Children's Book Reviews

Summertime...and the reading is easy...

Summertime...and the reading is easy...

Kate Marley

Once the required reading is done, (or if they're like me, maybe even before) it's definitely time to read something for fun. Here's some stories set in the great season of summer with all its humid possibilities and vivid memories.


Rain, Rain by Maryann Kovalski. c 1999, Fitzhenry & Whiteside.
Who hasn't had one of those rainy days that spoil plans for a day at the beach? Jenny and Joanna are dreadfully disappointed, until their Grandma shows them how to 'make lemons of lemonade' and have a great time after all. Delightful pictures are by the author.

crab moon by Ruth Horowitz. c 2000, Candlewick Press.
This quiet and touching story about "the summer Daniel turned seven" is an understated homage to nature lovers everywhere. Daniel's mother takes him out on the night of a full moon to watch thousands of horseshoe crabs lay their eggs, a ritual that began before the dinosaurs. Luminous illustrations by Kate Kiesler capture the beauty of the beach and a boy's awakening compassion for other living things.

Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee by Chris Van Dusen. c 2000, Chronicle Books.
Bright, cartoonish illustrations and a bouncy rhythmic story make for one goofy but cute tale about a guy's adventure with his dog while out on his boat one fine summer day.

Tree for Me by Nancy Van Laan. c 2000, Knopf.
Colorful collage artwork by Sheila White Samton make a nice compliment to this story of a boy's quest for the perfect tree. He counts down all the occupants in each tree, with repetitive rhyming text, until he finds an empty tree to carry out his special plan.

Dreaming by Elaine Greenstein. c 2000, Scholastic.
This cozy little bedtime book counts down all sorts of quiet things in the summer night from 10 to 1. Soft gauache illustrations are by the author.


Where Are the Bears? By Kay Winters. c 1998, Delacorte.
On the first day of camping season, Mother Bear warns her cubs to stay away from campers. But the cubs are filled with insatiable curiosity, and spy on a human family and play with all sorts of interesting things. The little human is sure that bears are to blame for all the mishaps, but no one believes him. Cute illustrations by Brian Lies.

Odd Moments in Baseball by Joel Cohen. c 2000, Scholastic.
For anyone, but particularly for baseball fans, this will be a fun and fascinating trove of trivia about anything even remotely weird in America's favorite summer pastime. And some of the stories really are odd. Amusing illustrations are by Tom Payne.


What Happened on Planet Kid by Jane Leslie Conly. c 2000, Henry Holt.
Sent to live with relatives in rural Virginia for the summer while her mother is recovering from an operation, twelve-year-old Dawn has the usual kid problems to deal with. She's worried about her mother, misses her home in Washington DC, and tries to fit in with a different pace of life. Then another, more serious problem arises - what to do about the abusive father of one of her new friends? At first, she and Charlotte create Planet Kid, a place where children rule and no one gets hurt. But what happens when Planet Kid is not enough? And what will happen when Dawn goes home? For in a rural, Bible Belt area of 1958, harsh discipline is more socially acceptable than it is today. Another excellent book by one of Baltimore's own.

Mozart Season by Virginia Euwer Wolff. c 1991, Scholastic.
There are all kinds of seasons, and in her twelfth year Allegra has a Mozart season. She spends her whole summer preparing for a very special junior violin competition. This beautifully complex novel about how her gift for music gives insight and colors all the other aspects of her life is a touching and very satisfying read.

Junebug and the Reverend by Alice Mead. c 1998, Dell.
Junebug, his mother and little sister are finally free of the projects, but it's not turning out as he anticipated. It seems as if more problems just keep on coming, and one of them involves the cranky Reverend in the group home for the elderly that his mother now runs. Instead of the laid back summer Junebug had envisioned, he has to get up early to take walks with the older man, and then play soccer with some bullies that beat him up in the new school. Even his dream of sailing turns complicated. But Junebug's inner strengths, compassion and intelligence bring him through a difficult summer with humor and a growing maturity.

Children of Summer by Margaret J. Anderson. c 1997, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Told from the viewpoint of his ten-year-old son Paul, this gently engrossing book is about the famous naturalist Jean Henri Fabre and his study of insects, his "children of summer" in the late 1800's. Unlike other scientists of his day, Fabre relied on quiet steady observation, mostly in his own backyard. Aided by his wife and children with his work, he also conducted simple experiments to study certain buggy behaviors. Besides all the neat stories about various insects, it's a subtle lesson in appreciating the lowlier side of nature. The black and white pictures are by Marie Le Glatin Keis.

$66 Summer by John Armistead. c 2000, Milkweed Editions.
George is working in his grandmother's store over the summer, saving up money to buy a motorcycle. In his off-hours, he spends time with two neighbors who are also trying to earn some cash over the summer. But interracial friendships have their perils in 1955 Alabama, and when the youngsters discover evidence of a violent crime while searching for buried loot, the consequences are frightening. A powerful story about race and friendship.

How I Survived My Summer Vacation * by Robin Friedman. c 2000, Front Street.
"...*and lived to write the story". Thirteen year old Jackie has sworn that this year will be different, that this will be the year he writes the Great American Novel. He even has a book to help him write a bestseller in less than a year. But somehow he can't seem to get past the first sentence; there's all sorts of distractions. His truly weird parents, a few goofy friends with equally goofy ideas and the swim coach's bikinied daughter notices him. A very funny story - any kid who has ever tried to write something will appriciate Jackie's problems.


Joy in Mudville by Greg Mitchell. c 2000, Simon & Schuster.
Although I am not even close to being a baseball fan (except when the O's make the playoffs), this "Little League memoir" was still interesting…for real baseball fans it will be fascinating. The basic story is the author's experience as a Little League coach one summer in New York State, but he digresses into so many anecdotes, childhood memories, and historical background that it reads more like a baseball stream of consciousness. The intrigues with other coaches and teams; the constant struggle for balance between fun and winning, and the joy and stress of managing his own son all comes through with honest insight and humor.

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