Kids looking for an entertaining book to read should try out one of these new novels, all aimed at ages 8-12:
• Dwight is a weird kid, but his ability to channel the "Force" through his Origami Yoda has helped many McQuarrie Middle School students successfully deal with the emotional challenges of the preteen years.
Now Dwight has been suspended from McQuarrie and is attending another school, and his friends Tommy, Kellen, Sara and others wonder how they will cope without him and the wise counsel of his Origami Yoda. Fortunately, it seems that Dwight has provided them with an Origami Yoda surrogate; it's an origami Chewbacca, which the kids immediately dub a "Fortune Wookiee."
While Fortune Wookiee does provide some helpful advice, the kids still miss the wisdom of Origami Yoda and desperately hope that Dwight will return to McQuarrie after his semester suspension. But that's in some doubt, as Dwight has inexplicably lost interest in Origami Yoda and may not return to McQuarrie unless his friends act quickly.
In "The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee" (Amulet, $12.95), author/illustrator Tom Angleberger offers a hilarious third book in his best-selling series starring origami "Star Wars" characters. Like the first two books, "Fortune Wookiee" is written as a "case file," with contributions by various students; the resulting combination of words and illustrations makes this a hybrid novel -- a new genre that is hugely popular with young readers.
Mr. Angleberger's grasp of middle-school emotions, humor and behavior is spot-on, and parents who want to get a sense of what it's like to be a preteen these days might consider reading this book. But you'll likely have to pry it out of your young reader's hands first.
• "The Case of the Deadly Desperados" (Putnam, $16.99) is a wild but highly readable literary mixture. It's a historical novel, set in 1862 Virginia City, Nev., and it's also a humor-laden mystery. And the main character, P.K. Pinkerton, is a 12-year-old boy who has what we would today call Asperger's syndrome.
Somehow, author Caroline Lawrence manages to take these disparate threads and weave them into a rip-roaring Western that will have readers laughing and zipping through the pages to find out what happens next.
It's P.K. who brings everything together in "The Case of the Deadly Desperados." P.K. is a hugely engaging character who attempts to use what his foster mother calls his "Gift" -- his intelligence and photographic memory -- to cope with what she has labeled his "Thorn," the fact that his Asperger's makes it difficult for him to read people's emotions or show his own feelings.
P.K.'s life takes a terrible turn one day when he comes home to find his foster parents murdered by three gun-toting criminals. Those same criminals, the notorious "Whittlin' Walt" and his bumbling sidekicks, are now looking for P.K., or, more accurately, for a property deed that he was given by his birth mother.
It turns out that the deed apparently could make P.K. a millionaire, if he lives long enough to get it formally recorded by a judge in Virginia City. So P.K. flees his small town and heads to the bawdy, free-for-all streets of Virginia City, closely followed by Whittlin' Walt and his henchmen. P.K. manages to stay alive by using his wits and finding a place -- a photographer's studio -- where he can change clothes and personas; at one point, he even dons a dress to look more like a girl.
Meanwhile, P.K. encounters all kinds of people in Virginia City, including a Chinese-American boy named Ping, a double-crossing lady of the evening named Belle, and Jace, a slick card shark who teaches P.K. some valuable new ways to read people's emotions through their body language. There's even a cameo appearance by a newspaper reporter named Sam Clemens, who later became famous as the novelist Mark Twain.
Ms. Lawrence tells P.K.'s story as if he has written it in a journal, and the device works well to keep the story tightly focused and moving along quickly. As she did in her "Roman Mysteries" series, she has done extensive research so she can immerse readers in the tumultuous and colorful world of the American Wild West. She includes a detailed map of Virginia City's unusual geography, plus a glossary of terms and people of the 1860s American West.
Kids might also enjoy these other new novels:
• "Anyway" (Simon & Schuster, $15.99), a funny, footnote-filled book in which author Arthur Salam tells what happens when middle-schooler Max tries out a new tough persona at summer camp.
• "Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Extra Credit" (Roaring Brook Press, $14.99), the second in a comic series by Tommy Greenwald about a boy who goes to great lengths to avoid schoolwork.
• "The False Prince" (Scholastic, $17.99), Jennifer Nielsen's riveting fantasy about a street urchin who is chosen for a deadly competition in which the winner will impersonate a king's long-lost son. This is the first book in a projected series.books
Karen MacPherson, the children's/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library, can be reached at Kam.Macpherson@gmail.com.