These books for young readers will entice, entertain and educate, especially during the idle summer months when reading tends to slack off.
"The Princess in Black" by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale; illustrated by LeUyen Pham; Candlewick; 96 pages; $14.99.
For girls who like their princesses with more spunk and irony than the usual pink-covered heroines, the Hales' tale is spot on. When dainty Princess Magnolia is summoned to stop a big blue monster, she transforms into her alter ego, the Princess in Black, and aims to defeat the monster before the nosy duchess discovers her secret.
With lots of humor (the princess's biggest fan is Duff the Goat Boy, and she's afraid of snails), the Hales' book is a refreshingly healthy, modern fairy tale, thought up by the authors' young daughter.
Kids ages 5 to 8 will clamor over this read, with witty, colorful illustrations of unicorns, dancing ghosts and a prim, stern duchess from the great Pham.
"Mr. Pants: It's Go Time" by Scott McCormick; illustrated by R.H. Lazzell; Dial; 128 pages; $14.99.
Comic book graphic tales are all the rage, and the popularity is growing among the youngest of readers. This hilarious collection of short graphic stories stars a mischievous cat named Mr. Pants who tries to cram in every bit of fun on the last day of summer. He especially wants to play laser tag, but his sisters would rather make dolls and shop.
Truly funny, full-color illustrations of a crafty cat grossed out by Mom's kisses and annoyed with his sisters' girly endeavors make this early reader sure to be popular among reluctant readers.
"Space Taxi: Archie Takes Flight" by Wendy Mass and Michael Brawer; illustrated by Elise Gravel; Little Brown Books for Young Readers; 112 pages; $14.99.
This action-packed, primary-colored chapter book stars Archie, a boy who discovers his dad is not a regular taxi driver but one who drives aliens through outer space. Coupled with a very unusual cat and some quirky alien characters, 8-year-old Archie's new space taxi journey gets very interesting and surprising.
With fun science facts thrown in and an urgent task to help save the universe, "Space Taxi" is a fast-paced romp perfect for first- through third-graders.
"Annika Riz, Math Whiz" by Claudia Mills; illustrated by Rob Shepperson; Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 128 pages; $15.99.
The same fan group that loves Judy Moody, and Ivy and Bean should lap up this new series for girls called "Franklin School Friends." Centered on school subjects and activities, Mills' other two books are titled "Kelsey Green, Reading Queen" and "Izzy Barr, Running Star."
Annika is a math star who sleeps under number-patterned sheets and teaches her dog to count. But Annika's friends don't like math, even though it ends up saving the day at the school carnival.
A principal in a ducking booth, a cookie-selling contest and Sudoku battle are just a few of the fun activities these Franklin School friends experience.
Adorable black-and-white illustrations pepper the 11 chapters, which will fly by in a flash.
"TIME For Kids Book of Why" series by the editors of Time for Kids; 48 pages and $4.99 each.
This super-cool busy, scrapbook-like paperback book series includes "Really Cool People & Places," "Stellar Space," "Amazing Sports and Science" and "Awesome Animal Kingdom." Each page features 2-3 questions with bold pictures and answers, from "Why do cicadas buzz?" and "Why does a curveball curve?" to "Why do some planets have rings?"
Each book has 250 facts "kids want to know" with lots of diagrams, sidebars and close-up photos.
To find out more about Lee Littlewood and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.