Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam have teamed up to co-author Punching the Air, an important book about the cycle of racial injustice that continues to plague this country, especially in regards to the unfairness of our criminal justice system. Readers of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo will likely be fans of this book. Punching the Air features Amal, a sixteen-year-old art student who dreams, writes poetry, draws, paints, and rides his skateboard. On a fateful night, he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, choices and circumstances that completely upend his life. A fallen angel, Amal—whose name coincidentally means hope—hasRead More →

Kim Johnson’s debut young adult novel is a stunning work of realistic fiction. It joins the ranks of stories written by Angie Thomas, Jason Reynolds, and Jesmyn Ward.  With This Is My America, Johnson uses art as a tool to inspire social action. Drawing on the idealism, perseverance, and passion of her protagonist Tracy Beaumont, Johnson encourages us to use our voices to demand justice and to become advocates for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Rooted in United States history, where we have inherited a legacy of racial segregation and hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan, this narrative reminds us that the past is alwaysRead More →

Like a tower built from Jenga blocks, eleven-year-old Piper Trudeau’s former life in Cypress Point, Texas, all comes crashing down after a series of unfortunate events: her parents’ job hours cut, lost jobs, unexpected medical bills, car trouble, bills piling up, and eventually an eviction.  Now, she and her family are homeless and living in a shelter in Idaho—experiencing new places and new people and learning that a rough patch can seem like a “football field full of briars” (39). But this is only one plot thread in Stay by Bobbie Pyron, a novel targeted for middle grade readers that alternates between the story ofRead More →

Jacqueline Woodson’s recent middle-grade novel, Harbor Me imparts how story holds the power to heal because it helps us make sense of the world.  Woodson tells a tale about rising from tragedy and how tragedy not only takes away but bestows gifts. Similar to other novels that use trees as metaphors for survival and interconnected relationships—novels like Hidden Roots by Joseph Bruchac, Wishtree by Katherine Applegate, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith—Woodson’s book alludes to Ailanthus trees with their extensive root systems that help not only to ground them but to lend endurance in harsh conditions. Set in Brooklyn, the native landRead More →

As its title conveys, Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh swirls with mystery and pulses with energy in equal measure.  A sequel to Flame in the Mist, this companion novel completes the stories of Yumi and Mariko, fiercely independent and competent women with formidable intelligence in a world that expects its females to be submissive, obedient, and coy. Set in Japan at a time when samurai, daiyo, and shōguns defended with honor, this fantasy-adventure focuses not only on the shifting allegiances and political intrigue of the Emperor’s court, but also on other social issues troubling the kingdom.   As a member of the BlackRead More →

For readers who appreciate topics like Arthurian Legend, museum artifacts, bravery, or World War II history, The Metropolitans by Carol Goodman will not disappoint.  Goodman blends these subjects in a time-bending mystery that features four thirteen-year-olds who themselves have endured persecution for their cultural heritage: Madge McGrory, an Irish Catholic; Walt Rosenberg, a Jewish boy; Kiku Akiyama, a Japanese American; and Sose Tehsakónhes, a Mohawk Indian, also known as Joe.  The four form the Brotherhood of the Lost, since they have all experienced the trauma of loss but have found one another, bonding in friendship and courage.  But with those positive traits come their opponents:Read More →

Just as an apple, cut and cored, cannot be put back together, Nella Sabatini–a young Italian Catholic girl–feels undone, confused, and incomplete.  Restless with desire for things her parents cannot afford, for popularity that evades her, and for a sense of peace and quiet that is in short supply with a houseful of “barbarian brothers” and a grandmother who is demanding and grumpy, “ancient and ignorant,” Nella aches for answers to life’s toughest questions and difficult dilemmas.  With happy moments so ephemeral, she wishes, “If only you could store up happiness. . . . Dig a happiness hole, or keep a happiness piggy bank, savingRead More →

Maria Padian’s new novel Out of Nowhere captures the truth of the adage that the only thing constant in life is change.  Padian’s protagonist, high school senior and soccer team captain Tom Bouchard, experiences the futility of one’s efforts at controlling outcomes.  He discovers how even a simple action or choice can have far-reaching repercussions and realizes that luck can “curl up next to you one minute, then bite you the next” (275). Enniston,Maine, provides the backdrop for this novel that explores these issues, as well as the contemporary topic of cultural collisions.  Tom’s quiet hometown becomes the home to an influx of Somalian refugeesRead More →