With summer vacation just around the corner, now seems like a great time to release some books that make the most of outdoor activities. They come in handy on outings out of town, for relaxing moments in the shade of a tree, when rain is keeping the kids indoors, and at bedtime at the end of a busy day. All titles are intended for children aged four to eight.
A day for sand castles
Jon Arno Lawson
Illustrated by Qin Lengo
More than a few decades ago, when I was nine years old, my family settled for about six months in Groet, a village in North Holland not far from the coast. I still have vivid and happy memories of the dunes and beaches, all of which were revived when a new wordless picture book by JonArno Lawson and Qin Leng of Toronto came across my desk.
Perfect summer reading material, even for those too young to read for themselves, it chronicles a family’s bus journey to the beach, where the three children discover a tattered sand castle and decide to restore it. Leng is masterful at creating colorful vignettes that follow the children’s efforts – and the various disasters that befall their sandcastles, including a relentless advancing tide. With charm and humor, Lawson and Leng give us a taste of summer at its best.
Martin and the river
Jon Erik Lappano
Illustrated by Josée Bisaillon
Ground Wood Books
The central character in this picture book, a young boy named Martin, enjoys the outdoors and enjoys the time he spends ‘by the river that ran through the fields behind his house’. He can have a good time, build fortresses and get to know the animals that call the river environment home.
Lying among the tall grass, Martin felt at home in a warm, cozy nest like an animal,” reads the Ontario author’s text. So when Martin’s parents tell him they’re moving to the city, he has his doubts.
One weekend they take a trip to the city to get acquainted before the move, but Martin finds the crowds and traffic disturbing. The sight of fish piled on ice in the market, instead of swimming in his beloved river, leaves him dejected; however, a visit to the museum captures his imagination.
And as the visit draws to a close, his parents show him one last feature: a nearby park with a stream running through it. When they leave their rural home, that stream brings Martin comfort and promises to give him the same peace he found by the river. Beautifully illustrated by Josée Bisaillon from Quebec.
Uncle John’s City Garden
Bernette G. Ford
Illustrated by Frank Morrison
Publisher of holiday homes
Three young siblings spend their summer vacation helping Uncle John plant a blooming garden on an empty plot of land in the middle of a city’s subsidized housing projects. It’s no easy task, but one that ends up yielding a great crop of vegetables – enough to share with a horde of cousins, uncles and aunts who join the gardeners for a huge celebratory barbecue.
An author’s note at the end of the book explains that Bernette Ford’s Uncle John lived in the Canarsie, Brooklyn, NY projects; he and Ford’s mother were “the youngest of seven surviving siblings born on a Louisiana plantation” who “never stopped lovingly growing gardens full of food and flowers.”
After moving to Brooklyn, Uncle John obtained city permission to plant a garden in an excavated hole left over when construction on the projects was completed. The author says she used to spend a lot of time in the garden as a child, but was never able to work on it all summer. “…Now, in this story, I have.”
Any dog around
Philip C. Stead
Illustrated by Matthew Cordell
Neal Porter Books/Holiday House Publishing
Not necessarily a summer story, but perfect for those days when kids are out of school and can spend extra time with grandparents. In this case, it’s the story of Louis and his grandmother and their love for dogs. When Grandma discovers a social need and decides to write a letter to City Hall, Louis decides to do the same.
The response they get leaves each one of them dissatisfied and determined to take matters into their own hands. For Louis, that means doing a door-to-door survey to determine how many dogs live in the area; for grandma, it means going to work clearing a neglected plot of land at the end of the street. The results of their efforts come to a satisfying, mutually beneficial conclusion.
Matthew Cordell’s scratchy illustrations perfectly complement Philip Stead’s lively, humorous text. Dog lovers of all ages will embrace this book; even cat lovers like me will be won over. Strongly recommended.
Bibi’s Got Game
Bianca Andreescu, with Mary Beth Leatherdale
Illustrated by Chelsea O’Byrne
Subtitle A story about tennis, meditation and a dog named Coco, it’s a safe bet that Bianca Andreescu falls into the camp of dog lovers. But Coco only plays a supporting role in this book; the real focus is on a young girl’s love of tennis and her discovery that meditation can help overcome all kinds of obstacles to achieve a goal.
Andreescu, 21, a Canadian professional tennis player who grew up in Romania and Mississauga, Ontario, is the highest-ranked Canadian in the history of the Women’s Tennis Association.
Her parents enrolled her in tennis lessons when she was seven, she explains in an author’s note at the end of the book, adding, “I’ve loved tennis ever since.” But over the years, negative thoughts have hurt her game; meditation helped to deal with those thoughts.
“Be persistent,” she tells readers. “Believe that good times are ahead. It will make you stronger.”
A book that might encourage young children to get outside for some exercise – maybe even pick up a racket and one of those fluffy yellow tennis balls.
— Bernie Goedhart