Monday, July 20, 2015

Summer reading titles for youth

Summer reading is a time of opportunity, a time of freedom. Readers are free to choose books according to individual interests and to thoroughly enjoy the act of reading. Like any acquired skill, reading improves with practice. Practice enhances vocabulary development and comprehension, which both factor into test-taking skills and classroom success. It makes sense that children who read during the summer retain last year’s cognitive skills for their return to the classroom in September.

Written by Michigan author, Kelly DiPucchio, and illustrated by Christian Robinson, Gaston will delight children in Grades K-1, along with their siblings and parents. A young bulldog named Gaston makes every effort to learn his manners, just like his poodle sisters who are “no bigger than teacups,” but he continues to grow, making it difficult to “sip…Never slobber!” and “yip….Never Yap!” A springtime excursion to the park, leads to a chance meeting between the poodles and a family of bulldogs who have an unusual poodle sibling named Antoinette. A look between the mothers makes it clear that two of the dogs were sent home with the wrong families, so they switch pups again. Depending on the age of the reader, this tale of belonging will lead to layers of discussion about family structure. Robinson’s art looks deceptively simple, featuring the pups as negative white space against bright backgrounds. Dots for eyes and nose with a simple mouth line perfectly convey each dog’s personality and joy as Gaston and Antoinette decide to return to the families who raised them. 

I Love You Just Enough by Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen is Story 5 in the Hazel Ridge Farm Stories which feature some of the animals rescued and rehabilitated on the family’s wildlife refuge in central Michigan. The author narrates her daughter Heather’s story from the summer she rescued an abandoned wood duck. Heather takes the rehabilitation process seriously, providing natural pond food for the duck and teaching him how to live independently. Her father warns her that saying goodbye to her summer companion will be hard, but a duck’s home should be with other ducks. It’s a challenge for Heather to love the animal “just enough” to let him leave at the end of summer, but she knows what must be done. This story has enough text to equal a beginning chapter book for Grades 2 and 3, but is even better in picture book format with realistic illustrations painted on canvas by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen. Look for the other four books in the series to make it a full day of reading.

Fourth and fifth grade students won’t stop reading The Madman of Piney Woods until they solve of the mystery behind this local legend set just across the border in Ontario, Canada. Michigan’s own Christopher Paul Curtis lays out a dual storyline with Benji and Red, two boys from very different backgrounds. Benji, a descendant of African-American slaves, loves the outdoors and spends his time playing pranks on his twin siblings, while polishing his writing skills for the local newspaper. Red, nicknamed for his hair color, is second generation Irish and lives in constant fear of his unpredictable Grandmother O’Toole, a survivor of the disease-ridden coffin ships arriving from Ireland in the 1840’s. Benji and Red narrate their own stories and come together for a dramatic rescue involving the Madman. The author sprinkles the pages with humor, adds plenty of adventure, and wraps it up with regional history. Although this is a sequel to ELIJAH OF BUXTON, the thirty year time span and large array of characters allows each story to stand on its own.

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier can be described as quirky and creepy. 14 year-old Molly and her 10 year-old brother, Kip, are orphaned Irish siblings traveling to a household position at the Windsor estate, an isolated English manor with a huge tree growing into it. Molly is quite the storyteller, soothing her brother with tales of the day their parents will return - a story that will never come true, and lying her way out of any trouble that comes her way. She uses her storytelling skills to endear herself to the mysterious Windsor family and begins to care about their welfare. Why is everyone so lethargic and pessimistic?  Could it have something to do with the shadowy Night Gardener who enters her dreams? She and Kip must find answers in order to save themselves and the family they’ve become part of. Auxier creates a quiet suspense that results in a spine-tingling ghost story for Grades 6-8.

--Lynette Suckow, Reference Desk

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