Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Brainstorm Vol 42: Books to keep kids busy this summer

I've been remiss in posting recently thanks to the mad-dash-to-the-finish that is the last couple weeks of school. Now that it is THE last day of school, the students have gone home, and teachers are starting to retreat for well-earned vacation time, I have some time to do a summer post.

Instead of books to use in the classroom, this time I'll highlight great books that will keep kids engaged for hours this summer. Yes, the elementary librarian and I came up with some lists of fun books to read this summer for various age groups (see links at the bottom of this post). And I completely and fully hope kids spend hours and hours reading this summer. But these are more books that will keep kids engaged above and beyond just the reading time.

The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base
At Horace the elephant's birthday party, all the guests are having a grand time until it comes time to eat the gorgeous birthday feast they glimpsed at the start of the day and it is gone. Which guest ate all of the food? That's the mystery readers are challenged to solve, and there are multiple clues in all sorts of forms on every page. The solution is hidden in a special envelope in the back of the book.

You really can't go wrong with a Graeme Base book for hours of entertainment. Even toddlers can adore his gorgeous, brightly colored illustrations and catchy rhyming texts. Older children will love how he always has things hidden in his illustrations for observant readers to find. But this one probably will devour the most time because of the dozens and dozens of various codes and hidden things. I remember spending hours with my siblings pouring over this book one summer as we tried to be the first to solve the crime (Mom hid the answer page from us till she thought we were ready). If you're looking for one book to captivate an elementary-aged kid for the entire summer, this is a solid pick.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein
Alexandriaville, OH is getting a new public library, thanks to the generous funding of hometown game designing legend, Luigi Lemoncello. Twelve twelve year olds who win an essay contest will be the luck people to get to enter the new library first, and they don't just get to visit, they get to spend the night. Kyle Keeley is a huge fan of Mr. Lemoncello's games, both board games and video games. They're wild, crazy, and always fun so he's ecstatic to be a winner. He's joined by eleven other students from his class including his best friend Akimi, library aides Miguel and Andrew, town snob Charles, bookworm Sierra, and desperate for fame and/or fortune Haley. The evening proves to be everything the children could have hoped for with fun games galore, but in the morning when they go to leave they find the library's front door locked. It turns out, Mr. Lemoncello has one more, rather elaborate game in store for the children who are game, with a grand prize of lots of money and becoming the future star in Mr. Lemoncello's commercials. Some of the children are in it for the fun of Mr. Lemoncello's games, some are in it as a matter of pride, and some are just plain desperate for the fame and fortune. The game is to figure out how to get out of the library without using the front door and without setting off any alarms. There are clues all over the place for the observant to find, but figuring the way out will be tricky. Kyle and Akimi quickly realize they'd do better as a team, and eventually pick up some other teammates along the way. Charles wants the prize for himself, but he isn't opposed to using others to get there. It's a wild and crazy, mind-stretching ride to the finish to see who will figure things out first.

This has been one of my go-to recommendations for just about any reader this year, and every single one has come back asking if I have any other books like it. The adventure itself is fun, but what sucked me and other readers completely into it's thrall are all the puzzles. Because clever readers can solve the puzzles right along with the kids in the library (and even cleverer readers may solve them before the characters). And there are extra puzzles to solve at the end for those who so choose. It's a code breaker, puzzle solver's enchanted playground of fun. Those who are ready for more advanced code breaking should give the next book a shot.

The Code Book by Simon Singh
Upper middle grade or high school (or adult) readers craving more codes and puzzles should check out this book. Simon Singh presents the history of codes, ciphers and code breaking and the influence of history, linguistics, math, and science (and vice versa). He does this in a highly readable way that flows well. But what puzzle enthusiasts will love most about this book are all the codes that Singh gives readers to crack. Some are really super hard and could potentially take all summer break to crack.

Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord
Lucy's family has just moved, again. She really isn't looking forward to making new friends again or trying to find her place, so she finds it a pleasant surprise when the next door neighbors seem to adopt her into their little group immediately. Of course, they are only there for the summer. In fact, most of the town is only at the lake for the summer, but Lucy will take the friendship while she can get it. She knows there are different kinds of friends, and she keeps waiting for Nate to be one of those interested-only-till-your-not-new-anymore friends, but he keeps inviting her to help on the loon watch and helps her with the photography contest she's secretly decided to enter. It has to be a secret because her dad is the judge, and though there are no rules about family members entering the contest, she knows he'd discount her entry right away if he knew it was her. But she really wants to know what her dad thinks of her pictures. Are they good enough to earn his attention? Can she find the right subjects in this little lake town to give the photos a certain something? And then, Lucy starts to realize that this may be the last time Nate's family comes to the lake at all, and she could lose the only friends she has in her new spot. Through the fates of the local loons, a photography contest, and the things going on with her next door neighbor Nate's Grandma Leilah, Lucy learns a lot about treasuring the moments and dealing with changes.

On page 23 of the book, the photo scavenger hunt is outlined for the characters. Readers looking for a fun photographic challenge for the summer could see what photos they could come up with to fulfill the scavenger hunt themselves. Thanks to digital photography, this would be a cheap activity for kids parents trust with a camera or phone with a camera, but it will also challenge them to think creatively (like the characters in the story) as the words for each photograph are vague and open to lots of interpretation. What to them is a photograph that says "Sticky" or "Secret" or "Out of place" or "Hope?" Those who like competition could challenge friends or relatives to do the same photo scavenger hunt and then compare photos at the end of the summer.

Ms Sarah's Fun Books for K-2nd to Read This Summer
Ms Sarah's Fun Books for 1st-3rd to Read This Summer
Mrs Becky's Fun Books for Middle Grades to Read This Summer
Mrs Becky's Fun Books for Young Adults to Read This Summer