Three delightful summer reads for 8-to-12-year-old readers

From dueling grandmothers to tree-top protests, these middle-grade summer reads really sing.

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    This is Just a Test
    By Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Long Shang Scholastic
    256 pp.

    Tournament of Champions
    Written by Phil Bildner and illustrated by Tim Probert
    Farrar, Straus and Giroux
    256 pp.

    The Great Treehouse War
    By Lisa Graff
    Philomel
    288 pp.
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Tuck them in the camp trunks. Stash them inside a pool bag. Pop in the audiobook version to make that drive time whiz by. What better season than summer to choose a book you want to read, just because?

In This is Just a Test, by Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Long Shang, David Da-Wei Horowitz has two bickering grandmothers vying for his attention. His Jewish grandmother is prepping him for his bar mitzvah, making sure it’s “done right,” which means a hotel ballroom and a three-piece suit. And his Chinese grandmother is trying to outdo her, claiming latkes are best made in her wok. They even fight over Thanksgiving dinner and whether the mashed potatoes are the right texture.

A very funny kid who manages to navigate friendships, family relationships, and a possible Soviet attack, David joins a trivia team, another humorous touch to this delightful middle-grade novel set in the 1980s. And on Page 1, there’s poison ivy. David’s innocent crush on a popular girl in his class adds an age-appropriate romantic touch that’s not too sappy, not too serious. David worries about nuclear holocaust, his bar mitzvah, and the normal things kids still worry about today, making this seamless collaboration by two truly gifted writers a perfect read for summer and beyond.

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In Tournament of Champions, written by Phil Bildner and illustrated by Tim Probert, friends Rip and Red have been invited to play in a weekend basketball tournament with their team, Clifton United. (The boys already have a fan base from two previous novels for 8- to 12-year-old readers.) For Red, this tournament will be a challenge that involves not only sports but the diagnosis he has received placing him on the autism spectrum. Rip’s challenge is making peace with the father he hasn’t seen in “two years and who I had no interest in ever seeing again.”

These are realistic novels; things don’t always turn out perfectly. But Bildner, a former New York City teacher, shapes his characters and pleases his readers better than almost anybody else: “We all laughed. For no reason. We just did. Fifth graders do that sometimes.” His dialogue is as peppy as a fast break, and Rip and Red’s story is as heartwarming – or heartbreaking – as a last-minute buzzer beater.

There were many times when I laughed out loud and didn’t want this book to end. If you don’t know the “Rip and Red” series, start with any of the books. They are terrific for sports fans, emerging readers, and, of course, for reading aloud and reading together with parents and friends.

What better place to spend a summer afternoon or two than a treehouse? And if you don’t have a treehouse complete with a mini fridge, bathroom, and even a zip-line, why not read about one?

In The Great Treehouse War, by Lisa Graff, all Winnie wants is to continue to be a good student, a friend, a cat lover, a doodler. But her feuding parents have taken over her life. They’re divorcing, with shared custody, and she’s quite literally stuck between them. The only days she has to herself are her “nothing special” Wednesdays. There seems to be no better solution than to escape the ridiculous shared life created by her parents and move to the treehouse built by her favorite uncle.

No sooner does Winnie settle in than her friends join her. When the local media brands them the Tulip Street Ten, they embrace their new fame, but they aren’t coming down until their parents meet their demands. Those demands may seem unreasonable (if you’re not a fifth-grader). But these friends are serious.

The clever way Graff tells this “memoir,” adding handwritten notes, pictures, instructions on how to fill a water balloon, even a comic book spread, will captivate her already loyal young readers. This is a perfect book to be passed around at summer sleepovers everywhere, especially inside treehouses.

 
 
 

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