A&E

Blast off into summer books!

Recommended reading for the young among us

School's out, kids: time to take a break and explore new worlds through the joy of reading.

Summer is also an ideal time for parents to read aloud to children of all ages. Even teenagers enjoy hearing a tale of epic adventure or a thought-provoking story. Begin by looking for these new books with definite young-person appeal.

"Interstellar Cinderella," by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Meg Hunt; $17; Chronicle Books; ages 2-8.

Take a classic fairy tale, but let the heroine have more control over her fate. Zoom the story into outer space and the future. Make it rhyme. Illustrate it with whimsy and a dark-skinned prince. The result? A modern fairy tale retelling for all ages that stands up to repeat readings.

This Cinderella is good at fixing things, which comes in handy when the prince's spaceship breaks down. Alas, she leaves her socket wrench while rushing to meet a midnight deadline. Of course the prince finds her again. But will she accept his marriage proposal? San Francisco author Underwood comes up with a clever and appropriate conclusion.

"Over the Hills and Far Away: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes," collected by Elizabeth Hammill, illustrated by more than 70 artists; $22; Candlewick Press; ages 2 and up.

The list of illustrators of this gorgeous collection of nursery rhymes from around the world reads like a "Who's Who" of award-winning artists, including Ashley Bryan, Eric Carle, Lucy Cousins, Nina Crews, Shirley Hughes, Jon Klassen, Jerry Pinkney, Chris Raschka, Mo Willems and Ed Young. Most of the rhymes are familiar to English-speaking readers. Others are from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, and all may very well become beloved by young and not-so-young listeners and readers.

"How to Read a Story," by Kate Messner, illustrated by Mark Siegel; $17; Chronicle Books; ages 4-8.

A super kid-friendly picture book for children eager to read independently? Ingenious. Why didn't someone think of this sooner? The 10 steps are simple ("Step 1: Find a story") yet remarkably instructive ("Step 8: If there are words you don't know, try sounding them out or looking at the pictures to see what makes sense"). The young reader is encouraged to read with expression, to predict what might happen next and to read it all over again if it's a good story -- starting with this one!

"The Baby-Sitters Club: Kristy's Great Idea," by Ann M. Martin, adapted and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier; $11 paperback; Scholastic/Graphix; ages 8-12.

Kids gobble up graphic novels as if they were candy. And that's OK! In this first book of the new Baby-Sitters Club series, bestselling author/illustrator and San Francisco native Telgemeier perfectly brings to life a middle-grade classic for 21st century readers, who will learn how kids used to use an old-fashioned telephone to get after-school jobs.

These enterprising girls deal with opportunities and challenges involving their families, clients and relationships with each other. Maintaining a notebook on their jobs helps them stay organized. They learn to say no to unreasonable client demands. Misunderstandings and squabbles among the four must be addressed. Once solved, the club moves on, pulling young readers with them. Book Two, "The Truth About Stacey," will be published July 28. Pass the candy jar!

"Listen, Slowly," by Thanhhà Lại ; $17; HarperCollins; ages 8-12.

Twelve-year-old California girl Mai (Mia to her middle school buddies) is all set to spend a lazy summer at the beach in Laguna with her girlfriends (and her new crush) when her do-gooder surgeon father and SAT-prep-pushing attorney mother surprise her. Mai is to accompany her grandmother to Vietnam so Bà can track down information about her husband, who had been held prisoner during what Mai calls "THE WAR." Upon arrival, she discovers sultry heat, hungry mosquitoes and schemes to end the trip as quickly as possible.

Yet Mai is "trained to be obedient," especially as Bà's caregiver. She's a witty observer of the sights, smells, sounds, tastes, traffic, people, animals, customs, clothing and even architecture and skin-care routines in Vietnam. The teens Mai hangs out with, especially frog-toting Út and Anh Minh --Mai's personal translator who speaks English with a Texas accent -- turn out to be a lot more interesting than the beach girls and boys back home. Mai becomes less judgmental in the weeks she spends in her parents' homeland. As she notes, "The new me astonishes even me."

"Listen, Slowly" is a coming-of-age story with humor and heart -- another gem from a National Book Award-winning author.

"I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives," by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda with Liz Welch; $18; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, ages 10 and up.

In 1997, a 12-year-old Pennsylvania girl becomes pen pals with a 14-year-old boy in Zimbabwe. While Caitlin's letters focus on shopping, crushes, boys and pop music, Martin, who also likes the Spice Girls, lives in a shack and doesn't have enough to eat, much less the wherewithal to send Caitlin a photo of himself when she asks. Martin even drops out of school because he doesn't have $20 for public school fees. Finally, he tells Caitlin more about his circumstances: in a letter written on a discarded ice cream bar wrapper, the only paper he can find. Without letting her parents know, Caitlin starts sending Martin babysitting money for tuition and groceries.

Martin's goal is to attend college in the U.S. and then support his family in Zimbabwe. He's always one step away from failure, as he never seems to have the money for tuition, standardized tests, airplane fare or even food. Yet hard work and the willingness to ask Caitlin and her parents for help results in success all around: Martin gets the full-ride scholarship he needs while introducing Caitlin "to a whole other world" away from "teen dramas" and becoming an important member of her generous, tenacious family.

"None of the Above," by I.W. Gregorio; $18; HarperCollins; ages 12 and up.

This groundbreaking and very real young adult novel was inspired by the author's patient during her residency at Stanford Hospital. Kristin, the main character, is a high school senior, track star and homecoming queen before a painful first experience with sex leads her to learn she is intersex. Krissy identifies as a girl, but she has (hidden) testicles and no uterus. Soon the whole school finds out -- yikes! Girls she thought were her friends betray her, her boyfriend tells her he never wants to see her again and she's bullied on Facebook. Krissy withdraws: After surgery to remove her gonads, she does schoolwork from home. Even her college plans are in jeopardy when she's led to believe she will lose her athletic scholarship because she may not be able to compete as a female.

Krissy doesn't always make good choices, but in time she pays attention to a therapist and meets other young women with her condition. She gets out of the house and the self-absorption of her diagnosis by volunteering at a health clinic. A fellow volunteer who's also an old friend brings intriguing possibilities to Krissy's new identity, not just as a former homecoming queen but as a complicated young woman.

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