A thought-provoking peek into a culture deserving of more attention in North America.

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GIRL OF THE SOUTHERN SEA

A teenage girl living in the slums of Jakarta, Indonesia, finds the resolve to defy her unfortunate circumstances and achieve her dreams.

Fourteen-year-old Nia desperately wants to continue her education and become a writer, but her family can’t afford the school fees. Instead, she spends her days looking after her 5-year-old brother, Rudi, doing chores, and helping her alcoholic father sell banana fritters at the market. To escape their miserable existence, Nia tells Rudi stories about their late mother and writes stories inspired by her favorite folktale, “Queen of the Southern Sea.” And just as she promised her late mother, Nia ensures that the protagonist in her stories, Dewi Kadita, always comes out on top. One day, Nia miraculously escapes from a minibus accident unscathed. Smooth operator Oskar witnesses the accident and embellishes her survival into “a miracle”; from then on, Nia’s “good-luck magic” fritters sell like hot cakes. Against her good judgement, Nia starts charging double so she can save up for her school fees. But things backfire and tension mounts. In the end, Nia draws strength from her heroine, Dewi, and finds the courage to seize control of her own destiny. Punctuating Nia’s thoughtful, present-tense narration with her stories about Dewi, Kadarusman effectively weaves a gentle tale of love and loss and illuminates the power of storytelling.

A thought-provoking peek into a culture deserving of more attention in North America. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: May 23, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-77278-081-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Pajama Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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An engrossing, humorous, and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in...

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NEW KID

From the New Kid series , Vol. 1

Jordan Banks takes readers down the rabbit hole and into his mostly white prep school in this heartbreakingly accurate middle-grade tale of race, class, microaggressions, and the quest for self-identity.

He may be the new kid, but as an African-American boy from Washington Heights, that stigma entails so much more than getting lost on the way to homeroom. Riverdale Academy Day School, located at the opposite end of Manhattan, is a world away, and Jordan finds himself a stranger in a foreign land, where pink clothing is called salmon, white administrators mistake a veteran African-American teacher for the football coach, and white classmates ape African-American Vernacular English to make themselves sound cool. Jordan’s a gifted artist, and his drawings blend with the narrative to give readers a full sense of his two worlds and his methods of coping with existing in between. Craft skillfully employs the graphic-novel format to its full advantage, giving his readers a delightful and authentic cast of characters who, along with New York itself, pop off the page with vibrancy and nuance. Shrinking Jordan to ant-sized proportions upon his entering the school cafeteria, for instance, transforms the lunchroom into a grotesque Wonderland in which his lack of social standing becomes visually arresting and viscerally uncomfortable.

An engrossing, humorous, and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in America. (Graphic fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-269120-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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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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