Addie is neurodivergent just like her older sister. She has had good luck with teachers at school until she gets Ms. Murphy, who clearly doesn’t appreciate having Addie in her class. Meanwhile, Addie’s previous best friend has found someone else to be friends with, a girl that bullies Addie constantly. The new girl in class though clearly wants to be Addie’s friend and is also willing to stand up and defend her. As Addie navigates friendship and school, she learns of her village’s history of witch trials and the women who were killed. She is determined to have a memorial created for the women who were killed, many of whom were likely different from the norm, just like Addie and her sister.
Written by a neurodivergent author, this middle grade novel won the Peter Blue Book Award for Best Story of the Year. It is clear to see why. This portrayal of being autistic is filled with compassion and empathy, but also doesn’t apologize for being different instead pointing out how important different perspectives and voices are. Written in the first person from Addie’s point of view, readers get to understand how it feels to need to control autistic behaviors and the toll it takes.
Addie explains directly how it feels to be autistic, how it is to have to suppress stimulation behaviors, and what having a meltdown feels like to the person having one. This book offers everyone a way to see underneath autistic presentation to the person underneath who has so much to say and contribute. This is done simply by allowing us inside Addie to deeply understand her as a human.
A compelling look inside autism and activism. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Crown Books for Young Readers.
In a world of war, Peace Pilgrim changed her name and decided to walk 25,000 in the name of peace. She gave up her possessions, her fancy dresses and shoes. She prepared for years, learning about foraging in the wild, practicing good deeds for neighbors, and volunteering for peace groups. She began her walk on New Year’s Day leaving Pasadena, California in simple sneakers and a blue shirt that said Peace Pilgrim. She carried only possessions that fit in her pockets. On her journey, she stopped and talked with everyone. Soon she was asked to speak with school groups and then with other organizations. She relied on strangers for food and would accept a place to sleep too, though she loved to sleep outside under the stars. She crossed from California to New York, but that was just her first pilgrimage. She kept on walking, heading for her 25,000 mile total. Even after she reached that milestone, she kept on walking for peace.
I am so pleased to have a picture book written about Peace Pilgrim. I was one of the lucky people who got to hear her speak at a tiny gathering in central Wisconsin. My family hosted her, driving her to our rural home and sharing time with her. It’s an experience I hold in my heart and continue to be inspired by. This picture book captures her spirit beautifully and shows how one person can make a difference simply by speaking out and walking forth.
The art is compelling, showing the long routes that Peace Pilgrim took, the signature blue apron she wore, and the connections she formed wherever she went. She is truly a national treasure, someone we can all look towards for inspiration on a life well spent in service to peace.
A book that shows that heroes come in all forms. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Carey has always been a singer, loving spending time with their grandmother belting out songs together. But being attacked by a homophobic bully made Carey quit voice lessons. Plus as their grandmother’s dementia worsens, Carey doesn’t have much reason to sing. Luckily, Carey has a very supportive mother and a good therapist to help them navigate being genderqueer in a binary world. Carey also knows that they messed up big time with one of their best friends, half of a pair of twins who have been friends forever. As Carey continues to face bigoted hatred from a teacher at school and a classmate, they also meet Cris, a boy who is very interested in Carey, their voice and becoming more than friends. Cris convinces Carey to try out for the school musical and to audition to be Elphaba in Wicked. As Carey grows in confidence, the voices of hate around them get louder and more intense, forcing them to find a way through the hatred to a place of self empowerment where Carey is allowed to sing and to fully be themselves.
Salvatore, who identifies as genderqueer themselves, has written a gripping story of homophobia and the power and activism it takes to regain control of our schools and communities from bigots. Added in are marvelous depictions of first love with all of the feels on the page. There are also strong depictions of what an ally looks like, how to be a great friend, and the importance of giving people a chance to change.
Throughout this entire novel, Carey is in the spotlight. Their emotions around being genderqueer, being targeted by hate, and also being in love are captured with care and real empathy. They are on a journey to self-acceptance even as they seek out the spotlight for their voice. It’s a fascinating look at performance, theater and the performer themselves.
This one will have you righteously angry and applauding by turns. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Wes is always being taken to protests by his parents. But Wes wants to focus on his shoe collection, video games and hanging out with his friends, who all live or used to live in the Oaks with him. The Oaks is a special neighborhood that is mostly Black and full of events and neighborliness. But when a real estate developer moves in and tries to buy the properties from the owners, everything about the Oaks changes. Suddenly neighbors aren’t talking any more and are arguing and even screaming at one another as some of them take the money and others decide to stay. It even impacts Wes’ friend group, since some of their families need the money while others have already left. Still, Wes knows there is something he can do to help if he just keeps on trying, even if it means disobeying his parents telling him to let them handle it.
With its strong focus on gentrification and justice, this middle-grade novel shows young readers that they can have a positive impact on their communities by using long-standing social justice techniques but also new technologies. The erasure of Black history is central to this story as well, as Wes steadily uncovers how his beloved neighborhood came to be and turns it into a way to fight for it to continue to exist.
Wes is an engaging character with his history of protesting and his strong connection to his community. His group of friends are a fascinating mix, including one who has left the neighborhood and another who was forced out of where he had been living. They all show aspects of the impact of gentrification on historically Black neighborhoods but also the fracturing of long-term friendships as they find themselves on different sides of the conversation.
A book that shows the power of young voices in social justice. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Books for Young Readers.
Offer even the smallest children a look at Black history in the United States with this alphabet book. Told in rhyming stanzas, this picture book invites exploration beyond its covers. It begins with A is for anthem, a call for voices to rise in song and to call for freedom. B is for beautiful, with that and other letters, the book speaks to the importance of not listening to voices that put you down. B is also for bright, bold, brave, brotherhood and believing. That use of multiple words continues through the book, offering a feeling that there is so much to say with each letter, so much to do, so much left to accomplish together.
This alphabet book is several things at once. It’s a call to action for people of all ages to vote, to protest, to be heard. It is also a look at history, so there are letters that focus on artists, writers, teachers, scientists, and more. It is also a statement for self-esteem for Black children, to see themselves as valued, beautiful and able to bring change. It’s a book about how much has been accomplished, but also how much is yet to be done. The end of the book is filled with additional information on the people depicted under each letter as well as resources for further exploration.
The art is filled with bright colors. The images are flat, hearkening back to folk art even as it looks forward to the future and change happening. The art is filled with Black people, unknown and famous, full of urban setting and farms, protest signs and portaits.
A colorful and optimistic look at Black history and a call for Black lives to matter in the future. Appropriate for ages 3-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Workman Publishing
Marva gets how important voting is and how voting has been impacted by racism for decades, so she is up early to make sure she votes before school starts. Duke is up early too, keeping focused on his band’s first paying gig that night and getting his voting done too. But when Duke gets to his polling place, he can’t vote since he isn’t registered there. Marva sees this happen and the two of them go to the voting precinct that Duke should be registered at. But nothing is simple in voting or dating as their lives collide with Marva angry at her white boyfriend for deciding not to vote in the election, Marva’s celebrity cat going missing, and Duke coping with the memories of his dead brother that being with Marva brings up. Still, the two of them are a great team, traveling the city, discovering voter suppression firsthand, and still managing a touch of romance along the way.
Colbert has written a marvelous romantic political novel here. She demonstrates clearly for teen readers that voter suppression in the black community is still active and can impact them as voters at any time. From long lines to closed polls to running out of ballots, each incident underlines how civil rights are being infringed. Wisely Colbert allows that to be significant in the story line but also fills in with an engaging new romance between two people who may approach politics differently but deeply believe in the same things.
The two main characters are completely delightful. Marva is driven and full of passion for fighting back, voting and activism. Duke has lost a brother to gun violence, a brother who was a community activist. Wonderfully, Duke is not dismissive of Marva’s passion, instead he marvels at it, showing his own dedication to voting and also to his music as the day continues. The pair together are magic with their snappy conversation, teasing and humor.
Political and romantic, this book is also a clarion call to vote and get involved. Appropriate for ages 15-19.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Disney-Hyperion.
Molly is beyond tired of the dress coding that is happening at her middle school. It’s a dress code that unfairly targets only the girls and then only some of the girls. Molly isn’t the most developed girl in her class, so she often isn’t dress coded though she’s wearing the same outfit as a friend who is. So Molly starts a podcast about the dress code at her school and how inequitable it is. She interviews girls about their experiences, catching the notice of even high school girls who want to share their own middle school stories. Molly also tries to get the attention of the school board, but their petition and requests go nowhere. Soon Molly is leading a significant rebellion at the school, finding her own voice, standing in her power, and not apologizing for what she wears.
It is hard to believe that this is a debut middle-grade novel. Firestone, the author of several young adult novels, really captures what it is to be a middle school girl. The pressures of that age are magnified in this book through the horrible dress code, but are also firmly universal, dealing with body image, periods, friendships, and complicated family relationships. Firestone’s writing is fiery and offers a call to action, positively showing what can happen when you stand up.
The characters of this book are wonderfully drawn with each friend and girl having their own personalities. They each stand out with a unique voice as well, something that is difficult with this large a cast of characters. Molly herself is marvelous, a mix of courage and middle school doubts and fears. The book contains gay characters, who reveal themselves with no trauma and lots of hope, just right.
A dynamo of a middle-grade read that will inspire girls to become activists for their own rights. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook and Ryan Estrada, illustrated by Hyung-Ju Ko (9781945820427)
This timely read captures the work of protestors and underground activists in South Korea in the early 1980s. Hyun Sook was the first in her family to go to college. Her family and she had high hopes for her future. But on the first day of school, she has to cross through a demonstration to even enter campus. Soon she finds herself in the midst of a group of activists, even though she just wanted to join a folk dance group and a book club. As Hyun Sook starts to learn more about the Fifth Republic and the political situation she is in, her views start to change and she begins to help the revolutionaries. The work is seriously dangerous, as members of their group are taken by the police regularly and tortured. Hyun Sook must decide if she will stay and fight or quietly head back to simply going to college.
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. It’s a deep dive behind the lines of the activists in the 1980’s a fictionalized graphical version of a true story that the author lived through. The courage and tenacity shown on the pages is remarkable, calling for all of us to lead our own revolutions or at least read revolutionary books.
The art is done in black and white, stark at times, violent at others. It doesn’t flinch from showing what truly happened when police took people into custody. The echoes between this and our own society are strong, making one ask questions about totalitarianism in our own western world.
A call to action, filled with anger, activism and books. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Iron Circus Comics.
Two indigenous book creators have created a picture book that celebrates the North American indigenous battles to protect our water. Water is the the first medicine; it is where we all come from and nourishes us in the womb and on earth. There is talk of a black snake that will spoil the water, poisoning it. The black snake had been foretold for many years, and now it is here. Courage is the answer to it and the willingness to stand up and insist that water be protected. Nature cannot speak for itself, so we must speak and fight on its behalf. We can all be water protectors.
Lindstrom has written a book that calls out to be shared aloud. She has used an effective refrain: “We stand/ With our songs/ And our drums./ We are still here.” The importance of standing up and of Native people being visible as modern members of our society is vital here. The call to action in this picture book is also clarion clear and incredibly empowering. This book explains to the youngest children what the protests on Native lands are all about and why they are vital to all of us.
Goade’s illustrations are done in watercolor that washes across the pages in waves, swirls, and skies. The colors are deep and dynamic, showing nature in all of its beauty and demonstrating page after page what we are fighting to protect.
Strong and important. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.