Monday, June 29, 2009

The Best Lead Ever, Or: Summer Reading

"That book has the best lead ever!" my nine-year-old says to me this evening.

If you ever do any narrative writing, you are always looking for the best lead. At least I am, so I was curious. The lead itself?

"I was born with water on the brain."

He was referring, of course, to Sherman Alexie's book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. This is a book I got him last winter, and if you've read it, then you know that it is not "appropriate" for nine-year olds. It is definitely a YA (Young Adult) book. Not appropriate, except that he loved it, and I'm not very interested in censoring my kids' reading (well, excluding pornography and other truly, truly inappropriate books).

My nine-year-old went on to tell me that even though the Alexie book is not "totally appropriate," you could still tell it was a kids' book because it had a happy ending, and he said, "the real world isn't really like that, you know?" I told him that happy endings were one of the things I loved about kids' books, but as he moved into the YA genre he would find more books that didn't have happy endings.

What can I say? I love kids books, but I don't like YA realistic fiction very much, and I think that the difference is the happy ending. These days, I read fiction to escape and to have fun. I find the "real world" frequently painful and can only stand to read the nonfiction version of reality. (I do read a fair amount of nonfiction.) For fiction, these days, my tastes run more to fantasy, mystery, and. . . kids' books.

One of the best things about being a parent? License to read kids' books, which I love.
One of the best things about summer? A little more time to read. Or maybe it's not so much time that is lacking during the school year, but energy.

If you are bored with your usual summer fare, and are looking for a few more kids' books, here are a few ideas. (These are mostly elementary-school-ish age. I love picture books but would have a hard time being selective.) I hope at least one of these is new to you.

Al Slote's Finding Buck McHenry. Perfect summer reading and it features a barely-disguised Ann Arbor. (And he has many other books too, but this one is my favorite.)

The Avion My Uncle Flew. by Cyrus Fisher and Richard Floethe. Fantastical post-WWII story with a lot of French thrown into the mix. I find this book very funny.

Louise Erdrich's Birchbark House. Set in the northwoods by Lake Superior, and featuring an Ojibway family. The setting makes it perfect for a family camping trip in the U.P.

Jill Paton Walsh's The Green Book. One of those books that falls into the science-fiction category, but doesn't feel like science fiction. This is a quick read but it is very thought-provoking.

Ida B...And Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World by Katherine Hannigan. My daughter told me she cried but I think she has read it at least ten times. This is the one book on this list that I haven't read--too much reality--the mom gets cancer. [My daughter and I do not necessarily agree on genres. At all.]

My new favorite book for the summer, this book reads like fiction but it has a fantasy element, and it is a YA book BUT it has a happy ending: The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney by Suzanne Harper. Bring it to the beach! Or to upstate New York, where the book is set.

In a similar vein (reads like fiction with a fantasy element), but for a slightly younger audience, there is The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson.

I will read anything by Eleanor Estes, but for summer reading (ideas for what to do when you are bored) I recommend The Moffat Museum.

Wants that happy/sad mix (but with a happy ending)? Try Julia Alvarez's How Tia Lola Came to (Visit) Stay.

And for YA fantasy, I love Tamora Pierce (sorry, can't pick a favorite book). Or you could try Peter Dickinson's The Ropemaker. [Or, I will read Tolkein's The Hobbit. Over and over. But you already knew about that book.]

And I will also go back, again and again, to Jean Craighead George and My Side of the Mountain.

IF you are driving, and like to listen with your kids to books on tape, then I've found the reader makes all the difference, and we all love the Sammy Keyes mystery series (Wendelen Van Draanen). The woman who reads them is amazing! So, too, is the reader for Christopher Paul Curtis's Bud, Not Buddy--and that is set in Michigan.

While I'm on the topic of books--I've been thinking lately about a book that I read many times as a kid, about a poor girl who grows up to be a ballet dancer in the Czar's Russia and ultimately, during the revolution, runs away with the royal family--but I can't find it, and if any of you bookworms out there can, let me know the title!

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