Set on Wilneff Island in Nova Scotia, Molly Knox Ostertag’s graphic novel The Girl from the Sea revolves around the life of fifteen-year-old Morgan Kwon.  Morgan likes to keep her life tucked neatly into boxes, but she finds that plan unraveling when she meets Keltie. Keltie brings a sort of wild, chaotic, fairy-tale magic to Morgan’s otherwise grounded life. Keltie is a selkie, a seal who transforms into a human to walk on land for a period of time.  It is Morgan’s kiss that provides the magic for the transformation. But Morgan wants to keep that part of her life hidden from her friends Serena, Lizzie,Read More →

Nina Hamza’s debut novel, Ahmed Aziz’s Epic Year is an epic read. Weaving elements of three classic middle grade books: Holes by Louis Sachar, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg, Hamza shares some important perspectives with her readers. Ahmed’s father needs a liver transplant, a medical situation that precipitates the need to move from Hawaii to Minnesota. Initially, Ahmed’s dominant emotion is anger. That shifts to confusion for the twelve year old skinny brown boy with curly hair. As a Muslim of Indian descent, Ahmed struggles to find his place inRead More →

Seventeen-year-old Hannah Ashton is poised, disciplined, and focused.  Because her audition is approaching for the Corps De Ballet with the South Texas City Ballet Company, Hannah is relentless in her practice sessions. With its structure and predictable patterns, dancing keeps her panic under control.  To review her choreography when she can’t actually perform the steps, Hannah uses her hands as proxies for her feet. While engaged in this silent performance, Hannah’s best friend for twelve years, Astrid describes Hannah’s hands as looking like they are performing some kind of “badass sign language.” The only other pastime that consumes Hannah and can make her forget life’sRead More →

Set in North Carolina, The Ghosts We Keep by Mason Deaver is a book about coping with grief. It confirms that healing is a complicated process different for everyone. When Liam Cooper’s brother, Ethan is killed in a hit-and-run accident, Liam loses the normal in his universe.  The sixteen-year-old, non-binary musician can find no life outside the music he makes with the aid of GarageBand software. Even his friends Joel and Vanessa consider him too morose. Feeling like he doesn’t belong anywhere and trying to navigate the grieving process alone, his anger and depression consume him. Initially, Liam believes that he will move through theRead More →

Better with Butter by Victoria Piontek takes on the topic of mental health awareness. Her novel features twelve-year-old Marvel McKenna who lives with an anxiety disorder. When she’s not thinking of global, world-ending tragedies, Marvel is thinking of small “me-centric concerns.”  In fact, her insides feel like a forest with “one worry pollinating another” (70). Targeting middle school readers, Piontek’s storyline opens the dialogue about mental challenges. Through Marvel, young readers will come to know that pep talks don’t magic someone back to health, nor can anxiety be teased or bullied out of a person either.  What people with such a condition need most isRead More →

Deborah Hopkinson’s nonfiction book We Must Not Forget joins other powerful stories of survival and resistance during the era when an act of defiance carried a risk and a price. Hopkinson tells the stories of lesser known Jewish children and teens whose courage and strength enabled them to survive the Holocaust. To give the dead a voice and to call the world to action, Hopkinson provides key dates, people’s harrowing stories, and photographs to illustrate their lives. Most chapters also end with grey shadow boxes that share Look, Listen, Remember resources and information for further exploration. Furthermore, like most nonfiction books, We Must Not ForgetRead More →

Told in 33 chapters by seven voices, Linked by Gordon Korman shares the story of a swastika that sets in motion a series of unintended consequences.  Because the administration at Chokecherry Middle School believes that information is the best antidote to the poison of prejudice, the 600 students who attend are subjected to tolerance education. Still, the swastikas continue to show up. What initially seemed to be a sick joke turns into something more sinister. The persistence dredges up 40-year-old memories of the Ku Klux Klan in Shadbush County and the Night of a Thousand Flames.  Soon, the quiet town of Chokecherry, Colorado, is madeRead More →

Sixth grader Bea Embers is a bright, competitive, and strong-willed girl. She and her mother have always been a team of two, but their quiet mornings eating Corn Pops and sharing the ritual of their “three things they’re grateful for, big or small” come to an abrupt end when Mom gets pregnant and decides to marry Wendell Valentine, who has three sons: Cameron, Tucker, and Bryce and multiple pets. Her mother’s marriage also means moving away from Aunt Tam with whom they share a wall in their condominium in Vermont.  It further means not living in the same neighborhood as Maximilian, Bea’s best friend whoRead More →

Like Jake, Reinvented by Gordon Korman, Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen, Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson, and the Boomerang Effect by Gordon Jack, Julie Murphy invites her readers of Pumpkin to think critically about the prevailing philosophies that construct the social realities in which we all participate, sometimes without our awareness.  Murphy’s novel shares insight about the politics of high school and about the complicated dance adolescents perform between yearning for independence and basking in the comfort of not yet having to fend of themselves, of wanting to stand out and simultaneously blend in as they search for acceptance. Waylon is a flamboyantRead More →