Looking for an intriguing summer read? Maybe one with a mystery or puzzles to solve?
If so, you're in luck. Three new books offer a father abducted, a sister missing and presumed dead, and a puzzle contest in a futuristic library.
Blue Balliett crafts mysteries around the arts. Her books are peopled with tweens gifted in word play or math. They use their gifts to solve the story's puzzle.
In "Hold Fast" (Scholastic Press, $17.99, ages 8-12), Ms. Balliett plays with words and their meanings. The poem "Dreams" by Langston Hughes gives the book its title. And the four main characters live the poem's words.
Hughes' poems are favorites of Dashel Pearl. He fosters a love of words in his 11-year-old daughter, Early. They record favorite words in a Word Book, a Quote Book and an onomatopoeia list.
The close-knit family also includes mother Summer and 4-year-old Jubilation, or Jubie. The four playfully combine their names and refer to themselves as Dashsumearlyjubie.
The Pearl family holds fast to the dream of leaving behind its cramped apartment with furniture "scavenged or invented." The members are determined to move into a home of their own.
Dashel, a page at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago, applies for a scholarship. A career as a librarian will bring them closer to achieving that home.
The family's optimism is challenged when tragedy turns the four into three. Riding his bicycle home from the library, Dash collides with a delivery truck and mysteriously disappears. All that remains at the accident scene is the twisted bike, scattered groceries and Dash's notebook.
Still numb from the loss, the family suffers a home invasion. Masked thugs tear apart the Pearls' belongings and take what little money they have. With their savings and Dash's income gone Summer can't pay the rent and the family is forced to relocate to a homeless shelter.
Summer, determined not to be defeated, maintains her dignity and does her best to carve out a private space for herself and the children in the crowded shelter. Ms. Balliett skillfully conveys the grimness of the shelter and effectively portrays the humanity and individuality of the residents.
Summer seeks employment, a shelter caregiver tends to Jubie, and Early goes to school.
Using her memory of word and number puzzles her father taught her and Dash's copy of Hughes' "The First Book of Rhythms," Early resolves to solve the mystery of his abduction and reunite the family.
Through vivid description and sensitive characterization Ms. Balliett captures her characters' despair. At the same time she reveals the courage, curiosity and imagination that keeps them struggling toward their dreams.
Like Early, 13-year-old sharpshooter Georgie Burkhardt is determined to reunite her family.
Her sister Agatha has disappeared. A badly decomposed body is found, and everyone but Georgie believes the body is Agatha's.
"One Came Home" by Amy Timberlake (Alfred A. Knopf, $16.99, ages 9-12) is set in 1871 Wisconsin and is Georgie's account of the events that led up to Agatha's departure. It also chronicles Georgie's attempt to discover the truth of what happened to her sister.
Ms. Timberlake creates a vivid sense of time and place. The imagery in the scene of the mass nesting of now extinct passenger pigeons is breathtaking.
Georgie approaches Billy McCabe, a suitor of Agatha's. She wants him to lend her a horse to carry her on her quest. To her dismay the mount he provides is a mule, and to add further insult to her independent nature, he insists on escorting her.
Georgie is a lively, outspoken narrator. We root for her all the way as she gathers clues and interrogates possible witnesses.
In her search, Georgie learns a few truths about herself. With a sure blend of humor and suspense, Ms. Timberlake keeps the reader turning pages. Like Georgie, readers will keep hoping that Agatha will reappear.
On a quirkier note, Chris Grabenstein's "Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library" (Random House, $16.99, ages 9-12) is a quick-paced romp that will satisfy puzzle fanatics. It may also give a sense of deja vu to those who have read Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka stories.
Mr. Luigi Lemoncello is the eccentric billionaire owner of a company that designs and manufactures games. He has decided to build a futuristic library in his hometown of Alexandriaville.
The interior of the building is a closely held secret until the much anticipated day of the overnight sneak preview. Twelve 12-year-old contestants are chosen to participate in the overnight, including Kyle Keeley, skilled at games of all kinds.
Lemoncello's library is a wonderland. There are graphics projected on the domed ceiling, holographic images of authors, and hover ladders. Automaton geese wander the children's room.
The overnight expands to an extra day. And there's another challenge -- to find the secret exit from the building. The one who succeeds will become famous, representing the game company in all publicity.
Mr. Lemoncello's dialogue is full of book titles and literary allusions. His flamboyant attire is reminiscent of a clown costume. He describes this competition as "Hunger Games with lots of food and no bows and arrows."
Readers play along with contestants to see if they, too, can solve the riddles.
Thanks to three talented authors, puzzle lovers and mystery fans have three very different books to savor and puzzle over this summer.
Patte Kelley is manager, children's department, at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Oakland.