Saturday, September 6, 2014

Because summer books are appreciated even more when school starts

As summer reading lists are now a thing and schools send required reading at us year round (curses!), it seems like the proper rebuttal is to read summer books during the school year. Or, if like me you met September with a mix of dread and excitement (dreadful excitement? excited dread?), then a slip back into a book set firmly during summer vacation might be just what you need to keep your sanity as schedules and homework bear down on your head.

Start with Three Bird Summer by Sara St. Antoine, set at a lakeside cabin in Minnesota. It's the first summer for 12 year old Adam without his extended family along. His parents have split up and in the resulting fallout there is just he and his mother going up to his grandmother's cabin on Three Bird Lake. In the quiet weeks that follow Adam makes friends with the girl in the cabin next door, swims, canoes, and realizes that his indomitable grandmother is showing signs of weakness. Uncovering a mystery from her past occupies him (and his new friend Alice) for much of the summer and leads to a revelation in the final pages.

Three Bird Summer is a happily-ever-after kind of read of the sort that I think is often sorely underrated. St. Antoine makes the writing seem easy but she hits all the right notes with expertise and while I certainly got a nostalgic feel while reading, it was in a classic way. Middle grade and young teens will find quiet joy in Adam's story and likely all will pine for their own lakeside adventure (with canoeing of course).
Breakfast Served Anytime by Sarah Combs is about a group of quirky high school kids who attend a summer camp for gifted students ("Geek Camp") in their homestate of Kentucky. The goal of the camp is to get the kids to hopefully go to college and stay in Kentucky (reduce the brain drain) but Gloria is determined to head to New York City with her best friend as soon as she graduates. To her, Geek Camp is a way to spend the summer on a college campus and get a few brownie points. The fact that it will change her life, and she will make forever friends, is just a bonus that she never saw coming.

I'll say up front that there are few big surprises in Breakfast. The group that Gloria ends up with, in "Secrets of the Written Word" class, fit the traditional definition of quirky. Their teacher sets them on a brainy scavenger hunt and along the way they bond in all sorts of ways, learning more about themselves (and each other). Gloria finds herself equally surprised to bond with a roommate she has nothing in common with and ends up questioning a few things about her whole view of the world. This is good, it's important and it needs to happen to all of us a lot more often then it does. So yes, Breakfast Served Anytime is not a shocking read but it's thoughtful and funny and sincere. These are all good things and not to be taken for granted.

Finally Emma Tupper's Diary has a girl's name in the title and a girl wearing a pink shirt on the cover. This should not matter when it comes to boys and reading but more often than not, I think it might. However, it also happens to be about a summer spent with some eccentric cousins on their family loch in Scotland and a plot to spread a story about a monster in said loch that will bring in tourists and......drumroll please........using an antique submarine long ago built by another eccentric family member to fake out the populace.

Emma is a great narrator; she's the odd one out and spends a lot of time observing the wackiness of her relatives (think of the Durrells circa My Family & Other Animals). They are serious about the submarine however and she finds herself in the thick of things as they fight to get the machine going. Andy, Fiona and Roddy are all nuts—really seriously nuts—but they are a helluvaa lot of fun to spend a summer with and author Peter Dickinson clearly enjoys writing about the intricacies of mini submarines. There is also an unexpected environmental twist in all this that is especially welcome these days.

There is one caveat for Emma Tupper, however. It is a reprint from 1971 and there is one character in particular who is treated in a dated manner that reads now as sexist. The governess/companion for the Scottish cousins is known as "Poop", so dubbed as shorthand for "Nincompoop" by her charges. (She is more than a bit daffy in a classic British comedy/UK sort of way.)

Miss Newcombe is a champion swimmer though, which is important when dealing with a temperamental old mini sub. As long as readers keep in mind that some dated references show up, they should enjoy this one (both boys and girls) quite a bit.

Celebrate summer, folks - celebrate it all year long. :)

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1 comment:

Ms. Yingling said...

This was a book that I find I like more and more. Been a hard sell at school, though. Have to stress the summer portion of it.