At each Children’s Institute, a panel of booksellers presents its 10 favorite fall debuts, and each of the authors gives a reading. Here, the editors of this year’s picks discuss why they think their books were chosen.
“Indies Introduce” will take place 4–5 p.m., August 30.
Neverforgotten, illus. by Iván Rickenmann, trans. by Aida Salazar
Levine Querido, Aug.; $17.99; middle grade
The buzz: “My favorite writers have both the soul of a poet and a mastery of prose. Alejandra has each in equal measure, and here in Neverforgotten/Nuncaseolvida, for one boy in Bogotá, she captures that ineffable feeling of what it’s like to grow up and discover the world isn’t as honest as it seems.” —Nick Thomas, senior editor, Levine Querido
Opening: “On the day Fabio forgot, the sun was merciless. His body would no longer do what it had done so many times before, and now, his knees do nothing but scrape the ground.”
Kylie Lee Baker
The Keeper of Night
Inkyard Press, Oct.; $18.98; young adult
The buzz: “I have never encountered prose like this, which is equally stunning and terrifying! Debut author Kylie Lee Baker offers a nuanced exploration of biracial identity wrapped in a dark and immersive fantasy that’s set in 1890s Japan and in Yomi, the pitch-dark underworld ruled by the Goddess of Death. Ren is a complex heroine who will stay with readers long after they turn the last page, as will the shocking twist ending.” —Claire Stetzer, editor, Inkyard Press
Opening: “The legend they tell about me goes something like this: First, you’ll see a streak of silver across the sky, like a comet burning through the fog. Then, the clock hands will still halfway between this second and the next. The world will fall silent, and the Reaper will knock three times on your bedroom door. Whether you answer or not, Death will enter through the light in the keyhole.”
Skin of the Sea
Random House Books for Young Readers, Nov.; $18.99; young adult
The buzz: “Natasha has crafted a sweeping yet intimate fantasy through breathtaking prose that sinks its teeth in you and refuses to let go. The result is Skin of the Sea, an inspiring epic that doesn’t flinch from a painful period of history, yet celebrates the sheer breadth and beauty of African culture. Simi’s journey is both escapist and important, and I am so excited for her story to find its way to readers.” —Tricia Lin, associate editor, Random House Books for Young Readers
Opening: “I circle the ship with the sharks, slipping between dark waves. The water is layered with cold currents, sea creatures, and a ship that slices through it with cargo holds full of stolen people. I swim underneath the swells, away from the gaze of men and just out of the reach of jaws. Waiting.”
Alda P. Dobbs
Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna
Sourcebooks Young Readers, Sept.; $17.99; middle grade
The buzz: “When I first read Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna, I was struck by Alda’s gift for balancing suspenseful storytelling with emotional resonance. Petra is a compelling protagonist who’s learned to be strong out of necessity but who also refuses to let go of wild hope. Through her, we understand more deeply what it means to live through war and poverty. The Mexican Revolution was over a century ago, but there’s an immediacy to Petra’s story that will hook readers from the start.” —Wendy McClure, senior editor, Sourcebooks Young Readers
Opening: “The smoking star lit the night sky as women wept, holding their babies close. Men kept quiet while the old and the weak prayed for mercy. It was on that night that all of us huddled under the giant crucifix, the night when everyone—everyone but me—awaited the end of the world.”
Graphix, Oct.; $24.99 ($12.99 trade paper); middle grade
The buzz: “We chose Manu by Kelly Fernández as a winner of our Get Published by Graphix contest in 2017 because what Kelly has done with this world inspired by her childhood and the Dominican Republic is simply brilliant. It’s a wonderfully fun and charming story, and it’s unique in the middle-grade graphic novel space. I can’t wait for readers to meet Manu!” —Cassandra Pelham Fulton, editorial director, Graphix
The Passing Playbook
Dial Books, out now; $17.99; young adult
The buzz: “One of Isaac’s specific goals as a writer is to foster empathy through joy, rather than pain, and The Passing Playbook is easily one of the most joyful books I’ve had the privilege of editing. For queer and trans readers, there’s often some anxiety in reading about LGBTQ+ characters because we’re so accustomed to these stories hinging on painful or traumatic tropes. But while Isaac is honest about the hardships Spencer faces staying stealth as a Black trans boy at a mostly white school in Ohio, he also grants readers the gift of seeing Spencer get the happily-ever-after he deserves.” —Ellen Cormier, editor, Dial Books
Opening: “Spencer’s morning went to hell when some asshole on a dirt bike swerved in front of Mom’s Subaru.”
Feiwel and Friends, Aug.; $18.98; young adult
The buzz: “Me (Moth) is a book I’ll always remember reading for the first time. Amber McBride is a storyteller and a poet who holds space for her readers—in fact, in talking about poetry, Amber describes it as ‘the scaffolding of truth that gives the reader space to maneuver, stretch and find their own lessons within the lines.’ The lessons of Me (Moth) are that life and love are even more precious when we feel seen. Amber McBride sees you; she sees us. Read this book and you’ll come away, like I did, experiencing the world (yes, even after this tough year) with your heart cracked open. In a good way.” —Liz Szabla, associate publisher, Feiwel and Friends
“I’ve thought about changing my name.
Especially now with no one to really mind.
Given or replaced, names hang to your bones like forever suits.”
Don’t Hate the Player
Bloomsbury, out now; $17.99; young adult
The buzz: “Alexis has that ‘something’ in her writing that just makes every page a joy. She knows her characters, their brain and heart workings, and their voices are engaged and distinct. She’s also the queen of smart and barbed banter, which is fun in rom-coms and fun just on its own. Not to mention, she’s telling stories that really only she can tell, informed by her experiences and interests, and the love and respect that come through in them will light up readers whether they know the gaming world or not!” —Sarah Shumway, executive editor, Bloomsbury
Opening: “Nobody actually liked Emmett Franklin, but his birthday party was the most well-attended event on the fourth-grade social calendar.”
Scholastic Press, Oct.; $17.98; middle grade
The buzz: “When I first read Barakah Beats, I immediately fell in love with Nimra, the wonderfully proud and confident main character. She leaves Islamic school to start at a secular public school for the first time; there she must navigate changing friendships and different cultures, but through it all, she is never afraid to stand up for herself. This joyful, nuanced story of figuring out how to be true to yourself in a complicated world is something I could deeply relate to, and it is sure to make young readers’ hearts sing.” —Emily Seife, senior editor, Scholastic Press
Opening: “Today’s a big day for me—it’s my Ameen.”
When We Make It
Dial, Sept.; $19.98; young adult
The buzz: “Elisabet Velasquez has a positively electric voice, as anyone who has seen her poetry performances can attest. That power and fire jumps off the page in her debut YA novel-in-verse about Sarai, a young woman growing up in Bushwick, Brooklyn, who questions it all: her family, her Boricua identity, and the society around her. I love how Sarai sees the world with such clarity, and how she celebrates herself and defines, on her own terms, what ‘making it’ actually means. This book is not to be missed.” —Nancy Mercado, associate publisher, Dial Books for Young Readers
“Let’s start the story where abandon meets faith.
Aight, so boom. Check it.
I’m named after a homegirl in the Bible who couldn’t have kids.
Her man Abram was all like:
Yo, Sarai, God promised me I would be the Father of Nations.
Sarai was all like:
Nah B, you must be buggin’, you know I can’t have no babies.”