Sincerely Sicily by Tamika Burgess

Published by HarperCollins

Summary:  Sicily is dismayed to learn she’ll be starting sixth grade at the new middle school, leaving her three best friends behind.  School turns out okay, as Sicily reconnects with an old friend from kindergarten, whose cute seventh-grade cousin Michael is living with the family.  Things hit a snag, though, when Sicily’s class is assigned a project on their family’s heritage, and some of her classmates question how she can be both Black and Latinx (Panamanian).  Sicily begins to explore her culture through research, conversations with family members, and writing, something she has always felt passionate about.  She has a chance to write for a new school magazine, but the mean girl editor discourages her.  With inspiration from both her late grandfather’s journals and her new friend Michael, Sicily finally decides to persevere with her writing and produces something she can truly be proud of.  Includes a glossary and author’s note.  304 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Sicily is a smart and sensitive narrator whose passion for writing and curiosity about her culture will educate and inspire readers.  Subplots about a fight with her grandmother over her hair and a ruined dress she tries to keep a secret from her mom add to the authenticity of the story.

Cons:  Sometimes the story felt a little too much like a vehicle for educating readers about Black Panamanian culture.

Five Newbery predictions

Lots of Newbery veterans on this list!

I meant to include the link to my mock Caldecott on TPT yesterday. This is a PowerPoint slideshow with 20 books that may be considered for the Caldecott, with facts about the illustrators and what to look for in the illustrations.

The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill

Published by Algonquin Young Readers

A timely fantasy about a kind ogress, a wicked mayor, a troubled town, and the children who figure out who’s good and who’s evil to reset their town in the right direction.

Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone by Tae Keller

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

Everyone has a story to tell, whether that person is a bully, a target, or a bystander, in this powerful novel that explores the dynamics of middle school girls’ social lives.

.Those Kids from Fawn Creek by Erin Entrada Kelly

Published by Greenwillow Books

The sixth graders of Fawn Creek have known each other all their lives and have a well-established social structure. But when Renni moves away and a mysterious new girl takes her place, the order is upset and things start to change.

The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat

Published by Candlewick

Sai has overcome her impoverished background to become assistant to Paiyoon the mapmaker. When Paiyoon is invited by the Queen on a sea journey to explore some unknown lands, Sai goes along and is drawn into adventure and political intrigue.

Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

When Maizy’s grandfather gets sick, she and her mother return to her mom’s childhood home in Last Chance, Minnesota. Maizy’s not excited at the prospect of spending an entire summer with grandparents she barely knows, but Last Chance proves to be surprisingly interesting, and what Maizy learns about her past helps her deal with a racist incident that threatens her grandparents’ restaurant.

Mia in the Mix by Coco Simon, illustrated by Glass House Graphics

Published by Simon Spotlight

Summary:  The Cupcake Diaries chapter books are now a graphic novel series, beginning with Katie and the Cupcake Cure and Mia in the Mix.  Mia’s book was the first one to reach me via interlibrary loan, so I ended up reading book 2.  Mia has recently moved to town with her mom, her mom’s boyfriend, and his son, leaving behind her dad and friends in New York City.  She meets Katie, Emma, and Alexis, and the four girls form the Cupcake Club.  As the business is starting to get off the ground, Mia finds herself torn between wanting to spend time with the club and hanging out with some other girls who share her interest in fashion.  Ultimately, Mia decides the cupcake girls are her truest friends, while finding ways to make room for other people in her life.  160 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  This series will appeal to Baby-Sitters Club fans, with similar themes of friendship and starting a business.  The artwork is appealing, and the situations with family and friends are ones that many kids will relate to.

Cons:  It feels like a bit of a rip-off of the BSC series.

Tumble by Celia C. Pérez

Published by Kokila

Summary:  Addie’s mom is expecting a baby, leading her stepfather Alex to offer to adopt her.  While Addie loves Alex, she wants to learn about her biological father before making her decision.  Her mom has always refused to tell her anything about him, so Addie does some detective work with the help of her best friend Cy.  When she discovers that her father is the wrestler Manny Bravo, she convinces her mom to let her visit him and his family in the nearby town where her mom grew up, and where the Bravo family still lives.  The Bravos are famous Mexican American wrestlers in a community known for wrestling, and Addie is kind of starstruck when she meets them.  But soon she begins to form warm bonds with all of them…except for Manny, who frequently is late for their meetings or stands her up completely.  Eventually, Addie begins to understand why her mother left him to pursue her own dreams, and she is able to make some important decisions about her family and her future.  368 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Belpré Honor winner Celia C. Pérez may be in line for another award or two with this heartwarming story of Addie and her family and friends.  There’s a lot going on with both of Addie’s families, as well as interesting subplots, particularly one about an unusual production of The Nutcracker that Cy is directing at their middle school. Pérez does an excellent job of weaving all the various parts of the story together.

Cons:  I could see the writing on the wall with Manny about halfway through the book.

New from Here by Kelly Yang

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary:  As the story opens, Knox’s parents are making the difficult decision to take the three kids to California from their home in Hong Kong, where the coronavirus is spreading.  His dad has to stay behind and work, while his mom can work remotely from the small house in the Bay Area that the family has inherited.  This proves impossible, and before long, Mom is frantically looking for a new job while Knox, his older brother Bowen, and his younger sister Lea adjust to American schools.  Knox’s ADHD has made school difficult in the past, but he loves his new teacher and makes a new friend right away.  Bowen has a harder time and often takes his frustrations out on his younger brother.  The kids pull together, though, to raise money to get their dad a plane ticket to join them.  In the background is the news of increasing COVID cases in the US, and the story ends in the spring of 2020, with everything, including school, closing down.  The future feels uncertain, but the challenges of the past few months have pulled the family together in a way that makes navigating those challenges seem possible.  Includes an author’s note about her family’s experiences that were the basis for this book.  368 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  I started this book months ago and abandoned it after the first few pages; after seeing it on some best of 2022 lists, I decided to give it another chance and am so glad I did.  Despite the feeling of impending COVID doom, there is plenty of humor (I especially enjoyed the kids’ attempts to create a LinkedIn account for their dad) and some pretty touching family scenes, especially when the kids have to deal with anti-Asian racism.  

Cons:  As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve had a hard time getting kids interested in reading anything that has to do with the pandemic.

A Duet for Home by Karina Yan Glaser

Published by Clarion Books

Summary:  Tyrell has lived at Huey House, a homeless shelter in the Bronx, for over three years.  June arrives with her younger sister Maybelle and their mother, who has fallen into a mute depression following the sudden death of their dad.  Both kids love classical music: Tyrell listens to a neighbor practicing her violin every night, and June is a viola player who must hide her instrument from the somewhat draconian shelter director.  Kinder staff members, as well as Tyrell and some of the other shelter residents, help June and her little sister Maybelle adjust to losing their home, getting them to school and finding a way for June to practice her viola.  June and her family are starting to get some help when they learn that a new city policy will force all shelter residents to move out in 90 days.  Desperate to stay where they are, Tyrell and June take on City Hall to try to make their voices heard about the importance of Huey House in their lives.  Includes an author’s note about her experience working in a similar shelter.  368 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Told in alternating chapters between June and Tyrell, this moving story humanizes people who have lost their homes for many reasons and shows how their needs can get lost in political rhetoric.  Readers will be rooting for the two kids, as well as many of the other shelter residents and workers.

Cons:  The ending was touching but felt a little unrealistic.

Hummingbird by Natalie Lloyd

Published by Scholastic

Summary:  Olive has been homeschooled her whole life due to her osteogenesis Imperfecta, or brittle bone disease, that means she spends most of her time in a wheelchair.  She longs to go to school, find a best friend, and maybe fulfill her dream of acting, so she’s thrilled when her parents agree to let her attend the local middle school.  After a rough first day, Olive begins to find her way, making a new friend named Grace, auditioning for the school play, and even connecting with her taciturn stepbrother Hatch, who is in her class.  When magical events foretell the return of a mysterious wish-granting hummingbird, Olive, Grace, and Hatch are determined to find the bird and make their wishes come true.  But life and magic are both unpredictable, and Olive has to learn to embrace some difficult turns of events and appreciate to the everyday magic that is already in her life.  Includes an author’s note telling about her own life with osteogenesis Imperfecta. 368 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Olive is a spunky and indomitable narrator who doesn’t sugarcoat her disease, but who is also optimistic, loving, and appreciative of her family, friends, and community.  The magic realism adds a fun touch to the story.

Cons:  A little spunk can go a long way, and Olive occasionally seemed a little too good to be true. 

The Cool Code by Deirdre Langeland, illustrated by Sarah Mai

Published by Clarion Books

Summary:  Zoey’s parents are starting their own business and don’t have time to homeschool her anymore, so she’s going to public school for the first time as an eighth grader.  Worried about fitting in, she’s used her considerable coding skills to create an app that will help her figure out what’s cool.  This takes the form of a little pink llama that constantly offers advice on what to wear, say, and do as she navigates her way through the first day of school.  When Zoey decides to join the coding club, she meets a couple of other kids who love coding as much as she does, and who are looking for their next big project.  Zoey reluctantly reveals her app to them, and they decide to upgrade it to give better advice.  Result?  Zoey’s now just about the coolest girl in school but feels pulled in 100 different directions and is at risk of losing her real friends.  224 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  A fun middle school graphic novel with dual messages to be yourself and to not let work take over your life (a lesson Zoey’s parents need to learn as well).  

Cons:  Call me old-fashioned, but I just can’t get behind the bug-eyed look for comic book characters.

Leon the Extraordinary by Jamar Nicholas

Published by Graphix

Summary:  Leon lives in a town populated by superheroes and villains, but he and his best friend Carlos are ordinary.  That doesn’t stop Leon from wanting to be a hero and wearing a cape, gloves, and goggles wherever he goes.  His former friend Clementine has let her new superpowers go to her head, but when a zombie-creating game starts appearing on other kids’ phones, Leon realizes he needs her help to save the school.  Not only does he track down and defeat the supervillain who is causing the problems, but he discovers some interesting and exciting things about himself and his family.  272 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Kids will love this superhero graphic novel about an ordinary kid who manages to do extraordinary deeds through hard work and kindness.  The last page ends with the promising words “To be continued…”

Cons:  I was hoping Clementine would become a little less insufferable by the end.  Still, there were signs that things might turn around in book 2.

A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga

Published by Balzer + Bray

Summary:  Resilience comes to life in a NASA lab, a rover built to explore Mars.  At first, he thinks he is a back-up for another rover named Journey, but he eventually learns that he is the one being sent into space.  He is curious about humans, or hazmats as he calls them, and particularly takes a liking to engineers Rania and Xander.  Rania has a daughter named Sophie, who starts writing letters to Resilience.  Although the rover never sees them, the letters give readers some insights into Rania’s home and family life.  The book is divided into five parts that cover more than 20 years, as Resilience gets launched and explores Mars with his drone, and friend, Fly.  An accident puts the rover out of commission for many years, but in the end, he is able to realize his dream and Rania’s of returning him to Earth.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Jasmine Warga does an amazing job of realistically bringing Resilience to life with a personality and curiosity that still keeps him in the realm of machine yet shows readers human emotions.  The subplot about Raina told through Sophie’s letters is also extremely well done and very moving.  A great recommendation for fans of The Wild Robot, and a Newbery contender for sure.

Cons:  While I could very much appreciate this book, I never really got engrossed in it. I guess I just generally prefer reading about people.