Monday, July 31, 2017

2017 Picture Book Summer Reading Roundup

Summertime is the perfect time for some fun picture book reading and here is a roundup of some of our favorite books that we have been repeatedly reading this year:

And Then Comes Summer by Tom Brenner, illustrated by Jaime Kim
2017, Candlewick Press, 32 pages, age 4+

This lyrical ode to summer captures everything that is wonderful about this favorite season. Once school is out and cubbies are cleaned of cookie crumbs, “the days stretch out like a slow yawn,” according to our narrator, an unnamed boy in a blue striped shirt. Summer is filled with lemonade stands, hide-and-seek, biking, parades, fireworks and ice cream. Summer is topped off with a family trip to the lake for fishing, old friends and, of course, a campfire to cozy around. Brenner has managed to encapsulate the essence of the perfect summer, evoking memories of my own childhood and that of my Kiddo. Jaime Kim’s acrylic and digital illustrations are done in a happy summer palette of greens, blues and yellow, with lots of Johnny-Jump-Ups sprinkling the pages like sprinkles on an ice cream cone. This is the book that reminds me each time I’ve read it to the kids just how much and why I love summer (as do my young readers).

Jabari Jumps written and illustrated by Gaia Cornwall
2017, Candlewick Press, 32 pages, age 4+

A child’s very first jump into a pool can be an exciting moment though often it is not without a little trepidation beforehand. Now that Jabari has finished his swimming lessons and passed his swim test, he tells his dad that today is the day he is going to jump off the diving board - after all,  he’s not the least bit scared. But as Jabari approaches the ladder leading to the board, some of his bravado seems to fade, as the lets other kids go ahead of him as he thinks about what kind of dive to do. Sensing his fears, dad suggests doing some stretches. But when Jabari decides to jump the next day instead, wise dad tells Jabari it’s OK to be scared, and offers just the kind of advice his son needs. Does Jabari jump? You bet he does. I loved this book. Cornwall has absolutely caught that milestone moment in a child’s life when they do something they are afraid of doing and it works out better than they ever expected. What a feeling! I also love the tender relationship between Jabari and his very patient dad. The pencil, watercolor, and collage illustrations really reflect Jabari’s experience, from the height of the diving board to the depth of the water, and every moment in between. 

Think Cool Thoughts by Elizabeth Perry, illustrated by Linda Bronson
2005, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 32 pages, age 4+

It seems this summer has been particularly hot all over the country. In this picture book, Angel, 7, is also suffering with the heat, unable to sleep at night, and not even after her mother tells her to think cool thoughts. In the morning, Angel’s mom and visiting Aunt Lucy start reminiscing about sleeping in the roof another summer when it was too hot, and sure enough, that night a mattress, sheets and pillows are carried upstairs and outside. That night, Angel slept on the roof between her mother and her aunt, and when she wakes, something’s different. Angel realizes she isn’t hot anymore, just as cooling raindrops begin to fall. After a scramble to get the bedding inside, Angel, mom, Aunt Lucy all return to the roof to simply let the welcome rain cool them down. I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who actually did sleep on the roof of their building on a hot summer night, but I suppose it could happen, though beyond a fanciful picture book, I wouldn’t recommend it. And I did like this book. It is a nice family story about pulling together to solve a problem while creating tender memories. Linda Bronson acrylic and oil stylized illustrations are perfect for a story about hot nights in colors that go from hot reds to cool blues. A charming story for the dog days of summer.  

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever written and illustrated by Marla Frazee
2008, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 40 pages, age 6+

This is a delightful tongue in cheek picture book about two friends, James and Eamon, who are signed up for a week at Nature Camp and who will be staying with Eamon’s grandparents Bill and Pam during camp. Bill is a real nature lover whose biggest desire is to go to Antarctica, but try as he might, he just can’t get “Jamon” (as he called the boys) interested beyond the coffee ice-cream icebergs with hard chocolate sauce on top that Pam gives them to eat. And when Bill invites Jamon to see a penguin exhibit, the boys opt for quiet meditation in front of video games in the basement. Careful readers will soon notice that all the text and illustrations plus speech balloons tell two different stories. The title of this book, A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, may seem rather ironic, but once camp is over and the boys have so free time, they decide to do something especially for Bill, so may the title isn’t so off-base after all. Complimenting the story are Frazee’s humorous illustrations that really brings out the boy’s close friendship, their energy, their interests and disinterests, all of which will probably remind you a of few boys you may know. It is also a wonderful intergenerational story that I suspect all elicit a chuckle or two from grandparents recognize themselves in Pam and Bill.

There Might Be Lobsters by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by Laurel Molk
2017, Candlewick Press, 32 pages, age 3+

The beach and the ocean can be a scary sight when you’re just little dog like Suki. But his owner Eleanor is determined to get her dog on the beach and into the ocean for some fun, despite all the excuses he might be able to think up to avoid the beach. After all, you can’t be too careful, and there might be lobsters. After being carried to the shore’s edge, and even with his favorite toy, Chunka Munka, by his side, Suki is scared - of the big beach ball, the salty, wet waves, lobsters. So, Suki just sits on the beach watching everyone else having a good, until, uh-oh, a big waves comes and take Chunka Munka right out to sea. Will Suki find his courage and be able to save his faithful companion before he sinks to the bottom of the sea, lost forever? Yes he does, and Suki feels pretty good about it, too. This is a wonderful story for kids who might be feeling a little trepidation about the beach and the ocean, especially after rooting for Suki to save Chunka Munka. Readers will find plenty of humor in Molk’s semi-silly watercolor, acrylic, pen and ink illustrations, and maybe even a few lobsters, but it’s all in good fun. Pay particular attention to the sea gulls doing exactly what sea gulls do - stealing people’s food all through the story. Do let your young readers count the number of times sea gulls succeed.

Sneakers, the Seaside Cat by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Anne Mortimer
1955/2005, HarperCollins, 32 pages, age 4+

Kids can join Sneakers, a very curious black and white cat, as he discovers all the interesting things to explore on his first visit to the beach with his boy and his parents. The seaside, Sneakers discovers, is a virtual smorgasbord of sensory experiences, from the smell of the fish in the ocean, to the cold, wet water on his paw; from the sound the seagull’s scree to sharp feel of the crab’s claw, there are just so many wonders. And then the fog rolls, big gray clouds hiding the sun. Margaret Wise Brown has really captured the way an animal must perceive the world without the benefit of language, and it is a great book for introducing and getting kids to talk about how they experience the world with regard to their own senses. Sneakers also is a bit of a rapscallion that is sure to amuse young readers. The lovely watercolor illustrations by Anne Mortimer also capture and reflect the wonder, the surprise and the curiosity of Sneakers’ different moods and feelings. Sneakers, the Seaside Cat may have been written in 1955, but it is a gentle story still holds up for today’s children.

The Seashore Book by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Wendell Minor
1992/2017, Charlesbridge, 32 pages, age 3+

How do you describe the seashore to a person has never been there? Make it a sensory experience, but using descriptive language instead of actual sensory experience. When a young boy asks his mother what the seashore is like, she begins with the break of day and the changing colors of sky and water as the sun come up. At the beach, there are treasures for him to explore - shells, seaside creatures, a gulls lost feather. The cold ocean “makes you skin feel like peppermint” and the noonday sun tires you out. In the afternoon, there is an airplane to run after, twirling in the sand, and the walk home. After a wonderful, busy day, it impossible to stay awake to even notice the on/off beam of the lighthouse. Zolotow’s lyrical descriptions perfectly reflect the sights and sounds of a day at the beach, transporting mother and son so vividly that it almost feels as though they had been there. Added to this imaginary experience are Minor’s soft gouache and watercolor illustrations in a palette of blues and yellows that will leave the reader with the sensation of hot sun and sand countered with the coolness of the ocean’s water. This reissue is a welcomed delight.

The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Stephen Gammell
2001, Richard Jackson Books, 32 pages, 3+

The excitement of an anticipated visit from relatives living far away is almost of summertime tradition and Rylant understands this completely. Driving from Virginia in an old station wagon with an ice chest full of pop and bologna sandwiches, a carload of relatives drive all day and night to arrive at their destination, where they are heartily welcomed by…their relatives.  After lots of hugs and even a few tears, the relatives go inside the house, welcomed with a big family style feast. And they stay, for weeks, helping out in the garden and fixing things and sleeping wherever there was spot. Then it was time to pack the ice chest and return to Virginia. The relatives missed their relatives, but they also knew, they would visit with each other again next summer. This has been a favorite in my family since my Kiddo was little and there was a lots of relative visiting back and forth, and all so reminiscent of this book. In fact, I’ve never read it to a child who didn’t have relative stories to add to our discussion. They usually love the illustrations of the family meal and the sleeping arrangements, even if that isn’t their experience. Gammell’s jolly color pencil illustrations done in a colorful summertime palette of bright colors add so much to the whimsy and fun of the text. This book came out in 1986, but, like Sneakers, it also holds up well for today’s readers. 

What are some of your favorite summertime stories?

1 comment:

  1. Hello Alex, I so enjoyed this selection, thank you. Think Cool Thoughts by Elizabeth Perry really appealed to me, and I think my little granddaughters would enjoy it. There Might Be Lobsters sounds like fun, and it reminded me of our dogs. We've had four over the years and not one of them would go near the sea! Mind you our dogs have all been small and the ocean is incredibly big, so I don’t really blame them. :)


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