The first day of summer hasn’t made its official entrance, but with school out for many and sun rays pouring down, who doesn’t have summer on the mind? I’m weighing in this week with two of my favorite summer picture book titles.
Read more about things that go bump in the night.
Anyone who saw 2003’s The Neighborhood Mother Goose knows what good things happen when photographer Nina Crews gathers together children for a picture book collection of rhymes and songs. In her latest, The Neighborhood Sing-Along (Greenwillow), she collects favorite children’s songs—pop songs, folk songs, nursery rhymes, spirituals and more—with photos featuring children from her own Brooklyn neighborhood.
No one quite captures the rhythm and heartbeat of children’s play on their streets and playgrounds as Nina does with her sharp photo collages. Since her debut title in 1995, she’s brought readers a host of books depicting children of various ethnicities playing together in urban neighborhoods. Her exuberant photos take up every inch of these spreads—there’s too much energy here for any wasted space.
In this companion piece to The Neighborhood Mother Goose, Crews kicks things off with summery joy with a version of “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” featuring toddlers playing in water at a park. It must be said, as pointed out by reviewers for her Mother Goose title, that Crews has an impressive ability to capture children in candid poses, never seeming forced. Children here are sitting on stoops, playing in yards, hopping a bus on a city street, playing with chalk on a sidewalk, or playing on ball fields. Occasionally manipulating the photos digitally, Crews plays with perspective, such as the oversized teapot in “I’m a Little Teapot” and large hen in the neighboring “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe.” The miniature children climb the teapot, one child leaping into a huge bowl of mashed potatoes.
There is a palpable sense of community in these titles from Crews. The cover alone depicts Caucasian, Asian, Latino and African-American children. One gets the sense that this isn’t because an editor sat her down and asked to consider doing so in the name of “multiculturalism.” Indeed, she clearly lives it and knows these Brooklyn communities like the back of her talented hand.
In Meg Medina’s debut picture book title, Tía Isa Wants a Car (Candlewick), illustrated by Claudio Muñoz, young readers are welcomed into another community—this time extended family members separated by distance.
“No one goes far from my block in the summer,” the narrator says. Living with her young aunt and uncle in a small apartment, she decides to secretly take on odd jobs and save money to help her Tía Isa reach her goal: Buy a car to take them to the beach. They have difficulty saving, since separate funds are sent as “helping money” back to the young girl’s faraway parents, grandparents and cousins, all in the hopes that one day the entire family can be together.
Tío Andrés laughs at his sister’s goal: “Don’t be ridiculous! You’re not a rich queen! We walk to everything we need here, Isa.” But our intrepid, observant narrator knows how much it means to her aunt: She helps her grocer stacks oranges; she helps her elderly neighbor with her cat; and she offers to teach Miss Amy, the librarian, Spanish so that she can invite a co-worker, the object of her crush, over for ham sandwiches.
“Sometimes it’s hard to wait for good things to happen,” Isa tells her niece, only to find out the child has earned enough money to help pay for a shiny green car with “pointy wings off the back.” As Tía Isa “leans into the Hula-hoop wheel,” off they zoom down the road, turning heads and relishing their wheels and the adventure it brings. And taped to the dashboard? A picture of the family with whom they long to be reunited one day.
And that final spread—joy at the sea with the narrator zooming headlong into the waves—is sparkling summer fun.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.