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Remember summer when you were a kid?
The long hot days stretched endlessly ahead, with so many things to do and the start of the school year a far-away dream. And the “things to do” were really important things too. Maybe your treehouse had to be redecorated, or the dog needed to be trained to play dead, or the advancement of science depended on you spending an hour watching that trail of ants carry off the last few crumbs of your lunch.
There’s a very special lazy magic to summer vacation, and the children’s books featured here perfectly capture that feeling.
My first pick is a runner-up for the Newberry Award. “Gone-Away Lake” tells the story of two children who go to spend the summer with their cousin and his family at their new house. While exploring, they emerge from the woods to find an unexpected hidden treasure: Gone-Away Lake. A lake no longer, this patch of swampy ground in the middle of nowhere is surrounded by old, decaying mansions — all empty except for one. Over the summer, the elderly inhabitants share stories of the lake’s long-ago glory days with the children, leading to new adventures for everyone. The follow-up book, “Return to Gone-Away” is just as good!
It’s one summer after another with the “Henry Reed” series by Keith Robertson. Henry, child of diplomatic parents, has been all over the world but hardly set foot in his own county until he comes to spend every summer with his aunt and uncle in the sleepy country town of Grover’s Corner. Henry keeps a journal of his summers, so it is through his eyes that we get to see everything he gets up to, from launching homemade hot-air balloons to putting on a home-grown rodeo with all his neighbors. Somehow the most innocent of ideas always leads to bigger trouble — and bigger adventure! Start with “Henry Reed, Inc.”
I tried to keep this list to purely realistic fiction, but one magic-touched tale insisted on making its way in. I loved the books of Edward Eager as a child, with his winning formula: A group of children, faced with a long, dull summer, find themselves in the middle of magical adventures. Try “Magic by the Lake” for starters. Four children make a wish and end up with a literal lakeful of magic, where they encounter everything from mermaids to pirate ships — all while needing to be home in time for supper!
And lest you think this type of story is old-fashioned, here’s a modern tale for you: “The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy” by Jeanne Birdsall. The Penderwick family sets off for their summer vacation at Arundel Cottage, a cozy vacation home on the grounds of the grand Arundel Estate. There they find the lonely son of Arundel’s owner, whose summer is about to get a lot livelier! If you enjoy this one, there is a whole series of the Penderwick’s adventures.
Genevieve Baille is extension services librarian at the Wilson County Public Library.