My Summer of The Donald

Like everyone else, I’ve spent an appalling amount of time this year reading much too much about Donald Trump. But there’s another Donald I became obsessed with this summer: Donald Hall.

It all started with a magazine story I was writing about Jan and David Hoffman, a pair of furniture makers in rural Pennsylvania who live a life of staggering self-sufficiency. They make their own tools, save their seeds and grow much of their own food.  At one point, Jan told me they believed in the saying “no string too short to save.” Intrigued by the phrase, I Googled it and found this book:

string too short to be savedString Too Short to be Saved is poet Donald Hall’s 1961 memoir of the summers he spent as a youth on his grandparents’ New Hampshire farm in the years leading up to World War II. From the description, it promised to be a sweet, nostalgic beach read that was right up my alley — a string of lyrical anecdotes about tending cows and watching the seasons change. (Basically, a grown-up version of Farmer Boy.) And that alone would have left me plenty satisfied.

But the book turned out to be so much more. Hall’s stories about haying, blueberry picking, lost cows and his grandfather’s eccentric farm hand are funny and thrilling enough for kids. I read S & L the chapter called “The Left-Footed Thief,” about the time Donald’s grandfather and his brother hunted down a sheep thief who was wearing two left-footed boots, and they were fascinated.

At the same time, the memoir is also suffused with sadness. From the mysteriously abandoned farm shacks Donald passes on his daily walks with his grandfather to the haunting portraits of long-dead relatives in his grandmother’s hallway there is a pervasive sense of loss in String Too Short. The emotional resonance reminded me of a Donald Hall essay from a couple years ago in The New Yorker in which the former poet laureate showed that at 83, his intellect was still as well-honed and deadly as an axe. Old age, he explained in his growly, godly prose, turned people “invisible.” At one point he described how, at a family dinner, one of his grandchild’s friends placed her chair to sit with her back directly facing Hall, as if his presence was no more than another piece of furniture. I remember his recounting of that moment like a stab in the chest.

String too Short is not by any means intended for kids, but if your 7th or 8th grader doesn’t mind a leisurely read and loved the Little House books and Roald Dahl’s Boy, try it on them.

I was so taken with Hall’s tales of frugal farm life I also got this out of the library:

Ox-Cart Man - Donald Hall

Ox-Cart Man is Hall’s 1979 Caldecott-winning children’s book about a 19th century farmer bringing the goods from his family’s farm to market. It’s one of those slow, bucolic, nothing-really-happens picture books that can be either deadly dull, or, when done right, utterly mesmerizing.

The rhythm of the prose echoes the reassuring rhythm of the farmer’s routines. The farmer packs his ox-cart with brooms, apples and maple syrup; he sells everything (including the ox and the cart) at Portsmouth Market; he buys a needle, a knife, and some peppermint candy for his family; he journeys back home; he and his family start the cycle again. Revisiting the book  in light of Hall’s memoir, it’s even more satisfying.

Ox-Cart Interior

Bonus: With any luck your children will subconsciously absorb the message that in the good old days, kids did their share of labor and were happy if they got a single piece of wintergreen peppermint candy as a treat.

Hall has told interviewers that the surprise success of this book allowed him to put in a new bathroom in the New Hampshire farmhouse he’s lived in since 1975 (it’s the same house where his grandparents lived). A bronze plaque over the bathroom’s doorway reads “Caldecott Room.”

Wes Anderson Probably Read This Book

3Policemen-coverYesterday when I was browsing at the library  I came across this 1938 chapter book by William Pène du Bois. The author’s Twenty-One Balloons is one of my all-time favorites but I had never read (or even heard of) The Three Policemen. So of course I had to take a look.

The book’s action takes place on a wealthy, top-secret tropical island where the inhabitants all live leisurely, worry-free lives (clearly one of du Bois‘s favorite themes) until someone robs them of their fishing nets. The story is charming but the real knockouts are the illustrations, which are refined, sophisticated and whimsical, with gorgeous use of color. The setting, the clothing, the mustaches—everything is as mannered as in an Ernst Lubitsch film. Or a Wes Anderson movie.Scan 11Scan 10And when you turn to the back endpapers of the book, you see THIS! (Click on image below to zoom.)

serpent-boatDoesn’t it remind you of this shot from The Life Aquatic?life-aquaticYes, yes—critics have pointed out that Anderson’s iconic cutaway dollhouse shot has its progenitors in Godard’s 1972 Tout va bien and even Jerry Lewis’s 1961 film The Ladies Man. But come on. The Du Bois illustration is also of a ship! (Specifically, a ship in the shape of a sea serpent.) To take things further, I would argue that Eric Chase Anderson‘s style of illustration (Eric is Wes’s brother and close collaborator) owes a great debt to William Pène du Bois in everything from his color palette to his obsession with diagrams.

And we all know how much Wes loves Roald Dahl, so for him to also be a fan of William Pène du Bois isn’t such a stretch. Is it just me?

Most Endearing Windbag: The Old Cob in Trumpet of the Swan

Trumpet_of_the_Swan_CoverWhile Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little get all the glory, E.B. White’s third children’s book, The Trumpet of the Swan (1970), is relatively overlooked. And this is a crying shame! I loved it when I was eight, and now, reading it again, I realize there’s even more to admire.

As you may recall, the story is about Louis, a trumpeter swan who, born mute, compensates by learning to read, write and play an actual trumpet. Because he is a swan of honor, Louis feels obligated to pay for his instrument, which his father stole for him. So he takes on a string of jobs, including a camp counselor gig in Maine and a nightclub stint in Philly. Although the plot is admittedly daffy, White’s prose is at its most eloquent and luminous and the book is just very … soulful. John Updike, who reviewed the book for the Times(!), said it was “the most spacious and serene of the three [E.B. White novels] … the one most imbued with the author’s sense of the precious instinctual heritage represented by wild nature.”

Trumpet_stealBut what was my favorite discovery upon re-reading the book? The hilarious character of Louis’s father, a blustery cob who never uses one word when he could use ten. Here’s what he tells little Louis after he steals him the trumpet:

“I have been on a journey to the haunts of men. I visited a great city teeming with life and commerce. Whilst there, I picked up a gift for you, which I bestow upon you with my love and my blessing… Learn to play it Louis, and life will be smoother and richer and gayer for you!”

Trumpet_AmbulanceEven when he talks to himself, he’s dramatic and bombastic. This is from his over-the-top soliloquy toward the end of the book:

“Man, in his folly, has given me a mortal wound. The red blood flows in a steady trickle from my veins. My strength fails. But even in death’s final hour, I shall deliver the money for the trumpet. Good-bye, life! Good-bye, beautiful world! … I, who am about to die, salute you. I must die gracefully as only a swan can.”

Every time the bird opens his beak, it’s priceless. And when you remember that White co-wrote The Elements of Style — the writer’s handbook that commanded “Omit needless words” — it’s even better.

This is Freaking Me Out

2014-06-10-SlenderMangraffiti-thumbLike most people I know, the first time I ever heard of the internet meme Slender Man was a few weeks ago when the news story broke about the two 12-year-old girls in Wisconsin who stabbed their friend to please the fictional character. The demonic Slender Man is said to be tall, thin, faceless and dressed in a black suit. Artists have rendered him in many different ways.

nyto-slenderman-tmagArticle2014-06-16-slendermanpeekaboo-thumbBut today when I was looking through The Phantom Tollbooth, I was jolted by this. Remember him?

Terrible_TriviumThe Terrible Trivium!

“He was beautifully dressed in a dark suit with a well-pressed shirt and tie. His shoes were polished, his nails were clean, his hat was well brushed, and a white handkerchief adorned his breast pocket. But his expression was somewhat blank. In fact, it was completely blank, for he had neither eyes, nose, nor mouth.”

Athough Tollbooth is not a scary book by any stretch of the imagination, this guy haunted me for years. And I wonder if Jules Feiffer’s drawing was the image my mind subconsciously triggered when I first heard about Slender Man. Is it just me?

[If this post is leaving a grim taste in your mouth, I apologize. Here’s a more pleasant Phantom Tollbooth-related realization to linger on.]

Thanksgiving Special! 5 Yummiest Food Moments from Children’s Books

all-of-a-kind-family-table

All-of-a-Kind Family did for Jewish-American cuisine what the Little House books did for pioneer cooking.

I grew up in a household where we didn’t give food much thought. We didn’t make pilgrimages to particular restaurants or rhapsodize about long-deceased relatives’ signature dishes. I don’t have aromatic memories of cozy cooking lessons with my mother, peppered with life advice. For my parents, practical-minded immigrants from Korea, the purpose of food was wholly unromantic: you ate so you wouldn’t be hungry.

The idea that food was more than something to fill your stomach came to me through books. There would be a moment in a novel where the characters ate some exotic (or exotic to me, at least), delicious-sounding morsel and I’d become entranced. I’m not just talking about the roasted pig’s tail and the green pumpkin pie from the Little House books. Or the cold meat pie from Danny the Champion of the World. Those books were just the start.

1) The mulligan stew from The Boxcar Children

boxcar_stewWhen we first meet the plucky orphans, all they have to eat are a couple of loaves of bread. But as their fortunes improve, they go from eating just bread, to bread and milk, to bread, milk, “fine yellow cheese” and wild blueberries. Each humble new addition to their pantry is an occasion for celebration. And when scrappy 12-year-old chef Jessie manages to cook a stew from some scrounged up carrots, onions and turnips and a piece of dried meat, it signifies that the boxcar has become a true home.

Jessie cut the tops off the vegetables and washed them in the brook. “I’ll put them in after the meat has cooked awhile,” she said. Soon the water began to boil, and the stew began to smell good. Watch sat down and looked at it. He sniffed hungrily at it and barked and barked. The children sat around the fireplace, eating bread and milk. Now and then Jessie stirred the stew with a big spoon. “It will make a good meal,” said Henry.

2) The goat’s milk cheese in Heidi 

Heidi_cheeseThese days a lot of people will tell you that that dairy (like wheat) is the devil. But Heidi seems awfully healthy. The only food her iracible, goat-herding grandfather seems to feed her is bread with toasted cheese, but it’s magical stuff.

As the pot began to sing, he put a large piece of cheese on a toasting fork and moved it to and fro in front of the fire until it became golden yellow all over. She ate her bread and cheese, which tasted delicious, and every now and then she took a drink. She looked as happy and contented as anyone could be.

And the bubbly, fresh milk! Heidi declares it “the best milk I’ve ever drunk” and guzzles it by the mugful. (It’s always a mug, never a glass.)

Clara had never tasted goat’s milk, and she sniffed at it uncertainly, but when she saw how quickly Heidi was emptying her mug, she began to drink too, and thought the milk tasted as sweet and spicy as if it had sugar and cinnamon in it. “Tomorrow we shall drink two mugfuls,” said Uncle Alp.

Toward the end of the book, the clean mountain air and all-dairy diet even cures Heidi’s sickly city friend, Clara.

3) The roasted chickpeas in All-of-a-Kind Family

All-of-a-Kind-Family-marketTo this day anything I know about gefilte fish, hamentashen or teiglach I learned not from my Jewish in-laws but from author Sydney Taylor. It’s hard to choose just one food moment from this series, as all five of the All-of-a-Kind Family books are filled with mouthwatering descriptions of meals. But the first book has a vivid chapter where Mama takes the girls food shopping at the Rivington Street market. The road is choked with pushcart peddlers and “the delicious odor of sour pickles mingled with the smell of sauerkraut and pickled tomatoes and watermelon rind.” Each girl gets to spend a penny on a treat; Sarah chooses the roasted chickpeas:

Everyone watched as he fished out the peas. First he took a small square of white paper from a little compartment on one side of the oven. He twirled the paper about his fingers to form the shape of a cone and then skillfully twisted the pointed end so that the container would not fall apart. He lifted the wagon cover on one side revealing a large white enamel pot. The steam from the pot blew its hot breath in the little girls’ faces so they stepped back a bit while the peas were ladled out with a big soup spoon. The wagon cover was dropped back into place and the paper cup handed over to Sarah. The peas were spicy with pepper and salt, and how good they were!

When I first read this, I didn’t have the faintest idea what a chickpea even was. But I was mesmerized.

4) The toasted bread with butter and sugar in The Great Brain

breat-brain-bread-butter-sugarMy brother and I were obsessed with The Great Brain series, which was set in a small town in Utah in the 1890s. All that mysterious tension between the Gentiles vs the Mormons and the boys constantly telling each other “I’ll whip you good!” (these kids were always beating each other to a pulp) was utterly fascinating. I was also struck by how simple yet delicious all the food always sounded. Mamma was always cooking and baking, and the three boys were constantly “gorging themselves” on fried chicken, roast beef sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, and pie. But this description of the toasted bread, butter and sugar was the ultimate:

Mamma made fresh bread that day. If there was anything my two brothers liked the most, it was to take the heel of a fresh-baked loaf of bread, smother it with butter and sugar, and then put it in the oven until the sugar turned brown. It was better than candy. I entered the bedroom with a heel of bread covered with butter and toasted sugar.

“I thought I’d have a little snack before going out to play,” I said as I waved the heel of bread back and forth so they could smell it. Then I took a bite out of it. “Boy is this delicious. Don’t you wish you could have a bite?”

My brother and I would often try to replicate this treat using a heel of store-bought “French Bread” from the supermarket, but it never came out the way we imagined it should.

5) The beaver family’s fish dinner in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

beavers-lion-witch-wardrobeThat enchanted Turkish Delight (“each piece was sweet and light to the very center and Edmund had never tasted anything more delicious”) is what sets the plot in action. But it’s the earthy, peasant-y feast of fresh trout and boiled potatoes served by the Beavers that is the book’s crowning food moment. Mr. Beaver cuts a hole in the ice, whisks out some still-wriggling trout, and then brings it inside to Mrs. Beaver:

Just as the frying-pan was nicely hissing, Peter and Mr. Beaver came in with the fish which Mr. Beaver had already opened with his knife and cleaned out in the open air. You can think how good the new-caught fish smelled while they were frying and how the hungry children longed for them to be done and how very much hungrier still they had become before Mr. Beaver said, “Now we’re nearly ready.” Susan drained the potatoes and then put them all back in the empty pot to dry on the side of the range while Lucy was helping Mrs. Beaver to dish up the trout … There was a jug of creamy milk for the children (Mr. Beaver stuck to beer) and a great big lump of deep yellow butter in the middle of the table from which everyone took as much as he wanted to go with his potatoes, and all the children thought — and I agree with them — that there’s nothing to beat good freshwater fish if you eat it when it has been alive half an hour ago and has come out of the pan half a minute ago.”

Mind you, the meal concludes with a “gloriously sticky marmalade roll, steaming hot” and it’s all served up in a cozy beaver’s den where there are “hams and strings of onions hanging from the roof,” and strung along the walls are “gum boots and oilskins and hatchets, and pairs of shears and spades and trowels and things for carrying mortar in and fishing-rods and fishing-nets.” In short, it feels like the prototype for every Brooklyn restaurant serving farm-to-table food.

Dearest readers: What are some of your favorite references to food from children’s books? (Harriet the Spy’s tomato sandwiches and egg creams? Rat and Mole’s picnic in Wind in the Willows?) Click on “leave a reply” and share in the comments!

 

Quite Possibly the Coolest Author Photo to Have Ever Appeared in a Kids’ Book

Found it in a vintage copy of Crictor (1958). Love how Ungerer‘s slouching and squinting, hands in his pockets like he’s just about to pull out a pack of cigs. That jacket looks like something Helmut Lang would copy 30 years later.
Tomi UngererYou never see kids’ author/illustrator portraits like this anymore.

Double Fudge: A Novel for Adults

Double FudgeDouble Fudge has no sex scenes and not even a single stuffed bra. But the fifth installation in Judy Blume’s Fudge series has something grownups can appreciate: A realistic view of what it’s like trying to raise three kids in Manhattan on a not-astronomical income.

Blume has never hesitated to spell out the Hatcher family’s precise economic situation. In Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, we learn that the family lives in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom on 25 W. 68th St, where Fudge sleeps in the converted den. Throughout the series, money and real estate are the engines that drive the plots (Fudgie’s antics aside). In Fourth Grade Nothing, Peter’s dad, who works in advertising, is fired from the Juicy-O account after he makes the mistake of inviting his boss for an overnight visit; later, Peter’s dad only allows Fudge to appear in the Toddle Bike commercial because he can’t afford to lose another account. In Superfudge, baby Tootsie is born and the family temporarily decamps to Princeton, NJ, where Peter’s dad, apparently having a mid-career crisis, attempts to write a book; we also learn that Peter’s mom, a dental hygenist, dreams of going back to school for art history. In Fudge-a-Mania, the family must share a cramped summer house with Sheila’s family because neither can afford to rent their own houses.

The Hatcher family is said to live at 25 W. 68th St

Double Fudge was published a full three decades after Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and the city Blume portrays has the distinct feeling of a boom-era New York. Peter’s friend’s dad, the formerly struggling artist Frank Fargo, is at a career high, and moves to a big loft in SoHo. Frank’s paintings, Peter realizes, are now too expensive for the Hatchers to afford.  And then there’s Fudgie’s new friend, six-year-old Richie Potter. Richie is a child of privilege and a masterful underminer. When Fudge and Peter’s mom tells Richie she’s a dental hygenist, he informs her, “One of my grandpas is a very famous neurosurgeon.” When the mom tells Richie they don’t have a cook, he says, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were poor.” Later he tells the family about his own mother: “She’s a designer. You can get clothes with her name on it.” There is also his discussion of their summer house (clearly in the Hamptons). “We have a house at the beach. Do you? … Our house is on the ocean side but we keep our boat at the bay.” We’ve all met a Richie Potter — maybe our kids have even gone to school with one — and we all want to slap him.

In the midst of all this, Blume introduces the characters of Howie Hatcher and his family, whose defiantly bohemian lifestyle is a direct repudiation to the New York City rat race. These Hatchers live in Hawaii, home-school their daughters (the “Natural Beauties”) and distain television. But they are insufferable, moralizing mooches who turn out to be weak and hypocritical.

My kids loved Double Fudge, as they loved every one of the Fudge books. They snickered at Richie Rich, howled at the “Natural Beauties” and practically cheered when the overbearing relatives finally moved on. But by the end of Double Fudge, I must say I felt a little bit sad. Their mom has stopped talking about getting that art history degree and the family is still sharing the one bathroom. (What will happen when Tootsie gets potty trained?)

I can only hope that Judy Blume pulls out another Fudge book in a couple of years. In this one, an elderly neighbor in their building could die and leave the family her classic six, which the Hatchers combine with their apartment. That’s the New York dream, right?

Let’s Read about Sex

BreastsIn my daughter’s third-grade class this spring, Friday mornings were devoted to the study of Human Growth and Development, a.k.a. sex ed. As a warm-up to each week’s discussion, her teachers would haul out a huge pile of books about sex and puberty —  several of them with detailed anatomical drawings — and let the kids dive in during morning arrival. You have NEVER seen such focused eight and nine year olds; on these days, instead of idly chatting by their cubbies the kids would scramble into the meeting area and gather around the volumes like a pack of hungry animals. There they’d huddle in groups, goggle-eyed and totally silent save for the occasional chorus of “Gr-ooosss!”  (And then we parents doing the drop-off would look at each other and mouth “Oh … my … god.”)

Fittingly, many of these book titles ended with question marks. There was one called Where Did I Come From? and another titled What’s the Big Secret?. On the slightly more panic-y side, you had What’s Happening to Me? and, for the boys, What’s Going on Down There?

Dr. Ruth Talks to KidsInstead of a typical textbook, the class used It’s So Amazing (1999) by Robie H. Harris, which covers reproductive anatomy, reproduction and puberty in a comic-book style format. It’s a good choice for third graders — not too Nickelodeon, not too New England Journal of Medicine. That said, I couldn’t help but find myself drawn to the quirkier books in the pile.  I mean, there was Dr. Ruth Westheimer smiling up at me, ready to explain masturbation to the younger generation [Dr. Ruth Talks To Kids: Where You Came From, How Your Body Changes, and What Sex Is All About (1998)].

I soon became mildly obsessed with finding more examples of oddball kids’ sex ed books and spent an inordinate amount of time in the library near Dewey Decimal section 612.6. Here are a few of my discoveries:

1) How You Were Born by Joanna Cole (1984 version)

how you were born - coverThe creator of the Magic School Bus series, Joanna Cole is also the author of this classic book for preschoolers. The 1993 revised edition in full color is what you’lll find on Amazon, but my library still had a copy of the original version, illustrated with black-and-white photos. The prose is soft and fuzzy, and the images are (for the most part) mild, with an emphasis on cute baby shots. But there are definitely a few yowza moments.

For instance, you don’t find this one in the revised edition:

"How You Were Born" by Joanna ColeThe tube socks say it all, right?

2. Breasts by Genichiro Yagyu (1999)

Breasts - coverThis book, translated from the Japanese, will remind you of those modern Japanese classics, Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi and The Gas We Pass by Shinta Cho (all part of the same series, My Body Science). Like those books, the illustrations here have a charming, primitive quality and the text — what little there is of it — doesn’t shy from a deadpan joke or two.

Breasts - feeding

Breasts - sumo

The My Body Science series has been translated into multiple languages. Here’s the Spanish version of Breasts:

tetas-cover

3) What’s Happening to Me? by Peter Mayle and Arthur Robins (1977)

what's-happening-coverIf I had grown up in a less Puritanical household, this is the book that I might have read as a kid growing up in the late 70s. It was evidently a huge hit when it came out, and it’s still in print (“over 1,000,000 copies sold!”). But I never laid eyes on it until this year, when a friend told me that he and his sister had loved it as kids. The illustrations have a very groovy Schoolhouse Rock vibe. The text is chatty and matter-of-fact (sex is compared to jumping rope; an orgasm is described  as a sneeze). And I love the fact that it was written by Peter Mayle, he of the ubiquitous 90s novel, A Year in Provence.

Negative-Archive0291-620x609Check out the wide world of women’s breasts:

What's Happening to Me? BreastsFascinating. Boys’ wet dreams in the 70s starred the Breck shampoo girl!

 What wet dreams look like, according to "What's Happening to Me?"

 

 

Because Not Everyone Loves Clifford

clifford-1The Clifford the Big Red Dog books may be considered classics, but they’ve never done much for me. The plotlines tend toward the preachy, the illustrations are crude (what is with Emily Elizabeth’s zombie eyes?), and that cheery little Birdwell Island strikes me as the kind of place where way too many people know your business. A few days ago when I was watching an old Louis C.K. special I was thrilled to see the (big red) comedian let loose a two-and-a-half-minute rant against Clifford.

Worth watching if you haven’t seen it:

An infinitely better book about a little girl with a pet dog the size of a house is The Lonesome Puppy (2008), the only children’s book by the great Japanese artist Yoshimoto Nara. In his story, the premise is that the gigantic canine is neglected and overlooked because nobody even realizes he’s a dog; he finally finds a friend in a feisty, moon-eyed little girl (one of Nara’s signature cute-fierce characters). The tale has a poetic spareness and the artwork is, of course, ravishing.

The-Lonesome-Puppy

Lonesome-Puppy-4Coincidentally, Pace Gallery recently had a fantastic exhibition of Nara’s new paintings and cast bronze sculptures. It closed June 29 but you can see all the images here.

Was Summer Ever This Perfect?

summerRiding bikes, eating ice cream, swimming in a lake, fishing, catching butterflies … this is how the two kids in the Beginner Books classic Summer, by Alice Low (1963), spend their hot-weather days. I dare any parent to read this book and not be overcome with nostalgia and longing for a simpler time. Did these kids go to a day camp that cost their stressed-out parents $4,000 for six weeks? Did they beg and plead for the Minecraft Pocket Edition for iPhone because they’re the only ones of all their friends “forced” to play the free version? Did they properly coat themselves with broad spectrum water-resistant sunscreen? For that matter, did these two kids even own a pair of shoes?

I’ve decided we should revisit this book at the start of every summer. These kids are so  happy — even with only two choices of ice cream flavors:

They are so happy. And there are only two choices of ice cream flavors.

Check out their diving board at the swimming hole. It’s a wooden plank and some rocks:

summer-swimOnce again: no shoes:

summer-butterfly

summer-fireflyThe last spread of Summer never fails to get me. After the two kids run around catching fireflies, they flag down a passing farmer in a field who gives them a moonlit ride home on his horse-pulled wagon. It’s all so idyllic.

Er, where are their PARENTS, you ask?

summer-hayrideAbsolutely nowhere. Suddenly you realize: these kids have been totally out there by themselves, finding their own fun at their own pace. Which is, in the end, what makes this book so captivating.  The Charlie Brown-type absence of parents is also what makes this book so unrealistic in 2013. So no, we’re not going to let S & L jump into some stranger’s horse cart after sundown. But maybe they’ll have a better appreciation for a lazy day outside with a homemade fishing pole.

Reading level note: Summer is one of the Beginner Books that’s not by Dr. Seuss but has the Cat in the Hat on the spine (a la Are You My Mother? and The Best Nest). It’s a lovely read-aloud for toddlers, and now that my son — who just finished kindergarten — is just getting the hang of decoding, it’s a good level for an early reader (think Frog and Toad, but with rhymes).