Over the Ocean by Taro Gomi
Released May 17, 2016.
Originally published in Japan in 1979, Gomi has created a timeless picture book that will speak to modern children beautifully. A child is standing on a beach looking over the ocean. The child wonders what is beyond the ocean. Is it more ocean? Perhaps many boats. The land beyond may be filled with farms, or huge cities, or small houses. Children may live in those houses, ones who could be friends or could be bullies. Are there icebergs? Is it night? Or perhaps there is another solitary child looking right back across the ocean.
So simple, this Japanese picture book offers an imaginative look at what is in our world from a child’s point of view. Gomi captures that childlike view perfectly, allowing jumps of attention and new thoughts to create a natural flow to the narrative. The ending is a gorgeous cap to the book, showing throughout that the people on either side of an ocean are more similar than they are different in a subtle way.
The art is filled with deep colors that are so rich they almost bleed on the page. The art is so vibrant, each page anchored by the child looking across the ocean with small waves breaking. It is a place where imagination soars and a journey is made from right there without ever getting wet.
A vibrant picture book from Japan that offers a glimpse of what lays beyond our doors. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Twenty Yawns by Jane Smiley, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (InfoSoup)
Lucy spent a long time playing at the beach with her mother and father. The three of them played in the waves, dug holes in the sand, and rolled down the dunes. Soon they were all yawning and Mom declared it was a day for early bedtime! As they got ready for bed, everyone was yawning and Lucy’s mom even fell asleep reading the bedtime book. In the middle of the night the moon shone brightly through Lucy’s window and she was suddenly wide awake. She tiptoed out of bed and through the living room where her father was asleep in a chair. Lucy was looking for Molasses, her bear. She found not only Molasses but all of her stuffed animals who all wanted to come with her to bed. Once again everyone was yawning, even the pictures on the wall, as Lucy fell asleep with her bed full of stuffed friends.
Smiley has done a brilliant job of capturing a day at the beach and then the wonder of being awake at night as a small child. She keeps the language simple, so this book can be shared successfully with very small children who will relate to the joy of playing at a beach, the quiet of early bedtime and then the pure loveliness of moonlight, tiptoeing to find a treasured toy and the imagination at play.
Castillo’s illustrations are glorious. She captures the brilliant light of summer sun at a sandy beach, the hours of play, and the languid sleepiness that rolls over you after a day like that. Her illustrations keep the dark night from being dangerous or frightening, instead keeping the house dimly lit and easily navigated. It is much more a delight than a fright to be alone and awake.
A lovely book of celebrating the warmth of both family togetherness and then the joy of being little and awake alone. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Two Lions.
The Forget-Me-Not Summer by Leila Howland (InfoSoup)
Marigold, Zinnie and Lily are sisters. They live busy lives in California where Marigold is hoping to have a real kiss for the first time, not one done on set. Zinnie is trying to get her curly wild hair under control and hopes to be able to spend time with Marigold and her friends. Lily is five and wants nothing more than to stay home with her nanny and eat great food. But then their parents get jobs out of town and the sisters are sent to spend the summer with an aunt they have never met across the country in Cape Cod. The three girls suddenly have to share a room with one another, live without a TV, not have cell phone service, and even the internet access is outdated and slow. Marigold is furious at losing a chance to be in a major film and having to spend time with her little sisters. Zinnie finds herself talking to trees for advice and watching for surprises created by special brownies. Lily longs for the food she had at home but also enjoys a good clambake too. Just as things seem to be starting to turn around, parts of California life appear and set everything askew again. These three sisters will have to figure out how to be themselves even when kisses, peer pressure and fame appear.
This book will inevitably be compared to the Penderwicks and rightly so. The sisters have that same spunk about them and the setting offers that timelessness that works so well. Though in this book, the girls chafe against the loss of TV and Internet, struggling to get along with one another. These sisters have fights, that are so well done that you understand both sides of the problem and can take the side of either one. The two older girls in particular both are human and far from perfect. Lily may look angelic but she too can throw tantrums and have horrible days, especially if baths are not negotiated properly.
It is that human quality that makes this book work so very well. The sisters are realistically portrayed and their relationships develop and change right in front of the reader in a way that makes sense. The unknown aunt turns out to be a very special person, kind and caring and someone who is a leader in the Cape Cod community. It’s a treat to see such a great female adult portrayed in a children’s book. One who is strong, enjoys children and gives them plenty of space to learn and grow without being overly odd or incompetent in any way.
A great summer read for fans of The Penderwicks, I’m hoping for another book featuring these girls. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
Beach House by Deanna Caswell, illustrated by Amy June Bates (InfoSoup)
A family is headed to a beach house after waiting a year for summer to return. When they arrive it’s not time for the beach yet. The car has to be unloaded and things have to be unpacked. The kids make their beds, but can’t stop looking out the window at the waves and the beach. Then chores are done and it’s time to go! The family heads out to the beach where they spend the day in the water, building sandcastles, clam digging, chasing crabs and much more. In the evening, they have a campfire and roast hotdogs before heading inside for baths and bed. And one last moonlit look at the beach before falling asleep.
Caswell captures the beach and the sun and the water and sand in her rhyming couplets. It could be a sea, it could be a lake, it’s all about the experience of being near water and playing in waves. A day spent with family soaking in the sun and then being together still when the day is done. Families who have spent time together near the water will all recognize their days of sun and waves on these pages.
The illustrations shine with golden sand and dancing water. They are filled with the movement of the breeze at the beach, with the joy of the sun and the connection with family. One can almost smell the campfire smoke in the air or the ocean salt. The pictures here sing with freedom and long days spent together. The washes of watercolor that make the waves and the sky create a sense of timeless ease on the page.
A book of family connection and love that brings the glory of a beach vacation right off the page. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
The Specific Ocean by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Katty Maurey
Released on August 1, 2015.
A girl does not want to leaver her friends behind in the city and head off for summer vacation. There’s nothing to do in the little house near the ocean that she used to call The Specific Ocean instead of the Pacific. She starts out with a moping schedule and refuses to head to the water. The next day though, she does go down with her family and the water is cold but it also has warm spots. The next day, she races her brother down to the beach. They spend time floating in the waves, walking along the shoreline, and sitting on the rocks to watch the waves. The girl decides that she wants to have some of the ocean to call her own and to bring home, but that won’t work. So she has to figure out how to take the feeling of it home with her, deep inside.
Maclear has written a book about the process of change and the time that it takes to allow new experiences in. Time in the book moves slowly forward, allowing the girl the chance to change her mind in a natural way. Then the connection with nature becomes a delight, a way to spend the long days of vacation. The ocean becomes not just a source of activity for her, but a source of personal peace and joy. That process is honored here, that feeling of being connected to the world as a whole and wanting to keep that feeling with you every day. The prose in this book is exceptional. Maclear writes in first person and allows the girl’s voice to be poetic but still childlike and simple.
Maurey’s illustrations are filled with an inner glow that is helped by the pastel palette that is used. The sun shines on the page, the water beckons. The book has that dreamlike quality that many good vacations do, especially those filled with salt water and sand.
This quiet picture book speaks to those who don’t like change but is ultimately about nature and its power in our lives. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Kids Can Press.
Feet Go to Sleep by Barbara Bottner, illustrated by Maggie Smith
In a house on the beach, Fiona doesn’t want to go to sleep. She’s had such an amazing day that she doesn’t want it to end! But she is just a little tired after all that they’ve done. As she climbs into bed, she starts with her toes, telling them to go to sleep. She tells her feet next, remembering how they loved stomping in the waves. Then come her knees that had held her strong on the sand as she build a castle. Her legs are the next to go to sleep, after spending the day running. Her tummy ate lots of berries during the day and goes to sleep too. Fiona works her way all the way up to her ears, eyes and mouth, until finally her mind is quiet enough to sleep.
With a proven technique, Bottner demonstrates a way that children can calm themselves at bedtime by both taking control of their body and mind but also celebrating the day that they have had. The book shows the technique clearly rather that teaching it to the adult separately. This approach to bedtime is simple and calming, creating moments where child and parent can share what they found joy in during their busy day. Fiona’s mother stays with her for most of the process, but leaves as Fiona finishes on her own, shutting her ears and eyes to the activity around her and drifting gracefully off to sleep.
Smith’s illustrations use an inset image to show in the large portion of the picture the grand and sunny day that Fiona has experienced and then in a smaller and darker image Fiona putting a body part to sleep that matches the activity of the larger picture. The book shines with the joy of a beach vacation captured in all of its wild colors and sun. Yet at the same time it is an immensely soothing book with its focus on quiet and calm.
A bedtime book that just might result in actual sleep! This picture book shows a different way for parents to approach bedtime wiggles. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from digital copy received from Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Lulu and the Dog from the Sea by Hilary McKay
Released on March 1, 2013.
This second book in the Lulu series continues the story of Lulu, a seven-year-old girl who loves all kinds of animals. In this story, Lulu goes on vacation by the seaside with her parents, her dog, and her cousin, Mellie, who is also seven. At the seaside, they stay at a small cottage and Lulu quickly finds out about a stray dog who has been living off of garbage along the beach. Lulu sets out to make friends with the dog, but no one else is enthusiastic. Mellie just wants to build her kite, Lulu’s mother just wants to read the stack of books she brought along, and her dad wants to work on his running. But Lulu knows that this stray is actually a very special dog, she just has to convince the rest of them.
McKay has a knack for creating characters and experiences that read as vibrantly true and honest. In her books, there are lost kite bits, sand tracked into the house, trashed garbage cans, and too many shopping trips for forgotten items. At the same time, there is also the love of a dog, a family that truly spends time with one another, and the success of plans coming together in the end, perhaps not exactly as planned. As with her previous books, I have always wanted to live in a McKay novel in the midst of the loving mess.
I must also mention that this is an early reader series featuring a modern family of color. Nothing is made of this fact in the stories. It is just there, not a plot point, just a fact. It’s handled with a matter-of-fact nature that I wish we saw more of in books for children.
A great addition to this growing series, the second Lulu book is sure to please fans of the first and bring new fans to the series too. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from digital copy received from Albert Whitman & Company.
Beach Feet by Kiyomi Konagaya, illustrated by Masamitsu Saito
Released June 12, 2012.
This picture book is a trip to the beach along with a very exuberant little boy. There are salty breezes, hot sand, cool water, and plenty of sun. The little boy races to get to the water, surprised by the heat captured in the hot sand. That quickly turns to relief upon reaching the cool, wet sand. Then the waves come in, cold and big, tickling around toes as the water recedes again. It leaves behind a revealed shell, something for the boy’s toes to find. Then there are more waves, floating in the ocean, and even more sun.
Konagaya’s very short text is a delight. The translation from the Japanese is successful, keeping the quiet yet excited mood of exploring a beach. It offers just enough context to share the pleasures of the ocean without getting in the way at all, making it ideal for very young listeners.
The illustrations by Saito are rich and deep. They move from playful exuberance to quieter moments. The bright yellow of the sunshine, the cool grey of wet sand, the blue of the waves. This art captures the beach perfectly. It has a wonderful fluidity to it, captured most effectively in the skin of the child that flows from oranges and pinks.
A successful look at a day at the beach that is perfect to share with toddlers, this book should come along with a shovel and pail. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.