Book Lists

Ukraine for Middle-Grade Readers

Before Putin’s Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, many people elsewhere knew only a little about the country. Recent nonfiction and fiction books on Ukraine for Middle-Grade readers can help them understand what Ukrainians are fighting so fiercely to defend.

Most of these books appeared in 2022, and many of their publishers will contribute sales profits to Ukrainian relief.

NONFICTION:

Ukraine is known for  the beautiful golden-domed architecture of its cities and the richness of its culture and language. It is also called “The Breadbasket of Europe” because other countries in Europe and the world depend on its abundant harvests of grain for food.

Blue Skies and Golden Fields: Celebrating Ukraine, by Ukrainian children’s author Oksana Lushchevska (Capstone Press, 2022), covers Ukraine’s  history of withstanding invasion and domination by other countries, including Russia.  Lusgchevska also aims to immerse young readers in the Ukrainian culture. There is one whole section on sunflowers, the national flower and symbol of Ukraine. She includes instructions on how to plant your own sunflower and a Ukrainian poem to recite while you water it! Ukrainian Easter eggs are world-famous, and she tells how to dye eggs with natural dyes. She’s even included a guide to learning the Ukrainian alphabet and some key phases. Bright photographs illustrate Blue Skies and Golden Fields.

More list-like  is The Great Book of Ukraine: Interesting Stories, Ukranian History & Random Facts About Ukraine, by Anatolly Drahan (Independently published, 2022). Learn here not only about Ukraine’s past, but about pop culture, folklore, food, music, religion, celebrities & symbols, and why Ukranians celebrate two different New Years.

Ukrainian is  one of the most lyrical languages in the world. Enjoy learning some of it from Ukrainian Picture Dictionary Coloring Book: Over 1500 Ukrainian Words and Phrases for Creative and Visual Learners of All Ages (Lingo Mastery 2022).

FICTION:

These four Middle-grade novels take place in other times of great conflict and invasion in Ukraine’s past. The situations the young characters must face are grim and terrifying. But these are stories of resilience, courage, and hope, the qualities most needed in war-torn Ukraine today.

The Memory Keeper of Kyiv, by Erin Litteken (Boldwood Books, 2022), takes place in the 1930s, a time known as The Holodor, The Great Starvation. Russia’s Soviet ruler, Joseph Stalin, occupied Ukraine and tried to erase its culture. The Soviets claimed all grain produced in that fertile country and starved  4 million Ukrainians to death. In The Memory Keeper of Kyiv, 16-year old Katy at first sees village neighbors disappear for resisting the Soviets. Soon she herself is engaged in the struggle for survival. Author Litteken is the granddaughter a Ukrainian refugee from World War II.

Winterkill, by Canadian/Ukrainian author Marsha Forchuck Skrypuch (Scholastic, 2022), also  takes place in the time of the Great Starvation. In this gripping story, young Nyl is struggling to stay alive. Alice, whose father has come from Canada to work for the Soviets, sees that what is happening to the people is terribly wrong. Nyl and Alice come up with a daring plan. Will they survive long enough to carry it out?

In April of 1986, the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl, not far from Kyiv, melted down, poisoning the environment. In Helen Bates’ graphic novel, The Lost Child of Chernobyl (Otter Barry Books, 2021) two stubborn old ladies refuse to evacuate. Nine years later, forest wolves bring a ragged child to their door. The child has been living with the wolves in the forbidden toxic zone. Will the two be able to find his family after all this time?

In the suspenseful novel, The War Below, by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (Scholastic, 2020),  a Ukrainian boy smuggles himself out of a Nazi forced labor camp during World War II. He has to leave behind his dear friend Lida, but vows to find her again someday. IF he survives. Racing through the countryside, he struggles to evade both the Nazis and Soviet agents and finds himself in the line of fire.

MORE BOOKS ON UKRAINE FOR MIDDLE-GREAD READERS ARE COMING SOON: A NOVEL AND A WORDLESS BEAUTY

Maya and Her Friends: A Story About Tolerance and Acceptance To Support the Children of Ukraine (Studio Press, 2023) takes place in 2017. In that year, Russia conquered Crimea and annexed it from Ukraine. They also temporarily occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk. This is the story of families with children in Crimea, all with different family backgrounds. It shows how living under occupation and the shadow of war has impacted their lives. Ukrainian author Larysa Debysenk wrote this novel in Kyiv, with the roar of Russian gunfire in the background. She says, “I want to shout that the children of my country need international protection. The world needs to understand this.”

Yellow Butterfly: A story from Ukraine  will come out from Red Comet Press in January, 2023. Without words, and using the yellow and blue symbolic colors of Ukraine, children’s book illustrator Oleksandr Shatokhin shows a young girl’s view of the military conflict: her fear, her anger and frustration, and finally her hope.

Let’s hope, too, that by the time these last two books appear, the fighting in Ukraine may be over and rebuilding can begin!  Slava Ukrajini! 

 

 

 

Diversity in MG Lit #40 October 2022

This month brings a mix of fiction and nonfiction for MG readers. I’m looking forward to putting these books in the hands of patrons at Annie Blooms Books where I’m a part time bookseller.
But I’m also a full time writer and I have a big deadline in November so I’m going to skip the November reviews and write a short report on changes in how Barnes and Noble acquires MG fiction and a detailed analysis of the breakdown of titles on the shelf in my local Barnes & Noble store. I know it’s been on people’s minds and I always find gathering data a help in deciding where to expend my energies in promoting diverse literature for kids.
Here are the October new releases.
Graphic Novels
Freestyle by Gale Galligan is a sweet and funny look at the ups and downs of middle school. I appreciated the depictions of a hip hop dance crew. In addition to racial, ethnic and gender diversity its nice to see dance other than ballet presented in a graphic novel. (Scholastic)
book cover my nest of silenceThere are several good books about Japanese internment for MG readers. What intrigues me about My Nest of Silence by Matt Faulkner is the mix of prose and graphic novel elements. I’ll be very curious to see how it does in the bookshop. It does create a conundrum about whether to shelve it in fiction or in the graphic novel section. Librarians, I’d love to hear in the comments how you are handling it. (Atheneum)
Fiction
I love it when an author, who has already made a name for themselves writing about their own diverse experience, then chooses a story that transcends the subjects of race and ethnicity. A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga is an absolute charmer narrated by a fictional mars rover named Resilliance. It follows the machine’s POV as it reflects not just on its mission on Mars, but the meaning of friendship. A sweet story even non-space geeks will love. (Balzer & Bray)book cover A Rover's Story
The Lords of Night by JC Cervantes is a companion title to his popular Storm Runner series, set in the wolf of Aztec mythology. (Disney Hyperion)
book cover Shad HadidShad Hadid & the Alchemists of Alexandria by George Jreije is a spin on the boy goes to wizard school story, this time it’s an Arabic protagonist and the magic is alchemy. (Harper)
Nonfiction
The legacy of an integrated military is the result of the courage and excellence of many black servicemen and women. Dr. James B. Williams is one of the greats, his lifelong leadership in medicine and civil rights is an inspiration. Unlawful Orders: a portrait of Dr. James B Williams ,Tuskegee Airman, Surgeon & Activist by Barbara Binns is liberally photo illustrated and contains a detailed bibliography. (Scholastic Focus)book cover Unlawful Orders
Toxic masculinity is a problem that transcends race and ethnicity and yet it is most harmful to marginalized children. Boys will be Human: A gut-check guide to becoming th strongest, kindest, bravest person you can be, by Justin Baldoni is a thorogh look at what it means to be male and how to navigate the world in a way that is life affirming for boys. I recommend it for boys older than 10. It’s a great family resource for starting important conversations.(Harper)
Better Than We Found It: conversations to help Save the World by FrederickJoseph and Porsche Joseph is daunting in its wide-ranging content. But taken a section at a time, it’s a great introduction to issues for young activists. It covers topics from disinformation and climate change to indigenous land theft and the prison-industrial complex; 16 topics in all. Another great conversations starter for kids from about 10 well through their teens. (Candlewick)

October New Releases

October is bringing in a bounty of New Middle Grade Books – perfect for curling up on a crisp fall day.

 

Jeff Pennant’s Field Guide To Raising Happy Parents by Kelli McKinney

Why don’t parents come with an instruction manual?

Enjoy childhood, they say.

I will. I do. Or, at least, I did.

I’m over here living my best life with my best friends and science club. And in three weeks, we’re going to GamerCon.

Suddenly, my parents want to talk about my choices. It’s so unfair. Why am I grounded for enjoying my childhood? I’m doing exactly what they said to do.

I know I’m not a parent. But I’m pretty sure ‘doing what you say you’ll do’ is in the top five rules of parenting. It’s right up there with ‘feed the kid’. Just my opinion.

Now I’ve lost everything good because the grown people in my life don’t make any sense.

If I can’t spend time with my best friends, how do I keep them? And how do I get out of trouble when I’m not sure how I got there in the first place?

 

 

The Last Hope in Hopetown by Maria Tureaud

Stranger Things meets Fake Blood in this deliciously charming and spooky debut novel about one girl’s choice to save her vampire parents or do what’s right for the greater good.

Twelve-year-old human Sophie Dawes lives a good life in Hopetown. There, vampires and humans live in harmony and Sophie and her adoptive vampire moms are living (or unliving) proof. There are a lot of rules that vampires must follow to keep the humans they live around feeling safe, but if regular visits from child protective services and abiding by a nightly curfew keeps their family together, Sophie will do anything to stay with her loving vampire parents. But then, normal, law-abiding vampires begin to go rogue.

After Sophie’s own mother– the sweetest person she knows– goes rogue, Sophie decides it’s up to her to find a cure. But taking matters into her own hands might be way more than she bargained for if it means braving a secret council of vampires, executing epic heists, and facing the true bad guys head on. With her best friend by her side, Sophie will fight for hope, freedom and a family bonded by a love that’s thicker than blood.

 

 

 

A Long Way from Home by Laura Schaefer

Twelve-year-old Abby has a lot to worry about: Climate change. The news. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. And now moving to Florida for her mom’s new job at an aerospace company.

On the Space Coast, Abby meets two boys, Adam and Bix, who tell her they’re a long way from home and need her help. Abby discovers they’re from the future, from a time when all the problems of the 21st century have been solved. Thrilled, Abby strikes a deal with them: She’ll help them–if they let her come to the future with them. But soon Abby is forced to question her attachment to a perfect future and her complicated feelings about the present.

A Million Views by Aaron Starmer

Brewster Gaines just wanted to make a video and get a million views – he didn’t count on needing friends to get there. From the author of Spontaneous and the Locker 37 series comes a heartfelt story of friendship, family, and filmmaking.

Brewster Gaines loves everything about making videos. The planning, the filming, the editing, and especially the feeling of watching his YouTube views tick up and up. So what if he doesn’t have friends to film with or parents who are home every night for dinner? He’s got a phone and a tripod and a lofty goal:

A million views.

But when he enlists the acting chops of charismatic new kid Carly for a ten-second video, he gets more than he bargained for. Her intimidating friend Rosa soon steps in with funding to produce an epic fantasy trailer, and before long, their tiny team is adding cast and crew. What started as a simple shoot mutates into a full-fledged movie production, complete with method-acting cosplayers, special effects, and a monster made out of a go-kart. That’s when Brewster realizes that getting to a million views may be harder than he ever imagined . . .

 

 

 

Leon the Extraordinary: A Graphic Novel (Leon #1) by Jamar Nicholas

Leon is an ordinary kid who becomes extraordinary when he fights a supervillain to save his school!

In the city where Leon lives, superheroes — and supervillains — are commonplace. So how does an ordinary kid like Leon, who has no superpowers himself, become the superhero he wants to be? When all his classmates suddenly become obsessed with a new phone app that turns them into zombies, Leon gets his chance to prove that using his brain and following his heart can save the day.

Equal parts New Kid and The Incredibles, the first graphic novel in this action-packed, heartfelt, and joyously funny series by Jamar Nicholas reminds readers that when it comes to being a hero, you just need to believe in yourself.

 

 

 

 

A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga

The One and Only Ivan meets The Wild Robot in this unique and deeply moving middle grade novel about the journey of a fictional Mars rover, from the Newbery Honor-winning author of Other Words for Home.

Meet Resilience, a Mars rover determined to live up to his name.

Res was built to explore Mars. He was not built to have human emotions. But as he learns new things from the NASA scientists who assemble him, he begins to develop human-like feelings. Maybe there’s a problem with his programming….

Human emotions or not, launch day comes, and Res blasts off to Mars, accompanied by a friendly drone helicopter named Fly. But Res quickly discovers that Mars is a dangerous place filled with dust storms and giant cliffs. As he navigates Mars’s difficult landscape, Res is tested in ways that go beyond space exploration.

As millions of people back on Earth follow his progress, will Res have the determination, courage–and resilience–to succeed… and survive?

 

 

 

Sisterhood of Sleuths by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman (Author) Vesper Stamper (Illustrator)

Bhai for Now by  Maleeha Siddiqui

A fresh and fun new spin on the Parent-Trap story, by Indies Introduce author Maleeha Siddiqui

Ashar is busy with the ice hockey team, studying to get into the best school, and hanging out with his friends.

Shaheer and his father are always moving, following his dad’s jobs. Shaheer has given up hope of finding a place where he can put down roots, a place that feels like home.

The two boys have nothing in common.

But when they meet on Shaheer’s first day at his new school, it’s like looking in a mirror.

They quickly figure out that they’re twins, separated as babies. And they are determined to do whatever it takes–including secretly switching identities–to get to know the parent they’ve been separated from.

This is the story of two long-lost brothers who, while they might not like each other, just might need each other. Bhai for Now is by turns heartwarming and hilarious, and with an unforgettable Muslim family and friendship story at its core.

 

Playing Through the Turnaround by Mylisa Larsen

In a timely, insightful story told with sparkling wit and heart, young musicians protesting plans for budget cuts navigate miscalculations, indifferent adults, and unexpected loss as they discover the power of speaking out and the value of listening.

Fifth period is hands down the best time of day in Connor U. Eubanks Middle School, because that’s when Mr. Lewis teaches Jazz Lab. So his students are devastated when their beloved teacher quits abruptly. Once they make a connection between budget cuts and Mr. Lewis’s disappearance, they hatch a plan: stop the cuts, save their class.

Soon, they become an unlikely band of crusaders, and their quest quickly snowballs into something much bigger–a movement involving the whole middle school. But the adults in charge seem determined to ignore their every protest. How can the kids make themselves heard?

 

 

Undercover Latina by Aya de León

A Latina teen spy goes undercover as a white girl to stop a white supremacist terrorist plot in a fast-paced middle-grade debut from a seasoned author of contemporary crime fiction.

In her debut for younger readers, Aya de León pits a teen spy against the ominous workings of a white nationalist. Fourteen-year-old Andréa Hernández-Baldoquín hails from a family of spies working for the Factory, an international organization dedicated to protecting people of color. For her first solo mission, Andréa straightens her hair and goes undercover as Andrea Burke, a white girl, to befriend the estranged son of a dangerous white supremacist. In addition to her Factory training, the assignment calls for a deep dive into the son’s interests–comic books and gaming–all while taking care not to speak Spanish and blow her family’s cover. But it’s hard to hide who you really are, especially when you develop a crush on your target’s Latino best friend. Can Andréa keep her head, her geek cred, and her code-switching on track to trap a terrorist? Smart, entertaining, and politically astute, this is fast-paced upper-middle-grade fare from an established author of heist and espionage novels for adults.

 

 

 

The Lost Whale by Hannah Gold

A gorgeously written standalone from the acclaimed author of The Last Bear, Hannah Gold’s second novel is a touching story about adventure, recovery, and love–perfect for fans of Pax and A Wolf Called Wander.

When Rio is sent to live with a grandmother he barely knows in California, he feels completely alone. Then he makes a new friend on the foggy beach–a girl named Marina, who teaches him about the massive grey whales that migrate nearby.

As Rio grows to love the whales, he discovers that his mother loved them, too. He’s suddenly sure that if he can somehow find a way to connect her with these gentle giants – and especially with a particular whale named White Beak – she will get better and come to join him in California. But White Beak is missing–and Rio must embark on a desperate journey across the dangerous ocean to find her.

An excellent choice for readers in grades 3 to 7, this fierce celebration of friendship includes information about the struggles facing real gray whales from climate change, pollution, and over-fishing.

 

The Rat Queen by Pete Hautman

From National Book Award winner Pete Hautman comes a mysterious modern-day fairy tale about developing a moral compass–and the slippery nature of conscience.

For Annie’s tenth birthday, her papa gives her a pad of paper, some colored pencils, and the Klimas family secret. It’s called the nuodeema burna, or eater of sins. Every time Annie misbehaves, she has to write down her transgression and stick the paper into a hidey-hole in the floor of their house. But Annie’s inheritance has a dark side: with each paper fed to the burna, she feels less guilty about the mean things she says and does. As a plague of rats threatens her small suburban town and the mystery of her birthright grows, Annie–caught in a cycle of purging her misdeeds–begins to stop growing. It is only when she travels to her family’s home country of Litvania to learn more about the burna that Annie uncovers the magnitude of the truth. Gripping and emotionally complex, Pete Hautman’s inventive yarn for middle-grade readers draws on magical realism to explore coming of age and the path to moral responsibility.

 

 

 

Freestyle: A Graphic Novel by Gale Galligan

From New York Times bestselling author Gale Galligan, a fun, high-energy graphic novel about friendship, family, and the last hurrahs of middle school.

Cory’s dance crew is getting ready for a major competition. It’s the last one before they graduate eighth grade and go their separate ways to high schools all over New York City, so they have to make it count! The group starts to have problems as their crew captain gets increasingly intense about nailing the routine, and things go from bad to worse when Cory’s parents ground him for not taking his grades seriously. He gets stuck with a new tutor, Sunna, who he dismisses as a boring nerd… until he catches her secretly practicing cool yo-yo tricks. Cory wants to learn the art of yo-yo, and as his friendship with Sunna grows, he ends up missing practice and bailing on his crew — and they are not happy about it. With mounting pressure coming from all sides, how is Cory supposed to balance the expectations of his parents, school, dance, and his new friend?

 

 

 

 

Honey and Me by Meira Drazin

Fans of Judy Blume, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, and The Penderwicks will love this funny, charismatic story of a Jewish girl striving to forge her own identity in the shadow of her fearless best friend. Winner of the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award!

Milla and Honey have been best friends since forever.

Milla envies Honey’s confidence, her charisma, and her big, chaotic family–especially when they provide a welcome escape from Milla’s own small family and quiet house. In their close-knit Jewish community, the two girls do everything together, from delivering meals to an ill-tempered elderly neighbor, to shopping at a local thrift store, celebrating the holidays, and going to their first bat mitzvahs while studying for their own.

So when Honey joins Milla’s school for sixth grade, why is it not as great as Milla expected? Can their friendship survive all the ups and downs the year has in store for them? And will Milla ever find the courage to step out of Honey’s shadow and into her own spotlight?

Charming, authentic, and wise, Honey and Me is a classic coming-of-age story filled with relatable middle school struggles, keen insight, and sparkling humor.

 

Frizzy by Claribel A. Ortega (Author) Rose Bousamra (Illustrator)

A middle grade graphic novel about Marlene, a young girl who stops straightening her hair and embraces her natural curls.

Marlene loves three things: books, her cool Tía Ruby and hanging out with her best friend Camila. But according to her mother, Paola, the only thing she needs to focus on is school and growing up. That means straightening her hair every weekend so she could have presentable, good hair.

But Marlene hates being in the salon and doesn’t understand why her curls are not considered pretty by those around her. With a few hiccups, a dash of embarrassment, and the much-needed help of Camila and Tia Ruby–she slowly starts a journey to learn to appreciate and proudly wear her curly hair.

 

 

 

 

The Year the Maps Changed by Danielle Binks

Wolf Hollow meets The Thing About Jellyfish in Danielle Binks’s debut middle grade novel set in 1999, where a twelve-year-old girl grapples with the meaning of home and family amidst a refugee crisis that has divided her town.

Timeless and beautiful, and it deserves to be read by people of all ages. –Printz Award-winning author Melina Marchetta

If you asked eleven-year-old Fred to draw a map of her family, it would be a bit confusing. Her birth father was never in the picture, her mom died years ago, and her stepfather, Luca, is now expecting a baby with his new girlfriend. According to Fred’s teacher, maps don’t always give the full picture of our history, but more and more it feels like Fred’s family is redrawing the line of their story . . . and Fred is feeling left off the map.

Soon after learning about the baby, Fred hears that the town will be taking in hundreds of refugees seeking safety from a war-torn Kosovo. Some people in town, like Luca, think it’s great and want to help. Others, however, feel differently, causing friction within the community.

Fred, who has been trying to navigate her own feelings of displacement, ends up befriending a few refugees. But what starts as a few friendly words in Albanian will soon change their lives forever, not to mention completely redrawing Fred’s personal map of friends, family, and home, and community.

 

Dad’s Girlfriend and Other Anxieties by Kellye Crocker

Anxiety has always made Ava avoid the slightest risk, but plunging headfirst into danger might be just what she needs.

Dad hasn’t even been dating his new girlfriend that long, so Ava is sure that nothing has to change in her life. That is, until the day after sixth grade ends, when Dad whisks her away on vacation to meet The Girlfriend and her daughter in terrifying Colorado, where even the squirrels can kill you! Managing her anxiety, avoiding altitude sickness, and surviving the mountains might take all of Ava’s strength, but at least this trip will only last two weeks. Right?

 

 

 

 

 

Superpower?: The Wearable-Tech Revolution by Elaine Kachala (Author) Belle Wuthrich (Illustrator)

Super strength, super hearing, super vision and super connection. Wearable technology may soon give humans superpowers.

Imagine being able to run without getting tired. Or travel to the moon to observe Earth for science class. The technologies that could make these things possible are mixing into our lives faster than we realize. The stakes are high. In Superpowers: The Wearable-Tech Revolution, young readers will discover how technological innovation can help people survive and thrive.

But what if super strength results in endless work? What if hackers can read our thoughts? What if living in a virtual world affects our humanity? The book asks readers to question the pros and cons of technology and consider if innovation can go too far. Meet the inventors, designers, engineers, scientists and young people navigating the next tech frontier.

 

 

The Rabbit’s Gift by Jessica Vitalis

What makes a hero or a villain? Can someone be both–or neither?

When the delicate balance between the people of a small country and the mythic rabbits of age-old lore is broken, putting everyone at risk, a young rabbit and a young girl must overcome their prejudices and learn to trust each other. This vivid and inventive novel from the acclaimed author of The Wolf’s Curse will captivate fans of Orphan Island and Scary Stories for Young Foxes.

Quincy Rabbit and his warren live a simple yet high-stakes life. In exchange for the purple carrots they need to survive, they farm and deliver Chou de vie (cabbage-like plants that grow human babies inside) to the human citizens of Montpeyroux. But lately, because of those selfish humans, there haven’t been enough carrots to go around. So Quincy sets out to change that–all he needs are some carrot seeds. He’ll be a hero.

Fleurine sees things a little differently. As the only child of the Grand Lumière, she’s being groomed to follow in her mother’s political footsteps–no matter how much Fleurine longs to be a botanist instead. Convinced that having a sibling will shift her mother’s attention, Fleurine tries to grow purple carrots, hoping to make a trade with the rabbits. But then a sneaky rabbit steals her seeds. In her desperation to get them back, she follows that rabbit all the way to the secret warren–and steals a Chou.

Quincy and Fleurine have endangered not just the one baby inside the Chou, but the future of Montpeyroux itself–for rabbits and humans alike. Now, they’ll have to find a way to trust each other to restore the balance.

Told from both Quincy’s and Fleurine’s perspectives, The Rabbit’s Gift will enchant fans of Katherine Applegate, Gail Carson Levine, and Anne Ursu.

 

The Real Deal by Lindsey Stoddard

Two best friends discover the danger and power of secrets in this pitch perfect standalone from the acclaimed author of Just Like Jackie and Brave Like That.

Not every friendship can be the real deal, but for Gabe and Oliver, that’s never been a question.

Until now. Things still feel the same on the surface–they’re even making a comic about their friendship–but lately Oliver’s acting like he might be hiding something.

And then there’s Reuben, the new boy who just moved to town. He doesn’t talk–not ever. The other kids say mean things and call him names behind his back. Gabe knows it isn’t right–but he and Oliver stay quiet, or worse, laugh along with the others just to keep from standing out.

Through the character he and Oliver create in their comic adventure, the experience they have babysitting twin toddlers, and with the help of a troublemaking seventh grader who gets sent to their sixth-grade class, Gabe begins to find his voice and become the realest-deal version of his own self. But if he does that–can he still hold onto his best friend, too?

Perfect for fans of Lisa Graff and Linda Mullaly Hunt, this novel from Lindsey Stoddard, whose stories were lauded as “remarkable” by the New York Times Book Review, will have fans new and old hooked.

 

Garvey in the Dark by Nikki Grimes

Capturing the shock and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic through the eyes of Garvey, a beloved character, Nikki Grimes’s newest novel in verse shows readers how to find hope in difficult times.

Garvey’s finally happy–he’s feeling close to his father through their shared love of music, bullies are no longer tormenting him, and his best friends Manny and Joe are by his side. But when the schools, stores, and restaurants close because people are getting sick, Garvey’s improved life goes into lockdown as well. And when Garvey’s father gets sick, Garvey must find a way to use his newfound musical skills to bring hope to both his father and himself. Moving, powerful, and beautifully told, this remarkable novel shows readers how even small acts have large reverberations, how every person can make a difference in this world, and how–even in the most difficult times–there are ways to reach for hope and healing.

 

 

 

New Kids and Underdogs by Margaret Finnegan

When perpetual new kid Robyn signs up her special needs dogs for agility training, she gets an unexpected lesson in friendship in this funny and moving novel from the author of We Could Be Heroes and Susie B. Won’t Back Down.

Robyn Kellen has been the new kid six times. She’s practically an expert on the subject and has developed foolproof rules to help her get by: Blend in, don’t go looking for trouble, and move on. Unfortunately, Robyn’s mom has a rule, too: Robyn must do an after-school activity.

When Robyn discovers a dog agility class, she thinks she’s found the perfect thing–but then her dogs, Sundae and Fudge, are rejected from the class. Sundae won’t do anything without Fudge, and Fudge is deaf and blind, and the instructor refuses to change the rules to fit their needs. Luckily, the instructor’s grandson, Nestor–a legend at Robyn’s new school–offers Robyn a deal: If she helps him with math, he’ll train Sundae and Fudge. Problem is, Robyn isn’t so great at math herself, so she’s forced to recruit the class outcast, Alejandra, to help.

Suddenly, Robyn finds herself surrounded by people who do anything but blend in–and sticking to her rules becomes harder than ever. But as Robyn learns how to adapt the rules of agility for Sundae and Fudge, she will find that some rules are worth breaking altogether.

 

 

A Seed in the Sun by Aida Salazar

A farm-working girl with big dreams meets activist Dolores Huerta and joins the 1965 protest for workers’ rights in this tender-hearted middle grade novel in verse, perfect for fans of Rita Williams-Garcia and Pam Muñoz Ryan.

Lula Viramontes aches to one day become someone whom no one can ignore: a daring ringleader in a Mexican traveling circus. But between working the grape harvest in Delano, California, with her older siblings under dangerous conditions; taking care of her younger siblings and Mamá, who has mysteriously fallen ill; and doing everything she can to avoid Papá’s volatile temper, it’s hard to hold on to those dreams.

Then she meets Dolores Huerta, Larry Itliong, and other labor rights activists and realizes she may need to raise her voice sooner rather than later: Farmworkers are striking for better treatment and wages, and whether Lula’s family joins them or not will determine their future.

 

 

 

Liberty Biscuit by Melanie Sue Bowles

Does a family mystery stand in the way of saving Kip’s best friend?

Katherine Pearl Baker—“Kip” for short—is the only child on her family’s rural peach farm. She longs for a pet to ease the loneliness. Unfortunately, her father has an angry opposition to all animals—horses in particular. Why he dislikes them is a confounding mystery.

Hiding in the woods on the Fourth of July, Kip encounters a bedraggled donkey with one eye and a floppy ear. Immediately smitten and compelled to protect him, she feeds him biscuits and takes him home. When it is discovered the donkey fled an abusive owner, Kip’s father finally relents, reluctantly allowing him to stay.

Kip is elated when her grandfather agrees to help her foster the donkey, who she names “Liberty Biscuit,” along with two emaciated horses removed by the local sheriff from the same home, as the cruelty case goes to court. While caring for the animals, Kip’s happiness is overshadowed by a shocking discovery in a trunk in the family farm’s hayloft—a faded photograph of her father as a boy that reveals secrets long kept.

A court order to return the horses, and even worse, Kip’s beloved Liberty Biscuit, to the owner who had starved and beaten them, throws Kip’s world into turmoil. She knows she must find a way to keep them, or she will have betrayed the best friend she has ever had. But saving the animals means risking the complete unraveling of her family as she exposes the long-buried truth about a tragic accident and a hurt like she’s never known before.

 

There are so many titles on this list that I can’t wait to read. How about you? Let us know in the comments.