a list of…five books swimming with summer-ness!


We are smack in the midst of summer here with hot, popsicle days strung one after another.  Among other things, summer means…gardens, rainy days, fairs, family reunions and days at the ocean.  At least, those are the five subjects of our picture books today.  On a hot afternoon, a trip to the library and stories with lemonade might be just the ticket.  Give these a try…



My Garden, story and illustrations by Kevin Henkes

This little girl, dressed in pink, helps her mom in the garden.  But…she thinks perhaps her mom’s garden requires a lot of work for the results they achieve.  Lettuce-nibbling rabbits and pesky weeds and dry weather make for constant trouble.  Now, if she had a garden…what a garden it would be!  Flowers that change colors when you wished, chocolate rabbits for the gardener to eat, jelly bean bushes, clouds of butterflies…and “the carrots would be invisible because I don’t like carrots.”  That’s the kind of garden I’d like, too!  Well, except for the carrots.

Henkes’ artwork radiates with color and magic wishes come true.  The sunny scenes spread right to the edges of the pages and irresistibly  pull you into this garden of wonders.   From giant purple sunflowers to a jelly bean bush laden with brilliant candies to his plucky pink-garbed gardener, the smiles shine out of the pages.  I don’t know how anyone can read this book and not come away happier!  

Rain, by Peter Spier

This is one of Spier’s classic wordless books, with pages and pages of exceptional pictures that tell the story themselves.

We begin directly on the front pages of the book, with a brother and sister playing in the sunny backyard.  A huge rain shower moves in, however, and they tear into the house.  But not for long.  Immediately they put on rain slickers and galoshes, grab an oversized umbrella  and set off for some rainy-day adventures.  Do you know how many curiosities there are in a rain shower?  Overflowing gutters that pour so gushingly onto your umbrella, muddy sandboxes, cats hiding from the wetness, raindrops patterning the puddles and decorating spider’s webs.  After a time, the wind picks up and the siblings make a mad dash for home where the wet things come off, and the indoor-rainy-day activities begin:  hot baths, steaming mugs of cocoa, building blocks and good books.  As the two fall asleep, it is still raining, but we see the clouds move out during the night and when the sun rises, there is a whole new sodden world outdoors, ready for more sloppy fun!

We have looked at this book many, many times.  It is cram full of life and discovery, imagination and happy playfulness.  I love the adventures these two have and the way they entice those of us looking on to see and explore the world with eyes wide open.

Corgiville Fair, story and illustrations by Tasha Tudor

Tasha Tudor, one of our most prolific and beloved illustrators, has created an All-American small town, populated primarily with Corgi dogs, along with assorted cats, rabbits, and…..boggarts.  Do you know what a boggart is?  “Boggarts are trolls.  I believe they come from Sweden, but I’m not sure.  The boggarts that live in Corgiville are the olive green kind with spots.  Their hair is moss, their ears are leather, and their arms come off for convenience when going down holes.  They have long tails and smoke cigars and are apt to be wild.”  So says Tasha!  All the dogs are Corgis, because Tasha herself loved Corgis and owned many throughout her long life.

Tasha Tudor and her Corgis

Anyway…this story tells about the annual Corgiville Fair, and of Caleb Brown’s great desire to win the Grand Race on his goat, Josephine, and of Edgar Tomcat’s treacherous schemes to prevent that and pocket the 100 silver dollars instead, and it involves some tricky soporific powder, far too many mince pies, and a very surprising use of fireworks!  It is quite a hair-raising story!  Meanwhile, the charm of the fair, with cotton candy stands and pie competitions, a grand parade and a big square dance, provides a delightful backdrop. 

Tasha’s illustrations are some of the most charming, imaginative, gaze-worthy illustrations you will come across.  The town, with it’s New England style cottages, covered bridges, flower gardens, general stores, rowing lakes and even Corgi statues, is a picturesque and believable world.  The fairgrounds are just as lovingly detailed, with numbers of flag-topped tents, sweet shops, balloon-toting Corgis, charming perambulators full of little kittens out for the day with mama cat, and a spangling fireworks display after dark.  Not to mention the spotted boggarts!  A delightful fantasy.

The Relatives Came, story by Cynthia Rylant, illustrations by Stephen Gammell

This superb author/artist team have created a Caldecott-winning story about a family reunion that fairly ripples with joy.

The Virginia relatives pack up their rainbow-colored station wagon, truly full to burstin’,  and trek their way over some mighty steep mountain roads until they arrive and are greeted by a very, very happy family.  “Then it was into the house and so much laughing and shining faces and hugging in the doorways.  You’d have to go through at least four different hugs to get from the kitchen to the front room!”  This is a happy group.  For the next few weeks this pile of aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents sprawl any which way when it’s time for sleeping, and simply pour out into the yard for fiddlin’ and strumming and fixing, talking and melon-eating and lounging during the days.  Until finally it’s time for those relatives to head back home and wait…for the next summer.

Contentment and love and togetherness and ordinary-doings exude from Gammel’s colored pencil drawings.  Hobbledy-hoy luggage and rickety picket fences, rumpled, ample grown-ups and barefooted, holes-in-the-knees kids, warm faces full of long years of loving…all this is communicated through these fabulous illustrations, as well as Rylant’s sparse mountain prose.  A very sweet book.

One Morning in Maine, written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey

This was one of the first children’s books I bought when our first daughter was born.  I remembered this story from my growing up years and loved it so, I had to have it.

Set on the Maine coast, and with the same gal Sal from Blueberries for Sal, we now are introduced as well to her baby sister, Jane — a darling,  touseled-haired, sturdy toddler!  Sal loses a tooth, her first, and is quite excited about the fact that she gets to make a wish on it, but…oh, dear…when she is down on the beach helping her dad muck for clams, she drops it in the mud.  Very sad.  But Sal can’t afford to mourn this for long because today is the day she and her father and her little sister Jane are going to Buck’s Harbor.  They live on an island, you see.  Lucky ones!  The trip over is a bit of a chore for Sal’s dad as their outboard motor won’t start necessitating rowing all the way across.  But once there, the motor is fixed at the local garage, groceries are purchased, the missing-tooth-spot is admired by the old guys sitting around the shop, and ice cream cones are scooped up for two very delighted little girls.  Then, it’s back in the boat to go home, where Mom has been busy making CLAM CHOWDER FOR LUNCH!!  What a good morning in Maine!

McCloskey is another of the finest and most endearing illustrators ever.  His gift for observation must have been very keen, as he fills his pictures with so many realistic and authenticating details .  This setting, in the tiny coastal town of Buck’s Harbor was contemporary when he wrote the book in the 50s, but now has an incredibly sweet  retro, folksy feel.   A longish story for a slightly older crowd than the Blueberry book.