Squished by Megan Wagner Lloyd, illustrated by Michelle Mee Nutter

Published by Graphix

Summary:  Avery Lee’s life is full of ups and downs, in large part due to her big family.  She’s the second oldest of seven siblings, which makes for a lot of chaos and not much alone time to pursue the art she loves.  Her older brother just got his own room, which Avery sees as totally unfair, and when her friend Cameron tells her his family is building a bedroom in the basement, Avery decides to do some fundraising to earn money for her own construction.  Dog-walking and a lemonade stand each have their share of pitfalls, and before long Avery gets some news that derails all her plans…her mom has taken a new job, and the family is moving from Maryland to Oregon.  Avery is heartbroken to be leaving her friends and beloved hometown, but the promise of her own room in the new house makes the move a bit sweeter.  256 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  From the team that brought you Allergic, Squished is a complete delight, giving a sweet and realistic portrayal of life in a big family with sibling, school, and friendship issues that many readers will recognize.  If you’re buying for a library, get an extra copy or two.

Cons:  I struggled to keep all the kids straight; you might want to bookmark the labeled photo on page 15 for easy reference.

Hidden Hope: How a Toy and a Hero Saved Lives During the Holocaust by Elisa Boxer, illustrated by Amy June Bates

Published by Harry N. Abrams

Summary:  Jacqueline Gauthier was a French teenager working with the Resistance during World War II.  She used a hollowed-out toy duck to smuggle papers to Jews who needed to change their identities to survive, eventually saving over 200 lives.  Jacqueline herself had changed her identity from Judith Geller to hide the fact that she was Jewish.  In addition to her work smuggling papers, she was hiding her parents and brother, having to find enough food to keep them all alive as she rode her bicycle for miles each day all over Paris.  Despite some close calls, Jacqueline/Judith survived to see the end of the war and the liberation of the people she had saved.  Includes two-page notes from both the author and illustrator with additional information about Judith and a list of additional resources.  48 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  This exciting story is told in spare, poetic text that conveys the danger Judith faced and the courage that kept her going for the long years of the war.  

Cons:  The only photo provided is from war-era identification papers.  I’m guessing there aren’t others available, but I would have loved to have seen more.

Not an Easy Win by Chrystal D. Giles

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

Summary:  In the first few pages, Lawrence gets suspended for the rest of the year from his mostly-white middle school for fighting one of the class bullies. It doesn’t help that he and his mom and sister have moved from Charlotte into his grandmother’s house in a small rural town after his dad has been sent to jail. While waiting for the school to set up his online portal, he wanders over to his neighbor’s house, where Mr. Dennis invites him to go to the neighborhood rec center where he works.  There, Lawrence helps Mr. Dennis and begins to get to know some of the kids.  These kids come from the mostly Black school, and Lawrence feels more at home.  He becomes fascinated with the game of chess, in part because a girl named Twyla is one of the chess champions.  For the most part, things are going better, but one of the rec center boys, Deuce, gives Lawrence a hard time and tries to start fights.  Eventually, chess helps them to bridge their differences, and Lawrence discovers that he and Deuce have a lot in common.  When Deuce, Lawrence, and Twyla get a chance to compete in a chess tournament in Charlotte, they get a taste of a bigger world, but also a chance to build some confidence in their abilities and an appreciation for their friendship.  256 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This well-written story deftly handles topics like racism, multigenerational living, and incarcerated parents while focusing on Lawrence’s universal middle school issues with friends and romance.  With four starred reviews, this deserves to be a contender for a Newbery or Coretta Scott King award.

Cons:  An Amazon reviewer mentioned that chess tournaments are typically more diverse (and nerdier) than the one portrayed here which seemed to be mostly populated by mean preppy white kids.

Elbert in the Air by Monica Wesolowska, illustrated by Jerome Pumphrey

Published by Dial Books

Summary:  Shortly after Elbert is born, he floats into the air.  His mother gets all kinds of advice from so-called experts: catch him in a net like a butterfly, reel him in like a kite, or deflate him like a balloon.  But Elbert’s wise mother ignores all the suggestions and lets him be himself.  This pattern is repeated as Elbert gets older and starts school, then grows into a teenager.  When Elbert feels lonely, his mom assures him that he will find his place in the world.  Finally, with his mother’s support–and a full picnic basket she’s supplied–Elbert floats higher and higher until he finds a whole community of floating people just like him.  Happy in the world he’s always wished for, he sends a rope down to his mother who climbs up and joins them.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This is a sort of how-to manual for raising a child who doesn’t always fit in.  Elbert’s mother is steadfast in her support, and consequently, Elbert grows up to find his people without having to compromise who he really is.  As always, Jerome Pumphrey’s unique illustrations are a delight.

Cons:  I hope if one of my children is ever in this position, she sends me an easier way to ascend than climbing a rope.

The Sky Is Not the Limit by Jérémie Decalf

Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Summary:  The space probe Voyager 2 narrates its journey from assembly to rocket launch to outer space.  It flies by Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, with pages of black, starry space to show the distance and time between planets.  Finally, it heads for interstellar space, where our sun is just another star.  Both Voyager 2 and its twin Voyager 1 carry a Golden Record filled with photographs and recordings from Earth.  Includes a page and a half of additional information, the NASA website where updates and photos can be seen, and a map of the solar system on both sets of endpapers. Translated from French. 64 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  The simple, lyrical text and incredible illustrations that beautifully capture the vastness and wonder of space.  

Cons:  Readers will no doubt be left with plenty of questions about this amazing journey, so it would have been nice to have more additional resources.

Jovita Wore Pants: The Story of a Mexican Freedom Fighter by Aida Salazar, illustrated by Molly Mendoza

Published by Scholastic Press

Summary:  Jovita wanted to wear pants, but girls growing up in 1910’s rural Mexico were expected to wear dresses.  She played with her brothers every chance she got, learning about the countryside: how to find food and water, where dangerous animals lived, and how to read the weather.  When revolution came to her village, her father and brothers joined the fight, but Jovita wasn’t allowed to.  War brought one tragedy after another, as her house was burned down, she was captured and held hostage for a time, and her father and brothers were killed.  After their deaths, Jovita cut her hair, put on pants, and joined the revolution as a soldier named Juan.  Her knowledge of the countryside made her a natural leader, and she fought for six years before finally agreeing to a truce with the government.  The President of Mexico was so impressed with her fighting skills that he invited her to a meeting.  She went on her own terms, still wearing the pants she loved.  Includes five pages of additional information with photos, plus notes from the author and illustrator.  48 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  Badass doesn’t begin to describe Jovita Valdovinos, whose legendary feats make for inspiring Women’s History Month reading.  The colorful illustrations capture her energy, and the additional information makes for some very interesting reading.

Cons:  Despite her heroics, Jovita’s early life sounds pretty terrible.

A First Time for Everything by Dan Santat

Published by First Second

Summary:  Dan Santat’s graphic memoir tells the story of his trip to Europe in 1989, the summer before he started high school.  Flashbacks show difficult times in middle school that have made him lose confidence in himself and want to stay invisible.  Surrounded by a supportive group of kids and an awesome teacher/chaperone, Dan flourishes in Europe, having adventures in several different countries that include sampling beer, smoking a cigarette, getting lost one night and stealing a bicycle to get home, and falling in love.  By the end of the trip, he’s experienced heartbreak but also grown and become more confident, presumably leading him to a high school experience very different from middle school.  Includes nine pages of photos and an author’s note that tells more about the trip and how he has kept in touch with the friends he made there.  320 pages; grades 5-9.

Pros:  This highly entertaining memoir will have you packing your bags for a European vacation.  Dan perfectly captures all the angst and bravado of being 13 years old, and of course his artwork is outstanding, showing many European landmarks with incredible detail.

Cons:  I was definitely planning to buy this for my elementary school library, but after reading it, I think it will be appreciated more by middle school readers.

The Art of Getting Noticed (Bigfoot and Nessie book 1) by Chelsea M. Campbell, illustrated by Laura Knetzger

Published by Penguin Workshop

Summary:  Bigfoot Littletoe can’t get noticed no matter how hard he tries.  While others in his family end up on the news, something always happens that leaves him out of the photo.  When he makes a mysterious new friend, though, his life starts to change.  His friend helps him do things just for fun, instead of trying to get noticed, and Bigfoot develops a passion for hedge sculptures.  Before long, he’s discovered as an artist, and the identity of his friend–Nessie the Loch Ness monster–is also revealed.  Celebrity culture isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, though, and the two ultimately decide to go undercover again so that they can do all the things they like to do and enjoy their friendship.  64 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster are generally irresistible to kids, and this story puts a new spin on the friendship graphic novel with a great message about doing what you love instead of what gets you noticed.  Looks like a sequel is due out in August.

Cons:  Nessie’s undercover disguise seemed a bit thin.

Dear Yesteryear by Kimberly Annece Henderson, hand lettering by Ciara LeRoy

Published by Dial Books

Summary:  “Dearest yesteryear, tell me your life’s story.”  Kimberly Annece Henderson, a historical researcher who specializes in genealogy and Black American lineages, directly addresses the people in the black-and-white photographs shown in the book.  Her poetic text asks them about their lives:  did they finish school?  Find love?  Achieve success?  She asks for their help and guidance in persevering, concluding, “I’ll walk within your shadow, until memory calls me home.  With love, Today.”  Includes an author’s note with additional information about her family and the work that she does, as well as thumbnails of each photo with a citation.  40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  With the look of an old photo album, this unique book contains photos and text that are sure to be thought-provoking and discussion-inducing. The pictures would make great writing prompts and could lead readers to explore their own genealogies.

Cons:  The cover may not catch the eye of many kids. 

Princess of the Wild Sea by Megan Frazer Blakemore

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Summary:  Princess Harbor has a happy, if somewhat isolated, life on a small island surrounded by her mother, her magical aunts, and a slew of island residents who are training her in skills that may come in handy when she returns to the mainland.  When she was born, one of the aunts (who has disappeared) put a curse on her that at age 13 she would prick her finger, fall into a deep sleep, and bring danger to all her people.  Another aunt tried to temper the curse by saying a hero would come from another world to save them.  The story opens on Harbor’s twelfth birthday, and within a short time period, the events start to unfold.  Harbor pricks her finger, falls asleep for a few hours, and six-year-old Peter shows up from a strange place called Kansas.  Could he really be the hero?  And is danger imminent?  As Harbor learns more about her birth and family, she becomes increasingly confused, but also more certain about what she must do to save her people…and what being a hero really means.  256 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This well-written fantasy does an admirable job of world-building and turns the story of Sleeping Beauty on its head, allowing both Harbor and Peter to get a taste of heroics and to realize that they don’t need magic to save the kingdom.  Could be a Newbery contender.

Cons:  I found the storyline and the large cast of characters a bit hard to keep track of.