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Beetle Boy

M.G. Leonard (Chicken House)

A boy named Darkus attempts to find his missing father—with help from his friends, as well as a remarkably intelligent rhinoceros beetle—in this rip-roaring first book in a trilogy, a promising debut for British writer Leonard.

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The Best Man

Richard Peck (Dial)

Archer Magill gains a broader view of what contemporary masculinity can look like in this warm and witty novel from Newbery Medalist Peck, which nimbly incorporates bullying, gay marriage, media circuses, and other of-the-moment topics.

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Ghost

Jason Reynolds (Atheneum/Dlouhy)

Reynolds hits the ground running in this series opener, and so does his protagonist, seventh-grader Castle Crenshaw, who finds refuge from past family trauma in a local track team. Future books, which will focus on Castle's teammates, can't arrive fast enough.

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Ghosts

Raina Telgemeier (Graphix)

Telgemeier again delves deeply into the relationship between siblings. In this supernaturally inflected graphic novel, sisters Cat and Maya move to a coastal California town because of Maya's cystic fibrosis, spurring new understandings of mortality and human connection.

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The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin Young Readers)

Truth and sacrifice are elegantly woven throughout Barnhill's rich and multilayered fantasy, in which a girl named Luna, "enmagicked" as a baby, unlocks her community's secrets with help from a dragon, swamp creature, and other memorable characters.

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The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog

Adam Gidwitz, illus. by Hatem Aly (Dutton)

Told through multiple voices à la The Canterbury Tales and featuring illuminated margins throughout, Gidwitz's expansive tale recounts the perilous adventures of three possibly-miracle-working children (and a death-defying dog) in medieval France. As a story that takes on themes of prejudice, xenophobia, and censorship, it couldn't be more relevant.

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Ms. Bixby's Last Day

John David Anderson (Walden Pond)

In a very funny yet deeply moving story, Anderson demonstrates just how far three sixth-graders will go to do something kind for a teacher who has meant the world to them, and who won't be able to complete the school year due to a cancer diagnosis.

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Pax

Sara Pennypacker, illus. by Jon Klassen (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)

A 12-year-old boy attempts to reunite with the fox kit he adopted and was forced to abandon in this haunting and heart-wrenching story from the author of Clementine, set against the backdrop of war in what looks quite a bit like a near-future America.

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The Plot to Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero

Patricia McCormick (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)

McCormick delivers a gripping biography of German theologian-turned-spy Bonhoeffer, including his involvement in a conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler. It's a stirring exploration of the pacifist pastor's moral struggles, grounded in the context of the rise of Nazi Germany.

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The Poet's Dog

Patricia MacLachlan (HarperCollins/Tegen)

Newbery Medalist MacLachlan writes persuasively from the perspective of a dog named Teddy, who comes to the aid of two children lost in a snowstorm. Children and poets can understand dogs in MacLachlan's story, and readers are among the lucky ones who get to hear what Teddy has to say.

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Raymie Nightingale

Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick)

Two-time Newbery Medal recipient DiCamillo draws from her own Florida childhood as her eponymous heroine embarks on an unlikely scheme to bring back the father who ran out on her family. This is a deep, tender story about finding strength in friendship, especially when adults fall short.

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Snow White: A Graphic Novel

Matt Phelan (Candlewick)

A thrilling reimagining of Snow White, Phelan's moody graphic novel transplants the action to America during the Roaring '20s and Great Depression, the noir-inflected setting amplifying the tale's underlying themes of beauty, ambition, and reciprocated kindness.

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Some Kind of Happiness

Claire Legrand (Simon & Schuster)

Childhood anxiety and (especially) depression aren't topics often explored in middle-grade fiction; Legrand handles them with sensitivity and grace in the story of 11-year-old Finley, whose family troubles and own persistent sadness come to the fore as she spends the summer with relatives she scarcely knows.

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Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White

Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Sweet pays gorgeous tribute to the creator of Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and other classic works of children's literature in a richly illustrated biography that engagingly discusses White's development as a writer and lasting influence.

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Vietnam: A History of the War

Russell Freedman (Holiday House)

Freedman serves as a steady and shrewd guide to the Vietnam War, thoroughly examining the complexities of the conflict, what led to it, and its legacies. It's an accessible and important study of a war with no shortage of lessons that remain pertinent today.

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The Wild Robot

Peter Brown (Little, Brown)

The question of what it means to be a parent and a member of a community gets surprising and thought-provoking treatment in picture book creator Brown's first novel, in which a robot named Roz finds herself in the position of protecting a group of animals on a remote island.

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