Add These Books to Your Kids’ Summer Reading Lists

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“Jake the Fake Keeps it Real”

by Craig Robinson and Adam Mansbach
with art by Keith Knight

Starting a new school is hard. But what about starting a new school where grades aren’t A’s and B’s, but purple dinosaurs, each of your classmates is extremely talented and being “normal” is far from the norm?

That’s exactly where “Jake the Fake Keeps it Real” begins. Considering his application to Music and Arts Academy was equal parts riding his sister’s coattails and performing a song he wrote on the piano (which happens to be the only one he knows how to play), Jake believes he has faked his way into getting accepted. However, at the urging of his best friend, who attends the “regular” school nearby, and the expectations of his parents, he decides to embrace the process that is being an art student.

Young readers will appreciate Jake’s honesty, from his disdain for his perfect older sister to his vivid descriptions of his colorful classmates and teachers, while parents will enjoy occasional pop culture references and the unique maladies Jake suffers. (At one point, Jake cites a sprained eyebrow, achy hair and sweaty knees as evidence of being too sick for school.) The story is brought to life by Carrboro-based artist Keith Knight. “This was a nice change of pace for me,” says Keith. “It was the first project where I was taking someone else’s text and adding my input illustration-wise.”

After a fun twist near the end, the breadcrumbs of wisdom dropped throughout the book come together: the best way to fit in is to be yourself. Though the lesson isn’t a new one, thanks to the title character’s voice, “Jake the Fake” never feels heavy-handed. In fact, the only downside might be the speed at which it moves from your child’s “to read” to “done” pile.

Catch Keith’s “Fear of a Black Marker,” an exhibit of political cartoons, at UNCs Center for the Study of the American South through July. “North Carolina is a wonderfully nurturing place to be an artist,” he says. >

“Let’s Pretend We Never Met”

by Melissa Walker

Though far from her first foray into writing, this book is Chapel Hill native Melissa Walker’s first story aimed at middle schoolers. “I wanted to explore the emotions that go along with navigating friendships, and how hard it can be to do the right thing, regardless of your age.”

The story begins with Mattie Markham in the backseat of her parents’ car. It’s winter break and they’re moving to a new city, far away from Mattie’s native North Carolina town, to take care of her grandmother Maeve.

Once settled into their new apartment in Pennsylvania, Mattie befriends neighbor Agnes – a girl her age who acts a bit younger, but whose fun nature is a welcome contrast to Mattie’s more conventional style. When school starts, Mattie finds herself struggling with her new classmates’ perceptions, not only of her, but of her friendship with Agnes.

The idea for “Let’s Pretend We Never Met” is borrowed from Melissa’s childhood journal. Like Mattie, she and her parents relocated briefly to Pennsylvania (only Melissa was in fourth grade, not sixth). “On the ride up, I wrote and signed a contract requiring my future self to never make my children move or change schools,” she says. Though she currently resides in New York with her husband and two daughters, Melissa says she will always have a soft spot for Chapel Hill. “And I can’t promise I won’t break that contract,” she laughs.

“Once and For All”

by Sarah Dessen

In Chapel Hill-based author Sarah Dessen’s latest young adult novel, Louna has spent a long time playing it safe. Unlike her friends, who yearn for adventure, Louna rarely goes out after dark and actually likes spending time with her mother. During her last summer before college, she has decided to work for her no-nonsense mom and her colorful business partner in the family trade: wedding planning. The trio becomes a well-oiled machine, comforting brides with cold feet, dealing with demanding mothers-in-law and wrangling wandering guests. But as so many clients’ special days unfold around her, she is frequently brought face-to-face with her own recent heartbreak.

It doesn’t help when Ambrose, a high-profile bride’s charming-yet-careless younger brother, proves difficult to work with. The resulting friendship, while unlikely to succeed, may be just what Louna needs to move on.

For a family in the business of true love, it can be easy to stop believing in it. But as Louna learns, the phrase “happily-ever-after” isn’t just for fairy tales; it just might look a little different than she imagined.

Fans of Sarah, recently named the recipient of the Margaret Edwards Award by the American Library Association, will likely race through the book the day it comes out. As Sarah writes on her website, “It’s my thirteenth book. THIRTEEN, you guys. My collection of novels is now a teenager.”

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Morgan Weston

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