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Books to float many boats

‘Yak and Gnu’

By Juliette MacIver,

illustrated by Cat Chapman,

Candlewick Press, $14.99,
ages 3-7

Catamaran, flotilla, outrigger, hovercraft, dinghy: “Yak and Gnu” by Juliette MacIver is packed with all the boat vocabulary you’ll need this summer. The rhymes — in clever, unlikely pairs: gorilla and flotilla; clan and catamaran — carry this story of an unlikely friendship between the animals of the title. (Flummoxed by the word gnu? It’s a wildebeest.) Yak in his black kayak and gnu in his blue canoe believe that they are the only creatures who can sail the sea. Until, that is, they encounter a “goat in a boat” and “a snazzy snail setting sail,” among others. Can the friends maintain their singular friendship at sea with a fleet of other beasts? Getting to the answer is lots of absurd fun.


‘Boats for Papa’

By Jessixa Bagley, Roaring Brook, $17.99, ages 3-7

There aren’t that many beavers who star in children’s books. If the mother and son in “Boats for Papa” had been, say, bears or dogs or rabbits, the book would have been unbearably sad. Instead the buck-toothed charm of Buckley and his mom, captured in warm watercolors, buoy this story about loss and love. The industrious Buckley is engaged in a remembrance project that will delight lovers of miniatures. He carves and paints beautiful, detailed toy boats (the tiny oars on the Viking ship!) in honor of his absent father, then launches them out to sea with notes: “To Papa, Love Buckley” hoping that somehow his father will receive them. Devastated yet? It gets worse and better: Eventually Buckley discovers a drawerful of the exquisite vessels that his mom has been collecting as they wash up on shore. His surprising reaction, a pure expression of love and hope, is easy for a child to understand, but sophisticated enough to move adults.


By Daniel Miyares, Simon and Schuster, $17.99, ages 4-8


For such a perfect wordless book the fewer syllables used to describe it the better: On a rainy day a boy in a yellow slicker makes and sails a paper boat; instructions for folding your own decorate the opening endpages. Shades of gray fill the pages; spots of blue and red, and the yellow of the raincoat flash through the downpour as we follow the boat’s dramatic journey through rivers of puddles. “Float” is a completely immersive experience — perfectly paced to the end when the weather clears and a neat plot twist soars.


Nicole Lamy can be reached at