Summer reading: Banish boredom with lively literature
Given the way Brown describes her childhood camping trips, it’s no surprise she has penned one of the finest YA novels I’ve read in years. In The Mitochondrial Curiosities of Marcels 1 to 19 (Coach House Books), 15-year-old Dree hopes to head to Toronto to attend the Renegade Craft Fair but has to come to terms, instead, with her father’s death.
Dree submerges herself in philosophical kooky craft making (the 19 Marcels of the title are sock creatures) as this hilarious, undulating and moving tale unfolds. Marcel by Marcel, she finds the courage to unearth a family secret, something that doomed her father. This is a most distinctive novel.
The mightiest combination for young female readers has to be smart, sassy girls plus strong prose. Another great title from a well-regarded literary stylist is All-Season Edie (Orca Book Publishers), by Annabel Lyon, who lives in Metro Vancouver. Set on a Gulf Island, it concerns a friendship between Edie and a boy she meets there, combined with her city life of spells and flamenco dancing and an annoyingly perfect sister.
If you can’t afford to rent a cottage this year, hand Edie over to your child. My son had no problem relating to these bright girls; when prose is this rich, every reader delights.
In recessionary times, it helps to keep it local. Orca publishes Currents, a line of short adventure novels that will appeal to young male readers.
My son responded to Crossbow, by Dayle Campbell Gaetz. It’s a suspenseful adventure story in which a teenager finds a stranger in his cabin in the woods. Other titles in the series include Pam Withers’s Camp Wild, a summer camp adventure, and Christy Goerzen’s Explore, an outdoor recreation adventure.
Attracted mainly by its kitschy cover, I found that Barkerville Gold, also by Gaetz, is like a B.C. version of an Enid Blyton or Hardy Boys book: local history mixed with tents and ghosts. The prose can be clunky and heightened, but my son and I found reading it aloud rather a hoot.
For younger emerging readers, Maple Tree Press (which also publishes wonderful craft books) has Frieda Wishinsky’s Canadian Flyer Adventures, in which a bequeathed sled transports Matt and Emily to different parts of the country back in various historical time periods. Here you’ll find simple language, short books and Canadian content.
Caroline Adderson’s Bruno for Real (Orca), the sequel to the Vancouver writer’s popular I Bruno, is another great choice for emerging readers.
In the more commercial but never-fails realm comes HarperCollins’s Warriors series, which provided the comforting sight of a belly-prone child reading for endless hours in this apartment. Engrossing and captivating, the books feature a clan of warring cats going up against each other.
Author Erin Hunter (a pseudonym with three writers behind it) also has a newer series, Seekers, which gives us three endearing bears who go on a testing journey together, guided by a shape-shifting grizzly bear cub.
The fourth series of Warriors books will be out in the fall. Remember that while books like Warriors are not David Copperfield, reading begets more reading, books give way to books.
Summer can feel long to parents spending time with increasingly bored children. With the recession nipping at our heels, the right books can stimulate affordable — and, better still, free — adventures. Three simple steps: Create the appetite, feed the appetite, and exit the house to match it with a practical experience.
For younger readers, Nick Arnold’s Ugly Bugs (a Horrible Science book from Scholastic) is most entertaining. It’s filled with facts, humorous tales and attractive illustrations by Tony De Saulles. Share it with your child, then open the front door and let him or her loose with a magnifying glass. Bugs, creepy-crawlies and birds are suddenly abundant and visible.
Once you’ve identified the bugs and bees, it’s time to invite them into your garden or patio. Wildlife Gardening: How to Bring Birds and Bugs to Your Backyard, by Martyn Cox (Dorling Kindersley) is a gem of a book that explains the food chain and how insects relate to it. It offers a step-by-step photographic guide to coaxing wildlife into your garden.
After we read it together, my son saved the life of a bee I almost ran over with my shopping trolley. And I vowed to stop exterminating the moths that chew my knitting.
Voyage: Ocean (also from DK), by John Woodward, is an intriguingly O-shaped book, perfect for a small lap in the car or on the couch. It gives a complete tour of the ocean plus information on tides, marine life, hydrothermal vents and deep-water submersibles. There’s a section on the Pacific Ocean, so at a suitable moment you can point out the window and shout, “Ahoy!” This book will lift a visit to the beach into a scientific expedition.
Alice Waters’s Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea (Chronicle Books/Raincoast Books) is an elevating philosophical read, recommended for parents who fancy some contemplation before embracing the back garden or window boxes. This elegant memoir is designed to infuse others with the desire to transform a public or community space — in this case, Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, an inner-city school. It may have begun with space, but it transformed the way children at the school experienced food.
A number of recent books promote the idea of family projects, an excellent way to spend quality time with your children.
Annabel Karmel’s Cook It Together (DK) has delicious recipes with colourful ingredients and facts about them. The photos depict single actions for the child (chop, whisk, pour, de-stem), alongside more detailed instructions for parents or confident readers. The size and design of the book accommodate two people enjoying it simultaneously.
Dorling Kindersley’s Eyewitness series has so much variety there will be no child in the city who won’t be interested in several of the books. This summer, I selected Eyewitness Shakespeare and Eyewitness Islam to inform the pair of us.
Newer titles include Eyewitness Oil, while Eyewitness Olympics has a certain relevance to Vancouver families.
Scholastic’s The Family Book: Amazing Things to Do Together is reminiscent of The Dangerous Book for Boys. Fun and rousing, it suggests activities as varied as creating a family percussion section to slicing a banana without peeling it.
My Listography (Chronicle/Raincoast), written by Lisa Nola and illustrated by Nathaniel Russell, is the kind of creation that the right child will delight in. He or she probably needs to be predisposed to writing and lists.
Subtitled My Amazing Life in Lists, it’s a journal. Using it, groups of cousins or friends will be able to compose a book within a book, having hours of fun handing it back and forth. One can ask questions and note down the answers while the others ponder. The graphics are very enticing.
The revelation of this past year came courtesy of Grade 4 teacher Suzanne Carry, who taught her class to knit. This became a huge part of our reading ritual: my boy knitting while I read to him. Blanket, wristbands, scarves and squares emerged as literature was consumed.
Klutz publishes Knitting, by Anne Akers Johnson. It’s the perfect set, including book, needles and wool, to get your child started. It’s very self-contained, with projects and all the yarn and buttons the child needs.
Again, it’s a book that will give way to many books. Summer should be all about giving way to books.