Get Outside! A List of Books to Help Kids (and You) Make the Most of the Rest of Summer

Red-hot alert! If you have kids, if you'd like your kids to get the bleep outdoors, if you aren't a huge fan of the phrase "I'm bored!" on a perfectly beautiful summer's day ... A must-read from our children's librarian columnist, the most awesome Julie Booker. These books might just get you the adult reading time you're craving ...

Ever wonder how to whittle a Whim Diddle? How to measure the humidity using a piece of hair (it lengthens with moisture)? Or maybe your J stroke needs some honing? For those lucky enough to own a cabin in the woods, The Kids Cottage Book is the go-to choice, a veritable manual of up-north ventures by the sister duo Jane Drake and Ann Love. It contains some heavy-duty construction DIY projects: a diving raft with barrels, a flagpole made from a pruned tree, a hammock with handmade grommets, a tree fort complete with intruder alarms, a lean-to and comfy mattress for a sleep-out. But it also inspires clever creations: a scientific snake atlas to record sightings, a wild garden, a cool expedition satchel from old blue jeans. It’s all here, along with rainy day pastimes and recipes for plant fabric dyes. Caution: if you’re trying the fish prints, they get smelly so have a quick seal-tight disposal method.

Some do-it-yourself activities reappear in the follow-up publication, The Kids Cottage Games Book, which showcases old favourites like Jacks and Pickup Sticks, marathon card games and tricks, swimming challenges and Warm Weather Olympics.

If the first two words of this title read like a scream, Get Outside, The Kids Guide to Fun in the Great Outdoors, this one’s for you. The city-dweller’s choice features some previously-seen Drake/Love projects, minus the cottage. Who can resist playing Pebbles in the Sand (a.k.a. the Egyptian game Wari….all you need is 48 smooth pebbles, sand, and a friend), making bubble shapes using a potato masher or an apple corer and creating Dribble Castles on the beach. Bring back daylong Scavenger Hunts, a Muffin Pan Midway, or learn how to make a sundial or an ant farm. This book is arranged by season each with its own "What to Look for in the Night Sky" and natural clues for forecasting upcoming weather changes. Its catalogue of snowflake shapes, hopscotch in the snow (food colouring) and funky snow castle techniques using tupperware containers, make me actually look forward to winter.

On the fiction side, When We Go Camping by Margriet Ruurs perfectly captures the rustic experience: "An eagle glides across the sky like a kite without a string." The illustrations chart the changing light: i.e. an early morning lake view through the tent screen, the misty water as the canoe slips in, the bright glare of a mid-day splash and sudden sun-drop behind the mountains while a fire kindles. There are playful tracks on the corner of every page: an invitation to find the hidden animal.

Ruurs also appreciates closer-to-home outdoor fun. In In My Backyard she’s teamed up with paper sculptor, Ron Broda. Each page spread presents a vibrant garden scene on one side with a zoomed-in detail, all in white, opposite. It’s like looking at a film negative of the full-colour version; the fineness of the paper sculpture is visceral. There’s some information at the back about the featured wildlife and tips on how to attract hummingbirds, butterflies and other animals to your yard.

Similarly, there's a lot of amusement to be had out front of the house. The Sidewalk Rescue, by Hazel Hutchins, is a great read aloud because it invites prediction, problem-solving and one of my favourite audience-focusing techniques: drawing in the air. “Quick! Sketch something to get Josie across the riverbank! To save her from the raging water! From the underwater cave!” This may inspire readers to get busy with some real sidewalk chalk.

And who can mention summer without checking in with Scaredy Squirrel. His latest dilemma in Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping: how to experience the campsite adventure from the comfort of his tree. The solution: a T.V. show about camping. Except the cord isn’t long enough. (I think I’ve met this guy car-camping.) Scaredy Squirrel must brave the perceived land mines of a real campsite (i.e. zippers, The Three Bears) to find an electrical plug. Spoiler Alert: there's a marshmallow reward for him at the end.

August 16, 2013
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