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"Shug"Jenny Han

(Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing, $14.95)

In her first novel, former Richmonder Jenny Han relates the joys and sorrows of 12-year-old Annemarie Wilcox. Nicknamed Shug by her mother after Shug Avery of "The Color Purple," Annemarie feels little in common with her fiery namesake as she deals with a sudden crush on her childhood best friend, Mark, along with the social minefield of middle school and her parents' troubled marriage.

Feeling too tall, thin and underendowed, Shug languishes in the shadows of her pretty older sister and beautiful, though often drunk, mother. She experiences excitement, anxiety and sorrow as romance and boys jeopardize her friendships and her sense of place in the world. At the end of the book, Han nicely portrays the transition from childhood to the bittersweet teen years.

Because "Shug" is designated for teen and tween readers, I enlisted the opinions of my daughters, who are both avid readers. While my 16-year-old thought the plot was a bit predictable, she found it a good read. My 14-year-old declared it unequivocally excellent. Both agreed that some of the material was too mature for 10-year-olds, although the publisher includes them in its age range.

Hindered at the outset by some clichés about the South and too much exposition, "Shug" does not reach the level of classics like "The Secret Garden" or the recent sensation, "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants." However, Han tells an ultimately poignant tale that will charm young readers and adults alike. — Mary Mullins



"Parasites: Latching on to a Free Lunch"

"The Big Bang"

"Evolution"
Paul Fleisher

(Lerner Publishing Group, $27.93)

Do you have an interest in flesh-eating parasites? Did you know that parasites were discovered in 1674 when Anton van Leeuwenhoek studied his own feces under a handmade microscope? Or that the Irish potato famine in the 1840s was caused by a fungus called Phytophthora infestans?

If you wish to remain blissfully ignorant of such information, or the reproductive habits of body lice, do not read "Parasites" from the "Discovery!" series by Richmond teacher and author Paul Fleisher. However, if you have a strong stomach and want to learn loads more than you ever thought possible about the earth's smallest inhabitants, "Parasites" is a great book with lots of informative and gruesome pictures. When you are done, you will be sure to wash your hands.

Fleisher has also recently added to the "Great Ideas of Science" series with the recently released "Big Bang" and "Evolution." Compact and instructive, neither of these books will leave the scientifically phobic amongst us gasping for air. Short, palatable sections are interspersed with photographs, diagrams and illustrations, followed at the end by a glossary, time-line, biographies and an index. In short, Fleisher's books are a quick and painless way to digest a lot of good scientific learning. — Valley Haggard



"Amy's Travels"Kathryn Starke

(Creative Minds Publications, $12)

This children's book, by John B. Cary second-grade teacher Kathryn Starke, is a creative way to tackle some of the requirements of the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs). With social-studies lessons for kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers following the story, Starke takes her young readers from Antarctica to Australia while secretly folding in such SOL requirements as "relative locations" and "varied world perspectives." The simply told narrative is based on the real-life travels of Starke's former college suitemate Amy Kramer, whose father worked for the foreign services. The illustrations by Jennifer Carter, Laura Starke and first-grade John B. Cary teacher Charity Wells are childlike and endearing. "Amy's Travels" will be included in the Henrico County Library's fall program. — V.H.



"Let's Talk About S-E-X: A Guide for Kids 9-12 and Their Parents"Sam Gitchel and Lorri Foster

(Book Peddlers, $9.99)

This Planned Parenthood publication is an instructional workbook for kids and a get-down-to-it manual for parents. Beginning with a discussion about the difference between sex and love, "Let's Talk About Sex" is a frank and functional guide to the birds and the bees that bears no false illusions about reality. Factual explanations about STDs, menstruation, masturbation, birth control, the stages of pregnancy and childbirth, and even a "puberty puzzle" are interspersed with anatomically correct drawings that bring unembarrassed, solid answers to some of kids' and parents' most uncomfortable questions. — V.H. S

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