Memorial Day week-end in Minnesota has one overarching feature: lines of cars headed north. All of Minnesota is going to open up the cabin for the short, blissful summer season ahead.
Cars topped with canoes and kayaks. Cars pulling fishing boats and runabouts. Cars stacked and racked with bicycles, their tires spinning idly. Coolers and fishing rods and dogs and children jumbled together, ready for screen doors and mosquito bites and wild blueberries and the call of loons echoing across the lake.
Our family’s best memories every summer include camping along Lake Superior’s North Shore, and soaking up the beauty at my brother’s cabin on Lake Vermilion.
Here are five books for everyone who’s dreaming of the Northwoods:
Up North at the Cabin, by Marsha Wilson Chall, illustrated by Steve Johnson
published in 1992 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books
Here are all the beloved Minnesota, at-the-lake, moments laid out in nostalgic glory.
The drive north past Mille Lacs, fishing with Grandpa, supper in the screen porch, skinny wooden docks, and kids bobbing in the water trying to manage those awkward water skiis, yelling, “Hit it!” I can actually smell the air. If you’ve been there, you can, too.
Quintessential summer at the cabin, as seen through the eyes of one little girl. Short on words, yet easily capturing the joys of the lake. Steve Johnson’s paintings flood the pages with carefree days, simple comforts, sparkling waters and generations of love.
Both author and illustrator are from Minneapolis and their first-hand knowledge of this subject shows up wonderfully in the details. Share this with kids ages 5 and up, or buy one to keep at the cabin.
Grab the tent and that speckled enamel coffeepot, a pile of sleeping bags and the trusty Coleman stove. We’re going camping!
Out of the city and into the woods we drive, where this family sets up a mighty tidy campsite and heads off for a refreshing hike. The trail wends its way along a small lake and crosses a clear stream with stepping stones. Back at camp, stars blanket the night sky while everyone happily toasts marshmallows over a campfire. Finally, a tentful of contented campers fall into that blissful sleep that comes from a day in the out-of-doors.
Susan Gal’s rough-textured, woodsy illustrations of pines and campsites are full of the family’s happy activities as well as a very friendly group of forest creatures looking on.
Apparently this book is meant to teach prepositions? Hmm. I didn’t even notice that as I was reading through — completely enjoyed the setting and action. Don’t ruin the story by pointing out the grammar lesson, please! It’s a jolly read for ages 2 and up.
If You Want to See a Caribou, by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Jim Meyer
published in 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company
“If you want to see a caribou, you must go to a place where the caribou live. You might go by boat on a good sailing day to an island in Lake Superior…“
Minnesota-author Phyllis Root leads us across the mighty lake to anchor in a quiet cove, then guides us down a trail, stepping over fallen birch logs, breathing in the fresh scent of balsam.
As we sail and hike, she quietly points out the beauties around us — the shushing sound of water creaming against the bow, the call of a loon, the watery trail of beavers, the spongy moss beneath our feet. Do we ever spot a caribou? I’ll let you find that out for yourselves.
Jim Meyer’s striking woodblock prints are a perfect accompaniment to this northern adventure. So gorgeous!! I’d like to hang some of them on my wall.
A brief afterword tells more about the endangered woodland caribou and the reason they happen to live on islands in the midst of the grandaddy of all lakes. Splendid little book for ages 4 through adult.
Tomorrow on Rocky Pond, written and illustrated by Lynn Reiser
published in 1993 by Greenwillow Books
We’ve arrived at our snug log cabin after a long day of driving, and now the kids are tucked in bed before an early morning wake-up call.
Mist-on-the-water early. Lonely-cries-of-the-loons early. Blueberries-for-breakfast early. Because there’s a ton of gear to pack up in the morning, and a long trail to hike through the woods to get to Rocky Pond. Where a canoe awaits.
We’ll paddle past the beaver lodge and picnic with the Canada jays and snooze on moss and spy on herons. We’ll swim and fish and walk back by the light of fireflies and flashlights to our snug cabin, and eat fresh fish for dinner, and snuggle under stars.
That’s a full day! And clearly a treasured tradition for these kids. Lynn Reiser’s words and illustrations exude a happy love of woodlands and recreation and family participating in it all together. Love this cheery book, for ages 4 and up.
One girl, one dog, and one red canoe. Just the right trio for a pleasant day on the lake.
But a busy beaver wants in, too.
And a flapping loon.
And a wolf.
This rhythmic tale is basically a watery version of The Mitten, in which nice-but-bulky, creatures continue to squinch and cram themselves into a space-too-small until…KERBLAM! and SPLASH!
The northland animals and canoe theme will endear this to those who, like the author, live and canoe in the Boundary Waters or elsewhere.Lots of personality and pandemonium courtesy of Ard Hoyt’s ebullient illustrations. Ages 2 and up.
Looking for more ideas? Check out my previous list of five camping adventures.