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Alte Zachen/Old Things

Ziggy Hanaor, illus. by Benjamin Phillips (Cicada)

Hanaor and Phillips’s expansive, Yiddish-peppered graphic novel centers Benjy and his Bubbe’s mercurial and unshakable bond. Though they're often at odds, Benjy is tender, patient, and conciliatory, and Bubbe takes comfort in his steadfastness when her memories or their surroundings overwhelm. Soft watercolor art portrays a moving narrative that alternates between grayscale present-day spreads and Bubbe’s past in full color.

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Black Bird, Blue Road

Sofiya Pasternack (Versify)

A tender sibling relationship propels Pasternack’s dazzling medieval fantasy. Ziva bat Leah is desperate to keep her beloved twin, Pesah, from dying of leprosy; when their parents plan to send him away, Ziva packs the siblings up and they hit the road, seeking to find a cure. What follows is a richly told, omen-filled journey, shadowed quite literally by the Angel of Death.

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The Door of No Return

Kwame Alexander (Little, Brown)

Via sensate lines by turns sweet and stinging, Alexander’s gripping historical novel in verse, a trilogy opener rooted in the Asante Kingdom in 1860, centers 11-year-old Kofi Offin, whose dreamlike childhood is upended when the events of an annual festival set off a series of tragedies. It’s a sweeping novel that resounds with a potent message about engaging with the past.

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Freestyle

Gale Galligan (Graphix)

Galligan’s uplifting graphic novel follows eighth grader Cory, who struggles to balance his responsibility to his dance crew and his newfound love of yo-yo throwing. Impeccable comedic and emotional timing render thoughtful portrayals of friendship, growth, and joyful self-expression, while dynamic paneling paired with vibrant technicolor hues artfully complement the flow and energy of Cory’s dance routines and yo-yo prowess.

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Frizzy

Claribel A. Ortega, illus. by Rose Bousamra (First Second)

Dominican middle schooler Marlene tackles Eurocentric and anti-Afro-Latinx beauty standards in this empowering graphic novel. Bousamra skillfully employs bright and cheerful coloring in pastel hues to sweetly render touching moments, while Ortega examines themes of colorism, generational trauma, and toxic beauty standards via authentic, heartstring-tugging dialogue and pitch-perfect narration, culminating in a satisfying exploration of self-expression and self-love.

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Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone

Tae Keller (Random House)

When new kid Jennifer runs away following relentless bullying, neighbor Mal, determined to make up for past mistakes, searches for her in this cleverly layered contemporary novel that examines bullying and its effects. Keller’s vulnerable first-person narrative alternates between past and present to detail the challenges of navigating changing social rules, offering a sincere look into individuals’ desire for acceptance.

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The Last Mapmaker

Christina Soontornvat (Candlewick)

Soontornvat’s imaginative, Thai-inspired fantasy centers 12-year-old Sai, who, obscuring her modest background, sets off on a voyage to visit a fabled continent as assistant to the royal navy’s Master Mapmaker. Employing a well-developed cast, this swashbuckling high-seas adventure maintains a fast-paced clip while deftly exploring class hierarchies and themes of empire.

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Northwind

Gary Paulsen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Described with the late Paulsen’s characteristic detail, this captivating saga centers steadfast, solitary child Leif struggling to survive in an apparently Nordic archipelago landscape following a bout of cholera. Spare prose keeps the reader immersed in scenes difficult and wondrous, offering a timeless and irresistible adventure that has resilience at its heart.

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The Ogress and the Orphans

Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin)

Though Stone-in-the-Glen was once a “lovely town,” its residents now retreat behind locked doors, goaded on by a mayor who sows a campaign of suspicion and fear. Employing an omniscient narrator who twines tellings of an ogress, an orphanage’s residents, and a history of dragonkind, Barnhill offers up an ambitious sociopolitical allegory about the import of community care.

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The Patron Thief of Bread

Lindsay Eagar (Candlewick)

Sheltering amid the ruins of an unfinished cathedral in a fictional French town, a band of pickpockets schemes to apprentice eight-year-old Duck to the local baker for their own devices. Discovering that she has a knack for baking, Duck settles into her new home, fearing discovery. Boasting vividly wrought characters, including a cantankerous gargoyle, Eagar’s tale brims with medieval-era details.

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A Rover’s Story

Jasmine Warga, illus. by Matt Rockefeller (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)

Rendered with philosophical internality, Warga’s novel alternates between the perspectives of Mars rover Resilience, who’s gearing up for a high-stakes mission, and Sophie, the child of one of Res’s NASA scientist creators. Res’s fascination with humans leads to his internalizing non-programmed concepts, and on Mars, living up to his name while showing that feelings are as important as logic.

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Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting

Roseanne A. Brown (Disney/Riordan)

Serwa Boateng, 12, has trained her entire life to become a Slayer of an order of warriors charged with defeating dark creatures. When an attack compromises her family’s safety, Serwa is sent to stay with distant family but is soon caught up in a startling hunt of her own. Melding Ghanaian folklore and a healthy dose of tween hijinks, Brown writes an exhilarating series starter.

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The Sheep, the Rooster, and the Duck

Matt Phelan (Greenwillow)

Interspersing a third-person narrative and paneled comics sequences, Phelan offers a delightful historical reimagining, centering animals as spies in late-1800s Versailles. When Benjamin Franklin’s drawings fall into evil hands, it’s up to sheep Bernadette, duck Jean-Luc, and masked rooster Pierre to save the day in this amusing, fast-paced tale of land, sky, and espionage featuring cameos of notable historic figures.

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Twin Cities

Jose Pimienta (Random House Graphic)

Pimienta’s profound graphic novel chronicles Mexican twins Teresa and Fer’s evolving relationship while attending schools in separate cities divided by the U.S.-Mexico border. The twins’ vastly opposite education experiences and home lives unfold via brightly colored, intricately detailed panoramas and montages, empathetic dialogue, and brilliantly alternating panels, realistically conveying one family’s experience living in a bustling border community.

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You Only Live Once, David Bravo

Mark Oshiro (HarperCollins)

In this laugh-out-loud novel with a pick-your-path vibe, David Bravo, a transracial adoptee of Latinx descent, endures a first week of middle school riddled with missteps and disappointments. When he wishes for a do-over, help arrives in the form of a magical hairless hound who leads David to the past, where he makes innumerable mistakes while attempting to repair his timeline.

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