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Children like to be outdoors in the summer, but what about the rainy days? Or quiet times? Or the long hours in the car getting to one of those utopias?

Maybe the craving for soil or sand could be satisfied with a good book.

Reading boosts children's imaginations and interest in a wide range of topics while educating, too. And educators say that reading over the summer vacation is key to improving children's reading skills and keeping them from losing their level of reading abilities over the months away from the classroom.

Reading to preschoolers builds their vocabularies, communication skills and love of books, along with helping establishing a habit of reading regularly. Youngsters also can get a start on letter recognition and sounds and word identification.

And all ages pick up knowledge of a range of topics, from socialization and manners to math, problem solving and even the environment.

Here are some summer reads to consider:

"Once Upon a Tide" by Tony Milton and illustrated by Selina Young (David Fickling/Random House, ages 4-6).

A brother and sister build their own boat and go on an adventure — using a map provided by sturdy and salty sea captain Bart — that takes them by a whale who waves with his tail and to a private island. They find a treasure chest gleaming with gold, which, unfortunately, attracts some unsavory characters.

Who saves the day? That friendly whale.

"In the Garden: Who's Been Here?" by Lindsay Barrett George (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, ages 4 and up).

Another brother and sister duo head into the garden to pick some vegetables for mom. But someone — or something — got there first. As Christina and Jeremy work their way through the plants, they meet some of the other creatures that live there.

"Abigale the Happy Whale" by Peter Farrelly and illustrated by Jamie Rama (Megan Tingley/Little, Brown, ages 3-6).

At first, ignorance is bliss for Abigale, the humpback whale. She doesn't realize that all the pollution in the ocean is on the verge of destroying her home.

When it does dawn on her that something is amiss, she doesn't take it like a beached whale. Abigale persuades her sea-dwelling pals to help her return the trash to all the people on the beach. That sparks a clean-the-beach drive.

Farrelly, the writer and director behind the films "Dumb and Dumber," "Something About Mary" and "Fever Pitch," is donating 50 percent of the proceeds from the book to Heal the Bay, an organization dedicated to cleaning up the coastal waters in southern California.

"Stanley Goes Fishing" by Craig Frazier (Chronicle, ages 4-8).

Big Stanley has his mind set on catching a really big fish. He makes sure he has everything he needs and finds the perfect place to cast his line.

But things don't end up quite the way he planned — it never does for Stanley — but he learns that a little creativity and ingenuity can produce even better results.

"Shark and Lobster's Amazing Undersea Adventures" by Viviane Schwarz and colored by Joel Stewart (Candlewick, ages 3-6).

This is a cartoon-style book about friendship, specifically what friends will do for one another when they're scared.

Turns out these guys, rather formidable forces when you consider the ocean's pecking order, are afraid of tigers. That is, they're scared of tigers until they realize together that they've got their own teeth and stripes.

"I Saw It in the Garden" by Martin Brennan and illustrated by Michael Glenn Monroe (Mitten Press, ages 4-8).

Grandpa guides a young girl as she prepares a garden at the beginning of the spring. She'll need a sturdy shovel, proper boots and gloves. He also reminds her to plant her seeds with love.

Fast-forward to the end of August. She has more corn and beans than she knows what to do with, but she also knows she and her grandfather accomplished a lot — and they did it together. They deserve the two quarts of lemonade they celebrate with just before they take a nap.

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