Adventurous biographies, thoughtful nature books and outright tearjerkers highlight local librarians' summer-reading recommendations of recently published books for children and young adults.
Dystopian tales such as "The Line," "The Maze Runner" and "Ship Breaker" have topped their best-book lists in recent years, but - with a few exceptions - they're leaning toward realism this year.
Whatever the genre, local librarians who specialize in children's literature agree on one thing: There's nothing like a good summer book.
"To me, a summer read is a fun type of thing; what I like to read is total fluff," said Bethany Hoglund, head of the children's section at the Bellingham Public Library. "My favorite place to read during the summer is outside anywhere in the sun - lawn chair and beach preferred," she said.
Hoglund has a long list of new releases to read, because lately she's been immersed in her role on the selection committee for the Sasquatch Awards, given annually by the Washington Library Media Association.
See raved about "The One and Only Ivan," by Katherine Applegate, a story based on the gorilla at a circus-themed mall in Tacoma. Last week, Hoglund was reading "Wonder," by R.J.Palacio, the tale of a young boy with a disfigured face. It's "fantastic so far," she said.
A book must have broad appeal to be a great summer read, said Sylvia Tag, head of the Children's Literature Interdisciplinary Collection at Western Washington University. The CLIC is a children's library that serves WWU students but is open to the general public.
She's a fan of series books, such as "Harry Potter," that can be "swapped between friends," and she especially likes graphic novels for the lazy days of summer.
"Those are great summer reads because you have the time to look at the images as well as the text," she said. "There's lots of new and exciting titles coming in," she said, citing "Take What You Can Carry," Kevin C. Pyle's intergenerational story about the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Summer is the time for school-age children, especially middle readers, to explore their interests, Tag said. She said books such as illustrated encyclopedias or the Usborne "see inside" series appeal to upper elementary and middle-school kids and can inspire further reading.
"Hobbies is kind of an old-fashioned word. But I think of middle school as a great age to develop a special interest," Tag said. "There are big, thick, weighty books that last the entire summer on building stuff outside, crafts to sew, and art projects. We have 'The Marvel Comics Encyclopedia' and 'The DC Comics Encyclopedia' in our collection - endless hours of perusal and examination."
Online reading has its place, but "there's a way to just get lost inside a big old-fashioned encyclopedia," she said.
For older teens, Tag and others are captivated by the acclaimed writer John Green's newest work, "The Fault in Our Stars." It's the "achingly romantic" story of teens facing terminal illness.
Tag also liked the historical novels "Queen of the Falls," by Annie Edson Taylor, and "Breaking Stalin's Nose," by Eugene Yelchin.
For children, she suggests the universally appealing "Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature," written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beth Krommes. "It's a really beautiful picture book for 2-year-olds as well as adults."
Tamar Clarke, teen services coordinator for the Whatcom County Library System, thinks the best place to read is "in my sleeping bag, in a tent, at night, in the rain, in the North Cascades."
What Clarke enjoys is "being able to tap into that sense of reading for pleasure, the ability to get lost in a book, really immersing themselves in something they're curious about."
Clarke, who said she leans toward eccentricity" in her preference for books, recommends "Daughter of Smoke and Bone," by Laini Taylor.
"I love how this book immediately transports the reader - from the mysterious alleyways of Prague to alternative universes; a great summer read that will make you feel like you've experienced another world, even if you haven't left home," Clarke said.
Another story she enjoyed is Ruta Sepetys' "Between Shades of Grey," a just-released historical novel that chronicles the forced relocation of Lithuanians during the early part of World War II.
"It's a beautiful story about survival - and it's got an awesome cover," she said.
She also mentioned that "Never Fall Down," a harrowing tale of survival in the Killing Fields of 1970s Cambodia, is just out to rave reviews. A recent NPR interview with author Patricia McCormick left her in tears, she said.
On a lighter note, Clarke enjoyed "A Bus Called Heaven," by Bob Graham.
"I read this with my kindergartener and it is a great story of how one little girl's idea transforms a neighborhood," Clarke said.
BEST AUDIO BOOKS
Summer also means travel, and what better way for a family to pass the time than by enjoying an audio book together during a long car ride.
"Dead End in Norvelt," this year's Newberry winner for best young adult fiction, is even more hilarious in audio form as read by author Jack Gantos. My family howled out loud as we listened to it during a spring break drive to California.
"Dead End in Norvelt - I agree, a fantastic book to listen to and well read. FUNNNNYYYYY!" Clarke said in an email.
What's on my list? I'm kind of a fluff reader for summer, myself. I thoroughly enjoyed Carl Hiaasen's hilarious new "Chomp." Add reality TV stars to the list of people he skewers as he highlights the plight of invasive species in the Florida Everglades. Teens looking for adventure will find satisfaction in "Uncommon Criminals," the second installment of Ally Carter's series about a crew of con artists - sort of "90210" meets "Ocean's Eleven." Maureen Johnson updates the Jack the Ripper mystery for modern times in "The Name of the Star," about a girl who can see dead people.
I'm really looking forward to reading "The Last Echo," the just-out third book in the "Body Finder" series by Western Washington writer Kimberly Derting, whose high school heroine can sense the presence of a murder victim. Plus, my daughters are after me to read "The Fault in Our Stars" already.