Picture Books That Capture Summer's Magic

By Lee Littlewood

June 23, 2017 5 min read

These new reads remind youngsters of the joys of the Fourth of July, the teeming wildlife of ponds and the refreshing feeling of an outdoor nap.

"Blue Sky White Stars" by Sarvinder Naberhaus; illustrated by Kadir Nelson; Dial Books/Penguin; 32 pages; $17.99.

Painted with detailed love by Kadir Nelson, this ode to America's majesty and diversity is exactly what's needed right now. The creators smartly depict period-specific flags, from a Civil War-era flag to Betsy Ross's wonder. Sarvinder Naberhaus clearly loves her adopted country. Simple phrases such as "Sea waves" and "See waves" and "All-American" are written in sparse large red, white and blue letters to show a baseball game. Also showed is a photo-like illustration of an African-American veteran eating Cracker Jack popcorn on a porch with a young boy.

This glorious parallel between America and its flag is subtle but moving and beautiful. We must all remember that our flag is a shining symbol to uphold "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." Nelson's timeless paintings are museum-worthy.

"On Duck Pond" by Jane Yolen; pictures by Bob Marstall; The Cornell Lab Publishing Group; 32 pages; $15.95.

Jane Yolen has long been a prolific poet for children, especially about nature and all its creatures. This lovely picture book takes place on old Duck Pond in New England. A boy strolling nearby with his dog observes the pond, watching the frogs, fish, tadpoles, herons and turtles react when a noisy raft of ducks drops in, and how the tranquility is replaced by a temporary fervor that breathes new life into the moment.

Yolen beautifully writes: "Tadpoles troubled by the splash/ Now marked new water roads to dash. The frog swam back to his old pad/ Forgotten was the scare he'd had." The words describe Bob Marstall's refreshingly peaceful and meditative pictures — except for the splash!

"Over and Under the Pond" by Kate Messner with art by Christopher Silas Neal, published by Chronicle Books, is another pond ode. It's a chronicle of what a mother and son see while canoeing in a pond. The narrator describes what's happening under the surface, so kids can get the whole picture of the vibrant life underwater. Gorgeous shades of blues and greens help make this tale as refreshing as a dip in the pool.

"The Perfect Siesta" by Pato Mena; NubeOcho Publishing; 38 pages; $15.95.

With the up-close face of a sleepy sloth staring out of the cover, Pato Mena's uber-fun tale invites readers happily from the start. "It was the middle of the day in the jungle and the jaguar was very hot," the story goes. When he feels a cool breeze, he thinks it's the perfect time to take a siesta, but he has something important to do and only wants to nap briefly. He asks a big-eyed coati to wake him up in 10 minutes, but then, the coati feels the breeze and gets sleepy, and asks a cockatiel to wake him up in 10. This pattern continues, with each animal getting sleepy until our orange sloth battles his urge to sleep. But he can't stay awake and falls asleep anyway. Fortunately, right then, his loud snore wakes them all up "right on the tenth minute!"

With a summery palate of pale greens and blues, and coral oranges, and a bevy of huge-eyed hilarious cartoon creatures, Mena's ode to napping is a must for summertime bedtimes.

"Roger Is Going Fishing" by Koen Van Biesen; Eerdmans Books; 46 pages; $17.99.

Translated from Belgian to English by Laura Watkinson, Koen Van Biesen's incredibly witty and artsy gem depicts a man named Roger giving a girl named Emily and a dog named Bob a ride on his bike to go fishing. As they pedal along, Roger's fishing pole, held by Emily off the back of the bike, picks up all sorts of people in the city, from a parcel carrier, to a woman shopping, to a skateboarder and, eventually, some sheep and a cow. Emily yells, "Hey, Roger, I've got a bite!" Roger repeatedly replies: "No, you can't fish here. ... Wait until we're at the lake!" But when a downhill ride forces everyone into the pond, Roger finally gets a bite, and it's Emily he has on his hook.

"Roger Is Going Fishing" is incredibly fun and unexpected, with the super hip illustrations (there's even a sax player and hip bongo player caught up in the mix). It's a bit out there but really funny and unique.

To find out more about Lee Littlewood, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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