Palo Alto Weekly

- June 4, 2010

It's summertime, summertime, summertime reading time!

From a baseball hero to teen angst, there's much to keep the kids indoors

by Debbie Duncan

Summer is the best time for free reading. There are a slew of new books for kids about the joys of summer. Here are some of the best.

All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee; Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster; $18; ages 2-8.

Poetry and art synchronize beautifully in this stunning yet gentle, modern while old-fashioned-feeling oversized picture book that follows a biracial family through a summer day. Bay Area children will recognize a beach scene, farmers' market, a multi-ethnic community and a huge climbing oak tree, as well as what may be the only illustration of a California mission outside of fourth-grade social studies.

"All the world is all of us," the text reads, but it is also each one of us in this picture book gem, an instant classic.

Henry Aaron's Dream by Matt Tavares; Candlewick Press; $17; ages 4-10.

Henry Aaron was a skinny kid in Mobile, Ala., who had physical ("WHITES ONLY") barriers to playing baseball, who didn't even know how to hold a bat. But he had a dream to play in the big leagues. When he was 12, the city opened a "COLORED ONLY" baseball field, where he played 'til dark. The next year Jackie Robinson broke the Major-League color barrier, and Henry "knew his dream could come true."

This informative and inspirational picture book biography shows Henry's perseverance at every step to the big leagues, and is sure to be a hit.

The Baby-Sitters Club: The Summer Before by Ann M. Martin; Scholastic; $17; ages 8-11.

News flash for moms who grew up reading the enormously popular "Baby-Sitters Club" series: There's a prequel for your daughters! "The Summer Before" takes the four girls through the summer between sixth and seventh grades, that awkward time filled with anxiety and change, yet also possibilities. It's an ideal introduction to the characters and the series, and should inspire girls to head for the library and bookstore for more chapter books about Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia and Stacey.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia; Armistad/Simon & Schuster; $16; ages 9-12.

Here is historical fiction at its finest. It's the summer of 1968 (yes, books set in the '60s are considered historical), and 11-year-old Delphine and her younger sisters have been sent from their Brooklyn home out to Oakland to spend four weeks with the mother who had deserted them. She's Cecile, a tall "crazy" (according to her daughters) woman who wears "man's pants," a poet who prints flyers in her workplace kitchen for Black Panthers.

Cecile makes it clear she's still not cut out for mothering: not only does she not indulge her daughters' California fantasies with trips to Disneyland and the beach, she makes them fetch their own Chinese takeout and sends them to day camp run by Black Panthers. Ah, but that's where the fun begins.

"One Crazy Summer" draws readers in with memorable characters who speak and act from the heart and find themselves playing important parts during an amazing time.

Sea by Heidi R. Kling; Putnam/Penguin; $18; ages 12 and up.

Palo Alto author Heidi Kling was inspired by her husband's relief work in post-tsunami Indonesia to write a young adult novel about a 15-year-old California (read: Santa Cruz) girl who reluctantly joins her psychiatrist father's relief team to an Indonesian orphanage. Though she'd never admit it, Sienna (Sea) also needs help — her mother's plane went missing three years earlier, and she hasn't been the same since.

"Sea" is a page-turner set primarily in steamy Indonesia, a place where loss abounds but life goes on and romance blooms. There are so many characters to fall in love with — headstrong Sienna, orphan-boys leader Deni, and my favorite, little Elli, who sleeps on the bunk below Sienna and scampers off to morning prayers at 5, carrying a "rolled-up carpet under (her) arm" as if she "were late for peewee yoga class."

"Sea" is the novel teen readers will be talking about this summer. Kling will be launching her book at Books Inc., Town & Country Village, Saturday, June 12, at 6:30 p.m.

Debbie Duncan has been reviewing books for the Palo Alto Weekly since 1997.

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