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The Crossover

Kwame Alexander (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Alexander’s excellent verse novel tackles sibling rivalries, romantic crushes, and parental pressures (though “tackles” is surely the wrong verb, since seventh-grader Josh Bell lives for basketball). The poems crackle with the intensity of a neck-and-neck game careening toward the final buzzer as Josh grapples with troubles on and off the court.

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The Witch’s Boy

Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin Young Readers)

The fraught relationships between parents and their children resound through Barnhill’s coming-of-age fantasy, which features a pair of unlikely heroes: the daughter of a powerful bandit and a boy with a stutter who wields magic he can barely control. With a rich setting and supporting characters, the novel explores big, challenging ideas while avoiding tidy solutions.

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El Deafo

Cece Bell (Abrams/Amulet)

Bell makes the most of the graphic format in this captivating memoir, which explores the loss of her hearing as a child and her subsequent efforts to find her footing. Drawing her characters as anthropomorphic rabbits (an inspired choice given the animals’ prominent ears), Bell shows how resilience, imagination, and a sense of humor served her well amid struggles with friends, family, and school.

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Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

Karen Foxlee, illus. by Yoko Tanaka (Knopf)

Here’s a retelling of “The Snow Queen” for readers who are finally ready to take a break from Frozen. Set in a museum that gradually reveals its unsettling secrets, Foxlee’s high-stakes fantasy follows 11-year-old Ophelia’s efforts to rescue an imprisoned boy while discovering courage she didn’t know she had.

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Operation Bunny

Sally Gardner, illus. by David Roberts (Holt)

Wild, wicked humor runs through this first book in a series from British collaborators Gardner and Roberts, which finds nine-year-old Emily Vole ditching her abhorrent, self-obsessed adoptive parents for a world of magic and mystery—and citizens being transformed into rabbits by a malevolent witch. It’s dark comedy just right for kids who have laughed their way through Dahl’s oeuvre.

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Absolutely Almost

Lisa Graff (Philomel)

As 10-year-old Albie’s learning difficulties weigh on his mind at home and at school, Graff delivers a memorable story about a boy learning to value himself, even when the world sees him as lesser. Balancing Albie’s poignant and painful realizations with moments of lightness and joy, Graff’s novel is bittersweet in the best of ways.

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Dory Fantasmagory

Abby Hanlon (Dial)

Six-year-old Dory makes an unforgettable debut in this energetically illustrated early reader that treats readers to an unfiltered look at the way her brain operates. Dory’s full-volume exclamations, incessant questions, and tendency to see monsters everywhere just might be among the reasons Dory’s family can be exhausted by her, but readers will be in stitches.

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Rain Reign

Ann M. Martin (Feiwel and Friends)

In a gripping and empathetic account of a girl’s devotion and courage, especially where her dog is concerned, Martin nails the narrative voice of autistic fifth-grader Rose Howard. Without claiming to speak broadly to the experience of autism, Martin’s novel homes in on Rose’s singular, honest perspective on the world, as literal and metaphorical storms close in around her.

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Nuts to You

Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow)

Newbery Medalist Perkins basically outs herself as a squirrel whisperer with this buoyantly funny tale of a group of squirrels trying to keep their habitat safe from a perceived threat by humans. Perkins’s evocation of squirrel language and culture is as clever as it is entertaining, and the same is true of the illustrations she scatters like acorns throughout the book.

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West of the Moon

Margi Preus (Abrams/Amulet)

Melding fairy tale themes and allusions with the grim, perilous journey of an immigrant seeking a better life, Preus draws from her own family history to create a coming-of-age story with real bite. Her hero, 13-year-old Astri, is as memorable as the Norwegian folktales that interlace her narrative.

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The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights

Steve Sheinkin (Roaring Brook)

An important piece of WWII history gets its due in this riveting account of the 1944 explosion of the Port Chicago naval base, which killed and injured hundreds of primarily African-American servicemen and resulted in a strike and mutiny trial. Sheinkin’s characteristically thorough research and storytelling expertise are on full display as he studies a disaster that held major civil rights ramifications.

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The Thickety: A Path Begins

J.A. White, illus. by Andrea Offermann (HarperCollins/Tegen)

First-time author White’s harrowing fantasy wrestles with questions of good and evil, virtue and sin, and the ways communities turn on their own. As 12-year-old Kara comes into forbidden magical powers—the very kind responsible for her mother’s death—her increasingly desperate efforts to protect herself and those she cares about are both thrilling and terrifying.

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Revolution

Deborah Wiles (Scholastic Press)

This stellar second installment in Wiles’s Sixties Trilogy, following 2010’s Countdown, brings readers to 1964 Mississippi, where public pools are segregated and hundreds of volunteers are descending on the state to ensure black citizens are able to vote. Filled with vintage photographs and images, references to music of the day, and other period ephemera, it’s an immersive and important work of historical fiction.

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Brown Girl Dreaming

Jacqueline Woodson (Penguin/Paulsen)

Woodson throws open her family history to readers in this elegantly crafted memoir-in-poems, sharing memories of life with her grandparents in segregated South Carolina, a move to Brooklyn, and her ongoing awakening to the power of words and writing. A vibrant, image-rich account of growing up in the civil rights era.

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