Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial kickoff to summer, and that means the tantalizing prospect of having more time for reading stretches ahead of us — long, lazy summer days curled up with a book.
With that in mind, Newbery Award-winning author Kate DiCamillo shared some summer book recommendations for readers ages 8-13 with NPR's Melissa Block. DiCamillo is the author of Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux, among others, and was recently named the country's national ambassador for young people's literature by the Library of Congress. Her latest book is Flora & Ulysses.
Counting By 7s
Twelve-year-old genius and outsider Willow Chance must figure out how to connect with other people and find a surrogate family for herself after her parents are killed in a car accident.
Kate says: "[Willow] is a brainiac and she's also a horticulturist; she loves to grow things and has a real talent for growing things and that's a wonderful metaphor for what happens in this book. ...
"You're so taken with Willow's voice that you want to keep going. And then it's a very wise book, and it's wise in a sneaky kind of way. You don't realize how much you're learning about how to see other people and how to be in the world. You [know] that thing sometimes where you close a book and you want to clasp it to your chest? This book made me want to do that. I just wanted to hug it."
How I Discovered Poetry
The Connecticut Poet Laureate reflects on growing up as a young black girl in the '50s, and her development as an artist and young woman through 50 illuminating poems that consider such influences as the civil rights movement, the "Red Scare" atomic bomb era and the feminist movement.
Kate says: "I think that this would be a wonderful book for a family to read aloud. It wouldn't take a long time; it packs a powerful punch. And the language is so beautiful and also very simple. It's very, very accessible. I always was afraid of poetry when I was a kid. I thought, 'There's something here that I'm supposed to understand that I'm not understanding.' And this poetry is very clear, it opens itself to you. I loved this book."
Under The Egg
Her grandfather's dying words lead thirteen-year-old Theodora Tenpenny to a valuable, hidden painting she fears may be stolen, but it is her search for answers in her Greenwich Village neighborhood that brings a real treasure. Under the Egg is Laura Marx Fitzgerald's debut novel.
Kate says: "A very strong, very capable, very smart narrator and somebody who is suddenly on their own in the world — and has to make big decisions about big things.
"When a book is good, I stop being a writer and I'm just a reader, which is what I did here. You just fall into it as a reader. But the writer in me did go and check a couple times to see, 'Is this really the first thing that [Fitzgerald]'s written?' Because it's so accomplished and it's packed with stuff. ... It's really a very compelling read and I don't know how she did it."
Half A Chance
Lucy's just moved to an old house on a lake that she struggles to view artistically in accordance with her photographer father's teachings. Fearing the pictures she takes will never meet his high standards, she anonymously enters a photo contest that he is judging. By the Newbery Honor-winning author of Rules.
Kate says: "It's about a summertime in New Hampshire and these big changes that are occurring with the boy's grandmother. She has dementia. ... It's a book that's deceptively simple. It talks about really big things in a very straightforward way. And also it does a gorgeous job of seeing the world. These two kids become true friends in a way that's very, very believable."
The Year Of Billy Miller
The Caldecott Medal-winning creator of Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse follows the second-grade year of young Billy Miller, who struggles to navigate the pitfalls of elementary school, appreciate a pesky younger sibling and help his busy parents.
Kate says: "It's a book that I can't say enough good things about. Very simple, straightforward, but it deals with matters of the heart in a very, very compelling way. ... If you were reading this out loud to your second-grader, your fourth-grader and your fifth-grader would wander in and be captivated too."
Harriet The Spy
Harriet wants to become an author, so she keeps a secret notebook full of thoughts and observations about her classmates and friends. But when she misplaces her notebook and it falls into the wrong hands, Harriet knows she is going to have a lot of explaining to do.
Kate says: "Not too long ago, I remembered that I read and loved Harriet the Spy [as a kid], and so I went back to it as the adult me, with some trepidation. ... And it's even better and more subversive than I remembered. It's basically a primer on how to be a writer."