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Originally published Saturday, June 18, 2011 at 7:02 PM

Summer reading: nature's delights, the nature of friendship and life lessons for children and teens

Children's books by Pacific Northwest authors, including new books by Samantha Vamos, Nikki McClure, Kirby Larson and Deb Caletti, feature the delights of nature for younger kids and exotic thrills — and even some life lessons — for teens.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Children's books by Pacific Northwest authors bring the delights of nature — flowers and food — for families' summer-reading pleasure. Alligators, rattlesnakes and lions offer more exotic thrills in teen beach reads.

Kirkland author Samantha R. Vamos adds a Spanish twist to "The House that Jack Built" in "The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred" (Charlesbridge, 32 pp., $17.95, ages 3-8). In the lively cumulative tale, each verse introduces a new Spanish word as a bevy of anthropomorphic animals helps mix up the ingredients for arroz con leche (rice pudding — recipe included). Bold, vibrant illustrations by Rafael López complete the cheery party vibe.

Farmers plant some seeds, but others are spread by wind, animals and water, as Tacoma author Kathryn O. Galbraith explains in "Planting the Wild Garden" (Peachtree, 32 pp., $15.95, ages 5-8). Wendy Anderson Halperin's lovely, muted illustrations match Galbraith's poetic lines. Young summer hikers can watch out for yarrow, pussy willow, Queen Anne's lace and other wild plants highlighted in the book.

Families heading to one of the area's many farmers markets will appreciate all the effort put into local food after reading paper-cut artist Nikki McClure's "To Market, To Market" (Abrams, 40 pp., $17.95, ages 4-9). Young children may listen to the short introductions to various market treats (apples, honey, smoked salmon, cheese), while lyrical, one-page descriptions teach older children the process behind growing or creating each item. McClure's text and her detailed illustrations, all simply colored to accentuate the intricate paper cutting, focus on real vendors from an Olympia farmers market.

The titular protagonist of "Cinderella Smith" (Harper, 150 pp., 14.99, ages 8-10) earned her nickname by constantly losing shoes, but she's still willing to help a new friend with her maybe-wicked stepsisters in Seattle author Stephanie Barden's debut novel. Fans of Clementine and Ramona will enjoy good-natured Cinderella's triumph over mean girls and her success at a tap-dance recital, all embellished by Diane Goode's simple black-line illustrations.

Based on real dolls sent as ambassadors from Japan, "The Friendship Doll" (Delacorte, 200 pp., $15.99, ages 9-12) is a series of stories by Kenmore author Kirby Larson. The stories connect through a special doll, Miss Kanagawa, who encounters four girls at different times from the 1920s to the 1940s. Each has something to learn from her, though none owns her. Keep a tissue close for Willie Mae's Depression-era tale.

Hand boys the fast-paced "Storm Runners" (Scholastic Press, 143 pp., $16.99, ages 11-14) by Portland author Roland Smith. As if a raging Florida hurricane weren't bad enough, Chase and his friends have to contend with a school-bus crash, flooding, 13-foot alligators, and, oh yeah, an escaped leopard. The abrupt ending should pick up with the next book in the series, due in September.

The premise of "The Year We Were Famous" (Clarion, 256 pp., $16.99, ages 12-15) is fascinating — two women walk alone in 1896 from Washington state to New York City — but all the more so because it is based on a real adventure by first-time author Carole Estby Dagg's great-grandmother and great-aunt. The Everett resident uses a diary format, sprinkled with letters, to re-create 17-year-old Clara Estby's 232-day journey with her mom as they faced knife-wielding assailants, rattlesnakes and flash floods.

Another strong girl features in Newcastle author Dori Jones Yang's "Daughter of Xanadu" (Delacorte, 336 pp., $17.99, ages 13-15), as a fictional Mongol princess falls in love with Marco Polo. Princess Emmajin, a skilled archer and horse rider, wants to fight for her grandfather, the Great Khan. Instead, he assigns her a task: Spy on the foreigner. The exotic setting and alternate take on history (from the "barbarian" point of view) lift this coming-of-age romance from the usual grrrl power fare.

Trust Seattle author Deb Caletti to tackle a Teen Issue — in this case, abusive relationships — without becoming didactic. Eighteen-year-old Clara and her father escape to an unnamed island near Deception Pass in "Stay" (Simon Pulse, 313 pp., $16.99, ages 14-18), but Clara's controlling ex-boyfriend, Christian, remains a menacing presence as their story unfolds in flashbacks. The father-daughter pair also can't hide from family secrets and tentative new romances in their new small town.

While teen suicide and bullying are not exactly light beach-reading topics, summer might be a good time to get "It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living" (Dutton, 340 pp., $21.95, ages 14-20) into the hands of a suffering teen. Edited by Seattle author Dan Savage (The Stranger editor) and his husband Terry Miller, it features short nonfiction essays by celebrities, politicians and regular folks — several from Seattle — offering comfort, advice and inspiration to gay, lesbian and transgender teens. With a little bit of everything (in different languages, even), there is sure to be a piece that reaches out to a teen feeling isolated and desperate.

Stephanie Dunnewind, a former Seattle Times reporter, is a school librarian in Bothell.

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