Newbery Medal

HONOR BOOKS

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys' Soccer Team Cover

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Michele Wood

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

WINNER

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel by Jason Reynolds

Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel by Jason Reynolds, art by Danica Novgorodoff (9781534444959)

The original verse novel by Reynolds won many awards, including a Newbery Honor, Printz Honor and Coretta Scott King Honor. I was hesitant to take a look at the graphic novel version of the book, wondering how it could work. While the graphic novel does not improve the book (because how could it), instead it is like a new jazz version of the original, taking the story and transforming it into something similar but altogether different. This new graphic version is incredible, just as moving, tense and personal as the original.

Readers who may hesitate at picking up a verse novel will find this new version more approachable. Beautifully, Reynold’s wring is intact here, so many of his important lines and statements left to speak directly to the reader. Novgorodoff manages to transform the work with her art. She sweeps the pages with watercolor blues, fills violent parts with blood spattering red, highlights Will on his elevator journey through death and hope using color and light.

Amazing, transformative and fully in honor of the original work. Appropriate for ages 12-16.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

25 Best Middle Grade Books of 2020

What an amazing year for middle grade books! Here are my picks of the best of the year:

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson (9780399545436)

“Told in Woodson’s dynamic verse, this book is stunningly written with a focus on ZJ himself and his present situation but also flashbacks to his father before he started having symptoms.”

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone (9781984892973)

“But it is the history of this family itself that makes the book special. Laced with guilt, memories and anger, the story is unique but also universal, though it likely has more sparkle than most family tales.”

Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen by Anne Nesbet

Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen by Anne Nesbet (9781536206197)

“There is so much to love here! Nesbet creates the daring and inventions of early film-making in this middle-grade novel.”

Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone

Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone (9781984816436)

“Firestone’s writing is fiery and offers a call to action, positively showing what can happen when you stand up.”

Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk

Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk (9780525555568)

“One never knows what world will be revealed by a new Wolk novel, but readers can always be confident in a book that is extremely well written, robustly researched, and filled with unforgettable characters.”

Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros

Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros (9780062881687)

“The book is timely, speaking directly to situations that children across our country face every day if their parents are undocumented. The level of fear and dread that ICE has for these families, the danger of being deported, and the risks of returning to their families is all captured here.”

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (9781984815682)

“Bravo! One of the best of the year, if not one of the best of all time.”

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks (9780062875853)

“Marks writing is delectable. She moves seamlessly between writing about Zoe’s interest in baking and her time spent in a professional bakery helping out and then the mystery and drama of Marcus’ crime and his potential innocence.”

A Game of Fox & Squirrels by Jenn Reese

A Game of Fox & Squirrels by Jenn Reese (9781250243010)

“Reese entwines fantasy elements into this book that shows the deep consequences of abuse on a young person.”

Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen by Sarah Kapit

Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen! by Sarah Kapit (9780525554189)

“The character of Vivy is particularly strong. Her struggles with autism show how it impacts her life but doesn’t prevent her from doing things.”

The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson

The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson (9781338580839)

“Deep, fascinating and warming, this children’s novel is honey and an herbal salve for its readers.”

Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor (9780593113523)

“Super heroes, Nigeria, magic and adventure make for a unique and splendid read.”

Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero by Kelly J. Baptist

Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero by Kelly J. Baptist (9780593121368)

“Baptist’s writing is child-centered and clarion clear. She demands that readers see Isaiah as more than a statistic, as a full human being, worthy of attention and help.”

Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar

Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar (9781338343809)

“An important and powerful call to see Latinx people held in border camps as humans first and always.”

The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead

The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead (9781101938096)

“Stead’s writing is deft and clever. She writes with so much empathy for children and a deep understanding for the puzzling situations they face in their lives.”

Loretta Little Looks Back by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (9780316536776)

“Told in three distinct voices that speak directly to the reader, this novel takes a direct look at the systemic racism that has created such privilege for some and injustice for others.”

Once Upon an Eid edited by S. K. Ali and Aisha Saeed

Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices edited by S. K. Ali and Aisha Saeed, illustrated by Iman Rasheed (9781419740831)

“At their heart though, each one is a positive force about seeing possibilities anew, finding ways to connect with one another, and pure joy.”

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park (9781328781505)

“This is a book that un-erases people from history.”

Rick by Alex Gino

Rick by Alex Gino (9781338048100)

“Gino’s writing is a delightful mix of depth and lightness. They keep their tone light throughout the book and yet explore deep subjects of bullying and identity.”

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte (9781338255812)

“This ownvoices novel is a rich glimpse into the world of the deaf community and its long history in the United States.”

Trowbridge Road by Marcella Pixley (9781536207507)

“From the foundations of a fallen house where magic blossoms to the shelter of a large tree that can be scrambled up and down, this is a neighborhood seen through the eyes of two creative children who create their own reality together to care for one another.”

We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly

We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly (9780062747303)

“A deep and magnificent middle-grade novel.”

What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado (9780525518433)

“Maldonado has written a powerful story that unflinchingly shows the racism inherent in our society, the differences between the ways that white children and Black children are treated, and the dangers faced by Black teens in particular.”

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller (9781524715700)

“Keller’s novel for middle grade readers explores the complexity of stories both in terms of folklore but also stories of previous generations in a family and the difficulties they faced in other countries and in traveling to the United States.”

Wink by Rob Harrell

Wink by Rob Harrell (9781984815149)

“Harrell’s book is downright hilarious, never allowing the book become too full of the harrowing nature of having a rare cancer and the impacts of the treatment.”

Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston

Cover image

Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston (9780062975164)

Amari still believes her brother is alive, even though everyone else thinks he is dead, including the bullies at her private prep school that she attends through a scholarship. When she gets a strange delivery, sending her to her brother’s closet where she finds a briefcase, she is introduced to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, where her brother works. Offered a spot in their competitive summer program, Amari finds herself learning about the hidden supernatural world that surrounds us all. It also turns out that her brother is part of a very famous two-person team who brought down the evil magicians. He has disappeared, and Amari is determined to find him, even though the Bureau doesn’t want to share any of the information they have. Helped by her roommate, who happens to be part dragon and a classmate connected to a famous family, Amari starts to unravel the mystery of her brother’s disappearance, but not before discovering that she has powers of her own that mark her as evil in everyone’s eyes.

A perfect new title for fans of Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, and Percy Jackson, it is great to see a Black author create a Black protagonist who enters a fantasy world. Brilliantly, Alston layers the prejudice of the real world with that found in the supernatural, showing how profound racism is by combining it with hatred of magicians, who are labeled as illegal. The writing is strong and the pace is fast, quickly bringing readers and the characters into the world of the supernatural.

The world building is delightful, with nods to Harry Potter and classic myths but also staying connected to an urban landscape and modern issues. Amari is a great character, who sees little potential in herself while revealing throughout the book how unusual she actually is in more than her powers. Her loneliness, courage, loyalty and desire to figure out what happened all make for a book that has real depth but also offers a wild and fun ride through the supernatural.

Sure to be a popular read, this book has plenty of substance too. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.

20 Best Graphic Novels of 2020

Here are my favorite 20 graphic novels from 2020. They cover a wide variety of topics and age levels. Enjoy!

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha (9780062685094)

“Ha’s memoir is marvelous. She creates real emotion on the page, not shying away from the raw reaction that she had as a teen to being moved to an entirely different country unexpectedly. “

Astronauts Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani

Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani, illustrated by Maris Wicks (9781626728776)

“A stellar look at gender in space and science that is inspiring. “

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook and Ryan Estrada, illustrated by Hyung-Ju Ko (9781945820427)

“This graphic novel is so powerful. It looks at a totalitarian regime and the efforts to overthrow it, particularly the ideas and books that the regime forbids.”

Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne

Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne (9781534441538)

“Layne has created a graphic novel for middle schoolers and teens that is an intoxicating mix of magic, goblins and love.”

Displacement by Kiku Hughes (9781250193544)

“Hughes ties our current political world directly to that of the camps, showing how racist policies make “solutions” like internment camps more likely to happen. “

Donut Feed the Squirrels by Mika Song (9781984895837)

“Screamingly funny at times and wildly silly…”

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Dungeon Critters by Natalie Reiss and Sara Goetter (9781250195463)

“Perfect for anyone who has spent time with Dungeons and Dragons or crawled through video game dungeons like World of Warcraft, this book is captivating.”

Flamer by Mike Curato (9781250756145)

“Curato has created a graphic novel that really speaks to self discovery and learning how to survive.”

Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai (9781250314116)

“There is so much sheer honesty and vulnerability on these pages that it is breathtaking.”

The Last Halloween: Children by Abby Howard (9781945820663)

“Perfect for teens who enjoy blood, gore and demons mixed with lots of humor.”

Lightfall: The Girl & the Galdurian by Tim Probert (9780062990471)

“The art and story flow together seamlessly, creating a world that shines with golden light. He creates vistas in his world so that readers can view the expanse of the continent.”

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Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel by Jason Reynolds, art by Danica Novgorodoff (9781534444959)

“Beautifully, Reynold’s wring is intact here, so many of his important lines and statements left to speak directly to the reader. Novgorodoff manages to transform the work with her art.”

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen (9780593125298)

“It is remarkable that this is a debut graphic novel. It is done with such finesse, weaving the fairy tales and the modern world together into a place full of possibility and transformation.”

Pea, Bee & Jay: Stuck Together by Brian “Smitty” Smith (9780062981172)

“Smith has created a madcap race of a book. Filled with all sorts of puns about peas and bees, the book’s writing is pure silliness.”

Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz (9780525552857)

“Goerz creates a mystery where all of the elements snap into place by the end and it also becomes about more than punishing a culprit, ending with new friendships and greater understanding.”

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh (9781250171122)

“The writing is superb, the plotting is clever and clear. The art is phenomenal with race and gender playing major roles. The characters are deep, well conceived and very diverse.”

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley (9780593125243)

“Knisley fills her book with small moments of life on a farm and in the country. Every person who lives, loves or tolerates the country will enjoy her depiction.”

Twins by Varian Johnson, illustrated by Shannon Wright (9781338236132)

“Sure to be popular, this graphic novel appears light but has lots of depth to explore about sisterhood.”

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (9780525553908)

“Human, tragic and empowering, this book gives a human face to the many refugees in our world.”

Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky (9780593124185)

“Set in a diverse medieval fantasy universe, this graphic novel demands that people of all races and abilities be seen and accepted.”

Dungeon Critters by Natalie Reiss and Sara Goetter

Dungeon Critters by Natalie Reiss and Sara Goetter (9781250195463)

Join a band of brave heroes who adventure through dungeons and then take on more sinister threats above ground. There is Rose, the pun-flinging pink cat mage. June is the quieter dog healer who keeps the entire group alive. Goro is the big green creature who serves as the muscle. Finally, Jeremy is the frog with a sharp sword and a vendetta against The Baron. After finding a strange plant, our heroes must figure out how it is being used by The Baron to potentially take over the world. As they work through the threats and puzzles, the group steadily reveal themselves to the reader. Goro misses his boyfriend Horse Boy and Jeremy seems to be far more royal than he first appeared. Meanwhile, there is some romantic heat between Rose and June that plays out throughout the book.

Perfect for anyone who has spent time with Dungeons and Dragons or crawled through video game dungeons like World of Warcraft, this book is captivating. There is plenty of action for those who love that aspect of gaming, but really where this book shines is in the character development, just like any great D&D campaign. The inclusion of LGBT elements and full-on romance is marvelous. It’s a book sure to make everyone feel included in gaming, dungeons and even fancy dances.

The art is bright and dashing while the writing adds the joy of puns as well as moments that will have you laughing out loud. The two together make for a book that is a fast read because the action gallops along and readers will want to know what happens to these characters that they love.

Full of action, romance and humor, this is a dungeon worth crawling for. Appropriate for ages 10-14.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling

Cover image for The Canyon’s Edge

The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling (9780316494694)

This novel in verse tells a harrowing survival story. After losing her mother in a random shooting at her birthday celebration, Nora has been through lots of therapy trying to just survive the loss. Her father has cocooned them both, keeping Nora from returning to school and remaining isolated from everyone. For her birthday a year after the shooting, he takes Nora to a slot canyon in the Arizona desert. The two rappel down into the canyon together, remembering the many times they made similar journeys with her mother. But once again their lives are shattered by the unexpected as a flash flood rips through the canyon, separating Nora from her father and all of her supplies. Her father is washed away with the flood after shoving Nora high enough up the canyon wall to not be swept away. Now Nora must face her doubts and mental demons while also surviving sunburn, starvation, scorpions and dehydration as she searches for her father.

Bowling’s set up for the story alone would make a great tale, a girl surviving the loss of her mother in a shooting incident. Bowling though takes that first tragedy and builds on it, creating a new dangerous challenge for Nora to survive. The way that she uses what Nora learned in therapy, what Nora’s doubts are and her growing resilience is tremendous. She never becomes didactic, instead allowing Nora to steadily grow stronger mentally and know that she is capable of so much. Along the way, she also admits to herself how she has pushed her best friend away too.

The writing here is stellar, the pacing exactly right. Bowling will shock readers as she moves from the quiet of the canyon to the power of the flood. Then they are thrown directly into a survival story, one where Nora is not spared from a variety of injuries even as her mind and resilience grow. There is so much determination and grit in her, so much strength!

Verse novel meets survival story in this book that will carry you away. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

2020 Cybils Finalists – Middle Grade Categories

The Cybils are the long-running Bloggers’ Literary Awards given to books for children and teens. I’ll be breaking the finalists into three groupings based on reader age. Here are the finalists in the categories that focus on middle grade books: Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels, Middle-Grade Fiction and Middle-Grade Nonfiction.

ELEMENTARY/MIDDLE-GRADE SPECULATIVE FICTION

Curse of the Night Witch by Alex Aster

Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch by Julie Abe

In the Red by Christopher Swiedler

Mulan: Before the Sword by Grace Lin

Rival Magic by Deva Fagan

Thirteens by Kate Alice Marshall

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

ELEMENTARY/MIDDLE GRADE GRAPHIC NOVELS

Black Heroes of the Wild West by James Otis Smith

Class Act by Jerry Craft

Donut Feed the Squirrels by Mika Song

Go with the Flow by Karen Schneemann and Lily Williams

The Runaway Princess by Johan Troïanowski

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

MIDDLE-GRADE FICTION

Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk

Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender

The Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte

MIDDLE-GRADE NONFICTION

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure by John Rocco

Normal: One Kid’s Extraordinary Journey by Magdalena Newman and Nathaniel Newman, illustrated by Neil Swaab

Plasticus Maritimus: An Invasive Species by Ana Pego and Isabel Minhós Martins, illustrated by Bernado P. Carvalho 

STEM in the Final Four by Meg Marquardt

This Is Your Brain on Stereotypes: How Science Is Tackling Unconscious Bias by Tanya Lloyd Kyi, illustrated by Drew Shannon

The Talk: Conversations about Race, Love & Truth by Wade Hudson (Editor), Cheryl Willis Hudson (Editor)

16 New Children’s Books Coming in January

Here are 16 new children’s books arriving this month that have received starred reviews!

Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston

The Ambassador of Nowhere, Texas by Kimberly Willis Holt

Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood by Gary Paulsen

Hard-Boiled Bugs for Breakfast and Other Tasty Poems by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Ruth Chan

The In-Between by Rebecca K.S. Ansari

Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt

Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable, illustrated by Stephanie Yue

Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance Cover

Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes

Lion of Mars by Jennifer L. Holm

Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued by Peter Sis

Race to the Bottom of the Earth: Surviving Antarctica by Rebecca E.F. Barone

Root Magic by Eden Royce

The Sea in Winter by Christine Day

Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles

The World Between Blinks by Amie Kaufman and Ryan Graudin

Unplugged by Gordon Korman