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The "Kids & Family Reading Report" published by Yankelovich, a consumer trends research company, is based on interviews with more than 1,000 readers ages 5 to 17 and their parents. The response to why the youngsters (12 and older) don't choose reading in leisure time is most interesting to me.

Obviously, the draw to computer games and more active pursuits was listed but the response that "I have trouble finding books that I like" is consistent from both boys and girls.

Parental suggestions of title recommendation were seemingly not influential. Impressive, however, were parents' reading habits. The study found that parents who read "frequently" were found to be six times more likely to have children who are readers than those who read "infrequently."

Here are some suggestions for readers 12 and older which parents would also enjoy. Don't forget the classics that have made many of us "frequent" readers!

"Ivy," Julie Hearn (S&S/Atheneum)

The novel is set in 19th century London ("(the street, Paradise Row) did not exactly suit the collection of houses that lined the alley the way rotten molars fill a smelly mouth"). When Ivy is born, "Her father took one look at her and spat into a corner. 'Red 'air,' he wheezed. 'Like Judas. She'll 'ave a temper to match the devil's."') She is given to an unsavory aunt and uncle. As a child she is snatched off the streets by a gang of thieves (reminiscent of Dickens). She later becomes a model for a bungling would-be artist and overcomes addiction to laudanum. Each of Hearn's characters are so full and captivating that even the thugs (Carroty Kate, Fing Nolan, Muck Snipe, Crow) are cheered on in their dishonest "careers." Jared, Ivy's resolute and mean cousin, Aunt Pamela Jackson who declared herself an "invalid" (with the emphasis on middle syllable "in VAL-id") and sundry other family members make up Ivy's family. The well-intentioned ladies of the "Ragged Children's Welfare Association" can't make a dent in this forlorn part of London. But they add delicious humor with their big hoop skirts that get caught in the mucky alleys and slimy staircases. Ivy is a heroine to please.

The story mirrors the misfortunes of London's struggling poor classes with the opulent higher social groups. The contrast is striking, as is the mixture of high-brow English and the cockney from the street. The novel is a study of humor and pathos, each reaching out and capturing the reader's heart and attention. I have enjoyed Hearn's other novels, "The Minister's Daughter" and "Sign of the Raven," and recommend them all for readers 12 and up.

"Percy Jackson and the Olympians," Rick Riordan (Hyperion)

This series, one of the most popular on the charts today, is crammed with adventure and drama. And mythology! Percy Jackson is the half-blood child of the Olympian gods who are almost always marked by learning difficulties. Percy has dyslexia and ADHD (Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder) which, according to the author, delineates him as having a gift of the gods.

The fourth in the series was published this summer, and even though each can stand on its own merit, I advise relishing them in sequence: "Lightning Thief," "Seas of Monsters," "Titan's Curse," and "Battle of the Labyrinth."

Also I suggest "Demigods and Monsters" (TeenLibris), a collection of essays by 11 authors providing insights into Percy Jackson who love the series and want more. The topics range from discussion of the learning disabilities, why monsters go into retail stores and a report card for fictional parents.

Two new books with themes about world problems in Iraq and Africa are high on my list.

"Sunrise Over Fallujah" by Walter Dean Myers (Scholastic) is a sequel-of-sorts to the author's "Fallen Angels" telling of the war in Vietnam. In this one, a nephew of the Vietnam veteran writes his ambivalent feelings regarding the thrust into a conflict which torments him, emotionally and politically. His final heart-wrenching letter questions it all, "Are there really enough words to make (young people) understand?"

"Child of Dandelions," Shenaaz Nanji (Front Street).

The history of British East Africa's wealth is based on many resources, one of which was the colonials recruiting Indians from India to build the important transportation system. The class system was born: British (first class citizens), Indians (middle class traders), and ethnic Africans (laborers). In 1971, Idi Amin took government control passing an expulsion order for all Indians.

Young Sabine and her Indian family, though legal Ugandan citizens, are expelled from the country. This is their story. The author's final notes tell of the torture and killings of thousands of Africans, Amin's end in 1979 and the hope of peace for Uganda, the "Pearl of Africa."

Happy Reading!


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