As Jama pointed out last week, summer is upon us. Yes, last week marked the first official day of summer, much to my surprise. I had thought it was mostly already gone. Shows you what I know.
Nevertheless, this all brought to mind two picture book titles I have yet to talk about here at 7-Imp, two that are perfect summer-time fare and one that was recently awarded a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor in the Picture Book category.
A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, written and illustrated by Marla Frazee, was released in March of this year (Harcourt) and has been met with all kinds of critical acclaim, including the aforementioned BGHB Honor. (If you follow the Amazon URL to which I linked the book title, you’ll see what I mean under “Editorial Reviews.”) It tells the story of two young boys, James and Eamon, who stay at Eamon’s grandparents’ house (Bill and Pam — and not this Bill and Pam, though I’m sorry to disappoint MotherReader fans) during a week of Nature Day Camp. Very little to no nature-observing actually occurs; the boys would rather be at Bill and Pam’s house watching television, jumping on the blow-up mattress downstairs, eating Pam’s banana waffles, and playing Nintendo. “Wanna go outside?” James asks Eamon one day via the speech balloons that pepper the spreads. “Nope,” Eamon answers, as they both stare out the window at the beach. “Nature camp was just so great,” says Frazee’s text on the following page above the rolling waves on the ocean.
There’s a lot of understated humor here, this being a perfect example of a title whose text merges seamlessly with the illustrations: Often, the text tells you one thing, while Frazee’s carefree cartoon spreads tell you another (when James shows up, he does so “with just a couple of his belongings,” though we see that he’s got a tall stack of boxes behind him, overflowing with toys and overnight gear). But it’s not all goofiness, and never once does Frazee condescend to boy readers, hinting that they’re not capable of imaginative play (which this book could have been in the hands of a lesser picture book creator). There’s a moment of genuine tenderness and emotion at the book’s close, perfectly balanced and not too cloying. At its core, it’s a celebration of friendship, one kickin’ summer between two best buds.
If you won’t take my word for it, take this starred review from The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books; I particularly love this one, since this book also brought to my mind the work of Lynne Rae Perkins:
Summer can seem a long time away during the colder portions of the year, and summer books can hold a special promise and poignancy in the long run-up until the months of freedom. Truly stellar summer books, such as Lynne Rae Perkins’ Pictures from Our Vacation can evoke the weirdness and unexpected magic of summer’s free-form experiences even in the darkest season. Add in some snarky and boisterous grade-school humor, and you’ve got A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever. . . . This sweetly captures the pleasures of youthful time-wasting in the company of your best friend with a keen understanding that those pleasures are best when they’re unsentimental. The result is just realistic enough to be perfect, a grade-schooler’s idyllic summer with limited demands for learning and bettering and a whole lot of reveling in kid priorities. A wonderful late-winter reminder that summer is coming, this will cheer up audiences by encouraging them to reflect on glorious summers past and even more glorious summers to anticipate.
And then, while you’re enjoying this fitting summer-time read, you can add one more book to your pile, especially if you have wee toddlers and preschoolers in your vicinity. Fans of 2005′s Duck Skates, written by Lynne Berry and illustrated by Hiroe Nakata, will be happy to know that the ducks are back for some summer-time fun at the beach in Duck Dunks (Henry Holt, May 2008). Those obscenely charming ducks play and dunk in the water after heading to the beach for a day of sun and fun and sand and kite-flying and picnicking.
I love Nakata’s work (she’s pictured here): There is a graceful, light-infused element to her illustrations that manages to scream ADORABLE, which wee children love, but she also manages to avoid too much schmaltz. These ducks could so very easily look like they came from those old Current catalogs, but Nakata does it up right, creating their cozy, detailed world and giving each one ample personality with just a few swishes of her watercolor paintbrush. Berry’s rhyming text captures the joys of playing at the shore and she nails the particular joys of wee children’s very active summer play:
Bobbing, splashing, ducks swim out.
Waves come crashing. Five ducks shout.
One duck gurgles. Two ducks whirl.
Three ducks burble. Four ducks swirl.
Five little ducks dunk undersea. Ducks paddle up now—
“Look at me!”
So, there ya go. Two summer-fun titles. Hurry now . . . Wait! Summer’s only just begun. Thanks for setting me straight, Jama.
Until next time . . .