Some of my favorite summer reading memories involve Carol Ryrie Brink’s classic Caddie Woodlawn. I loved this book so much I remember being really sad when the publishers redesigned it and eliminated the classic Trina Schart Hyman cover, seen here:
Hyman captured the personality of the vivacious, strong-willed, brave, and just a bit reckless, Caddie. With her flowing hair and one strap slipping off her shoulder – Hyman’s Caddie is the one I think of when I remember these stories. Thankfully the publishers have retained the pen and ink sketches within the text so you won’t have to settle for the image of Caddie as portrayed on the current cover. Anyway, I passed countless summer hours reading and rereading the adventures of Caddie and her brothers. The Woodlawns lived on the edge of the American frontier and this provided ample opportunity for Caddie to exercise her free spirit. A tom-boy at heart she resists the domestic realm in favor of the wide open spaces of the prairie, the dangers of rushing rivers, even the unfamiliarity of an Indian camp. Brink based these stories on the recollections of her grandmother, the original Caddie Woodlawn, and captures the spirit of an age of adventure, hardship, and courage. When I finished Caddie Woodlawn the first time, I promptly reread it, I really hated for the stories to end. I remember being thrilled to discover the sequel, Caddie Woodlawn’s Family, at the library and proceeded to devour it.
Robert McCloskey’s Time of Wonder ranks in my mind as one of the best children’s picture books ever. Granted that my “one of the best” is somewhat limitless, I cannot make it through this book without marveling at the artist/author’s marriage of truly extraordinary art with lyrical and evocative language. Those who have been fortunate to live or vacation somewhere on the New England coast in summer will find that the author manages to put to words the feelings associated with many elements that make summer unique and magical. Whether it is a sudden shower over the water, “porpoises puffing and playing around your boat” or the wonder of “where hummingbirds go in a hurricane”, McCloskey captures the very essence of this time of year. Having never visited the Eastern shore in summer before actually reading this book to my children, I subsequently visited there one June as an adult. Riding bicycles through the quaint town of Duxbury, Massachusetts, my husband and I arrived at a very long teak bridge that took us to an outlying sand spit. Stopping on the bridge to take in the marvelous scene of sand, sea and shore, we noticed a small black cloud moving our direction. Suddenly we were in the opening scene of this marvelous book! For those who cannot manage a trip to the Eastern shore in summer, let McCloskey take you there in a Time of Wonder.
Rebecca’s recent post reminded me of summer classics that have become beloved staples in our home. When I think of some of the very best children’s books about summer themes the works of Robert McCloskey have to rank in the very top: One Morning in Maine, Blueberries for Sal, Time of Wonder, and Make Way for Ducklings. I just finished reading One Morning in Maine to my youngest and the sweetness of the tale, the charming scenes of New England, and the intuitive insight into the mind of a child all evoke the very sweetest memories. The protagonist is little Sal, who has just lost her first tooth and the wonder and delight of this experience causes her to view the world around her through the lens of this childhood rite of passage.
Indeed I have to admit that McCloskey’s work started a romantic love affair with New England for me over 25 years ago, when I began to read these works to my little ones. Sitting in far away California reading tales so quintessentially Atlantic seaboard drew me unconsciously to that coast when our children were between 3-8 years old. We took an Early American history “field trip” there and fell even deeper in love with the history, architecture, and essence of New England. A love affair that began between the pages of these books resulted in our family relocating to Cape Cod 15 years ago and living in the village of Sandwich for eleven wonderful years. Admittedly, it wasn’t all lovely summer scenes the entire sojourn there, but the charm that these books portray does really exist there in a unique way, and I feel blessed to have lived there for those years. What I don’t miss as much–the long winters–seems to fade once again reading the adventures of little Sal in One Morning in Maine. Read it with your little one today, and you’ll see what I mean!
Yesterday my husband and I travelled from Edinburgh to upstate New York to spend a week with his family. Upon picking up our rental car and driving the hour and a half to our final destination I managed to navigate the vast expanses of satellite radio to find the Diane Rehm show was doing a 50 year anniversary special on one of my all-time favorite books,To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. If interested, you can listen to the program on their website, here. It has been about six months since I’ve been in the States and there could have been no better or more fitting program to listen to as I made the slow adjustment back. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the greatest works of American fiction and has sold over 30 million copies since its publication in 1960. Its themes are both distinctly American and universal making it a book that strikes at the very core of who we are as human beings. Scout’s precocious nature and questioning of the injustice she cannot comprehend as a child have caused countless readers to examine their own prejudices and assumptions. Atticus Fitch, the great literary embodiment of integrity, makes us all want to be more just and courageous and kind. Although I’ve read this book multiple times before it is on my list of must-reads this summer – it is its 50th birthday afterall! A wonderful read-aloud, this is a book that must be shared and discussed. Follow up your reading with a viewing of the classic movie adaptation starring Gregory Peck, playing what, in my opinion, was his greatest role. What do you like best about To Kill a Mockingbird?
Hi! My name is Rebecca and I’m Rea’s eldest daughter. As she’s been busy with lots of projects she’s asked me to write some guest entries for her book blog. As a bibliophile myself, I am happy to jump in! I have my own blog over at http://scottybecca.wordpress.com where I write about my life in Scotland, books I love, and anything else that piques my interest.
I am excited to be doing a series of entries over the next few weeks on some of my favorite summer reads – ranging from picture books to literary classics. Today we get to explore the world of picture books, an area that holds a special place in my heart. One should never outgrow a good picture book – the beauty of a simply crafted story accompanied by creative illustrations, these are books for all ages.
The Obadiah Books by Brinton Turkle: Thy Friend, Obadiah, Obadiah the Bold, and Rachel and Obadiah
These books were staples of my childhood, bringing alive a time and place far from my experience. Set during the height of the whaling age these stories feature the Starbuck family, Quakers living on Nantucket amidst all the hustle and bustle of a vibrant shipping port community. Obadiah, the youngest son, is the main protagonist and he’s very much a classically mischievious boy. Brinton Turkle wrote and illustrated each of these books with a specific purpose in mind: “In writing, I use all sorts of tricks to capture the attention of my young audience: suspense, humor and even charm, when I can muster it. But no matter how successfully I may entertain, I am really up to something else: subversion. My abilities are implacably lined up against the hypocrisy, materialism, and brutality that so pervade our society. As my readers leave childhood behind, I hope that they will carry with them an appreciation for such alternatives as integrity, mutual respect, kindness and reverence for life. These alternatives are in my books and I pray that exposure to them will play a part in the construction of a better tomorrow.” As a child, I never suspected these stories of being subversive – they were just good stories that worked into my small brain the ideas of kindness and generosity and courage. The best stories are like that – they teach great lessons without being didactic.
Turkel’s illustrations are so charming and I can remember looking at each detail as a child. Although these were often read aloud to me, I also loved reading them myself, making them perfect for summer.
Wilfrid Gordon Mcdonal Partridge by Mem Fox was a newer discovery for me and I loved it from the first time I saw it. How could I not? The illustrations of delightfully rumpled children living in realistically messy houses are charming.
I remember hoping that the story was good enough to justify such great illustrations and was delighted to discover that the story is a treasure. Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, who isn’t very old, is best friends with Miss Nancy Alison Delacourt Cooper, who is very old. In his heroic attempt to help Miss Nancy find her “lost” memory, Wilfrid has all sorts of adventures and the story beautifully illustrates the friendships that can exist across all ages. Charming, whimsical, and moving, this is one of my all-time favorites.
Another later discovery, this book is a bit heart-wrenching. The Clown of God by Tomie dePaola is based on an old Italian legend about a clown who offers the Christ Child the gift of his talent and the miracle that follows. Much like the story of the widow’s mite it’s a good reminder that the best gift one can give is the gift of self. I am also taken with the illustrations which seem to me to model those of stained glass windows.
As a side note, I love this book but do recognize that the ending can be upsetting. Please preview it before sharing it with especially sensitive children.
Owl Moonby Jane Yolen is a great bedtime story. It’s as quiet as a wintery night and speaks of the special relationship between a young child and her father. Expansive illustrations play well with the sparse text giving the story a bigness that is uncommon in a children’s book.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little foray into some of my favorite picture books. I will be back with more and in the mean time, please share your favorite picture books. I would love to hear about what you’ve been reading, what books you loved as a child, and even what books you’re planning on reading this summer. I’m sure the other readers would love to hear too – so share your thoughts.
Rea Berg is passionate about children's books and has been republishing classic and historical children's literature for the last 30 years through her company Beautiful Feet Books. She also designs guides for teaching elementary and secondary students history using award-winning classic and historic literature. She holds both an undergraduate degree in English from Simmons College, Boston as well as a graduate degree in children's literature.