In her new book for middle-grade readers, The Secret Battle of Evan Pao, Wendy Wan-Long Shang not only explores how young people often deal with conflict but also wonders about their capacity for reconciliation. Through her main character, sixth grader Evan Pao, Shang shares what it means to be “Mr. Sensitive” in a world that often shows no mercy. A human lie-detector with bright and curious eyes, Evan has a sense for when people are not telling the truth. However, his ability fails him when it comes to his father’s swindling ways, which ultimately force the family to flee their home in California. Their moveRead More →

With his novel—You Only Live Once, David Bravo—Mark Oshiro writes a time-bending adventure story for middle grade readers. The two protagonists, David Bravo and Antoine Harris have been friends forever, but now that they are entering Mira Monte Middle School in California, their lives are about to change drastically. When his teacher Mr. Bradshaw invites the class to give a short, introduce-yourself presentation about their cultures and backgrounds, David is faced with indecision. What does he include or leave out? Adopted as an infant, David’s knowledge of his origin story is limited. As he overthinks the task, David faces an identity crisis: Who is he?Read More →

It’s the first day of seventh grade, and Maggie Diaz is eager for the new freedoms that West Memorial Middle School in Miami will hold. However, this messy and forgetful gal with strict Cuban parents discovers that life at this age and stage is complicated. Maggie has no phone, shares a bedroom with her abuela, and endures chaos at home with a teenage sister, a brand-new baby brother, a mother who is trying to complete her accounting degree, and a father who is working out of town. Furthermore, she feels left behind by her friends who are moving forward with their own interests. like bandRead More →

Readers of Katherine Patterson will likely appreciate Yonder by Ali Standish. The community of Foggy Gap proves the world is a confusing place—with gaps in understanding and with clarity of vision required on subjects like justice, prejudice, war, and courage. Set in the early 1940s, Standish shares a perspective of what the years surrounding World War II may have been like in the United States. Her story suggests that the country’s role in WWII is more complicated than many of us are taught to believe, especially in the way in which news about Hitler’s Jewish extermination campaign was publicized or received limited coverage. For theRead More →

Unable to make her adoptive mother, Leanne Parkman, happy, Rynn gives up after Mom critiqued her homemade birthday gift placemats sewn by Rynn at age twelve. Although Rynn compares Mom to a dormant volcano that explodes without warning, she loves her Jewish father who was raised in New York but now grows garlic on a farm in Maine. Rynn’s birthmother was twenty when she gave birth to baby girl and named her Scheherazade. Legend defines the name, but Rynn decides it might be a survival trick for her: “I’m wondering if my birthmother wanted me to know that in order to survive without the truthRead More →

With his novel Falling Short, Ernesto Cisneros writes a motivational book for middle grade readers. Taking inspiration from his own life and from a quote by Michelangelo, Cisneros concurs that “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark.” To convey this moral, Cisneros creates Isaac Castillo and Marco Honeyman, two sixth graders at Mendez Middle School, who are looking for approval from their absent fathers. A talented basketball player, Isaac is dedicated to the sport and to the idea of teamwork. His best friendRead More →

Robby Weber writes a romantic-comedy that moves beyond what I define as a beach book, a sugary treat to indulge a craving but not necessarily one that prompts deep thought. With his novel If You Change Your Mind, Weber explores topics like relationships and finding the core of what matters. Even though real life and romantic comedies are very different things, under the influence of Weber’s pen, we realize that similarities do exist. To assist the reader in seeing some of these, each chapter is named for or alludes to a rom-com film to parallel the plot. Some of these include You’ve Got Mail, Serendipity,Read More →

A young, Black Muslim woman living in Abington, Virginia, Sabriya (Bri) Siddiq revels in the feeling of control she has during ballet and dreams of reaching the American Ballet Theater.  When a terrorist attack happens at Union Station in Washington, D.C., all plans come to a halt. Hakeem Waters is the alleged terrorist, and with that name, people immediately assume that he’s Muslim. Soon, hate crimes are on the rise and Muslims across the country are targets. As a method of release, Bri starts blogging in what she believes is a private online journal that turns out to be public because of a setting oversight.Read More →

Readers of Carl Hiaasen, Sneed Collard, and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Vet Volunteers series will likely be drawn to Evan Griffith’s debut novel for middle grade readers, Manatee Summer. Griffith tells the story of Peter Harrison and Tommy Saunders, two Florida youth who will enter sixth grade in the fall. The pair plans to spend their summer completing their Discovery Journal, a project that they began two years ago in which they catalog every animal species they see in the wild. Each discovery in the two hundred-page journal gets two pages. On one, Tommy records research notes; on another, Peter draws pictures. These two lovers ofRead More →