Why should adults be the only ones with beach books to entertain them when they aren't cavorting in the surf? This summer the kids, too, have plenty of books to choose from. Four examples demonstrate the feast available, beginning with books for toddlers and preschoolers and working our way up to preteen readers.

Younger children will appreciate the sand and surf more if they are prepared for it with a charming picture book by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Barbara Lavallee, All You Need for a Beach. What do you need for a beach? Lively illustrations portray young children acting out the process of adding one element at a time to the beach experience sand, sunlight, umbrella, seagulls and the ocean itself. The story builds well to prove that the book's reader is also an essential part of the perfect beach.

Preschoolers and early graders will enjoy a gorgeous book, My Life with the Wave, based on a story by the Mexican Nobelist Octavio Paz. The lively translation and adaptation for children is by Catherine Cowan, and the luscious illustrations are by Mark Buehner. This is a lyrical, highly imaginative story. One day a boy is playing in the surf. As he departs, one of the waves escapes the ocean and accompanies him. On the train ride home he hides her in the water cooler. At his house she creates as much delight and trouble as the Cat in the Hat. Pulled by moon and sun, the wave is moody. The boy brings her fish, but he becomes jealous of how long she plays with them. As winter approaches, the wave begins to have nightmares. A double-page panoply of these demons will give children a delicious shiver, but a closer look will reveal that the funnel cloud wears spectacles and the sea serpent has a red bow on its tentacle. The story takes a sad turn, but the ending is clever and upbeat.

Another new book reminds us that at any age nonfiction can be as compelling as fiction. Young readers will enjoy One Small Place by the Sea, by Barbara Brenner and illustrated by Tom Leonard. This is the story of the teeming life of a tidepool, "no bigger than a bathtub," among weedy rocks at the sea's edge. "Tides make it and unmake it twice a day." The book begins with a child standing beside the pool and looking at what is visible to the naked eye. Slowly the text and illustrations help us sort out the various plants and animals. Gradually we go beneath the surface and see the multitude of turban snails, blue mussels, hermit crabs, anemones and other wonders. The text is crisp and vivid, the illustrations bright and detailed. The child scoops water into a jar and the illustrations zoom in and magnify its denizens. Then we look more closely at each creature, at the cycles of life and death repeating daily in this miniature ecosystem, this exquisite microcosm.

Friends beneath the waves

Proving that there is a smart beach book for children of every age, Candlewick Press has published the lively and suspenseful The Tail of Emily Windsnap, by Liz Kessler. This first novel, by an English journalist, is already becoming something of an international sensation, and is being published in at least 10 countries. The book begins with Emily Windsnap, our narrator and heroine, asking an irresistible question: "Can you keep a secret?" We aren't revealing plot twists by telling you, because the book jacket does so: Emily is a mermaid. She doesn't know this tidbit about her family legacy when the book opens, but she finds out soon in a compelling scene that draws the reader into the story.

Emily has a convincingly tangled life even without her fishy tendencies. Her father abandoned the family and her mother has long hidden away traumatic memories that will prove crucial to her family's future. Soon Emily is sneaking away in the night to cavort far beneath the waves with newfound marine friends. Naturally the two stories come together in a satisfying ending.

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