It’s summer break, y’all. Or at least it is in the South, as I mentioned last week. School is OUT. For those of you in other parts of the country not yet done with classes, your time will be here soon. Today, I’ve got a small handful of picture books that celebrate summer and some of its glorious pastimes.
Award-winning author-illustrator Peter Sís has the right idea: ice cream. Ice Cream Summer, now on shelves, is sunny and yummy. In this epistolary treat, a young boy responds to a letter he receives from his grandfather. “Dear Grandpa, Thank you for your letter. So far, it’s been a delicious summer.” But just before you read this, you see on the title page spread a man in a hot air balloon, telling you that he, Italo Marchiony of New York City, was the first to patent the flat-bottomed ice cream cone in 1903. This immediately gives you a sense of what this book offers: Fun and fun facts, all rolled into one.
Sís is usually one for some unusual landscapes in his beguiling picture books. This one just happens to be ice-cream filled. The one-track-minded boy, as he tells his grandfather about his summer, sees only ice cream shapes wherever he looks, and it’s fun for the reader to spot the shapes, large (the Statue of Liberty holding an ice cream cone) and small (ocean waves that look a lot like ice cream scoops). Fittingly for a breezy summer book, pastels dominate the color palette, and the story doesn’t only bring readers history, but it also incorporates some word problems, geography, explorers and inventors—all ice-cream-related. That’s right: The first ice cream was 2,000 years ago in ancient China, though Sís does note on the title page spread that, in some cases, he had to “choose among the bountiful legends and varying versions” of ice cream’s history in all his research.
Be sure to remove the dustjacket, if you can, for an alternate cover. Delicious fun, this one.
Amy June Bates, the illustrator of Deanna Caswell’s Beach House, dedicates the book to “the very best, most golden and perfect Beach day of the summer.” That acknowledgement sums up this book well. Caswell, in her economical, rhyming text, shares the excitement of a family trip to the shore, including the great anticipation leading up to it and the patience required for the journey there. She writes about the thrill of the ocean waves, the scent of salt air, the joy of body surfing. Bates’ watercolor and pencil illustrations shimmer with light, and she captures the warmth and security of a family who love to be in one another’s company. In the book’s very last illustration, we see the parents on the shore, hanging clothes to dry. Look through the light-filled windows of the house to see the children sleeping in their beds after a long day of play, the ocean nearly hugging the house to sleep. Lovely.
Andrew Larsen’s See You Next Year, with art from debut illustrator Todd Stewart, offers up a similar treat, though it’s much more restrained in many ways. “Every year we take the same roads,” the young girl narrating the story tells us. “We pass through the same towns. We arrive at the beach.” This family always stays at the same place. They call it their “cottage. But it’s not really a cottage. It’s a motel.” The girl loves the predictability of this annual trip.
Instead of focusing on one family, as Caswell and Bates do, this story centers upon a friendship the girl develops with another vacationing boy, and she notes her daily observations, big and small. One day of their vacation brings only a foggy day. “No one comes to the beach with their umbrellas or their coolers or their towels,” but the girl is hardly petulant about this. The overall mood may be more subdued, though what the girl loves is that “nothing changes” on this yearly trip.
Cool teals, navy blues, and rust colors are the name of the game here, and when Stewart captures the orange glow of a campfire and the sun beams penetrating the back window of the car, as the girl’s family drives away and her friend waves goodbye, the warmer colors pop off the page. At the book’s close, Stewart even makes subtle changes to his outlines; things seem almost a bit hazier, the edges of things more indistinct. Fitting, since the experience is now on its way to becoming a memory.
Not all families can afford to hit the beach, motel or not. There’s always Swimming, Swimming, which unabashedly celebrates the joy that is a community pool in the summer. This picture book adaptation of the classic song “Swimming, Swimming,” illustrated by Toronto artist and editorial cartoonist Gary Clement, opens with a boy who is clearly a bit obsessed, in the best possible way, with swimming. We see the walls of his bedroom papered with posters of professional swimmers, and scattered all along his floor are the accoutrements of swimming—flippers, goggles, sandals.
He meets his three friends (refreshingly, one of them is a girl), and they head to the neighborhood pool, dancing and goofing off the whole way there. Things are wordless until they start swimming. It’s here that Clement’s large speech bubbles show the children singing the song, an ode to one of summer’s most routine yet thrilling activities. At one point, everyone at the pool is looking right at the reader, singing: “OH DON’T YOU WISH YOU NEVER HAD ANYTHING ELSE TO DO?”
Yep. What they said. Swimming—oh, and ice cream and relaxing. For those who can manage it, they’re the reasons for the season.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.