Summer activities

On summer’s official first day — June 21 — enjoy the following five entertaining and heartwarming picture books about summertime activities. See also Five Questions for Jack Wong — newly announced Boston Globe–Horn Book Picture Book Award winner for When You Can Swim; and find lots more great recommendations on our 2023 Summer Reading Recommendations, with handy-dandy printable PDF list.

Daddy & Me, Side by Side
by Pierce Freelon; illus. by Nadia Fisher
Primary    Little, Brown    40 pp.
5/23    9780316055864    $18.99

Freelon’s (Daddy-Daughter Day) quiet picture book tells of an African American father and son on a camping trip. The two wake up in their tent on a chilly morning and walk to the lake. They catch big-mouth bass that they grill for dinner, then roast marshmallows and catch fireflies under the night sky. Throughout the day, they remember Pop-Pop, the boy’s late grandfather, who took the boy’s father to the same camping spot when he was a child. Fisher punctuates scenes in the present with flashbacks showing the boy’s father enjoying similar outdoor experiences with Pop-Pop, the past indicated by lines of wind and swirling leaves. The boy admits in a whisper, “I miss Pop-Pop,” and the dad replies, “We feel what we feel. It’s okay to let it out.” Fisher’s digital illustrations capture the closeness of this family as they express their love for each other and the outdoors. A very welcome addition to the growing number of children’s books about Black families enjoying nature. MICHELLE H. MARTIN

Summer Is for Cousins
by Rajani LaRocca; illus. by Abhi Alwar
Preschool, Primary    Abrams    40 pp.
5/23    9781419757334    $17.99
e-book ed.  9781647004330    $15.54

“Summer is for cousins. Mom and Dad, two uncles, two aunties, Thatha and Pati, seven cousins. All of us are together.” This energetic family’s summer vacation, with a full schedule of daily activities, encapsulates the inevitable combination of ritual and change that permeates life. In a first-person narrative, Ravi explains how his whole extended family descends on a house near an ocean and a lake. From there, the story launches into a flurry of sandcastle building, swimming, hiking, and more. Ravi is eager for a replay of all the summers before, but his beloved oldest cousin now seems more grown-up, and Ravi worries that their relationship may have changed too. This concern is punctuated by the frustration that he can no longer find their mutual favorite ice-cream flavor. The summer starts and ends with ice cream, the circular story arc highlighting that despite growth and change, the best parts of old rituals can become new ones with a little effort. Active compositions in the warm, textured art glow with golds and purples, making the joys of summer palpable. The figures of the family, sometimes together and sometimes dispersed around the pages, are full of movement. This story, with its irresistible atmosphere, shows how to realize and share the delights of the season. JULIE ROACH

A Bed of Stars
by Jessica Love; illus. by the author
Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.
4/23    9781536212396    $18.99

A redheaded child looks a little skeptical when Dad announces over breakfast that the two of them are going camping in the desert “to shake hands with the universe.” After saying goodbye to Mom and the baby, they pack up Darlin’, their pickup truck, and set off. The child narrator notices the change in smells as they drive up into the mountains, which have “charred black trees and also a lot of flowers.” Love pairs this imagery with a page of labeled mountain flowers. After stopping by a junkyard to pick up spare parts and chat with the owner, parent and child set up camp by the sand dunes. At night they lie under a cozy blanket on Darlin’s bed and name stars after the things they have seen that day. The narrator is comforted by the idea that “we’re all made of the same stuff, in different bodies.” Love’s watercolor, gouache, and ink illustrations include both factual information (the steps to build a fire) and warm, loving scenes of father and child together. By the time they return home, the child’s body language is relaxed and content, and they greet Mom and baby happily. The desire for one-on-one attention from a parent is one many children will relate to, and the final picture shows the child as a constellation, “at home in the universe.” SUSAN DOVE LEMPKE

Grandma’s Tipi: A Present-Day Lakota Story
by S. D. Nelson; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Abrams    40 pp.
5/23    9781419731921    $18.99
e-book ed.  9798887070599    $15.54

Nelson (Sitting Bull, rev. 11/15; Red Cloud, rev. 7/17) shares Indigenous traditions and practices involving tipis that continue in modern times. Young Clara comes to stay with her unci (grandmother) and cousin Juniper, who live on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Over the course of an idyllic summer, the two girls learn about their history, particularly about the family tipi, a precious object that has been passed down through the generations and has profound significance for their family. The girls have lunch in the tipi; their unci braids their hair in the tipi; they even sleep in it overnight. Their unci adds the girls to the family’s generational story by asking each granddaughter about her aspirations (Juniper wants to be a basketball player; Clara, a pilot) and then making their spirit paintings on the outside of the tipi. Nelson’s vibrant illustrations are stylized to reflect Lakota ledger drawings. He effortlessly blends this art style into his realistic, authentic depictions of modern Lakota life. An extensive author’s note provides more information about tipis from prehistory to the present and information about Nelson’s own family. Also appended are a photo of a Lakota beaded dress (circa 1900) and tipis in use during the Standing Rock protest. NAOMI R. CALDWELL

Domino’s Tree House
by Dawn Patitucci; illus. by Francisco Fonseca
Primary    WorthyKids    32 pp.
5/23    9781546002994    $17.99

Domino, playing outdoors on a beautiful day, has a feeling of “not enough.” His discontent leads him to build a tree house, where he lounges and snacks until discontent finds him again. So he builds a tree cottage, then a tree mansion on top of his tree house. Then a tree castle, then skyscraper. Nothing is quite satisfactory, so he builds structure upon structure until he reaches the moon. Fonseca’s illustrations, with delicate lines and crosshatching, have a lovely handcrafted feel. The colors move from earthy greens and browns to brighter yellows and blues as Domino’s structures become more whimsical and far-fetched. Double-page spreads angled from a vantage point above the action provide sweeping panoramas that show the heights Domino’s unchecked ambition has reached, as well as his increasing isolation as his home, his town, and eventually Earth itself recedes and he reaches the moon, cold and dark. Realizing that “there was nothing on the moon but moon,” he parachutes back to Earth, where he finds the contentment he was looking for in the cool grass and gentle breezes of his own backyard. Playful and thought-provoking in equal measure. ADRIENNE L. PETTINELLI

From the June 2023 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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