Introducing the simple joys of summer

BOOKS FOR KIDS

June 25, 1993|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Staff Writer

Because I grew up in a semi-rural setting -- my parents and grandparents owned 67 acres that have since sprouted million-dollar "estate homes" in Montgomery County -- the start of summer always makes me ache for the country.

Days were lazy, nothing like the regimented weeks of camps, classes and cultural outings that define summers for so many kids these days. My brothers and I explored, got bored, and explored some more. And mostly we waited for dusk. We would stay outside until after 9 p.m., chasing one last lightning bug, sipping one last honeysuckle drop, hunting one last night crawler.

So I'm going to gush about a bunch of books that brought back a rush of memories for me.

* "Night in the Country" by Cynthia Rylant, pictures by Mary Szilagyi (Aladdin paperback, $4.95, ages 3-6), surrounds readers with the sounds of owls swooping and a farm house creaking.

Ms. Rylant makes sounds out of silence: "If you lie very still, you may hear an apple fall from the tree in the back yard. Listen: Pump!" This is a book 3-year-olds will request time and again at bedtime.

* "Fireflies in the Night" by Judy Hawes, illustrated by Ellen Alexander (HarperTrophy paperback, $4.50, ages 3-7) is one of the excellent "Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Book" series. A young girl visits her grandparents' farm on vacation, and in the course of catching lightning bugs at night, she learns lots of stuff that will thrill firefly buffs.

For example, her grandfather tells her that in some parts of Latin America, people tie net bags full of fireflies to their wrists or ankles to help light their way when they're walking on dark jungle paths. And she learns how fireflies can communicate with each other using different patterns of flashes, sort of like Morse code dots and --es.

* Another wise grandfather stars in "That Sky, That Rain" by Carolyn Otto, illustrations by Megan Lloyd (HarperTrophy paperback, $4.95, ages 3-7). A girl of about 4 visits Grandpa and Grandma right before a thunderstorm hits. She and Grandpa take a stroll through the farmyard, visiting the animals as the sky grows heavy.

On the guided tour, Grandpa introduces the baby pigs: "This year I named them after my dinner -- Sweet Corn, Ambrosia, Okra and Stew. Stew? says your grandma. Ambrosia! Next time, she says, I name the pigs."

Then the clouds burst open and you can almost smell the storm, musky and clean at the same time, as Ms. Lloyd's Wyeth-like watercolors show the rain washing across the barnyard. It's beautiful.

* "Shortcut" by Donald Crews is a sequel to "Bigmama's," an award-winning book about the trips Crews and his family would take from their home in Newark, N.J., to visit their grandmother, Bigmama, in Cottondale, Fla., every summer.

"Shortcut" (Greenwillow, $14, ages 4 and up) tells what happens when the kids decide to break the rules and take a shortcut along the train tracks.

The cousins are having a grand old time until they hear the freight train whistle, and there's no where to go except back to the road -- there's not enough time, now -- or down the steep embankment to the gully, where there's water "surely full of snakes."

Mr. Crews, whose work includes Caldecott Honor books "Freight Train" and "Truck," lets the drama build until the pages are rumbling with the train's KLAKITY-KLAK-KLAK. Anyone who has broken the rules and gotten scared straight will appreciate the cousins' caper.

* "Over Back" by Beverly Major, illustrated by Thomas B. Allen (HarperCollins, $15, ages 5-9), is about the secret world only a kid growing up in the country can know.

It's part imagination, part exploration. It's about how you can hike over the same fields and climb the same fences and drink from the same spring every day -- and never tire of the trip, maybe because nature is never routine.

Neither is freedom: "Mothers never go there, so while you're Over Back, they can't tell you not to get dirty and not to wade in the creek and not to pick up rocks because they might have snakes underneath them."

Ms. Major grew up on a farm in Lehman, Pa. She can close her eyes and take you to the creek that has formed a pool where the stone bridge crosses: "Along the edges of the pool are globs of frogs' eggs, silvery too, reflecting the blue and green of the water. When you pick them up, they feel like Jell-O in your hand, and they move and shift like Jell-O too."

Later, writing about deer gathered in a pine grove, she describes how they run away, "leaping and twisting without a sound, as light as milkweed-down blown in the wind."

Mr. Allen grew up on his grandfather's farm in Tennessee. The artist also illustrated "In Coal Country," a New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book. This should be another winner.

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