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On Children

A summer of wild rides and change

In “Brown Rabbit in The City,’’ the title character goes to visit Little Rabbit and gets distracted by all the hoopla around him.
In “Brown Rabbit in The City,’’ the title character goes to visit Little Rabbit and gets distracted by all the hoopla around him. (Natalie Russell)
By Liz Rosenberg
Globe Correspondent / July 11, 2010

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“Thirteen Plus One’’ by Lauren Myracle is that light-as-air, young-adult book rarity, a gentle, humorous work, with little angst and much pleasure. It represents the fourth installment of the Winnie Years series. Our heroine, Winnie Perry, turns 14 at the novel’s start. It’s a birthday, as she says, “more, well, complex than every single birthday that came before.”

Winnie’s entering high school in the fall; her wiser, wise-cracking sister Sandra’s about to leave for college, and Winnie is headed for an oceanside summer camp far from Lars, the boy she’s sort of seeing, but can’t ever seem to talk to. On hand to help are her two BFFs, Dinah and Cinnamon.

While “Thirteen Plus One’’ contains cuteness and gushing one could live without, it compensates with strong writing, fast-moving storytelling, and likeable characters. Myracle gets the moodiness and loneliness of 14-year-olds; we feel for Winnie, even her cranky side.

Winnie begins her 14th year with a “To Do Before High School List’’:

“Say out loud what I want out of life/ Be spazzy/ But also practice being older somehow/ Do something to help the world, like that Three Cups of Tea guy/ Figure out who I am/ Become friends with someone new/ Talk to Amanda. Or do something with Amanda/ Take charge with Lars!/ Have a deep moment with Sandra before she goes to college/ Do something scary/ Admit it when I’m wrong/ Make a prediction and . . . / Have it come true!/ Don’t die/ Peace out!’’

The best bits of “Thirteen Plus One’’ reside in its loony touches of humor, like this one with younger brother Ty at her sister’s graduation:

“Mom handed me a fresh Kleenex and I leaned forward to blow my nose. I stayed down there for a while, just sniffling a little and gathering myself, until I felt a papery wisp on the bare skin between the bottom of my blouse and the top of my gray skirt. I glanced over my shoulder to see Ty holding his program over the back part of me.

“ ‘What are you doing,’ I whispered.

“ ‘I don’t want anyone to see your bottom crack,’ he whispered back.

“I frowned at him like what the? Yes, I had a few pairs of jeans that sometimes crept down too low, especially if I squatted or leaned over. But the waistband of my skirt didn’t do that, I was ninety-nine percent sure.

“ ‘Ty,” I whispered, ‘no one can see my bottom crack.’

“He patted my leg with the hand not holding the program. ‘I know. You’re welcome.’ ”

Myracle has an ear for lyricism — stars are “distant bright glimmers in a sky as inky-dark as the ocean” — and most of all for voice: “So, and then, yeah. I left Amanda’s and the moon rose. The crazy, beautiful moon.” One looks forward to Winnie at 15.

Eleven-year-old Delphine is in for a wild ride, the summer of 1968. She and her two younger sisters are off to Oakland, Calif., to visit the mother who left them seven years earlier. Award-winning author Rita Williams-Garcia’s newest novel, “One Crazy Summer,’’ explores the dynamics of one torn family and a country equally at odds with itself. The result is a rich, realistic, often-comic, often-touching summer book. It launches energetically:

“Good thing the plane had seat belts and we’d been strapped in tight before takeoff. Without them, that last jolt would have been enough to throw Vonetta into orbit and Fern across the aisle. Still, I anchored myself and my sisters best as I could to brace us for whatever came next.’’

What comes next is Cecile, their big, unmaternal “mother mountain” who locks herself in the kitchen with her art and poetry, leaving the girls to fend for themselves at the Black Panther-led community center by day and with take-out Chinese food from “Mean Lady Ming” at night. “Our mother wore pencils in her hair, dressed like a secret agent, had a stickly, prickly house, a palm tree when no one else had one. . . . Now I got why our mother ran away. Our mother was crazy.”

Delphine has always been the steady, obedient daughter. But she manages a few adventures of her own, including standing up to Cecile, a wild ride downhill on a heartthrob’s flying skateboard, and a memorable outing to San Francisco. By the month’s end, the girls — and their reluctant mother — learn valuable truths about themselves and family. Garcia-Williams’s pitch-perfect ear and memorable prose make “One Crazy Summer’’ a standout.

There’s something truly magical about Natalie Russell’s new picture book, “Brown Rabbit in the City.’’ Even the gold foil on the cover twinkles like city lights. Brown Rabbit is off to visit his best friend, Little Rabbit — but she’s so busy shopping and hauling him around, she all but ignores him. When he finally disappears she realizes her mistake and makes time for the kind of visit they both wanted in the first place. Russell creates a quiet, lovable book about friendship, using just enough words but never too many. In prose and in her whimsical illustrations — lyrical and simple as Japanese art — she leaves space for the reader (and rabbits) to breathe. Filled with subtle details, “Brown Rabbit in the City’’ is rich enough to read again and again.

Liz Rosenberg, whose latest picture books is “Nobody,’’ teaches English at Binghamton University. She can be reached at liz-rosenberg@ymail.com.

THIRTEEN PLUS ONE By Lauren Myracle

Dutton, 272 pp.,

ages 9-12, $16.99

ONE CRAZY SUMMER

By Rita Williams-Garcia

Amistad, 224 pp.,

ages 9-12, $15.99

BROWN RABBIT IN THE CITY By Natalie Russell

Viking, 40 pp., ages 4-8, $16.99