A LITTLE LIBRARY - Visual storybooks key in child's library

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A recent drive through the Columbia Gorge persuaded my husband and me that summer had finally arrived.

I couldn't be happier.

I have always felt a childlike delight in the coming of summer -- I can't help but think of days at the beach or lazy afternoons in the sunshine. Even though we are "grown up" now, summertime obligations seem somehow lighter, and I hold the secret hope that they might disappear altogether.

In these past few years since college, our summers have been peppered with weddings and, more recently, baby showers. Baby showers have always struck me as strange, as items new parents actually need -- car seats, diapers, pacifiers, bigger diapers -- come up against what attendees love to purchase: adorable clothes, cute toys, classic books.

I'm certainly no exception to this rule. In fact, I have two books in mind for that next summer baby shower.

The first book I had to pick up is the chipper board book, "My Animals," by Xavier Deneux (Walker Young Readers, 2007). Just try and resist the little foam puppy and soft black cover of this book.

Despite its rather generic title, "My Animals" quickly sets itself apart from the many other baby books on animals. Deneux portrays each animal through simple black and white silhouettes, and then adds a splash of color on each page that draws the eye to a tiny detail--a leaf, butterfly, or carrot.

Especially imaginative is a circular hole punched in each page. When viewed through the hole, a kitten's eye becomes a crocodile's, or a sheep's wool becomes a pokeable panda belly.

High contrast books like this one are perfect for the developing eyes of a newborn, even as Deneux's carefully crafted details engage an older child's interest. "My Animals" could be a favorite for the next several summers.

As practical as board books are, I couldn't pass by a picture book called "All the World," written by Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrated by Caldecott Honor medalist Marla Frazee (Simon and Schuster, 2009).

Sweeping, beautiful pictures make this book a perfect gift, but it is the graceful partnership of word and illustration that make this a bedtime story to return to again and again.

"All the World" follows several sets of children and adults who spend the day building sandcastles, reaping the harvest, escaping a sudden downpour, and coming together as a family at the end. Scanlon's poetry captures each glorious moment, and children can find every word in Frazee's vibrant watercolor illustrations.

Such daily details are contrasted with absolutely breathtaking panoramas. I found much to comment on as I turned these pages, but I discovered that at its heart, "All the World" shows us a lush, fearless world full of beauty and family. The book is a warm, comforting, even freeing read, and one that captures the hope I seem to hold for summer.

After reading it, I look forward even more to these summer days.

Portland native Zoey Smith lives in Walla Walla and works at the Whitman College Bookstore, where she is helping expand the children's book section. She can be reached by email at smithze@whitman.edu.

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