Recent picture books explore everything from adventures in the backyard to biographies and even craft projects. There are great picture books for reading aloud and some for answering questions about the world. Others are thoughtful, “quiet time” stories.
Common in all the picture books mentioned here are outstanding illustrations that demonstrate a variety of mediums and techniques. Time spent sharing a picture book on a hot summer day, in a cool alcove or on a vacation can be time remembered forever.
“BENEATH THE SUN,” by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Constance R. Bergum, Peachtree Press, $16.95 (ages 4-8)
When the days are hot and shade or cool water is sought for comfort, what do animals do beneath the sun to help them survive? Melissa Stewart’s text and Constance R. Bergum’s paneled watercolor illustrations portray 15 animals and insects as they help themselves. “The spittlebug squirts milky white goo into a bubbly froth.” Inside, the bug is safe from enemies and heat.
A horned lizard lies in the shade of a shrub while “a male osprey soaks his belly feathers in water to cool off returns to his nest where thirsty chicks suck his feathers dry.”
The story of animals’ adaptation to the sun will be fascinating to children as they watch, swim and dig this summer.
“Shadow Chasers” is a hide-and-seek book about chasing shadows until the dark makes them disappear. Using special paint and photography techniques in vivid nature tones, Elly MacKay captures the setting sun, the garden path and spaces in between trees as children try to catch the shadows that “flit and flutter away.”
As the warm house welcomes the children, the “good night” assures that in the morning they will chase the shadows again.
“HELLO, MOON!” by Francesca Simon, illustrated by Ben Cort, Scholastic, $16.99 (ages 3-6)
This book also offers a summer evening adventure. Here, a small child seeks out the moon: “Can we talk? I get lonely down on earth sometimes. What I want to know is .” followed by questions (“Can you see the highest, highest mountain?”) that ramble as the voice of an inquisitive — and maybe lonely — child would do. “Do you have lots of friends, Moon? A billion, trillion, gazillion? But they are all so far away.”
Finally, both boy and moon fall asleep assured that they’re always ready when they need to talk.
“Hello, Moon!" would be a peaceful bedtime story for a sleep-resistant child.
As an older brother dictates a series of rules in a make-believe world, the smaller boy ignores the restrictions and appears undisturbed by Shaun Tan’s trademark one-eyed creatures (“Never leave a red sock on a clothes-line”), mechanical robots (“Never ruin a perfect plan”) and evil birdlike characters (“Never eat the last olive at a party”).
The conclusion of their rule-driven adventure (“Never miss the last day of summer”) finds the boys comfortable and safe even with evidence of the “rules” on display throughout the house.
Tan, author of “The Arrival” and “Tales from Outer Suburbia,” leaves much to the imagination and personal interpretation in “Rules of Summer,” but that’s the fun of the whole experience.
“VERY SHORT TALL TALES TO READ TOGETHER,” by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Michael Emberley, Little, Brown, $17 (read aloud for ages 4-8)
In the latest and sixth book of the You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You series, Mary Ann Hoberman has rewritten 13 familiar American legends such as Johnny Appleseed, Davy Crockett and the lesser-known Febold Feboldson. With color-coded text, the stories are read “in two voices” with parts for children. Michael Emberley’s humorous, period-focused illustrations add much to the pleasure of these read-and-share stories. “Very Short Tall Tales To Read Together” is a must for family shelves.
Exploring science, history
Two imaginative picture books for children ages 3-5 who explore nature are “Zoe's Jungle,” by Bethanie Deeney Murguia (Scholastic, $16.99), in which Zoe and her little sister turn their neighborhood into a wild jungle, and "Maple,” by Lori Nichols (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books, $16.99). Maple’s parents plant a tree in her honor and she grows with the tree’s seasons. Both books are beautifully illustrated and display imagination at its best.
Science and history themes are popular with young readers and provide great sources for exploration at home or on family travels. Books in Scholastic's Discover More series for ages 4-8 have stunning full-color photographs and the opportunity to download a free digital book at scholastic.com/discovermore as a companion and activity journal.
The Good Question! series from Sterling Children’s Books ($12.95 hardback, $5.95 paperback; ages 8 and up) has both photographs and color plates providing information on subjects such as “How Does the Ear Hear?” and “Why Does Earth Spin?” Added features in each of the seven latest titles are the graphs, charts and expansive bibliographies.
Some activities for summer are camping, going to the zoo, learning a skill such as hula-hooping, playing with kites and baseball. Following are books for each of these subjects that will augment the fun.
"CAMP REX,” by Molly Idle, Penguin, $16.99 (ages 3-6)
Camping is fun; the air invigorating. But what about camping if your buddies are dinosaurs? Find out!
"WHAT’S NEW? THE ZOO! A Zippy History of Zoos,” by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Marcellus Hall, Scholastic, $17.99 (ages 4-8)
This starts with notations from about 3,500 years ago in Ethiopia and follows a timeline of information to zoos of today that “make us gasp with awe.” Author Kathleen Krull has given us a “romp through history.”
“THE HULA-HOOPIN’ QUEEN,” by Thelma Lynne Godin, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Lee & Low Books, $18.95 (ages 6-8)
Kameeka may not teach the basics of hula-hooping, but her story celebrates a community where young and old find joy in each other, especially when “hoops are swishin’ and swingin’ all the way down the block.”
“KING FOR A DAY,” by Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by Christiane Kromer, Lee & Low Books, $17.95 (ages 8 and up)
This story tells of Malik, who is determined to be King of the Kite Festival in Pakistan. Glorious illustrations accompany the traditional ethnic practice of kite flying.
“THE STREAK: How Joe DiMaggio Became America’s Hero,” by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Terry Widener, Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills, $16.95 (ages 8 and up)
This relates the story of Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak during the summer of 1941. Schedules, charts and additional outside reading make this a history for any sports fan.
“AWESOME POSSUM FAMILY BAND,” by Jimmy Osmond, illustrated by Bob Ostrom, Regnery Publishing, $16.99 (ages 5-8)
Summer fun probably includes time with family. A book about local celebrities written by the ninth in the Osmond family may provide a chuckle or two. Details about each of the family members bring the action up to date.
“PROJECT KID: 100 Ingenious Crafts for Family Fun,” by Amanda Kingloff, Artisan Books, $22.95 (all ages)
Whether it’s home, classroom or just backyard planning, this book is a must to try out crafts for all seasons. Full-color photographs with easy-to follow instructions make this something for all ages.
“MAKER DAD: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects,” by Mark Frauenfelder, Amazon/New Harvest, $20 (all ages)
Here are easy ways to make items for fun and gifts. Sons will enjoy working these out with dad, too.
“ELLA’S KITCHEN: The Big Baking Book, The Yellow One,” Octopus Publishing, $19.99 (all ages)
More than 100 tasty treats may entice picky eaters, especially when they plan and cook up the recipes themselves. Full-color pages with specific directions make “Ella’s Kitchen” a winner for beginners and older bakers.