EACH TINY SPARK

A pitch-perfect middle-grade novel that insightfully explores timely topics with authenticity and warmth.

A nuanced novel about a neurodiverse preteen’s political and social awakening by a Pura Belpré Honor–winning author.

Sixth grader Emilia Rosa Torres sometimes has a hard time keeping up with schoolwork and concentrating on one thing at a time, but her software-developer mother and superinvolved abuelita help her keep on task. Days before her father’s return to their Atlanta suburb from his most recent deployment, her mother goes on a business trip, leaving the middle schooler to juggle his mood swings, her friend troubles, and her looming assignments all on her own. When a social studies project opens her eyes to injustices past and present, Emilia begins to find her voice and use it to make an impact on her community. Writing with sensitivity and respectful complexity, Cartaya tackles weighty issues, such as immigration, PTSD, and microaggressions, through the lens of a budding tinkerer and activist who has ADHD. The members of this Cuban American family don’t all practice the same religion, with Emilia’s Catholic grandmother faithfully attending Mass multiple times a week and the protagonist’s mother celebrating her culture’s Yoruba roots with Santería. Conversations on race and gender crop up through the narrative as Emilia’s grandmother likes to emphasize her family’s European heritage—Emilia can pass as white, with her fair complexion, light eyes and auburn hair. All of these larger issues are effortlessly woven in with skill and humor, as is the Spanish her family easily mixes with English.

A pitch-perfect middle-grade novel that insightfully explores timely topics with authenticity and warmth. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-451-47972-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Kokila

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

CLUES TO THE UNIVERSE

Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven.

An aspiring scientist and a budding artist become friends and help each other with dream projects.

Unfolding in mid-1980s Sacramento, California, this story stars 12-year-olds Rosalind and Benjamin as first-person narrators in alternating chapters. Ro’s father, a fellow space buff, was killed by a drunk driver; the rocket they were working on together lies unfinished in her closet. As for Benji, not only has his best friend, Amir, moved away, but the comic book holding the clue for locating his dad is also missing. Along with their profound personal losses, the protagonists share a fixation with the universe’s intriguing potential: Ro decides to complete the rocket and hopes to launch mementos of her father into outer space while Benji’s conviction that aliens and UFOs are real compels his imagination and creativity as an artist. An accident in science class triggers a chain of events forcing Benji and Ro, who is new to the school, to interact and unintentionally learn each other’s secrets. They resolve to find Benji’s dad—a famous comic-book artist—and partner to finish Ro’s rocket for the science fair. Together, they overcome technical, scheduling, and geographical challenges. Readers will be drawn in by amusing and fantastical elements in the comic book theme, high emotional stakes that arouse sympathy, and well-drawn character development as the protagonists navigate life lessons around grief, patience, self-advocacy, and standing up for others. Ro is biracial (Chinese/White); Benji is White.

Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-300888-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

NUMBER THE STARS

A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit...

The author of the Anastasia books as well as more serious fiction (Rabble Starkey, 1987) offers her first historical fiction—a story about the escape of the Jews from Denmark in 1943.

Five years younger than Lisa in Carol Matas' Lisa's War (1989), Annemarie Johansen has, at 10, known three years of Nazi occupation. Though ever cautious and fearful of the ubiquitous soldiers, she is largely unaware of the extent of the danger around her; the Resistance kept even its participants safer by telling them as little as possible, and Annemarie has never been told that her older sister Lise died in its service. When the Germans plan to round up the Jews, the Johansens take in Annemarie's friend, Ellen Rosen, and pretend she is their daughter; later, they travel to Uncle Hendrik's house on the coast, where the Rosens and other Jews are transported by fishing boat to Sweden. Apart from Lise's offstage death, there is little violence here; like Annemarie, the reader is protected from the full implications of events—but will be caught up in the suspense and menace of several encounters with soldiers and in Annemarie's courageous run as courier on the night of the escape. The book concludes with the Jews' return, after the war, to homes well kept for them by their neighbors.

A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit of riding alone in Copenhagen, but for their Jews. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: April 1, 1989

ISBN: 0547577095

Page Count: 156

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1989

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