you may have grown up with!! They have completely revamped the series. If you’re considering this one, I’d do a thorough preview first. I haven’t read this one particularly, because the series gave me “mean girl” vibes, so do make sure you do a little research if that’s not right for your family. (And let me know if you’ve read this rewritten edition of the classics, and if I should give it a second chance!! I’m straight up judging this book by its cover and other reviews I’ve read…)
Witchlings – The 12 year old main character is a witch, and joins a coven. There’s a lot of “girl power” vibes.