By-the-beach lessons for young readers


June 04, 1993|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Staff Writer

Never mind what T. S. Eliot said. June is the cruelest month for children in school.

Held captive in classrooms, they count down the days until the start of summer vacation. Time drags.

Here are some books to serve as inspiration for younger kids anticipating a beach vacation.

* "The Seashore Book" by Charlotte Zolotow, paintings by Wendell Minor (HarperCollins, $15, ages 3-8) follows a boy and his mother on an imaginary trip to the ocean.

The boy has never been to the sea, so his mother describes it to him in luscious detail:

You lie down in the hot noonday sun now,

and it feels warm as a big soft cat

covering you,

taking away the chill of the waves.

The swishswashing sound of them

lulls you to sleep.

Mr. Minor's seascapes are just as entrancing, painted in gouache (watercolor with white added, it dries in flat, even colors) and watercolors that wash the sand, sea and sky with light. His work has also graced three children's books by Diane Diebert: "Sierra," "Heartland" and "Mohave."

At the end of "The Seashore Book," the boy says, "now I can always close my eyes and be there," and readers can share in his escape, memorizing the paintings and filing them away like so many mental postcards.

The only thing I would change is the typeface. The open, airy font is nearly impossible to read in the twilight of a summer's night.

* Imagination rides the waves in "The Girl Who Danced With Dolphins," story by Frank DeSaix, pictures by Debbi Durland DeSaix (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $14.95, ages 5-9). Mr. and Mrs. DeSaix teamed up on another flight of fancy, "Hilary & the Lions," and this book has the same luminescence.

Adrianne is a girl of about 9 who is visiting her grandfather's home in the tropics. He takes her out in his dinghy and she goes snorkeling over reefs of coral. Then she decides to dive deeper.

A shark appears like a shadow, but just as suddenly, a dolphin swims between Adrianne and the shark and pushes Adrianne to the surface, where her grandfather grabs her and lifts her into the boat.

That night when Adrianne goes to bed, her grandfather comforts her.

"I was scared, Grandpa."

"Me, too." He spoke softly.

"Why did the dolphin save me?"

"He heard your heart, Annie."

As she falls asleep, Adrianne wishes she were a dolphin. In a lovely dream, she is a dolphin swimming through a sea "bright with sounds. Things bumped and moaned and clattered and clicked."

But is it a dream? The ending lets the reader decide.

* A grandfather and grandson star in "Island Baby," by Holly Keller (Greenwillow, $14, ages 4-8), which is set on a Caribbean island.

Pops, the grandfather, runs a bird hospital on the island, and Simon, who is 4 or 5, comes over to help him clean the cages and fix the birds' food every morning.

One day, on his way back home, Simon sees a baby flamingo struggling in the surf. Pops rescues the bird, which has a broken leg. Simon names him Baby, and he becomes Simon's pet.

At the end of the summer, Pops tells Simon they must set Baby free, especially since Simon will be starting school soon. The lesson about loving and letting go works on two levels for Simon, who is able to connect his feelings about Baby with his feelings about starting school.

Ms. Keller's vibrant watercolors are outlined in black pen, giving them a bold, tropical feel.

* Finally, for preschoolers (hey, they need vacations, too), there's "Tom and Pippo on the Beach" by Helen Oxenbury (Candlewick, $5.95, ages 2-4). If you haven't met Ms. Oxenbury's Tom and Pippo -- they've been a hit in Britain for several years and are a monthly feature in the children's magazine "Ladybug" -- this is a fine introduction.

Tom and his stuffed monkey, Pippo, take a drive to the beach with Daddy. Daddy says Tom must wear his hat because the sun might make him sick, but Tom says that Pippo needs to wear the hat.

Daddy solves the problem by making Pippo his own hat -- out of newspaper. Of course, Tom has other ideas, and works out his own solution in the end.

Toddlers enjoy Tom and Pippo because Tom gets a chance to make some of his own decisions, and because his adventures usually involve places and things that most kids can recognize from their own lives.

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