Everyday I read the book. (Well ok this isn't me, this is Elvis Costello, but still. I wanted to use this picture.)
It was a lot of fun, and very interesting, to record a segment at Baltimore's NPR station, WYPR, about summer reading for kids. I was happy to proselytize a bunch of books that I think will have wide-ranging appeal this summer to a variety of readers.
The audio of my interview with Tom Hall, culture editor of Maryland Morning with Sheilah Kast, is on the WYPR website. After the break is the complete list of books that I mentioned, plus a few we didn't have time to talk about.
What we're seeing at the library recently are kids who have enjoyed the Diary Of A Wimpy Kid series, or the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books, asking about what's next to read, and their parents are looking to keep up that leisure reading momentum over the summer. Lucky for them – lucky for us – there's a ton of new or recent stuff that is exciting, or funny or both.
First off I have The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins. Pink Me review here. Gregor is kind of this New York everykid - I believe Collins takes great pains to not identify him as either white or black - whose baby sister falls down a vent shaft or something in their apartment building into a vast underground world. Gregor follows her, of course, because if he loses her his mom's gonna kill him. When they get down there, they find people, a whole civilization down there for hundreds of years, but alongside the people there are giant talking rats and giant talking bats and giant talking cockroaches and pretty much giant talking whatever you might find in the dark. There are five books in the series and they get quite serious toward the end, but it's absolutely gripping and completely addictive.
The Last Apprentice by Joseph Delaney, is a dark fantasy very popular with middle grade boys. Lots of magic and danger in those books, with real shivery writing and creepy characters whose loyalties are always in question.
But both of those series are pretty well known, so I thought I'd also bring out a couple of series that are newer, that kids who like to read may not have heard of.
First there's Ulysses Moore, written by Pierdomenico Baccalario, in which three kids move into a giant spooky old house and discover clues and puzzles seemingly left them by a previous owner, the mysterious Ulysses Moore. There's time travel, and a portal and a map, and these really neat old-fashioned illustrations that are clues themselves. This is a good one for kids who like The 39 Clues or The Hardy Boys.
And then there’s Dark Life, which is brand new. It’s set in the future, when global warming has reduced the surface of the earth so much that the government is sponsoring homesteaders to settle the sea floor. Ty and his family farm kelp and herd red snapper on their 100 acres, and have to fend off bandits and dangerous wildlife. It's like a sci-fi Western, but with underwater surfboards instead of mustang ponies, and dolphins in place of dogs. Full Pink Me review here. I emailed author Kat Falls last week because I just had to know... and she says that there are a planned 4 books in this series. Yes!!
And I have to mention The Red Pyramid, the first book in the Kane Chronicles, the new series by Rick Riordan, who wrote the Percy Jackson books. Carter and Sadie are siblings whose life gets extremely strange the night their dad blows up the Rosetta Stone, summons a cranky Egyptian god, and disappears. It's 500 pages, but most kids jet through this book as if it were a comic. Although not as quick with the wisecracks as Percy was, this new series could do for Egyptian mythology what Percy did for the Greeks.
On the funny side, I've brought book one in the series Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie, by David Lubar. (Did I include this series on this list just so that I could say "Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie" on the radio? No! But that was a pretty good perk!) David Lubar is the guy who wrote the Weenies books, which, if you were a 9-year-old boy, might be all you needed to hear. Poor Nathan is your average underachiever who one day gets doused with mad scientist juice, and turns into a zombie. Which kind of is good for his life – his stamina improves, he's better at video games, he's kind of a superhero - but, you know, he's dead. Full Pink Me review here.
Then there's Big Nate, the title character in Big Nate: In a Class by Himself, who's a little more like the wimpy kid – he's not dead, for one thing. In this book, we follow him through a day at school. We meet his friends, we get to read all of his notebook doodles, which if his teachers found, he'd be in detention for the rest of his life... we even get to read his poetry:
Haiku by Nate Wright
You have Cheez Doodles
Fresh. Crunchy. Puffalicious.
Give me one right now.
I reviewed this one on Pink Me not too long ago.
The Lunch Lady graphic novels by Jarrett K. Krosoczka (and if I did not select Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie just so I could say it on the radio, neither did I let my inability to pronounce JKK's last name keep Lunch Lady off the list. Committed! Committed am I!) are short and wacky, just the right length to be a funny diversion during Adult Swim at the pool. Three meddlesome kids help Lunch Lady and her sidekick Betty solve mysteries and fight crime with the aid of super gadgets like the Spork Phone and the Underwater Bendy-Straw Breathing Apparatus. I love Lunch Lady - she’s like James Bond in a hairnet.
How to Train Your Dragon fans should look for An Awfully Beastly Business, by a group calling themselves The Beastly Boys This is a series of books about a preteen werewolf, Ulf, and his friends in the RSPCB, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Beasts. It's funny and exciting, and great for car trips. The CDs are read by Gerard Doyle, who does fantastic character voices.
I also have The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger, which is so funny and odd, and I've never handed it to a kid and had them not adore it. So the strange case of Origami Yoda involves this kid Dwight, who at school is the kind of kid who, when he spills his juice, bellyflops onto the floor and wipes it up with the front of his shirt, and Dwight's origami Yoda finger puppet. When his friends have problems or dilemmas, the finger puppet pipes up, “Ask Origami Yoda you should” so they do, and Yoda comes up with this amazing fantastic insightful advice. This makes Dwight's friend Tommy extremely suspicious. He can't figure out why Dwight, who is such a space case, can come up with this great advice, and maybe there really is a Jedi master inside Dwight's finger puppet.
A series that kind of blends the two themes, that is both funny and adventurous, is N.E.R.D.S. By Michael Buckley. N.E.R.D.S stands for the National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society and it's made up of 5th graders who are, at the beginning of the book, kind of geeks. One's ADHD, one has asthma, one kid has braces, etc. And then they get inducted into this secret spy agency and their weaknesses are turned into superpowers.
On the theme of mystery, we have The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity, by Mac Barnett. And this will be perfect for kids who like the Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown. In fact, the hero of this book, Steve, is obsessed with a pair of teen detectives exactly like the Hardy Boys, and he memorizes all their methods, and so when he's attacked by a SWAT team of librarians at his local public library (thank you very much), he tries to solve the case just like his heroes would. Unfortunately, it turns out that his heroes give lousy advice – not only totally impractical but sometimes actually dangerous. This is a sweet, funny book that in a way is just as old-fashioned as the books it gently mocks. Full Pink Me review here.
A beautiful, summery read for girls is the Emily Windsnap series by Liz Kessler. Emily is an average English girl who one day discovers that she is half mermaid! This leads to gorgeous undersea discoveries and adventures along with a fair bit of drama with her family and friends. This one is particularly nice on audio – it’s read by the British actress Finty Williams, who has a light, musical voice that never turns sugary.
Any Which Wall by once and future Baltimorean Laurel Snyder is kind of a quieter adventure. It's a funny and friendly read, and kids who pick it up can't put it down – boys and girls. Four kids find a strange wall standing in the middle of a field. It turns out that if they touch it, and make a wish, the wall will transport them anywhere and anywhen they want. It's kind of an old-fashioned summer book, full of bike riding and popsicles and magic. My Pink Me review is here. The entire second and third grade read it last month for a parent-child Big Read at my kids' school, and more children - and parents - actually read Any Which Wall than any previous book we've picked.
This next book, One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, is getting a lot of buzz as an award contender this year. Although... it's a little difficult to synopsize in an appealing way: as the book starts, Delphine and her little sisters are being sent to California to spend the summer of 1968 with the mother who abandoned them years ago. Once they get there, their mom still has no interest in them, and sends them to a summer camp sponsored by the Black Panthers. Yay, right? And yet it manages to be upbeat and colorful and fun.
I had so much fun picking out this list, but I had to leave so many absolute winners off it! I hope WYPR has me back, perhaps to talk about YA/Adult crossover books. Those Twilight readers are looking for the next hot, dangerous, otherworldly romance to sink their teeth into!
Read good books!fondly,
-- your neighborhood librarian