Palo Alto Weekly

- June 29, 2012

Let's read aloud this summer!

Family summer reading for ages 4 to 94

by Debbie Duncan

Stellar new books for kids and families inspire laughter, creativity, activity, thought and yes, even a few tears.

But it's all for the best cause: reading!

"How to Babysit a Grandpa" by Jean Reagan; Knopf; ages 4-8; $17

Here's a fresh, humorous take on grandparents as babysitters: Flip the roles so the kid takes care of Grandpa. "When it's sunny, sunscreen up — especially the top of his head." Ha! And on a walk, "If there's a puddle or a sprinkler, show him what to do," with an illustration of Grandpa and the little guy happily jumping into water.

"How to Babysit a Grandpa" is sure to be a hit with multiple generations.

"Happy Like Soccer" by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Lauren Castillo; Candlewick; ages 4-8; $16

City girl Sierra is thrilled to be chosen for a suburban soccer team that plays on "fields with no holes, and real goals, not two garbage cans shoved together." But she's also sad that her auntie cannot get away from her restaurant job to watch Sierra's Saturday games. "Every girl has someone there but me."

Any kid who plays on a sports team will recognize Sierra and root for her to win on and off the soccer field. Her story is illustrated by ink and watercolor paintings that jump off the page.

"Our School Garden" by Rick Swann, illustrated by Christy Hale; Readers to Eaters; ages 4-12; $18

Palo Alto writer and artist Christy Hale provides vibrant mixed-media illustrations for this inspirational book showing the many benefits of a school garden. There is so much here: science, poetry, history, math, English ... plus riddles and a recipe for stone soup, as well as a helpful list of resources.

Though directed at schools, families will find "Our School Garden" useful and fun.

"Discover More: How Today's Technology Really Works" by Clive Gifford; Scholastic; ages 9-13; $16

Kids will discover much to study in this fascinating digest of how things work, an illustrated, fact-filled tome that explains the history, technology and workings behind smartphones, computers, robots, camcorders, engines and motors, cars, airplanes, space exploration, sports shoes, roller coasters, 3-D, clean energy generation and more.

"Discover More: How Today's Technology Really Works" also includes a glossary and a digital companion book.

"The Moon Over High Street" by Natalie Babbitt; Scholastic; ages 8-12; $16

Though the reader doesn't learn until page 93 that this charming book is set in 1965, it's clear from the outset that the characters are not living in a cell phone/computer/organized-activities-for-kids world. The women's movement also hasn't hit Midville yet, or at least had any effect on the town's millionaire. Mr. Boulderwall, facing a future without a male heir to his factory and fortune, latches onto a young Midville visitor, Joe, whose parents have died but who is quite content with the care given to him by Gran and Aunt Myra. Joe has no interest in being adopted by Mr. Boulderwall; he wants to be a scientist and study the moon, not a CEO. But can he say no to a life of riches?

Though the novel's ending is unsurprising, the journey is well worth the read.

"Caddy's World" by Hilary McKay; McElderry/Simon & Schuster; ages 10 and up; $17

Entering Caddy's world is like watching a wacky British sitcom starring a family of eccentric artists who do the goofiest things in the most matter-of-fact way. In this prequel to five award-winning books about the Casson family, we meet Caddy's three best friends, who are just as crazy as Caddy's parents and siblings, and as lovable. Yet they are also typical 12-year-olds: There's Alison, who radiates negativity; Ruby, book smart and tech savvy; Beth, who's unhappy with her body and tries to do something about it; and Caddy, "the bravest of the brave." They build a hangout in a stable to deal with the changes that inevitably come from being 12. Good thing, especially when Caddy is called upon to make the rescue of her life.

"Wonder" by R.J. Oakacui; Knopf; ages 8-12; $16

This is one of those books for the ages — all ages, an instant classic. If you've heard about "Wonder," you may already know it's a novel about a 10-year-old boy with severe facial deformities. As Augie admits on the first page: "... ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds."

Yet the story of this funny, smart, sensitive boy's year in fifth grade (his first outside of homeschooling) is told not just from his point of view, but also from those whose lives he touches and affects deeply, including his sister, his sister's friend and boyfriend, and August's school friends. "Wonder" is a beautifully written, un-put-downable book that challenges assumptions, invites discussion, and makes a perfect summer family read-aloud.

"Fenway Fever" by John H. Ritter; Philomel/Penguin; ages 10-14; $17

The best sports novels don't require an intimate knowledge of the specific sport, because they're really about life. In fact, "Fenway Fever" could confuse young people especially knowledgeable about the 2012 Red Sox, as this is a fictional team, led by eccentric pitcher Billee Orbitt, supposedly playing for Boston during Fenway Park's 100th anniversary year. Billee's No. 1 fan is 12-year-old "Stats" Pagano, a small-statured statistical genius who lives for his beloved Sox. Stats' family runs a hot dog stand outside the park, but Pops is in danger of having to sell the business to pay old medical bills. Billee is also in trouble. Has the Curse, the legendary bad energy, returned to Fenway? Can Stats and Billee's summer solstice mission restore balance to the park?

The friendship between Stats and Billee, two characters "who are only just sort of normal and also sort of weird," is fanciful and touching. Pops' relationship with his sons, Stats and 15-year-old shortstop phenom Mark, is completely realistic. And the ending of "Fenway Fever" will warm even a Yankee fan's heart.

Debbie Duncan of Stanford is the author of an award-winning eBook, "Caller Number Nine." She has reviewed children's books for the Weekly since 1997. Her complete reviews are at www.debbieduncan.com.

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