So, for me (and my kids) summer gets a little long, but we're lucky to have a lovely library down the street (please tell me you have signed your child up for your local summer reading program!), where we can while away some super hot afternoons looking at beautiful books, playing games, and more.
We've been reading like crazy, enough so that I decided to split my summer recs into two posts, one for youngers, and the next for kids eight and up. That being said, several of the books below will still appeal to eight and nine year olds, so if you have a household (like I do) with an age spread, you should especially consider those. These are all books published in 2014, except for one that we recently discovered that is a year or two older, but that my daughter loved so much, I couldn't leave out.
If you read any of these, please let me know in the comment section below, over on Facebook, or even via e-mail. I'm not always sure how these recs are received and if I know that someone is using them, that helps me to know more of what to write.
Gianna Marino is a talented artist who knows the value of research; she travels to look at the animals she features in her gorgeous picture books. Her mixed-media illustrations are complimented by a talent for storytelling with quiet, deep, and loving language. Following Papa’s Song was published just a few months ago, and I believe it be Marino’s crowning achievement to date. It tells the story of a baby humpback whale on its first seasonal migration. The whale is frightened when he loses sight of his father (a theme perfect for young kids), but remembers Papa’s gentle admonishment to listen for his song should the two be separated. This is a superb book about the love shared between father and son and the beauty of what lies beneath the ocean.
You may have already heard of Jon Katz, who’s famous for his adult photography and books about dogs. He’s written two picture books about his own dogs, and both are beautifully illustrated with full page photographs. Katz lives in upstate New York, and in Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm, kids are introduced to four dogs of different breeds who each have special jobs. What I love most about this title (besides that it’s an ode to some beautiful, smart dogs), is that one dog, Lenore, doesn’t seem to have a job as recognizable as the other three. But kids quickly learn that Lenore’s “job” is to keep the other dogs happy by offering them as much love as possible. There’s a lovely message for kids about the importance of all the members of any social group inherent in this heartwarming story.
We meet Lenore again in Lenore Finds a Friend, in which this irresistible pup decides to befriend a cranky ram on the farm. Both of these charming books are delightful to share with kids.
Hannah E. Harrison
I love it when a new author/illustrator publishes a remarkable picture book. Lots and lots of books get published each year, and lots and lots of them are mediocre. But every once in awhile a new talent comes along and something outstanding is produced. Extraordinary Jane is just that. In it, we are introduced to an adorable little circus dog with a problem. She can’t seem to find a talent to fit in with the rest of the circus animals, and some hilarious physical comedy ensues. But it turns out that Jane’s gift, while not as obvious, is just as essential. This is a funny picture book with just a few words (the remarkable acrylic illustrations say it all) and a subtle, but important message about what it means to be capable and needed. And if, like me, the idea of the circus makes you cringe a bit, take heart; the illustrations harken back to a time when our ideas about how to enjoy animals were less advanced, placing the story in a historical context. This picture book has it all -- a captivating protagonist and a universal theme, delivered with just the right combination of humor and love that both kids and adults will delight in.
Jennifer Ward and Steve Jenkins
This science picture book is a winner for multiple reasons, but I was particularly struck by the way it’s told so that kids of many ages can enjoy it. Each double page spread contains a short rhyming couplet about the way a bird builds a nest, which is perfect for little listeners. In smaller print, author Ward provides a detailed paragraph about the animal for readers who are ready to learn more. Websites for further information are also provided in the back of the book.
Mama Built a Little Nest features the torn and cut paper collage work of Steve Jenkins, an award-winning science illustrator whose books are always excellent. Maybe you know more about birds than I, but I was really surprised to find out the many different types of nests that birds construct, along with the way they set about this essential task. A great combination of a rhyming picture book for the youngest listeners, and science nonfiction for older kids.
Kristy Dempsey and Floyd Cooper
In this moving picture book, the author tells the story of the first African-American ballerina to perform stateside, through the eyes of a fictional young girl. In early-1950s New York City, the elementary-aged daughter of a seamstress for the ballet yearns to someday perform onstage. But she wonders, “Could a colored girl like me ever become a prima ballerina?” When her mother takes her to see Janet Collins’ barrier-breaking performance at the Metropolitan Opera, “It’s like Miss Collins is dancing for me, only for me, showing me who I can be.” Dempsey’s gorgeously poetic language and Cooper’s poignant subtractive painting technique, which lends a dreamy air, will encourage young girls to pursue their desires, regardless of obstacles. A warm, hopeful story that every girl of every color should read.
Angela DiTerlizzi and Brendan Wenzel
I found an author/illustrator pair to get excited about! With simple, rhythmic, rhyming prose (Some bugs build/Some bugs make/Some bugs hunt/And some bugs take), young readers are introduced to the myriad qualities of backyard insects. The multi-media artwork brings the tiny things living in the grass beneath our feet to full size, and just might inspire your kids to enjoy a nature walk with a magnifying glass. An exciting, fast-paced picture book that both kids and parents will appreciate.
This is practically the perfect picture book for young ones! A young bear comes across a well-loved stuffed animal and instead of keeping it for himself, decides to look for its owner. Bear becomes attached to the lovey when it goes unclaimed, only to encounter the moose who has lost it. When things turn out right for Bear in end, his intense fondness for the lost lovey is palpable; the story portrays several emotions with which preschoolers and the youngest elementary students will immediately identify. A lovely book about how doing the right thing sometimes really pays off.
Usually I know exactly why I like a picture book, but this one kind of stumped me. The story is warmly traditional, about three bear siblings who go on an adventure to replace a beloved seashell belonging to their mother, which they’ve broken when they shouldn’t have been playing with it. It’s a conventional tale, with a moral arc that most parents will like. (Mama bear forgives her cubs, but still decides that dessert is out of the question.) But I think it’s the beautiful artwork that really speaks to me. The bears in the story remind me of Else Minarik’s well-known and beloved Little Bear. They are totally adorable, and completely childlike in their expressions and movement, both positive and negative. Their little faces are the perfect mix of sweet and naughty, and remind me of my own kids, in the way they get into trouble together, argue, reunite, and work their way back into Mama’s favor. Three Beats in a Boat is an adventurous, classic story you should be sure to share with your kids.
Next week I'll focus on what's new out there for older elementary aged readers, or kids from about eight to 11. There are some sublime titles out there that I can't wait to have you add to your summer reading list.