This spring marks my sixth year of doing the monthly round up of new MG titles which are diverse in race, gender and/or sexual identity, ethnicity, religion, and disability. In that time there has been a substantial increase in the number of diverse titles in Middle Grade publishing. We’ve seen a particularly dramatic increase in the number of diverse authors attending the national conferences as featured speakers and winning national literary awards. Consider for example that in the last 6 years every single winner of the Newbery medal has been a diverse person. And eighteen of twenty-one honor winners have represented some aspect of diversity. In the bookseller conferences that I attend regionally in the Pacific Northwest and nationally somewhere between 50% and 90% of featured authors have been diverse. Impressive progress.
I love digging into the diverse ARCs that come to me at the bookshop and looking for new points of view at trade shows and on the on line resources available to me as a bookseller. In the last six years my own life has changed dramatically too, leaving me less time for writing blog posts. I will continue to do the diverse books roundup every other month. I’ll shift my focus slightly to newer voices and less frequently represented identities.
Here are this month’s new titles.
NO MATTER THE DISTANCE by Cindy Baldwin is her fourth book and the one that deals most directly with her own disabling condition, cystic fibrosis. The story starts on familiar MG terrain–Penny’s best friend is moving away. But then Penny finds a lost dolphin in the river behind her house and forms a strong bond with her. But the young dolphin can’t survive for long in the river. How Penny finds the strength to help her new friend to her home in the ocean is gorgeously told in blank verse. Equal parts friendship story, gripping adventure, and medical drama. On sale 2/21/23 from Quill Tree HC.
I love to celebrate a debut! THE PEARL HUNTER by Miya T. Beck is fantasy set in pre-Shogun era Japan. Pearl diving twins Kai and Kishi are identical in appearance but miles apart in personality, When one is stolen by a ghost whale the other searches the ocean for her with the help of sea dragons and supernatural foxes. This is the best fantasy book cover I’ve seen in a while. Kudos to the team at Balzer&Bray HC and congratulations Miya on her debut. On sale 2/7/23.
Another debut this month is IT’S BOBA TIME FOR PEARL LI! by Nicole Chen. It’s a charmer. It’s about a seventh grade Taiwanese American girl who hatches a grand plan to save her favorite Boba Tea shop from going out of business. In my experience, the soda fountains and pizza parlors which featured so prominently in my teenaged years have been replaced by the sushi bar and the boba tea shop for kids today. It’s a story that I think will resonate with many. I hope we see more of the enterprising Pearl Li. Quill Tree HC On sale 2/28/23
Here’s another recent development which makes me very happy. In the promo material that came along with the ARC for those last two debuts, the book was compared not to a white author with whom their work shares a few thematic threads and not a high profile diverse author with whom their book shares no themes in common. They are being compared to diverse authors who a good fit in terms of character identity, theme, tone, and setting. Hurray! Thank you to the hard working publicity teams who make it happen!
THE MANY FORTUNES OF MAYA by Nicole D. Collier is her second MG novel. There are plenty of books about kids and sports, what I appreciated so much about this one is its willingness to really interrogate the role of luck, talent, ambition, fortitude, practice, and the support of friends and family in whether we succeed or fail. Themes that will be familiar to more than just young athletes. Verisify HC. On sale 1/24/23
Janae Marks newest novel is ON AIR WITH ZOE WASHINGTON. I appreciate all three of her books for casting light on a subculture so often overlooked–the families of incarcerated and exonerated people. In this third book, she tackles the difficult road back to full employment for exonerated people. Happily for this story it involves both baking and BBQ. Katherine Tegan Books. On sale 2/14/23
I have admired the work of Lesa Cline-Ransom for many years. Her newest book is a YA novel. Set in 1930 in Mississippi it deals directly, honestly and sensitively with the lynching of black women. I mention it here because it is well within the grasp of mature MG readers and it gives important context to current events. FOR LAMB by Lesa Cline-Ransom Holiday House On sale 1/03/23
New from the very prolific Christina Soontornvat is LEGENDS OF LOTUS ISLAND: THE GUARDIAN TEST. It’s a short and sweet fantasy adventure in which Plum and her friends go to the Guardian Academy and learn to communicate with animals, meditate and fight to protect the natural world. Budding eco-warriors will love it! Scholastic Press, on sale 2/7/23
As always this is just a fraction of the new diverse titles coming out in January and February this year. Please mention any I have missed in the comments below.