Books

Three picture books take you to the beach—without leaving your house

“I must go down to the seas again,” begins English poet John Masefield’s “Sea-Fever.” This trio of picture books is the perfect remedy for such an ailment. They capture the wonderful ways that beach days offer respite from our routines as we cool down, splash around and play.

★ Little Houses

Little Houses is a quietly marvelous book about a girl’s day at the beach with her grandparents. Frequent collaborators (and husband-and-wife team) Kevin Henkes and Laura Dronzek have created an ode to curiosity that urges readers to open their minds and wonder at the world.

The young narrator of Little Houses loves to visit her grandparents at a little yellow cottage “so close to the water you can hear the waves.” As they comb the beach, the girl’s grandmother reminds her to collect only empty shells, because some might be “little houses.” This prompts the girl to ponder what sorts of creatures might have lived in the shells she sees. She even muses about the possibility that vacant shells might harbor the ghosts of their previous inhabitants.

Then the girl overhears her grandmother say “ . . . things we cannot see” above the din of the waves, and what follows is a deft and strikingly realistic narrative move by Henkes. The girl imagines what her grandmother might have been talking about and starts to describe “all the things that might be under the water,” from “fish as big as cars” to “lost toys, lost coins, lots of lost things that were cried over.”

Dronzek gives form and shape to the girl’s speculations in a brightly colored full-spread scene. An enormous dark blue fish with friendly eyes swims in cerulean waters surrounded by marine life—jellyfish, an octopus, a sea turtle and more. Young readers will love spotting the many items scattered along the ocean floor, including a chain of pearls, a toy sailboat and a white toy kitten that will be familiar to longtime Henkes fans.

Every page of Little Houses reminds readers of the infinite ways that oceans, animals, plants and people are connected.

A Day for Sandcastles

As Little Houses looks out at the big world, A Day for Sandcastles keeps a tight focus on three children who spend a day in the sand. In this wordless picture book, the children work diligently together to build the sandcastle of their dreams. As the author-illustrator duo also did in Over the Shop, JonArno Lawson creates a detailed narrative that Qin Leng’s ink and watercolor artwork brings to life.

The journey starts with a bus ride out of the city, and spot illustrations show each character’s excitement as they step off the bus and catch their first glimpses of the sandy beach and ocean water that await. While always present, the two adults who accompany the children remain largely on the sidelines and allow the children to create their own fun.

Leng nimbly alternates between smaller, narrowly framed views of the children’s construction efforts and larger panels, pages and double-page spreads that depict wider scenes of the beach. These views convey the changing position of the sun throughout the day and the rising tide, which is a constant threat to the children’s castle. Leng’s images give this beach day rhythm as readers experience everything from the wrenching agony of a destructive wave to the uniquely attentive pleasure of using a twig to carve tiny windows into sandy towers.

A Day for Sandcastles is a delightful story about perseverance and the joy of seeing a work in progress to completion. It’s lovely to see the children cooperate as they defend their castle from a windblown hat, a wayward toddler and more, but there are plenty of successes too, as shown by Leng through the children’s facial expressions and energetic movements.

The journey home—packing up beach chairs and umbrellas, trudging up a grassy dune, yawning and boarding (or being carried onto) the bus and, finally, gazing out at waters that glimmer against a blazing sunset as the bus drives back to the city—neatly concludes this summer story. A Day for Sandcastles will leave readers longing for a beach trip of their own.

Hot Dog

A lively, lovable city-dwelling dachshund is the star of Doug Salati’s joyful author-illustrator debut, Hot Dog.

With spare text, the book opens as its canine protagonist overheats while out for a walk on a summer day in a crowded city. Eventually, the poor pup lies down in the middle of the street and refuses to go any farther. Fortunately, the dog’s human companion knows just the remedy.

Salati’s illustrations are full of whimsy and soul. He is a master of detail in these bustling city scenes, capturing everything from the displays of eyeglasses in an optician’s shop to construction workers so hard at work that readers will practically hear their jackhammers. These pages radiate heat via shades of orange and yellow, and a particularly effective illustration shows the sun blazing down on our furry hero right before the dog melts down.

What makes Hot Dog so memorable and fun are all the interactions between the pup and his person, a tall, determined redhead who wears round blue glasses, a turquoise fanny pack and a floppy yellow hat. It’s heartwarming when she kneels down in the crosswalk, ignoring the cacophony of honking cars to gaze into her exhausted dog’s eyes, one hand under her pup’s chin, the other grasping a paw. She immediately hails a taxi, which drops the pair off at a subway station.

After a quick train ride, the woman and her four-legged friend board a ferry. The sweltering glow lifts and Salati’s palette fills with sky blues, verdant greens and clean, creamy sands. Readers will feel relief from the heat as the sea breezes billow, providing “a welcome whiff of someplace new.” A series of playful action scenes show the dog relishing every moment on the shore. The pup chases waves and seagulls, rolls around and digs in the sand and collects rocks for his owner. Splendid touches of humor pop up, such as a large rock that turns out to be a seal and a dachshund silhouette that the woman creates out of stones, shells, driftwood and seaweed.

Canine and human return home on a crowded subway to a beautiful summer night in their neighborhood. The day’s heat has faded and a fresh wind blows as families relax around a plaza with a big fountain. Back in their apartment (a clever visual homage to Vincent van Gogh’s well-known painting of his bedroom), Salati offers the perfect summation: “What a day for a dog!”

Hot Dog captures a much-needed summer excursion that readers will enjoy taking again and again.

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