The importance of family during difficult times permeates the final book in the Anna Hibiscus series.
In the gentle, frank tone readers have come to expect, gifted storyteller Atinuke balances compassion and humor while tackling a sensitive subject, the death of Anna’s beloved grandfather. The first chapter sets the scene. Anna is back at home in the mixed-race family’s city compound with Anna’s twin little brothers, Double and Trouble, getting in all sorts of mischief—deleting pictures on Uncle Tunde’s cellphone but saving the day by climbing in a window when the doors are accidentally locked. Meanwhile, Grandfather is growing more and more tired. Family members take turns sitting with him, but Anna refuses, hoping that if she doesn’t think about “the really bad thing” it will not happen. “Then one day Grandfather did not wake up anymore.” Anna is grief-stricken. In the final two chapters Anna, tenderly supported by her loving extended family, all also grieving, each in their own way, learns to listen for Grandfather’s voice in her heart. The book ends with near-perfect modeling of shared grief and healing, as everyone tells their favorite grandfather story. Readers’ understanding of Anna’s genuine grief is amplified by Tobia’s grayscale sketches.
Be prepared. Readers say farewell to Anna Hibiscus as tears “drop off the corners of her smile.” (Fiction. 5-9)
Set during China’s Cultural Revolution (1960s-70s), this import follows the trials and tribulations of a poor, rural family.
Sunflower accompanies her artist father to the countryside, where he undergoes political reform at a labor camp. Left on her own for most of the day, Sunflower longs to play with the village children across the river. When her father tragically drowns, Sunflower is taken in by Bronze’s family, the poorest family in Damaidi village. Bronze, who is mute, and Sunflower form an instant bond and become inseparable. In Wang’s translation of his leisurely, languid prose, Hans Christian Andersen winner Cao captures both the infinite joys and harsh realities of rural farming life: Sunflower and Bronze picking wild plants or catching fish; the family’s struggle to rebuild their house after a storm. Yet despite their adversities, the close-knit family members remain fiercely loyal: Bronze hoists Sunflower on his shoulders and stands for hours so she can watch a circus; Sunflower deliberately fails her exams so the money for her schooling can be used for Nainai’s medical expenses. Eventually, the family makes the ultimate sacrifice but does it with the same grace and resolute strength they’ve demonstrated throughout the story. While seemingly idealized, the story and its protagonists reflect the Confucian values of filial piety and society above self—the very foundation of Chinese culture.
Readers of all ages should be prepared to laugh, cry, and sigh with satisfaction.
(historical note, author’s note)
(Historical fiction. 9-14)
“When you decide you’re going to tell a girl you like her, you need galactic-level courage.”
Summer’s bringing its share of changes for 13-year-old Arturo Zamora. Hanging out with friends, working part-time at his family’s restaurant, La Cocina de la Isla, and joining in Sunday family dinners guarantees some fun times at the start of the hot season. But when a sleazy land developer named Wilfrido Pipo arrives in town to build an upscale high-rise right where La Cocina stands, derailing the Zamoras’ plans to expand the family business, Arturo sees that his Miami neighborhood’s in trouble. The money-grubbing intruder woos neighbors and old friends with gifts and a flashy festival. Now, Arturo’s family and friends must fight back to stop Pipo, and these friends include Carmen, a spirited visiting Spaniard who stirs confusing, wonderful feelings within Arturo. “Lo mas importante, mi Arturito, es el amor y la fe,” says Abuela. Concerned about his ailing grandmother, Arturo struggles to help save the restaurant she built, finding inspiration in two unlikely sources: a box full of letters from his long-departed grandfather and the revolutionary poetry of José Martí. Will Arturo discover the love and faith resting inside him? In this inspiring middle-grade debut, Cartaya presents a delightful portrayal of boyhood, skillfully navigating Arturo through the awkwardness, funniness, and messiness that often accompany young love. And in the author’s depiction of the Zamoras—a mostly Cuban-American family full of distinct, lovable characters—the book also testifies to the importance of community.
Flora and Julian are a team. They have to be: after moving from foster home to foster home, the only permanence is in each other.
Both brown-skinned and with textured hair, the children were born, seemingly out of thin air, and left to imagine why they were never given a family. Now living with their new mom and dad, Flora struggles to accept that forever can happen to them. When Julian sneaks food or Flora forgets her words, she wonders if they will be sent to another home. Struggling to pass fourth grade and accepting changes in her family, Flora must learn to believe in forever and herself. Carter's sophomore novel gently weaves the heartache and confusion of abandonment with the struggle for love and acceptance. Flora gently narrates, sifting through the blank spaces in her memories as readers stumble upon her discoveries. Flora's observations about her family add dimension to each character and reveal her own layered persona. Carter folds in casual, profound musings that only children can produce, establishing Flora's bittersweet sincerity and quest for answers. The book highlights the cracks in the foster-care system without dictating a solution. Instead it focuses on the complex effects of an unstable environment on young children.
Poetic and meditative, this emotionally enthralling novel undresses assumptions with purpose and hope.
The Lotterys, a family very much of our century, star in this story about the true meaning of acceptance and belonging.
A riotously, exuberantly loving clan of four parents and seven home-schooled children (all named for trees), plus assorted pets, inhabit a sprawling house in an urban Toronto neighborhood. Having won the lottery, the parents—composed of two same-sex couples, one male and one female—retired and started a family through birth and adoption. Precocious Sumac, a biracial Filipina-German 9-year-old, is the sensitive, observant sibling and hence the most deeply affected when their prickly, conservative Scottish grandfather, suffering from dementia, is transported against his will from the Yukon wilderness into their cheerful chaos, upsetting the balance of family life. Grumps, as he is christened by the children, struggles to understand 4-year-old Brian's (formerly Briar) fluid gender identity, not to mention the family's greener-than-thou lifestyle. With a large cast of characters, cultural expression (the parents alone are of Scottish, Indian, Mohawk, and Jamaican descent) is primarily conveyed via food and celebrations. Most refreshing is that the Lotterys’ many differences, from 10-year-old Aspen's challenges to toddler Oak's developmental delays, are simply part of their own normal. Full of clever names and wordplay, this engaging tale is moving without veering into sentimentality.
For all the Lotterys’ apparent eccentricity, the novel delves into universal themes of family relationships that will resonate with readers from all backgrounds.
A Pakistani-American girl starting middle school learns how to cope with the changes and challenges she faces at home, at school, and within her close-knit Muslim community.
True to her parents’ endearment for her, geeta (“song” in Urdu), Amina loves to sing. But unlike the contestants on her favorite reality TV show The Voice, Amina shuns the spotlight—she’s a bundle of nerves in front of an audience! She’s happy living her life as usual, hanging out with her best friend, Korean-American Soojin, playing the piano, and attending Sunday school at the Islamic Center. Except that life isn’t “as usual” anymore. In fact, everything is changing, and changing fast. Soojin wants an “American” name to go with her new citizenship status, and even worse, Soojin starts getting chummy with their elementary school nemesis, a white girl named Emily, leaving a jealous Amina fuming. Then, her visiting uncle voices his disapproval of her piano-playing, saying it’s forbidden in Islam. Finally, when the Islamic Center is vandalized, Amina feels like the whole world as she knows it is crumbling around her. With the help and support of the larger community, the Islamic Center is slowly rebuilt, and Amina comes to terms with her identity and culture, finding strength in her own voice. Khan deftly—and subtly—weaves aspects of Pakistani and Muslim culture into her story, allowing readers to unconsciously absorb details and develop understanding and compassion for another culture and faith. Amina’s middle school woes and the universal themes running through the book transcend culture, race, and religion.
A perfect first book for this new Muslim imprint.
Multicultural Harlem lives again in this daringly diverse tale of growing up against the odds and the imaginative, healing possibilities that we can create through the choices we make.
Moore turns his back on the newly whitewashed Harlem, taking readers to the St. Nick projects to meet brown-skinned West Indian (Trini, to be exact) Wallace “Lolly” Rachpaul, full of contradiction and agency. Moore surrounds Lolly with a grand ensemble of characters that echo the ample cross sections and cultural milieus of the big city. There’s Lolly’s mother, who has embraced her queer sexuality with toy-store security guard Yvonne, who becomes a secondary caregiver after the tragic loss of Lolly’s older brother, Jermaine to the drug-hustling crew underworld of Harlem. Lolly hopes that he and his dark-skinned Dominican best friend, Vega, can resist its allure. Mr. Ali is the veteran social worker with marginal resources and a big heart, refashioning his little basement space to unravel the traumas and difficult choices that could lead astray the black and brown youth he serves. And don’t forget Big Rose (who doesn’t like to be called Big). Then there are Lolly’s Legos, which, block by block, help him imagine a healthy future. These characters are vibrantly alive, reconstituting the realness that is needed to bring diverse, complicated stories to the forefront of our shelves.
A debut that serves as a powerful instructive for writing from and reading the intersections—125th Street–size intersections for all readers to enjoy.
An attentive observer and methodical worrier, soon-to-be–sixth-grader Cooper Cameron learns about resilience as he works to protect those he loves most.
A bittersweet summer tale set in Minnesota, this book will be most appreciated by those who enjoy a thoughtful story. Literally. This narrative is entirely expressed through Cooper’s thoroughly engrossing thoughts, and it’s full of the musings and observations that he records in a small notebook. Two years after the death of his grandfather and the onset of intrusive thoughts about death and his family’s endangerment, Cooper develops patterns and behaviors to ensure their protection, such as reading the words, lines, and pages of books three times over, washing his hands in invisible water, and closely observing everything. But even as he endeavors to keep his family from bursting into flames, Cooper’s behavior worries everyone and puts pressure on an already-strained fault line between his parents and also between himself and the rest of the family. O’Reilly (The Secret of Goldenrod, 2016) delivers a nuanced and empowering narrative that uplifts rather than undermines Cooper’s unique perspective on his world, even as he works to reconcile that perspective with his family’s. The book pulls no punches with regard to the realities of intolerance (even among loved ones) toward neurodivergence while nevertheless validating Cooper’s methods of making meaning as he navigates trauma and grief on his own terms. Racial markers are absent, as is any evidence of racialized experience.
Family dysfunction receives mystical resolution in this Swedish import by Astrid Lindgren winner Sandén.
Thomasine finds herself living in the enormous house of her dying great-great-aunt Henrietta with her depressed and grieving father, her awkward academic uncle and his children, Signe and Erland, and her angry aunt and her daughter, Wilma (the oldest of the cousins). The children sense the palpable tension among the adults over Henrietta’s pending death, but when silent, 5-year-old Signe returns from a wardrobe during a game of hide-and-seek and talks about a girl she met in it, Thomasine finds this hard to believe. But as each of the cousins visits the wardrobe, it positively transforms them, and although Thomasine doesn’t realize it until nearly the end of the novel, these wardrobe visits also connect them with their family history. While emphasizing death as an essential part of life, this story places children at the center of the emotional healing process for the adults, which at times means that the child must tell the adult to be quiet, listen, and pay attention. Both macabre and hopeful, this Swedish gothic, with Schulman’s wispy illustrations depicting the characters as white and adding to its mystery, will remind readers of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Coraline, and perhaps other fantasies in which a quotidian household object becomes a portal into another world.
A thought-provoking read that will linger long after the last page.
An African-American youngster is happiest when he can play his harmonica with his bluesman grandfather until tragedy removes the music from his life.
Clayton Byrd idolizes his grandfather, a popular bluesman. But his mother disapproves of her father’s music and of Clayton’s joining Cool Papa Byrd and other bluesmen in the park. Clayton’s father tries to make a place in his life, but the things he likes to do cannot compare to the music. When Cool Papa Byrd dies suddenly, Clayton’s pain is almost unbearable, made worse when his mother gets rid of the records and instruments that Clayton expected would be his way of maintaining that special connection. School becomes as difficult as home, and counseling with the church pastor doesn’t help. Hoping to find a place with the remaining bluesmen, he meets up with a group of street boys making their way with beat music and dance. When he plays his harmonica and the crowd responds, the boys form an uneasy alliance that is threatened when the police intervene. Clayton’s love of his grandfather and his music is wonderfully drawn, as is his grief when he loses them. His mother’s unresolved issues with her own childhood inform the story appropriately for young readers. The conjunction of two African-American music genres, both born of struggle, is a colorful backdrop for this lively story.
Strong characterizations and vivid musical scenes add layers to this warm family story.