Books are an essential ingredient of summer fun for kids, if you can pinpoint the ones that will grab your young reader's attention.
Of course, the literary star of the summer will be Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,' scheduled for release at midnight on July 16. But here are some other great new books that should pique young readers' interest:
Author/artist Leslie Patricelli spotlights two favorite items of the youngest readers in her brightly illustrated board books, Binky and Blankie (Candlewick Press, $6.99 each, ages infant-3).
Babies can get their first look at a classic book in the abridged, soft cloth edition of Are You My Mother? (Random House, $12.95). Written and illustrated by P.D. Eastman, this book includes a soft baby bird that can be stuffed back into its nest (ages infant -2).
Author/artist Mo Willems offers a duo of board books based on the pigeon who starred in his 2004 Caldecott Honor book, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. The board books are titled The Pigeon Loves Things That Go! and The Pigeon Has Feelings, Too! (Hyperion, $6.99 each, ages infant-3).
Two new books offer a bit of trendy graphic novel style to young readers: Girl vs. Wave, written by Scott Bass and illustrated by Julie Collins, and Captain Raptor and the Moon Mystery, written by Kevin O'Malley and illustrated by Patrick O'Brien (Walker, $16.95 each, ages 4-8).
Max, the hero of Maurice Sendak's Caldecott Medal-winning Where the Wild Things Are, makes his only second appearance since 1964 in Bears (HarperCollins, $14.95, ages 2 up). This republished edition features the original, 27-word text by author Ruth Krauss and energetic crayon illustrations by the masterful Sendak. A must for family libraries.
Kids can learn everything they wanted to know about felines in the delightful So What's It Like To Be A Cat? (Atheneum, $15.95). Written by poet Karla Kuskin and illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist Betsy Lewin (ages 3-7).
The spunky, large-eared kitty hero of the prize-winning picture book Skippyjon JonesSkippyjon Jones in the Doghouse (Dutton, $16.99, ages 3-7). Written and illustrated by Judy Schachner, the book includes a CD of Schachner reading both Skippyjon books.
Russell the Sheep can't sleep. He's tried counting sheep, but nothing seems to work. Author/artist Rob Scotton shows how this sleepless sheep finally catches some shut-eye in the comical Russell the Sheep (HarperCollins, $15.99, ages 3-7).
Energetic toddlers will love to act out the action-packed rhyming text of Wiggle (Atheneum, $12.95, ages 2-4), written by Click, Clack, Moo author Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Scott Menchin.
Tales Told In Tents (Frances Lincoln, $16.95, ages 8 up) offers 12 stories from Central Asia retold by Sally Pomme Clayton and featuring vibrant art by Sophie Herxheimer. The book includes a helpful map, glossary and information about the stories.
Three famous authors have just published new picture books:
The Loathsome Dragon (Clarion, $16, ages 4-8), is a republished edition of an earlier work by two-time Caldecott Medal-winning artist David Wiesner. In this vividly illustrated new edition, the text is written by his wife, Kim Kahng.
Golden Compass author Philip Pullman gives a new twist to a classic story in Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp (Scholastic, $16.95, ages 5 up), brilliantly illustrated by Sophy Williams.
Phantom Tollbooth author Norton Juster offers a special look at the grandparent-grandchild relationship in The Hello, Goodbye Window (Hyperion, $15.95, ages 4-8), featuring the glowing illustrations of Chris Raschka.
In the intriguing Zen Shorts (Scholastic, $16.95, ages 5 up), author/illustrator Jon Muth presents a trio of stories told by a panda named Stillwater to the children in his new neighborhood. Muth's elegant watercolors and ink drawings are an added treat.
Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa (Harcourt, $15, ages 5-8), written by Erica Silverman and illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist Betsy Lewin, is the first installment of a comical new series for readers just ready for chapter books.
Eel is ill and his friends try all kinds of remedies to get his zap back in Sea Surprise (Henry Holt, $15.95, ages 5-8), written and illustrated by Leo Landry.
Brooks is a guinea pig with a dream: he wants to fly away. But Brooks gets more than he bargained for when his dream comes true in When Guinea Pigs Fly! (Scholastic, $3.99, ages 5-8), written by James Proimos and Andy Rheingold, and illustrated by Proimos.
Luminous colors combine with a wonderfully silly story in author/artist Keith Baker's chapter book Lucky Days With Mr. and Mrs. Green' (Harcourt, $16, ages 4-8).
New books from prize-winning authors:
In The Book Without Words (Hyperion, $15.99, ages 10 up), Newbery Medalist Avi tells a tale laced with magic.
The Callahan Cousins: Summer Begins (Little, Brown, $10.99, ages 8-12)), written by Elizabeth Doyle Carey, is an entertainingly old-fashioned tale of summer and family rivalries, and the first book in a new series.
The wait is finally over for Artemis Fowl fans as author Eoin Colfer presents Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception (Hyperion, $16.95, ages 8 up), the latest book in the best-selling series about the evil boy genius.
Three preteen kids try to save the world from an army of stilt-walking whales in Whales On Stilts! (Harcourt, $15, ages 8-12), the first installment of a new adventure series by M.T. Anderson.
Author Carolyn Haywood's series about an adventuresome boy named Penny has just been republished in a lively-looking new format. Books in the series include: Here's A Penny and Penny and Peter. (Harcourt, $5.95 each, ages 6-10).
Laurie Halse Anderson, author of the best-selling novel Speak, focuses on a high school rite of passage in her newest book, Prom (Viking, $16.99. ages 12 up).
When Mimi's friend Sam bets her that she can't befriend the in-crowd at her new school, she accepts the challenge. But it leads to a number of unintended consequences, as authors Lauren Mechling and Laura Moser detail in their debut novel, The Rise and Fall of a 10th Grade Social Climber (Graphia/Houghton Mifflin, $7.99, ages 12 up).
Alice, the beloved character created by author Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, heads to New York for a big weekend in Alice On Her Way (Atheneum, $15.95, ages 14 up), the 17th book in the popular series.
Caldecott Medalist Mordicai Gerstein's The Old Country (Roaring Brook Press, $14.95, ages 12 and up) is an unusual mix of adventure story and fable.
Author Anthony Horowitz offers another thriller for young adults in Raven's Gate, the first book of a new series called The Gatekeepers. (Scholastic, $17.95, ages 12 up).
Scholastic is re-issuing the Bone graphic novels by Jeff Smith, adding color to the original black and white illustrations. Bone # 1: Out From Boneville ($9.99, ages 10 up) introduces Smith's wacky world. The re-issue of Bone # 2 is due out in August.
In Last Shot (Knopf, $16.95, ages 10 up), former Washington Post sportswriter John Feinstein sets a fast-paced mystery during college basketball's Final Four.
Author Dan Gutman presents another book in his popular Baseball Card Adventure series. Titled Abner & Me (HarperCollins, $15.99, ages 8-12), the book takes a fictionalized look at the question of whether Civil War Gen. Abner Doubleday really invented the game of baseball.
Young readers will have a fun time learning some odd facts in Sports Hall of the Weird (Kids Can Press, $4.95, ages 7 up), written by Kevin Sylvester.
Author/artist Lynn Curlee tells the fascinating story of America's baseball fields in the picture-book-sized Ballpark (Atheneum, $17.95, ages 8-12).
Author Peter Benchley is celebrating the 30th anniversary of his best-selling novel Jaws by publishing a memorable - if sometimes gory - nonfiction look at sharks in Shark Life: True Stories About Sharks & the Sea (Delacorte, $15.95, ages 10 up).
If your child loves books of lists, or just likes browse-able books, try the Scholastic Book of Firsts (Scholastic, $8.95). Written by James Buckley, Jr., this book is a terrific mixture of important and silly facts.
Already an international best-seller, The Diary of Ma Yan (HarperCollins, $15.99, ages 10 up) is the riveting, true story of a rural Chinese schoolgirl who sees education as the way out of her family's terrible poverty.
In I See A Kookaburra (Houghton Mifflin, $16, ages 5-10), young readers are invited to find dozens of animals hiding in eight different habits. The book, written by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page, and illustrated with Jenkins' stunning paper collages, is chock full of information presented in a reader-friendly way.
Author Barbara Kerley spotlights the ties that bind parents and children together everywhere in You and Me Together (National Geographic, $16. 95, ages 3-8). The book features a vibrant collection of photographs taken by a variety of photographers around the world.
Anton Lesser slowly builds the suspense as he reads The Tiger In the Well, the heart-thumping final volume of the Sally Lockhart trilogy by Philip Pullman. (Listening Library $35, cassette only, ages 12 up).
If you've got a long car ride this summer, then you'll want to get the 31-CD set of the complete Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Among the readers in this offering are such stars as Kenneth Branagh, Lynn Redgrave and Derek Jacobi. (HarperAudio, $75, ages 7 up).
Just in time for the release of the movie comes the CD version of Roald Dahl's popular book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, performed by Eric Idle. (HarperAudio, 3 CDs, $25.95, ages 5 up).
Jim Dale, who has won fame for his audio versions of the Harry Potter books, turns his considerable talents to a Jules Verne classic, Around the World In 80 Days (Listening Library, CD or cassette, $29.95, ages 12 up).
For those rainy days, stock up on selections from the Scholastic Video Collection adaptations of award-winning children's books. Among the newest selections are: Swimmy and More Classic Leo Lionni Stories, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and More Magical Tales. (DVD, $14.9d, Video $9.95, ages 3-8).
Two favorite stories are brought to musical life in the Stories In Music series: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and Casey At the Bat (Magic Maestro Music, $16.98 each, CD only).