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Originally published Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Summer reads for kids

School's out for the summer, and local kids blessed with free reading time will take to the titles in this roundup of new books by local authors, featuring locales from the Methow to Portland.

Special to The Seattle Times

Seattle's young readers — tots to teens — will recognize several locations in Seattle-area authors' books this summer, from a touristy town in the Methow Valley to a Portland road trip to a town where it never stops raining (on second thought, let's hope that doesn't sound familiar this year). They can also learn about northern animals, pick up a little Spanish, and discover who created water ballet.

The pregnant mother in Kirkland author Samantha Vamos' "Before You Were Here, Mi Amor" (Viking, 32 pp., $15.99, ages 2-5) eats arroz y frijoles to stay healthy while an older brother wonders when the bebé will be old enough to play beísbol. Illustrated by Santiago Cohen, the charming picture book mixes in Spanish words as it explains how the extended family, including grandparents, aunts and uncles, helps get ready for the new baby. A glossary translates Spanish words (but offers no pronunciations).

From the polar bear (the world's largest carnivore) to the moose (the Arctic's largest land animal at 1,600 pounds), inhabitants of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's icy tundra star in "Caribou Crossing" (Sasquatch, 32 pp., $16.95, ages 4-9) by Seattle author Andrea Helman. Kids will learn all sorts of interesting facts — if they can tear their eyes away from the picture book's stunning, close-up shots by Seattle nature photographer Art Wolfe. Besides animals, the full-color book includes information on the Aurora Borealis, lichen and fossils.

Seattle artist Edwin Fotheringham's bold digital-media illustrations capture the splash and sass of Annette Kellerman, the world's first water-ballet swimmer, who was also known as the Mermaid Queen. In "Mermaid Queen" (Scholastic, 48 pp., $17.99, ages 5-10), author Shana Corey introduces Annette as a girl who "loved to make waves," both in the water and out. At the turn of the century, Annette fought for athletic recognition despite being considered, as Corey's playful text puts it, "Too plain. Too plump. Too weird. Too wet. Too bad!" Americans can also credit Annette for pioneering the modern swimsuit, despite getting arrested for her leg-baring style.

In "Fortune's Magic Farm" (Little, Brown, 264 pp., $15.99, ages 7-11), 10-year-old Isabelle works at an umbrella factory in Runny Cove, a place where it never stops raining. (Really. It's not just what it feels like during the winter at author Suzanne Selfors' home on Bainbridge Island.) Isabelle is sweet and loyal, despite her dreary living conditions, so she must find a way to help her old friends even after she escapes to a magic farm and discovers her own powers as a Tender. Illustrated with black-and-white drawings by Catia Chien, this quirky book — Isabelle's "pets" include a barnacle, slugs and potato bugs — is full of silly songs and vivid secondary characters.

The three 15-year-old Tacoma boys in "Project Sweet Life" (HarperTeen, 282 pp., $16.99, ages 12-15), by Seattle's Brent Hartinger are determined to avoid getting summer jobs, even if it means lying to their parents, selling all their cool stuff and catching bank robbers. Somehow, their plans never work out as intended, leaving the boys desperate to earn $6,000 at the end of the summer. The plot twists are completely implausible, but it's still a lot of fun.

Terra has a perfect body, but it's the port-wine stain on her cheek that gets people staring in Seattle author Justina Chen Headley's "North of Beautiful" (Little, Brown, 384 pp., $16.99, ages 13-17). Stuck in a Winthrop-like tourist town in the Methow Valley, Terra deals with family tensions — a verbally abusive dad and a timid mom — through her collage artwork. A new friendship (maybe romance?) with Jacob, a Goth with a cleft lip, leads Terra and her mom to accompany Jacob and his adopted mom on a trip to his birth country of China. Layered with as many metaphors as Terra's collages, "North of Beautiful" explores the geography of self, family and love.

The prince in Deb Caletti's new novel, "The Secret Life of Prince Charming" (Simon & Schuster, 336 pp., $16.99, ages 14 and up) is not 17-year-old Quinn's love interest, but her charismatic father. When she discovers her father has stolen something from every woman with whom he had a relationship, Quinn convinces an older half-sister she hardly knows to join her and her younger sister, Sprout, on a road trip up and down I-5 to return all the items. Caletti, who lives in Seattle, lightens her sometimes dark — but always honest — story with sibling bonding, a cute boy and a 10-foot-tall Bob's Big Boy statue (don't ask). In a tale dominated by women (Quinn lives with her mom, grandmother and aunt), Quinn has to face Prince Charming alone, to understand him, and herself.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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