A picture-book by the matchless Barbara Cooney, this true-to-life tale recounts how a group of cousins and friends created their own town at the edge of the desert, with broken glass outlining houses and smooth black pebbles for currency. A tribute to the lively, creative power of an active imagination, this is the sort of book to inspire all sorts of imaginative possibility.
Rarely have we so enjoyed a summer read-aloud as The Summer of the Monkeys. By Wilson Rawls, the beloved author of Where the Red Fern Grows, this is the rollicking tale of a boy who discovers a gang of escaped circus monkeys in the woods behind his house and takes them on in a tale of adventure, compassion, and boyish fun.
Beloved in England, this imaginative, outdoor series of adventures is set in the gorgeous English Lake District and centered around a fictionalized Lake Windermere, where the children go sailing in imaginative search of adventure. A bright, hearty, outdoor story world for summer afternoons.
I was a mystery addict as a child. Still am, except now my adult favorites are the matchless Hercule Poirot and the talkative Lord Peter Wimsey. That love for a good mystery began, however, with the intriguing tales of the four Boxcar children, siblings Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny. With a sibling penchant for sniffing out a mystery and the loyalty, humor, and curiosity to solve them, these innocent books were great summer fun.
Gene Stratton Porter brought her naturalist love of the created world to the compelling characters and rich natural settings of the stories she crafted. Set in California, just after WWI, The Keeper of the Bees follows Jamie, a wounded veteran condemned to a TB hospital. Determined at least not to die in hospital, Jamie sets out down the CA coast and becomes the startled keeper of an oceanside cottage several lively beehives. A story with drama and beauty and the high romance of the ocean, this is also a story about the power of sunlight and earth to heal and restore. Beautiful stuff for read aloud.
One of my favorite more recent children’s books, The Penderwicks was published in 2005 and became swiftly beloved for its old-fashioned portrayal of four motherless sisters and their escapades at Arundel, an estate on which their father is renting a cottage for the summer. With new friends (and seeming enemies) encountered amidst the rich grounds and mysterious gardens of Arundel, the Penderwick sisters, ever loyal to each other, unravel a mystery or two and help a friend before the summer’s end. One of the few modern pieces of children’s fiction with what I’ll call the Anne of Green Gables flavor.
By E. Nesbit
The Railway Children is Nesbit’s delightful story of an Edwardian family fallen on hard times. Forced to move to the country with their mother when their father encounters “trouble,” Roberta, Phil, and Peter set about the exploration of the English countryside and begin a series of adventures with the nearby railway at their heart. A favorite in our family for the knowing, chummy voice in which Nesbit manages to perfectly capture a child’s point of view, as well as the amusing (and realistic) portrayal of siblings, and the delightful way in which Nesbit portrays the unhindered possibility of childhood, this book is one for the family library.
So you see it was all right in the end. But if one does that sort of thing, one has to be careful to do it in the right way. For, as Mr. Perks said, when he had time to think it over, it’s not so much what you do, as what you mean.”
― E. Nesbit, The Railway Children
Though the Anne books made her famous, Lucy Maud Montgomery said this was her favorite of the stories she wrote. Set on the King farm in PEI, and centered on a rag tag group of cousins whose leader seems always to be the vivid and imaginative Sara (the Story Girl) with her gift for weaving whole worlds out of the stories she tells, this tale follows the children on old-fashioned escapades in the old orchard, on imaginary quests, and through the rich, homey worlds of an old Victorian house and the eccentric people inhabiting PEI. This story is particularly marked by L.M.M.’s gift, much like the Story Girl she created, to reveal the startling beauty and mystery of the ordinary, while relating it in a voice rich with humor and human sympathy.
The Wind in the Willows was a decided favorite of the famed C.S. Lewis, himself the author of a classic series of children’s stories. Set in the rural English countryside, Wind recounts the delights of feasts and picnics shared on the banks of the river, and offers a countryside picture of home, friendship, and natural beauty that has became a children’s classic for generation after generation. No childhood should pass, in my opinion, without a dose of Rat and Mole, Badger and Toad, and a glimpse into Mole’s old home or down the woven mystery of the Wild Wood.
Another excellent picture book by the much-beloved Cynthia Rylant, this simple tale recounts Rylant’s memories of a simple, rugged childhood in the Appalachian mountains.