From the author of The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, we find this epic of a family’s cross-country train trip. Sara Johnson-Fischer loves her family, of course, but that doesn’t mean she’s thrilled when her summer plans (a “Reinvention Plan” with her best friends to get themselves ready for middle school.) Instead, she’ll be spending her summer on a cross-country train trip with her family: her two moms, Mimi and Carol; her younger sister, Ladybug; her older sister, Laurel; and her boyfriend, Root. And, to make it worse, one of the moms is writing a tell-all book about their trip. Sara’s sure that means every single embarrassing thing she says or does will end up there. However, Sara finds herself crisscrossing the country not with just her family, but a group of wild Texans. As they travel from New Orleans to Chicago to the Grand Canyon, Sara finds herself changing along with the landscape outside their train windows, and she realizes she might just go home reinvented after all.
Rebecca Stead is the author of several great middle grade books, like Bob, Liar and Spy, and When You Reach Me, and I would read anything of hers I could get my hands on. This story is no different.
Bea’s parents separated when she was eight, so now she splits her time between two apartments in New York City. Her father has fallen in love with a warm and wonderful man, and they’re planning a wedding, which means Bea will be getting not only a stepdad, but also a sister. In addition, Bea is a kid who struggles with both eczema (an annoyance, to say the least) and anxiety, for which she regularly sees a therapist. There’s a lot going on in her life, and so her parents have given her a notebook to help keep track of the things she can rely on: the list of Things That Will Not Change. And that helps.
The simple description is: Three foster siblings band together to help their newest brother. But it’s never that simple. Nevaeh (who’s black), Vic (who’s Salvadoran), and Mara (who’s Latinx) know the ropes of the foster-care system, and they’re in a pretty great situation with their current foster mom, Mrs. K. But their newest arrival, Quentin (who’s white), doesn’t know that, and with his Asperger’s, he finds his new family overwhelming. All he wants is to track down his mother, who is fighting cancer. Vic, who identifies as a kid secret agent, decides the way to help Quentin is to take him on a quest to find his mom in the hospital (a few towns away), and he’s the person for the job. What he doesn’t count on is little Mara tagging along and Nevaeh taking it upon herself as the oldest to bring them all home. The narration alternates among three of the four kids (Mara only speaks Spanish, and doesn’t get to tell her side of the story). Each child has a specific role in the group, and they each contribute to what makes them…a family.
Kit, (with a small “k”) is navigating middle school with a REALLY STRANGE secret: When she’s stressed, she turns into a naked mole rat (yes, there’s such a thing, look it up!)
It first happened after kit watched her best friend, Clem, fall and get hurt during an acrobatic performance on TV. Since then, the transformations keep happening – whether kit wants them to or not, and she can’t tell Clem about it, because after the fall, Clem hasn’t been herself. She’s sad, and mad, and gloomy, and keeping a secret of her own: the real reason she fell.
A year after the accident, kit and Clem still haven’t figured out how to deal with all the ways they have transformed – both inside and out. When their secrets come between them, kit realizes she has to save the day, but she doesn’t believe she can be that kind of hero. Turning into a naked mole rat isn’t really a superpower…or is it?
Eleven-year-old December knows a lot about birds, and believes she is truly a bird, and waits for the day she transforms. The other thing she knows is everything about getting kicked out of foster homes. December clings to the hope of her transformation because she has two clues that she’s sure will prove it: the message left for her by her mom: “In flight is where you’ll find me.” and the scar on her back where she is certain her wings will sprout. When she’s placed with foster mom, Eleanor, who runs a taxidermy business and volunteers at a wildlife rescue (kind of opposites!), December begins to see a new idea for what home really can be. Will she be able to let go of the past she’s believed all this time and is it time to let go and begin to live a new life?
Located in Children’s Fiction (J FIC STARK-MCGINNIS)
Newly arrived in Brussels, Belgium, fourteen-year-old Ahmed is stuck in a city that doesn’t want him. He has fled his home in Syria to escape the suffering of his people, but has now lost his father on this perilous journey toward Europe and freedom. Now, Ahmed is struggling, alone and homeless, and he is beginning to lose hope. Then, he meets Max, a thirteen-year-old American boy who has been repeatedly bothered by a bully at school, and is struggling to find his way in a land where he doesn’t speak a word of French, the local language. Ahmed and Max’s lives collide and they realize they have found the help they need in each other, and learn what it means to be brave and believe in oneself. This poignant story is set against the backdrop of the Syrian refugee crisis, and Katherine Marsh has done a brilliant job with this story of resilience and friendship, and produced for us two everyday heroes.
Fig, a sixth grader, wants desperately to see the world as her father sees it, but she’s unable to do so. Her dad is a once-renowned pianist, who hasn’t composed a song in years, and whose unpredictable good and bad days keep Fig on her toes. Her mother left the family the day she was born, so it’s always just been Fig and her dad. She’s a science and math nerd, but to try and understand her father better, takes an art class to experience life the way an artist does. Unfortunately, Fig’s dad shows up at school one day, disoriented and desperately searching for Fig, and she’s afraid that life as they know it will come crashing down around them. Before we know it, though, Mark, a neighbor from across the street, intervenes to help with her dad, and for the first time she can remember she’s not on her own. This is a powerful story fueled by a daughter’s love for her father, and what she’ll do to keep him safe.
I love books about the changing of the seasons, and the idea of what’s coming next. This new offering by Kim Norman, with stunning watercolor illustrations by the prolific Daniel Miyares, is one of my new treasures. Together, they take a family through a year of seasonal fun; from summer at the lake to winter’s “Remember when the snowman’s head fell off?” This picture book filled with delightful things to do in every season, and reading it will help you to both remember past fun and look forward that that which comes next.
There aren’t too many families who haven’t lost a pet at some time, and there aren’t too many books written for a young child about this subject. In fact the last really good one I can remember is Judith Viorst’s The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, published in 1987. Now there’s a new one, and it’s very well written. This new book, Where Lily Isn’t, is a story from a young girl about all the places that her dog, Lily, isn’t anymore. Over a couple of pages we hear how Lily ran and jumped and barked and whimpered and growled and wiggled and wagged, and throughout the rest of the book we get to learn a lot about Lily and the girl who loved her. Although there’s obvious sadness, there is also a final line that makes us remember how special our special friends were, and how lucky we are to have known them.
In this thought-provoking novel, 11-year-old twin and experimental cook Elodee and her family leave behind an undefined sorrow for a new start in utopian Eventown, which eschews television, cars, and the internet; where everyone lives in identical houses; and where the air tastes like blueberries. Upon arrival, newcomers must visit the Welcoming Center to tell six critical stories—their most intense experiences of fear, embarrassment, anger, loneliness, joy, and heartbreak. An interruption in Elodee’s storytelling leaves her with her memories intact, whereas her twin Naomi can no longer remember her told memories from their past life and revels in the placid conformity of the town, with its library of blank books and single song: the “Eventown Anthem.” As the twins grow apart, Haydu (Rules for Stealing Stars) sketches the sinister underpinnings of this seemingly perfect place, especially its pressure to conform in all things—even baking without a recipe or planting a treasured rose veers from the town’s established (and always perfect) order. Ultimately, this memorable and brave heroine chooses sometimes painful stories, memories, and love in favor of a sanitized perfection.