Summertime is for being outdoors, for being in nature, and for encountering all the species that are busy in the heat, from the hungry wasps that show up at barbeques to the robins that gather around sprinklers to bathe. Day and night, the air is full of the trilling, buzzing and chirping of birds and insects, a chorus that inspired Keats to write, “The poetry of earth is never dead.”
To add your voice to the summer choir, we have two beautiful picture books to recommend, both wonderful for reading aloud. The first is a celebration of insects, Cricket in the Thicket: Poems About Bugs. It’s a charming compendium of creepy-crawlies, from charismatic ladybugs to dreaded mosquitoes (“I am not loved, not loved at all,” a cockroach sighs). Carol Murray’s whimsical verses are as fun to read loud as fireflies are to watch: “Whizzing and whirling/ in fabulous flight/ Whooshing like rockets/ to tell us good night.” Even insect-phobic children will be charmed by Melissa Sweet’s illustrations. Like a Beatrix Potter for bugs, Sweet gives them human behaviors and quirks: a fly agonizes over a tempting display of cakes; a cicada puts its exoskeleton neatly on a hanger; and inchworms use measuring tapes to assess a giant radish. Even a jumping spider with five eyes and spiky bristles is endearing, rushing by in a cloud of silk threads as if it’s late for school. There are well-researched fact boxes for each bug, and an appendix of “Cricket Notes” offers scientific illustrations and entomological lore, so the book could be used as a simple field guide to the spiders, insects and terrestrial crustaceans you come across on your summer adventures.
Our second pick is the aptly titled Beautiful Birds, an alphabet book that is a treat for the eyes and ears just as real birds are. Rhyming couplets by Jean Roussen introduce these avian superstars: “T is for toucans and their tremendous hooked bills. T is for tanagers with polychrome quills.” The text is as rich in vocabulary as the pictures are in plumes; owls have “ogling orbs” and macaws are “rainbows that ruffle.” The illustrator, Emmanuelle Walker, is also an animation director, and her ravishing portraits of birds are full of narrative, wit and movement. The two-page spread for the letter P, with birds of paradise and a peacock, is a showstopper, while the timid, nocturnal kakapo is shown as just a pair of staring eyes. The flock of finches looks like Art Deco wallpaper, the stop-motion hummingbird is a nod to Italian Futurism, and the flamingos evoke Audubon’s Birds of America. This gorgeously designed, oversized book is worthy of your coffee table.
May your summer be full of the chirping of songbirds and katydids, conversations with family and friends, and wonderful books waiting to be read aloud.