Each February sees a flood of interest in books to honor African American history, a subject inseparable from U.S. history as a whole and worthy of year-round attention. However, tales of enduring and overcoming adversity—while they provide critical awareness—should be balanced by the sorts of everyday stories that have long been a staple of literature about White kids. Too many adults assume that diverse books “don’t count” if they are not about suffering—or that they are unrealistic and merit criticism if they don’t center bias. Black kids, like all kids, deserve books in which simply being who they are is normal and positive, not exclusively or primarily a source of pain. For readers who are not Black, it can be difficult to imagine what you don’t see and therefore easy to assign Black peers’ lives to the narrative margins. These recent and upcoming middle-grade releases celebrate Black families and help round out the stories we share with young people.
Operation Sisterhood by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (Crown, Jan. 4): Bo is content with things just the way they are. The 11-year-old and her mom are a tightknit pair, happy in their cozy Bronx apartment. Discovering that she will become part of an exuberant blended family when her mother marries boyfriend Bill is news that takes some adjusting to: Bill comes with a Harlem brownstone, a variety of pets, a daughter, and a chosen family that includes two more little girls. Fans of classic ensemble casts, as in Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family, will warm to this cheerful book with its strong sense of place.
Pizza My Heart by Rhiannon Richardson (Scholastic, Jan. 4): In a story that will resonate with many tweens, seventh grader Maya must adjust to some big changes. On the bright side, Soul Slice, her parents’ Brooklyn pizza parlor, is so successful that they are expanding. On the downside, this means a move—to suburban Pennsylvania. Establishing a new restaurant is hard work, and Maya is roped into doing bicycle pizza deliveries, which clashes with her desire to pursue her passion through an after-school art club. With the help of a cute (if annoying) boy, she comes up with a scheme that is sure to succeed, right?
Just Right Jillian by Nicole D. Collier (Versify/HarperCollins, Feb. 1): The loss of her beloved grandmother is difficult for 10-year-old Jillian, who struggles with social anxiety. Mama runs workshops on women’s leadership, and Daddy is a high-flying tech professional, but Jillian’s self-consciousness holds her back. To deflect attention, she bows to peer pressure in her clothes and hairstyles and struggles to speak up in class. But warm memories of Grammy’s quiet, unswerving encouragement help her find the inner strength to rise to new challenges—like entering her school’s annual academic competition. This reassuring, thoughtful story is a loving testament to family ties.
Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence by Sonja Thomas (Aladdin, March 22): This touching novel for fans of relationship-driven stories introduces science geek Mira Williams. Since her best friend moved away, it’s felt like they are drifting apart. Meanwhile, irritating Tamika, who has beaten her in the school science fair four years running, has moved into the neighborhood. Dad lost his job, Mom is working extra hours, and now Sir Fig Newton, her loyal cat companion, has diabetes. They can’t afford the vet bills and will have to find him a new home unless Mira can use her creativity and flexibility to raise the money they need.
Laura Simeon is a young readers’ editor.