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Originally published Monday, December 2, 2013 at 3:03 AM

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Head into the holiday break with NW books for kids and teens

Kids, teens and young adults in need of a read over the holiday break will be absorbed in these new books by Northwest authors, including George Shannon, Kelly Milner Halls, Patrick Jennings, Kirby Larson, Dia Calhoun, April Henry and Patrick Flores-Scott.

Special to The Seattle Times

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A good book becomes even more fun as a gift when young readers find references to local landmarks and towns around the Northwest. Here are some don’t-miss offerings with Washington or Oregon connections:

Cooks planning poultry for a holiday dinner might want to skip reading “Turkey Tot” (Holiday House, 32 pp., $16.95, ages 2-6) aloud, because young readers will cheer for the outside-the-box thinking of the titular protagonist. Scrawny Turkey Tot and his farm-animal friends want the juicy blackberries high on the bush, but his ideas — floating up on balloons, making a teeter totter catapult — are dismissed as “silly talk.” Catchy refrains and charming pencil and watercolor illustrations add to the fun as Turkey Tot finds a creative solution. Both the author, George Shannon, and illustrator Jennifer K. Mann live on Bainbridge Island.

If a puppy under the tree just isn’t possible, these three books might be the next best things. In “Courageous Canine! And More True Stories of Amazing Animal Heroes” (National Geographic Children’s Books, 112 pp., $5.99, ages 7-9), short chapters and simple text relate the actions of Lilly, a pit bull who dragged her unconscious owner out of the way of an oncoming freight train, dolphins who formed a wall between a surfer and great white shark, and a gorilla who cradled a 3-year-old after he fell into her zoo enclosure. Spokane author Kelly Milner Halls includes fact boxes and interviews with experts speculating on the wild animals’ behavior.

Rufus wanted a puppy, but now he’s famous at school — too famous, for his comfort — for Fido, his guinea pig who acts like a dog. Now in “Guinea Dog 2” (Egmont, $15.99, 164 pp., ages 8-11), Rufus is trying to train Fido to be a normal rodent and stop eating table food so she won’t get fatter. Fido, ever endearing, has other ideas. Port Townsend author Patrick Jennings will have readers snorting over Rufus’ observations of his classmates, parents and chubby sidekick. When a girl says a ground squirrel is “so cute I could die,” Rufus wonders, “Do people really die from seeing cute things?”

It’s hard for kids today to imagine the homefront sacrifices required during World War II, and Kirby Larson’s newest work of historical fiction, “Duke” (Scholastic, 240 pp., $16.99, ages 8-11) highlights a surprising one. Under pressure to help his country, 11-year-old Hobie donates his beloved German shepherd to the military, which uses dogs as guards and even mine sniffers.

With fascinating historical and Seattle details (Hobie’s family participates in a Blessing of the Fleet at Fishermen’s Terminal), the book will appeal to both dog lovers and readers interested in how families coped during the war. Larson lives in Kenmore.

Twelve-year-old Eckhart plays a Knights of the Round Table video game, so he knows about heroic trials. In “After the River the Sun” (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 348 pp., $16.99, ages 10-13), Eckhart is just not sure he can win over his gruff uncle, who is letting him stay at his Eastern Washington orchard “only on trial” after Eckhart’s parents’ death.

Told in free verse by Tacoma author Dia Calhoun — and inspired by her own family’s apple orchard — the story mixes imagination (Eckhart and his friend Eva go on quests and give offerings to a Good Wizard) with the reality of grieving.

Take a deep intake of air before opening “The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die” (Henry Holt, 214 pp., $16.99, ages 13-16) by Portland author April Henry. The breathless pace starts with a nameless girl waking up to amnesia, a couple missing fingernails (which she sees next to a pair of bloody pliers), and two men who want to kill her. She manages to escape, only to discover she’s on the run from a mental institution — or so her pursuers claim. After a security officer is shot, a boy she befriends in a Bend, Ore., McDonald’s is the only one to believe she’s not an insane murderer.

Teen readers will pick up all sorts of local references in “Jumped In” (Henry Holt, 292 pp., $16.99, ages 14-17) by debut novelist and Seattle resident Patrick Flores-Scott. Sam, a high-school sophomore, knows grunge is dead, but he doesn’t care: He wants to be a musician like Kurt Cobain, who also grew up in Aberdeen.

But after Sam’s mom deserts him at his grandparents’ house in Seattle, Sam stops caring about school, friends or music. A new classmate (who may or may not be a gang member, with a nasty scar on his neck), a dedicated teacher and a slam-poetry assignment force Sam out of his slacker attitude in this heartfelt but profanity-laden story. It manages to skirt trite happy endings but still ends on a note of hope.

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

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