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Courier & Press Article by Carol Cariens
Sunday, May 13, 2012

Books Loaded with Enchanting Characters for Summer Reading

As a kid I loved summer nights.  Bedtime was delayed past the usual 8:00 P.M. school year deadline, there were fireflies to catch in Mason jars, the immense canvas of the night sky to watch, sparklers on the Fourth of July, and maybe even some homemade ice cream with sweet strawberries to devour.  And then there were the books.  Piles and piles of books that I checked out from the Rushville Public Library to read at bedtime. It was glorious. Kid heaven. Well, at least for this kid!

And so once again summer is knocking on the proverbial seasonal door and your EVPL is gearing up for another super-D-duper summer reading program.  This year's theme for the kids will be "Dream Big...Read"  Here are some great reads that families might want to share this summer about characters-real and fictional-who liked to dream big and had wonderful nighttime adventures.

Two women who commanded worldwide respect and admiration embarked on a nighttime adventure almost eighty years ago that few contemporaries knew or read about at the time.  On the evening of April 20, 1933, Aviatrix Amelia Earhart and her husband G.P. Putnam were dinner guests of President and Mrs. Roosevelt at the White House.  Somewhere after the first course Amelia described the thrill of nighttime flying.  Eleanor was enchanted and so, later that evening the two women with Eastern Air Transport pilots at the helm, took a nighttime flight over Washington, D.C.  Eleanor actually sat in the cockpit for a time during the flight!  This "flying" fascinated her so much that she even applied for and received a student pilot's license which she sent to Amelia since Amelia fully intended to be her teacher/coach.  For the whole story and a great photo from the historic event, check out Pam Muñoz Ryan's picture book, "Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride" with Art Deco graphite and colored pencil drawings by future Caldecott Medalist Brian Selznick. 

One hundred fifty-eight years prior to Amelia and Eleanor's historic ride (almost to the exact date!) another exciting nighttime ride took place.  Readers out there in my age bracket may remember having to memorize (at least part of) a famous poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that began, "Listen, my children, and you shall hear of "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere"   For an almost you-are-there feel to that fateful evening, peruse artist Christopher Bing's masterful artistic interpretation.  From the two lanterns glowing in Old North's belfry on the title page of the book to the powerful engravings of rider and steed to the detailed maps of the route, Bing's finished product is pure Americana.  Be sure to read how Bing achieved his art.  Labor intensive but a glorious tribute to patriotism.

For a few years now D.B. Johnson has been writing and illustrating a series of books "inspired by Henry David Thoreau's Walden."  To do so Johnson has created "Henry", a lovable bear who is awed by nature and his surroundings.  In "Henry's Night", Henry goes in search of the elusive whippoorwill.  With a glass jar filled with fireflies to light the way, Henry's nighttime nature walk is a joy and a delight.  Don't miss the other four books in the series.    Somehow Thoreau is a little easier to understand, courtesy of Henry Bear and D.B. Johnson-wish they had been around when I was in college!     

For a little longer story with great nighttime adventures you might enjoy Gail Carson Levine's, "Dave at Night".  It is 1926 and Dave is an 11-year-old orphan living in the Hebrew Home for Boys in New York City.  To survive the endless days, Dave escapes the Home at night and is welcomed into the burgeoning world of the Harlem Renaissance.  Characters based on the glitterati of the times (from the 1920s worlds of art, music, and literature) weave in and out of Levine's magical tale.  Levine's story also honors her father, David, a New York City orphan, who lived in an orphanage similar to the HHB.  This Newbery Honor Book is recommended for middle grades and older.