Nearing the end of his life, a beloved old runner passes the torch to an eager young one.
Weaving past and present together in ways that infuse deep themes into common incidents, Almond sits 11-year-old Liam, already proudly wearing his official shirt for the upcoming Junior Great North Run, down with the failing Harry to share old photos and hear about a 1938 run to the sea. It begins as a lark but becomes a marathon, and by the time Harry and his friends stagger exhaustedly into the waves 13 weary miles later, they (and readers) have picked up some insights about the profound importance both of keeping on and of accepting help along the way. Much of that help comes from Veronica, a robust girl who leads them part of the way and by the end is holding Harry’s hand. Her oblique reference to an internal disorder or weakness, coupled with her absence from Harry’s later life, paints a whole tragic story of its own. Harry’s valedictory “Me great achievement is that I’ve been happy, that I’ve never been nowt but happy,” is a win in itself. Rubbino’s loosely brushed watercolors expertly capture both the tale’s period and its high spirits, rendering the present-day story in a gray wash and Harry’s reminiscence in full color. All the characters appear to be white.
A rich and resonant short story.
(Illustrated fiction. 10 & up)
When Fred Korematsu, a young Japanese-American man, defied U.S. governmental orders by refusing to report to prison camps during World War II, he and his allies set in motion a landmark civil liberties case.
Like any American, Fred dreams of marriage and raising a family with his sweetheart, Ida, a daughter of Italian immigrants. But after the attack on Pearl Harbor, wartime hysteria spreads, and Japanese natives and Japanese-Americans on the West Coast are ordered to prison camps. Knowing this is unjust, Fred changes his name and calls himself "Spanish Hawaiian" but becomes dismayed knowing others are imprisoned in camps. His identity ultimately discovered, he is jailed following his arrest for his refusal to report to the camps and there meets Ernest Besig, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union. Together, they begin a long and against-all-odds fight against injustice. Written in free verse, Fred’s story engages in powerful bursts and shows how speaking out brings complex consequences. Enhanced with pictures and archival materials, well-researched and approachable historical essays interspersed throughout Fred’s account offer context, while Houlette’s reverent illustrations give humanity to Fred’s plight. Co-authors Atkins and Yogi raise good questions (such as, “Have you ever been blamed for something just because of how you look?”) that will inspire a new generation of activists.
This first book in the Fighting for Justice series is a must-read for all civics classrooms.
(resources for activism, note from Karen Korematsu, bibliography)
(Blended nonfiction/historical fiction. 8-14)
A 12-year-old boy is left to fend for himself in 18th-century England following a terrible storm and the disappearance of his father.
Oliver turns to his neighbors for help only to discover that his father’s anti-monarchy leanings have earned him a number of enemies. Oliver is at the mercy of these men, who decide to take out their dislike for the father on the son. They deliver Oliver to the local children’s poorhouse, where he is forced to do menial work and must submit to abusive punishment. He escapes, determined to make his way to London to find his sister and perhaps his father. But a series of mishaps finds him penniless and at the mercy of a band of highwaymen. Things only get more complicated when he finally arrives in London. Narrator Oliver’s witty and honest voice makes this tale of misfortune bearable as well as riveting. From the abject poverty of London streets to the cruel treatment of children to the lengths to which some are forced to go to survive, this first in a new series will capture the hearts and minds of readers and history buffs alike. Unsurprisingly, the cast is a white one, but Avi’s examination of the plight of the desperately poor is worthy of Dickens.
Impossible to put down.
(Historical fiction. 9-12)
Ada returns in this sequel to Newbery Honor book The War That Saved My Life (2015).
Shortly after the events that closed the last book, a successful surgery means overjoyed 11-year-old, white Ada no longer has a clubfoot. She can walk, run, and ride relatively pain-free, but pain returns in a different way: Ada’s abusive birth mother has been killed in an air raid. Enough back story is provided that readers new to Ada’s story won’t be lost. Patient Susan, providing a home to Ada and her little brother, Jamie, during the Blitz, becomes their legal guardian, but Ada, damaged by 10 years of abuse, doesn’t ever feel safe. Living in the midst of a world war only adds to Ada’s constant worries, and from blackout screens to rations, the stress and strain felt in everyday Kent during World War II is plain. But Ada finds comfort in her horse, Butter, and her family, which grows to include privileged Lady Thorton and Ruth, a teenage, Jewish German refugee. Ada’s struggles with her trauma are portrayed with such incredible nuance and heart-wrenching realism that readers are sure to empathize deeply and revel in the joy of watching thoughtful, introspective Ada heal and grow. When tragedy strikes, all suffer, but Ada is able to help another in greater anguish than herself thanks to lessons from her own painful past.
Thoughtful, brave, true, and wise beyond her years, Ada is for the ages—as is this book. Wonderful.
(Historical fiction. 10-14)
It is the summer of 1946, and 12-year-old Joey Grosser is determined to be the man of the family and make a success of his deceased father’s struggling grocery business in postwar Montreal.
He is grieving, but he is also angry that his father has left them so poor. He wants to earn enough to get his mother and little brother, David, out of the poverty of their Jewish neighborhood. To achieve this, he says and does things that go against his own nature, while his best friend, Ben, tries to protect him from his own father’s evil schemes. Joey narrates his own tale with all the fear and bravado he is feeling moment to moment. Camlot weaves the elements together seamlessly and naturally while never losing sight of Joey at the center of it all. All the characters, including the city itself, are fully developed and play important roles in Joey’s journey, as when Mr. Friedman speaks to Joey about his Holocaust experiences and losses. Yiddish phrases and traditions are defined as they occur. Woven through it all is the story of Jackie Robinson’s first season of professional baseball in Montreal, captivating Joey and his friends, with actual quotes from sports reporters placed at the beginning of each chapter. Readers will be completely enthralled with Joey’s world and root for him all the way.
Powerful, moving, and wonderful.
(Historical fiction. 9-13)
A hardscrabble frontier girl finds happiness in hard work and compromise.
Jane Deming, age 11, has been single-handedly caring for her brother, Jer, since just after his birth two years ago. Papa died in the battle of Vicksburg; destitute, Jane's 22-year-old stepmother has been working 14-hour days in a mill to keep them. Asa Mercer's plan to take 700 single girls and widows from New England to a new town in Washington territory, Seattle, seems like a godsend. Mrs. D. wants to regain her lost girlhood and marry a banker. Jane hopes for school, playtime, and friends. After a four-month voyage, they're astonished to discover that Seattle is a foggy, rough-hewn frontier town—hardly a tropical paradise. With no money and no hope of employment, Jane's stepmother marries a frontiersman, Mr. Wright, who, while far from rich or handsome, does his best to listen to what his new family needs. While the main characters are all white, several characters in Seattle are either full or half Native American, specifically Duwamish, and they are portrayed with honesty and sympathy. Pragmatic, adaptable Jane learns to skin otters, build a canoe, and look for ways in which everyone can get a part of what they want. There's plenty of action, but the strength of the novel comes from its characterization, especially Jane’s, whose point of view becomes more reliable as she matures.
Ignore the lackluster title and cover. This one's a keeper.
(Historical fiction. 8-14)
In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.
Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.
Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.
(maps, author’s note)
(Historical fiction. 10-14)
A young enslaved girl embraces the promises and uncharted world of freedom in the early days of the American Civil War.
In 1861, 12-year-old Callie Wilcomb and her family are among the enslaved black people who flock to Fortress Monroe, Virginia, in pursuit of freedom. The Civil War is raging, and the fort, a Union outpost, offers refuge. Because Virginia has seceded from the Union, Confederate laws no longer hold, and the enslaved do not have to be returned to their owners. Inside the fort, Callie attends school for the first time. For context, the book opens with historical notes and a timeline that begins with the election of Abraham Lincoln and ends with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Nolen brings that dry history to life through Callie, a girl full of wonder, living on the cusp of a new world. Nolen depicts Callie’s old world with unflinching accuracy: the inhumanity of slavery as well as the complex entanglements among the enslaved and their owners. But much of the narrative, refreshingly, is devoted to Callie’s freedom and her growing understanding of the uncertainty and opportunities it brings. While younger readers may not grasp the broader stakes for newly freed men, women, and children, Nolen’s tender story of the Wilcomb family’s losses and aspirations will resonate.
At once heartbreaking and uplifting, a gentle, lyrical story of a determined black girl’s journey toward freedom during the Civil War.
(afterword, bibliography, endnotes)
(Historical fiction. 8-12)
In Odhiambo’s debut novel, a young girl faces a difficult decision when AIDS hits her Kenyan village.
Born “facedown,” 13-year-old Auma knows she’s destined for great things. As one of the fastest runners in school, track is her ticket to getting a scholarship to continue her education. But in her village of Koromo, people are dying at an alarming rate from a disease called AIDS, and few people really know why. Auma’s dream is to become a doctor and help those afflicted. When first her father becomes ill and then her mother soon after, Auma is left shouldering the responsibility of caring for her family. Grades and running begin to take a back seat to feeding her family, and Auma must find the strength to follow her dreams, no matter how impossible they seem. In Auma, Odhiambo draws from her own experiences of growing up in Kenya during the beginning of the AIDS crisis to present a strong, intelligent protagonist who questions and refuses to give in to what is normally accepted. Auma treats readers to beautiful descriptions of the world around her but also gives them a candid look at the fear and superstition surrounding AIDs in its early days in Kenya as well as the grief of loss. All of the characters are black.
Honestly told, Auma’s tale humanizes and contextualizes the AIDs experience in Kenya without sensationalizing it
. (Historical fiction. 10-14)