A tale of finding a place to belong with a specific setting but universal appeal.
Albert Quashie is tired of being little. Shorter than his tall brothers were at his age, Albert is insecure and nervous about starting middle school, especially since his best friend has moved away from their small Caribbean island to Brooklyn. On the first day of school, Albert’s fears are realized when he is mocked for his height; worse, he finds that though he’s always been good at math, now that he’s skipped a year he’s lost his edge. Albert’s parents seek to lift him from his funk by allowing him to help his father’s band, and at its performance, Albert sees stilt walkers. He’s inspired by the bravery and beauty of their art and discovers the leader is also his school bus driver. Albert is soon invited to join a group of high school stilt walkers, and while at first he feels awkward and nervous, he eventually discovers a place he can belong. Third-person narration makes the pain of Albert’s insecurity and loneliness so real readers are sure to sympathize with his plight. The island setting is painted in such vivid detail that the nuances of both culture and climate shine through, exploring the uniqueness of Albert’s island home while also highlighting the universality of human experience.
A story about honorable living in the autistic-narrator genre that sets the bar high.
Rose has a diagnosis of Asperger’s, and her world of comforting homonyms, rules and prime numbers is repeatedly challenged by social interactions of which she has no innate understanding. Newbery Honor author Martin crafts a skillful tale that engages readers’ sympathy for everyone portrayed in the story, even Rose’s garage-mechanic, hard-drinking single father. He has given Rose a stray dog he found after an evening of drinking at the local bar, and Rose names her Rain. Through touching and funny scenes at school—where Rose has an aide but is in a regular classroom—and discomfiting scenes at home, readers come to understand how Rose’s close relationship to Rain anchors her. But Rain goes missing during a storm, and when, with the help of her sympathetic uncle, Rose finds her dog weeks later, she is told that Rain was microchipped and actually belongs to someone else. Since following rules is vital to Rose, she must find Rain’s original owners and give her dog back. Martin has penned a riveting, seamless narrative in which each word sings and each scene counts.
There is no fluff here, just sophisticated, emotionally honest storytelling. (Fiction. 8-12)
An enthusiastic boy from Oman has serious misgivings about temporarily moving from his homeland to Michigan.
For Aref Al-Amri, “Oman was his only, number one, super-duper, authentic, absolutely personal place,” but in one week, he and his mother will be joining his father in Ann Arbor for three years. Aref hates saying goodbye to his friends and worries about being a new, foreign kid at an American public school. He hates leaving his house, his room and his rock collection. What about his cat, Mish-Mish? Mostly, Aref dreads leaving his beloved grandfather, Sidi. As he avoids packing his suitcase, Aref savors the familiar sights, sounds and scents of his hometown, Muscat, providing readers with a rich taste of life in contemporary Oman. Only after spending several days in Sidi’s reassuring company, exploring favorite desert and seaside haunts, is Aref finally able to “make a little space for bravery inside his fear.” Spanning Aref’s final week in Oman, this sensitive chronicle perceptively conveys the feelings and fears of a boy about to leave the known and face the unknown.
A warm and humorous peek at the profound and mundane details of moving from one country to another—a perfect pick for kids on the move.
A 12-year-old Sudanese girl struggles for survival after a janjaweed attack on her town forces her family to seek safety in an overcrowded refugee camp.
Amira Bright has a dream: to leave her South Darfur farm and attend Gad Primary School, where girls are accepted. Muma, her mother, is a traditionalist about girls’ roles, while Dando, her father, and Old Anwar, a lifelong neighbor, are more supportive. Dando and Amira even have a favorite game called “What Else is Possible?” But when militia attackers suddenly upend her life, Amira is overcome with silent heartache. Relief comes when an aid worker at Kalma refugee camp offers her a yellow pad and a red pencil, eventually restoring her free expression. Telling her story in first-person verse, Pinkney uses deft strokes to create engaging characters through the poetry of their observations and the poignancy of their circumstances. This tale of displacement in a complex, war-torn country is both accessible and fluent, striking just the right tone for middle-grade readers. Evans’ elemental drawings illuminate the spirit and yearnings of Amira, the earnest protagonist.
A soulful story that captures the magic of possibility, even in difficult times. (author’s note, illustrator’s note, glossary) (Verse fiction. 8-12)
Based on the author’s family’s story, this novel mixes in equal thirds tears, wit and reassurance amid debilitating illness.
The day her father “won’t stop beeping,” future president Maggie Mayfield begins a memoir of 1988, the year her “cool dude” dad’s multiple sclerosis takes a turn for the worse. Her dad’s MS is as much a presence as his love of Neil Young records; a scene of her mother brushing his teeth is as casual as a kiss on the cheek. Its progression hits hard—suddenly, her dad is unemployed and her mother is exhausted, while her older sisters mess with makeup and boys. Maggie vows to fix her father, but her hardest lesson may be that she can’t; the collision of her bookishness against her dad’s unknowable prognosis is bound to elicit tears (aka “brain sweat”). Tough family bonds ground the story, even under stress, and Maggie’s quirky everyday observations and sibling squabbles relieve tension. Maggie writes of a book that “[b]y the time you reach the end of the chapter, you realize you’ve highlighted every single word because every single word was really important.” Smart, sensitive, sad and funny, Maggie’s memoir reads the same way.
More than an issue novel, Sovern’s debut will be a boon to kids coping with a parent’s illness or the unpredictability of growing up.
(Historical fiction. 9-12)
Writing with clarity, Newbery Medal winner Freedman (Becoming Ben Franklin, 2013, etc.) explores a lesser-known period in U.S. immigration history, when the San Francisco Golden Gate was anything but welcoming.
Opened to enforce exclusion laws, the Angel Island Immigration Station, often called the Ellis Island of the West, served as the primary gateway to the Pacific Coast between 1910 and 1940. Over half a million people from more than 80 different countries were processed there, the majority of them from China. In telling the history of Chinese people in the U.S., the author doesn’t hold back on the racial discrimination these immigrants faced, including the passing of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Despite that, immigrants came, but they faced interrogations and long periods of detention on Angel Island. Here, the experience is made most vivid and poignant when Freedman weaves in the recollections of detainees, including “picture brides” and refugees, taken from books and videos. The historical photos of Angel Island life, notably the poems expressing frustration carved in Chinese calligraphy into the barracks walls (gracefully reproduced as design accents on front- and backmatter), bring depth and perspective to a dark period in American history. In this case, the walls do talk.
As immigration continues to be a major issue in America, this introduction to the Angel Island experience is overdue and, most of all, welcome.
(source notes, selected bibliography, acknowledgments, picture credits)
Trying to go straight, troublemaker Jackson Greene succumbs to the lure of the con when it appears Maplewood Middle School’s student-council election is being rigged against his friend Gaby de la Cruz.
Although Gaby’s been angry at Jackson for more than four months, the two could be more than just friends. And her twin brother, Charlie, Jackson’s best friend, is worried about her electoral chances. So Jackson breaks rule No. 3 of the Greene Code of Conduct: “Never con for love. Or even like.” During the week before the election, a delightful and diverse cast of middle school students with a wide range of backgrounds and interests concocts a series of elaborate schemes to make sure the Scantron-counted ballots will produce honest results. While all this is going on, Gaby is busily campaigning and rethinking her love life. References to previous escapades are so common readers may think this is a sequel, and the cast of characters is dizzying. But the results are worth it. Allusions to Star Trek abound. There is a helpful appended explanation of the cons and their shorthand references as well as the Greene Code.
The elaborate bait and switch of this fast-paced, funny caper novel will surprise its readers as much as the victims. They’ll want to reread immediately so they can admire the setup.
Abbas and his mother are about to board a plane for Turkey when authorities order her to remain in post-Revolution Iran with his father, Karim; Abbas, at Karim’s insistence, flies alone to Istanbul to stay and apply for a British visa—he is 9.
Abbas doesn’t speak Turkish; a promised helper fails him; the fleabag hotel he’s deposited in is in a dangerous neighborhood. His intelligence, resilience and cocky charm help (though he owes more to luck and the kindness of strangers). He survives—barely. Karim’s lessons (be wary of strangers, change currency on the black market, eat just one meal a day to save money) go only so far. Here, everyone’s a stranger. Abbas must learn to tell friend from foe. Kazerooni doesn’t dilute harsh events or assign them benign meanings retroactively—there’s no “everything happens for a reason.” Abbas’ anguish and fear, his repeatedly dashed hopes are wrenching. Yet whether he’s crushed or elated, the story itself is uplifting; readers will feel exhilarated when he solves a problem or makes the important discovery that what terrifies him—his vulnerability—is his biggest asset, bringing him notice from kindly adults who offer help. Other accounts of displaced children—China’s “paper sons,” young Central American refugees—have borne witness to ways human-generated calamities harm their weakest victims, but seldom this convincingly. Although Abbas’ account can be harrowing, it is told plainly, and these are not, regrettably, uncommon experiences for children, making this both accessible to and suitable for a middle-grade audience.
Readers are often promised unforgettable protagonists—this memoir delivers one.
Debut author Liu-Perkins’ infectious curiosity shines in this exploration of a Han dynasty burial chamber excavated in 1972.
The “best preserved body in the world.” This honor goes to no ordinary mummy. It belongs to the remains of one Chinese woman known as the Marchioness of Dai, or Lady Dai. Buried beneath two hills called Mawangdui, Lady Dai’s tomb held three nobles: the marquis Li Cang, his wife, Lady Dai, and apparently one of their sons. As archaeologists dug through layers of white clay and charcoal, they uncovered more than 3,000 “astonishingly well-preserved” artifacts. Most amazing of all was Lady Dai’s body. After being buried for almost 2,200 years, her skin remained moist, her joints were movable, and her finger- and toeprints were still discernible. Other rare finds included an elaborate silk painting called a feiyi and the oldest and largest stash of silk books ever discovered in China. Based on 14 years of extensive research, the author’s storytelling is clear, inviting and filled with awe, as if she’s right there alongside the dig experts. Fictionalized vignettes of Lady Dai’s life that introduce each chapter add charm and perspective. Artifact photographs and illustrations heighten the fascination. In particular, Brannen’s illustration of Lady Dai’s chamber of multiple, nested coffins demonstrates the creative ingenuity of these ancient embalmers.
Move over King Tut. Lady Dai is in the house.
(historical note, author’s note, glossary, selected bibliography)
Basketball-playing twins find challenges to their relationship on and off the court as they cope with changes in their lives.
Josh Bell and his twin, Jordan, aka JB, are stars of their school basketball team. They are also successful students, since their educator mother will stand for nothing else. As the two middle schoolers move to a successful season, readers can see their differences despite the sibling connection. After all, Josh has dreadlocks and is quiet on court, and JB is bald and a trash talker. Their love of the sport comes from their father, who had also excelled in the game, though his championship was achieved overseas. Now, however, he does not have a job and seems to have health problems the parents do not fully divulge to the boys. The twins experience their first major rift when JB is attracted to a new girl in their school, and Josh finds himself without his brother. This novel in verse is rich in character and relationships. Most interesting is the family dynamic that informs so much of the narrative, which always reveals, never tells. While Josh relates the story, readers get a full picture of major and minor players. The basketball action provides energy and rhythm for a moving story.
Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch.
(Verse fiction. 9-12)
A humorous and touching graphic memoir about finding friendship and growing up deaf.
When Cece is 4 years old, she becomes “severely to profoundly” deaf after contracting meningitis. Though she is fitted with a hearing aid and learns to read lips, it’s a challenging adjustment for her. After her family moves to a new town, Cece begins first grade at a school that doesn’t have separate classes for the deaf. Her nifty new hearing aid, the Phonic Ear, allows her to hear her teacher clearly, even when her teacher is in another part of the school. Cece’s new ability makes her feel like a superhero—just call her “El Deafo”—but the Phonic Ear is still hard to hide and uncomfortable to wear. Cece thinks, “Superheroes might be awesome, but they are also different. And being different feels a lot like being alone.” Bell (Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover, 2012) shares her childhood experiences of being hearing impaired with warmth and sensitivity, exploiting the graphic format to amplify such details as misheard speech. Her whimsical color illustrations (all the human characters have rabbit ears and faces), clear explanations and Cece’s often funny adventures help make the memoir accessible and entertaining. Readers will empathize with Cece as she tries to find friends who aren’t bossy or inconsiderate, and they’ll rejoice with her when she finally does. An author's note fleshes out Bell's story, including a discussion of the many facets of deafness and Deaf culture.
When his parents’ hotel fills up with a variety of unexpected guests just days before Christmas, Milo is caught up in mysterious goings-on.
The inn, hospitable to smugglers and named for its colored glass windows, sits on cliffs above the river Skidwrack. With the holiday interrupted by the demands of guests iced in by wintry weather, Milo finds both purpose and distraction in a role-playing game introduced by his new young friend, Meddy, and in a book of folklore given to him by a guest. A ghost story, a love story, a story of fabled relics and the tale of a legendary smuggler intertwine while Milo, in his game persona, finds longed-for skills and strengths. Each guest seeks a secret treasure in the old house, while Milo, out of loyalty to his adoptive parents, hardly dares name his own secret quest: to know more about his Chinese heritage. Milford’s storytelling is splendid. Stories within the story are rich and layered; clues are generously offered; even the badly behaved visitors seem fairly good-humored until the worst reveals true perfidy at the last; the many threads of the tale all tie up. Milo’s world seems comfortably contemporary; the current history of his parallel world is mostly background that’s revealed at the close.
An abundantly diverting mystery seasoned with mild fantasy and just a little steampunk.
There is much that makes it stand out: Its theme is unique for this age group; Lupe Impala, the female protagonist, is a mechanic; and peppered throughout this crazy adventure are nifty factoids and colorful Chicano/Mexican-American slang. Lupe and her friends Elirio Malaria, the mosquito detailing artist (“Don’t be scared eses! Only lady mosquitos bite vatos for food!”), and El Chavo Blackjack, a bucket-dwelling octopus who’s an eight-armed, car-washing powerhouse, dream of one day owning their own garage. Spotting a poster for a car competition, they know the Golden Steering Wheel Award and a carload of cash are as good as theirs—if they can find a car. A field trip yields a junk pile on blocks—an Impala, natch—that “only” needs major, reconstructive body work, paint, an engine….Some serendipitous rocket parts launch the trio and their newly souped-up lowrider on a wild ride through space: “I don’t think we’re in the barrio anymore!” observes El Chavo Flapjack cheerily. Raúl the Third’s crosshatched, ballpoint-pen–and-Sharpie artwork is highly detailed and dynamic, its black, blue and red lines on buff-colored paper depicting a street corner aguas frescas pushcart and the lowrider’s hydraulic suspension system with equal verve. A glossary of Spanish, slang and astronomical terms is appended, as is a note about lowriders for readers not in the know.
A highly entertaining and culturally authentic romp.
(Graphic adventure. 9-14)
Forty years after Elijah Freeman’s exploits in Elijah of Buxton (2007), 13-year-olds Benji Alston and Red Stockard become friends as Curtis revisits Buxton, Ontario, in a fine companion novel.
Benji and Red don’t meet for 200 pages, their separate lives in 1901 related in alternating first-person narratives. Benji, an African-Canadian boy in Buxton, and Red, a white boy of Irish descent living in nearby Chatham, have fairly ordinary and free lives. Benji dreams of becoming the best newspaperman in North America; Red mostly wants to survive his crazy Grandmother O’Toole. Echoes of history underlie the tale: Benji lives in a community settled by former slaves; Red is the grandson of a woman haunted by the Irish Potato Famine and the horrors of coffin ships on the St. Lawrence River. Both boys know the legend of a mysterious creature in the woods, called the Madman of Piney Woods by Benji, the South Woods Lion Man by Red. And, indeed, this “madman” and his woods ultimately tie the whole story together in a poignant and life-affirming manner. Humor and tragedy are often intertwined, and readers will find themselves sobbing and chuckling, sometimes in the same scene. Though this story stands alone, it will be even more satisfying for those who have read Elijah of Buxton.
Beautiful storytelling as only Curtis can do it.
(Historical fiction. 9-13)
On July 17, 1944, at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine 30 miles northeast of San Francisco, an explosion—the largest man-made explosion in history to that point—killed more than 300 men, leading to the largest mass trial in United States history.
“[B]efore Brown v. Board of Education or Truman’s executive order, before Rosa Parks or Jackie Robinson—before any of this, there was Port Chicago.” At Port Chicago, Navy ships were loaded with bombs and ammunition. All of the officers were white, and all of the sailors handling the dangerous explosives were black, with no training in how to do their jobs. When the huge explosion flattened the base, 320 men were killed, 202 of them black sailors who had been loading the ammunition. When it came time to resume work, 50 black sailors refused to work under the unsafe conditions on the segregated base and were charged with mutiny, with the possibility of execution. In this thoroughly researched and well-documented drama, Sheinkin lets the participants tell the story, masterfully lacing the narrative with extensive quotations drawn from oral histories, information from trial transcripts and archival photographs. The event, little known today, is brought to life and placed in historical context, with Eleanor Roosevelt, Thurgood Marshall and Jackie Robinson figuring in the story.
An important chapter in the civil rights movement, presenting 50 new heroes.
(source notes, bibliography, acknowledgments, picture credits)
One of the most decorated nonfiction writers in the field brings his style to a well-told story of the struggle for voting rights in the American South.
Fifty years ago, as the civil rights movement took hold, the attempts to ensure African-American access to the vote increasingly took center stage. A newly passed Civil Rights Act did not guarantee voting rights, so activists in the South continued to press for them at both the state and federal levels. The barriers to voting—poll taxes, literacy tests, limits on registration—were difficult to overcome. Physical abuse and financial intimidation also kept people from the polls. Activist churches were subject to firebombs and burning. Selma, Alabama, became a flashpoint. As Freedman begins his narrative, student activism had propelled teachers and other middle-class blacks to get involved. The death of an unarmed demonstrator drove organizers to plan a march from Selma to the state’s capital, Montgomery—an attempt that resulted in “Bloody Sunday,” one of the single most violent moments of the movement, and served to prod action on the Voting Rights Act in Congress. Freedman’s meticulous research and elegant prose brings freshness to a story that has been told many times. Familiar figures populate the account, but they are joined by many lesser-known figures as well.
Richly illustrated, this deserves a place alongside other important depictions of this story.
(timeline, bibliography, photo credits, source notes, index)
Freedom Summer in 1964 Mississippi brings both peaceful protest and violence into the lives of two young people.
Twelve-year-old Sunny, who’s white, cannot accept her new stepmother and stepsiblings. Raymond, “a colored boy,” is impatient for integration to open the town’s pool, movie theater and baseball field. When trained volunteers for the Council of Federated Organizations—an amalgam of civil rights groups—flood the town to register black voters and establish schools, their work is met with suspicion and bigotry by whites and fear and welcome by blacks. In this companion to Countdown (2010) (with returning character Jo Ellen as one of the volunteers), Wiles once again blends a coming-of-age story with pulsating documentary history. Excerpts from contemporary newspapers, leaflets and brochures brutally expose Ku Klux Klan hatred and detail Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee instructions on how to react to arrest while on a picket line. Song lyrics from the Beatles, Motown and spirituals provide a cultural context. Copious photographs and subnarratives encapsulate a very wide range of contemporary people and events. But it is Sunny and, more briefly, Raymond who anchor the story as their separate and unequal lives cross paths again and again and culminate in a horrific drive-by shooting. A stepmother to embrace and equal rights are the prizes—even as the conflict in Vietnam escalates.
Fifty years later, 1960s words and images still sound and resound in this triumphant middle volume of the author’s Sixties Trilogy.
(author’s note, bibliography)
(Historical fiction. 11-15)
Violet’s a bright, engaging biracial preteen, resigned to a “predictable summer of boring nothing” in small-town Washington; happily, for her and for readers, she couldn’t be more wrong.
Violet, 11, appreciates her loving family—busy neonatologist mom; sister, Daisy, 17; mom’s lively, ex-hippie parents—she’s just tired of explaining she belongs. She wouldn’t have to if her dad, an African-American doctor, hadn’t died in a car accident before her birth. In mostly white Moon Lake, Violet’s a rarity; her one black friend attends a different school. Adopting a kitten is fun, but lightening her hair? Big mistake. (It was supposed to look “sun-kissed,” like Daisy’s—not orange.) Although Roxanne, her dad’s mother, a famous artist, has refused contact (she has her reasons), Violet engineers a meeting at a Seattle gallery, persuading her mom to take her. Rebuffed at first, Violet persists until Roxanne invites her for a visit, and what was frozen begins to thaw. Both families are stable, intelligent and well-intentioned, but forgiveness and trust require contact; healing can’t happen at a distance. Violet’s no tragic mulatto—she’d survive estrangement, but in reconnecting with her dad’s family and cultural roots, she’ll thrive, fulfill her vast potential and, in doing so, enrich both families’ lives across the racial divide.
Infused with humor, hope and cleareyed compassion—a fresh take on an old paradigm. (Fiction. 8-12)
A multiaward–winning author recalls her childhood and the joy of becoming a writer.
Writing in free verse, Woodson starts with her 1963 birth in Ohio during the civil rights movement, when America is “a country caught / / between Black and White.” But while evoking names such as Malcolm, Martin, James, Rosa and Ruby, her story is also one of family: her father’s people in Ohio and her mother’s people in South Carolina. Moving south to live with her maternal grandmother, she is in a world of sweet peas and collards, getting her hair straightened and avoiding segregated stores with her grandmother. As the writer inside slowly grows, she listens to family stories and fills her days and evenings as a Jehovah’s Witness, activities that continue after a move to Brooklyn to reunite with her mother. The gift of a composition notebook, the experience of reading John Steptoe’s Stevie and Langston Hughes’ poetry, and seeing letters turn into words and words into thoughts all reinforce her conviction that “[W]ords are my brilliance.” Woodson cherishes her memories and shares them with a graceful lyricism; her lovingly wrought vignettes of country and city streets will linger long after the page is turned.
For every dreaming girl (and boy) with a pencil in hand (or keyboard) and a story to share. (Memoir/poetry. 8-12)