Picture Books That Capture Summer's Magic

By Lee Littlewood

August 18, 2017 5 min read

These new reads remind youngsters of the joys of the Fourth of July, the teeming wildlife in 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, and she uses sparse large, red, white and blue text with simple phrases such as "Sea waves" and "All-American" to show a baseball game. They are repeated again with a photo-like illustration of an African-American veteran eating Cracker Jacks 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; Cornell Lab Publishing Group; 32 pages; $15.95.

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

Yolen's beautiful wordings describe Bob Marstall's refreshingly peaceful and meditative pictures (except for the splashdown). He 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."

"Over and Under the Pond" by Kate Messner with art by Christopher Silas Neal is another pond ode. It's a chronicle about what a mother and son see on top of a pond while canoeing. The narrator describes what's happening under the surface so kids can get the whole picture of the vibrant and layered life. 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 staring sloth on the cover, Pato Mena's uber-fun tale invites merrily from the start. "It was the middle of the day in the jungle and the jaguar was very hot," he writes. 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 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 the orange sloth battles his urge to sleep but can't stay awake. Fortunately, with no time to spare, his loud snore wakes them all up.

With a summery palate of coral oranges, pale greens and blues 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 Dutch by Laura Watkinson is Koen Van Biesen's incredibly witty and artsy gem that 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, carried 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 some sheep and a cow. As 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.

This book is incredibly fun and unexpected with super hip illustrations (there's even a sax player and hip bongo player caught up in the melee). 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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By Lee Littlewood
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