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Amal Unbound

Aisha Saeed (Penguin/Paulsen)

When a Pakistani girl who yearns for an education expresses frustration with the village's cruel overlord, he demands that she work off her family's debt. Saeed's eloquent, suspenseful tale provides a window into contemporary gender inequalities and indentured servitude.


The Book of Boy

Catherine Gilbert Murdock (Greenwillow)

In a picaresque work set in medieval France, Secundus, a scoundrel posing as a pilgrim, drafts oft-ridiculed "Boy," who can communicate with animals, for a transcontinental quest: stealing seven relics associated with St. Peter. By turns darkly grim and wonderfully funny, this action-packed tale with a luminous central character carries a strong message about how appearances can deceive.


Dactyl Hill Squad

Daniel José Older (Scholastic/Levine)

In this fast-paced, memorable series opener, Older weaves historical facts with dinosaur-inspired fancy to fashion a Civil War–era New York City, rooted in real events and attitudes, in which dinosaurs still roam and a diverse band of orphans resists corrupt authorities during the Draft Riots of 1863.


Front Desk

Kelly Yang (Scholastic/Levine)

This lively debut offers a candid portrait of one Chinese-American immigrant’s experience through the eyes of a gutsy 10-year-old. Mia works at the front desk of the California motel her parents manage and writes letters to aid others, including an African-American victimized by racial profiling and a Chinese immigrant abused by his boss. Mia’s story is one of hope, and her voice is genuine and inspiring.


Herstory: 50 Women and Girls Who Shook Up the World

Katherine Halligan, illus. by Sarah Walsh (S&S)

The inclusive volume's vibrant collage–style spreads recount the stories of 55 notable women over time and across the globe (among them Empress Wu Zetian of China, Indian secret agent Noor Inayat Khan, and Mayan human rights activist Rigoberta Menchú) and emphasize change-makers' common bonds.


A History of Pictures for Children: From Cave Paintings to Computer Drawings

David Hockney and Martin Gayford, illus. by Rose Blake (Abrams)

Artist Hockney and art critic Gayford take a conceptual approach to art history, moving between topics rather than presenting a linear overview. Illustrations include art reproductions and playful representations of the collaborators and Hockney’s pets.


It Wasn’t Me

Dana Alison Levy (Delacorte)

After seventh grader Theo's self-portraits are vandalized with homophobic slurs, a teacher calls all of the incident's bystanders to a five-day restorative justice circle. Peppered with laugh-out-loud and somber moments, the novel traces the group's emotional transformation from loneliness, anger, and suspicion to friendship, vulnerability, and trust.


Merci Suárez Changes Gears

Meg Medina (Candlewick)

Eleven-year-old Merci, a descendent of Cuban immigrants, doesn’t feel much pressure to be anyone but herself—but her self-assuredness makes her a bullying target at school, and her home life is stressful, with her beloved grandfather’s health failing. Medina’s light tone and Merci’s take-charge personality deftly propel this moving multigenerational story of familial love.


The Parker Inheritance

Varian Johnson (Scholastic/Levine)

After 12-year-old Candice begrudgingly moves to a small Southern town for the summer, she stumbles on a puzzle with links to her family's history. Johnson's gripping mystery, replete with Westing Game references, shifts smoothly between past and present as it explores both the powerful legacy of discrimination and the rewards of friendship.


Sanity and Tallulah

Molly Brooks (Disney-Hyperion)

Sanity and Tallulah may be the literal ruin of their space station when Sanity uses unstable technology to engineer a three-headed cat and Tallulah abets. Debut author Brooks’s inclusive vision of diverse women engaged in science, variously abled bodies navigating the challenges of space, and positive family relationships is both enjoyable and commendable.


Small Spaces

Katherine Arden (Putnam)

When 11-year-old Ollie comes into possession of a book of local history, she reads about a family's pact with a demonic figure known as the smiling man. On a class trip to a dairy farm, Ollie and two classmates stumble into an alternate world populated with scarecrow minions, and they learn that the smiling man is very real, indeed. A spooky atmospheric thriller with a strong heart and a stronger heroine.


Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

Jonathan Auxier (Amulet)

Following a brutal fire, chimney sweep Nan Sparrow discovers that the bit of charcoal she carries has become a golem—and that he has saved her life. A cast of fully fleshed (and sooted) characters contribute texture and community to Nan’s allusive journey from innocence to experience, and Auxier mixes moments of triumph with dark, Dickensian themes.


The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle

Leslie Connor (HarperCollins/Tegen)

Mason Buttle may be slow to understand some things, but he knows how to be a good friend. Ever since his best friend Benny died in an accident, Mason has been suspected of having done something to cause his death. Poignant, vivid, and suspenseful, Mason’s story crystallizes an adolescent boy’s joys and fears.


We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices: Words and Images of Hope

Edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson (Crown)

Aiming to calm, sustain, and inspire children, the collaborators offer this empowering anthology for children of varying ethnicities, faiths, identities, and abilities, presenting 30 illustrated pieces from more than 50 diverse children's book creators.


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