A&E

It's summer -- let's read

New children's releases provide enlightening tales of 'baddie' villians and other unlikely heroes

The Broadway smash show "Hamilton" famously asks, "Who tells your story?" It's a question characters in new books for kids answer in myriad ways with tales that will enlighten and entertain children of all ages this summer.

"Good Night, Baddies" by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Juli Kangas; $18; Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster; ages 4-8.

Giants, witches, dragons, trolls, wolves and their ilk from classic folk and fairy tales are tired after a day of unsuccessful schemes. They gather for supper and to settle down for the night. "Baddies sit politely dining, no one throwing food or whining." These companions share news, chat, bathe and read, and forgive themselves and each other for not completing their baddie character's destiny.

For a picture book full of supposed villains, this clever story in catchy rhymes by San Francisco author Deborah Underwood is surprisingly soothing, and certain to inspire requests for multiple bedtime readings.

"The Airport Book" by Lisa Brown; $18; Neal Porter/Roaring Brook; ages 4-8.

A biracial family of four packs for a trip ("Don't forget monkey!" says Mom) and takes a taxi to the airport, where they are joined by other travelers, most of whom end up on the same flight. The fun of this book that's heavy on illustrations and light on words is following people—individually or in groups—as they check in, go through security, walk or ride to the gate, board the plane and fly to their destination. Who are they, and why are they traveling? Who will meet them at the end of their journey? Will Monkey make it there after all?

"The Airport Book" is much like one of Peggy Rathmann's beloved classics, "10 Minutes Till Bedtime," which follows groups of hamsters preparing for bed. Like Rathmann, Lisa Brown is a Bay Area author/illustrator who creates picture books for young children that dazzle in details from one endpaper to the other.

"Unidentified Suburban Object" by Mike Jung; $18; Levine/Scholastic; ages 8-12.

Chloe Cho is a model Korean-American seventh-grader in a decidedly nondiverse school, where students think all Asians must be Chinese or Japanese. She welcomes hard classes, made first chair violin, and is well-liked by teachers and administrators. (She also has a wicked sense of humor). No matter how hard she tries to understand her Korean ancestry, however, her parents refuse to talk about being Korean. They seem to know even less than she does about the culture.

It's not until Chloe fails (fails!) a social studies assignment from the new teacher, who is Korean, that Chloe's parents begin to be honest about their heritage. Their revelation is nothing short of earthshaking, and makes Chloe question everything she ever thought about herself and her place in the world.

Oakland author Mike Jung's imaginative tale will have readers gasping "Ah!" halfway through, then rapidly turning the pages to find out what happens next.

"It Ain't So Awful, Falafel" by Firoozeh Dumas; $17; Clarion/HMH; ages 9-14.

Former Palo Alto resident and humorist Firoozeh Dumas is known for her bestselling memoirs for adults, "Funny in Farsi" and "Laughing Without an Accent." Here, Dumas draws on her childhood experience as an Iranian immigrant in the 1970s for a novel that pulls readers in with laugh-out-loud humor and everyday stories, then hits them with the harsh realities of what it's like to be a middle schooler from a country hated by Americans.

Eleven-year-old Zomorod Yousefzadeh calls herself Cindy (after the Brady Bunch character) when her family moves to Newport Beach. It's the fourth time she's moved back and forth from a country ruled by a military dictator, the shah. Her father works in the oil industry and is eager to tell anyone he meets about it. Her mother refuses to learn English. Cindy, a bookish girl, simply wants to make friends at a middle school where she is the only foreigner. That, and not lose the condo pool key.

Then the shah is exiled and Ayatollah Khomeini takes over the new Islamic Republic of Iran. When the shah comes to the U.S. for cancer treatment, Iranian students capture and hold American hostages. Cindy's father soon loses his job and her mother becomes even more depressed. Students throw tomatoes at Cindy. A dead hamster appears on her doorstep along with a note: "Iranians go home."

Good friends, Girl Scouts, and Cindy's basic good nature and humor get her through the 444 days of the hostages' captivity. Still, without a job for her father, Cindy may have to move to a country now "controlled by people who ban music and movies and who force women and girls to keep covered, and who still kill those who defy them" -- far from teen life in California, in other words.

An author's note with links to the hostage crisis and other aspects that are factually based complete a book for young people that is both timeless and timely.

"Outrun the Moon" by Stacey Lee; $18; Putnam; ages 12 and up.

It's 1906, and 15-year-old Chinatown resident Mercy Wong has grand plans to develop an herbal tea business so her father -- and eventually her little brother -- won't have to work 16-hour days at the laundry. She graduated from the Oriental Public School with top marks, but that gave her only an eighth-grade education. Mercy decides she needs more schooling, more connections. That's why she concocts a scheme to earn a scholarship to the exclusive St. Clare's School for Girls.

The boarding school may be fancy and filled with girls from wealthy families (including a fictional Stanford), but it's no picnic for someone as headstrong as Mercy, especially as the only non-white student.

Then early on the morning of April 18th, the Great 1906 earthquake hits. Any plans Mercy had go up in flames: Her mother and brother are killed, and her father is missing. She and her surviving classmates and headmistress evacuate to Golden Gate Park. Alas, the 'quake and subsequent three-day fire don't eradicate the intense prejudice Chinese faced at the turn of the 20th century, even in a refugee camp. Mercy, a survivor if ever there was one in young adult literature, forms alliances and manages to devise and execute a new plan.

South Bay author Stacey Lee compellingly blends fiction with fact and adds a dash of romance. "Outrun the Moon" is historical fiction at its finest, and should inspire local teens to head up to San Francisco to walk through Chinatown as well as the neighborhoods and parks featured in the book.

"Burn Baby Burn" by Meg Medina; Candlewick; $18; ages 14 and up.

Readers can feel the hot, steamy streets of Queens, New York, on every page of this novel taking place in 1977. Seventeen-year-old Nora Lopez, who loves to go to discos and build things, is just trying to make it to her birthday so she can be out on her own. In the meantime, she has to beg her father, who has a new family, for rent money her Cuban immigrant mother can't pay. Nora also can't escape her younger brother's escalating violent and illegal behavior. Yet she won't share the details of her crumbling home life with her best friend or a new boyfriend. She has her job at the deli, but like many teens who lack parental guidance, she puts off applying to college. To make life scarier, the Son of Sam serial killer is targeting girls who look like Nora, and the city is hit by a blackout that leads to looting and arson.

Though Nora cannot put out all the fires around her, she begins taking small steps in the right direction, even if difficult or painful. Period details, including the 1970s feminist movement, bring that era to life in this remarkable book.

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