We know. It’s so tempting right now to toss anything that smacks of “to do” out with all the detritus lining your child’s backpack. Yet summer, with its relaxed schedules and minimal schoolwork, is the perfect time to set routines that stick for reading. (It also sets the groundwork for a smoother return to classes in the fall.)
That said, it’s still, well, summer. So look for titles that lend themselves to lazy afternoons and escaping into other worlds. Here are seven that fit the bill, with selections for all ages.
Charlotte is undeniably a digital native. She’s happiest when she’s coding, fixing computer settings or soaring in virtual reality. Worried that their smart but tech-obsessed daughter needs an analog experience, her parents gift her with … a doll. (Or a “human-shaped pillow,” as Charlotte initially describes her.) Shanda McCloskey has created a determined main character with imagination to spare in “Doll-E 1.0” (Little, Brown, $17.99). When her dog Blutooth rips her new doll into appendages, Charlotte gets to work, retrofitting Dolly’s battery pack to give her more words. The eventual solution honors both Charlotte’s engineering-minded brain and the need for balance: This deceptively complex picture book is year-round inspiration for young tinkerers everywhere. (Ages 4-8)
“A is for Astronaut” (Sleeping Bear Press, $16.99) … and B is for blast-off, C is for capsule, all the way through the alphabet in this space-themed compendium from retired NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson. Packed full of detail about space and science, this tome will appeal to children older than the typical picture-book audience, and the illustrations from Scott Brundage showcase an appropriately diverse and international cast of astronauts. Anderson, the author of two previous space-related books, has spent 167 days in space, including a 152-day residency on the International Space Station. He’ll be at BookPeople at 4 p.m. June 13 for a book signing that includes treats and swag. (Ages 6-9)
Woe to the mutant sewer creatures who attempt to take over Nitro City, for P.L.U.N.G.E. is on the watch — also known as the Plumbers League of UnNaturally Gifted Exceptionals. Cue the kind of humor most appreciated by bathroom-minded middle schoolers, although an eighth-grader’s alliance with the principal upends the typical student vs. administrator trope. Texan Ron Bates elevates the lowly plumber to superhero status in the funny and fast-paced “The Unflushables” (JIMMY Patterson Books/Little, Brown, $13.99).
Online, Lottie Lock and Ben Boot vie for the title of Scrabble champion. It’s a game that rewards the mental gymnastics they both enjoy (even if the people who surround them in real life don’t necessarily appreciate how well their synapses fire). But life is more challenging than online Scrabble, so when Ben’s parents announce they’re getting divorced and Lottie’s father suffers a heart attack, the two competitors turn to each other as a sounding board, and, over the course of a momentous week, become friends in Erin Entrada Kelly’s “You Go First” (Greenwillow/Harper Collins, $16.99). Kelly, recently named a Newbery winner for “Hello, Universe,” takes us inside Lottie and Ben’s worlds in all their complications, from feeling disconnected from parents and peers to their own particular quirks, like her penchant for anagrams and his beloved Ravenclaw blanket. “First” celebrates both preteens’ smarts and soul; its rendering of real-life challenges is accessibly bittersweet. (Ages 8-12)
Amal is one of the lucky ones in her small Pakistani village — clever and devoted to her studies. She helps her younger sisters learn even while at the market, and loves reading books smuggled to her by a childhood friend who goes to the better-stocked boys’ school. But an educated life is not easy for a girl to maintain in Amal’s world, and when her mother falls ill after giving birth to a younger sister, her father insists she stay home to help keep the household running smoothly. The worst, though, is still to come: Exhausted, Amal lashes out at a powerful village leader, and as penance, she is sent to work as an indentured servant in the Sahib household. Aisha Saeed shares Amal’s journey in “Amal Unbound” (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, $17.99), fiction inspired by the life of education activist Malala Yousafzai and other girls bound by draconian strictures. Her story is made utterly more absorbing by its roots in reality, especially for American readers who expect going to school as part of everyday life. (Ages 10-14)
Gabe lives in Austin and Elyse lives in Portland — two time zones apart — yet they are linked by their involvement in toxic relationships, as Austinite Jennifer Donaldson explores in her young adult page-turner “Lies You Never Told Me” (Razorbill/Penguin, $18.99). The danger is apparent from the opening pages of “Lies,” from Gabe’s attraction to bad-girl Sasha to Elyse’s thrill at being chosen for the plum role of Juliet by the dimpled new drama teacher at her high school. Sasha is a game-player, which Gabe overlooks until he – quite literally – collides with another girl at his school. Elyse’s insecurities about taking a lead role begin to dissipate when Mr. Hunter lauds her vulnerabilities and suggests the two of them meet solo to work on her lines. Donaldson — who will be at BookPeople Saturday at 6 p.m. to read from and sign “Lies” — navigates the twists of bad choices in a thriller that’s equal parts entertainment and cautionary tale. (Ages 14 and older)
It’s a harsh existence in 1870s-era Glory, Texas, for Willie and her family. Her mother died from the sickness sweeping their town, her father spends most of his time gambling, and she’s left to care for her three siblings. But this Western tale has a decidedly dystopian twist in the hands of Austin native Emma Berquist, who populates the desert outside the fences that surround Glory with zombielike creatures called shakes. Willie must venture into this territory with the help of shake-hunters to try and settle a gambling debt her father has incurred, lest more misfortune befall her family. Berquist’s “Devils Unto Dust” (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, $16.99) was optioned for film even before it arrived on shelves; with its mashup of Old West and “Walking Dead” themes, it’s not hard to see why. Willie is eminently appealing as “Dust’s” tough heroine, full of bravado and smarts. (Ages 14 and older)