Suspense, humor, memorable characters and a good story are vital ingredients for a good summer read. And following in the tradition of Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” many authors are combining cartoon illustrations with text to add kid appeal. The Young Adult titles, targeted at those 12 and up or 14 and up, include the final installment of Joelle Charbonneau’s dystopian “Testing” trilogy for “Hunger Games” and “Divergent” fans and the hilarious yet poignant “Noggin” from Printz Award winner John Michael Whaley.
Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan; Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, $18.99. Like all books from this artist/storyteller (“The Arrival,” “Tales from Outer Suburbia” and “The Lost Thing,” made into an Oscar-winning animated short film), this will appeal to both kids and adults, with its dreamlike investigation of the weird within the everyday. Here a boy explains “rules of summer” to a younger brother. “Never leave a red sock on the clothesline” comes with an illustration of two boys cowering in a mazelike space, the wall barely containing a giant wild-eyed rabbit; “Never drop your jar” is accompanied by an illustration of two boys with butterfly nets, on a precarious perch atop water towers high in the sky.
The 26-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths, illustrated by Terry Denton; Feiwel & Friends, $13.99. This off-the-wall mix of cartooning and text (a sequel to “The 13-Story Treehouse”) features a boy forced by his overprotective parents to wear self-inflating underpants (in case of drowning), a pirate villain who has a Moby Dick-esque relationship with a legendary Gorgonzola fish and an ice cream parlor run by an Edward Scooperhands robot serving up 78 flavors, including “brainfreeze” and “bathfoam.”
Otis Dooda Downright Dangerous by Ellen Potter (Feiwel and Friends, $13.99, cartoons by David Heatley). Potter’s second hilarious Otis Dooda adventure – set in New York City apartment building Tidwell Towers – features Otis’ competition with fellow Lego genius Sid Frackas and the continuing adventures of Otis’ mom’s Horrible Hounds Academy dog training school. Coming next: “Otis Dooda: Jaws of Death.”
Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey by Alex Milway; Candlewick Press, 78 pages $12.99. A London author/illustrator offers a hilarious mix of cartoon and text in this tale of intrepid explorer Pigsticks and his quest with hapless assistant Harold, a hamster, to find the Ends of the Earth.
The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes; Greenwillow Books, 240 pages $16.99. This delightful, often laugh-out-loud Newbery Honor novel gets inside the head of a 7-year-old boy as he navigates school, annoying classmates and family issues.
Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits by Michael D. Beil; Alfred A. Knopf ($15.99) A very smart cat, a chatty young heiress and the nosy 10-year-old son of a ship captain team up in this entertaining crime caper set aboard the Lake Erie Shoreliner traveling to Chicago in 1938. The author of the Edgar-nominated Red Blazer Girls mystery series paints a vivid picture of 1930s train travel; local references (to Dunkirk, Ripley) add to the fun.
The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill by Megan Frazer Blakemore; Bloomsbury Books, 305 pages ($16.99). The author of marvelous mystery “The Water Castle” offers another unusual mystery with a vivid historical setting. This one is set in the early 1950s during the Communist witchhunts of Sen. Joe McCarthy. The engaging Hazel Kaplansky, whose parents are caretakers of the local graveyard, launches her own search for “red spies,” as she is convinced the cemetery gravedigger has something to hide.
The Summer Experiment by Cathie Pelletier; Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky; 288 pages ($16.99). Pelletier introduces the memorable voice of one Roberta Angela McKinnon, an 11-year-old girl from Allagash, Maine, near the Canadian border, who is plotting to win the science fair with her best friend Marilee when their plans are rudely interrupted by a possible UFO sighting. Richly drawn characters, a poignant family drama and girls who love science make this a winner.
Graduation Day by Joelle Charbonneau; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 291 pages ($17.99). Malencia Vale must navigate a deadly maze of politics and intrigue to save the United Commonwealth from all out civil war in the thrilling finale to Charbonneau’s excellent dystopian The Testing series, set in the fragile civilization just beginning to emerge in the Midwest after the devastation of Seven Stages of War.
The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski (Farrar Straus Giroux, $17.99). As the daughter of a general in the Valorian empire, Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or marry. Her impulsive purchase of a Herrani male slave leads to complications she could have never foreseen in this richly imagined, suspenseful tale (first of a trilogy) of political intrigue set in a violent ancient world.
She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick; Roaring Brook Press, 216 pages $16.99. The author of Michael Printz Award-winner “Midwinterblood” offers a surprising and original thriller in this tale of a blind 16-year-old British girl who flies to New York with her 7-year-old brother Benjamin in search of their missing father, whose strange obsession with coincidences may, or may not, explain his ominous disappearance.
We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt; Wendy Lamb Books, 197 pages, $16.99. The author of popular YA fiction “The Summer I Learned to Fly” and “How to Build a House” offers elements of psychological thriller in this tale of two sisters whose close bond is torn apart when one starts keeping a big secret. Definitely for the over 14-crowd.
Maybe One Day by Melissa Kantor; HarperTeen, 384 pages, $17.99. Fans of John Green’s “The Fault In Our Stars” (now a movie starring Shailene Woodley) will appreciate this poignant story of best friends Zoe and Olivia who are cut from the New York City Ballet Company just before senior year of high school and must readjust their dreams for the future, only to then have to deal with much worse.
Noggin by John Corey Whaley; Atheneum, 340 pages ($17.99). Whaley follows up his Michael Printz award-winning “Where Things Come Back” with this funny, poignant tale of a 16-year-old boy dying of leukemia who wakes up after a five-year deep freeze to find his cryogenically frozen head reattached to a donor body and his girlfriend engaged to someone else.
How They Choked: Failures, Flops and Flaws of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg; illustrated by Kevin O’Malley; Walker Books for Young Readers, $17.99 Ages 9 to 11.
History has never been so hilarious or so compelling as in this marvelous collection of offbeat treatments of such “Awfully Famous” personages as Montezuma, Queen Isabella, Magellan, Isaac Newton, George Armstrong Custer and Amelia Earhart. You have to love a book that defines the Age of Discovery as ”when Europeans went here and there around the world and took over places where people already lived, renamed them and called them discoveries” or a book with the chapter heading on Benedict Arnold: “Stinker, Traitor, Soldier, Spy.”
Jean Westmoore is The News’ longtime children’s book reviewer.