Book briefs: Summer reading for kids

Memorial Day is the official kickoff of summer and that means fun in the sun, barbecues ... and books. Here are a few selections to share with your children or grandchildren this summer:


The youngest soccer fans in the family will get a kick out of Big Kicks by Bob Kolar (Candlewick Press, paperback, $6.99). When Brown Dog comes down with fleas, the Mighty Giants soccer team need someone big and brave to take his place on the team as it's pitted against the Screaming Pirates. Although he's never played soccer, Biggie, a bear, fits the bill -- but his penchant for postage-stamp collecting leads to some hilarious fun on the field. Colorful full-spread illustrations keep even the youngest listeners engaged in the delightful story.

Older soccer fans will appreciate the uplifting and inspirational Goal! by Mina Javaherbin (Candlewick Press, hardcover, $16.99). In the South African township of Ajani, where everyone loves soccer ... and bullies rule the unsafe alleys ... a young boy earns a brand-new, federation-size soccer ball for being the best reader in his class. He and his buddies head to the alley for a game, keeping an eye out for the bullies who want the prized ball. The final sentences of the author's note sum it up beautifully: "Here in this alley, we join a group of friends as they embrace the spirit of soccer. They play to stay connected. They play to stay children. They play to stay human. But mostly, they play to play."

On a lighter note is The Silly Book by Stoo Hample (Candlewick Press, hardcover, $15.99). Some grandparents may remember reading The Silly Book themselves as a child, as it was first published in 1961, then reprinted in 2004. And the book is exactly that: silly. It's filled with silly songs, silly poems, silly illustrations. If you like to get silly with the little ones -- maybe even the big ones, too -- this is the book for you. It may even lead to an ear worm or two, or a silly phrase you'll share back and forth with the kids for years to come, such as this please/thank you/you're welcome exchange: "Cheese, please, Louise." "Thank you berry merry mushroom." "You're willy, woolly, welly welcome." That just might replace my "You're welcome, Malcolm Softpaws" response I've given the girls for years, based on a book, of course.

Silliness reigns as well in Coppernickel/The Invention by Wouter van Reek (Enchanted Lion Books, hardcover, $14.95). Originally published in Dutch as Keepvogal de uitvinding, this magical story uses simple text and simple illustration to tell an imaginative tale of a highly complex creative process. Coppernickel, inspired by a book on famous inventions, enlists his canine sidekick, Tungsten, to help him draw up the plans for a machine to pick high-hanging elder berries from the tallest tree branches. Line diagrams of the Rube Goldberg machine Coppernickel creates fill the pages of the book and pandemonium ensues when the illustrations kick into gear. Coppernickel is one of the more creative and visually delightful books this picture book-loving grandma has seen in some time.


If you're fortunate enough to spend some extended time with a granddaughter this summer, consider reading aloud together Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes (Chronicle Books, hardcover, $16.99). The story of sometimes cynical, always straightforward, twelve-year-old Izzy blends together the most magical of elements -- writing, baseball, time with grandma, homemade tortillas and colorful Hispanic culture -- as Izzy searches for the truth of her father who died the day she was born. In one summer stay with her grandmother in New Mexico, Izzy discovers the truth about her heritage, her father, the power of writing and more. Tortilla Sun is one of those books you just want to hug once you've read the last page ... just before heading to the kitchen to try the homemade tortilla recipe included at the back of the book.

Never Blame the Umpire by Gene Fehler (Zonderkidz, hardcover, $12.99) also tells the story of a young girl coming to terms with the death of a parent.  Kate loves sports, poetry, her family and God. But when her mother is diagnosed with cancer the summer of her eleventh year, Kate loses her faith that God has made the right call. Her summer poetry class and baseball -- along with straightforward scripture -- help Kate come to terms with tragedy and to learn that faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive.


Teens love books in a series, and two new offerings from Zondervan allow grandmas to indulge the passion of their grandkids while feeling secure they've made a safe selection. Meaning, although these books are dark and suspenseful (what all teens love!), they won't delve too far into graphic violence or sex.

The Prophecy by Dawn Miller (Zondervan, softcover, $9.99), the first book of The Watchers Chronicles series, is a suspenseful thriller about five streetwise teenagers who band together in a battle between good and evil. The five become unlikely heroes in a war they never believed existed. The series -- written by award-winning filmmaker Miller -- has been optioned as feature films, so teens may want to start reading now to stay ahead of production.


In the Young Adult fantasy novel Starlighter by Bryan Davis (Zondervan, softcover, $9.99), first in the Dragons of Starlight series, humans are second-class citizens and dragons play top dog on the dragon planet called Starlight. A slave girl named Koren is captive on Starlight. Koren possesses a special gift that allows her to see things the dragons hoped to keep secret, including the mysterious black egg that could destroy all humankind. Together with Jason Masters, whose frantic search for his brother led to his discovery of Starlight, a rescue of the human slaves of the dragon world is staged.

Teens can find out more about both series and enter contests -- including an opportunity to win an 8GB iPod Touch -- at