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Posted on August 4, 2018 | 11:30 a.m.

Lee Littlewood: Reads With a Sprinkle of Sand and Underwater Magic

Source: Lee Littlewood

Here are some of the best new summer reads for middle-grade and teen readers:

The Turning

By Emily Whitman; HarperCollins; 380 pages; $16.99

The Turning Click to view larger

In The Turning, Aran is a selkie who lives on the open sea with his clan. He has never quite fully belonged, though, as he was born without a selkie skin and is stuck in human form. So he can’t move powerfully through the sea like the seals his family members transform into, and he may never get his pelt.

When Aran gets his first taste on land while his family searches for a skin for him, he’s thrilled with trees, birds, cookies and friends.

Emily Whitman’s flowing prose succinctly describes the magical view of human life. And she has developed a tender, caring male selkie character with a fascinating life (most undersea characters in kids books are female).

Already a Junior Library Guild selection, The Turning is refreshing and deep and lovely.

Summer of Salt

By Katrina Leno; HarperTeen; 256; $17.99

Magic is passed down through female generations in Georgina Fernweh’s family, and her sister is already showing an ability to defy gravity. Over the summer of Georgina’s 18th birthday, her last on a vacation island where strange things happen, she finally learns the truth about magic and the mystery behind a rare 300-year-old bird.

With Summer of Salt, author Katrina Leno creates a lush tale where magic and reality are compellingly blurred, with snappy dialogue and vivid, sometimes moody prose.

When a timely tragedy occurs, Georgina’s family is at the forefront, and she learns a lot about where magic really comes from.

This is a splendid, incredibly entertaining read for readers 13 and up.

Gone to Drift

By Diana McCaulay; HarperCollins; 265 pages; $16.99

Award-winning Jamaican novelist Diana McCaulay’s absorbing novel, Gone to Drift, is about a boy from Kingston, Jamaica, named Lloyd, who comes from a long line of fishermen. When Lloyd’s beloved grandfather, Maas, doesn’t return from a fishing trip, Lloyd fears he has gone adrift and sets out to search for him.

Told in the unique alternating voices of Lloyd and Maas, Gone to Drift is a beautifully told intelligent tale of the love of family and the sea. McCaulay’s keen story ends nicely but not without a world of watery Jamaican adventures.

Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea

By Lynne Rae Perkins; HarperCollins; 232 pages; $16.99

Newbery Award-winning author Lynne Rae Perkins knows how to reach in and grab children’s hearts with prose that almost makes her seem like she were 10 years old. Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea, a summery tale for ages 8 to 12, introduces two sisters on a family vacation to see the ocean for the first time.

Though the topic seems simple, Perkins’ engaging text and delicate humor elevate each watery experience and bring her writing to the forefront. With appealing black-and-white illustrations peppered within, Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea is a joyous ode to spotting dolphins and collecting shells, building sandcastles and getting ice cream.

It’s a summer joy indeed that should rise to the status of a middle-grade classic.


By Barbara Binns; HarperCollins; 353 pages; $16.99

Courage is an important book. Its summery theme comes in the form of a young boy named T’Shawn, who is offered a spot on a prestigious diving team. He worries his mom won’t be able to afford it. Luckily, he is given a scholarship and can put all his frustrations into diving practice. But when criminal activity rises in his neighborhood and people begin to suspect his brother, who was recently released from prison, he worries.

The quest to repair the broken brotherly relationship takes a front seat in Courage. The book proves how much the literal act of diving in can save a young man’s soul.

Barbara Binns weaves in themes of police brutality, racism, bullying and economic inequity. This is a touching story young black readers in urban areas should read. They may even want to give diving a chance!

— Lee Littlewood writes the Kids’ Home Library column for Creators. The San Diego wife and mom’s pure love of children’s literature helps her stay interested in words and pictures meant for tots to teens. Click here to contact her, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.


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