Alice B. McGinty | Summer sleep | Books

Summer can be sleepy on those scorching August days, and nothing beats a trip to the beach! Here are two books by award-winning non-fiction author Melissa Stewart and illustrator Sarah Brannon that highlight two types of summer creatures – those with shells and those that sleep.

“Summertime Sleepers: Animals that Estivate” (2021, Charlesbridge Publishing, written by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah Brannen, ages 4-10) introduces readers to animals that sleep through the summer. As we read the kid-friendly text, we meet 12 budding animals and learn their habits as they “settle down to cool, comfortable places” to sleep in the heat of summer.

With a main text that compares and contrasts, we see many different animal behaviors. For example, some animals “doze in groups, but others rest alone” and “Some hard-shelled creatures climb high to take a nap…while others doze underground.”

Detailed watercolor illustrations depict animals in their natural habitats. Many pages include a black-and-white children’s album that gives the reader details such as the animal’s scientific name, home territory and size. The albums also include drawings of the animal in action.

The book also includes secondary text on most pages, which highlights specific animals. For example, we learn how land snails value themselves when we read: “When the days get long and hot, land snails cling to tree branches and seal their shells. Their heart rate slows and they barely breathe as they wait for cooler days.

Altogether, the book gives a great amount of information that is easily assimilated and digested through the various elements of text and illustrations. This well-crafted book received a Sibert Honor 2022.

In “Seashells: More than a Home” (2020, Charlesbridge Publishing, ages 3-9), Stewart and Brannen also provide information in an engaging and accessible way. We learn early on that seashells, “like the treasures of a secret world beneath the waves”, come in many shapes, sizes and colors, and that’s because “seashells have so many different jobs to do” .

The rest of the book presents to the reader, with the help of comparisons, the roles played by shells. Seashells “rise and sink like a submarine…or stand steady like an anchor,” for example.

The secondary text on each board gives more details, such as talking about the gas-filled chambers of the nautilus shells that help the creation to dive down by filling with water and then to rise again by letting the water flow out.

The colorful watercolor illustrations include a small sketchbook on each board with diagrams of the action described in the text.

As we read on, we learn that seashells can “pry like a crowbar,” “cowl like an armadillo,” “let light in like a window,” and “wear disguises like a spy.”

Each page highlights well-documented examples of seashells readers may have seen on the beach. However, they will now be able to understand the reasons for the shapes and configurations of these shells.

We end with the idea that shells are also houses, which “protect like a fortress”. Backmatter includes the five largest groups of molluscs with a brief description of each. This well-executed book is a companion book to the author/illustrator couple’s 2014 ALA standout book “Feathers: Not Just For Flying.”

No matter which of these books they read, young readers expect a stimulating, engaging and informative treat!

Alice B. McGinty ( is the award-winning author of 50 children’s books and runs Words on Fire writing camp for teens during the summer,

Colin L. Johnson