Summer Discoveries

Summer Discoveries

by Anastasia Tuckness

Summertime as an 11- or 12-year-old can be very unpredictable. The rhythms of the school year are thrown off. You meet new people, unearth deep family secrets, or simply learn more about yourself. For this column, I’ve selected some of my very favorite summer stories about kids and young teens. They  tell stories about summertime experiences that, while sometimes surprising and unpredictable, really could have happened, either now or in the past. Their characters are dear to my hearts and their settings are vivid in my imagination—I truly, truly love each of these books and am happy to introduce them to you!

“The Season of Styx Malone” by Kekla Magoon is a perfect summer book, with a mysterious stranger showing up in the woods near Caleb and Bobby Gene’s house. His name is Styx and he has a plan--a plan to get something they all want (a scooter), starting with almost nothing and trading up. It's funny and endearing and just realistic enough to make for a really good story.

In “One Crazy Summer” by Rita Williams-Garcia, it’s 1968 in Oakland, California, where Delphine and her two younger sisters are spending a month with their mother, whom they’ve barely met previously. Trouble is, their mother is more interested in her poetry and her politics than she is in them. Delphine finds herself navigating the civil rights movement and her place in her family. Her story is sensitively told with points of humor along the way; I felt completely transported to Delphine’s world. There are two sequels as well.

“As Brave as You” by Jason Reynolds also features kids visiting lesser-known relatives. Ernie and Genie leave their home in Brooklyn to head for the countryside of Virginia. The book begins with them slinging manure and the country experiences don’t stop there. The secrets and culture of their grandparents slowly unfold. I loved how real this book is, how each character is thoroughly interesting and thoroughly flawed, just like real life.

“The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy” by Jeanne Birdsall is a contemporary story with a nostalgic feel. It features a family who visits an estate called Arundel. Each sister has a distinctly delightful way of experiencing the world, whether that’s picking flowers in the bull’s meadow or baking brownies for the boy next door. This five-book series is perfect for a family looking for a gently amusing title for a wide range of ages.

“Nerd Camp” by Elissa Brent Weissman starts with Gabe keenly anticipating his upcoming trip to the “Summer Center for Gifted Enrichment” (i.e., Nerd Camp)—but starts questioning himself when he meets his (definitely not nerdy) soon-to-be stepbrother Zack. Gabe wonders, am I a nerd through and through? As the summer at camp progresses, he analyzes every experience for its level of nerdiness. Activities range from Logical Reasoning classes to swimming, with normal camp pranks and bad food along the way. Funny and heartfelt; followed by the sequel “Nerd Camp 2.0.”

“Gone-Away Lake” by Elizabeth Enright, a well-beloved classic, tells the story of Portia visiting her cousin Julian for the summer, as she always does. But this year their explorations yield a big find—an entire town that appears at first to be abandoned. The town slowly gives up its quaint mysteries. Followed by “Return to Gone-Away.”

In “The Green Glass Sea” by Ellen Klages, it’s the mid 1940s and Dewey's in a rough spot--her dad has been gone for a long time on an extended work trip, her mom left many years ago, and the grandma who’s been caring for her has a stroke. She gets put on a train from St. Louis to New Mexico to join her dad at his mysterious place of work, which turns out to be Los Alamos. When she gets there, she has to learn how to get along with the other kids ... when she'd really rather be building her radio. And who knows what the adults are building--what will this "gadget" do and how will it win the war? Followed by “White Sands, Red Menace.”

Here's hoping for lots of discoveries in your summer!