Summer Fun

    It’s high summer now, with the library’s summer reading clubs in full swing and the Fourth of July right around the corner.  Marla Frazee’s award-winning picture book, “A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever,” captures the best of summer from a kid’s point of view.

    James and Eamon are spending the week with James’s grandparents so they can attend nature camp.  While Grandfather Bill tries his best to interest the boys in Antarctica, and Grandmother Pam fills them with banana waffles and ice cream sundaes, the boys enjoy all kinds of fun, most of it unrelated to nature camp.  Identifying birds?  They have more fun training their binoculars on each other’s freckles.  Sleeping in the basement on the blow-up mattress, playing video games, and eating more banana waffles are the highlights of their week.

    But on their last night, after the grandparents have fallen asleep on the sofa, the boys have the most fun of all, in the kind of unsupervised play that is the heart of summer fun for kids.

    Frazee has a witty touch and a deep understanding of how kids actually behave.  Both parents and children will find something to laugh at in James and Eamon’s eventful week.

    What would summer be without the beach?  In David Wiesner’s Caldecott Award winner, “Flotsam,” a young boy is spending the day there, armed with a microscope, magnifying glass, and binoculars, when a passing wave washes an old-fashioned underwater camera onto the shore.  Developing the film at the one-hour photo shop, he discovers unworldly images of underwater creatures:  mechanical fish, an octopus family draped over armchairs, islands that stand up to reveal giant starfish.  The last one of all is a photo of a girl holding a photo of a boy holding a photo of a boy, and so on and on.  The boy takes a picture of himself holding the photo, then throws the camera back into the ocean for its next adventure, hinted at on the final page.  Told wordlessly, the story’s watercolors are filled with details for kids to pore over.

    The three sisters in Rita Williams-Garcia’s “One Crazy Summer” find that the summer of 1968 is shaping up to be different from any other.  Their father is sending them from their home in Brooklyn to Oakland, California, where they will spend a month with the mother who abandoned the family seven years before. But Cecile, an unconventional and mysterious woman, seems totally uninterested in her daughters, sending them to the local Chinese take-out for dinner and around the corner to the People’s Center run by the Black Panthers for summer camp.

    Williams-Garcia manages to make one of the worst mothers in children’s literature more than a two-dimensional character, and she seamlessly weaves in the historic background of that summer.  Tweens will find Delphine and her sister to be unforgettable characters, and the hard-won end of their story is believable and satisfying.  

    This weekend’s celebrations in Fredericksburg will include a runner's race, parade, craft show, antique auto show, and live entertainment on Saturday, with fireworks scheduled for Sunday evening.  Wendy Watson’s “Hurray for the Fourth of July” celebrates similar small-town festivities, punctuated by humorous rhymes, plenty of flags, fried chicken, and a thrilling display of fireworks.  Tuck this in your picnic basket for sharing with kids four and up.


First published in the Free Lance-Star on June 29, 2010.