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 →

Joining Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, Marie Arnold’s book I Rise has potential to inspire activism while also offering rich allusions to influential personalities from the Black community as well as allusions to Black poets like Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, and Sonia Sanchez; in addition to Black musicians like Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, and Whitney Houston. Through her story telling, Arnold creates a safe space for all traumatized youth. Almost fifteen, Ayomide Bosia no longer has the energy to carry the sadness and pressure of activism life. She yearns to be young and unencumbered by the heavy responsibility that her mother shoulders daily. Ayo’sRead More →

Justina Ireland explores the notion of unfairness in her novel for middle grade readers, Ophie’s Ghosts.  Readers will accompany Ireland on this justice-seeking journey as she asks important questions: How do we live, survive, and thrive in a system that is unjust? How do we remain strong and unbent, willing to do the right thing, even when it puts our own comfort and lives at risk? What are we willing to put on the line in the name of justice that is denied to us? How do we grieve when the ghosts of our loss appear in the everyday suffering of those around us? AsRead More →

Because of her parents’ arguing at home, racist comments and insensitivity from classmates at school, stress induced anxiety, and the typical horrors of high school, Quinn Jackson keeps a journal filled with lists.  A coping mechanism of sorts, her lists serve to calm her mind, provide a sense of focus, and give her a foundation.  She also lists her goals and dreams, her fears and worries.  Her journal contains her feelings when she doesn’t know how to express them out loud. When her journal turns up missing and she instead has a red-covered spiral that belongs to Carter Bennett, Quinn determines that Carter must haveRead More →

Set in Vermont, the novel How to Pack for the End of the World by Michelle Falkoff revolves around the lives of several students who attend Gardner Academy, a prestigious private school in the city. During a Game Night ice-breaker activity held for first year students, readers encounter various personalities as the group engages in a series of Would You Rather inquiries. Deviating from questions which predominantly carry themes about something gross or sexual, Wyatt Christiansen asks: “If you knew the world was going to end tomorrow, would you rather die along with your friends and family and everyone you’ve ever known, or live amongRead More →

Set in New York in 1863 at the time of the Civil War, Daniel José Older’s series novel Dactyl Hill Squad is a blend of history and fantasy with an abundance of action and adventure. Although Older adds dinosaur riders to his story—giving twelve-year-old Magdalys Roca the special ability to hear the dinos’ thoughts and control them with her mind—he tells the truth about orphan life and explores some other very real social issues.  For example, he mocks segregation habits like designating riding privileges along racial lines or colonization attempts like renaming. When the Kidnapping Club, led by the devious Magistrate Rich Riker, burns downRead More →

Laden with pain that she sometimes forgets to hide, pain from the loss of a brother on the day she was born, twelve-year-old Jewel Campbell wonders where joy goes when it leaves a family.  A Jamaican/White/Mexican mixed race girl living in Caledonia, Iowa, Jewel feels like a misfit.  In Caledonia, where folks think “that Jamaica is some country in Africa” (62), mixing doesn’t happen—except in Jewel’s family.  Outside of Caledonia, people ask Jewel what she is, a question that makes Jewel bristle: “Shouldn’t they ask who I am?  Why am I a what?” (62).   Jewel wonders what it would be like to have two parentsRead More →