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Published: Saturday, 5/20/2006

Summer: It's an open book

The Blade asked the following juvenile literature specialists for their recommendations for excellent 2005 children's books: Barbara Britsch (BB) of Lourdes College, Melissa A. Cain (MAC) of the University of Findlay, Alexa L. Sandman (ALS) of the Kent State University, and Barbara St. John (BSJ) a retired Bowling Green State University educator.

Summer reading - yes, we know the familiar refrain of maintaining reading skills practiced in last year's classroom. We know it is a worthwhile activity better than skittering around the mall, better than watching too much TV, and we know we should choose reading that isn't too demanding.

All this is true and worthwhile, but other considerations may attract both reluctant and avid readers.

Consider familiar summer settings for reading in our part of the world. Wicker chairs, a wooden swing on a front porch, or a backyard hammock, all heavy with flower fragrances; lake beaches where there are no chores, no schedules, only sun and sand. These places appeal to our senses in a way that encourages readers to "fall into" books completely.

The title of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library's Summer Reading Program, "Unleashed," suggests such abandon into books for children as well as adults. Marilyn Zielinski, the library system's youth services manager, says, "Reading is such an important building block for future success [that] we hope to create a fun atmosphere that encourages the entire community to read."

The program runs from June 12 through Aug. 5 and has three components: preschool through sixth grade, a Teen Club, and an Adult Club. Each division has a system of rewards for readers. There is an Internet site, toledolibrary.org, with games, reading suggestions and more.

TARTA offers free transportation for preschoolers through sixth graders. For more information, visit the library's Web site, call 419-259-5207, or drop in at your neighborhood library branch.

The books reviewed here offer another appeal: each one can lead a reader into a world where stories may inspire more investigation or encourage beginning writers, such as Shakespeare Bats Cleanup, a novel about a teen who experiments with various poetic formats. Several picture books expand the text with dramatic art - Twenty-One Elephants and Inventor McGregor. Characters in Small Steps engage in truly hilarious escapades, while both The Wright Three and Wild Fibonacci introduce a number code found in the world around us.

Such books offer reading experiences rich in imagination and inspiration, on a beach, in a hammock, or wherever your summer finds you.

LILLY'S BIG DAY. Written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes. Greenwillow. Ages 3-8. $17.95. Lilly, who delighted readers with her obsession with her purple plastic purse, is back! Her teacher is getting married and she dreams of being the flower girl. When he chooses his niece Ginger, he makes Lilly the assistant. Lilly, with her usual aplomb, overcomes disaster when Ginger freezes on the big day. Cartoon-style drawings beautifully depict Lilly's range of moods. - MAC

INVENTOR McGREGOR. By Kathleen T. Pelley. Illustrated by Michael Chessworth. Farrar Straus Giroux. Ages 5-8. $16. Inventor McGregor's chaotic life leads to creative solutions to problems he sees around him - for example, helium backpacks to lighten kids' loads, and helping hands for a mother of triplets. When the Royal Society of Inventors gives him a pristine space to work in, he finds his creativity stifled. Michael Chessworth uses color and expression to show McGregor's contrasting responses to his environments. - MAC

(Grades 1-3)

WILD FIBONACCI: NATURE'S SECRET CODE REVEALED. Written by Joy N. Hulme. Illustrated by Carol Schultz. Ten Speed Press. Ages 7 and up. $14.95. This slender picture book gives an expansive view of the many instances of the Fibonacci code in nature. This simple code, a number sequence, can be plotted as a curve found in animals' horns, teeth, tusks, bird beaks, plant bracts, seashells, fern fronds, even ocean waves. Fibonacci numbers - 3, 5, and 8, for example - are often seen in flower petals and vegetable plants as well. The striking, colorful art clearly and dramatically illustrates this variety and also functions as a counting device. This book would be an interesting companion to The Wright Three, reviewed here, for more information on how Fibonacci numbers function in "nature's grand design." - BB

TWENTY-ONE ELEPHANTS AND STILL STANDING. Written by April Jones Prince. Illustrated by Francois Roca. Houghton Mifflin. Ages 5-8. $17. After 14 years of construction in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was ready to carry traffic between Brooklyn and Manhattan. But how safe was it? Would it really not sway in the wind? When Phineas T. Barnum heard of these concerns, he decided to stage an event designed to reassure the public. In May, 1884, Barnum took his circus to Brooklyn. All 21 of the circus elephants marched across the bridge, demonstrating the tremendous amount of weight which could be safely carried. Rich illustrations complement the text. - BSJ

(Grades 4-6)

THE WRIGHT 3. Written by Blue Balliett. Illustrated by Brett Helquist. Scholastic. Ages 10-12. $16.99. The author of Chasing Vermeer continues the adventures of Petra, Calder, and Tommy, who are solving another Chicago art mystery. This time, the trio works hard to save Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House in the city's Hyde Park neighborhood from demolition. But their efforts take a frightening turn when the roof moves, shadow figures are seen through the famous windows, and strange voices are heard from the house. Has Wright left a coded message in the stained glass windows? And how do Fibonacci numbers figure in this mystery? (See the Wild Fibonacci review for more information.) The Wright Three is an entertaining, fast-moving story whose architectural setting may prompt further research. - BB

SMALL STEPS. Written by Louis Sachar. Delacorte Press. Ages 10 and up. $16.95 In this companion to the bestseller Holes, it's now been two years since Armpit was released from Camp Green Lake. He's in Austin, Texas, trying to stay out of trouble and do the right thing, like being a friend to his 10-year-old neighbor, Ginny, who happens to be disabled. Then former camp buddy X-Ray comes up with a get-rich-quick scheme and the path becomes a rocky road. Fans of Holes will enjoy this novel, although it doesn't have the action of the original. It will probably cause them to wonder what happened to the rest of the former juvenile detention camp crew. - AS

(High School)

SHAKESPEARE BATS CLEANUP. Written by Ron Koertge. Candlewick. Ages 12 and up. $5.99. Fourteen-year-old Kevin is looking forward to baseball. He's an excellent first baseman and anticipates a winning season. When he is diagnosed with mononucleosis and must stay at home, his dad gives him a journal. Kevin finds himself jotting down ideas and realizes his format resembles poetry. Borrowing books from his dad, Kevin experiments with various poetic forms, but more important, he realizes writing helps him to sort out feelings about his illness, his mother's death, and baseball. A great book written in a variety of poetry forms. - BSJ

CROSSING THE WIRE. Written by Will Hobbs. Harper Collins. Ages 12 and up. $15.99. "If you are able to sell your corn at all, you will get almost nothing for it." So, 15-year-old Victor risks his life to "cross the wire" from Mexico into Arizona, the only hope his family has for surviving. If Victor doesn't make it to the United States, get a job, and send his family part of his earnings, they will starve. His mama doesn't want him to go, but there is no choice, because Victor is the man of the family. A heart-wrenching, action-packed contemporary story pulled from today's headlines. The characters' lives make immigration issues hard to see as black or white, right and wrong. What is justice? What does social responsibility mean? - AS



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