SHARED by: Katherine Grier, Librarian at York Avenue Preschool

At first glance, the three books I have chosen to review in this “summer edition” will strike you as odd and unconnected, but bear with me and I think you will see the relevance of these children’s stories to summertime activities and fun.

A Perfect Day for Diggingby Carl Best 
Last weekend,as I sat on a towel and watched my daughter enthusiastically digging a life-sized hole with a small plastic beach shovel, I recalled this delightful picture book about the joys of digging and getting dirty. In it, a girl named Nell and her dog Rusty are happily playing in the dirt and mud in their backyard, while their neighbor Norman watches them. Nell offers Norman a trowel and encourages him to join them, but Norman thinks dirt is “Gross!” so he declines to join in the adventure. After making tunnels, hills and dirt angels, Nell and Rusty get down to some serious digging. As they dig, they begin to discover a variety of interesting treasures, including a worm, a colorful marble, a miniature plastic dinosaur and part of a tiny china doll. As Nell talks to Norman about all their discoveries, he begins to get more and more curious and excited. What else might be hidden under the ground? When Norman finally gives in, he rolls up his sleeves, picks up the extra trowel and digs in. The book closes with the friends creating a “dirt museum” from pansies, soil, rocks and found prizes, while Norman exclaims “Hooray for dirty digging!”.

I think this is a great read aloud book despite its length. Ms. Best uses descriptive vocabulary to draw the reader and listener along expectantly. Her words and Christine Davenier’s watercolor illustrations combine flawlessly to evoke the sights, sounds, feels and smells that accompany digging (“This time when they dig, they pretend they are giant steam shovels whirring, scooping and dumping a ton of dirt next to each hole).

Next time we are at the beach, I am going to let my daughter bury me in the sand and mud for sure!

Three Bears in a Boatby David Soman
The Grier family grew up with boats. Everyone took sailing lessons. My husband spent a semester at sea in college, and his brother faithfully puts his Boston Whaler into the water by Fourth of July so the cousins and grandkids can enjoy bumper rides, Thimble Island cruises and fishing expeditions.   This is why I have included this new picture book by the co-author of the Ladybug Girl series here. Yes, it is a grand boating adventure; but it is also so much more.  It is being widely compared to Else Holmelund Minarik’s Little Bear books and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, and, like those and similar classics, it contains great vocabulary, an exciting plot, lovable and memorable characters, and breath-taking illustrations.  Children will love it, and parents will too.  Observant readers will even recognize the author’s clever homage to other literary classics like Huck Finn, Moby Dick and more.

At the beginning of the book, two brother bears and their sister bear, Charlie, break their mother’s favorite blue seashell while trying to reach a big jar of honey she purposefully put out of reach.   Distraught and a little afraid of their mama (“who, after all, was a bear”), they set out in their little boat in search of a replacement for the smashed shell.   They ask other bear sailors for advice and one tells them that “A ways over yonder…“is an island shaped like a lumpy hat. On that island, there may be a seashell, a beautiful blue one. It could be underwater, or in the tallest tree, or on the very top of the mountain. It might even be hidden in a cave. I’m not dead certain, but if you look in the right place, I reckon you’ll find it.”  Encouraged, the three siblings sail far out to sea. On their quest, they encounter many interesting characters and experience lots of events–some beautiful (like when a pod of whales lift the bears and their boat gently from the green-blue sea), some funny (like the bears’ encounter with a goat as they search for shells on a mountaintop) and some terrifying (a totally unexpected sea storm).   The bears quarrel and work together, and the reader is swept along in awe.

Soman’s ocean scenes are some of the best I’ve ever seen in a picture book. I love the ones depicting the storm and its aftermath. On one two page spread, we see a mountainous wave towering over the frightened bears in their tiny boat. On the following pages, the water is “as smooth and calm as glass” perfectly reflecting the faces of the three now thoroughly baffled bears.

When the bears finally return home from their seafaring journey they do so empty-handed. But then to everyone’s surprise and delight they find a blue seashell at their own beach. Their mama greets them with a warm supper and warmer embrace and all is mostly forgiven. But the bears do not get any dessert!!

The Greatest Potatoesby Penelope Stowell
One of my favorite things to do as a child was eat lunch on the beach. Sandwiches and potato chips warmed by the sun always seemed to taste just a little better–especially the chips. So, imagine my delight when I discovered this picture book for ages 4 to 8 that chronicles the legendary origins of this tasty snack. “The Greatest Potatoes” is a fun and entertaining read.  It tells the “true” story of George Crum, an African American fry cook working in Upper State New York in the 1850s. Crum is very proud of his cooking and is convinced his French fries are the best around. When Cornelius Vanderbilt comes to the Saratoga Springs restaurant where Crum works in search of the world’s greatest potato dish, Crum accepts the challenge. He presents several different ones to the millionaire, including French fries stacked to resemble the Eiffel Tower, and hash browns arranged to look like an American flag. The picky Mr. Vanderbilt does not like any of Crum’s culinary creations, however. He declares them “too thick,” “too bland,” and “utterly inedible” and keeps sending them back to the kitchen. Soon George Crum is down to the last of his kitchen’s potato supply. He is so frustrated with his complaining patron he decides to make him something truly awful. George slices the potatoes paper thin and deliberately overcooks and over salts them. Vanderbilt absolutely loves the crispy/crunchy/salty delicacies, and Saratoga Chips are soon the talk of the town. People come from miles away for the chance to try them. Even if this flavorful, animated tale is only partially true, I’ll bet you can’t read it just once.

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