Summertime - a time for bike rides, pick-up soccer games, fireflies, campfires, burned marshmallows.
Teachers will also tell you it's a time when kids forget much of what they learned during the school year.
So when looking for summer reading possibilities, why not sneak in a little pain-free learning by turning to some of the excellent non-fiction books that are targeted at children?
Levine, Houghton Mifflin, $15.
This terrific book for all ages features well-written, entertaining one-page biographies by the editor of Rolling Stone Press of such music pioneers as Bill Haley, Fats Domino, Little Richard and Elvis Presley. There's tons of interesting information packed into each page and the hip portraits by Levine are a riot. (If ever a book begged to be published with a CD, this is it.)
illustrated by Lisa Cohen (Hyperion/Jump at the Sun, $15.99)
Lester seems to capture the rhythm of the blues in his amusing, lyrical profiles of blues greats Bessie Smith, Mahalia Jackson, Muddy Waters, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles and more. Cohen's pop-art portraits are fun. At the end Lester includes a "Recommended Listening" page listing CDs of each artist.
The author-illustrator offers a fascinating exploration of the achievement of John and Washington Roebling, the father and son who designed and built the Brooklyn Bridge. Targeted for ages 8 to 12, the book looks at the daunting engineering problems presented by the construction of what was later dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World, and the Roeblings' brave and brilliant approach to solving them. (John died of lockjaw after his foot was crushed during the project; his son was left permanently disabled by repeated attacks of the "bends" he suffered working below sea level). Curlee's similarly excellent "The Statue of Liberty" also features precise acrylic paintings from photographic transparencies. Anybody visiting New York City with the kids this summer should definitely check out these books first.
This picture book for ages 4 to 8 is an affecting fictional treatment of a little-known chapter in American history. A Chinese-American author invents two brothers, Shek and Little Wong, to illustrate the experience of the Wolf Girls, An Unsolved Mystery From History," by Jane Yolen and Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple, illustrated by Roger Roth, Simon & Schuster, $16.
This second book in this "Unsolved Mystery" series for ages 6 and up invites kids to do their own detective work, effectively illustrating how difficult a job the historian faces in ferreting out the truth from incomplete historical records. The authors tell the story of a missionary in India in 1920 who claimed that two girls at his orphanage had been raised by wolves; nuggets of historical background and definitions are sprinkled throughout. Kids may be disappointed at the lack of answers, but this will get them thinking. (The first book was about the Mary Celeste, a ship found at sea without its passengers.)
Sewall, Atheneum, $16.
Sewall invents a fictional settler, a carpenter from Lancashire, to offer a first-person account of the mix of hardship, danger and ignorance that plagued the Jamestown colony. Kids in the target age group (6 to 10) will no doubt find it interesting that the gentlemen in the group refused to work when they got to the New World, and that Capt. John Smith finally had to issue a proclamation: "He that will not worke shall not eate."
This excellent book for all ages offers a concise, comprehensive and readable account of the war in just 90 pages, along with excellent full-color maps and historic photographs. Each page offers "Quick Facts," for example: Movie director John Ford was on Midway Island and shot a documentary of the battle.
Roop, pictures by Thomas Allen, Atheneum, $16.
The Roops combine the experience of two whalers' daughters for this interesting book, written in journal form, each day's entry ending: "Goodbye, for Today." For ages 7 to 10, it chronicles the excitement and danger of life aboard a whaler in 1871. (The ship ended up trapped in Arctic ice and the family had to abandon it.)
An acclaimed artist offers a fascinating, meticulously researched account of the events that led up to the infamous massacre of the Lakota by the U.S. Army at Wounded Knee in 1890. Waldman's book (including his gorgeous full-color paintings and black and white images) is an excellent way for readers 9 and up to understand the history of the American West. A portion of the proceeds from sales of the book is being donated to the Oglala Lakota College Endowment Fund.
Hudson Talbott, available at the library.
Aimed at readers 8 and up, this is fiction that reads like a suspense novel. The writer-illustrator offers a fascinating account of Jaap Penraat, a Dutchman who saved more than 400 Jews, by printing counterfeit ID cards and work papers that train passengers carried to "prove" they were traveling to work for the Nazis on an Atlantic Wall. (Talbott is the writer-illustrator whose "We're Back, a Dinosaur's Story" was made into an animated film last year.)