"How to Two," by David Soman; $18; Dial; ages 2 and up.
This big, colorful, lapworthy picture book counts up, counts down and encourages playing with others as well as reading aloud. A young child goes to the city park by himself, and soon he is joined by girls and boys of many colors and sizes, one at a time, until there are 10 playing together at the playground. Then they're picked up by their adults, among them one mom, two dads, a grandma, and a stroller-pushing, hijab-wearing mother. At the end of the day, only two — child and adult — are needed to read a book before bed. Brilliant.
"Hey, Water!" by Antoinette Portis; $18; Porter/Holiday House; ages 4 and up.
Just as water comes in many forms (liquid, solid, gas), this engaging picture book would be just as appealing to a 10-year-old budding scientist as it might be to her 2-year-old brother who's attracted by enticing illustrations of water in all its permutations. Lyrical prose describe and pictures show where a little girl finds water — everywhere! — and how she interacts with it. An appendix explains water forms, the water cycle and how to conserve water, plus a bibliography for further exploration. "Hey, Water!" is a virtual waterfall of information and inspiration.
"Camp," by Kayla Miller; $11 paperback; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; ages 9-14.
Every summer needs a camp book, and every season calls for new and engaging graphic novels. "Camp" fills both of those needs beautifully with the story of Olive and her best (though very different) friend, Willow, and the two weeks they spend at summer camp. While Olive is outgoing and eager to meet new people, Willow is content to stick with Olive, and wants Olive all to herself. Conflict ensues when Olive begins making new friends. She doesn't want to lose Willow, but she also wants to take advantage of new opportunities. "Camp" shows how two girls figure out how to resolve differences while staying true to themselves. Readers who enjoy this book will be pleased to get their hands and eyes on the companion graphic novel, "Click," about Olive and the role she plays in the fifth grade variety show.
"The Last Last-Day-of-Summer," by Lamar Giles, illustrations by Dapo Adeola; $17; Versify/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; ages 9-14.
This time-meddling fantasy stars the Legendary Alston Boys, cousins Otto and Sheed, who manage to stop time (accidentally, of course) when they wish for one more day of summer vacation. And what a day it is! Most of the townsfolk are frozen in time while all sorts of beings from another dimension join the boys in their quest to solve mysteries that keep flying at them. (This is a novel worth reading more than once.)
The evil Mr. Flux begins the chaos with a magical camera. Before long, readers meet characters such as Clock Watchers, Time Sucks, Witching Hour, and Otto as an older version of himself. Petey, a fellow who works at the hardware store, is actually a genius who'd given up on his dreams after being bullied in high school. If Otto wants to change the past to save the future, he's going to need Petey's help, along with assistance from his rival twin girl adventurers. It's worth it.
"The Moon Within," by Aida Salazar; $18; Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic; ages 9-14.
Ceci initially objects vehemently to her mother's plans for observing Ceci's first period. A public celebration? That includes her little brother? "It's my body!" Meanwhile, Ceci needs to learn how not to betray her best friend as he establishes himself as a he — something that leads to far more preteen bullying than a moon ceremony.
The boy Ceci likes acts like a jerk about it, and the Queen Bee/Science Fair star of East Oakland is mean to Ceci and her best friend, now called Marco. In the end, Ceci embraces her herbalist Mexican-American mother's moon ceremony, which becomes something personally and culturally significant for both Ceci and Marco.
As he says at the end of this luminous novel in verse, "I just want my family/and friends to understand me/to accept me for who I am/and who I will be."
"Where the Heart Is," by Jo Knowles; $17; Candlewick Press; ages 10-14.
This book will break readers' hearts in the best possible way. It's the story of a resilient 13-year-old living with distracted parents, a spirited little sister, food insecurity and possible loss of her family's home, while also trying to figure out who she is and where she stands among her peers and potential romantic interests. Not only that, Rachel's summer job involves feeding farm animals twice a day, and not all of them appreciate her dedication.
At least she has a best friend from forever, Micah. But Micah now wants to be more than buddies with Rachel, and she isn't sure she can have feelings like that for any boy. Or can she? That's one of the aspects of this book that make it so appealing to middle-grade readers, especially those who question their own personalities and orientation.
"Where the Heart Is" is set in rural Vermont, but Rachel's internal and external conflicts are all too familiar to Peninsula young teens: Food and housing are a daily challenge for many youth. I hope they, and those who know kids like them, find this book.
"Enemy Child: The Story of Norman Mineta, a Boy Imprisoned in a Japanese American Internment Camp During World War II," by Andrea Warren; $23; Ferguson/Holiday House; ages 9 and up.
This is the first biography of local hero and San Jose native Norm Mineta, now 87. He was an ordinary city kid who liked baseball, Cub Scouts and going to movies and goofing off with his best friend when the Japanese military bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Soon, the American government declared all Japanese Americans living on the west coast to be enemies — including U.S. citizens, such as Norm and his siblings.
Norm's family was forcibly relocated to Santa Anita racetrack in southern California, then to Heart Mountain Internment Camp near Cody, Wyoming: Californians with no winter coats were sent where the wind chill was below zero. Like all detention centers, the conditions were wretched. Norm remembers living with his family in a community of 10,000 detainees held behind barbed wire in a one-room barrack, the communal bathroom half a block away, and wringing out laundry by hand for his mother every Saturday. Yet Norm's family had certain advantages other detainees did not, including money to buy warm clothes from mailorder catalogs.
Norm's siblings and eventually his father found legal ways to leave the camp and work or attend college away from the coast. A compassionate Quaker teacher helped Norm, who probably had dyslexia, learn to read. He fought boredom by playing baseball, ice skating, Scouting and making friends.
One of his Scouting buddies, Alan Simpson, was a boy from Cody, Wyoming, who decades later served in Congress with Norman Mineta. Together they advocated year after year for an apology and some form of restitution from the U.S. government for unjustly imprisoning Japanese-Americans. The result of their efforts was the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which granted $20,000 to surviving internees. It was the least the government could do.
"Enemy Child" tells a compelling, detailed story — historical but also local and eerily relevant to the civil rights violations being waged on immigrants at our southern border.