Great Books for a Summer's Eve

A selection of books to initiate discussions of nature’s nocturnal mysteries, and inspire dream journeys.
Warm August nights are just right for gazing at the stars, exploring the nighttime world, and launching flights of fancy. Ideal for sharing aloud, these lovely picture books can alleviate night fears, instigate discussion of nature’s nocturnal mysteries, and inspire dream journeys. SummerNight1Among a Thousand Fireflies. by Helen Frost. Photos. by Rick Lieder. Candlewick. 2016. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780763676421. K-Gr 4–On a moon-lit summer night, a female firefly “steps into a flower” and watches the lights of other insects flicker on and off around her, “One flash./Three./Seven./Eleven./Twenty./Hundreds./Thousands./Countless bright flashes.” How will she find her mate among so many fireflies? Spare, poetic text and stunning close-up photographs introduce an incandescent insect, while also reminding readers of the importance of looking closely at small marvels. SummerNight2Bright Sky, Starry City. by Uma Krishnaswami. illus. by Aimée Sicuro. Groundwood. 2015. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781554984053; ebook $14.95. ISBN 9781554984060. K-Gr 5–Eagerly anticipating an evening of stargazing, Phoebe helps her father set up telescopes outside his store, but is disappointed when the city’s bright glow obscures their view. Closing her eyes, she wishes for the lights to go out, just for a while. Amazingly, perhaps magically, a storm rolls in and causes a blackout. After the weather clears, Phoebe and her father are treated to a spectacular panorama of stars and planets. Mixed-media illustrations vibrantly depict the urban setting, Phoebe’s emotions, and the eye-dazzling majesty of the heavens. Starring a female protagonist with a zeal for astronomy, this stellar tale successfully balances wonderment with scientific fact. Info about the solar system, telescopes, and light pollution is appended. SummerNight3The Darkest Dark. by Chris Hadfield & Kate Fillion. illus. by Terry Fan and Eric Fan. Little, Brown. Sept. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316394727; ebook $9.99. ISBN 9780316362825. PreS-Gr 2–It’s July of 1969, and a young would-be astronaut spends his days piloting his cardboard-box rocket, battling extraterrestrials, and voyaging to distant planets. But at night, fear of the dark has him seeing terrifying shadow aliens and seeking safety in his parents’ bed. Everything changes when Chris watches the Apollo 11 Moon landing on television, catches an awestruck glimpse of outer space, and opens his eyes to “the power and mystery and velvety black beauty of the dark”—all waiting to be explored. Canadian astronaut Hadfield’s uplifting tale about facing one’s fears and finding strength and comfort in one’s dreams is eloquently illustrated by the Fan Brothers’ lustrous paintings. SummerNight4Flashlight. by Lizi Boyd. illus. by author. Chronicle. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781452118949. PreS-Gr 1–It’s nighttime, and a boy crawls out of his cozy tent with flashlight in hand to investigate his woodland surroundings. Set against black backdrops, the artwork brims with flora and fauna sketched in gray and white …until the protagonist shines his beam up, down, and around to reveal hidden surprises—an owl in a tree, a gracefully posed deer, half-eaten apples on the ground, and more—all depicted in full color within the wedge of light. His exuberant seek-and-find adventure continues until he accidentally drops the flashlight and the curious critters take turns illuminating the smiling child, eventually lighting his way back to bed. This wordless picture book’s clever concept, die-cut pages, and detailed images encourage readers to look closely and concoct their own narratives. SummerNight5Henry’s Stars. by David Elliot. illus. by author. Philomel. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN  9780399171161. PreS-Gr 3–Gazing at the summer sky, a sweet-faced swine looks from star to star and realizes that they seem to form the picture of a pig. He can’t wait to share his discovery, but when his farmyard friends stare at the same arrangement of stars, they see not a pig, but celestial iterations of their own species—the woolly body of the Great Sheep, the horns and handsome tale of the Great Star Cow, the mane and flying hooves of the Great Starry Horse, even a trio of wing-flapping Heavenly Hens. His “mind all aclutter,” Henry loses sight of his vision and returns to his stoop in despair. There, soothed by his solitude and the beauty of the stars, he once again spies the Great Pig bounding across the firmament. Elliot’s illustrations combine realistic details with charming whimsy to bring the characters and their varying viewpoints to life. Use this amiable tale as a launch pad for exploring constellations, point of view, and the powers of imagination. SummerNight6Max and the Tag-Along Moon. by Floyd Cooper. illus. by author. Philomel. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-399-23342-5; ebook $10.99. ISBN 9780698152885. PreS-K–As they hug goodbye beneath a glowing yellow orb, Granpa assures Max, “That ol’ moon will always shine for you…on and on!” And in fact, the moon seems to follow the boy throughout his “swervy-curvy” car ride home through a summer nightscape, remaining a constant and comforting companion. Max experiences a moment of doubt about Granpa’s promise when clouds darken the sky, but the boy’s uncertainty and loneliness are allayed when “that magic ball of light” gloriously re-emerges. Poetic text, soft-edged paintings, and a child-like perspective create a heartfelt tale about finding solace in nature and the steadfastness of love. SummerNight7The Moon Inside. by Sandra V. Feder. illus. by Aimée Sicuro. Groundwood. Sept. 2016. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781554988235. PreS-Gr 1–Afraid of the dark, Ella insists on turning on all of the lights every evening to chase the shadows away. She misses the sun, which makes her happy and bathes the world in yellow, her favorite color. When Mother takes Ella outdoors at dusk and gently encourages her to describe what she sees, Ella makes note of the just-rising moon and glowing fireflies (young listeners will enthusiastically name other delights depicted in the luminous, lusciously detailed spreads). The two sit together on the porch, soaking up the quiet splendor of the night. Back inside, Ella still turns on a few lights, but now takes comfort in the golden moon (“It’s my favorite color—only quieter”). Leisurely pacing, a gentle text, and exquisite artwork provide a comforting anecdote to nighttime fears. SummerNight8The Night World. by Mordicai Gerstein. illus. by author. Little, Brown. 2015. Tr $18. 9780316188227; ebook $9.99. ISBN 9780316381741. PreS-Gr 2–A sound-asleep boy is awakened by his cat Sylvie, who leads him through a slumbering household that seems familiar but also entrancingly mysterious. Outside, everything is veiled in shadows, including the nocturnal animals that join Sylvie in voicing their anticipation of something momentous (“It’s coming…It’s almost here!”). Slowly, the star-strewn sky begins to lighten, the clouds turn pink and orange, and “the great, glowing golden disk of the sun bursts from the tops of the trees.” Beginning with textured black and charcoal silhouettes depicting the “soft and comfortable dark,” Gerstein’s illustrations gradually, reverently, dawn into a crammed-with-color celebration of daytime. SummerNight NinePenny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars. by Maria Gianferrari. illus. by Thyra Heder. HMH. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544280052; ebook $16.99. ISBN 9780544866942. PreS-Gr 2–Penny and her canine pal Jelly can’t wait for an outdoor sleepover at the local recreation center and have been studying the constellations to prepare (their favorite is the dog star Sirius). When she realizes that no pets are allowed, the distraught girl tries to make a substitute, but poochsz made out of paper, yarn, fleece, and other materials (including jelly) just aren’t the same as the real thing. All packed up and ready to go, Penny takes one last glimpse at her forlorn pup and finally comes up with the perfect solution. The second in a series, this warm-hearted tale of friendship and star gazing is illustrated with expressive watercolor-and-ink artwork. SummerNight10Song for a Summer Night: A Lullaby. by Robert Heidbreder. illus. by Qin Leng. Groundwood. 2015. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781554984930; ebook $14.95. ISBN 9781554984947. PreS-Gr 2–As day fades away, a group of children gaze out their windows at the park below, watching, listening, and reveling as “night’s show” unfurls before them. Lulling verses brim with soothing rhythms, descriptive images, and onomatopoeia as fireflies sparkle (“glint-glint”), bellflowers ring (“pring-pring”), racoons waltz (“tra-la-la”), and black cats pounce on moonbeams (“purr-purr”). Spellbound, the youngsters head outdoors to breathe in the magic, before seeking their beds, like “the tired-out moon,” the melodious nocturnal refrain ringing gently through their dreams. Delicate, detailed ink-and-brush paintings washed in soft hues set the perfect tone for this ode to a summer’s eve. SummerNight11Touch the Brightest Star. by Christie Matheson. illus. by author HarperCollins. 2015. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780062274472. PreS-Gr 1–Matheson’s simple rhyming text and color-washed collages invite readers to explore the nighttime summer sky. Youngsters make the magic happen by performing simple actions and seeing the results on the next page, gently pressing fireflies to make them glow, tapping the sky to make stars appear, swiping across the firmament to chart a meteor, or whispering out the moon. A captivating choice for bedtime sharing. SummerNight12Turn on the Night. by Geraldo Valério. illus. by author. Groundwood. Sept. 2016. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781554988419; ebook $16.95. ISBN 9781554988426. PreS-Gr 1–Tucked into bed with a book in hand, a girl dozes off, transforms into a willowy canine creature, and springs out of an open window. A fanciful adventure ensues, as she and two animal friends reach for the stars—literally. Featuring lithe characters that bound across star-glittering skyscapes and spellbinding visual motifs, this wordless picture book enchantingly encapsulates the imagination-empowering possibilities of both storytelling and dreams. SummerNight13Ursa’s Light. by Deborah Marcero. illus. by author. Peter Pauper Pr. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781441318817. PreS-Gr 2–With her ebullient imagination and anything-is-possible attitude, Ursa is different from other bears, so when she comes up with a wild idea—“I am going to FLY!”—she refuses to be cowed by skeptics. After careful observation of airborne objects (pigeons, dandelion seeds, bats), she concocts various flying machines, but none of them get off the ground. It’s a bit disappointing, but before the words “Maybe I can’t…” are quite out of her mouth, Ursa’s always-supportive brother points to a poster advertising auditions for a local play about the cosmos (“Needed: Shooting Star”), and the big-dreaming bear is back in business. Filled with rich spice-colored hues and winsome details, Marcero’s tale stars a loveable heroine who sparkles with perseverance, personality, and passion.

Other  recent "great books" lists by Joy Fleishhacker include "Green Thumbs and Bountiful Imaginations: Great Books About Gardens," and "All Around Town: Great Books About Buses."

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