Palo Alto Weekly

- June 3, 2011

Summertime, summertime, lots of reading time!

New books with humor and heart delight the young reader in everyone

by Debbie Duncan

Summer's on the way, and with it the down time for families to enjoy reading together. Looking for suggestions? Visit a bookstore or library, or look online. These recently published books are a terrific place to start.

"LaRue Across America: Postcards from the Vacation" by Mark Teague; Blue Sky/Scholastic; $17; ages 3-8.

Pity poor post-card scribe Ike LaRue. With his doggy heart set on a cushy cruise to Mexico, his mistress offers instead to take a hospitalized neighbor's cats on a long car trip. His schemes to get rid of the felines fail at every stop. Ike's correspondence describes and the illustrations show typical, chuckle-inducing back-seat squabbles among siblings. Kids will get a kick out of watching the cats and Ike trick each other as they wheel their way across America to (surprise!) a cruise waiting for them on the other side of the country.

"Interrupting Chicken" by David Ezra Stein; Candlewick; $17; ages 3-8.

Plucky little red chicken loves Papa to read to her at bedtime. Her problem? Though she knows she shouldn't interrupt, she can't keep from jumping in to save the characters from impending disaster and skipping directly to "The End." So her worn-out Papa turns the storytelling over to her. She's pretty good at it, too.

"Marty McGuire" by Kate Messner, illustrated by Brian Floca; Scholastic; $6 paperback, $16 hardcover; ages 6-9.

Marty McGuire is a bullfrog-catching tomboy in a dancing-princess world and a terrific new character on the literary landscape. Much to Marty's dismay, she's assigned to play a princess in the third-grade class play. "That is so not fair." Then Marty learns how to improvise and, along with the boy who plays the prince, comes up with and carries out a plan — and an improvisation — that steals the show. Improvising also helps Marty navigate the changing roles among friends and classmates so typical of this age.

Young readers can look forward to more adventures starring Marty, beginning in early 2012 with "Marty McGuire Digs Worms."

"The Trouble with May Amelia" by Jennifer L. Holm; Atheneum/Simon & Schuster; $16; ages 8-12.

Foster City author Jennifer Holm's sequel to her Newbery Honor "Our Only May Amelia" continues the compelling narrative of a whip-smart girl living on a farm "in the middle of nowhere" on Washington State's rainy Nasel River in 1900. May Amelia holds her own in a family of seven brothers and a father who believes "girls are useless." May Amelia can, however, translate English to Finnish when Papa asks her to. Yet by doing so she puts her family front and center in a get-rich-quick scheme that leaves them and their neighbors homeless. (Who knew there was a foreclosure crisis at the turn of the last century?)

Holm spares none of the gory details of the difficulties of life on the river in logging country, including wild-animal attacks, crushed limbs and demented, shotgun-wielding neighbors.

But May Amelia has her teacher and friends and extended family in the big city of Astoria on her side. She's also full of sisu, the Finnish term for "guts," that keep readers cheering for her until the last page.

"Nature Girl" by Jane Kelley; Yearling/Random House; $7 paperback; ages 8-12.

Take a sarcastic, lazy middle schooler dependent on cell phones, TV and the Internet, have her artsy family spend the summer in the Vermont woods where none of the above is available, and then have her get lost on the Appalachian Trail with her little dog, and you could have a recipe for disaster — or a fresh, contemporary survival story.

When Megan realizes the Trail leads to her estranged best friend's summer home in Massachusetts, she decides to go for it. "I'm tired of quitting and failing." Not that she doesn't consider turning around, or allowing various rescue parties to find her. She sends messages back to her family that she's OK and never loses her self-deprecating humor. Five days on the Trail give Megan time to think about how she can be a better friend to Lucy, whose mother has cancer. The hike gives her a new purpose in life. "I don't want to be a cautionary tale. I want to be an INSPIRATION," she says. Indeed she is.

"Smile" by Raina Telgemeier; Scholastic; $11 paperback; ages 9-12.

"Smile" is a laugh-out-loud graphic novel based on the author's experience as a San Francisco sixth-grader who fell and knocked out her two front teeth. (She already needed braces!) Middle school is difficult enough for most teens. Raina had the added horror of being teased for looking like a vampire or a 6-year-old. Then she dealt with years of dental repair work and orthodontia. "I didn't even know there were this many kinds of 'dontists.'" Raina's drawings bring out the humor in the most difficult situations, whether they're about her teeth or her crushes on boys. Add in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and Bay Area kids will find much to love about this book.

"Liar, Liar" by Gary Paulsen; Random House; $13; ages 9-12.

Clever and smart, eighth-grader Kevin is also a self-described liar, and good at it. He concocts a series of fairly harmless lies to get out of classes so he can get to know Tina, "the prettiest girl in the world," and convince her that he's "the world's greatest boyfriend." He has a harder time lying at home, where he's the youngest kid in a family coping with change. And he must tell the truth about divorce to the kid he babysits. When his lies begin to unravel, he knows he has to begin the "Kevin Spencer Apology Tour" and accept the myriad consequences. This slim, funny novel by a distinguished and prolific author is especially appealing to middle school boys.

Debbie Duncan's middle-grade novel, "Caller Number Nine," will be available next month as an eBook. She has reviewed children's books for the Weekly since 1997. Her complete reviews are available at www.debbieduncan.com.

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