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Books for tweens and teens

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Here are three funny and informative books tween readers will enjoy.

"The Becket List: A Blackberry Farm Story" by Adele Griffin, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Algonquin Young Readers, 208 pages, in stores)

Rebecca Branch is moving from the city to a farm, and she is making a list of how to be a country girl: 1. Goodbye, city; 2. Change my name to Becket.

Every chapter is a new adventure as Becket learns to care for farm animals, drives a tractor, attends Young Explorers Camp, makes a new friend, visits an alpaca farm and takes over the care of Mr. Fancypants, the family's 14 1/2-year-old dog with bad breath.

Third-grade and older readers will love reading this book. Younger children will love having it read to them. And the pen-and-ink drawings are wonderful! I will be looking for more Blackberry Farm books.

"Bea Garcia: The Tree and Me" by Deborah Zemke (Dial Books, 160 pages, in stores May 14)

Beatrice, also know as Bea, loves the giant oak tree outside her classroom at Dickinson Elementary School. She has named the tree Emily, and she says that if you look closely you can see a picture of poet Emily Dickinson on the tree trunk.

Bea's classmate, Bert, who spends a big part of his life sitting on a chair outside the principal's office, climbs Emily and throws acorns at Bea and other students. They respond by throwing acorns, leaves and sticks at Bert. The teacher orders a halt to the acorn war; the principal calls the fire department, and a firefighter rescues Bert from Emily. I see a chair in Bert's future.

Parents say that Emily is unsafe, and the president of the school board says the tree must be cut down. The students stage a well-orchestrated and well-informed campaign to save Emily and protect her from Bert.

Bea tells this story in her own words and illustrates it with 237 adorable line drawings. This is a very fun book.

"Because of the Rabbit" by Cynthia Lord (Scholastic Press, 192 pages, in stores)

Emma and her older brother Owen are home schooled until he decides to attend public school, where he can make more friends. That leaves Emma alone and wishing she also had a friend, someone who would always be there for her. Now, her first day of regular school is starting, and she is worried about how it will go. At the same time she begins caring for a rescued rabbit, Lapi.

Everything at her new school is new and different. She is so frustrated that she cries when she gets home. The antics of Lapi cheer her up. She resolves that tomorrow will be better. And it is. Emma learns the names of fellow students, is invited to sit with other girls at lunch and joins in work on a group project. Lapi has a role in all these improvements, and he also helps Emma's classmate who is super-sensitive.

Emma loves Lapi and wants to keep him, but he may belong to another family.

This book discusses how to handle new experiences and how to relate to people who are different. It helps children understand and implement inclusion.

Teen readers will enjoy these three books.

"The Fairest Kind of Love" by Crystal Castari (Disney-Hyperion, 320 pages, in stores)

"The Fairest Kind of Love" is the third in a trilogy about matchmaker Amber Sand, and readers learn what her future holds, but not before episodes of mysticism both scary and amazing, and filled with much hilarity.

Amber has finished high school and is looking forward to a fun summer before she starts culinary school. Unfortunately, her matchmaking abilities are on the fritz, and she urgently needs to get them fixed. Amber especially would like to know whether her best boy Charlie is "The One."

Ordinarily Amber can look into someone's eyes and see that person's true love, but now she gets a distorted picture every time. Amber's mother is a wiccan with her own coven, but none of the spells she cooks up can clarify Amber's sight.

Amber makes friends with a tiny fairy named Jane, and decides to visit Jane's family in hopes that they can cure her with fairy dust. She finds them on a fairy farm in a tree in a forest in the middle of cropland in northern Illinois.

There is a great deal of snobbery in the magic kingdom. Fairies don't like wiccans, matchmakers, sirens or warlocks. Amber is sent away, but not before her friend Amani becomes friends with Jane's brother Peter. He leaves with Amber, and Amani and falls under the spell of a warlock.

Amber rallies the entire mystic community to fight for Peter. It becomes the super-bowl match up of competing good and evil spells. Fairy dust is flying everywhere. Peter is saved. Amber's reward is a fairy-dust treatment. Will her matchmaking ability be returned to her?

I see much happiness in readers ' futures.

"Lion Down" by Stuart Gibbs (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 353 pages, in stores)

Teddy Fitzroy's girlfriend Summer is the daughter of J.J. McCracken, the owner of the FunJungle Wild Animal Park. Lincoln Stone, a neighbor of the park and talk-show host who spouts information that has no basis in reality, has accused a mountain lion of killing his dog.

Teddy and Summer don't want an innocent mountain lion harmed or killed so they agree to help learn what really happened. While solving previous mysteries at FunJungle, Teddy was nearly eaten by a polar bear; nearly trampled by Cape Buffalo, elephants and antelope; chased by a rhino; nearly drowned in a shark tank; held at gunpoint by a man in a panda costume, and nearly squashed by a plummeting dead hippo. This time he promises his parents he will be more careful!

Then it appears that someone is poisoning the giraffes, so J.J. asks Teddy and Summer to tackle that mystery, too.

Stone offers a hefty reward for a mountain lion carcass, so crowds of well-armed people show up around FunJungle. Surveillance at the giraffe quarters erupts into chaos. While chasing a hunter, Teddy falls headfirst into the water of the raft ride. An evil school administrator gets punishment he deserves. Summer and Teddy are chased by hundreds of angry turkeys, then they are arrested, then they are grounded. The fun park's one-year anniversary party ends in pandemonium when a mountain lion makes an unexpected appearance. And Teddy and Summer solve several mysteries and get a big, wonderful surprise.

These events range from funny to hilarious. "Lion Down" has a wealth of information about the care and feeding of animals. It also is an excellent essay on the increasing conflict between humans and animals for space to survive. "Lion Down" is part of Gibbs' series on animals.

"The Bridge Home" by Padma Venkatraman (Nancy Paulsen Books, 208 pages, in stores)

"The Bridge Home" is award-winning author Padma Venkatraman's first venture into books for middle-school students. Venkatraman is a naturalized American citizen but spent her early years in Chennai, India, the setting for this book.

Eleven-year-old Viji's father abuses Viji, her 12-year-old sister Rukku and their mother. Viji and Rukku, who is mentally challenged, catch a bus for the city of Chennai. They arrive with almost no money, no job skills and no place to stay. Men attempt to exploit them.

The sisters find a makeshift tent on an abandoned bridge and become allies with the two boys who claim the tent. The boys show Viji how to pick through massive trash dumps to find metal, paper and fabric which they can sell. Rukku, meanwhile, makes beaded necklaces to sell. The four children become friends, living day to day. Some nights they go to bed hungry.

When their tent is wrecked and some of their things are stolen, they move to a graveyard, which seems quiet and safe. The monsoon begins, and they are drenched. Rukku and one of the boys becomes sick. Rukku worsens and Viji decides to seek help from an organization which assists young people with food, education and job training. Eventually, Viji attends school.

"The Bridge Home" is an overly simplistic solution to problems resulting from the caste system and crippling poverty. Because of the adult nature of the problems it explores, it would best serve as material to be read by a parent with a child or by a teacher with students.

— Jeanie Soles, for The Oklahoman

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