Book Beat

Picture Book Stories for Summer Days

by Jessica Lane

When choosing a children’s picture story book, finding the right magical blend of story and illustration can be difficult. Here is a buffet of choices for children and parents to sample as they read away these bright summer afternoons.

Summer is the perfect time to indulge in fresh produce, especially if you’re a rabbit. But members of the Gulp family are more likely to be scarfing down Belly-up Burgers and Winky-Twinks. The Gulps by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Marc Brown (Little, Brown, $16.99), is a tall tale about a family of big cottontails and their transformation from sedentary, roly-poly bunnies into healthy, happy rabbits.

The Gulps are likable and earnest, but not very sensible about what they consume. It takes a breakdown to get them back on track. Forced to stay at a farm where eating green is the only choice, the Gulps undergo an amazing transformation from unhealthy, unwieldy rabbits into an active, happy, vegetable munch-ing family. This delightful cautionary tale will have even the most television-hungry bunnies running for their spinach and carrots.

A Porcine Wonder
For an animal tale of another kind, take a lead-footed, kind-hearted man named Mr. Watson, his elderly neighbor named Baby, who is looking to enjoy a little “folly” in her life, and a pig named Mercy who secretly believes she’s licensed to drive, and you’ll find yourself smack in the middle of Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride (Candlewick Press, $12.99) by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen.

Mr. Watson loves a nice fast drive in his beautiful pink convertible with Mercy at his side, but Mercy has delusions of grandeur and takes the wheel one day with surprisingly complex consequences. The bright, cheerful illustrations are perfectly matched to the finely tuned prose. To finish this short chapter book without a craving for hot-buttered toast and a nice ride would be quite a feat. Mercy is, indeed, a “porcine wonder” your child will want to return to many times.

Another traveling tale, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean (HarperCollins, $16.99), chronicles the journey of a boy and his sister as they unravel a trail of “swaps” to retrieve their father. McKean’s illustrations are part comic book, part collage,
weaving fascinating images together with Gaiman’s edgy prose to create a clever, sharp story.

After exchanging an electric guitar, gorilla mask, and a large white bunny rabbit named Galveston, they finally rescue their dad from a rabbit hutch, none the worse for his adventure. A great read for kids and adults, the limited edition of The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish includes a CD of Gaiman reading the story aloud.

Crafty, Quirky Story
As six-fingered Phillies reliever Antonio Alfonseca has demonstrated, extra digits can be put to good use. The Littlest Grape Stomper by Alan Madison, illustrated by Giselle Potter is the story a world-class grape stomper, named Sixto. Being born with six toes on each foot certainly has some disadvantages when it comes to fitting footwear, but when it comes to stomping grapes, Sixto has the unique ability to squish an abundance of grapes into juice in a fraction of the time it would take for those with fewer toes.

Talent like that can hardly be left to flourish without someone wanting to exploit it, thus enters Boss Nova Boom-batz right on cue, ready to take advantage of the poor, undervalued Sixto. Potter, who also illus-trated The Boy Who Loved Words, has skillfully brought another unusual protagonist to life. Her pictures, combined with the crafty, quirky story from Madison, create a fun read for all ages.

Looking for something a little more all-American? Check out Hey Batta Batta Swing! The Wild Old Days of Baseball by Sally Cook and James Charlton, illustrated by Ross MacDonald (McElderry Books, $17.99). The old fashioned illustrations evoke a time when baseball was fresh and new, and the sport was just starting to imprint itself on our national consciousness.

This nostalgic look at our national pastime bursts with interesting trivia, shedding light on strange and wonderful terms such as “cranks” (a term for fans in the late 1880s), “tools of ignorance” (catch-er’s equipment), and many others.

Whether you’re a rabid fan, or just want to learn more about an authentic American sport, Hey Batta Batta Swing! is the perfect introduction to the beginnings of baseball.
Whatever your choices, finding your children great storybooks will surely shine a little more sun into their summers.

Jessica Lane is a freelance writer.