With Plan A, Deb Caletti has written a story that conveys the power of choice. To develop this theme, Caletti creates sixteen-year-old Ivy Devries who lives in Paris, Texas, a place populated by conservative people with strict opinions. From a long line of fierce women, Ivy finds herself in a predicament: She’s pregnant. But how could that be when she hasn’t actually had sex? Although Ivy aligns herself with Thomas Hardy’s protagonist in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, “ruined forever. More of a problem than a person, already broken, her future sealed” (40), Ivy realizes she’s just a regular girl, who never imagined this would happenRead More →

Brian Selznick’s book Big Tree tells a tale of the interconnectedness of the natural world and how even the smallest can have a big impact. This true-to science, richly illustrated tome features Louise, a Sycamore seed who wishes to know the language of stars. While she is curious and adventuresome, her brother Merwin is more of a protective worrier. Together, the two have been charged by their mother to be brave and strong as they fly through the air to find a safe place to put down roots: “A good parent always gives their children roots and wings. Roots to settle down, and wings toRead More →

Jason Reynolds’ recent novel Miles Morales Suspended is a genre-bending book written in both prose and verse. It is also a sequel to Miles Morales: Spider-Man (2017). In typical Reynolds fashion, readers are invited to think about some deep topics, this time related to identity. Although we all aren’t able to transform into Spider Man like Peter Parker or Miles can, readers who think metaphorically can use their spidey-sense to detect layers of applicable meaning. A Puerto Rican mixed race student Miles Morales attends Brooklyn Visions Academy. Despite the school’s motto: “Vision is at the center of all we do,” some of the policies and instructorsRead More →

Although The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz by Jeremy Dronfield is “another Holocaust book,” this nonfiction account retold for young readers reminds us all how vitally important it is to remember what happened “in those terrible years” (301). So as to brand their minds and inspire young readers to do whatever they can to ensure that nothing like the Holocaust ever occurs again, Dronfield captures the story of the Kleinmann family with a focus on Fritz, who is fourteen years old when the novel opens, and on Kurt, who is eight. By personalizing the tale so that readers can form connections, Dronfield buildsRead More →

With his novel All That’s Left in the World, Erik J. Brown tells a post-apocalyptic story. It features “a gay guy, a broken straight boy, a cartography genius with PTSD, a seventy-year-old woman with a shotgun fighting zoo animals” (264), and a host of not-so-supportive others with an occasional kind character thrown in. There’s also a white supremacists commune, lest we forget the corrupting forces of racism, greed, and power. After a super-flu virus has nearly wiped out the American population, Andrew sets out from Connecticut on foot to find other survivors. Near Philadelphia, he is caught in a bear trap and staggers into aRead More →

Much like orphan, clock keeper, and thief Hugo Cabret, Ellie Lancaster lives in a world where her survival depends on secrets and anonymity. Although Orphans of the Tide by Struan Murray doesn’t have the Caldecott winning pictures of Brian Selznick’s book, it has a similar protagonist in twelve-year-old Ellie and much of the mystery, charm, and adventure. Ellie is an inventor, mechanic, and engineer who is trying to keep alive the memories of her lost mother and brother. With Anna Stonewall as her best friend, Ellie must save Seth, a boy “born” from a whale whose emotions are connected to the sea. Alone and surroundedRead More →

Inspired by Louis L’Amour and targeting fans of the western genre, Paul K. Brown writes The Llano Kid series in which he traces the journey of his title character. In the third book of the series: Cactus Valley Lawman, readers learn the origin of the protagonist’s name, as well as additional pieces to the story of this young man who was orphaned as a boy. Now, Llano has taken on a job as security and scout for a wagon train heading west to California. When the wagon train is ambushed, Billy Nevil’s Ma is killed, leaving her son Billy an orphan at age twelve. Seeing himself inRead 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 →

September 11, 2021 will mark the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, and Alan Gratz’s book Ground Zero is here to bring that history to middle grade readers. Told in alternating perspectives between Brandon Chavez, a nine-year-old living in New York City in 2001, and Reshmina, an eleven-year-old girl living in Afghanistan in 2019, the two tales run parallel to one another but ultimately intersect in a surprising twist. As the novel opens, Brandon has been suspended for punching a bully in the nose, and because his mother has died and no one is available to watch him at home, he has to accompany his father toRead More →