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Summer reads: Children

“THE DEER WATCH’’ Text copyright © 2013 by Pat Lowery Collins. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by David Slonim. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press

Summers are for kicking back, letting pages curl up in a beach house, reading stories at night — and reading anything you want. In celebration of that freedom, here are books worth packing up and taking along for those long, long rides:

Snippet, the snail hero of “SNIPPET THE EARLY RISER” (Knopf, 2013) doesn’t get the whole idea of sleeping in and taking things slow. Though in “many ways” he is “an ordinary snail,” he’s also a go-getter. “At sunrise, long before his family stirred, Snippet sprang from his shell.” Insect friends offer their help (aid from a stink bug is declined) in rousing the rest of the family. Bethanie Deeney Murguia underplays the humor, with softly colorful illustrations and a happy eye for comic detail. Sure to ring true to all the young dawn-greeters.

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Mo Willems, that uber-genius of the picture book, concocts another dazzler with “That Is Not a Good Idea!”(Balzer & Bray, 2013). The hungry fox issues his deadly dinner invitation to an eager and wide-eyed mother duck. Her chicks, wiser than their years, perform a Greek chorus of warning: “That is really really NOT a good idea!” But fear not — Willems has a stunning surprise up his sleeve. “That Is Not a Good Idea!” is his best picture book since “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” (Hyperion, 2003).

“It was another summer in the house that smelled like old trees and where the seagulls on the roof believed they owned the place. I didn’t mind their noise, because we were here to look for deer.” Author Pat Lowery Collins details a father and son’s search for doe or buck in her spare, poetic text, while artist David Slonim evokes the living, breathing, misty summer world in bright, deliberately blurred images. “The Deer Watch” (Candlewick, 2013) does for morning what Jane Yolen’s enchanting classic, “Owl Moon” (Philomel, 1987), did for night. Beautiful books like these two gems inspire nature watching for us all.

“Millions, Billions & Trillions: Understanding Big Numbers” (Holiday, 2013) could keep many a young mathematician happily occupied — especially if they calculate “How many slices of pizza would one million dollars buy?” Counting slowly to 1 million could take days — but a million is only the beginning of this book, which takes us through trillions, right on up into sextillion (one billion trillion). As always, David A. Adler frames hard concepts in terms children can understand (sugar grains, popcorn, stacks of dollar bills 700 miles high). Illustrator Edward Miller has the right light touch to keep things lively and child-friendly.

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Whether he was inventing a new way to swim faster or experimenting dangerously with electricity, Ben Franklin was always working to improve the world. He left a mighty legacy including lending libraries, bifocals, lightning rods, Franklin stoves, and the phrase in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident . . . ” (Jefferson had written, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable.” ) For years, young readers have benefited from Newbery Medal winner Russell Freedman’s crystal-clear prose, his mastery, indeed, his near-invention, of children’s nonfiction as we know it. The captivating “Becoming Ben Franklin” (Holiday, 2013) lives up to his usual genius.

“The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop” (Delacorte, 2013) offers more than enough magic to satisfy lovers of the fantastical. Long ago 18 Skittle St. housed two famous London chocolate-makers, ancestors of our young heroes: Oz and Lily, the Spoffard twins. As they unearth their past, they encounter talking animals, an invisible cat, a brave neighboring boy, an elephant’s ghost, old plots, revenge, and secret recipes. At times all of this fizzing about provides more carbonation than strictly necessary, but Kate Saunders createsat heart a rollicking old-style adventure.

Patricia Reilly Giff is a natural-born storyteller, and her gifts are in evidence again in “Gingersnap” (Wendy Lamb, 2013), a historical novel about the yearning to find and preserve family under the pressures of World War II. The novel’s 9-year-old heroine, Jayna, is left behind when her brother, Rob, is called to serve in the US Navy. In searching for her grandmother, Jayna finds clues, and a persistent ghost leading her to Brooklyn and a homey bakery. Giff knows how to tell hard things gently; in this absorbing novel we root for the whole cast of characters, who prove that family casts a wide net.

Liz Rosenberg, the author of “Tyrannosaurus Dad,’’ teaches at Binghamton University. She can be reached at liz_rosenberg@ymail.com.
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