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A children's book author recommends books to keep your kids busy this summer


Here's a taste of what I'm hearing around my house this summer.


RASCOE: Yep. Those are my babies. I love them, but they need to be kept busy. And that's where our next guest comes in. Matt de la Pena writes for kids of all ages. He won a Newbery Medal for the picture book "Last Stop On Market Street" and accolades for his YA book "Mexican WhiteBoy." We asked him for some suggestions to keep kids busy with books, part of our summer series asking authors for reading recommendations. Hi, Matt.

MATT DE LA PENA: Hello, Ayesha. I'm excited to talk books with you.

RASCOE: I know you brought some picks for all ages. Let's start with the little ones. One that seems really perfect for summer is "When You Can Swim" by Jack Wong. Tell us about that.

DE LA PENA: Yeah. This is a great, new picture book, and it follows a diverse cast of families imagining all the fun water activities they could do together, like going to the beach, slipping into a pond at night, swimming to an island for wild blueberries. But the book lands on kids learning to swim. So first, they have to be water safe. And I love this because so many kids right now are taking swim lessons, and it seems kind of, you know, laborious. They don't maybe want to go there every week. But it unlocks so many cool summer activities. And personally, I have a daughter who's 9, who's like a fish, and then I have a son who's 5, who refuses to put his head underwater. So this hits home for so many parents.

RASCOE: You've got another picture book recommendation. And this one - it's about a rock?

DE LA PENA: Yeah. So this is called "The Rock From The Sky" by Jon Klassen, and he's one of my favorite author-illustrators because he kind of pushes the boundaries of what a picture book can be. Usually it's, you know, 32, 40 pages. Well, this one is 100 pages. It has five chapters. And what I love is there's no moralizing. There's no big lesson at the end. It's just fun. And the pictures are incredible, but the dialogue is just as good. It features a turtle, an armadillo and a snake. They're all wearing their own kind of hat. And there's this rock, this asteroid that's coming down, and it gives the sense of, like, impending doom. It's the kind of book where you can read over and over and over. And because there are five little stories in there, you don't necessarily need to read the whole thing every time you sit down at night. So my son and I have probably read this over a hundred times, and I don't know who's laughed more, me or him.

RASCOE: You also have some recommendations for middle schoolers, including one from the author who really hit it big with "The Hate U Give." What book is this?

DE LA PENA: OK. So Angie Thomas - we all know her for "The Hate U Give" and several of her other realistic YA fiction novels. But here she is coming to us with a middle-grade fantasy novel. It's called "Nic Blake And The Remarkables: The Manifestor Prophecy." This book is so much fun, perfect for summer because it's big. You know, there's a lot at stake. It features Nic Blake, a young girl, and her father, and she's trying to sort of figure out how she can prove that he's not the person that other people think he is. So I love that as a father. She's protecting her father.

But I also love what Angie Thomas does here in terms of weaving in African and African American folklore. So yes, this is a fun story. It's exciting. It's entertaining, but there's also a lot of historical elements that are sort of holding up the book. And this is a proposed series. So if you have a young person who loves this book, you can look forward to a couple more coming down the line.

RASCOE: So do you have some picks for the young adults? You know, do you have some picks for them?

DE LA PENA: I do. So I brought in two books for older readers. The first one's called "Pedro & Daniel," and it's by Federico Erebia. I guess I would label it as, like, a semi-autobiographical YA novel that's written in both prose and poetry that has illustrations by Julie Kwon. Why did I bring this book in? I think it's one of the most powerful sibling stories I've read in a while. Pedro and Daniel are gay, neurodivergent, Mexican American boys growing up in this crazy kind of chaotic household in rural Ohio.

But it's really great to see, in this chaotic household, how they are each other's lifelines. That's something I really, really responded to in this book. It's a debut, so this is the first work by this author. And I think we're going to hear more from this author in the future. Also, the book is written in beautiful language that you can really savor, and it's got both English and Spanish. So I think the two characters will steal readers' hearts.

RASCOE: And what's the second book?

DE LA PENA: The second one I brought in is called "Foster" by Claire Keegan. It was originally published for the adult market, but sometimes, I think these categories are a little bit silly. I would say "Foster" has one of the most engaging and authentic young narrators I've ever come across in any category. So here's the basic premise. A young, unnamed girl is sent to live with relatives in a rural Irish town because her parents are about to have yet another baby, and they're really struggling to make ends meet.

And at first, the narrator feels abandoned, like any kid might. But she ends up growing really close to the childless couple who takes her in. It's a really moving, short novella, really. It's spare, funny. And I would actually say this is one of the best books I've read in five years. I actually have bought over a dozen copies that I end up handing out to people when I'm on the road visiting schools because it's a book I want other people to read.

RASCOE: Matt de la Pena's most recent book is "Patchwork." Thank you so much for these great suggestions.

DE LA PENA: Well, thank you so much for having me. And happy reading, everyone.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONSTER RALLY'S "SUNNY SLOTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and the Saturday episodes of Up First. As host of the morning news magazine, she interviews news makers, entertainers, politicians and more about the stories that everyone is talking about or that everyone should be talking about.