Summary: Brother Edik discovers Beatryce in the barn, cradling the monastery’s ornery goat Answelica. Beatryce is sick and bloodied, and when she wakes up, the only thing she can remember is her name Soon Brother Edik has discovered a disturbing fact about Beatryce: she knows how to read and write, something unthinkable for a girl. He disguises her as a small monk and is determined to keep her safe, aided by Answelica and a local boy named Jack Dory. When the king’s men come looking for the girl, the four are forced on a dangerous journey, during which Beatryce’s memory gradually returns and she learns who she is and how she is part of a prophecy to “unseat the king and bring about a great change.” Through the powers of storytelling and love, this prophecy eventually comes true, and a happy ending is in store, at least for those characters the reader has come to care about the most. 256 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: This book has the feel of a medieval fairy tale, beautifully illuminated with illustrations by Caldecott illustrator Sophie Blackall. The characters are memorable, with a timeless feel to the story and the setting. Seems like a shoo-in for another Newbery medal or honor for Kate DiCamillo.
Cons: Why not color illustrations? I know they’re more expensive, but I’m sure this book is already a big seller.
Summary: In this spinoff from the Click series, best friends Liz and Chanda are trying to make some money. When their lemonade stand fails, Liz’s older sister hands over her dog-sitting job to the two girls. They’re thrilled to get to hang out at the owner’s fancy home, raiding her closet and posting photos of themselves in luxurious surroundings. When the popular girls see the pictures, they want a piece of the action. Liz and Chanda invite one of the girls over, but she brings three more; in the ensuing chaos, an expensive lamp gets broken. As the girls try to make amends, they learn some important lessons about responsibility and friendship and are able to bring about a satisfying conclusion for everyone. Includes six pages of Q&A with the book’s creators and four pages showing how the illustrations were created. 216 pages; grades 3-6.
Pros: There ought to be a name for the Raina Telgemeier/Victoria Jamieson/Shannon Hale/Jennifer Holm genre of graphic novels. Whatever that name is, this book will have great appeal to fans of it. It’s a realistic friendship story about irresponsibility and learning to make amends for it. Hoping to see more books about Liz and Chanda.
Cons: Chanda’s parents were kind of insufferable with their favoritism toward their older daughter.
Summary: Bug’s house has always shown signs of being haunted, and when Uncle Roderick passes away, it seems as though there is one more ghost, this one with a message for Bug. Bug is also struggling with the idea of starting middle school with an identity that never feels quite right. Moira, Bug’s best friend, is suddenly interested in clothes, makeup, and new friends, but none of that feels right to Bug. Possibly guided by the spirit of Uncle Roderick, Bug makes a surprising discovery–he is a transgender boy. It seems as though Uncle Roderick suspected that this might be the case and has guided Bug to learn his true identity so he can start middle school as himself, taking on Uncle Roderick’s middle name, Thomas, for his own. 192 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: I reviewed Alex Gino’s George (now called Melissa’s Story) back in 2015, and I believe that’s the last time I’ve read a middle grade novel with a transgender main character. So it’s an understatement to say the need is there, and Kyle Luyken has done a beautiful job with this story that will be embraced by any kid struggling with identity. It’s also a bit of a spooky ghost story, which is always fun, and which adds an interesting dimension to Bug’s slow realization of who he is. Currently #16 on the Goodreads Newbery list.
Cons: I was hoping for at least one middle school girl character who wasn’t interested in clothes, makeup, and hairstyles.
Summary: It’s 1885, and 13-year-old Mei is working as an assistant cook, helping her father in a logging camp in the Sierra Nevadas. The stories she makes up about Auntie Po, a larger-than-life character inspired by Paul Bunyan, entertain the other kids and help her to celebrate her Chinese heritage. Prejudice against her father and other Chinese workers leads to their dismissal and Mei’s anger at her helplessness. When the White workers strike to protest their bad food, the boss is forced to hire back Mei’s father. The two men are friends, as are the boss’s daughter and Mei (who sometimes dreams of something more than a friendship), but Mei and her father frequently have to remind the White man and his daughter of the privileges they have that the Chinese don’t. A tragedy forces Mei to question her belief in Auntie Po, but eventually brings about a chain of events that give her and her father hope for a brighter future. Includes an author’s note and bibliography. 304 pages; grades 5-9.
Pros: It’s not often that I’m actually reading a book when it’s announced as a National Book Award finalist (okay, that has never happened to me before and probably never will again). There’s so much here: historical fiction, folklore, explorations of racism and privilege, coming of age, LGBTQ issues…plus a great story with outstanding artwork. I’m guessing this will be considered for a Newbery or maybe a Printz award. It would definitely have appeal for either age group.
Cons: There are a lot of characters and storylines to keep track of, and I felt like I missed some of the subtleties in my first reading.
Summary: Sixth-grader Hugo is dismayed about his father’s decision to quit his corporate job and move the family to become a ski instructor. Hugo, small for his age, has finally found friends and doesn’t relish the idea of having to start all over again at a new school. Sure enough, a boy named Chance seems to delight in bullying Hugo about his size. Fortunately, Hugo’s cool cousin Vijay goes to his new school, and introduces Hugo to his surprisingly uncool but interesting friends. The group is working on a new school newspaper (or newsletter, since it’s only a single sheet of paper), and Hugo gets drawn into this activity. When he shows a talent for interpreting people’s trash to get insights into their personalities, he finds himself with a certain middle school celebrity status. But superpowers must be used for good, and when Hugo uses his to get back at Chance, he finds himself in big trouble with both his family and his new friends. 240 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: Familiar middle school concerns of bullying, family tensions, and starting a new school are all explored here with a cast of engaging characters. From the eye-catching cover to the satisfying conclusion, this book is sure to appeal to a wide range of readers.
Cons: Hugh’s trashy grand finale felt a little anticlimactic.
Summary: Harry is super nervous on his first day of first grade: he worries about his too-short haircut, having a guinea pig in the classroom, strict teachers, and making friends. As the story unfolds day by day, Harry learns to overcome all of these concerns. His teacher is strict, but kind, gently guiding Harry to do the right thing. His older sister introduces him to her class’s guinea pig, and he learns that they aren’t scary after all, but pretty adorable. He meets Mason, who becomes his best friend. And he learns to stand up to the class bully, who eventually turns out to be a friend as well. By day 100, Harry considers himself a first grade expert, with these words of wisdom: “Try to make new friends. Keep reading even when the words are hard. Speak up when something’s wrong. And help when someone’s sad.” 240 pages, grades K-3.
Pros: I zipped through the first half of this book in one evening, then held off on the rest so I could savor it later. It’s such a realistic look at what first grade is like, and Harry is an imperfectly perfect narrator (he gets in trouble for talking, pukes all over his desk, and isn’t always nice to the other kids at his table). There’s plenty of classroom diversity, and lessons about Columbus Day and Thanksgiving that are a bit different than what I remember from first grade but well-delivered by his compassionate teacher. Pete Oswald’s illustrations add plenty of humor. This would be a perfect first-grade read-aloud, and I hope it captures the attention of the Newbery committee.
Cons: I would have liked a little more background on Harry’s guinea pig phobia.
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Summary: A boy tells the story of his family in the present and through a series of flashbacks. His older sister Laetitia, growing bored with life on the Blackfoot reserve in Alberta, moves to Salt Lake City. The boy and his mother decide to visit her. At the border, they’re asked for their citizenship, and the mother replies, “Blackfoot.” This is not an acceptable answer for crossing the border into the U.S., nor will it allow them back into Canada, and the two of them are stuck at the crossing for days. Finally, after the media descends on the station, the boy and his mother are allowed to cross into the United States. They visit Laetitia, who has come to appreciate her family and heritage more and is considering returning home, before an uneventful trip back to Canada. 192 pages; grades 5-8.
Pros: This brief but powerful graphic novel, based on a short story by the author, provides plenty of food for thought about the artificial nature of nations and borders and the impact they have on indigenous people who lived in those places long before the nations existed.
Cons: Several reviews recommend this for grades 3 and up, but in my opinion, the language and content make it more of a middle school book. It’s a deceptively simple story that younger kids may not fully grasp.
Summary: Reha feels pulled in two directions, spending her weekdays with her mostly white friends at school and her weekends with her family’s Indian community. Like many 13-year-olds, she feels like her parents–particularly her mother–don’t understand what she’s going through. Then her mom is diagnosed with leukemia, and Reha suddenly feels like she would give just about anything to go back to life the way it was before. As she and her father try to navigate hospital visits and caring for Amma while still dealing with work and school, Reha sometimes feels pushed to the breaking point. Friends, family, the Indian community, and the boy she’s had a crush on help get her through. When the unthinkable happens, Reha isn’t sure she will make it, but Amma has found a way to communicate and to let her daughter know that she has understood what she’s going through, and will somehow always be a part of her life. 224 pages; grades 5-8.
Pros: Keep the Kleenexes handy as you make your way through this amazing novel in verse. It’s so much more than just a sad story, though: it’s a story of the immigrant experience of feeling caught between two worlds as well as a realistic middle school story with lots of fun 1983 details (especially the music!). I’m a little skeptical of Goodreads’ mock Newbery list, but this book is currently at #2.
Cons: This book came out in February, and I pretty much decided not to read it because it sounded like too much of a downer. I’m so glad it got enough Newbery buzz to make me change my mind, as I found it ultimately a hopeful and uplifting book.
Summary: Charise tells the story of her childhood with her younger brother Daniel, from the time he comes home from the hospital through the next several years growing up together. Each chapter is entitled “The Power of _____” (The Power of the Trick, The Power of Seeing and Knowing). At first, Charise enjoys her unfettered power as the older sibling, and doesn’t care if Daniel gets hurt or upset. But as she grows older, she begins to experience more guilt about abusing her power, culminating with an accident in which she breaks Daniel’s tooth. Her parents blame her, and she considers herself a “bad sister”, but the truth is more nuanced, with parental dynamics and regular kids’ play/roughhousing playing a part. The final chapter, “The Biggest Power”, reveals Daniel’s power to forgive, allowing Charise to admit to the traits that she admires in her younger brother. Includes a photo of the real Charise and Daniel as kids. 240 pages; grades 3-6.
Pros: This graphic memoir deserves a place alongside Raina Telgemeier’s, Jennifer and Matthew Holms’, and Shannon Hale’s books, and will undoubtedly be enjoyed by a similar audience. Anyone who’s ever had a sibling will recognize the friendship, torment, guilt, and forgiveness that are all part of Charise’s and Daniel’s relationship.
Summary: These 17 stories are all written by Black male or nonbinary authors. Most are prose, but there is one graphic selection (“Embracing Our Black Boy Joy” by Jerry Craft, just 4 pages, but brought tears to my eyes) and one in verse (“Extinct” by Dean Atta). Despite the title, the stories reflect sadness and anger as well as joy and happiness, but are realistically balanced. Most are about everyday experiences, but a few explore more otherworldly topics. There are some well-known authors, like Jason Reynolds and Varian Johnson, as well as some newer writers. Includes thumbnail photos and information about all the authors. 320 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: Although I personally don’t love reading short story collections, I’m always delighted to find a new one, because they are such a valuable classroom resource. This one is excellent, introducing readers to a great cast of Black writers that may lead them to pursue some longer works. The stories focus on positive aspects of the Black experience while not shying away from more difficult realities.
Cons: Full disclosure, I kind of skimmed through the stories from the fantasy/sci-fi genre.