Writing a column on upcoming books is an exercise in reconciling temporal realities. Think about it: I’m writing this in 2019 for publication in 2020, about books that don’t exist yet but that you, dear reader, can expect to enjoy in the coming months and that our reviewers have already read. In other words, while I may not know my future, I know yours. And it’s pretty good.
Coming up soon, you and/or the kids in your lives can look forward to Race to the Sun (Rick Riordan Presents/Disney, Jan. 14), the newest in Riordan’s consistently fabulous line of culturally distinctive speculative fiction. Author Rebecca Roanhorse, who is Ohkay Owingeh, creates in protagonist Nizhoni Begay a wholly modern Diné seventh grader whose adventure into the traditions and lore of the Navajo Nation shows, as our reviewer said, “that Native stories are active and alive.” Also coming this month is Lesa Cline-Ransome and James Ransome’s Overground Railroad (Holiday House, Jan.7), one of several stellar entries in this year’s roundup of Black History Month picture books. As its title suggests, it traces the journey by train of an African American family escaping sharecropping servitude during the Great Migration, artistic and authorial nuance movingly communicating the journey’s complexity.
In February, readers can brace themselves with Naomi Shihab Nye’s newest poetry collection, Cast Away (Greenwillow, Feb. 11). Subtitled “Poems for Our Times,” it explores what is thrown away (or not, as the case may be) in our society, giving no quarter to both litterers and the hypocritical descendants of immigrants who see the human souls at our border as so much trash. In The Paper Kingdom (Random House, Feb. 18), Helena Ku Rhee zooms in on Daniel, who must accompany his custodian parents to work one night when the babysitter cancels. Pascal Campion illustrates the protagonists of this loving ode to hardworking families as people of color, underscoring the socio-economic reality of many of America’s children.
March is practically tomorrow in my world. Ann Clare LeZotte takes readers to 1805 Martha’s Vineyard in Show Me a Sign (Scholastic, March 3), where Mary Lambert, who is Deaf, like one quarter of the other islanders, finds herself the unwilling research subject of a patronizing hearing scientist. In this tale, “LeZotte weaves threads of adventure, family tragedy, community, racism, and hearing people’s negative assumptions about Deaf people into a beautiful and complex whole.” In the effervescent picture book Hat Tricks (Peachtree, March 1), Satoshi Kitamura presents bunny magician Hattie, who breaks the fourth wall to encourage readers to assist her in extracting a dizzying variety of animals that couldn’t possibly fit in that hat…could they?
And April is hot on March’s heels with Alex Gino’s Rick (Scholastic, April 21), expanding the still-too-small universe of LGBTQIAP+–themed books for middle graders with the story of a white cis boy who finds that sixth grade challenges both his moral compass and his understanding of his own sexuality. Readers will cheer as Rick learns to stand up against his bully best friend and embrace his own truth. From frosty Nunavut, Canada, comes the warm and wonderful In My Anaana’s Amautik (Inhabit Media, April 7). Inuit mothers traditionally carry their babies in their parkas’ hoods, which creates a safe and snuggly space from which the baby protagonist can experience the wide world around. Inuit author Nadia Sammurtok and Ukrainian Canadian illustrator Lenny Lishchenko combine forces in this intimate delight.
The outlook for May is a little fuzzier, as at this writing I have not begun assigning books past April. But there’s lots to keep us reading happily until then.
Vicky Smith is the children’s editor.