Slugs, snails, puppy-dog tales

A Monitor roundup of children's books

Ahhh, summer vacation! At least it will be once the "snow days" are made up. Then, there will be plenty of time for recreational reading. If you've been too busy to select titles for upcoming summery days, here are some suggestions: paperback reprints to toss into a beach bag, engrossing page-turners for rainy days at camp, and hardback gift books with summertime themes.

Concept Books

When packing up the car and the kids for vacation, don't forget snacks - or books! Bright and engaging concept books will hold the interest of little pre-readers, especially if there's an adult or older sibling to help explore letters, colors, and sizes.

Todd Parr's Big & Little and Black & White are perfect for little hands and ideal for slipping into a traveling parent's pocket. Illustrated with solid, bold colors and childlike drawings, these books delightfully relate familiar items. In "Big & Little," we have "big truck, little tricycle"; "big cake, little cookie"; and the satisfying ending "big mommy, little baby." "Black & White" also pairs its pages well - "black cat, white mouse" and "black cow, white milk." This compact little tome ends with a slightly more advanced concept of animals that are both black and white.

Poetry

Even if your summer plans don't include frog catching and snake hunting, Douglas Florian's Lizards, Frogs, and Polliwogs allows readers to dip into a literary pool of 21 poems about amphibians and reptiles. These short, humorous pieces - featuring bullfrogs, spring peepers, chameleons, iguanas, rattlesnakes, cobras, and the like - are paired with imaginative art. Those familiar with Florian's companion poetry books will recognize the artist's playful style. He paints watercolors on primed brown-paper bags, and includes bits of collage for additional texture and interest.

Picture Books

Book! Book! Book! has everything you'd want in a picture book: charming illustrations, a lively plot, good read-aloud potential, and a few surprises. Tiphanie Beeke's cheerful art introduces the story in a colorful double-page spread of children and barnyard animals enjoying the summer together. But vacations don't last forever, and Deborah Bruss has crafted a tale about the boredom farm animals experience when the kids go back to school. These are clever animals, however, and they head to the local library for something to do. That's where fun ensues for animals - and readers.

A hot summer's day at a cabin is perfectly captured in Sun Dance, Water Dance. Jonathan London's poetic text and Greg Couch's evocative illustrations give the feeling of a memory-in-the-making. Children play in the hot sun, rush to the river to cool off, ride old inner tubes, guzzle refreshing drinks, watch night come, and count shooting stars. This is a lovely book to share about a quintessential summer experience.

Dog lovers who were smitten last year with Stephen Huneck's "Sally Goes to the Beach" will be panting with pleasure for this year's Sally Goes to the Mountains. Black Lab Sally and her devoted owner go camping. They expect to find everything a dog could love - wildlife friends, water, sticks, and food - but not before a long drive and good night's sleep. Huneck is an acclaimed painter, sculptor, and printmaker. Here, his woodcut illustrations add humor and sophistication to an appealing - and downright believable - tale.

Independent Readers

Will Goes to the Beach, a short, gentle story, was originally published almost a decade ago in Sweden. Written and illustrated by husband- and-wife team Olof and Lena Landstrom, a handful of "Will" stories reached the US in the 1990s. Now, they're available in paperback. In this one, Will and Mama bicycle to the beach, where they spend the day. Clear color illustrations depict Will's eagerness for the outing, his anxiety about swimming, and, ultimately, his satisfaction in succeeding.

Girls heading to summer camp may welcome a book in the new American Girls Short Stories series. Set in the 1940s, Molly Marches On is about Molly McIntire's first overnight nature hike at Camp Gowonagin. Disappointed that her fellow campers are excited and boisterous on the trail, instead of being alert and silent like the Shoshone Indian Sacagawea, Molly breaks one of the cardinal rules of hiking by going off alone. Fortunately, all ends well - but not before important lessons are learned. As in other American Girls stories, historical information, illustrations, and photographs are included. Here, readers find out more about the famous Indian guide Sacagawea. Practical trail-marking directions also fill out this tiny volume. The book's 4-by-6-inch size makes it easy to pop into a duffel bag or backpack.

Riddle and puzzle aficionados will delight in a paperback reprint of More Stories to Solve. (As the title implies, there are other books in this series - "Stories to Solve" and "Still More Stories to Solve" - written by George Shannon.) This is a great book for filling in little bits of time. It concisely sets down 15 folk tales from around the world, and then challenges readers to figure out how the various outcomes were achieved. How did the lawyer outwit the devil? And how did a frog escape the steep-sided pitcher of cream? Quirky, even eerie, black-and-white illustrations by award-winning artist Peter Sis add an intriguing element to this absorbing book.

For light but satisfying summer reading, try the newly reissued Moffat books by Eleanor Estes. As paperback reprints, each classic costs $6 - less than many full-price movie tickets. This is the 60th anniversary of the first book in a series that has been loved for generations. The stories, featuring the four Moffat children, are set in the early 1900s, in the fictional town of Cranbury, Conn. The Moffats introduces Mama, Sylvie, Joey, Jane, and Rufus. They are a happy and close-knit family, but hard economic times and the threat of World War I affects them all. The Middle Moffat, a Newbery Honor book, highlights grade-school-age Jane Moffat and her adventures. Rufus M., another Newbery Honor book, is devoted to the youngest - and perhaps most endearing - member of the family. These three volumes contain whimsical pen-and-ink drawings by Louis Slobodkin. The final book in the series, The Moffat Museum, was illustrated by the author. It chronicles changes in the family: Sylvie gets married and moves away, Joey drops out of high school to supply the family with much-needed income, Jane can travel alone by train, and even little Rufus is growing up. These stories can be read as historical fiction or as timeless tales about curious and inventive children. The books are structured so that their chapters, although related, can stand alone as short, uplifting stories, which makes them perfect read-aloud choices for a family vacation.

Informational Books

If baseball absorbs someone you know, The Visual Dictionary of Baseball is one book you'll want to examine. It's filled with gorgeous photos, interesting charts, and instructive illustrations. Veteran sports writer James Buckley packs in plenty of readable information about the history, players, and workings of the game. Many longtime fans will learn something new or relish the action photos and trivia.

Young people with more artistic than athletic interests may enjoy the activity book Letter Art, by Becky Higgins. She presents 13 stylized alphabets, along with simple instructions, advice, and tracing paper, to encourage creative lettering. This is a strikingly designed, spiral-bound volume. Lettering perfected this summer could appear all year long in cards, invitations, and handmade books.

Karen Carden reviews children's books for the Monitor.

Book information:

Concept Books

BIG & LITTLE BLACK & WHITE By Todd Parr Little, Brown Unpaged, $4.95 ea. Ages up to 3

Poetry

LIZARDS, FROGS, AND POLLIWOGS Written and illustrated by Douglas Florian Harcourt 48 pp., $16 Ages 5-10

Picture Books

BOOK! BOOK! BOOK! By Deborah Bruss Illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke Scholastic Unpaged, $15.95 Ages 2-6

SUN DANCE, WATER DANCE By Jonathan London Illustrated by Greg Couch Dutton Unpaged, $15.99 Ages 4-8

SALLY GOES TO THE MOUNTAINS Written and illustrated by Stephen Huneck Abrams Unpaged, $17.95 All ages

Independent Readers

WILL GOES TO THE BEACH Written and illustrated by Olof and Lena Landstrom Translated by Carla Wiberg R&S Books Unpaged, $4.95 (paperback) Ages 4-8

MOLLY MARCHES ON By Valerie Tripp Illustrated by Nick Backes Pleasant Co. 48 pp., $3.95 Ages 7 and up

MORE STORIES TO SOLVE By George Shannon Illustrated by Peter Sis HarperCollins 64 pp., $4.95 Ages 8-12

THE MOFFATS THE MIDDLE MOFFAT RUFUS M. THE MOFFAT MUSEUM By Eleanor Estes Illustrated by Louis Slobodkin Harcourt 200 pp. ea., $6 (paperback) $17 (hardback) Ages 8 and up

Informational Books:

THE VISUAL DICTIONARY OF BASEBALL By James Buckley Illustrated by various artists and photographers DK 64 pp., $18.95 All ages

LETTER ART By Becky Higgins Pleasant Co. Unpaged, $7.95 Ages 8 and up

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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