Expand the mind this school year with these new books

You could meet the forerunner of today’s bodybuilders. Explore an uncharted land of monsters. Plug in to high-tech high jinks with a team of girls who code.

With just a few days left until the school bell rings in most Central Texas districts — and the return to homework looms — try rethinking what “reading to learn” means. What if it simply meant delving into topics of interest, whether that’s finding out more about real-life heroes or considering the elusive truths inherent in growing up?

With that in mind, here are new picks for young readers from an assortment of genres.

Friedrich Müller didn’t start out “Strong as Sandow” (Charlesbridge, $17.99): He was a sickly and frail child who started sculpting his body with exercise to mirror the Roman statues he saw while traveling with his father. Renaming himself Eugen Sandow, he vanquished famous strongmen known as Sampson and Cyclops, wrestled a lion and, in 1901, launched the first organized bodybuilding contest. Author and illustrator Don Tate — an Austinite, Jack Ezra Keats award winner, former Austin American-Statesman illustrator and former bodybuilder himself — infuses “Strong” with the showmanship that the turn-of-the-century fitness enthusiast favored, while explaining Sandow’s genuine interest in health beyond the poses. Tate launches “Strong” at 3 p.m. Aug. 27 at the University of Texas’ Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports, where he did much of his research for the book. (Ages 6-9)

In World War I, more than 4,000 British and American ships were painted with dizzying patterns. The reason? “Dazzle,” or the concept of using design and color to confuse German torpedo ships by disguising their targets’ true speed and direction. Austinite Chris Barton teams with illustrator Victo Ngai to tell the story of these ships, which were the brainchild of a British naval commander. The publication of “Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion” (Millbrook Press, $19.99) coincides with the 100th anniversary of the effort; Barton will read from and sign the book at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 7 at BookPeople. (Ages 7-11)

Lucy is thrilled about her school’s new coding club — until she realizes she’s paired with a group who doesn’t share her enthusiasm. When cryptic coding messages appear on her locker, Lucy needs the help of her new friends to translate the messages and find out who’s sending them. Billed as a “Babysitters’ Club” for the tech era, Stacia Deutsch’s “The Friendship Code” (Penguin Workshop, $12.99) is the first in a middle-grade series and includes a foreword from Reshma Saujani, founder of the national nonprofit education foundation Girls Who Code. It’s being released simultaneously with Saujani’s beginner’s guide to coding, “Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World” (Penguin/Viking, $17.99), a chatty, information-packed reference guide peppered with real examples of women in technology. (“Friendship” is aimed at ages 8-12; “Girls Who Code” is for ages 10 and older)

Halloween is usually cause for fun and mischief. But this year, young Charlie isn’t quite as excited about the holiday. He’s missing his cousin Billy, who vanished after he bet Charlie he could swim across the town’s river even in the October chill. On Halloween night, Charlie sees someone who looks just like Billy, and follows him to “Monsterland” (Penguin/Putnam, $16.99), a place that isn’t on any maps, but where werewolves live cheek-by-fang with vampires, trolls and giants. That’s the first of many secrets Charlie discovers during his journey to discover what really happened to Billy. Author James Crowley will be at BookPeople Saturday at 6 p.m. to read from and sign “Monsterland.” (Ages 10 and older)

For as long as anyone can remember on Isla, “Pablo and Birdy” (Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $16.99) have been together. The storm washed them in, baby Pablo held safe in his raft with a lattice of twine, and the lavender-hued parrot perched firmly on top. “She was like a bird mother, watching over him,” father figure Emanuel remembers. “It was only when she was sure that I meant him no harm that she let go of the twine.” The parrot has never flown or spoken since, but with P–ablo’s 10th birthday approaching, Pablo begins to hear Birdy muttering. Does she know how he ended up on that raft a decade ago? Alison McGhee’s gorgeously spun middle-grade story is laced with myth and discovery, accented by full-page illustrations from Ana Juan. (Ages 8-12)

Suzette is relieved to be back home after a year at boarding school, hanging out with her friends and her quasi-brother Lionel. Everything is reassuringly familiar … until it’s not. Her mother and her longtime boyfriend, Lionel’s dad, announce they’re getting married. Lionel confides that he wants to stop taking the medicine that’s been keeping his bipolar disorder controlled. More challenging, both she and Lionel are falling for the same girl. Brandy Colbert’s “Little & Lion” (Little, Brown, $17.99) maps the complicated terrain of mental illness and sexual identity with aplomb, giving readers insight into both in this keenly observed coming-of-age tale. (Ages 14 and older)

Daria knows she’s not like the stuck-up Persian princesses who populate her L.A. high school. She may be forced to celebrate their sweet 16s at Insta-worthy bashes, but she and her real friends — self-dubbed “The Authentics” (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, $17.99) are secure in the knowledge that they focus on what really matters about their differing backgrounds and their place in the world. But when Daria researches her family history for a school project, she discovers that her heritage is much more complex than she thought. Abdi Nazemian’s debut novel for young adults is full of humor as he plumbs the multiple layers that fuse into identity. (Ages 13 and older)

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