Joseph’s journey turns out to be an amazing and deeply rewarding transformation.

SIDETRACKED

Joseph, white and Jewish, has ADD, is clumsy and phobic, and seems to be a magnet for middle school bullies.

Heather, the new girl, is white, very tall, and athletically gifted. They may seem an odd pair, but they share a common problem: they don’t fit in. At the urging of his Resource Room teacher, Joseph joins the new cross-country team right along with Heather—the one most likely a last-place finisher of races and the other the almost-certain winner. But each needs support that the other provides. Heather is dealing with an unengaged mother who is on an extended trip to Hawaii, leaving her feeling rejected and vulnerable (although perhaps a bit more than might be expected of such a seemingly grounded girl). Joseph long ago decided to take the path of least resistance to life’s many hardships (and bullies.) As he says, “They multiply, and they find you, and they always, always win.” He’s pretty surprised by Heather’s willingness to fight back, especially when she punches his worst tormentor. Joseph’s first-person voice is fresh and authentic, and his character arc is immensely satisfying. Persevering because Heather inspires him to, eventually he begins to learn some valuable lessons on living in his own skin even as he challenges himself to be more than he thought he could be.

Joseph’s journey turns out to be an amazing and deeply rewarding transformation. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4197-2601-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

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)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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DRAMA

From award winner Telgemeier (Smile, 2010), a pitch-perfect graphic novel portrayal of a middle school musical, adroitly capturing the drama both on and offstage.

Seventh-grader Callie Marin is over-the-moon to be on stage crew again this year for Eucalyptus Middle School’s production of Moon over Mississippi. Callie's just getting over popular baseball jock and eighth-grader Greg, who crushed her when he left Callie to return to his girlfriend, Bonnie, the stuck-up star of the play. Callie's healing heart is quickly captured by Justin and Jesse Mendocino, the two very cute twins who are working on the play with her. Equally determined to make the best sets possible with a shoestring budget and to get one of the Mendocino boys to notice her, the immensely likable Callie will find this to be an extremely drama-filled experience indeed. The palpably engaging and whip-smart characterization ensures that the charisma and camaraderie run high among those working on the production. When Greg snubs Callie in the halls and misses her reference to Guys and Dolls, one of her friends assuredly tells her, "Don't worry, Cal. We’re the cool kids….He's the dork." With the clear, stylish art, the strongly appealing characters and just the right pinch of drama, this book will undoubtedly make readers stand up and cheer.

Brava!  (Graphic fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-32698-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Graphix/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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