School’s Out For The Summer


The fact that school isn’t in session doesn’t mean young readers shouldn’t keep improving their skills. I’m recommending some super books to keep children’s minds occupied and entertained.

Almost all kids love animals. Wildlife photographer Steve Bloom has put together one of the most beautiful books of the season with BIG CATS. This visual journal takes us across continents and brings us into the realm of lions, tigers, leopards, and cheetahs. There are lots of fascinating facts and interesting bits of info along the way. For example, lions are the only big cats that live in groups, which are called prides; the leopard is the most secretive big cat, and therefore, tough to photograph; lions sleep over twenty hours a day; tigers actually enjoy being in the water; and a leopard’s spots are called “rosettes.” Bloom includes helpful hints for photographing animals in the wild. There are also suggestions for how youngsters can take good pictures of their pets at home. The photos are so glorious, I’d love prints from this book to hang on the wall.

From the lion’s lair, we head north on our African journey, with a book by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya. HANDS AROUND THE LIBRARY: PROTECTING EGYPT’S TREASURED BOOKS focuses on a moment of history which will long be remembered by those who understand the importance to our culture of books. In January, 2011, the world watched as thousands of students, library workers, and demonstrators joined hands and surrounded the Library of Alexandria. They were protecting it from harm during a political protest. Roth’s collages winningly illustrate the commitment that these guardians felt for their beloved glass architectural marvel. Thank heaven that because of their diligence, this modern Bibliothecca Alexandrina was saved from the fate that destroyed its great predecessor.

Travel is exciting, even if we never leave our easy chair. Nick Barnard’s FLIGHT SCHOOL: HOW TO FLY A PLANE is the type of book that, back in the day, would have been recommended for boys only. Of course, in our enlightened age, we know girls can be equally engrossed in aerodynamics. I especially appreciate the fact that this paperback takes seriously the idea of a young person wanting to know what’s required to fly. There are drawings and descriptions of several types of planes, and explanations for commonly used lingo. I’ve heard the term “wilco” all my life, but never knew it stood for “will comply.” In the U.S., you can become a pilot at seventeen; you don’t need perfect vision unless you fly military planes; as long as you’re tall enough to see the controls and look out the windshield, you can qualify. Who knows? Perhaps this excellent book will light a spark that will lead to a future in aviation for your youngster.

Flight school may be a bit ambitious, but EVERY COWGIRL LOVES A RODEO. This sweet little book is the latest in a series by Rebecca Janni. It very gently teaches younger kids that there’s more than one way to win. Nellie Sue can’t wait for the county fair. She’s dying to win the Bike Rodeo contest. Her friend, AJ Pickett, is the Rodeo King, and Nellie Sue is anxious to use her girl power to win first place. But when a goat threatens to disrupt AJ’s ride, Nellie Sue jumps in to help him; after all, a badge of honor is just as good as a blue ribbon.

HEAD TO TOE: MY BODY AND HOW IT WORKS is put together by a group of London based authors, illustrators, and designers who are responsible for the children’s art and science magazine called Okido. This is a wonderful book to answer questions like “Where does all the food go?” after we eat. There are delightful games for kids to play, many of which are ideal for those “are we there yet?” car trips. And no more excuses for moping around on rainy days; the recipes and craft activities can keep kids happily occupied for hours.

Bill Evans is the Emmy award winning meteorologist at New York’s ABC affiliate. Known not only for his forecasts, but also for his wit and wisdom, Evans is the perfect author to tell us all about why IT’S RAINING FISH AND SPIDERS. Evans movingly relates how he became interested in being a weatherman when, in August of 1969, Hurricane Camille destroyed a large swathe of his native Gulf Coast. Snow, wind, and lightning are all fodder for Evans to educate young and old about the forces that control so much in our world. I know this book is supposed to be for kids, but I’m finding it impossible to put down. I’m heartily recommending this for older children, as I think really young ones may find it a bit scary. But you know your child best, and if you’re sure that knowledge trumps being afraid of the storm, by all means read this with your little guy or girl.

As always, the best part of getting children books to read is getting to enjoy them ourselves. With these exceptional finds, this summer is the perfect time to read together at home or on vacation.

Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist and an avowed bibliophile. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. Michall is a voting member of National Book Critics Circle.

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