June 29, 2006


Pool Boys. By Erin Haft. Scholastic. $8.99.

My Shining Star; Tú eres mi estrella. By Rosemary Wells. Scholastic. $8.99 (English); $5.99 (Spanish).

     Books such as Pool Boys practically define escapist summer literature for teenage girls.  There are the typecast girls who are close friends, the typecast hot guys making plays for this girl or that or several, the misunderstandings and stolen kisses and stresses of hormones under the hot sun, and the eventual assertion of girl power and dismissal of the most egregious of the philandering males.  Except that such words as “egregious” and “philandering” never find their way into Pool Boys.  Too much brain power needed to figure them out, ya know?  And yet, even though there is nothing remotely real-world about the Silver Oaks Country Club, the rich witch in the Versace bikini, or the love-‘em-and-leave-‘em tennis pro, Pool Boys is fun in its own irredeemably shallow way.  There’s nothing wrong with girls ages 13 and up – the book’s target audience – cooing and giggling over Erin Haft’s dialogue: “You’re into Charlotte.  Maybe she’s into you, too. Either way, we’ll get you laid this summer.”  And: “He stood behind her, guiding her hands as she leaned over the pool table, showing her how to aim the cue.  She kept giggling.  She was wearing a strapless pink dress that showed off her bronze tan, and she was sort of mashing her butt against Ethan’s body as she pretended to try to shoot the ball.”  Or: “Caleb’s lithe body wrapped around hers, his long, sweet kisses growing more fervent.  Water dripped from Charlotte’s fingers as she caressed his cheek.  Caleb buried his head in Charlotte’s neck.  Their legs tangled under the surface.  This was real.  This was now.  And this was right.”  With prose like this, if “Erin Haft” isn’t a pseudonym, it should be.  But – again – this book delivers exactly what it promises, and if it doesn’t promise much…well, teenage summers aren’t known for their intellectual elements.

     Parents, however, may want to do something to help their kids along – even in hot weather.  While teens are fending for themselves, parents of younger children can take a few minutes (it won’t require too many) to read My Shining Star, which is available in either English or Spanish.  Rosemary Wells, who has written and illustrated more than 150 books for children, here condenses into a few words and a few pages the 10 basic principles that parents can teach their children to give their kids the best chance of doing well when school resumes in the fall.  The principles, which Wells developed by working with teachers, are respect, listening, patience, trust, work, honesty, time, reading, writing, and habits.  Lovingly illustrated with bunny characters portrayed in a stable family environment – not the reality, unfortunately, for many children today – the book gives brief and straightforward elaborations of each of the 10 points.  For “Listening,” for instance, Wells writes, “Listen to your child’s stories, hopes, and worries.  Hear her and respond.  She will learn to listen to others.”  For “Trust,” she writes, “Keep your promises.  Your child will be trustworthy.”  These are simple words and simple admonitions – and by no means always easy to follow in our stress-filled, time-pressed lives. But summer will be over soon enough, and Wells’ ideas will bring continued benefits even as the days grow short and the nights turn cold.

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