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Parents @ Play: Reading up on summer

We all know about the dreaded "summer brain drain," when students forget a lot of what they learned during the previous school year and have to spend the first few months of the new year catching up. You can help your kids turn that brain drain into a brain gain by encouraging reading over the summer. Here are some recent books that will not only capture children's attention, but also encourage them to read even more.

– "Weird but True USA" (National Geographic Kids)

This fascinating book contains 300 unusual facts about the states that make up the USA. For example, California scientists modeled a solar cell after a fly's eye, Jell-O is the official state snack of Utah, and Nutty Narrows Bridge in Longview, Washington was built so squirrels can safely cross a busy road. Ages 8-12. Under $7.

– "Explorer Academy" (National Geographic)

Kids (and curious adults) learn about cracking codes, from the ancient to the most modern, from simple letter replacement (A=Z, Q=L, etc.) and Morse code to semaphores and pigpen grids (you'll have to read the book to find out what that is). Ages 8-12. About $9.

– "Amelia Earhart Pioneer of the Sky" (James Buckley, Jr. and Kelly Tindall)

In a time when women rarely drove cars, Amelia Earhart flew a plane across the Atlantic Ocean – by herself. She also set dozens of other aviation records and is one of the most famous missing persons in history. This graphic novel explores Earhart's life, accomplishments, and the many theories surrounding her disappearance. Ages 8-12 Under $10.

– "Take Your Pet to School Day" (Linda Ashman and Suzanne Kaufman)

Most schools have a "no pets" rule. But what would happen if some clever animals hacked into a school's computer and changed that rule? The answer plays out in this cute book, where pets join their children in the library, art class, the cafeteria, and more. The results are predictable – and hilarious. Ages 3-7. About $12.

– "The Very Short, Entirely True History of Unicorns" (Sarah Laskow and Sam Beck)

Unicorns may not be real (or are they?) but they've been the subject of speculation and mystery for thousands of years. Readers young and old will learn about unicorns as they've appeared throughout history and in nearly every recorded culture. Beautifully illustrated with photos and drawings. Ages 8-12. Under $10.

– "Duel at Araulen – Ranger's Apprentice: The Royal Ranger, Book 3" (John Flanagan)

Fans of Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice series were understandably disappointed when the series wrapped in 2013. But they were just as understandably excited when the original hero, Will Treaty, began training his own apprentice, Maddie, in a new series, "The Ranger's Apprentice," which launched in 2018. In this third volume, Maddie has to rescue her father and his men, who are trapped and surrounded by enemy soldiers. Ages 10+. Under $13.

– "This Beach is Loud!" and "Nope. Never. Not for Me!" (Samantha Cotterill)

Samantha Cotterill, who describes herself as being on the autism spectrum, has written a series of books for "wonderfully sensitive kids." Her goal is to allow kids to recognize themselves in a playful, fun, yet therapeutic way, without labels. These books are not only great for kids, but they also allow parents to step into their children's worlds and see things from their point of view. Ages 3-7. About $12.

(Armin and Samantha are the authors of the popular parenting blogs: http://www.mrdad.com and http://www.havesippywilltravel.com.

For more reviews of toys and games, visit http://www.parentsatplay.com/)

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