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Summer page-turners from Northwest authors

Photo courtesy of Nikki McClure


It seems that Pacific Northwest soil is as fertile for children's books as it is for apple trees and espresso stands. "We have a very prolific and wonderful region," local author Kirby Larson told me. "Some people jokingly say it's the rain or the weather … but I don't know what it is."

This crop of books from local authors and illustrators make us imagine reading in a hammock or snuggling up for a story before bed when it's still impossibly light outside. There are beautiful picture books, laugh-out-loud read-alouds and novels that will have you on the edge of your seat. Here are our picks for the season's best titles.


Picture books

To Market, To Market by Nikki McClure (Abrams)

McClure's storytelling has emerged to be as distinctive as her meticulous cut-paper illustrations, with a decidedly down-to-earth feel. Her latest picture book tells the story of farmers, producers and artists at the Olympia Farmers' Market, a favorite spot for the Olympia-based artist. The story follows a mother and son as they visit the market, stopping at the stands for apples, kale, smoked salmon, honey, blueberry turnovers, batik napkins and cheese.

The simple storyline is interspersed with fuller descriptions of how the different offerings are made and the people who make them. For a young child, you can read just the story of the visit to the market, skipping over the lengthier descriptions.


Suki, The Very LOUD Bunny by Carmela and Steven D'Amico (Dutton Children's Books)

The creators of Ella the Elegant Elephant have a new character, Suki. She's a bunny who isn't timid, quiet or clean like a bunny should be. Nope, she's loud and adventurous, which gets her in trouble with her proper bunny momma. But her loud voice saves her in the end. This is a charming tale with sweet illustrations reminiscent of H. A. Rey and Ludwig Bemelmans.


A Cat Like That by Wendy Wahman (Henry Holt)

With Don't Lick the Dog, Wendy Wahman shared her kid-tailored advice about how to make friends with dogs. A Cat Like That does the same for cats, with humor and bold, playful illustrations. "My friend would stroke me gently head to tail, but not too much, and rub under my chin and behind my ears and – ooh aaah! the base of my tail. Right there!" It's a perfect, un-scolding introduction to basic cat etiquette for youngsters.


Pablo Neruda, Poet of the People by Monica Brown, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Henry Holt)

Local illustrator Julie Paschkis was chosen to illustrate this book about Chile's beloved poet based on some artwork that she had done which incorporated flowing rivers of words into the lush pictures. The style is so appropriate for telling the story of Pablo Neruda that you'll think she came up with it just for this book. Her gorgeous illustrations also give kids much to hold their attention, such as picking out the "scissors and thimbles and chairs and rings" Neruda wrote about.


Planting a Wild Garden written by Kathryn O. Galbraith, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin (Peachtree)

Tacoma author Kathryn O. Galbraith created this tale about the many ways that seeds are spread about and planted in nature. The illustrations are gorgeous drawings that, like the words, convey both the beauty of nature and the science of seeds as they fall to earth and grow.


A Pet for Petunia by Paul Schmid (Harper)

Petunia wants a pet. But not just any pet. Petunia wants a pet that has a cute little nose and big black eyes and lovely black and white stripes. In short, Petunia wants a skunk. And therein lies the premise of A Pet for Petunia by local illustrator (and now writer) Paul Schmid. This is a charming take on the "I want a pet" story. Look for his next book, Hugs for Pearl, in the fall.

Middle readers (ages 8-12)

The Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson (Delacorte Press)

The Friendship Doll tells the story of Miss Kanagawa, one of 58 dolls sent from Japan to the children of the United States in 1927 as Ambassadors of Friendship. As Miss Kanagawa moves around the United States, she has a profound impact on the lives of four girls, all of whom live in different parts of the country and at different times.

The novel reads a bit like four novellas, tales tied together through this child-sized doll. The stories are moving, at times heartbreaking, and often quite lovely. Miss Kanagawa, too, has thoughts and a personality of her own – and it isn't a sweet little dolly personality. She can be condescending and a little vain, but she learns from the girls as much as they learn from her.

The book is best for children at the older end of the middle reader range, as it deals with such issues as poverty, anti-Japanese sentiments and activities during World War II, and the loss of loved ones.

Also, take time this summer to visit the Rosalie Whyel Museum of Doll Art in Bellevue, where one of the original Japanese Friendship Dolls is on display. Spokane's Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture has another. Thirteen of the original dolls, including the real Miss Kanagawa, are missing.


Cinderella Smith by Stephanie Barden (Harper)

In this tale, one of Cinderella's brand new shiny ruby red tap shoes goes missing right before the big dance school recital, and if she doesn't get it back, she won't be able to dance the coveted role of the Pumpkin Blossom Fairy. Cinderella is a spunky heroine in the tradition of Ramona, though slightly older. The book is likely to appeal most to the 8 to 10 set.


Nana Takes the Reins by Kathleen Land with Cabell Harris, illustrated by Sarah Horne (Chronicle)

This book, written by Portlander Kathleen Land, is laugh-out-loud funny. Nana, who is decidedly not ready for the old people's home, sets out to ride a bull in the rodeo – behind the back of her worrying daughter. Recommended for 7- to 10-year-olds, the intergenerational antics and quirky illustrations make Nana a great read-aloud for a broader age range.


Lucky Cap by Patrick Jennings (Egmont)

Imagine your kinda fuddy duddy old dad got a job with the coolest sports apparel company in the country – it's called Kap (and it sounds an awful lot like Nike.) Suddenly, the summer is filled with a West Coast trip that includes five-star hotels, parasailing and an insanely cool prototype cap – signed in person by LeBron James. Wow! Is it any wonder that Enzo Harpold turns into a buffer, more popular, super athletic version of himself just in time for middle school? Lucky Cap is seriously funny, with a lesson about the power of brand name marketing to change a kid in ways that aren't so great.


Smells Like Treasure by Suzanne Selfors (Little, Brown)

In this sequel to Smells Like Dog, Homer Pudding sets out to win membership in L.O.S.T, the Society of Legends, Objects, Secrets and Treasures, a critical part of his dream to become a professional treasure hunter. A truly fun read.

Young adult (ages 12 and up)

The Year We Were Famous by Carole Estby Dagg (Clarion)

The year was 1896. In a daring – some say crazy – effort to save the family farm, Helga and Clara Estby set out from their farm near Spokane to walk across America. Within six months, the mother and daughter hope to be in New York City, accepting a $10,000 check on a wager from a mysterious publisher.

The most amazing thing about this story is that it's true. Carole Estby Dagg's great grandmother and great aunt really did walk across the United States more than a century ago. The Year We Were Famous is, Dagg hopes, the story they never put down on paper themselves.

The novel was a labor of love, 15 years and 29 rejections in the making. For us lucky readers, The Year We Were Famous was worth the wait. The book is partly adventure story, following the women as they brave a blizzard and a flash flood, as they spend a night with Indians in Utah, and as they speak out for women's suffrage. It's also the story of a mother and daughter's difficult relationship and how the journey changes them.


Stay by Deb Caletti (Simon Pulse)

"Between love and madness lies obsession." Remember the old Calvin Klein fragrance commercial? This novel explores what happens when teen love turns into a creepy and manipulative obsession through the romance and break-up of high school seniors Carla and Christian. In an attempt to get away from Christian – who keeps calling, texting and trying to see her – Carla leaves town with her dad, telling no one where they have gone. As her protection of secrecy erodes, and fear seeps in, Clara has no idea how far Christian will go. This novel is emotionally gripping, with a suspenseful plot that managed to surprise me until the end.


You Killed Wesley Payne by Sean Beaudoin (Little, Brown)

The genre's been called high school noir. Seventeen-year-old P.I. Dalton Rev braves the tangled web of vicious cliques at his new high school to try to find out who killed Wesley Payne, a boy whose body ended up hung upside down from the goalposts. The school he goes into is no High School Musical version of reality; it's a vicious place where everyone's on the take and a clique of teenaged snipers maintains the peace. Booklist's starred review raved about the "stylistic pastiche and slick patter" combined with "a propulsive mystery, with enough double-crosses and blindsiding reveals to give you vertigo."


Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang (Delacorte)

This work of historical fiction takes us back to the 13th century Mongolian court of Khubilai Khan. His granddaughter, 16-year-old Emmajin, sets out to become a soldier, proving that a woman can be a warrior. Her grandfather asks her to gather intelligence from a young foreigner named Marco Polo. Their relationship and Emmajin's experience as a soldier challenge her beliefs and her vision for the future.


Forgotten by Cat Patrick (Little, Brown)

Every morning at 4:33 a.m. every memory of the past will be erased from 16-year-old London Lane's mind. The only experiences that she "remembers" are in the future. But can the future change? The reverse of past and future is an odd mechanism, but it works. The novel is filled with suspense, mystery and young love.

Editor's note: This updated article was originally published in June of 2011.

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