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Originally published August 4, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 4, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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Young Readers

Summer reading with adventures, coming-of-age tales

Elementary-school-age kids will find adventure, first kisses and a little history in these choice picks for reading in their free time this...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Elementary-school-age kids will find adventure, first kisses and a little history in these choice picks for reading in their free time this summer.

Lyn Gardner blends a "Shrek"-style fractured fairy tale with over-the-top villains and a preternatural baby reminiscent of a character in "A Series of Unfortunate Events" to create "Into the Woods" (David Fickling Books, 427 pp., $16.99, ages 9-12). Three sisters — responsible Aurora, brave Storm and early-talking baby Any (their father, bereft after his wife dies giving birth, tells the girls to name the baby "anything") — must trust their family bonds as they face Little Red Riding Hood wolves, a Hansel and Gretel house of sweets and an evil man who tries to steal the Pied Piper's pipe entrusted to Storm on her mother's deathbed. Don't expect Disneyfied versions of folk tales in this fast-paced adventure; one villain warns Storm, "I'm going to mince you and turn you into sausages and feed you to your sisters."

Two coming-of-age books feature first-person narrators with few similarities besides gender — one is a contemporary 14-year-old Korean boy adopted by an Italian family; the other is a 12-year-old growing up in a small town in the late 1960s — but they both deal with the universal themes of first love, dysfunctional parents and accepting oneself.

Holling Hoodhood is convinced his seventh-grade English teacher, Mrs. Baker, hates him in Newbery Honor Award-winning author Gary D. Schmidt's "The Wednesday Wars" (Clarion Books, 272 pp., $16, ages 10-14). Their relationship (an innocent one, pre-Mary Kay Letourneau) gives the book its emotional core, with Mrs. Baker gradually growing into a real person. "You didn't think I'd spent my whole life behind this desk, did you?" Mrs. Baker asks Holling, forcing him to realize that was exactly what he thought. With the Vietnam War as an ominous backdrop that forces even teenagers to put their problems into perspective, Holling also contends with memorizing Shakespeare, saving his older sister, and a "Romeo and Juliet" romance with the daughter of his father's business rival.

First-time novelist Rose Kent mostly avoids "After School Special"-esque didacticism as she addresses interracial adoption in "Kimchi & Calamari" (HarperCollins, 220 pp., $15.99, ages 9-13). Kent is mom to two biological teenagers who are part Korean and two younger children adopted from Korea. Her book follows 14-year-old Joseph Calderaro as he searches for his biological Korean mom, even as it distresses his adoptive Italian parents. Despite sometimes clunky dialogue, Joseph is an engaging narrator as he tries the titular food dish, makes his way out of a lie and embraces his identity as an ethnic "sandwich."

Readers will find a quiet tale in Port Townsend author Ellie Mathews' first children's book, "The Linden Tree" (Milkweed Editions, 195 pp., $16.95, ages 8-12). Ten-year-old narrator Katy Sue feels "like a broken doll" after her mother dies of meningitis in 1948. As life continues on their small Iowa farm, her family learns to cope with the sudden loss — and adjust to new ways, when their aunt comes to stay with them.

When 11-year-old Tom floats down a river and is swallowed into an underground passage, he ends up solving a mystery he didn't know existed in N.D. Wilson's "Leepike Ridge" (Random House, 224 pp., $15.99, ages 10-13). Some pieces to the puzzle seem far-fetched, but they do settle into an interesting tale, especially once Tom meets up with a man who has survived with "Robinson Crusoe"-type inventions in the mountain's dark caverns for three years. A group of dangerous treasure-hunting spelunkers threatens Tom's single mom above ground as Tom struggles to find a way out. Wilson's mostly light tone is mismatched when the tale turns to murder and kidnapping, which might disturb younger readers.

Stephanie Dunnewind: 206-464-2091 or sdunnewind@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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