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Bookshelf: YA classics, Neil Gaiman, Suzanne Collins

"Debutante Hill" by Lois Duncan (Lizzie Skurnick Books,

"Debutante Hill" by Lois Duncan (Lizzie Skurnick Books, September 2013) Credit: Handout

Lizzie Skurnick, author of a 2009 book of essays called "Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading," has done what every true book nut dreams of doing: started her own publishing house to bring back beloved books that have, inexplicably, gone out of print. Starting with "Debutante Hill" (Lizzie Skurnick Books, $12.95, ages 12 and older), the 1958 debut novel from still- prolific young-adult author Lois Duncan, Skurnick plans to release about one book a month. Rounding out 2013 are books from Ernest Gaines, Ellen Conford and Lila Perl.

Although the books are now considered young-adult novels (the YA label came into use after their publication), it's likely a substantial part of Skurnick's audience -- and the series deserves a large audience -- will be adults nostalgic for the books they read as teenagers. "Debutante Hill" has a quaint quality that might not grab everyone in the "Twilight"/"Hunger Games" generation; it concerns a socially ambitious mother whose plan to present debutantes strains the rich/poor gap in a small town. The supercool photographic covers with a uniform design and typeface nail a retro aesthetic that may well become part of the brand's appeal.

In the last book of the "Hunger Games" trilogy, author Suzanne Collins offered a bleak vision of war that felt personal. Now we know the source. In "Year of the Jungle" (Scholastic, $17.99, ages 4 and older), Collins writes a child's-eye memoir of life during her father's tour in Vietnam (with illustrations by James Proimos). Soldiers who go to war leave questions for families to live with -- Where are they? What are they experiencing? Are they alive? -- and children are experts at filling in gaps. The little girl hears her father is in the jungle, so she imagines the jungle she knows from cartoons. The illustrations show how clues from the adult world feed her worries. She is a thinker, and when her father arrives home, changed, she finds a way to reach him.

Walter Dean Myers is steadily growing a body of work about war, and about how black and white soldiers have experienced recent American wars. He began with books based on his brother's death in Vietnam ("Fallen Angels") and his son's duty as chaplain in the Gulf War ("Sunrise Over Fallujah"). For his latest, "Invasion" (Scholastic, $17.99, ages 12 and older), he interviewed men who took part in D-Day to craft his story of a white infantryman living through the hell of those days in June 1944. The young Virginian's strongest connection to home is through the occasional conversation he can snatch with a black soldier from his segregated town who is assigned to the transport unit that collects the bodies.

Kate DiCamillo's wacky sense of humor is on full display in "Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures" (Candlewick, $17.99, ages 8-12), which appears on the "longlist" of contenders for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. Flora, a superhero-obsessed girl, meets Ulysses, a squirrel with superpowers -- notably the ability to fly, to type and to write poetry. A great pleasure of reading DiCamillo, author of "Because of Winn-Dixie" and "The Tale of Despereaux," is her playful sense of language, which is complemented here by illustrator K.G. Campbell's comic-book- style passages. Who else would give a middle-school girl the characteristic exclamation, "Holy bagumba!" or write about her tensions with her father: "Her father wasn't a criminal. Not exactly. But he had been enlisted in the service of villainy."

Another familiar author seeking to make middle-readers giggle is Neil Gaiman, with Fortunately, the Milk" (HarperCollins, $14.99, ages 8-12), illustrated with verve by Skottie Young. This shaggy dog story is a dad's explanation of why it took a bit longer than his children expected for him to get back from the corner store with a bottle of milk for their cereal. If your kids still allow you to read aloud to them, this book is for you.

Any parent whose Strunk and White's "Elements of Style" (especially the Maira Kalman-illustrated edition) holds an honored place on the bookshelf will want Catherine Lewis' "Thrice Told Tales: Three Mice Full of Writing Advice"  (Simon & Schuster, $16.99, ages 12 and older). Using the nursery rhyme about the three blind mice and the farmer's wife who cuts off their tails with a carving knife (as well as Dutch illustrator Joost Swarte's antic cartoons), Lewis delivers a style manual that combines the practical and the mind-expanding. From the entry on "Diction" (or "word choice"), consider this possible rewrite: "A trio of myopic pests pursued the spouse of the agriculturalist. She severed their appendages with a blade."

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