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Becoming Muhammad Ali

James Patterson and Kwame Alexander, illus. by Dawud Anyabwile (Little, Brown/Patterson and HMH)

Alexander and Patterson team up to deliver this propulsive fictionalized biography of boxer, activist, and cultural icon Muhammad Ali, beginning with his early life as Cassius Clay. Structured in “rounds,” the book’s anecdotal narration describes his rise to prominence, starting with 16-year-old Cassius’s fight for the Golden Gloves championship, while witty lines of free verse illustrate the figure’s charisma and drive.

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Chance: Escape from the Holocaust

Uri Shulevitz (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

This searing, evocative memoir chronicles the wartime experiences of Caldecott Medalist Shulevitz, whose family fled 1939 Warsaw to avoid persecution when he was four years old. The spare, keenly observed narrative offers a harrowing look at a Jewish family’s plight during WWII while documenting the birth of an artist with a great capacity for creativity.

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Class Act

Jerry Craft (HarperAlley and Quill Tree )

In this companion to Newbery winner New Kid, eighth grader Drew Ellis embarks on a turbulent second year at the prestigious Riverdale Academy Day School. Deftly weaving discussions of race, socioeconomics, colorism, and solidarity into an accessible narrative, Craft offers a charming cast journeying through the complicated landscapes of puberty, self-definition, and changing friendships.

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Condor Comeback (Scientists in the Field)

Sy Montgomery, photos by Tianne Strombeck (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

In 1982, fewer than two dozen California condors were left in the wild, their numbers decimated by hunting, habitat loss, and lead shot poisoning. As Montgomery relates this history alongside Strombeck’s crisp photographs, she introduces readers to people working to protect the condor today. Though the condor’s future remains tenuous, Montgomery’s compelling page-turner inspires optimism.

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Daring Darleen: Queen of the Screen

Anne Nesbet (Candlewick)

In 1914 New Jersey, Daring Darleen, the 12-year-old star of silent film adventure serials, becomes embroiled in a publicity stunt that goes awry, complete with a kidnapping, a runaway hot air balloon, and dastardly villains. Film studies professor Nesbet writes her intrepid heroine with swashbuckling verve and sweet familial affection, incorporating extensive knowledge of early-20th-century filmmaking into a well-paced, gripping tale.

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Echo Mountain

Lauren Wolk (Dutton)

A girl realizes her gifts as a healer in this exquisitely layered historical novel set in Depression-era Maine. Via strongly sketched cabin-life cadences and memorable, empathic characterizations—including, perhaps most vividly, of the wilderness itself—Wolk builds a powerful, well-paced portrait of interconnectedness, work and learning, and strength in a time of crisis.

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Fighting Words

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (Dial)

When sisters Della and Suki are placed with a gruff but caring foster mother after escaping from their mother’s predatory boyfriend, Della gradually adapts to stability, while Suki experiences a mental health decline. Della’s tough, straightforward narration pulls no punches as she inspires others to tell their stories when and how they can. Brubaker Bradley's sharp characterizations create an essential, powerful mirror and window for any reader.

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How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure

John Rocco (Crown)

This expansive illustrated history of the Apollo space program delves ambitiously into the collective efforts and engineering feats required to send the first astronauts to the moon. Using realistic colorized drawings—many replicated from archival documents and photos—Rocco maintains a consistent, accessible aesthetic throughout. A paean to ingenuity and collaboration.

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King and the Dragonflies

Kacen Callender (Scholastic Press)

Callender returns to middle grade in this powerful tale of grief, intersectional identity, and love. When King, 12, realizes he was the last to see the racist, pale-skinned sheriff’s gay son, he ponders his obligation to tell anyone, struggling with his Louisiana town’s homophobia, his brother’s death, and his own identity. As a Black child learning to navigate sociocultural pressures and expectations, King shines wholly real.

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The List of Things That Will Not Change

Rebecca Stead (Random/Lamb)

When eight-year-old Bea’s father comes out as gay, her divorcing parents give her a notebook containing the titular list, an accounting that helps the anxious girl navigate her shifting family landscape. Newbery Medalist Stead’s knack for authentic tween voices shines through in a first-person narration that explores themes of building resilience and savoring joy.

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Mañanaland

Pam Muñoz Ryan (Scholastic Press)

Set in the fictional Latin country of Santa Maria, Newbery Honoree Ryan’s richly tiered novel infuses nearly 12-year-old Maximiliano Córdoba’s family story with a mystery based on local lore, closely guarded secrets, and a missing birth certificate. Lyrical allusions to the heartbreaking reality of life under repressive regimes and Max’s belief in the promise of tomorrow fuse the title and plot of this compelling novel.

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Skunk and Badger (Skunk and Badger #1)

Amy Timberlake, illus. by Jon Klassen (Algonquin)

When Skunk barges into Badger’s quiet brownstone, readers sympathize with the scholarly, solitary Badger, who spends his days doing “Important Rock Work.” Faced with an unwanted housemate, Badger must learn to live with—and learn from—Skunk’s warm, chaotic presence. Art by Caldecott Medalist Klassen offers Wind in the Willows wistfulness, while Newbery Honoree Timberlake tackles sensitive issues with an expertly light touch.

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Snapdragon

Kat Leyh (First Second)

When middle schooler Snapdragon’s dog goes missing, she dares to enter the house of a reputed witch, an older woman named Jacks who makes her a deal—Jacks will help Snapdragon care for some found possums if Snapdragon helps Jacks with her work selling articulated skeletons online. Full of magic and humor, Leyh’s intersectional, layered tale offers joyful and affirming depictions of social outsiders and comfortably complicated families.

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Ways to Make Sunshine

Renée Watson, illus. by Nina Mata (Bloomsbury)

In this series opener, a loose reimagining of Ramona Quimby’s exploits, Watson adroitly captures the uncertainty of growing up amid change through the eyes of an irrepressible Black girl named Ryan Hart. Through vignette-style chapters, Watson weaves together slice-of-life moments that capture youthful doubt alongside moments of loss and joy, showing a tight-knit family navigating difficulties with plenty of courage and plenty of love.

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When Stars Are Scattered

Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (Dial)

Based on coauthor Mohamed’s childhood after fleeing Somalia on foot with his younger brother, this personal and poignant graphic novel follows the brothers’ life in a Kenyan refugee camp. Jamieson and Mohamed together craft a cohesive, winding story that balances daily life and boredom, past traumas, and unforeseen outcomes alongside camp denizens’ ingenuity and community.

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When You Trap a Tiger

Tae Keller (Random House)

Making deals with talking tigers was the one thing that biracial Lily’s glamorous Korean grandmother, Halmoni, warned her never to do. Yet when Halmoni falls ill, a magical tiger offers Lily an ultimatum: recover the stories that Halmoni stole years ago, or lose her forever. The result, Keller’s #OwnVoices journey through Korean mythology, is a story that seamlessly transitions from the mundane to the magical.

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