The children’s books you should show your kids this summer

By Jacqueline Briggs Martin, guest columnist

Aug 5, 2017 at 4:00 pm | Print View

There are August days when the swimming pool doesn’t look so good, when thinking about school supplies seems just not-yet, when the kick ball is lost under the porch — and there’s nothing to do. That’s the time to find a comfortable, shady spot, a good book and a good friend to share it with.

“My Night in the Planetarium” (Seven Stories/Triangle Square, 2016; $17.95) is a true story written and illustrated by Innosanto Nagara, who also did the alphabet board book “A is for Activist” (Triangle Square, 2013). Nagara begins with a brief introduction to his native country, Indonesia: “I was born in Indonesia. … Indonesia is an archipelago, which means it’s made up of lots of islands. There are 17,000 islands in Indonesia. There are 300 different ethnic groups. People speak 750 different languages and dialects.

Indonesia is rich in natural resources. Fish from the sea. Fruit from the trees. And spices.”

He then talk about the Indonesian Revolution, which ended 350 years of Dutch rule in Indonesia. But the Indonesian ruler “ruled Indonesia with an “Iron fist …. His army put people in jail if they complained.”

Nagara’s father was a poet and a playwright and wrote and performed a play critical of the government. Nagara, then a boy, was given a part. People all over Indonesia loved the play. “The general ordered the soldiers to arrest my dad and the other actors … So that night everyone in my dad’s theater troupe brought their toothbrushes to the performance. They figured, well, if you’re going to go to jail for a long time, you may as well have your toothbrush with you so you can keep your teeth clean. (True story.)” That performance was in a large complex that also contained a planetarium. Nagara’s dad and the other performers did not get arrested but sneaked out with the audience. But Nagara and his mother learned that soldiers were at their home to arrest them, so they could not go home. “That’s when my mom said, let’s go to the planetarium!” They watched the planetarium show all night long. “It was dark and beautiful under the stars. /And we were safe.”

Children everywhere will relate to this adventure of an Indonesian child. Nagara’s chatty style of storytelling brings readers into the events. An epilogue with photos gives additional information about the incident, as well as Nagara’s biography.

“Town is by the Sea” (Groundswell, 2017; $19.95) also takes readers on a trip — a trip in time and place — to Cape Breton in the 1950s. The story, written by Joanne Schwartz and illustrated by Sydney Smith, is told by a young boy. He describes his town and his regular days: “From my house, I can see/ the sea./ It goes like this — house, /road, grassy cliff, sea./ And town spreads out, this way/and that./ My father is a miner and he works under/the sea, deep down in the coal mines.”

This is what the story returns to again and again as the boy describes the beauty of this summer day. “And I know my father is already deep/down under the sea, digging for coal.” Another example: the boy swings with a friend. “We go so high I can see far out to sea. And deep down under that sea, my father/is digging for coal.” We come to associate the sea with what is going on under the sea — the men digging for coal.

This is a thoughtful book with gorgeous illustrations that are punctuated by the darkness of the undersea coal mines. There’s a lovely rhythm to the language. Readers will enjoy this quiet trip to a seacoast town and may be reminded of other workers invisible, yet essential, to our lives.

For a little lightheartedness “Jabari Jumps” (Candlewick, 2017; 15.99) is just the ticket. Gaia Cornwall wrote and illustrated this charming story of Jabari who goes to the swimming pool with his father and younger sister and promises that this is the day he will jump off the diving board. But the board is very high … This may not be the day. Will Jabari jump? Young readers will want to hear or Jabari’s challenge again and again.

Finally, “Hello Goodbye Dog” (Roaring Brook, 2017; $16.99) by Maria Gianferrari, with illustrations by Patrice Barton, introduces to a heroine Zara, who is loved by a dog named Moose. Moose loves Zara’s hellos and hates it when she says goodbye to go to school He shows up at school to say hello, again and again, and each time it takes more and more people to get him to say goodbye. Finally, the problem is solved and Moose gets to go to school with Zara, as a trained therapy dog. There is humor in the escalating number of school folks required to get Moose out of the school. And Zara is a spunky, lively girl — in a wheelchair. But that is not the center of the story. The center of the story is Moose’s devotion to his friend.

Indonesia to Cape Breton, to the swimming pool, to dogs in school — stories to fill a summer afternoon and get us in the mood for those school supplies.

l Jacqueline Briggs Martin writes books for children. Her newest books are “Creekfinding” and “Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix.”

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