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17 great summer reads for kids of all ages

When school’s out and beaches beckon, what better object to tote in a young person’s backpack than a brand new book? Here are some engaging choices, including several by Bay Area authors.

“One is a Piñata”  by Roseanne Greenfield Thong,  illustrated by John Parra (Chronicle Books, $7.99, ages 3-5) This alphabet book shines as it teaches numbers in Spanish as well as introducing Latino words, traditions and typical fare, with boisterous illustrations.
“Loving Hands”  by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Amy June Bates (Candlewick Press, $16.99, ages 4-6) The text lyrically captures the constant love between parent and child as they pass through the decades and one generation takes care of the other. Artwork done in watercolor, gouache and pencil sensitively conveys the gentle mood.

“Going Down Home With Daddy” by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Daniel Minter (Peachtree Publishing Company, $16.95, ages 4-8) It’s time for the big family reunion “down home,” where Granny lives. It’s time for everyone to remember their ancestral history, but Lil Alan doesn’t know what he can possibly add. The gorgeous acrylic wash paintings greatly contribute to this sweetly told tale of a warm and loving family.
“What Is Given from the Heart”  by Patricia McKissack, illustrated by April Harrison (Random House Children’s Books, $17.99, ages 4-8) This is a story of giving even when you think that you have nothing. When a friend loses everything in a tragic fire, James Otis wants to give her a gift, but what does he have? Then he remembers the words Rev. Davis said in church. Written with sensitivity and compassion, the book is enhanced by evocative artwork done in mixed media.
“Here’s Hank: Everybody Is Somebody” by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver, illustrated by Scott Garrett  (Penguin Workshop, $14.99, ages 6-8) With an easy-to-read font ideally suited for kids with reading challenges, this is the last installment of actor Winkler’s popular Hank series.  When Hank gets the opportunity to be part of a trio to welcome a well-known author at his school, he’s thrilled. The only trouble is that he hasn’t read the book. The lively, imaginative story will appeal to all young readers.
“Ivy and Bean One Big Happy Family” by Annie Barrows (Berkeley), illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Chronicle books, $14.99, ages 6-9) Worried that as an only child, she may be spoiled, how can Ivy remedy the situation? As she ponders her problem, the solutions she considers are all outrageous. Blackall’s illustrations add to the silly fun.

“Yao Bai and the Egg Pirates” by Tim J. Myers (Santa Clara), illustrated by Bonnie Pang (West Winds Press, $16.99, ages 6-9) Myers has written about a little-known aspect of California history, aided by Pang’s action-packed illustrations. When Yao Bai, his father and uncle sail from San Francisco to the Farallon Islands to collect seabirds’ eggs to sell to hungry Gold Rush miners, pirates threaten them. Happily, the villains are thwarted by Yao Bai’s clever plot in this satisfying picture book.
“The Yellow Suitcase” by Meera Sriram (Berkeley), illustrated by Meera Sethi (Penny Candy Books, $16.95, ages 6-10) This beguiling story with colorful illustrations captures the vibrancy of India. When Asha makes the long trip from California for the ceremonies surrounding her grandmother’s funeral, she is devastated by the loss. But there is a surprise for her – a special gift from her departed grandmother
“Mac B. Kid Spy: The Impossible Crime”  by Mac Barnett (Oakland), illustrated by Mike Lowery (Orchard Books, $12.99, ages 7-10) In another humorous adventure in the series, Mac receives his second command from the Queen of England to halt a threatened robbery of the crown jewels. Cartoon-like illustrations accent and augment the appealing sequel.

“Smile,” by Gary Golio, illustrated by Ed Young (Candlewick Press, $17.99, ages 8-12) Golio sheds a poetic light on Charlie Chaplin’s development as the iconic tramp. Collage and ink illustrations magnificently enhance the text about the man who “taught the world to laugh and cry.”
“How High the Moon” by Karyn Parsons (Little, Brown and Company, $16.99, ages 8-12) This is a beautifully written novel with characters one immediately cares about and a setting in the 1940s of Jim Crow South Carolina. Twelve-year-old Ellie, often mocked for her light skin, desperately wants to know her true identity. When she returns from a visit to her mother in Boston, she is stunned to hear that her school friend, George, has been arrested for the murder of two white girls.  (This aspect is based on an actual case.) Parsons depicts a warm and loving family, limited by circumstances. But as her Poppy says “Don’t let how nobody treats you in this world make you think that you ain’t worthy.”

“Bone Hollow” by Kim Ventrella (Scholastic Press, $17.99, ages 9-12) Here we have a highly imaginative and wonderfully entertaining novel set in the rural South and some other unworldly domains. When Gabe falls off a roof, he doesn’t understand why no one hears him, and when he shows up at his own funeral, why the townsfolk run away from him. The protagonist is thoroughly likeable, as is his loyal dog, Ollie. One winds up laughing at the generous dollops of humor and tearing up over Gabe’s dilemma. Ventrella is a superb storyteller whose dark content is permeated with love.
“The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA” by Brenda Woods (Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House, $16.99, ages 10 up) When 12-year-old Gabriel’s dream bike nearly collides with a fast-moving car, his view of life changes. Mr. Hunter, who saves him, is a black World War II veteran, unwelcome in the 1944 Jim Crow South. He keeps his valiant war record a secret but not his skills as a mechanic. Gradually, as the two become friends, Gabriel realizes that Birdsong isn’t the perfect town he thought. The book invites discussion and its understated prose makes powerful and provocative reading. Related Articles





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“ Ashes in the Snow” by Ruta Sepetys (Penguin Books, ($9.99, ages 12 up) This is powerful, harrowing historical fiction based on Stalin’s ethnic cleansing of the Baltic countries during World War II. The story, with flashbacks, is from the point of view of a 15-year old Lithuanian girl. While the details of the Siberian labor camps are horrifying, Lina’s determination to survive helped by the courage and the love from her family shines throughout. The author did extensive research and interviews to create this compelling novel on an aspect of modern history hidden for many years.

“Internment” by Samira Ahmed (Little, Brown and Company, $17.99, ages 12 up) This is one of the most important novels of the year. It is set in the near future, when a president declares that “Muslims are a threat to America.” Shortly thereafter, roundups begin, leading to the horrifying relocation of Americana citizens into a dismal desert internment camp. Seventeen-year old Layla believes it’s vital to resist or they will be there forever. There is violence, bloodshed – and hope. The superbly sculpted story sweeps you in at once and reminds the reader that it takes courage and determination to defeat prejudice.
“ A Land of Permanent Goodbyes” by Atia Abawi (Penguin Books, $10.99, ages 12-18) The content of this well-executed novel is both compelling and distressing. Tareq lives with his large family in Syria until a bomb explodes, shattering his once happy existence and killing members of his family.  Recalling “The Book Thief,” the narrator here is Destiny, whose philosophical observations on humankind give the reader pause to reflect on the horrors of war before continuing on Tareq’s harrowing attempts to escape the oppressive clutches of Daesh. Although this is technically fiction, it is based on interviews and accounts of refugees who are “doomed never to be part of their new world and forever ripped from the old.”
“Someday We Will Fly” by Rachel DeWoskin ((Viking, Penguin Random House, $17.99, ages 13-18) This is a story of extraordinary resilience. It’s 1941, and Lillia has escaped with her father and sister from Warsaw to Shanghai, leaving behind their life as a circus family. But instead of a warm welcome in a new land, she is faced with inadequate shelter, food and medicine, a distracted father frantically trying to find work, a little sister who neither walks nor speaks, and a strange language and culture, plus oppressive heat and humidity. Through it all, she waits and worries about her mother. Will she find them? Is she still alive? It’s a fascinating novel of an intrepid teen based on the history of the 23,000 Jews who had to forsake all they had and all they knew in a desperate attempt to survive.
Joanna H. Kraus is a professor emerita of the State University of New York, an award-winning playwright and an author of children’s books. Contact her at tjkraushouse@hotmail.com; www.joannakraus.com.

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