Tales of the road can ease family trip home from vacation and back to school


August 26, 1994|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Sun Staff Writer

Step on it. It's the End of Summer 500, a race against time that ends on Labor Day, when families crammed into station wagons and mini-vans jockey for position on the final lap of asphalt interstate, roaring toward home -- and work and school.

Between the pit stops and high, constant whine of kids begging to stay at a motel with a pool, you can observe a purely American culture. It's a world of bumblebees burning the breeze and dodging Harvey Wallbangers, Thermos bottles and bears in the air.

That's trucker-speak for six-cylinder diesel engines driving fast and dodging reckless drivers, tanker trucks and police helicopters.

The translation is provided in "Frank and Ernest on the Road," written and illustrated by Alexandra Day (Scholastic, $14.95, 48 pages, ages 5-8). Ms. Day, creator of "Good Dog, Carl" and the many sequels starring Carl the Rottweiler, has just as much fun with Frank the bear and Ernest the elephant.

She introduced the pair of entrepreneurs in "Frank and Ernest," and continued their adventures in "Frank and Ernest Play Ball," a superb collection of baseball cliches.

Now she takes the show on the road. Frank and Ernest hire themselves out as substitute semi drivers. Along the way, the two cradle babies (rookie drivers) learn to smile and comb their hair (drive carefully and don't get a ticket) while adjusting their fishing pole (CB radio antenna) and talking into the lollipop (microphone).

In addition to all the terms defined in the text, the end papers have a glossary that includes everything from Alice in Wonderland (lost driver) to ulcher gulcher (traffic jam). If nothing else, the book will provide a bit of back-seat diversion during a long trip.

* Another way to kill time in the car is to learn how to navigate. If children can master maps, they can eliminate a few arguments between Mom and Dad along the way.

"As the Crow Flies: A First Book of Maps" by Gail Hartman, illustrated by Harvey Stevenson (Aladdin paperback, $4.95, 32 pages, ages 3-6) gives beginners a sense of how places we live and visit are shown on a larger scale. You follow a crow from a cornfield, past a factory and into the city, and then you see the overview of his route, with all three places on one page.

"Maps and Mapping" by Barbara Taylor (Kingfisher paperback, $5.95, 32 pages, ages 7-12) is an excellent resource for budding cartographers or anyone interested in geography and navigation.

It opens by showing how to draw a map of your bedroom and proceeds into an easy-to-understand explanation of how maps are drawn to scale. There are plenty of suggestions for do-it-yourself projects that demonstrate the different techniques, such as contour lines and using grids to locate places on a map.

You can make your own compass, or even duplicate the kind of bearing board that surveyors use to measure distances and angles. There's a helpful index at the back, but missing is a list of books for readers who want to learn more.

* If the family is heading out for a whirlwind tour of the States, or if you just want to sit at home and get inspired about taking a cross-country trip next summer, check out "America the Beautiful" by Katherine Lee Bates, illustrated by Neil Waldman (Atheneum, $14.95, 32 pages, all ages).

Mr. Waldman paints in acrylics with an impressionistic style and a wide-ranging pallette, from dreamy lavender skies framing the Great Smoky Mountains to magenta and turquoise splashes in the Grand Canyon. On each double-page spread he illustrates the words to Ms. Bates' 100-year-old poem using a different landscape.

"Above the fruited plain," for example, shows workers harvesting grapes in the Napa Valley. "And crown thy good" shows the expanse of the Rainbow Bridge on the Arizona-Utah border, followed by "with brotherhood," illustrated by Mount Rushmore. It's breath-taking. As a bonus, the endpapers provide the music and all verses to the song.

* If your idea of an ideal end-of-summer trip does not involve hours stuck in Bay Bridge traffic, why not stick to the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay? Word is the sea nettle onslaught at Rocky Point isn't too bad this year, and for help in exploring the bay, you can read "Awesome Chesapeake: A Kid's Guide to the Bay" by David Owen Bell, illustrated by Marcy Dunn Ramsey (Tidewater Publishers, $11.95, ages 10-14, 41 pages).

It traces the history of the bay and its watershed, which stretches north into upstate New York. Mr. Bell does a good job showing how the growing population is threatening the ecology of the bay, as erosion from construction, runoff from farm and lawn fertilizers and treated sewage kills the underwater plants .. that are the critical link in the bay's food chain.

The final 20 pages provide a fine glossary of bay life, with illustrations and facts about everything from saltmarsh cordgrass sea nettles, from blue crabs to bluefish. It's available in local book stores, or by calling (800) 638-7641.

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