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All's Faire in Middle School

Victoria Jamieson (Dial)

Newbery Honor author Jamieson immerses readers in Renaissance fair culture and the social travails of middle school in this empathetic graphic novel about a homeschooled girl's rocky introduction to public school life. Imogen's insecurities and struggles with friendships and family will resonate broadly.


Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd)

Julie Bowe (Penguin/Dawson)

Unwanted changes abound in Bowe's novel about nine-year-old Wren, who is contending with both her parents' divorce and with the fear of losing her best friend to another girl. Bowe sensitively and realistically traces Wren's gradual recognition that she isn't the only one with secrets and unseen depths.


Bronze and Sunflower

Cao Wenxuan, trans. from the Chinese by Helen Wang (Candlewick)

Chinese writer Cao, a recent recipient of the Hans Christian Andersen Award, transports readers to rural China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and '70s in this eloquent story about the developing friendship between two children—one orphaned, the other mute. A rewarding story for children and parents to share together.


Clayton Byrd Goes Underground

Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad)

The thrum of the blues serves as a backbone to Williams-Garcia's powerful story, a National Book Award finalist, set in present-day New York City. An African-American boy named Clayton adores playing the harmonica alongside his bluesman grandfather, but when Cool Papa Byrd unexpectedly dies, Clayton is left to contend with grief and familial betrayal.


The Doorman's Repose

Chris Raschka (New York Review Children's Collection)

Raschka brings readers to Manhattan's Upper East Side in this delightful novel told through linked stories, set in and around a fictional apartment building. With a quasi-sentient elevator and stories about mice families and city-mandated opera singers, it's an off-kilter vision of New York City that feels simultaneously true in its bones.


Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws That Affect Us Today

Cynthia and Sanford Levinson (Peachtree)

This husband-and-wife team collaborates on a timely and thought-provoking study of the U.S. Constitution, exploring how its language and statutes relate to of-the-moment topics that include the Electoral College and gerrymandering, as well as historical incidents in which the document was put to the test.


The Glass Town Game

Catherynne M. Valente (S&S/McElderry)

In a dazzling combination of literary history and wildly imaginative fantasy, Valente builds on the real-life writings of the Brontë siblings as children, sending their fictional counterparts to the unpredictable world of Glass Town, where they embark on an adventure that not even they could quite have imagined.


I'm Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-ups

Chris Harris, illus. by Lane Smith (Little, Brown)

Ridiculously entertaining is the best way to describe this first poetry collection from screenwriter Harris, jam-packed with observational humor, absurdities, and wordplay. The hilarious sniping between Harris and Smith in and around the poems and exuberant artwork is icing on the cake.


The Lotterys Plus One

Emma Donoghue, illus. by Caroline Hadilaksono (Scholastic/Levine)

In her first book for children, Room author Donoghue introduces a sprawling and very memorable clan whose freethinking ethos is given a jolt when a conservative grandparent is thrown into the mix. This is a found family well worth seeking out.


Pablo and Birdy

Alison McGhee, illus. by Ana Juan (Atheneum/Dlouhy)

Accompanied by a flightless lavender parrot, a boy puzzles over his unknown past: he washed up on the island of Isla as a baby. McGhee carefully blends themes of identity and home in a story whose many dashes of humor lighten the seriousness of the questions Pablo faces.


Princess Cora and the Crocodile

Laura Amy Schlitz, illus. by Brian Floca (Candlewick)

An overscheduled princess turns the palace upside-down (and finally gets her parents to listen to her) with help from an opinionated and mischievous crocodile in this droll early chapter book, written and illustrated with style by Newbery Medalist Schlitz and Caldecott Medalist Floca.


Real Friends

Shannon Hale, illus. by LeUyen Pham (First Second)

The author of The Goose Girl and other beloved books reflects thoughtfully and honestly about her childhood relationships with friends and family in this graphic memoir, illustrated with equal care by Pham. What's more, it's also a lovely portrait of a writer finding her confidence and voice.



Alan Gratz (Scholastic Press)

Gratz intertwines the fictional stories of child refugees at three points in time: Nazi Germany, 1994 Cuba, and Syria in 2015. Each tale is harrowing on its own; together they draw potent connections between past and present while demonstrating how far some people must go to ensure their safety, then and now.


The Road to Ever After

Moira Young (FSG)

Tinged with mystery, magic, and inexplicable turns of events, Young's engrossing story of intergenerational friendship follows 13-year-old orphan Davy David as he escapes his grim hometown with the elderly Miss Flint, racing to reach her childhood home before her 80th birthday.


The Stars Beneath Our Feet

David Barclay Moore (Knopf)

A 12-year-old with a Lego fixation copes with the gang-related murder of his older brother—while simultaneously forging new friendships and facing other family difficulties—in Moore's engrossing and multilayered first book for children, set in present-day Harlem.



Katherine Applegate, illus. by Charles Santoso (Feiwel and Friends)

A red oak tree serves as the narrator of Applegate's story of a community in the midst of change: a new-to-the-area Muslim family becomes the target of ugly messages, and the fate of Red, the tree, isn't secure either. It's a timely reflection on the crucial need for empathy and kindness.


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