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Best Middle-Grade Books of 2015 That Celebrate Difference and Diversity

A stunning picture book that celebrates life, family relations, and determination to preserve traditions and heritage.

THE SONG WITHIN MY HEART

A heartfelt intergenerational story about knowing and preserving heritage and love between elders and young ones.

Basing his bilingual (English and Cree) story on Sapp’s childhood growing up in Saskatchewan, Métis author Bouchard writes lyrically of a young Cree boy preparing for his first powwow. His Nokum (grandmother) guides him through the day and explains the stories told by the beating drums, the singers, and the dancers and describes the power in them. From exciting and happy stories about their people and their homeland to stories about sorrow, birth, and life hereafter, Nokum teaches the boy that he may buy cars and toys, but “Your stories, songs and beating heart / Are truly yours and yours alone.” These stories are sacred and should be passed “from age to youth,” and he should never use “another’s tale / Unless he knows and he approves.” Bouchard’s rhythmic text successfully conveys an emotive and sensory approach to the relationship between the two, enriching the story and echoing the hand-lettered onomatopoeic syllables that represent chanting and drumbeats. Sapp’s profound paintings bring sincere and reassuring images that support and enhance the tale. An audio CD with English and Cree narration by the author (with accompaniment by the music of Northern Cree) is included.

A stunning picture book that celebrates life, family relations, and determination to preserve traditions and heritage. (artist’s note) (Picture book. 5-11)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-88995-500-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Red Deer Press

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

Set against a backdrop of war and sacrifice, Ada’s personal fight for freedom and ultimate triumph are cause for celebration.

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THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE

Ada discovers there are worse things than bombs after she escapes her Mam’s cruelty during a children’s evacuation of World War II London.

Crippled by an untreated club foot and imprisoned at home by Mam, Ada has survived, but she hasn’t thrived. Only caring for her brother, Jamie, has made life tolerable. As he grows, goes out and tells Ada about the world, her determination to enter it surges. She secretly begins learning to walk and joins Jamie when Mam sends him to the country. Ada narrates, recalling events and dialogue in vivid detail. The siblings are housed with Susan, a reluctant guardian grieving the death of her friend Becky. Yet Susan’s care is life-changing. Ada’s voice is brisk and honest; her dawning realizations are made all the more poignant for their simplicity. With Susan’s help and the therapeutic freedom she feels on horseback, Ada begins to work through a minefield of memories but still harbors hope that Mam will accept her. In interesting counterpoint, Susan also knows what it is like to be rejected by her parents. With the reappearance of Mam, things come to an explosive head, metaphorically and literally. Ignorance and abuse are brought to light, as are the healing powers of care, respect and love.

Set against a backdrop of war and sacrifice, Ada’s personal fight for freedom and ultimate triumph are cause for celebration. (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8037-4081-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

Rich in all areas, Delphine and her sisters’ third outing will fully satisfy the many fans of their first two.

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GONE CRAZY IN ALABAMA

The coping skills of three sisters are put to the test as they leave Brooklyn for a rural summer in 1969 Alabama.

Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern, the sisters who captured readers’ hearts in One Crazy Summer (2010) and P.S. Be Eleven (2013), are off to spend the summer in Alabama with Big Ma. This visit comes at a time of great awareness for almost-13-year-old Delphine as well as looming change in her family. Delphine is still in charge, but Vonetta seeks to step out of her older sister’s shadow. The trip also means the girls will confront their Uncle Darnell, who let them down during his stay in Brooklyn. Hurts and grudges go even deeper as the story of the girls’ great-grandmother and her estranged sister is gradually disclosed, revealing family dynamics shaped by racial history. All the conflicts fade when a tornado threatens an unbearable loss. Character development again astonishes, the distinctive personalities of the girls ringing true and the supporting cast adding great depth and texture. Indeed, the girls’ cousin JimmyTrotter is so fully realized it seems unfair to think of him as secondary. This well-crafted depiction of a close-knit community in rural Alabama works beautifully, with language that captures its humor, sorrow and resilience.

Rich in all areas, Delphine and her sisters’ third outing will fully satisfy the many fans of their first two. (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-221587-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

A tale of the Jim Crow South that’s not sugar-coated but effective, with a trustworthy narrator who opens her heart and...

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STELLA BY STARLIGHT

When a young girl gains confidence from her failures and strength from what her community dreads most, life delivers magic and hope.

Stella Mills and her brother Jojo witness the Ku Klux Klan burning a cross late one starry night, setting off a chain reaction that leaves their entire community changed. During the Depression, North Carolina was less than hospitable for African-Americans forced to work more to earn less while being deprived of basic human rights. Through the perspective of Stella, young readers glimpse the nearly suffocating anguish that envelops this black community, illuminating the feelings associated with suppression. In a telling passage, Stella’s mother attempts to comfort her: " 'It's gonna be all right,' her mother whispered as she smoothed down Stella's hair. But Stella felt the tension in her mother's arms, and she knew that in reality, fear hugged them both.” Draper expertly creates a character filled with hope, dreams and ambition in a time when such traits were dangerous for a girl of color. While the use of language honors the time period, the author is careful to avoid the phonetic quagmire that ensnares lesser writers of the period, allowing the colorful idioms to shine.

A tale of the Jim Crow South that’s not sugar-coated but effective, with a trustworthy narrator who opens her heart and readers’ eyes. (Historical fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4424-9497-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

A grand narrative that examines the power of music to inspire beauty in a world overrun with fear and intolerance, it’s...

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ECHO

A multilayered novel set in turbulent times explores music’s healing power.

Sweeping across years and place, Ryan’s full-bodied story is actually five stories that take readers from an enchanted forest to Germany, Pennsylvania, Southern California, and finally New York City. Linking the stories is an ethereal-sounding harmonica first introduced in the fairy-tale beginning of the book and marked with a mysterious M. In Nazi Germany, 12-year-old Friedrich finds the harmonica in an abandoned building; playing it fills him with the courage to attempt to free his father from Dachau. Next, the harmonica reaches two brothers in an orphanage in Depression-era Pennsylvania, from which they are adopted by a mysterious wealthy woman who doesn’t seem to want them. Just after the United States enters World War II, the harmonica then makes its way to Southern California in a box of used instruments for poor children; as fifth-grader Ivy Lopez learns to play, she discovers she has exceptional musical ability. Ryan weaves these stories together, first, with the theme of music—symbolized by the harmonica—and its ability to empower the disadvantaged and discriminated-against, and then, at the novel’s conclusion, as readers learn the intertwined fate of each story’s protagonist.

A grand narrative that examines the power of music to inspire beauty in a world overrun with fear and intolerance, it’s worth every moment of readers’ time. (Historical fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-439-87402-1

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

Beautifully written and earnestly delivered, the novel rolls to an inexorable, stunning conclusion readers won’t soon forget.

NIGHT ON FIRE

In 1961, riding a Greyhound bus was more than a way to get from one place to another. For some, the destination was freedom.

Told through the eyes of a white teen with a thirst for adventure, the novel takes readers on an aching journey of self-discovery at a time when figuring out the world meant facing devastating truths about where you lived and what you loved. Thirteen-year-old Billie Sims loves watching the sleek, silver Greyhound buses pass through Anniston, Alabama, reading the bus schedule the way some kids read the funny papers. She loves home, but she yearns for more, hoping and dreaming about taking the bus into her future. However, with parts of the South refusing to enforce segregation laws and civil rights activists refusing to back down, Billie soon learns that seeing the world is not as important as seeing what is right in front of her. Kidd writes with insight and restraint, creating a richly layered opus that hits every note to perfection. Readers who know the history will cringe at Billie's naiveté; those who do not will surely find themselves re-evaluating their worlds. For them, Billie’s coming-of-age could serve as a cautionary tale about where America once was and why we all need to stay vigilant, lest we return—as current headlines attest.

Beautifully written and earnestly delivered, the novel rolls to an inexorable, stunning conclusion readers won’t soon forget. (Historical fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8075-7024-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Whitman

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

Girl power at its best. A sure winner! (Graphic novel. 3-12)

LITTLE ROBOT

Possibilities abound for a small, brown-skinned girl with time, a tool belt, and a penchant for urban adventure.

From the imaginative creator of Zita the Spacegirl comes this techy take on a warm friendship born in a junkyard. The short, round-faced protagonist escapes from a window of her trailer home clad only in a white nightshirt and heads for a neighbor’s swingset, then to the junkyard—her daily routine, apparently. Unfettered and unsupervised by adults (or other humans), the protagonist dons her tool belt and soon discovers a little broken blue robot that has lost its way. Never at a loss for how to fix any machine, she tinkers with the robot, and suddenly, she has a running buddy. Together, they explore frogs, cats, sunsets, and more. But when the factory misses Little Robot and sends a large, scary-looking yellow robot to retrieve it, the main character needs more than a wrench to save her new friend and friendship. This delightful, nearly wordless graphic novel portrays a kid with gumption enough to take on big business and smarts enough to advise the factory’s fix-it robot on repairs even though she just might be too young for kindergarten. Despite having little material means and few human connections, this kid creates life in the inanimate and fosters community where none could exist before.

Girl power at its best. A sure winner! (Graphic novel. 3-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62672-080-0

Page Count: 144

Publisher: First Second

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

In her acknowledgments, the author states that Mimi is “for anyone who has big dreams but is short on courage.” By the...

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FULL CICADA MOON

Perhaps a few books manage to capture tweendom's chaos, but too few catch its poetry.

Hilton offers readers the indelible character of Mimi, a half-Japanese, half-black seventh-grader who travels with her mom, Emiko, from their old home in Berkeley, California, to Vermont, where her dad, James, works as a college professor. She’s the new kid at her school during the second half of the 1969 school year—around the time the U.S. starts withdrawing troops from Vietnam and lands on the moon. As Mimi hitches her career dreams to the lunar landing, microaggressions—those daily intentional and unintentional slights, snubs, and insults aimed at people solely because they belong to a marginalized group like Mimi and her interracial family—drag her back to Earth. Spare verse viscerally evokes the shattering impacts these everyday forms of bigotry from family, teachers, neighbors, townspeople, and schoolmates (“I’m trying hard to smile… / and pretend I don’t see… / that kids are making squint-eyes at me”) cause even as Mimi makes fast pals with Stacey, the Southern white girl with “that accent / as fragrant as lilacs,” and a slower, deeper bond with Timothy, the white boy living next door.

In her acknowledgments, the author states that Mimi is “for anyone who has big dreams but is short on courage.” By the book’s end, readers will be moved by the empathetic lyricism of Mimi’s maturing voice. (glossary, pronunciation guide) (Verse/historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-5254-2875-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

Amazing, indeed: American readers will come away both proud of what the country has to offer and eager to visit the sites in...

AMAZING PLACES

This companion to Amazing Faces (2015) is a tribute to United States landmarks and adds illustrator Hale as a collaborator.

Eleven states are highlighted, ranging from Alaska to Kansas to Massachusetts. San Francisco’s Chinatown, the Grand Canyon, the State Fair of Texas, and the Oneida Nation Museum are among the American treasures featured alongside poetry penned by an eclectic representation of treasured Americans of many ethnicities. The selections’ wide appeal invites intergenerational sharing, particularly in the classroom or at family gatherings. For example, in addition to the reader-engaging, playful visual formatting of Prince Redcloud’s “Niagara,” this poem also lends itself to multivoice readings: “falls / and / falls / forever-ever / flowing / falling / falling / cascading / crashing / dipping / dropping / plunging / tumbling / stop….” Soentpiet and Hale’s exceptional pencil-and-digital illustrations reinforce the word pictures evoked by the poetry. Light and shadow, skillfully rendered with the look of watercolor paint, play across the scenes. A historical glossary is appended, and the map of the United States indicating each landmark’s location is included on the endpapers.

Amazing, indeed: American readers will come away both proud of what the country has to offer and eager to visit the sites in person. (Poetry. 6-11)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-60060-653-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Lee & Low Books

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

Children’s literature has been waiting for Apple Yengko—a strong, Asian-American girl whose ethnic identity simultaneously...

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BLACKBIRD FLY

Apple Yengko has one possession from the Philippines—a Beatles cassette tape with her father’s name written on it. She knows every song by heart.

After her father’s death when she was very young, Apple and her mother moved to the United States. There is not much diversity in Apple’s small Louisiana town. Her classmates call her Chinese though she is Filipina and bully her with taunts of “dog-eater.” Apple’s self-esteem plummets when she learns she is on the Dog Log, the boys’ list of the ugliest girls, and her friends abandon her. She hates her name, her mother’s accent, the shape of her eyes, everything that makes her different. She takes refuge in music, becoming determined to get her own guitar, despite her mother’s protests. Slowly, Apple develops new, healthy friendships. She comes to see through the cruelty of her classmates and to discover the unique characteristics that make her special. Each character in Kelly’s debut novel—the mean kids, the misfits, the adults and Apple herself—is portrayed with remarkable authenticity. The awkwardness and intense feelings inherent to middle school are palpable.

Children’s literature has been waiting for Apple Yengko—a strong, Asian-American girl whose ethnic identity simultaneously complicates and enriches her life. (Fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: March 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-223861-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Greenwillow

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

Succinct poetry shines in this impassioned celebration of history; the stories of this African-American family traveling the...

POEMS IN THE ATTIC

A girl discovers her mother’s childhood poems in her grandmother’s attic and embarks on a journey through family history that inspires her own poetic tribute to her mother.

The mother’s poetry tells of a childhood of constant resettling as the daughter of a base-traveling Air Force captain. Grimes’ poems and Zunon’s paint-and-collage illustrations take readers through the lands and cultures surrounding global U.S Air Force bases, including stories of aurora borealis observed in Alaska, the cherry blossoms seen in Japan, the hills hiked in Germany, and the mountains climbed in Colorado. (The specific bases are identified in a note in the backmatter.) Poetic forms alternate between the free verse of the daughter and her mother’s tanka, an ancient five-line poetry form originating in Japan (and also further explained in the backmatter). Each spread presents one of her mother’s poems within a large, bright illustration and the narrator’s free-verse rumination on it, placed above a smaller, oval vignette. According to her author’s note, Grimes drew on the varied stories of friends who grew up as military brats to create this imagined intergenerational dialogue. The standout “Grandma Says” enlightens readers to the power of reflective writing: “My mama glued her memories with words / so they would last forever.”

Succinct poetry shines in this impassioned celebration of history; the stories of this African-American family traveling the globe are rich with heart and color. (Picture book/poetry. 6-11)

Pub Date: May 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62014-027-7

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Lee & Low Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

This powerful introduction to a great warrior and leader invites readers to ponder the meaning of “hero.” (author’s note,...

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IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF CRAZY HORSE

School bullies claim Jimmy McClean’s blue eyes, fair hair, and Scottish surname mean he’s not a real Indian; to validate Jimmy’s Lakota heritage, Grandpa Nyles suggests a road trip in search of another Lakota with fair hair and skin: Crazy Horse.

Their journey takes them across the Great Plains to where Crazy Horse first witnessed attacks on his people and where he fought to end white appropriation of their homeland. Accounts of battles and stories of his integrity and commitment to providing for the weak and elderly in need bring Crazy Horse into focus. The Lakota author’s first book for children (The Day the World Ended at Little Bighorn, 2007, etc.) doesn’t airbrush tragic events; they are here, placed in context. At each site, Nyles tells the story (set in italics) of what happened to Crazy Horse there. Between stops, Nyles answers Jimmy’s questions in conversations that allow readers distance to process often bleak events and to reflect on their meaning today (the art’s storybook sensibility helps here). The story’s heavy in losses and defeats, but it’s also uplifting in ways seldom addressed in children’s fiction. Crazy Horse could have led his last small band of warriors to a heroic end in battle. But great leadership mandates a different kind of courage. He chose surrender as the best hope for protecting his people—the vulnerable children, women, and elderly.

This powerful introduction to a great warrior and leader invites readers to ponder the meaning of “hero.” (author’s note, glossary, bibliography) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4197-0785-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

A perfect storm of suspense and fine character building.

FINDING SOMEPLACE

Anticipation, fear, excitement, and dread coalesce as a girl’s 13th birthday collides with a terrible force of nature: Hurricane Katrina.

Teresa Arielle Boone is a high-spirited girl living in the 9th Ward of sultry New Orleans. In this summer of 2005, Reesie can’t wait to celebrate her upcoming birthday. However, upon overhearing tourists discuss a hurricane that has devastated parts of Florida, disbelief and fear bubble up inside Reesie. Now the storm is heading for New Orleans. When Reesie's parents argue over whether or not to leave town to avoid the storm, she feels shaken, yet she’s still determined to prepare for her party. Readers will feel the twinned pulls of elation and apprehension. The anticipation is palpable. So is the desperate, futile hope that everything will be all right. When the storm finally hits, Lewis slams readers and Reesie alike with an impact that reverberates long after the skies have cleared. Reesie has inherited her Ma Maw’s style as well as her sewing machine. She’s a girl with dreams and ambition who can’t imagine being derailed by anything, and readers will understand her aching vulnerability as she confronts a force even she can’t control. Patrick builds to the climax beautifully and delivers a character who puts readers in the moment.

A perfect storm of suspense and fine character building. (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8050-4716-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

Warm, funny, and inspiring.

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GEORGE

George, a fourth-grader who knows she is a girl, despite appearances, begins to tell her secret.

The word “transgender” is used midway through, but far more work is done by the simple choice to tell George’s story using third-person narration and the pronouns “she” and “her.” Readers then cringe as much as George herself when bullies mock her or—perhaps worse—when well-meaning friends and family reassure her with sentiments like “I know you’ll turn into a fine young man.” Each year the fourth-graders at George’s school perform a dramatized version of Charlotte’s Web, the essentials of which are lovingly recapped (and tear-inducing ending revealed) for readers unfamiliar with the tale. George becomes convinced that if she plays Charlotte, her mom will finally see her as a girl. George’s struggles are presented with a light, age-appropriate, and hopeful touch. The responses she gets when she begins to confide in those closest to her are at times unexpected but perfectly true-to-character—most notably her crude older brother’s supportive observation that, “No offense, but you don’t make a very good boy.” A coda to the Charlotte’s Web story, in which George presents herself as a girl for the first time, is deeply moving in its simplicity and joy.

Warm, funny, and inspiring. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-545-81254-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

Time, grief, forgiveness, and love intersect in epic theater celebrating mysteries of the heart and spirit.

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THE MARVELS

In the final volume of a trilogy connected by theme, structural innovation, and exquisite visual storytelling, Selznick challenges readers to see.

Starting in 1766, the first portion unfolds in nearly 400 pages of pictures, rendered in pencil. A ship in shadows, a luminous angel, an abandoned baby in a basket—these are among the phenomena affecting five generations of London actors. Disguises and surprises reveal that what one sees is not always what is true. Fast-forwarding to the 1990s, the author describes in prose a runaway who peers longingly into a candlelit dwelling. Joseph is searching for an uncle and something more elusive—family. Observant readers will recall this recently viewed address. Inspired by the actual Dennis Severs’ House (where scent, sound, setting, and the motto “You either see it or you don’t” transport visitors to 18th-century London), Selznick provides a sensory equivalent throughout his eloquent and provocative text. The poetry of Yeats and references to The Winter’s Tale add luster. Carefully crafted chapters pose puzzles and connect to the prior visual narrative. In poignant scenes, the teen learns about his uncle’s beloved, lost to AIDS but present through the truths of the home’s staged stories. A powerful visual epilogue weaves threads from both sections, and the final spread presents a heartening awakening to sight.

Time, grief, forgiveness, and love intersect in epic theater celebrating mysteries of the heart and spirit. (notes) (Fiction. 10 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-545-44868-0

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

A gutsy girl in a laugh-out-loud book that navigates tough issues with finesse.

DREAM ON, AMBER

Overwhelmed by a new school and worried about her little sister, Amber draws a lively Dream Dad to give her fatherly advice.

Originally published in England, Shevah’s funny yet poignant first novel makes its American debut. Eleven-year-old Londoner Amber is half-Japanese and half-Italian, but her Japanese father has not been in touch since she was young. Her younger sister, Bella, writes a letter to invite their dad to her birthday party. Feeling protective, Amber responds as their dad, inadvertently convincing Bella that their father will attend her party. In addition, Amber does not fit in with the other girls in her middle school, she has a crush on a boy, and a teacher forces her to enter the school’s art contest. Drawing and creating art is Amber’s refuge, but she’s afraid to show anyone her work. During a fit of sadness, she sketches a Dream Dad and shares all her fears with her drawing. With art as her therapy and witty Dream Dad on her side, Amber realizes that she doesn’t need to navigate life on her own. Shevah tenderly captures the void of growing up without a father yet manages to create a feisty, funny heroine. Crawford-White’s whimsical pen-and-ink illustrations line the margins, as if Amber herself has added the doodles. Chapters are numbered in English, Italian, and Japanese, reflecting Amber’s multicultural identity, but refreshingly, that identity does not drive the plot.

A gutsy girl in a laugh-out-loud book that navigates tough issues with finesse. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4926-2250-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

An adoption story that’s rich in family complexities and that readers won’t abandon.

RED BUTTERFLY

Set against the backdrop of China’s one-child policy, this emotional debut novel-in-verse reveals how one girl refuses to be left behind.

Eleven-year-old Kara lives a sheltered life in Tianjin with Mama, an elderly, American, non-Chinese woman. Mama rarely goes out and refuses to send Kara to school like other Chinese kids. With money tight and a “daddy” who lives in Montana, Kara begins to question why they can’t go live with him. When Kara’s neighbor Zhang Laoshi tells her about being abandoned as a baby, Kara suspects that her hand, “with two short nubs / instead of fingers,” is at the root of her woes. “This is why my birth mother / didn’t keep me, / why she decided to try again / for someone better.” Piece by piece, she discovers a shocking secret about why they must hide. Soon, an accident during a visit from Jody, Mama’s older daughter, sets into motion a roller-coaster adoption process. Kara must make unthinkable choices and painstakingly claim with whom she belongs. Sonnichsen draws upon firsthand experiences in volunteering to improve China’s orphanages and adopting her own Chinese daughter. With spare, fluid language, she creates the endearing, authentic, nuanced emotions of a girl stuck between two worlds and brings to light a foundling’s hope and determination.

An adoption story that’s rich in family complexities and that readers won’t abandon. (author’s note) (Verse/fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4814-1109-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

Following on his Sibert Honor–winning Separate Is Never Equal (2014), Tonatiuh further marks himself as a major nonfiction...

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FUNNY BONES

POSADA AND HIS DAY OF THE DEAD CALAVERAS

Tonatiuh’s Mixtec-influenced illustrations make an apt complement to this picture-book biography of one of Mexico’s most beloved artists, José Guadalupe Posada.

Don Lupe, as he was called, used the printing techniques of lithography, engraving, and etching. Each technique is summarized in four-panel layouts, and sample images of his calaveras and calacas (skulls and skeletons) are liberally incorporated into the illustrations. Many of the iconic images associated with Día de los Muertos were created by Posada as integral elements of his world-renowned political satire, particularly during the Mexican Revolution. Tonatiuh skillfully blends his own distinctive style of digital collage and hand drawings not only to highlight events in Posada’s life, but also to add whimsical elements by introducing contemporary calaveras. He incorporates amusing, thoughtful exercises for young readers into the narrative, prompting them to interpret the messages behind Posada’s artwork. Also included is an in-depth author’s note on the history of the Day of the Dead and an extensive glossary. In addition, a bibliography, list of art credits, and venues where Posada’s art is displayed are provided for further exploration of Posada’s life and work. Phonetic pronunciation is, unfortunately, only sporadically and unevenly sprinkled throughout the story.

Following on his Sibert Honor–winning Separate Is Never Equal (2014), Tonatiuh further marks himself as a major nonfiction talent with this artistically beautiful and factually accessible offering that effectively blends artistic and political content for young readers. (Picture book/biography. 7-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4197-1647-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

Celebrate a truly accepting multicultural character.

LOLA LEVINE IS NOT MEAN!

From the Lola Levine series , Vol. 1

Brown introduces a smart, young protagonist with a multicultural background in this series opener for chapter-book readers.

Second-grader Lola Levine is half-Peruvian and half-Jewish; she is a skilled soccer player, a persuasive writer, and aspires to own a cat in the near future should her parents concede. During a friendly recess soccer match, Lola, playing goalie, defends an incoming ball by coming out of her box and accidentally fouls a classmate. And so Lola acquires the rhyming nickname Mean Lola Levine. Through Lola’s first-person narration, readers see clearly how her savvy and creativity come from her family: Dad, who paints, Mom, who writes, and a fireball younger brother. She also wears her bicultural identity easily. In her narration, her letters to her friends, and dialogue, Lola easily inserts such words as diario, tía, bubbe, and shalom. For dinner, the family eats matzo ball soup, Peruvian chicken, and flan. Interspersed throughout the story are references to all-star soccer athletes, from Brazilian master Pelé to Mia Hamm, Briana Scurry, and David Beckham. Dominguez’s black-and-white illustrations are cheery and appealing, depicting a long-haired Caucasian father and dark-skinned, black-haired mother. Typefaces that emulate penmanship appropriately differ from character to character: Lola’s is small and clean, her mother’s is tall and slanted, while Juan’s, the injured classmate, is sloppy and lacks finesse.

Celebrate a truly accepting multicultural character. (Fiction. 6-10)

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-25836-4

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

A wholeheartedly weird and wonderful tale of friendship, acceptance, and robots

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HILO

THE BOY WHO CRASHED TO EARTH

From the Hilo series , Vol. 1

Hailing from a big family of overachievers, D.J. feels largely unexceptional until he meets a strange boy who falls from the sky and helps him realize his potential.

D.J. isn't good at anything. He has two brothers and two sisters who have miles of accomplishments among them, and the only thing he considers himself adept at was a friendship with neighbor Gina…but she moved away three years ago. One day, D.J. meets a peculiar, sunny, towheaded boy who has apparently landed on Earth wearing nothing but silver underpants and recalling nothing of his previous life. D.J. immediately befriends him, and the duo becomes a threesome when Gina moves back to town. Over time, the boy's memory starts to return. He recalls his name, Hilo, and how he came to Earth—and that there are dangerous robots that could annihilate the entire planet. Although D.J. may not have a list of skills he can tick off on his fingers, he learns something more important: not only is he loyal, he is brave. Winick has concocted a universally appealing tale with bright, expressive illustrations that gently reminds readers that in this era of overscheduling and insistence on perfection, sometimes just being true to yourself is important enough. D.J. and his family are Asian-American, Gina and hers are African-American, and Caucasian-looking extraterrestrial Hilo nicely rounds out the graphic novel’s diversity.

A wholeheartedly weird and wonderful tale of friendship, acceptance, and robots . (Graphic science fiction. 7-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38617-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

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