Children’s books to keep kids reading all the dog-eared days of summer

06/01/2014 7:00 AM

06/03/2014 2:23 PM

Ahhh summertime: no school, no worries, no problem curling up with a book and a lemonade.

The best part about summer reading is the freedom to find a good book and dive in without stressing about book reports or reading points. Whether your young reader is listening to you read or venturing out on his or her own with easy readers and chapter books, the list of choices is long and varied.

Here is a sampling of recently released books to get young readers started on their summer reading adventures. Spending time reading keeps kids’ minds sharp over the summer, and several books on our list get bonus points for encouraging additional brain exercise through foreign language and math.

“Little Roja Riding Hood,” by Susan Middleton Elya with illustrations by Susan Guevara (Putnam Juvenile; ages 5-8; $16.99). The fascinating element of this picture book is in the detailed illustrations. Readers who study the characters find a Wolf who wears a bandana and skull necklace, Grandma using a laptop, Mama watching telenovelas and Little Roja zooming around on an ATV.

The story is recognizable, and the rhyming Spanish words will help teach pronunciation. You’ll find the explanation of the little trickster sprites (duendes) who appear in the illustration backgrounds buried in the illustrator’s biography, though I would have preferred it in the story or glossary.

“Three Bears in a Boat,” written and illustrated by David Soman (Dial; ages 3-5; $17.99). Despite the recommended age range, I advise everyone to read this picture book and enjoy the subtle acknowledgments of past classics “Moby Dick,” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “Little Bear” andWhere the Wild Things Are.”

Three little bears break their mama’s blue seashell and set off to find a replacement in this charming picture book. A wild ride on the high seas brings them to follow the advice of a salty old sea bear and “just look in the right place,” with a comforting conclusion that teaches a lesson in forgiveness and love.

The fact that the naughty little bears get no dessert also reinforces in a kind way that actions have consequences.

“The Worst Princess,” by Anna Kemp with illustrations by Sara Ogilvie (Random House Books for Young Readers; ages 3-7; $18.99). One of my favorite books to read to my daughter 20 years ago was “Paperbag Princess” by Robert Munch. This delightful picture book reminds me of that classic, with an unconventional princess and her fire-breathing dragon searching for Prince Charming.

She finds him, but his idea of happily ever after is a bit more traditional than our liberated Princess Sue can stand. Definitely a story that encourages girl power, but I would change the title to “The Worst Prince.”

“Hooray for Hat!,” written and illustrated by Brian Won (HMH Books for Young Readers; ages 4-8; $16.99). When the morning grumpies strike, bring out this picture book and a stack of hats and before long, youngsters will join the parade with a shout, “Hooray for Hat!”

This celebration of friendship and sharing, with a catchy phrase that will help beginning readers, will bring a smile to their faces with its creative illustrations of various animals in their hats.

“Monkey and Elephant Go Gadding,” by Carole Lexa Schaefer with illustrations by Galia Bernstein (Candlewick; ages 6-8; $14.99). What a great word — “gadding” — and how fun for a young reader to say it and know that it means, as Monkey explains, “walking along, looking around, finding something fun, stopping awhile, then moving on.”

For Monkey and Elephant, gadding about leads to visits with old friends and making new friends. This easy reader in the Monkey and Elephant series might even inspire some gadding about this summer.

“Poppy the Pirate Dog’s New Shipmate,” by Liz Kessler with illustrations by Mike Phillips (Candlewick; ages 5-9; $14.99). One might assume that a new puppy will be joining the family in this early reader from the Poppy the Pirate Dog series. But horrors, it’s even worse!

Sibling rivalry gets a new twist when it’s explained through the animal world. The idea of a pirate dog will intrigue readers with the many pirate references, even though it has nothing to do with the storyline.

“Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey,” written and illustrated by Alex Milway (Candlewick; ages 5-9; $12.99). Despite his odd name, Pigsticks is an intriguing character in this funny early chapter book featuring the pig and his hamster sidekick, Harold, and their adventures to find “the Ends of the Earth.”

A trek through deserts, mountains and jungles, plus cake-stealing goats, makes for a lively story told with deadpan humor and whimsical illustrations. Look for clever asides in the illustrations, such as the portrait of “Amelia Pigheart” and “Seated Pig” by Pigasso, plus the bottle of oink on the writing desk.

“Sunny Sweet Is So Dead Meat,” by Jennifer Ann Mann with illustrations by Jana Christy (Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books; ages 8-12; $15.99). I admit to being quite charmed by this chapter book, although I find the level of genius of 6-year-old Sunny Sweet a bit far-fetched. I couldn’t put it down until I found out what the true science experiment was, and what did her hat have to do with it?

Sunny Sweet and her older sister, Masha, have a love-hate relationship that siblings will empathize with as they read about the pair’s wild adventures in a cemetery, a science fair, a city bus and a restaurant. The author does a good job of piquing the readers’ interest and building the story to a surprise ending that seems almost like an afterthought.

I would definitely recommend this series to young middle-grade readers who like humorous realistic fiction. If they like this book, they might also like the series “Clementine,” by Sara Pennypacker, or “Ivy & Bean,” by Annie Barrows.

“File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents (All the Wrong Questions),” by Lemony Snicket with illustrations by Seth (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; ages 8 and up; $12). For anyone who has been captivated by Snicket’s orphaned Baudelaire children in “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” this new series of snarky and witty literary masterpieces will be welcome.

In this novel, 13 incidents are investigated by young apprentice Lemony Snicket, and readers can solve the puzzles along with the author. Or not, because some of the mysteries appear to be unsolved.

Stay tuned for Book 3 in the series, “Shouldn’t You Be in School?,” scheduled for release in September 2014.

“The Battle for WondLa (The Search for WondLa),” written and illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; ages 10 and up; $17.99). This 496-page novel looks incredibly daunting at first, but if readers thumb through the pages, they will be reassured when they see the double-spread illustrations every 10 pages or so.

If your kid is reading the three-book series, he or she will dive into this last one full force. If they haven’t started the series, go back and begin with the first book to find a fabulous science-fiction adventure series that incorporates elements of Oz with a smattering of “Star Wars,” all wrapped up in a gripping novel with graphic illustrations.

To reach Mary Schulte, call 816-234-4357 or send email to mschulte@kcstar.com.

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