About the Holiday
While pinning down the official date of Sandcastle Day is as hard as holding back the tide, any sunny summer day is perfect for going to the beach and letting your artistic abilities take over! These days sandcastles are so much more than creations made with a few buckets full of wet sand and a few shells. Elaborate sculptures of every imaginable subject and character soar into the blue sky—some up to 50 feet! So whether you celebrate today, August 19, or any other day, every day is perfect for this distinctive art form!
The Critter Club: Liz and the Sand-Castle Contest
Written by Callie Barkley | Illustrated by Marsha Riti
In a summertime adventure for one of the girls in the Critter Club, Liz Jenkins, her brother Stewart, and their parents take a long weekend vacation at the beach. Liz is excited about visiting a new place, but knows that she’ll miss her friends, Ellie, Amy, and Marion.
With the car packed with beach supplies, sports equipment and food, the Jenkins family heads for Luna Beach. Next to Liz in the seat compartment are her drawing supplies. Both she and Stewart can’t wait to get out on the water to surf, boogie board, and swim. And of course, Liz is looking forward to building a sand castle. As the car travels down the highway, Liz imagines the castle she might build and remembers all the photos of past sand castles she’s built.
As soon as the Jenkins family settles into the cottage they have rented, they walk to the beach, ready for a fun weekend. Suddenly, a boy whizzes past Liz on his bike, almost hitting her. He pedals on, but looks back and Liz thinks she sees him smirk. The afternoon at the beach goes quickly. On the way back to the cottage, Liz spies a sign advertising a sand castle building contest. Thrilled, Liz and Stewart go to the lifeguard station to sign up. Liz is about to give the lifeguard her name when a boy rudely interrupts, demanding to sign up for the contest. It’s the same boy Liz encountered earlier.
It seems the one open spot will have to be given to either Liz or Tommy based on a toss of a coin, but just then the lifeguard receives a call from a contestant who is dropping out. The next morning Liz assembles her sand-castle-building tools and is shown to her square on the beach by the lifeguard. In the square next to her is Tommy. Liz says “Hi” and tries to engage him in conversation, but Tommy remains silent and sullen.
Liz decides to build a replica of The Critter Club barn, complete with animals, for her entry. She’s happy with the way her castle is turning out, but is amazed to see that the walls of Tommy’s castle look like real stone. “‘Wow!’” she says “‘That looks awesome!’” Tommy mumbles a “thanks” and returns to trying to build a sand horse. When the horse collapses, Liz offers to help Tommy build it again. He rejects her suggestion, and pointing to her barn says, “‘You call that a castle?’… ‘It looks like a plain old barn to me.’” Liz tries to turn the insult into a teachable moment and tells Tommy about the Critter Club and rescuing animals, but Tommy gets angry and throws his bucket. A gust of wind carries it into Liz’s square, where it lands on her sculpture of Rufus, crushing it.
When Tommy gives her a half-hearted “sorry,” she almost says “‘That’s okay,’” but she doesn’t, choosing instead to walk to the ocean’s edge for a break. There she finds a baby octopus floating in the shallow water. When she tries to move it into deeper water, the octopus doesn’t swim away, and Liz knows something is wrong. She puts it in her bucket with water, and when Tommy joins her and asks about the creature, Liz explains.
Liz is now on a mission to save the baby octopus. Forgetting the sand castle contest for the day, she calls Dr. Purvis, the veterinarian, for help. Following Dr. Purvis’s instructions to keep the baby octopus safe in a container until it can regain its strength, Liz watches over her rescue animal carefully. Another run-in with Tommy later that evening at the miniature golf course, only serves to increase their conflict.
The next morning, Liz returns to the beach, and while her parents take care of the octopus, heads to her sand castle. When she reaches her square, she’s devastated to discover that it was destroyed overnight. Tommy is staring at her with a strange look on his face. Liz tries to stay calm, but remembering all the times he was mean to her and the accidental incident at the golf course, she demands, “‘Did you do this? Hitting you with the golf ball was an accident. You did this on purpose!”
Before Tommy can respond, the lifeguard appears and tells Liz that her castle was blown down by big winds during the night. Her castle was, unfortunately, the only one not protected by the seawall. Suddenly, Tommy blurts out a suggestion. He asks Liz if she would like to help him finish his castle. He even gives her a “real, warm smile.” Liz jumps at the chance and helps Tommy build animals for his castle while he lets her add a replica of the Critter Club barn.
While the judges check out all the entries, Tommy finally explains his attitude. “‘Every summer I enter this contest. And I’ve never won. Not even close! I really wanted to win, finally—all on my own.’” Liz understands and tells him it was nice of him to let her help. Tommy admits that he could never have made the animals by himself without learning her trick.
Finally the ribbons are handed out. Third place goes to a skyscraper, second place to a replica of a Sphynx, and third place to a castle complete with working drawbridge. Tommy and Liz shrug and smile. But wait…one more prize is being awarded. An honorable mention award goes to…Liz and Tommy! They cheer and jump up and down.
One more exciting moment awaits. After the contest Liz carries her bucket down to the water’s edge. As soon as Liz places the bucket in the ocean, the octopus propels itself into the open sea and swims away. With the promise of a sand castle rematch next year, Liz and Tommy part as friends.
Enjoyed by early independent readers and any child who likes a longer story, Callie Barkley’s Critter Club books offer excitement, adventure, and purpose. Liz and the Sand Castle Contest sets up a commonly experienced conflict between children (and adults). Exposing honest emotions, this story reveals that there is often more to a situation than meets the eye and that good communication between people is important. The facts about the baby octopus rescue are organically introduced and incorporated into the plot, and the ongoing friendship between Liz, Marion, Amy, and Ellie makes a comfortable and reaffirming beginning to the story.
Marsha Riti’s grayscale illustrations beautifully bridge the gap between picture books and longer chapter books for the series’ young readers. Allowing readers to see the facial expressions of the characters, to view details of perhaps unfamiliar settings, and to develop relationships with Liz, her family, her friends, and those she meets increases understanding and enhances the reading experience. The baby octopus is adorable as it floats in Liz’s bucket and pool and will have kids cheering as it swims safely away in the end.
The Critter Club: Liz and the Sand-Castle Contest and the rest of the books in the series will find their way into readers’ hearts and are a great addition to early independent readers’ bookshelves.
Ages 5 – 9
Little Simon, Simon & Schuster, 2015 | ISBN 978-1481424059
To see a gallery of art and more books by Marsha Riti, visit her website!
Sandcastle Day Activity
Dig These Beachy Dot-to-Dots
Enjoy two beach-themed dot-to-dot pages! Follow the dots to discover the hidden picture and have fun coloring it in!
Picture Book Review