If childhood is a time to be carefree, then summer-when school and the sun are definitely out-is the most carefree time of all for kids. It’s the time for exploring, for learning about nature, for getting together with friends to swim, eat, play, dream. It’s also a chance to read a book, watch some tapes, listen to music, or play with portable video games. Here are some of the coolest choices a kid can make this summer.
THE BLACK STALLION
Kelly Reno is superb as young Alec Ramsey, who survives a shipwreck in 1946 and, having somehow made it to a deserted beach, awakens eyeball-to-eyeball with a cobra. (The shipwreck and snake scenes may frighten young children.) Alec wins the confidence of a black stallion that also swam ashore from the ship. After he and the horse are rescued and returned to the United States, Alec meets Henry Dailey (Mickey Rooney), a retired horse trainer, who agrees to spend the summer helping them prepare for a race. Rooney’s understated performance is among his best. Lushly orchestrated and beautifully written, this visually stunning 1979 movie is as appealing to adults as it is to children. — Jeff Unger
A DAY AT THE BEACH
Doubtless there are grown-ups who wonder what attracts kids to a purple dinosaur named Barney or to the overtly artificial sets on which he and his gang of young friends act out their adventures. The answer is simple: Children either aren’t aware of or aren’t bothered by the artifice and have the imagination to simply enjoy Barney’s companionship — in this case, as he leads his pals on an educational and entertaining trip to the beach. As in other Barney stories, the gang sings familiar tunes, many with new words (”Are You Hungry?” is sung to the tune of ”Frère Jacques”). The kids sing well, without slickness. Sandy Duncan, who plays mom to two of the kids, seems to be having a ball. — JU
THE PARENT TRAP
The twins-separated-at-birth concept was good box office even before Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. The Parent Trap, a 1961 comedy whose chief error is that it’s too long, advanced the concept further. Hayley Mills plays mischievous 13-year-old twins who meet at summer camp and immediately dislike each other. Once they figure out they’re twins, the girls conspire to reunite their divorced parents. That’s not easy, since Mom (Maureen O’Hara) lives in Boston and Dad (Brian Keith) lives in California. O’Hara is charming, Keith is his usual oaken self, and Mills is doubly delightful, although the question of why these American twins have English accents is never addressed. — Martin F. Kohn
Frank Cappelli’s songs are so unassuming you might think his brain had gone on vacation. But vacations, after all, are supposed to be fun. The Pittsburgh-based children’s entertainer writes lovely tunes. If his lyrics seem too simple, remember: It’s simplicity that kids love, especially kids on holiday.
The title tune (”A vacation, I’m ready to take/In the sun, I’m ready to bake ”), ”Sun Shine Down on Me,” and ”Alphabet Song” are equally straightforward and hummable. The bluegrass-tinged ”One Dollar,” in which a little girl spends a buck one dime at a time, is nostalgic down to its prices (four cents for a balloon, five for a lollipop). But that’s Cappelli, who seems perfectly in touch with his own childhood. Parents will feel right at home. — Susan Stewart
Canadian songwriter Bob Schneider has put together 14 songs celebrating the sport of summer. He covers the bases, from a portrait of “De Ump” to one of a “Grump in a Slump.” Along with gentle music, there’s atmosphere: “Ball Girl” features crowd sounds and an organ, “Play by Play” a boy announcer.
These are uncomplicated songs for the baseball-obsessed youngster. If they gloss over issues dear to the baseball-obsessed adult-well, it’s tough to imagine a lyric about the infield fly rule or Pete Incaviglia. — SS
TIME OF WONDER
I doubt that any picture book has ever surpassed McCloskey’s magnificent Time of Wonder in recapturing the intense joy of a childhood summer by the sea.
In lyrical prose and huge, ravishing watercolor landscapes of Maine, McCloskey re-creates a child’s delighted perceptions of nature. Hushed forests, foggy mornings, the approach of rain across the water, the adventures of building stone castles on the shore or peering into the mysterious night waters with a flashlight, the fury of storms and the breathtaking sweep of starry skies — it’s all here in loving detail, perfectly childlike and totally uncondescending. A 1958 Caldecott Medal winner. — Michele Landsberg
LAST SUMMER WITH MAIZON
The hot Brooklyn summer brings double grief to 11-year-old Margaret: Her father dies suddenly and her best friend, Maizon, wins a scholarship that will take her away to private school. This lively and bittersweet novel captures the painful tangle of emotions when childhood friendships begin inevitably to change. But Margaret is a feisty character; soon, she’s blossoming on her own.
Woodson’s first novel bounces with energy, strong emotions, and the pungency of realistic dialogue. She also has a nice touch with the adults of Margaret’s close-knit African-American community, who are portrayed with affectionate humor and insight. — ML
What 12-year-olds Micale and Meg have is a personality conflict — Micale has too much personality, and Meg has none. Or so it seems, as outgoing Micale begins a summer on Cape Cod with introvert Meg and Meg’s hardworking mother. Micale is a practical joker while Meg is the sort of kid who uses the word “hopefully” correctly. They cause each other pain, but each girl is kind, introspective, and wonderful in her own way. And as they both want Meg’s mother to be happy, they investigate her new boyfriend, the middle-aged man with the earring. Mismatched Summer is a real charmer. — MFK
The title character here is Chilled Tomato, searching for his girlfriend, Tammy. Each screen in Kwirk’s adventure is filled with blocks and turnstiles that the plucky hero has to manipulate to create a safe route to the next room. Some rooms also contain enormous pits that need to be filled to reach the exit. The first few levels are simple enough to let you get the hang of the game, but in later screens there’s only one way out, and it’s never the most obvious. Finding your way out of the tougher rooms requires a rare combination of cunning and patience. — Lou Kesten
In this pulse-pounding strategy game, the object is to arrange sections of a pipeline to form one continuous pipe. You have only a few seconds to start building, though, before a flood of sticky slime called “flooz” starts flowing through it. The flooz has to travel through a particular length of pipe to make it to the next level, and extra points are awarded for making the flooz cross itself or flow through special bonus areas. With 256 levels, clever bonus screens, and expert modes, Pipe Dream is the most addictive Game Boy title since Tetris. Warning: This game may seem a bit daunting at first glance, but it really rewards persistence. — LK