KENDAL A. RAUTZHAN, Special to the Day
One of the most important things kids should do over the summer months is to read. While it's important that kids enjoy lots of playtime, sunshine and relaxation, reading great books is equivalent to major fun, and it keeps young minds active and prepared to start the new school year.
Every year thousands of new children's books flood bulging shelves and online stores. Fortunately you won't have to hassle with that - below you'll find reviews of several new books from the current cream-of-the-crop, grouped by age.
AGE 3 AND 4
"Arlo Needs Glasses" by Barney Saltzberg, Workman, 2012, 22 pages, $15.99 hardcover. A boy has a dog named Arlo, and the two love playing catch together. But one day, every time the boy throws the ball, Arlo misses it. This seems strange, since Arlo had always been such a good ball catcher. So the boy decides Arlo needs to have his eyes checked, and after a series of tests, it is determined that Arlo needs glasses. Now the problem is to decide which glasses Arlo prefers.
"Peepsqueak!" by Leslie Ann Clark, Harper, 2012, 32 pages, $12.99 hardcover. The moment Peepsqueak hatches from his shell, he is on the move! More than anything, Peepsqueak wants to fly, and he wants to fly HIGH! Despite the advice of the other farm animals, Peepsqueak keeps trying, until one miraculous day Peepsqueak does fly, very, very high, but not in the way anyone expected!
"Silly Doggy" by Adam Stower, Orchard Books, 2012, 38 pages, $16.99 hardcover. One morning, Lily looks out her window and sees something big and brown and hairy. She is thrilled because she has always wanted a doggy. Not realizing her newfound doggy is actually a bear, Lily and Doggy do all sorts of fun things together. When a zookeeper shows up at Lily's house looking for Doggy, Lily is crestfallen. But the next morning, Lily finds Kitty in her back yard.
Loaded with humor for children ages 3 and 4, "Silly Doggy" will have young readers laughing.
"Itsy Bitsy Baby Mouse" by Michelle Meadows, illustrated by Matthew Cordell, Simon & Schuster, 2012, 36 pages, $15.99 hardcover. Itsy-bitsy baby mouse loves to play and explore. One day, on a wild adventure of chasing a fly, twirling around the house and feasting on apple pie crumbs, the little mouse realizes he is lost! After a few tears, Baby Mouse decides he must find his way back home to Mama and Papa. Little does he know what obstacles lay ahead!
Charming, funny and striking a chord with all children's fear of being lost, this choice is a real gem.
AGE 5 AND 6
"Larf" by Ashley Spires, Kids Can Press, 2012, 32 pages, $16.95 hardcover. Larf is a sasquatch: 7-feet-tall, hairy and as far as Larf knows, the only sasquatch that exists. As far as people know, most don't think sasquatches are real, and that's okay with Larf. Larf lives a happy, peaceful life with his one companion, his pet bunny, Eric. One day, though, Larf reads an article in the local newspaper claiming that a "real" sasquatch is scheduled to make an appearance in the nearby city. No one had invited Larf to appear, so that could only mean one thing - he is not the only sasquatch in the world.
Larf decides to meet this other sasquatch, and what a good decision it turns out to be!
"Dolphin Baby!" by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Brita Granström, Candlewick, 2012, 28 pages, $15.99 hardcover. When Dolphin is born in the ocean, he is brand new, and his mother helps him swim up to the surface of the water to take his first breath. Just like other young animals and humans, there's a lot to more to learn before Dolphin is grown up enough to be on his own!
"The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas" by Tony Wilson, illustrated by Sue deGennaro, Peachtree, 2012, 32 pages, $16.95 hardcover. Prince Henrik wants very much to fall in love and get married. Of course, he is expected to marry a princess. But the more princesses he encounters, the more he realizes he doesn't want to marry a girly girl. Rather, Prince Henrik wants to marry an outdoors-y princess that likes hockey and camping. And so, he devises a plan of his own, only to find that what he'd been looking for is as close to him as two frozen peas in a packet.
A fun twist on "The Princess and the Pea," this clever rendition will have kids smiling and cheering for Prince Henrik and his "Unreal Princess."
AGE 7 AND 8
"The Knights' Tales: Sir Balin the Ill-Fated" by Gerald Morris, illustrated by Aaron Renier, Houghton Mifflin, 2012, 94 pages, $14.99 hardcover. Many years ago, King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table are determined to bring justice to their land. Some call it destiny, and one such knight - Sir Balin - is a true believer in destiny, although what is prophesied as Sir Balin's destiny isn't so swift. As told by the Old Woman of an Unknown Mountain, Sir Balin will bring disaster to everything he touches. Ironically, when repeatedly it seems Sir Balin has done just that, something good always comes of it. Will this continue to be true?
"Bears Beware" by Patricia Reilly Giff, illustrated by Alasdair Bright, Wendy Lamb Books, 2012, 68 pages, $12.99 hardcover. The kids at the Zigzag Afternoon Center are in for a surprise - they are going camping at the nature center! While the other kids think the trip is going to be great fun, Mitchell has reservations. First, they will be gone over his birthday. And even though his best friend Habib will be there, Mitchell is afraid of many things he might encounter in the wild, especially bears. Determined not to miss out on the fun, Mitchell tries very hard to be brave.
"Hooey Higgins and the Shark" by Steve Voake, illustrated by Emma Dodson, Candlewick, 2012, 104 pages, $14.99 hardcover. Hooey Higgins loves chocolate, so when he and his friend Twig see the gigantic chocolate egg in Mr. Danson's chocolate shop, Hooey decides he must have it, and Twig agrees. Sadly, the egg costs far more than what they can afford. The solution? Make money!
Hooey knows his opportunity is here when he learns that a shark has been seen off the coast of their seaside town. Now Hooey has a solution to making lots of money - catch the shark and charge people to see it! Following a sequence of hilarious events that does not yield a shark, what happens next is almost beyond belief!
"Stella Batts: Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow" by Courtney Sheinmel, illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell, Sleeping Bear Press, 2012, 138 pages, $5.99 paperback. Stella Batts feels she is a lucky girl. After all, it's not every day you get to have parents who own a candy store and have their children as official taste-testers! So, when her Dad brings home his new magical gum, Stella and her younger sister can't wait to try it out.
Unfortunately, the gum doesn't seem to hold any magic for Stella except bad magic. First, a wad of gum gets stuck in Stella's hair, which prompts Stella to cut her hair, which necessitates a professional cut that is quite short. This leads to the mean boy in school making Stella feel particularly unattractive. To make matters worse, Stella's best friend announces she will soon be moving with her family 3,000 miles away. Ugh!
Brimming with charm, realistic and funny scenarios, and a spunky heroine, this selection is sure to win high marks from readers.
AGE 9 AND 10
"The Legend of Diamond Lil: A J.J. Tully Mystery" by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Kevin Cornell, Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins, 2012, 126 pages, $14.99 paperback. The retired search-and-rescue dog J.J. Tully has one permanent assignment left in life: to protect his owner's chickens, the spunky Moosh and her chicks. J.J. patrols the yard and coop every night to make sure they are safe, in particular from possums. The job seems simple enough to J.J., but things become complicated when a fancy female dog, Lillian, shows up next door. Moosh and her chickens spend a lot of time with Lil while J.J. is in hot pursuit of the pesky possum that he occasionally finds in the yard. But something isn't right, and J.J. is determined to get to the bottom of it.
"Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe" by Nathan Bransford, illustrated by C.S. Jennings, Dial, 2012, 279 pages, $15.99 hardcover. Much to Jacob Wonderbar's surprise, he is nominated to run for the first President of the Universe! Knowing little about politics on his own planet and nothing about how to run a successful campaign beyond earth, winning the election won't be easy. His opponent is the nasty Prince Mick Cracken who fancies himself a space buccaneer and never plays fair. Despite the crazy and bizarre sequence of events, challenges and backhanded moves by Mick and other people he would never have suspected, one thing eventually becomes clear - if Jacob doesn't win, Earth will be destroyed!
"Pop-Up London" by Jennie Maizels, paper engineering by Richard Ferguson, Candlewick, 2012, 10 pages, $19.99 hardcover. Can't jet off to London this week, this year, or maybe ever? No worries! This book has you covered. Stand back and prepare to be amazed, educated, engrossed and delighted. "Pop-Up London" is loaded with fascinating facts that educate and feed curious minds, including those who might have thought they weren't even interested in London.
Five amazing double-page spread pop-ups are further enhanced with additional flaps and interactive details on every page.
AGE 11 AND 12+
"Island of Thieves" by Josh Lacey, Houghton Mifflin, 2012, 228 pages, $15.99 hardcover. When Tom Trelawney's parents go away on vacation, Tom must stay with his Uncle Harvey. Tom barely knows his uncle and hasn't seen him since he was a little boy, but Tom's parents have no other choice and assume Tom's week with Uncle Harvey is the "safest" place for Tom.
As it turns out, Tom's parents made the wrong assumption. Unbeknownst to Tom's parents, Uncle Harvey is going to Peru and has to take Tom with him. Uncle Harvey says he has some "business" to take care of, but as one event leads to another, Tom is in for the adventure of his life. In five days' time, the two must search 1,500 miles of coastline, find the Island of Thieves and uncover buried treasure. But it isn't as simple as that, especially considering there are some very dangerous men after Uncle Harvey and will stop at nothing to get what they want.
Hold on to your seats - "Island of Thieves" is an extraordinary globe-trotting mystery thriller,
"May B: A Novel" by Caroline Starr Rose, schwartz & wade, 2012, 231 pages, $15.99 hardcover. May lives with her family in a sod house on the windswept prairie of Kansas. It is the 1800s, and the closest neighbor is many miles away. To make a little extra money, Ma and Pa have hired May out to a man and his wife to help the young bride get settled; she is homesick and is having a hard time adjusting to life in Kansas. The trip is 15 miles - a long way by horse and wagon. May doesn't want to go, but her parents promise it's only until Christmas when Pa will return and take her home. But when May is suddenly left all alone in the strange sod house, winter is fast approaching. Food is running out, and May doesn't know the way back to her home. Will she survive?
With particular appeal to older girls, this powerful novel is fully satisfying.
"Son of a Gun" by Anne de Graaf, Eerdmans, 2012, 125 pages, $8 paperback. Eight-year-old Lucky and his 10-year-old sister, Nopi, are kidnapped from their small school in Liberia and forced to become child soldiers in Liberia's civil war. Treated brutally and forced to commit horrendous acts, the two finally escape. But after years of being brainwashed and fighting stay alive, will either one ever be able to recapture their childhood dreams, despite being reunited with their family after so many long years?
Based on true stories of former child soldiers in Liberia, this novel is at once deeply moving, heartfelt and hopeful.
"Summer of the Gypsy Moths" by Sara Pennypacker, Balzer & Bray, 2012, 275 pages, $15.99 hardcover. Stella has been living with her Great-Aunt Louise on Cape Cod. Stella loves the organized way Louise leads her life; it's a far cry from her mother who always is off "finding herself." Stella imagines that her mom will come back to Cape Cod someday soon, and they can all be a family again. But Louise throws a wrench into Stella's fantasy when she takes in Angel, the foster kid. Angel is tough and guarded, and has been shuffled from one foster home to another, and Stella and Angel don't get along.
When tragedy strikes, it's up to Stella and Angel to pick up the pieces and devise a plan for their very survival when their greatest wish becomes the same - to really and truly belong to a real family they can both count on.