Here are some of our favorite outdoor-oriented offerings.

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With summer vacation upon us, this seems a good time to feature some books that make the most of outdoor activities. They’ll come in handy on trips out of town, for restful moments in the shade of a tree, if rain keeps the kids indoors, and for bedtime at the end of a busy day. All titles are aimed at ages four to eight.

A Day for Sandcastles

JonArno Lawson

Illustrated by Qin Leng

Candlewick Press

More than a few decades ago, when I was nine years old, my family took up residence for about six months in Groet, a village in North Holland not far from the seaside. I still have vivid and happy memories of the dunes and beaches, all of which were revived when a new wordless picture book by Toronto’s JonArno Lawson and Qin Leng crossed my desk.

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Perfect summer reading material, even for those too young to read by themselves, it describes a family’s bus trip to the beach, where the three kids discover a tattered sandcastle and decide to restore it. Leng does a masterful job of creating colorful vignettes that track the kids’ efforts — and the various disasters that befall their sandcastles, including a relentlessly advancing tide. With charm and humour, Lawson and Leng give us a taste of summer at its best.

Martin and the River

Jon-Erik Lappano

Illustrated by Josée Bisaillon

Groundwood Books

The central character in this picture book, a young boy named Martin, loves the outdoors and relishes time spent “by the river that ran through the fields behind his house.” Good at amusing himself, he builds forts and gets to know the animals that call the river environment home.

“Lying among the tall grasses, Martin felt like an animal at home in a warm cozy nest,” reads the Ontario author’s text. So when Martin’s parents tell him they’ll be moving to the city, he has his doubts about him.

One weekend, they take a trip to the city to acquaint themselves before the move but Martin finds the crowds and the traffic disturbing. The sight of fish stacked on ice in the market, rather than swimming in his beloved river, leaves him downcast; a visit to the museum, however, sparks his imagination from him.

And as the visit draws to a close, his parents show him one last feature: a nearby park with a stream running through it. When they leave their rural home, that stream brings Martin comfort and promises to give him the same peace he found by the river. Beautifully illustrated by Quebec’s Josée Bisaillon.

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Uncle John’s City Garden

Bernette G Ford

Illustrated by Frank Morrison

Holiday House Publishing

Three young siblings spend their summer vacation helping Uncle John create a thriving garden on an empty lot in the middle of a city’s subsidized housing projects. It’s no easy task, but one that ultimately delivers a bumper crop of vegetables — enough to share with a horde of cousins, uncles and aunts who join the gardeners for a massive celebratory barbecue.

An author’s note at the end of the book explains that Bernette Ford’s Uncle John lived in the projects in Canarsie, in Brooklyn, NY; he and Ford’s mother were “the youngest of seven surviving siblings born on a plantation in Louisiana” who “never stopped loving to grow gardens full of food and flowers.”

Having moved to Brooklyn, Uncle John got permission from the city to grow a garden in an excavated hole left when constructing the projects was completed. The author says she visited the garden often as a child, but she never got to spend the whole summer working on it. “… Now, in this story, I have.”

Every Dog in the Neighborhood

Philip C Stead

Illustrated by Matthew Cordell

Neal Porter Books/Holiday House Publishing

Not necessarily a summer tale, but perfect for those days when kids are no longer in school and can spend extra time with grandparents. In this case, it’s the story of Louis and his grandmother, and their love of dogs. When Grandma spots a civic need and decides to write a letter to City Hall, Louis decides to do the same.

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The response they get leaves each of them dissatisfied and determined to take up the cause themselves. For Louis, that means conducting a door-to-door survey to determine how many dogs live in the neighborhood; for Grandma, it means getting to work cleaning up a neglected lot at the end of the street. The results of their efforts come to a satisfying, mutually beneficial conclusion.

Matthew Cordell’s scratchy illustrations are a perfect complement to Philip Stead’s lively, humorous text. Dog lovers of all ages will embrace this book; even cat lovers like myself will be won over. Highly recommended.

Bibi’s Got Game

Bianca Andreescu, with Mary Beth Leatherdale

Illustrated by Chelsea O’Byrne


Subtitled A Story About Tennis, Meditation and a Dog Named Coco, it’s a safe bet that Bianca Andreescu falls into the camp of dog lovers. But Coco merely plays a supporting role in this book; the real focus is on a young girl’s love of tennis and her discovery of her that meditation can help overcome all kinds of obstacles to achieving a goal.

Andreescu, 21, a Canadian professional tennis player who grew up in Romania and Mississauga, Ont., is the highest ranked Canadian in the history of the Women’s Tennis Association.

Her parents signed her up for tennis lessons when she was seven, she explains in an author’s note at the end of the book, adding: “I’ve loved tennis ever since.” But over the years, negative thoughts were hurting her game from her; meditation helped deal with those thoughts.

“Be persistent,” she tells readers. “Believe there are good times ahead. It will make you stronger.”

A book that might encourage young kids to head outside for some physical exercise—maybe even pick up a racket and one of those fuzzy yellow tennis balls.

—Bernie Goedhart

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