I’ve heard some interesting predictions in a recent Publisher’s Weekly article about how 2022 is going for children’s publishing. Ongoing concerns about the price of paper and shipping are somewhat concerning. Continuing strong sales for MG books are again encouraging. But here’s the item that really caught my eye. For the first time ever at Scholastic they will have a year (in2023) with more than 50% of their titles from diverse creators and about diverse topics. The promotion of these books will begin in 2022 and the effects, I think, will resonate long beyond this watershed moment. I know how hard booksellers and librarians and agents and editors at every publishing house have worked to make increased diversity possible. I’m so proud of how far we’ve come in making the face of children’s book writing resemble the faces of the children we serve more closely.
Here’s a roundup of some of the diverse books coming out in March.
First up, something for the younger end of MG readers. Just a Girl by Lia Levi
is the translated memoir of a Jewish Italian girl who lived through the Holocaust. I think it makes a good introduction for the youngest readers. The author writes of her childhood with great tenderness as if she is speaking to her own grandchildren. She is careful at tense moments to assure the young reader that even with the discrimination, the loss of rights and jobs and home for Jewish people, things will turn out alright for Lia and her sisters and parents. They move many times to escape the Nazis. In the end they take shelter in a convent where she learns not only to receive the compassion of others but to find that well of compassion within herself. Many illustrations and an album of family photos round out this wartime memoir.
Two novels in verse for March
Alias Anna: a true story of outwitting the Nazis by Susan Hood and Greg Dawson.
Memorably set in WWII Ukraine and then Germany, this is the story of two sisters who used their talent playing the piano to escape her parent’s fate. They hid in plain sight as a students in a prestigious German music school. One of the authors is the son of the main character Zhanna Arshanskaya. The book includes family photographs, an afterward about how the story Zhanna had kept secret for decades came to light, a list of the music she and her sister played, the role music played in WWII and lots of source notes. Current events in Ukraine should make this a story of particular interest.
Wave by Dian Farid with art by Kris Goto
is set in California in the 1980s. It tells the story about 13 year old Persian American girl with OCD who finds refuge in a surfing and Rumi poetry and her best friend Phoenix.
Two graphic novels for March
The Aquanaut by Dan Santat
is at first glance a zany, fanciful story about what happens when a group of sea creatures figure out how to animate an old diving suit and come ashore in search of a new home. It is also a story of faithfulness to family and finding (or reclaiming) your true calling. Young eco-warriors will find lots to cheer for. And anyone who is trying to hold it all together in the face of great loss will find a heartfelt message of redemption–all wrapped up in vivid panels of Santat’s warm and energetic illustrations. On a personal note, I was an avid fan of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau and I was delighted to spy a few tributes to Cousteau in the artwork.
Wingbearer by Marjorie Liu & eny Aida Issakhanian
is another story for animal-lovers. In it Zuli is raised in a magical tree that shelters the spirits of birds waiting to be reborn. When the tree is threatened Zuli and her owl companion go on a quest to save the souls of birds.
I am a huge fan of the MG picture book.
Blue: a history of the color as deep as the sea and as wide as the sky by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, illustrated by Daniel Minter.
The history of where blue dye and paint came from is rich and fascinating and often cruel. Natural blue paints and dyes were hard to make and highly prized. I was fascinated to learn about the lengths people went to get the color blue. A perfect mix of science and history.
The Angel of Santo Tomas: the story of Fe Del Mundo by Tammy Yee.
Here is a small press gem from Tumblehouse. The story of WWII in the Philippines is one I’ve not seen in literature for children. A remarkable young Filipina doctor left her comfortable medical practice in the US to serve her home country. She spent the war years taking care of children in an internment camp in Santo Tomas.
With the number of diverse books for MG readers growing dramatically, I’m going to try to focus more on debut titles. One such novel is Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence by Sonja Thomas.
Unabashed science nerd Mira Williams faces a summer of navigating new territory without her best friend at her side. Whether it’s dealing with changes in employment for her parents, a science fair rival or the mysterious illness of her beloved cat, Mira learns the value of tenacity.
Finally here are 5 contemporary MG novels from veteran writers Kelly Yang, Naomi Shihab Nye, Erin Entrada Kelly, and Ernesto Cisneros.
Those Kids from Fawn Creek by Erin Entrada Kelly
The Turtle of Michigan by Naomi Shihab Nye
New from Here by Kelly Yang
Falling Short by Ernesto Cisneros