Sunday, September 4, 2016

End of Summer Picture Book Reading Roundup

Labor Day weekend always means the end of summer for me, even though I know a lot of kids are already back in school.  Ant it's been a great summer.  I've read some really wonderful books, I've read reviews by other people about some books I am looking forward to reading, especially now that the days are getting longer and we aren't so tempted to stay outside.  Here is my last Picture Book Roundup for Summer 2016.  I hope you have enjoyed by summertime picks this year and I'm already looking forward to Summer Reading 2017.

Tía Isa Wants a Car by Meg Medina, illustrated by Claudio Muñoz
Candlewick Press, 2011, 32 pages, age 4+

When Tía Isa tells her niece that she wants to buy a big shiny green car to take her family to the beach, her niece loves the idea.  But Tío André thinks the idea is rrrridículo, they just don't have the money.  When Tía Isa really doesn't have enough to pay for the big green car she's found, her niece decides it is time to help her her aunt out.  After all, more family is going to be arriving in the United States soon, and Tía Isa wants to take them a the beach to remind them of home.  Her niece gets some jobs around the neighborhood, diligently saves what she makes in her secret money sock, until the day there is enough between aunt and niece to buy that big shiny green car. Whimsically expressive pencil, watercolor, and ink illustrations support the text. There are some Spanish words used throughout, but even if you don't know Spanish, you can understand them from the context. I loved this story about a loving family, working together and helping each other out, narrated by the unnamed niece.  Do they make it to the beach? You bet they do.

A Beach Tail by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Boyds Mills Press, 2010, 32 pages, age 4+

While at the beach with his father, young Gregory finds a stick and draws a lion in the sand by the water.  When his dad sees it, he tells Gregory not to go in the water and not to leave his Sandy Lion. But the lion needs a tail, and Gregory begins drawing it longer and longer, around a jellyfish, over an old sand castle, zig-zagging around a horseshoe crap.  Gregory doesn't go in the water or leave Sandy, but when he reaches a jetty and looks up, he can't see his dad anywhere.  Luckily he can follow his tail back to Sandy Lion and his dad.  This is a great read-aloud, lyrically written and illustrated in pastels by the wonderful Floyd Cooper, who really captures how easily it is for a young child playing at the water's edge can unintentionally wander away from parents.  And it is always nice to find a well-done father/son story.  When Gregory finally does make his way back to his dad, who is looking for him, he proudly announces that he never went into the water and never left his lion.

Blueberries for Sal written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey
Viking BFYR, 1948, 56 pages, age 5+

One summer day, Sal and her mother go blueberry picking so that mother can preserve them to enjoy during the winter.  Each has a little metal pail to put the blueberries in, but as Sal picks them, she can't resist eating them right then and there.  But when she loses sight of her mother, she goes looking for her.  A mother bear and her cub are on the other side of the blueberry hill, eating as many berries as possible to store up for the winter.  The cub is so interested in eating berries, she loses sight of her mother and begins to look for her. Sal finds the cub's mother, and the cub find Sal's mother - what a mix up!  Luckily, things quickly get sorted out, but what an adventure.  McCloskey draws nice parallels between Sal and her mother and the cub and mother bear, in the text, but it is the illustrations that really demonstrate that - particularly when the two mothers discover they have the wrong child.  The illustrations are lithograph using a palette of dark blue (as in blueberries), yellow (as in a sunny day), and white. In the October 24, 1948 review of this book in the NY Times, the reviewer wrote: "The slight story and its setting, which is limited to one side or the other of a hill, scarcely seems to warrant such expansive and expensive treatment."  But what did she know?

Hands & Hearts: With 15 Words in American Sign Language by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Amy Bates
Abrams BFYR, 2014, 32 pages, age 5+

A mother and daughter head to the beach to spend a lovely summer day at the shore. Splashing in waves, rolling around in the sand, only to run into the water to wash off and go for a swim. Later, there is digging in the sand, having a cuddle and watching the sunset as the day comes to an end.  It is a perfect shared summer day.  However, when young readers look closely at the illustrations, they will immediately be struck by not just by the love between this mother and daughter, but also by the way they communicate with each other using sign language.  Not only that, but readers can also learn 15 words in American Sign Language while reading this book.  Each two page spread contains a lovely watercolor illustration as soft and gentle as a summer breeze, and text with one word highlighted in read.  Instructions for how to sign that word are given in a sidebar.

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson, illustrated by Tara Calahan King
Chronicle Books, 2000, 40 pages, age 5+

It should have been a perfect summer but then Jeremy Ross moved in and suddenly our young, unnamed narrator finds himself left out of all the fun.  Alone in his tree house, the young boy makes an enemy list, with Jeremy Ross in the Number 1 (and only) spot.  His dad decides to help and bakes an enemy pie from an old, old recipe.  But what is enemy pie, anyway?  Well, dad is very tight lipped about it, and his son won't know anything until he spends a day or two voluntarily playing with his enemy.  Curious, the boy does what his dad says, and, to his surprise, finds he is having fun with Jeremy.  But what to do about that enemy pie?  Dad seems pretty determined to serve it to Jeremy, but his son can't let his new friend eat, can he?  This is a humorous look at a common childhood situation, with a clever solution on the part of the dad.  Fun illustrations done in color pencil and pastels give the text a certain jocular sense, so that young readers will know from the beginning that no Jeremys were hurt in the making of this book, but will benefit from Dad's lesson in how to make your enemy your friend.

Danitra Brown Leaves Town by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Amistad Press, 2001, 32 pages, age 7+

Danitra Brown and Zuri Jackson are best friends, but when summer comes and Danitra is off to visit family in the country, Zuri is a little bent out of shape, giving her friend the cold shoulder.  She begins hanging out with a girl named Nina, whom she's always known, but never hung out with before. When a letter from Danitra arrives, Zuri is a little nervous about opening it.  Maybe Danitra doesn't want to be her friend anymore, but Zuri is very relieved when she reads "I wish that you were here."  The two best friends begin to write to each other, detailing their different summer, one in the country and the other in the city.  When Danitra comes home at the end of summer, the two friends find that their friendship is better than ever.  We've all spent a summer separated from our best friend at some point in our lives and Nikki Grimes has really captured what that feels like in these 13 separate poems about Danitra and Zuri's summer, all complimented by Floyd Cooper's beautifully detailed paintings.

The Friendly Four by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist
Amistad, 2006, 48 pages, age 5+

It looks like the summer is going to be a real bummer for 7 year old Drum.  There is no one on his block his age to play with.  But then a moving truck pulls up to a house and Drum meets Dorene.  The two hit is off right from the beginning. Shortly after meeting, the two friends meet newly adopted Lewis, 6, and the two become three friends.  Next comes Rae, who is staying with her grandmother while her mother recovers from an illness.  Now they call themselves the The Friendly Four, and get to be together for the whole summer.  As the kids get to know each other better, they spend part of the summer creating a cardboard town in Drum's backyard, which gives them hours of fun and imaginative play.  Told in 34 free verse poems, each child has their own distinct voice, highlighted in their own color, and some of the poems read like a dialogue, making this an excellent choice for performing in summer programs, or school classrooms.  The tone and subject of each poem is perfectly reflected in the summer bright watercolor illustrations.

You can take the girl out of Brooklyn, but you can't take Brooklyn out of the girl, so I knew I couldn't end Summer Reading 2016 without at least one trip to my favorite place - Coney Island.

Little Elliot, Big Fun written and illustrated by Mike Curato
Henry Holt BFYR, 2016, 40 pages, age 4+

Little Elliot and his friend Mouse are on the subway, headed for adventure at the edge of the big city - Coney Island.  This is not the Coney of today, but pays homage to the Coney of an earlier time. There are lots of rides, but Elliot is afraid to try them.  He can't go on the water chute because he can't swim, the giant swings are out of the question, he might get dizzy, and forget the Cyclone - too fast for Elliot.  To make matters worse, a seagull steals his ice cream and a clown scares him.  Mouse was sure Little Elliot would love Coney Island, but finds him sitting by himself under the boardwalk.  Can Mouse find a way to help Elliot with his fears and make his day more fun?  Yes, he can, because that's what friends are for.  And Mouse begins with a ride on the Wonder Wheel, and you will see why this works to change Elliot's not-so-great day into one that is really fun when you open the spectacular four page center fold and see what Little Elliot sees.   A wonderful story about friends spending summer in the city, with an idealized version of Coney Island, exactly like the one that lives in my head, thanks to Curato's pencil and digitally colored illustrations that capture a bygone era in both style and palette.

And now I am off for a week at the Jersey shore (my second favorite seaside place to be), for some relaxing before beginning a new school year.  And I will definitely be keeping an eye on Hermine.


  1. Blueberries for Sal is one of my most favorite books ever. I love your last sentence in the review. I even wrote about it on my blog a few years ago:

    1. I will definitely check out what you wrote. When I read your post last week about all the blueberries you had bought over the summer, I thought about Blueberries for Sal, especially now that you have grands old enough to read it to.


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