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School's out!

Family vacations are being planned, excursions scheduled and reunions set. Summer activities — swimming, camping, sport teams, picnics and hiking — are on the docket.

But don't forget there are journeys that won't break the bank and can be programmed any place, any time!

These tours won't take difficult scheduling or "everybody-in-agreement" arrangements. Just let a book be the magic carpet for summer reading!

On a magic carpet ride you can travel to times and places far away or ramble through new genres, such as graphic novels and those in poetry form. You can step up to a new series. There's no limit to where the magic carpet can take you.

Here are a few titles to get your flight launched:

Navigate to other places with fiction and nonfiction:

Visit the California Gold Rush in the exciting fictional novel set in 1850, "Letters From the Corrugated Castle," by Joan Blos (Atheneum), or maybe some true accounts of this time and place in history with "Gold Fever! Tales from the California Gold Rush," by Rosalyn Schanzer (Puffin) (ages 9- 12).

"Slake's Limbo," by Felice Holman (Dell), will take you to the subways of New York where Slake lives and hides away in fear (8 -12).

"The Wright 3," by Blue Balliett (Scholastic), is set in Chicago where three young sleuths investigate problems involving a Frank Lloyd Wright mansion. The newest Balliett, "The Calder Game," involves one of the three youngsters, Calder, who travels to England with his father. He becomes enthralled with an Alexander Calder sculpture, and mysteriously, they both disappear. This is a thriller that shouldn't be missed (10 and up).

For a mystery set in another state, try "Circle of Blood," by Edgar award-winner Alane Ferguson (Viking), set in Silverton, Colo., where Cameryn, a teenager, assists her coroner father in solving some unusual deaths (10 and up).

"Healing Water: A Hawaiian Story," by Joyce Moyer Hostetter (Calkins), pits discouragement against bravery when a 13-year-old boy is abandoned in a leper colony. A compelling read (10 and up).

Older readers will empathize with a teenager who lives in an abusive home in Florida in "Death of Jayson Porter," by Jaime Adoff (Hyperion). This heady coming-of-age story is startling, with gripping realism. Adoff is the son of celebrated author Virginia Hamilton and poet Arnold Adoff (12 and up).

"Twister on Tuesday," by Mary Pope Osborn (Random), is one of the Magic Tree House Series for readers 8-12. Set in Kansas, this provides enough facts about twisters and their aftermath to make it realistic yet allows the fictionalized characters to win out in the end.

"A Kid's Guide to Washington, D.C." (Harcourt) is a must to provide background information on the upcoming election. "A Kid's Guide to the Smithsonian" would give background information before a trip or just fun reading about an imaginary one.

"Eyewitness Kids' Travel Guides" (DK) are the makings of "dream trips." Why not!

"Climbing the Stairs," by Padma Venkatraman (Putnam), is set in British-occupied India during Word War II. The novel is a heady and emotional story of Vidya as she breaks all the female rules of her culture (12-15).

"Sunrise Over Fallujah," by Walter Dean Myers (Scholastic), might just be the way to teach the next generation about the horrors of war and avoiding it altogether. It's breathtaking and timely book by an award-winning author (12 and up).

"A Battle in the Gaza Sea," by Valerie Zenatti (Bloomsbury), lets readers into the lives of two young people, one in Jerusalem and the other a Palestinian (14 and up).

"Do Not Cross Gar Face" is the first warning in "The Underneath," by Kathi Appelt (Atheneum). Just imagine a hound dog, Ranger, tied with a chain under the porch by mean old Gar Face. A calico cat appears and suddenly has new kittens, all of which could be alligator bait if they are discovered. Set in the bayous of Texas and Louisiana, "The Underneath" is my pick of the summer reads. It is packed with creepy characters, such as a 100-foot alligator, hawks and snakes that are shape-shifters in thousand-year-old traditions. For readers who enjoyed "Shiloh" and protest animal cruelty, "Incredible Journey," about tenacious animals, and "Where the Red Fern Grows" (there's nothing like hound-dog love) this is the book to savor (10 and up).

Sail through novels written in poetry form:

"Song of the Sparrow," by Lisa Ann Sandell (Scholastic), was one of my favorites from last year. Written in lyrical verse, this is the retelling of Elaine, Lady of Shallot. A few authors have tried — and some succeeded — with a similar notion: Telling a story in rhythmic poetry.

"Out of the Dust," by Karen Hesse (Scholastic), the Newbery winner for 1998, tells of the Great Depression in verse. Both of these are for readers 12 and up.

In "Grow," by Juanita Havill (Peacetree), Berneetha and young Kate decide to create a community garden on a vacant lot, and it seems like a dream come true. But when notice is given that a parking garage will be built on the empty lot, a community comes together to make decisions. The free verse makes this a fast and fun read (8-12).

Steven Herrick's "Naked Bunyip Dancing" (Front Street), is as unpredictable as the title! Here a punky class attempts many things, trying to find their own talents. This is a series of poems about students that you'd like to be friends with (8-12).

Graphic novels, series books and award-winning audio books are all good choices for summer magic carpet rides. I'll write more about each of these in future columns, but here are a few to whet the appetite:

Hop on to some new graphic novels:

"In the Small: The Will to Survive Is All that Remains," by Michael Hague (Little Brown), and "Bone," by Jeff Smith (Scholastic), are examples of the graphic novel for young readers. The Hague book is a futuristic look at what happens when the world spins out of control. This 124-page thriller is soon to be a motion picture. Smith's series about "Bone" has been called "funny, scary and exciting" (older readers 12 and up).

Young readers are naturally attracted to the comic-book format. Yet the plot and themes may be fearful and daunting. My recommendation is that with graphic novels — as with all reading material — parents should check out the content and be aware of the impression the literature is making on children.

Hold tight to a new series you've wanted to try:

With millions in print, books in series top most book lists. Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga (Little Brown) and the Harry Potter series continue to be favorites. But close behind is Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, by Rick Riordan (Hyperion). The fourth, "The Battle of the Labyrinth," has just been released, and with it, "Demigods and Monsters" written by various authors providing insights into Percy and the myths and legends. This is a winning combination!

One of my favorite series is the Pendragon books by D.J. MacHale (Simon & Schuster). All four take 14-year-old Bobby into otherworldly adventures.

Anyone realizing my love for owls knows that the 13-volume Guardians of Ga'Hoole series, by Kathryn Lasky (Scholastic), ranks near the top of my list. I hope you try this fantasy for your summer reading.

Tune in to an audio book:

One award-winning novel may be on your audio books list this summer. "The Mysterious Benedict Society," by Trenton Lee Steward (Little, Brown), has recently been named the recipient of the Scott O'Dell Award given to a book for outstanding historical fiction.

Have a wonderful magic carpet ride!

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