Boys, grandparents, and “the best week ever”

What happens when parents get out of the way?

In this picture book, two buddies, James and Eamon, spend a week at the beach with Eamon’s grandparents, who both indulge them and leave them be.

So they eat too much ice cream, play too many video games, and, at week’s end, have the most awesome night of their lives.

The book, which was published in 2008 and was a runner-up for a Caldecott Medal, is based on a true story: author and illustrator Marla Frazee really did send her son James to spend a week with his friend Eamon in Malibu, Calif., where Eamon’s grandparents, Bill and Pam, lived on the beach.

After James came home, Frazee sketched some cartoons about the week as a way of thanking Bill and Pam, and she realized she’d conceived of a book.

The fictional James and Eamon are more interested in each other than in Bill and Pam, but Bill and Pam take that in stride—even when the boys seem to rebuff Bill’s attempts to teach them about Antarctica, with which he’s infatuated.

Left to themselves, the boys roughhouse on the floor, do handstands on their air mattress, and make fun of the nature camp that Bill drives them to daily.

But late on their last night together, as they look up at the stars and out at the ocean, a grand idea takes hold. They gather what they need from the beach—boulders, pebbles, sticks, and shells—and convert Bill and Pam’s deck into a fantasyland of sharp icebergs, giant whales, and penguins that huddle close to survive.

“It turned out to be the very best part of the best week ever.”

And it turns out they were listening all along.