Jolly reads offer myriad ways to enjoy the holiday season.
The Blue Table
Chris Raschka (Greenwillow)
ISBN 978-0-06-293776-6, $17.99
Spare text and images center the titular cerulean table, around which a family gathers to share meals and gratitude. Instead of showing human figures, Caldecott Medalist Raschka (A Ball for Daisy) showcases tabletop objects and dishes from a bird’s-eye view. In colorful illustrations crafted from watercolor and cut-paper collage, a glass of milk first signifies “a child.” Across the gutter, the addition of a coffee cup and saucer to the surface indicates another arrival—“a parent.” “Good things/ from the garden,// the store,/ and the farm” are assembled, and a leaf is added to the blue table as many gather, “thankful,” for a large meal. A gentle picture book that celebrates the joy to be found in both everyday routines and holiday abundance. Ages 4–8.
The Christmas Barn
John and Jennifer Churchman (Little Bee)
ISBN 978-1-4998-1019-6, $18.99
In this photographic picture book, the authors of the Sweet Pea & Friends series reveal how they transformed a 150-year-old tree felled by lightning into a barn as a Christmas gift for the animals on their Vermont farm. The heartwarming chronicle includes age-appropriate, often onomatopoeically rendered details, as the tree is chopped into logs and milled into boards (“Whir, whir, risp, rasp”) that are used for the structure’s frame, walls, roof, and doors. The indisputable stars of the book are the handsome animals themselves, each introduced by name and all clearly beloved family members—many will be familiar to fans of the Churchmans’ other books. Seen in crisp, closely focused pictures, they watch over the construction with palpable friendliness and curiosity. Perhaps most endearing are the stately alpacas, one of whom, aptly named Joy, gives birth after the animals are ushered into their new home just before Christmas. An affectionate, informative, and thoroughly moving holiday tale. Ages 4–8.
The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol
Arthur A. Levine, illus. by Kevin Hawkes (Candlewick)
ISBN 978-0-7636-9741-9, $19.99
Hanukkah isn’t Jewish Christmas, so why do some American Jewish kids get presents for the holiday? Levine answers by creating a new mythic character, “great big spirit” Nate Gadol. Nate has a special talent: as an answer to prayer, “He made things last as long as they needed to.” He created the miracle of the oil lasting for eight nights in ancient times, and he’s suited to “making butter stretch for an important cake or keeping a dam strong in a storm.” Nate is also buddies with Santa, so when hard times hit in 1881, the two collaborate to ensure that neither holiday is shortchanged. In fact, Nate is able to stretch Santa’s gifts for the Irish O’Malley family so there’s enough chocolate—and presents—for the Jewish Glaser family, too. This visually stunning “supplementary mythology,” as Levine writes in an author’s note, seeks to “enhance our experience without changing the religious observance and meaning of Jewish holidays.” Ages 5–8.
The Night Before Christmas
Clement C. Moore, illus. by Loren Long (HarperCollins)
ISBN 978-0-06-286946-3, $18.99
In detailed art rendered in acrylic paint and colored pencil, Long adds an intriguing dimension to Clement C. Moore’s poem, visiting four families in different locales: a snow-covered farmhouse, a mobile home, a city apartment, and a tile-roofed house framed by palm trees. The artist’s introductory note explains that he took “visual clues directly from the famous text,” and he renders “a little old driver” and other components on a diminutive scale, to winsome effect (in one scene, Santa’s not much bigger than a group of household kitties). Readers see a diverse quartet of families asleep in their beds on Christmas Eve and view Santa soaring through the sky to deliver presents to each abode. The eclectic architecture, decor, holiday decorations, family configurations, and pet menageries shape a welcoming and inclusive portrait of Christmas Eve peace, wonder, and anticipation. Ages 4–8.
The Nutcracker and the Mouse King
E.T.A. Hoffmann, illus. by Natalie Andrewson (First Second)
ISBN 978-1-5964-3681-7, $18.99
Andrewson renders an immersive reimagining of the classic Christmas tale in 14 chapters. In Germany, Marie and Fritz Stahlbaum await Christmas Eve and their godfather Drosselmeier, a “mechanically minded” man who each year brings them handmade gifts. Discovering a nutcracker beneath the tree, Marie fervently guards it, first from battle-minded Fritz, then, in a series of nightmarish clashes, from a terrifying Mouse King who appears to Marie after midnight. Occasional captions guide readers through Marie’s experiences over several nights, while a secondary fairy tale arc adds context to Marie’s story. In whimsical full-color art that employs thin lines and bright colors, Andrewson fills each page with measured revelations that mimic the ballet’s drama—the Christmas tree’s appearance, the clock striking midnight, the arrival of the mice and the many-headed Mouse King—while centering Marie’s bravery and grit. A captivating, otherworldly adaptation for old fans and new. Ages 6–10.
A Polar Bear in the Snow
Mac Barnett, illus. by Shawn Harris (Candlewick)
ISBN 978-1-5362-0396-7, $17.99
Barnett and Harris open with an empty sheet of heavily textured white paper. “There is a polar bear in the snow,” the text reads, and a page turn reveals a few delicate charcoal marks: the bear’s black snout emerges. A reframe reveals the polar bear’s huge body, rendered in graceful curves of stiff white paper. “Where is he going?” Barnett asks. A subsequent spread shows the cave he is not going to hunker down in. In photographed collages, the shadows of superimposed forms offer a sense of depth and even distance. One mesmerizing spread views the bear deep underwater, sun shining through the depths, surrounded by fish. Barnett’s humor, just right for the littlest readers, adds warmth, while Harris concentrates on the elemental beauty of Arctic life. Ages 3–7.
Ten Ways to Hear Snow
Cathy Camper, illus. by Kenard Pak (Kokila)
ISBN 978-0-399-18633-2, $17.99
Luminous aquatintlike views of snow-covered neighborhood streets by Pak contribute serenity to this story about senses and perception. A blizzard has ended, and Lina heads out to visit her grandmother, Sitti. As she considers Sitti’s diminishing eyesight en route, Lina realizes that snow is not just seen, but heard, and starts to list its different sounds: the “scraaape scrip” of a snow shovel, the “ploompf” of snow dislodged by a blue jay. At Sitti’s apartment, the two make warak enab (grape leaves stuffed with rice and lamb), assembling the rolls and joking as they go. How does Sitti knows that it has snowed? “Each morning I open the window and listen,” Sitti tells the girl. Deliberately paced, peppered with sound words, and centered around a close-knit family’s routines and meals, this story by Camper is just right for winter reading. Ages 4–8.
These stellar picture books will delight those reading as much as those being read to.
The Barnabus Project
Terry, Eric, and Devin Fan (Tundra)
ISBN 978-0-7352-6326-0, $18.99
The Perfect Pet store’s friendly window display offers adorable fuzzy animals, “Genetically Engineered!” But in a laboratory deep underneath it, small, fuzzy Failed Projects are imprisoned. Diminutive Barnabus—half mouse, half elephant—is inspired by Pip the cockroach’s descriptions of the world outside: “mountains that reached all the way to the sky, lit with their own stars.” After the group is slated for recycling, Barnabus leads his fellow Failed Projects out through the ventilation system (the subterranean depths are revealed in all their steampunk glory), pausing to liberate one last being before, in a chilling moment, coming face-to-face with the perfected version of himself: “It was almost like looking in a mirror, except Barnaby’s eyes were bigger, and his fur was like cotton candy.” The idealized Barnaby may be perfect, Barnabus realizes (“Fully trained!” declares the box)—but he is not free. A cinematic climax caps this romp as Terry and Eric Fan, collaborating with their brother Devin, step out from earlier, atmospheric works to produce an ambitious drama of rebellion, escape, and inclusivity rewarded. Barnabus and his comrades win readers over, and the plot provides thumping moments of danger before delivering its allies to a collaborative future. Ages 5–9.
Bear Goes Sugaring
Maxwell Eaton III (Holiday House/Porter)
ISBN 978-0-8234-4448-9, $18.99
Getting real maple syrup from tree to table is no day in the park, but Bear is up for the job. She marked the sugar maples during the fall so she can distinguish them from species that have less sugary sap; she even knows how to build a backyard evaporator. Most importantly (and the biggest takeaway for readers): Bear is a careful planner and diligent worker who also has vast reserves of patience—even though it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, and especially when her pancakes-obsessed friends, a gopher, a squirrel, and a dog, keep mentioning their affinity for the food (“How are those pancakes coming?” asks the dog as Bear taps her first maple). Watercolor and pencil illustrations by Eaton have a cheery, get-’er-done orderliness, efficiently conveying a wealth of information with comics-style panels, cinematic framing, text callouts, and just the right number of comic asides from Bear’s peanut gallery. The afterword takes a broader view, noting that sugaring helps preserve stands of sugar maples, and that the result isn’t “manufactured in a distant facility with chemical processes. No corporations. Just backyards, buckets, campfires, and friends.” (And pancakes?) Ages 4–8.
The Blue House
Phoebe Wahl (Knopf)
ISBN 978-1-984893-36-9, $17.99
“Leo lived with his dad in an old blue house next to a tall fir tree” in a neighborhood that’s being redeveloped. One day, Leo’s father comes to fetch him at school; they get ice cream and visit the beach. “I got a letter from the landlord today,” Leo’s dad says. “They’ve sold our house, and it’s going to be torn down.” When Leo gets home, he’s so angry he shuts himself in his room. But he gets hungry eventually, and, after dinner, his dad plays electric guitar, and Leo jumps on the couch; “They danced and stomped and raged, together.” Wahl makes both characters distinctive and sympathetic, and devotes loving attention to every spread. Toys on the floor, the pattern of the couch fabric—she conjures up all the coziness that Leo and his father don’t want to let go. In their new place, though, Leo sees that it’s their presence that makes things cozy. Wahl portrays a father who’s supportive and honest, and who helps his son ride a wave of emotions and land safely on the other side. Ages 4–8.
Colin Meloy, illus. by Shawn Harris (Chronicle)
ISBN 978-1-4521-7805-9, $17.99
Harris opens this comic romp with a nighttime view of a dark, brooding structure—half haunted mansion, half lighthouse. A page turn sets the lights ablaze as the child narrator discovers that, rather than sleeping, “everyone’s awake.” Things start quietly (“Grandma’s at her needlework./ Dad is baking bread”) but soon escalate: “The dog’s into the eggnog:/ Mom’s tap dancing to Prince/ while Dad is on the laptop/ buying ten-yard bolts of chintz.” Bold, silk-screen-esque forms coalesce into tapestries of gleeful chaos. Mom clutches a punch bowl with one arm and a vinyl record with the other; pajama-clad Dad lies belly-down with his laptop. The family’s live-and-let-live attitude toward its members’ rule-breaking peculiarities makes this rip-roaring romp by Meloy defiantly wholesome. Ages 5–8.
I Am Every Good Thing
Derrick Barnes, illus. by Gordon C. James (Penguin/Paulsen)
ISBN 978-0-5255-1877-8, $17.99
With a refrain that reads “I am,” the creators of the award-winning Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut craft an empowering ode to Black boy joy. In metaphor-driven verse, Barnes moves from the interpersonally specific (“I am that smile forming on your face”) to the iconic (“I am a grand slam,/ bases fully loaded”), and from the naturalistic (“I am waves crashing gently on the shore”) to the historical (“I am my ancestors’ wildest dream”). Employing rich textures and jewel tones in his fine art style, James paints Black boys of varying skin tones and ages engaging in work and play, solo and in community: flying through the air in a cape, getting back up after a skateboard tumble, working with a microscope, and assisting a grandmother crossing the street. Together, James’s energetic portraiture and Barnes’s affirming text powerfully and ecstatically convey the idea that all Black boys are “worthy/ to be loved.” Ages 3–7.
I Can Be Anything
Shinsuke Yoshitake (Chronicle)
ISBN 978-1-4521-8038-0, $15.99
Yoshitake strikes again with Natsumi, a high-energy girl in yellow pajamas whose bedtime powers of invention nearly defeat her exhausted mother. “Mommy! I have a really good idea!” Extra lines around her mother’s eyes signal bleary fatigue. “I’ll pretend to be something and you’ll guess what it is!” Natsumi announces. She puts a tangerine on her head, loops one arm by her side and sticks the other out like a swan’s neck. “What is it?” asks her mother, baffled, “Something dancing?” A page turn shows a green teapot. “It’s a pot!” And the girl is off, pretending in dizzying succession to be an omelet, a baby, a bulldozer, a fan. She promises not to get upset if her mother guesses wrong, but her temper flares anyhow: “Why don’t you get it?” she cries, fists clenched. Yoshitake creates lovable characters with just a few antic lines. Ages 3–5.
If You Come to Earth
Sophie Blackall (Chronicle)
ISBN 978-1-4521-3779-7, $18.99
Meeting children from around the world gave Caldecott Medalist Blackall (Hello Lighthouse) a vision of a book “that would bring us together,” she explains in an author’s note. This exquisite catalog of human experience is the result. A child with an elfin red cap, white skin, and black hair frames the story, addressing a “Visitor from Outer Space.” Magnificent spreads journey through the solar system and descend toward the Earth’s surface. Fragmentary, often droll descriptions of Earth-side existence follow—about bodies and aging, home and travel, eating and drinking (“Some of us have more food than others”), and relationships (“Sometimes we hurt each other. It’s better when we help each other”). Wide-eyed human characters of varying shapes, ethnicities, and abilities show kind regard for each other. Encyclopedic paintings of the natural world—birds, sea life, an acorn, and more—are rendered in painstaking detail and brilliant colors. It is a book that can be shared with strangers, visitors, and friends old and new—a work in which differences build to reveal an inclusive human family on a single, precious planet. Ages 5–8.
In the Half Room
Carson Ellis (Candlewick)
ISBN 978-1-5362-1456-7, $16.99
In rhymes and nighttime interiors that recall Goodnight Moon, Caldecott Honoree Ellis (Du Iz Tak?) imagines a space in which everything is neatly divided down the middle. Rendered in gouache on cream-colored pages, half pieces of furniture appear eclectically antique as “the light of the half moon/ shines down on the half room.” A feline is half a sleek Siamese, and half a woman in a blue dress sits reading half a book beneath a stately half lamp. After a comet blazes through the sky, “half a knock on half a door” reveals the woman’s missing component. Magically, with a delicious joining-up noise—“SHOOOOOOP”—the two fuse, and the now whole woman, freckled and red-haired, dances off into the night. The room remains behind her, cat halves battling it out before each settles down on the half rug in peace. Through her strange, thrilling logic, Ellis invites readers to engage with a concept fundamental to children’s experience: liminality. Ages 4–8.
Me & Mama
Cozbi A. Cabrera (S&S/Millner)
ISBN 978-1-5344-5421-7, $17.99
Told from a first-person point of view, this quietly engaging picture book unfolds on a rainy morning, with a Black girl who “want[s] to/ be everywhere Mama is.” Waking up before Papa and younger sibling Luca, the girl narrates aspects of the mother and daughter’s morning routine (“A shower is warm rain that gets you going”). Sensory details, fittingly tangential childlike observations, and familial dialogue make the narrative feel immediate and genuine (“I don’t like the bumblebee barrette, I say..../ She knows I mean just today”). Cabrera’s striking acrylic visuals recall painters such as Jordan Casteel and Maira Kalman, and the narrative offers an elegant testament to a love-filled bond. Ages 4–8.
Our Little Kitchen
Jillian Tamaki (Abrams)
ISBN 978-1-4197-4655-0, $17.99
“Tie on your apron!/ Roll up your sleeves!” Every Wednesday, an inclusive pickup team of volunteers—a short Black woman with a commanding presence and a cane, a white parent and small brown-skinned child, and more—gathers in a small community kitchen to prepare a weekly meal for their neighbors. Clear-line panel artwork by Tamaki gives the action superhero-grade visual power with swoops and swirls in swaths of tomato red, avocado green, and beet pink. Smells drift deliciously around the group’s noses, the chief cook tumbles through cascades of beans, and speech balloons collide like atoms. By making the collaborative meal preparation visually brilliant, Tamaki injects energy into this life-giving celebration. Then it’s go time—and a parade of food arrives in the dining room, where an equally diverse group of neighbors awaits. Pictures in speech balloons reveal conversations shared over the meal: books, hockey, a sore toe. The cooks can’t save the world alone, but by taking care of their neighbors (“Is your body warm?// Is your belly full?”) they convey the power of collective action, thrift, and community building. Ages 4–8.
Out the Door
Christy Hale (Holiday House/Porter)
ISBN 978-0-8234-4644-5, $18.99
Intricate, textural cut-paper collage distinguishes this tale, which follows a brown-skinned child sporting a red jacket through a weekday commute via the New York City subway—from a Brooklyn brownstone to school and back. In concise prose that emphasizes directional words, a child and adult head “down the stoop” and “beyond the turnstile” to wait for a train. Hale’s art presents cityscapes from fluctuating perspectives, populated with a diverse cast of pedestrians, passengers, and classmates. Just right for completists and transit enthusiasts, the penultimate pages offer a paneled spread of the routine in reverse as the child accompanies a caretaker home. A charming, detailed primer for easing children into new routines and spatial phrases. Ages 3–6.
A Pig in the Palace
Ali Bahrampour (Abrams)
ISBN 978-1-4197-4571-3, $17.99
Chaos ensues when a wild boar dines at a palace in this slapstick social comedy. Flea-ridden and hairy, mud-loving Bobo is “a lone boar who kept to himself in the forest.” “Why me?” he wonders upon receiving an invitation to meet the queen. Nerves set in (“Could he pick up a glass with his hooves?”), and things begin going wrong immediately: Bobo oversleeps, realizes too late that he should have worn clothing, and can’t help but wreak havoc at the castle. In Bahrampour’s action-filled pen, ink, and watercolor scenes, vases are accidentally broken, glasses are spilled. Mayhem swells when Bobo slips on a pat of butter, coming to a messy stop at the foot of the queen. “Who made this mess?” she screams, and things look dire for hapless Bobo. Luckily, what occurs next offers a twist wholly befitting this madcap tale—a royally silly story of how sometimes when everything seems to be going wrong, it’s actually just right. Ages 4–8.
Sometimes People March
Tessa Allen (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
ISBN 978-0-06-299118-8, $17.99
In her author-illustrator debut, Allen presents an accessible introduction to political protest: “Marching is something people do together when they want to resist injustice.” She describes multiple modes of engagement, saliently reminding readers that they can make a difference not only through in-person gatherings but also through making art and “by/ standing up/ or sitting down/ or taking a knee.” Inclusive ink and watercolor drawings elegantly attend the subject matter, portraying in gentle washes people of various skin tones, abilities, religions, sexual orientations, and more. An excellent supplement for enlightening young readers about activism and encouraging its praxis. Back matter includes a guide to the movements, marches, and key figures included visually throughout, with concise descriptions of each. Ages 4–8.
Two Little Trains
Margaret Wise Brown, illus. by Greg Pizzoli (HarperCollins)
ISBN 978-0-06-267651-1, $17.99
“Two little trains/ went down the track,/ two little trains went West.” The soothing clickity-clack of the late Brown’s verse lulls as effectively as when it first appeared 70 years ago, illustrated first by Jean Charlot, then by Leo and Diane Dillon. This treatment by Geisel Medalist Pizzoli shows the two trains journeying in tandem through tunnels and over bridges. Toylike rubber stamp illustrations offer a grainy, vintage look, the trains’ repeated sounds set in outsize, circus poster–style type. Here, the two trains run on the same track—the “little old” engine first; the newer, “streamlined” train trailing—each headed across the country’s vast interior through night and day, rain and snow, and hot sun rendered in faded colors. Brown’s classic offers a beginner’s map of the country’s geography in a rhythmic journey that can be taken over and over again. Ages 4–8.
These books spotlight friendship, courage, and learning to live with others.
Skunk and Badger (Skunk and Badger #1)
Amy Timberlake, illus. by Jon Klassen (Algonquin)
ISBN 978-1-64375-005-7, $18.95
When Skunk barges into Badger’s quiet brownstone and ends up staying, readers sympathize with the scholarly, solitary Badger, who spends his days doing “Important Rock Work.” Faced with an unwanted housemate, Badger must learn to live with—and learn from—Skunk’s warm, chaotic presence, especially his willingness to extend hospitality to the neighborhood’s chickens. Occasional art by Caldecott Medalist Klassen (This Is Not My Hat) offers Wind in the Willows wistfulness. Gleeful, onomatopoeic prose by Newbery Honoree Timberlake (One Came Home), meanwhile, keeps readers engaged through laugh-out-loud repetition as she tackles sensitive issues such as elitism and exclusivity. Frog and Toad–like in nuance and tenor, this is no old-fashioned story in which Skunk charms Badger and thaws his frozen heart. Badger is in a privileged position, and his refusal to share what he has has a deep and timely significance—one rendered with an expertly light touch. Ages 8–12.
Ways to Make Sunshine
Renée Watson, illus. by Nina Mata (Bloomsbury)
ISBN 978-1-5476-0056-4, $16.99
In this series opener, Watson adroitly captures the uncertainty of growing up amid change through the eyes of an irrepressible Black girl. Fourth grader Ryan Hart’s name means “king,” and her parents encourage her to live up to it. Ryan tries her best, but it’s hard sometimes, as when classmates tease her about having “a boy’s name” and when her father loses his job, precipitating the family’s move to a smaller, “not new at all” home. Despite the changed circumstances, Ryan brings optimism to everything she does: racing bikes against her “bossy and nosy” big brother, facing her fear of public speaking, and serving as her mother’s sous chef. In vignette-style chapters, Watson warmly weaves together slice-of-life moments that capture youthful doubt alongside moments of joy and loss, showing a tight-knit family navigating difficulties with plenty of courage and plenty of love. Occasional illustrations by Mata emphasize the story’s joyful realism. Ages 7–10.
Willa the Wisp (The Fabled Stables Book #1)
Jonathan Auxier, illus. by Olga Demidova (Amulet)
ISBN 978-1-4197-4269-9, $12.99
Young Auggie has a job that many children will covet: he cares for the magical, mysterious, and “just plain weird” creatures at the Fabled Stables, located on an island at the top of the world. Auggie loves his work, but he longs for a friend. When the stables rearrange themselves to welcome a new arrival, Auggie undertakes a rescue mission to bring the new creature—playful Willa the Wisp, pursued by hunters and hounds—to safety. Graceful text by Auxier moves nimbly from one suspenseful moment to the next, building tension as Auggie, good-hearted and resourceful, resolves an array of threatening situations. Brilliant folkloric illustrations by Demidova portray a magical world that brims with life, resulting in a sweet, promising series starter that boasts quirky secondary characters and a sympathetic hero. Ages 6–9.
With an array of characters from disparate backgrounds, these winning books explore familial bonds, magic, and social issues.
Becoming Muhammad Ali
James Patterson, Kwame Alexander, illus. by Dawud Anyabwile (Little, Brown/Patterson and HMH)
ISBN 978-0-316-49816-6, $16.99
Newbery Medalist Alexander (The Crossover) teams up with Patterson to deliver this propulsive fictionalized biography of boxer, activist, and cultural icon Muhammad Ali, beginning with his early life as Cassius Clay. Structured in “rounds” in lieu of chapters, anecdotal narration describes his rise to prominence, starting with 16-year-old Cassius’s 1958 fight for the Golden Gloves championship and ending with his 2016 death after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Alternating narrators tell the story: prose lines by Lucky, a childhood friend of Cassius’s, gives readers a front-seat view of the boxer’s young life in the West End of Louisville, Ky.—his supportive working-class parents, his dislike of school, and his experiences with segregation—and his gradual ascent from Golden Gloves hopeful to three-time world heavyweight champion. In spare, witty lines of free verse, Cassius’s narrative illustrates his charisma and drive. Black-and-white art by Anyabwile visually anchors scenes both domestic and iconic in this powerful, accessible view of a fascinating figure. Ages 8–12.
The Boys in the Back Row
Mike Jung (Levine Querido)
ISBN 978-1-64614-011-4, $17.99
Hilltop Summit K–8 School sixth graders Matthew Park, who is Korean American, and Eric Costa, who is white, have been best friends since fourth grade, when they bonded over comics. When they hear that their band class is going to compete in a three-day amusement park music festival, the boys are thrilled—especially when they find out that Jonah Burns, their favorite graphic novelist, is going to be signing at nearby DefenderCon. The boys don’t seriously consider ditching the last day of the festival, however, until they receive some news that the Costas are moving across the country at the end of the school year. But when bully Sean McKenna discovers their plans for a last hurrah—and, worse, wants in—the boys must decide how best to proceed. The boys’ friendship is refreshingly open and affectionate, and the narrative is a resonant portrayal of the transitory nature of adolescence. Ages 8–12.
Lauren Wolk (Dutton)
ISBN 978-0-525-55556-8, $17.99
A girl realizes her standout gifts as a healer in this exquisitely layered historical novel set in Depression-era Maine. After the financial crash forces a tight-knit family of five to move from town to build a cabin on Echo Mountain, a tree-felling accident puts 12-year-old narrator Ellie’s father into a coma. The family’s struggle to survive intensifies, made worse by fears about whether their beloved father—a tailor turned woodsman who, like Ellie, loves the wild—will ever awaken. Complex family dynamics loom large amid day-to-day matters: Ellie’s mother and sister long for their former life and blame Ellie for her father’s state; Ellie, who discovers a gift for healing, further upsets them by trying to startle her father awake. When a dog leads Ellie to “the hag,” a woman who knows about cures and is herself suffering, the girl lends a hand, resulting in further tensions, this time within the interconnected mountain community. Via strongly sketched cabin-life cadences and memorable, empathic characterizations—including, perhaps most vividly, of the wilderness itself—Newbery Honoree Wolk (Wolf Hollow) builds a powerful, well-paced portrait of interconnectedness, work and learning, and strength in a time of crisis. Ages 10–up.
Claribel A. Ortega (Scholastic Press)
ISBN 978-1-338-28012-8, $17.99
When Dominican American Lucely Luna, 12, learns that her single father might lose their house, her primary concern is for the myriad ghosts of her family who inhabit the willow tree out back as fireflies, at least when they’re not manifesting in human form. Lucely and her best friend, Syd, borrow a book of magic and cast a spell that unleashes malevolent forces upon the town of St. Augustine—one that they must reverse to defeat the evil that seeks to destroy them all. With this delightfully spooky adventure, Ortega draws upon her Dominican heritage to craft a heartwarming story with a strong focus on family. It’s the personal touches, such as Lucely’s opinionated, ever-present ancestors; her dedication to those she loves; and an emphasis on Latinx food, love, and folklore that give this debut its distinctive spirit. Ages 8–12.
The Language of Ghosts
Heather Fawcett (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
ISBN 978-0-06-285454-4, $16.99
Two years prior to this tale’s beginning, the Marchena children—dramatic Julian, then 16; practical Noa, then 11; and mischievous Maita, “Mite,” then five—mourn the death of their mother, the queen, on the Florean Archipelago. Soon after her death, they must flee for their lives as royal advisor Xavier Whitethorn stages a coup d’état. In a world with nine magical languages, multilinguals are deemed “dark mages,” prone to villainy; Julian is “the only person in the world—possibly in history—who could speak all nine,” making it easy for Xavier to paint him as dangerous. Two years later, while living on enchanted moving island Astrae, the siblings strive to reclaim their inheritance. Strategist Noa, the only magicless Marchena, is also determined to preserve Julian’s goodness, even as Julian edges toward ruthlessness in his quest for the Lost Words, “magical languages that disappeared a long time ago.” A sly, cake-eating sea serpent; an elderly dragon familiar; and vain otters who can “move in and out of death” make for an endearing supporting cast, while the siblings, with their distinct personalities and inevitable squabbles, make for an authentic focal point. Fans of Eva Ibbotson and Diana Wynne Jones will appreciate Fawcett’s well-paced, wholly imaginative middle grade romp. Ages 8–12.
The List of Things That Will Not Change
Rebecca Stead (Random/Lamb)
ISBN 978-1-101-938096, $16.99
When eight-year-old Bea’s father comes out as gay, her divorcing parents give her a notebook containing “The List of Things That Will Not Change,” an accounting that helps the girl navigate her shifting family landscape. Two years later, Bea is thrilled when her dad and his adored boyfriend, Jesse, announce their engagement; the only child has always wanted a sister, and she can’t wait to welcome Jesse’s daughter, Sonia, into the family. But Sonia, who lives in California, has complicated feelings about the situation that surface when she arrives in New York City. It’s one of many interpersonal challenges that deeply sensitive Bea faces that year, contributing to her growing feelings of guilt and worry. Newbery Medalist Stead’s (When You Reach Me) knack for authentic tween voices shines through in a first-person narration that explores Bea’s rich inner life as she learns, with help, to manage her anxiety. Bea’s interactions with her loving community convey particularly well-drawn dynamics that support themes of building resilience and savoring joy; together, these insightful moments layer into an affecting story of significant middle grade change. Ages 8–12.
Linda Sue Park (Clarion)
ISBN 978-1-328-78150-5, $16.99
Newbery Medalist Park (A Single Shard) explores prejudice on the American frontier in this sensitively told story about a multiracial girl and her white father in Dakota Territory. Hanna, 14, and her father have been traveling for nearly three years, since her half-Chinese, half-Korean mother’s death. When they settle in railroad town LaForge in April 1880, Pa plans to open a dry goods store, and talented seamstress Hanna, taught by her mother, fervently hopes to attend school before designing dresses for the shop. Though the town reacts strongly to their arrival, mocking Hanna and keeping children home from classes, the girl perseveres by emulating her mother’s gentle strength. Strongly reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s novels in its evocative, detailed depictions of daily frontier life, the book includes an author’s note acknowledging Park’s efforts “to reconcile my childhood love of the Little House books with my adult knowledge of their painful shortcomings.” Hanna’s experiences, including microaggressions, exclusion, and assault, feel true to the time and place, and Park respectfully renders Hanna’s interactions with Ihanktonwan women. An absorbing, accessible introduction to a troubled chapter of American history. Ages 10–12.
Premeditated Myrtle (A Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery #1)
Elizabeth C. Bunce (Algonquin)
ISBN 978-1-6162-0918-6, $17.95
Channeling classic Victorian whodunits, Bunce’s detective series opener features a quirky, winning narrator and a lively secondary cast. Thanks to governess Miss Judson, 12-year-old Myrtle Hardcastle, who is middle-class and white, is training to become a Young Lady of Quality, but Myrtle tends to be anything but proper. She erects an observation point from which to chronicle neighborhood events, and when her elderly next-door neighbor, scornful Miss Wodehouse, doesn’t follow her routine one morning, Myrtle summons the constabulary. After the revelation of Miss Wodehouse’s death and the arrival of the elderly woman’s heretofore unknown relatives, Myrtle suspects she was murdered and enlists Miss Judson to solve the mystery. A generous, well-wrought relationship between governess and charge complements tightly plotted twists. Publishing simultaneously: How to Get Away with Myrtle (A Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery #2). Ages 10–up.
Jess Redman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
ISBN 978-0-374-30976-3, $16.99
A girl suffering panic attacks after her family moves to a new town finds purpose when she’s lent a special telescope that allows her to witness a star falling to Earth in child form. To help the Starling recover its power and return home, 12-year-old Alma Lucas and her new friends, including supersmart but socially awkward Hugo and multitalented, popular Shirin, must collect and unite pristine samples of the four classical elements—earth, air, fire, and water—from locations around the town of Four Points. But with a bully on their tail, the Starling proving difficult to catch, and Alma’s episodes increasing, their quest won’t be easy. Mixing modern science and alchemical traditions, Redman delivers a fanciful adventure with a rich emotional core and a fairy tale flair. An emphasis on Alma’s mental health and circular thought patterns proves an effective complement to the story’s magical elements, as her new endeavor and friends grant her the resilience to navigate her needs. Reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, this is a clever, entertaining story with its own distinct identity. Ages 8–12.
The Silver Arrow
Lev Grossman (Little, Brown)
ISBN 978-0-316-53953-1, $16.99
Blending elements of conservation and magic, Grossman crafts a timeless-feeling adventure in his middle grade debut. On her 11th birthday, Kate’s uncle Herbert, “very rich and totally irresponsible,” gives her an unexpected present: a life-size steam locomotive named the Silver Arrow. Kate and her younger brother, Tom, are soon swept away by the sentient locomotive—which communicates with them via printed messages—first to acquire a selection of train cars (including delightfully stuffed candy and library compartments), and then to serve as conductors on an international rail system that transports talking animals to new habitats. While learning to run the train and solve problems on their own, the siblings bond with myriad passengers and begin to understand global issues surrounding endangered and invasive species, habitat loss, and environmental stewardship. Whimsical details and well-wrought moments of adventure are certain to draw young readers. Ages 8–up.
With this great variety of reads, no teen can claim they can’t find a book.
Darcie Little Badger, illus. by Rovina Cai (Levine Querido)
ISBN 978-1-64614-005-3, $18.99
Indigenous stories, modern-day technology, and the supernatural successfully blend to build a fast-paced murder mystery in Little Badger’s intriguing solo debut. After 17-year-old Ellie’s cousin Trevor is fatally injured in an apparent car accident, he comes to her in a dream, identifying his killer and begging her to protect his family. Lipan Apache Ellie, named for her “heroic ancestor”—her maternal sixth-great-grandmother, Elatsoe—has inherited from her the gift of waking and training ghosts, and sets out to reveal the accident as a crime and unmask the killer. Accompanied by the ghost of her dead dog, Kirby, and her loyal friend, “white Celtic-and-Nordic-American” cheerleader Jay, Ellie battles ghosts, vampires, and exorcists in a series of suspenseful confrontations that increase in intensity and eventually solidify her place in her strong maternal lineage of Native protectors. Cai’s grayscale spot illustrations imbue the book with shadowy breath and movement, bringing a lyrical undertone to the energetic plot and multifaceted, refreshing voice. Ages 12–up.
Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story)
Daniel Nayeri. Levine Querido,
ISBN 978-1-64614-000-8, $17.99
Marked by a distinctive voice—a straightforward mix of confiding, slyly humorous, and unsentimentally sorrowful—Nayeri’s impressive autobiographical novel is narrated by 12-year-old Khosrou, known as Daniel, who models himself after the legendary Scheherazade. The chapterless “patchwork story” follows Daniel through his dreamlike early childhood in Iran, a year in an Italian refugee camp with his sister and “unstoppable” mother, and their eventual asylum in Oklahoma. The text moves nimbly back and forth in time, depicting with equal vividness ancient Persian tales, family history, and the challenges of navigating life as an outsider. Interspersed with his experiences is the narrator’s accumulated wisdom on a broad range of subjects—cultural differences in bathroom habits, the creation of Persian rugs, the roots of today’s conflicts between Shiites and Sunnis—which help establish Daniel’s identity as a knowledgeable, thoughtful storyteller. Both mesmerizing and hard-hitting, this work of personal mythology is a rare treasure. Ages 10–up.
The Inheritance Games (The Inheritance Games #1)
Jennifer Lynn Barnes (Little, Brown)
ISBN 978-1-368-05240-5, $17.99
When high school junior Avery Grambs learns that the violent, domineering boyfriend of Libby, her half sister and legal guardian, will be sharing their apartment, she moves into her car. Then Avery and Libby are summoned from Connecticut to Texas to attend the will reading of billionaire and complete stranger Tobias Hawthorne, and are stunned to learn that Tobias left the bulk of his estate to Avery. To inherit, she must spend a year living in Tobias’s labyrinthine mansion with his two furious daughters, who think she is a con artist, and his four brilliant, hypercompetitive grandsons, who believe she is their puzzle-obsessed grandfather’s final riddle. As Avery gets swept up in the boys’ quest for answers, she starts to feel like she belongs—until someone on the grounds tries to kill her. Tony trappings and a boldly drawn cast complement the delightfully soapy plot of this strong, Knives Out–esque series opener from Barnes. An abundance of cryptic clues and tempestuous love triangles provides ample enjoyment. Ages 12–up.
The Left-Handed Booksellers of London
Garth Nix (HarperCollins/Tegen)
ISBN 978-0-06-268325-0, $19.99
Nix propels readers immediately into the action in this immersive fantasy, set in 1983, as 18-year-old art student Susan Arkshaw is forced to flee a London flat with bookseller Merlin St. Jacques, pursued by an ominous black fog. Merlin is part of a clan of London booksellers who deal with the “ancient weird shit” that seeps into the world from myth, legend, and folklore. Susan came to London to study and identify her father, but when an otherworldly being targets her, she, Merlin, and others in the family St. Jacques must discover who is after her and why. Between doing arcane research and dodging supernatural baddies, they stumble upon a mystery that threatens the magical bookselling world. Unflappable Susan and wonderfully costumed, magically gender-fluid Merlin make for a fantasy that genre fans, teen or adult, won’t want to miss. Ages 14–up.
A Peculiar Peril (The Misadventures of Jonathan Lambshead #1)
Jeff VanderMeer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
ISBN 978-0-374-30886-5, $19.99
Jonathan Lambshead plans to spend his summer inventorying the English countryside manor of his dead grandfather, Dr. Thackery “Thwack” Lambshead—a task that the 16-year-old orphan must complete before inheriting Thwack’s estate. Assisting are two classmates, Danielle and her adopted brother, Dirk. Thwack left Jonathan cryptic instructions, which Jonathan suspects are dementia-inspired nonsense. Then he finds a portal to Aurora, an alternate Earth full of talking animals and vegetables where warlock Aleister Crowley intends to capture an alchemical energy source and use its power to become Lord of Everything—actual Earth included—unless Jonathan and company can stop him. First in a duology, adult author VanderMeer’s sprawling YA debut offers a riotous, slyly sophisticated take on the hero’s journey. Boldly drawn characters, sublimely ridiculous worldbuilding, and a witty, prismatic narrative further distinguish the unique tale. Ages 12–up.
Punching the Air
Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
ISBN 978-0-06-299648-0, $19.99
Zoboi and Salaam together craft a powerful indictment of institutional racism and mass incarceration through the imagined experience of Amal, a Black Muslim 16-year-old facing imprisonment. Amal, a gifted artist and poet attending a prestigious fine arts high school, has his life turned upside down when a nighttime park confrontation leaves a white kid from the other side “of that invisible line/ we weren’t supposed to cross” in a coma, and Amal and his four friends on the hook for assault and battery they did not commit. Using free verse, Zoboi and Salaam experiment with style, structure, and repetition to convey Amal’s struggle to hold on to his humanity through the chaotic, often dehumanizing experience of juvenile incarceration. From the trial onward, the authors liken the pervasive imprisonment of Black bodies to the history of chattel slavery in America, and describe how educational racism feeds Black students into the school-to-prison pipeline. Zoboi and Salaam deliver an unfiltered perspective of the anti-Blackness upholding the U.S. criminal justice system through the eyes of a wrongly convicted Black boy. Ages 14–up.
Jordan Ifueko (Amulet)
ISBN 978-1-4197-3982-8, $18.99
In Ifueko’s stunning fantasy debut, a woman known as “the Lady” commands a djinn to build her an invisible stronghold and impregnate her with a child who must someday grant her third wish. She raises the resulting daughter, dark-skinned Tarisai, in ignorance of her origins, isolating and training her for an undisclosed reason. When the Lady dispatches 11-year-old Tarisai to Oluwan City to compete for inclusion on the Crown Prince’s governing council, the affection-starved girl is delighted; if chosen, she will bond eternally with Dayo, as the prince is known. The union will also render Dayo immune to all forms of premature death except murder by a council member—which is precisely what the Lady envisions. Tarisai, however, resolves to write her own destiny. By crafting a world plagued by social ills, and a mythology that literalizes the power of love, purpose, and sacrifice, Ifueko illustrates the need for change and inspires readers to fight for it. Fierce, kindhearted characters from ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds enhance the well-paced, exquisitely crafted plot, which thrills and inspires while fostering readers’ hope for a sequel. Ages 12–up.
You Should See Me in a Crown
Leah Johnson (Scholastic Press)
ISBN 978-1-338-50326-5, $17.99
Debut author Johnson easily channels the self-effacing coolness of 1990s teen comedies with a 2020 sensibility in this heartfelt and laugh-out-loud funny YA rom-com. Indiana high school senior Liz Lighty has two goals: attend prestigious Pennington College like her late mother, and become a doctor to study the disease that ended her mother’s life. When the music scholarship she’s counting on falls through, Liz’s brother persuades her to do something unthinkable for one of the only Black girls at wealthy, majority-white, and sometimes racist Campbell County High: run for prom queen and win the $10,000 scholarship that accompanies the prom-obsessed town’s crown. An offbeat new girl’s arrival throws Liz’s carefully drawn plans for victory out the window. With wit and grounded optimism, Liz answers the book’s burning fundamental question: can a poor, Black, queer girl be prom queen? In Johnson’s emotionally resonant storytelling, the pragmatic, hopeful, awkward Liz Lighty comes alive, complete with fear, regrets, hopes, and dreams. Ages 12–up.
Highly anticipated continuations will draw readers of all ages.
Jerry Craft (HarperAlley and Quill Tree)
ISBN 978-0-06-288551-7, $22.99
In this companion to Newbery-winner New Kid, eighth grader Drew Ellis embarks on a turbulent second year at the prestigious Riverdale Academy Day School in the Bronx alongside best friends Jordan Banks and Liam Landers. Drew and Jordan, who are both African American, face different struggles: Jordan, an aspiring cartoonist from Washington Heights, in Manhattan, wishes he could attend art school instead, while Drew, an excellent basketball player from the Bronx, worries he’ll fulfill a stereotype if he joins the school team. Yet they both suffer microaggressions at their predominantly white, upper-class private school. Interwoven comics by Jordan further depict his experiences as a light-skinned Black boy, while parodic chapter title spreads offer levity. Deftly weaving discussions of race, socioeconomics, colorism, and solidarity into an accessible narrative, Craft offers a charming cast journeying through the complicated landscapes of puberty, self-definition, and changing friendships, all while grappling with the tensions of attending an institution that structurally and culturally neglects students of color. Ages 8–12.
Nic Stone (Crown)
ISBN 978-1-9848-2966-5, $18.99
Stone tackles the American juvenile justice system and its unjust persecution of Black boys in this gritty, powerful sequel to Dear Martin. Atlanta 17-year-old Vernell LaQuan Banks Jr., called “Quan,” finds himself in the Fulton Regional Youth Detention Center after being coerced into confessing to the murder of a cop. Through a series of letters to his friend, Yale prelaw student Justyce McAllister, Quan recounts his abusive home life and the desperate decisions that ultimately led to his arrest. After a hopeful revelation, Justyce enlists help to free Quan. Through Quan’s eyes, readers experience the hopelessness and solitude that have consumed his life since the traumatic arrest of his father when he was 11. Stone deftly explores systemic oppression and interrogates the notion of justice, particularly in how Black boys are often treated as adults and lost in the school-to-prison pipeline. Ages 14–up.
Return of the Thief
Megan Whalen Turner (Greenwillow)
ISBN 978-0-06-287447-4, $18.99
In the final volume of the Queen’s Thief series, more than 20 years in the making, dissent and war threaten to undo the delicate union of nations Attolia, Eddis, and Sounis under Eugenides, former Thief of Eddis. Through the astute observations of narrator Pheris, a nonverbal child, Turner highlights Eugenides’s personality—sometimes kind, often calculatingly brutal. Building to a succession of climactic scenes that twine long-standing thematic and narrative arcs, Turner offers an immensely satisfying series conclusion. Ages 13–up.
What We’ll Build: Plans for Our Together Future
Oliver Jeffers (Philomel)
ISBN 978-0-593-20675-1, $19.99
In this standalone companion to Here We Are!, dedicated to Jeffers’s daughter, the author imagines a stream of fanciful projects that a father and daughter might do together. Zooming in on her small hands, his large ones, and the tools they have both assembled, it’s clear that the narrator views the girl as a capable partner, despite her age—“Let’s build a door/ where there was none.” He promises to keep her safe, and he’s also up for daffy engineering projects: towers, tunnels, a road to the moon, all stroked in generous swaths of warm color and Jeffers’s signature childlike scribbles. In the story’s most developed episode, they open their fortress gates to admit a Viking, a pirate, a witch, and a lavender-colored surgeon. Jeffers’s benediction portrays a parent who surrounds his child with love and steadies her as she learns how to bring her dreams to fruition. Ages 4–8.
The Willoughbys Return
Lois Lowry (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
ISBN 978-0-358-42389-8, $17.99
Twelve years after the publication of The Willoughbys and set 30 years after it takes place, Lowry’s quirky cast returns for another madcap adventure. With the Willoughby siblings now grown, the eldest—Tim, now a candy manufacturing magnate—is living lavishly with his 11-year-old son, Richie, in Commander Melanoff’s mansion, when a draconian new law criminalizes candy and jeopardizes the family’s fortune. They represent a stark contrast to the Poores, aptly named neighbors whose patriarch is away on a futile mission to sell outdated encyclopedias. In their father’s absence, Winifred, 10, and Winston, 12, help their mother turn the modest home into a B&B for much-needed funds. Their first guests? The newly defrosted Willoughby parents, who arrive fresh off a Swiss Alp clueless about the passage of time and increasingly eager to make amends with the children they once mistreated. Lowry’s arch narration, enhanced by amusing footnote asides, moves nimbly across many story lines, employing running jokes and resulting in an entertainingly absurd revival that recalls Roald Dahl’s oeuvre. Ages 8–12.
Will You Be My Friend?
Sam McBratney, illus. by Anita Jeram (Candlewick)
ISBN 978-1-5362-1747-6, $17.99
Twenty-five years after publishing evergreen bestseller Guess How Much I Love You, McBratney and Jeram offer a similarly resonant sequel in which Little Nutbrown Hare goes exploring alone when Big Nutbrown Hare is preoccupied. “You’re only another me!” he tells his reflection and his shadow before continuing his quest to find “someone real.” Before long, he encounters a snow-white hare, Tipps, who asks Little Nutbrown the titular question. The two bond instantly and silently frolic together on a bucolic mountainside. McBratney’s strategically spare narrative leaves ample space for children to personalize the tale, whose affecting affirmation of independence and friendship plays out with corresponding authenticity in Jeram’s airy ink and watercolor paintings. Ages 3–7.
These top picks from this year’s crop of graphic novels deserve a bow around them.
Jeff Smith (Graphix)
ISBN 978-1-338-62067-2, $22.99
Adding to the Bone universe, Smith offers two short comics stories bursting with personality. The first, “Finders Keepers,” features the three Bone boys daydreaming on a curb. In the second, “Smiley’s Dream Book,” a dopey Smiley flies joyfully through the air counting colorful avian friends, some in hats and scarves, until a menacing bird of prey threatens. Smith’s art style features bold, curving lines; vivid colors; and emotive characters, which, paired with the large panels and minimal use of text, makes this an ideal pick for burgeoning readers and those just discovering graphic novels. Ages 3–5.
Donut Feed the Squirrels (Norma and Belly #1)
Mika Song (Random House Graphic)
ISBN 978-1-984895-83-7, $12.99
This Robin Hood–tinged graphic novel gives a blow-by-blow account of a doughnut heist carried out by improbably named squirrels Norma and Belly. Their target? A red doughnut truck run by a grouchy human proprietor who not only spurns payment in chestnuts but also sprays them with a water bottle. If he’s not willing to accept honest payment, they conclude, they’re justified in turning to crime. Their scheme produces doughnuts for everybody, and an unexpected treat for the doughnut purveyor, too. Drawing with graceful ink lines and colored wash, Song capitalizes on comic moments: the way the spray bottle turns Norma and Belly into unrecognizable floofs, the precariously balanced tower of stolen goods. Norma and Belly are never snarky; instead, they present a consistent mix of enterprise, wit, and cheer. Ages 5–8.
Gene Luen Yang (First Second)
ISBN 978-1-62672-079-4, $24.99
In 2014, as a teacher at a Catholic high school in Oakland, Calif., Printz Medalist Yang (American Born Chinese) is drawn to a story about the school’s basketball team—the Dragons. Rumor has it that under the current coach, a former player at the school, this year’s team will surely grab the state championship. Shadowing the group for an entire season, Yang interviews players and coaches to uncover the talented students’ stories and the program’s past. Using documentary-style storytelling, Yang serves as both narrator and character, alternating player backstories and the Dragons’ 2014 season with interstitials about the sport’s beginnings and early tensions, historical and present-day discrimination, and Yang’s own work-life balance. With his signature illustrations that bring the fast-paced games to life, Yang has crafted a triumphant, telescopic graphic memoir that explores the effects of legacy and the power of taking a single first step, no matter the outcome. Ages 14–up.
The Postman from Space
Guillaume Perreault, trans. from the French by Françoise Bui (Holiday House)
ISBN 978-0-8234-4584-4, $22.99
This comically low-key import follows Bob, “a special postman. A postman from space,” who prefers that his life be “nice and easy,” featuring a regular morning routine and a standard delivery route. When his boss reassigns the routes (“You’ll be getting a different one every day”), Bob sets out to places he’s never been: planets, remote locations, and an asteroid across the galaxy. Bob’s journey presents endless frustrations that disrupt his want for things to be “simple and orderly”—sudden rain, an unreasonable Little Prince–like customer who demands the postman “draw me a sheep,” and language barriers, to name a few. It’s easy to identify with Bob’s frustration, making his moments of defeat (a filthy uniform, a lost sandwich) all the more empathic. Though it features simple shapes, Perreault’s art is anything but plain—clean lines and bright highlight colors lend visual accessibility to the myriad extraterrestrial characters, and large panels keep the story moving along at a decent clip. Ages 7–up.
Stuck Together (Pea, Bee, & Jay #1)
Brian “Smitty” Smith (HarperAlley)
ISBN 978-0-06-298116-5, $12.99
A green pea, a bespectacled honeybee, and a blue jay become fast friends in this lively graphic novel early reader. “No rolling too far from our row,” warns Pea’s mother, but it’s not long before a dare sends Pea on a fast-paced adventure beyond the farm. Smith’s cinematic panels capture the action with suspense and style: storm clouds gather in the distance as Pea rolls under the fence and eventually to a stop, lost, beside Bee. Though Bee claims that birds are “the absolute worst,” the pair is soon joined by Jay, a flightless lone blue jay. Puns and jokes abound, making this series opener as silly as it is sincere about friendship’s value. Pea, Bee, and Jay may make for unlikely companions, but just like the sandwich, they form an unbeatable team. Ages 6–10.
When Stars Are Scattered
Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (Dial)
ISBN 978-0-525-55390-8, $20.99
Based on coauthor Mohamed’s childhood after fleeing Somalia on foot with his younger brother, this affecting graphic novel follows the brothers’ life in a Kenyan refugee camp. Though loving foster mother Fatuma cares for the boys, Mohamed watches out for his largely nonverbal younger brother and longs to find their biological mother, and—like nearly everyone in the vast camp—waits for a life-changing, seemingly arbitrary UN interview that will determine whether the boys will be resettled. Jamieson and Mohamed together craft a cohesive, winding story that balances daily life and boredom, past traumas, and unforeseen outcomes alongside camp denizens’ ingenuity and community. Expressive, memorable characters by Jamieson work and play against backdrops of round-topped UN tents, while colorist Iman Geddy’s deep purple skies drive home the title. The result of this team effort is a personal and poignant entry point for young readers trying to understand an unfair world. Back matter includes photographs of the brothers and authors’ notes. Ages 9–12.
Science and current affairs are covered via frogs, personal stories, and more in this crop of nonfiction for young readers.
April Pulley Sayre (Beach Lane)
ISBN 978-1-5344-2881-2, $17.99
Focused on frogs’ essential frog-ness rather than anthropomorphized interpretations of amphibian life, Sayre uses rich photographs and evocative language to explore how frogs might understand and experience their environments. Spare, poetic language with a loose sense of rhyme is paired with photographs documenting frogs at rest and in motion: “A frog must hunt./ It scans. It spies./ It crawls. It lunges./ It fails. Retries.” Sayre’s close-up photos have a crystalline lucidity, immersing readers in the animals’ lush, watery world. Simple questions invite readers to consider how the world may look and feel to a frog. Sayre’s gentle argument—“for me a made-up frog cannot match the beauty of a real frog—a creature so alive in its pond world”—persuades. Ages 3–8.
Condor Comeback (Scientists in the Field)
Sy Montgomery, photos by Tianne Strombeck (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
ISBN 978-0-544-81653-4, $18.99
The California Condor’s stunning and fragile existence swoops into focus in the latest Scientists in the Field title. In 1982, fewer than two dozen California Condors were left in the wild. A collective effort led by conservationists and zoos is slowly rebuilding the population, but they remain critically endangered. As Montgomery relates this history, she introduces readers to scientists and volunteers working to protect the condor today, including experts at the Los Angeles Zoo, field ornithologists, toxicologists, and a Chumash tribal educator, who discusses how “the condor is a spirit helper for the Chumash.” Alongside Strombeck’s crisp photographs, Montgomery details the realities of their work—from thrilling moments such as spotting a baby chick to long observation sessions where little happens—and has a knack for evocative descriptions. Though the condor’s future remains tenuous, Montgomery’s compelling page-turner inspires optimism. Ages 10–12.
How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (and Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion
Ashima Shiraishi, illus. by Yao Xiao. (Make Me a World)
ISBN 978-1-5247-7327-4, $17.99
Teen author and climber Shiraishi doesn’t just scale rocks—she solves problems. In crisp, vibrant spreads, Xiao, making her picture book debut, shows Shiraishi confronting a massive rock face. “Once I had a problem and it stretched into the sky,” she writes. The next spread shows the boulder covered with images, visual mnemonics to help her along the way; “One part was arched like a question mark, another part stuck out like my father’s elbow.” Now Shiraishi starts climbing, using no ropes. Vignettes show her at each hold—twisting, pushing, grasping. Then she falls, hard. She takes a break, taking in “the new information the fall had given me.” She climbs and falls again until, eventually, she scales the wall. Xiao’s cleanly outlined forms and intensely saturated hues show Ashima honing analytical skills whose power reaches beyond the climbing wall to the rest of life. Ages 4–8.
How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure
John Rocco (Crown)
ISBN 978-0-525-64741-6, $29.99
This expansive illustrated history of the Apollo space program delves ambitiously into the collective efforts and engineering feats required to send the first astronauts to the moon. In David Macaulay–esque style, pages brim with labeled diagrams, close-ups, and cutaways showcasing myriad technologies, including the inner workings of a rocket engine and the intricacies of spacesuit design. The book’s seven sections profile many lesser-known scientists, engineers, technicians, and seamstresses who comprised a workforce 400,000 strong. Scientific principles also get full billing, often accompanied by simple experiments easily conducted at home. Using realistic colorized drawings, Rocco maintains a consistent, accessible aesthetic throughout, while present-tense narration creates an exigent tone. This paean to ingenuity and collaboration, which also functions as a rocket science primer, is nothing short of stellar. Research notes, extensive source lists, a further reading list, acronyms, and an index conclude. Ages 10–up.
David Macaulay (DK)
ISBN 978-1-4654-9146-6, $19.99
Author and illustrator Macaulay, the recipient of numerous awards including a Caldecott and a MacArthur fellowship, takes his readers on an adventure with mammoths to delve into the basics of physics, biology, and chemistry. Mammoths (and elephant shrews) wrestle with magnets to understand their powerful force, dangle from high wires to understand momentum, and step into an X-ray machine to reveal the bones beneath their woolly exterior. Renowned for his ability to explain complex ideas with simplicity and oddball humor, Macaulay moves from the interior of an atom to the solar system on an educational journey that will thrill young readers. Ages 8-12.
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-Winning ‘Stamped from the Beginning’
Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi (Little, Brown)
ISBN 978-0-316-45369-1, $18.99
Reynolds lends his signature flair to remixing Kendi’s award-winning Stamped from the Beginning into a powerful “not a history book” primer on the historical roots and present-day manifestations of anti-Black racism in America. In five sections, Reynolds’s conversational text discusses the influential figures, movements, and events that have propagated racist ideas, beginning in 1415 with the publication of the infamous work that laid the groundwork for subsequent religious justifications of enslaving African peoples and proceeding through to the present day and #BlackLivesMatter. Employing a format that hews closely to Kendi’s original, Reynolds discusses and differentiates between segregationist (“a hater”), assimilationist (“a coward”), and anti-racist (“someone who truly loves”) rhetoric via figures such as Angela Davis, W.E.B. Du Bois, Thomas Jefferson, and Cotton Mather. Told impressively economically and loaded with historical details that connect clearly to current experiences, Kendi and Reynolds’s volume is essential, meaningfully accessible reading. Ages 12–up.
Your Place in the Universe
Jason Chin (Holiday House/Porter)
ISBN 978-0-8234-4623-0, 18.99
This dizzyingly powerful exploration of comparative scale starts with an inclusive group of eight-year-old children who are “about five times as tall as this book, but only half as tall as... this ostrich,” which is itself “taller than two eight-year-olds standing on each other’s shoulders.” Page-turn cliffhangers build a pleasing buzz of suspense as Caldecott Honoree Chin (Grand Canyon) adroitly guides readers from ostriches to redwood trees, past skyscrapers and Mount Everest, through Earth’s layered atmosphere to the moon, and beyond. Brief asides offer crystalline explanations of supplemental information, including units of measurement and concepts such as gravitational orbits and the speed of light. Chin’s realistic watercolor and gouache illustrations render awestruck children and cosmic shimmer with inimitable skill, and a magnificent spread comparing Mount Everest’s mass to that of human-built structures is likely to draw gasps. Extensive back matter centers scale and astronomical concepts. Ages 4–8.
Good for Gifting
The Antiquarian Sticker Book
ISBN 978-1-250-20814-9, $24.99. All ages.
Knots: The 20 Essential Knots Everyone Should Know! (Show-How Guides)
Keith Zoo (Odd Dot)
ISBN 978-1-250-24995-1, $5.99. Ages 6–11.
The Lost Spells
Robert Macfarlane, illus. by Jackie Morris (Anansi International)
ISBN 978-1-487007799, $26. All ages.
Serpentine (His Dark Materials)
Philip Pullman, illus. by Tom Duxbury (Knopf)
ISBN 978-0-593-37768-0, $12.99. Ages 10–up.
The Small Walt Collection
Elizabeth Verdick, illus. by Marc Rosenthal (S&S/Wiseman)
ISBN 978-1-5344-7130-6, $53.99. Ages 4–8.
Gianni Rodari, illus. by Valerio Vidal (Enchanted Lion)
ISBN 978-1-59270-284-8, $27.95. Ages 8–12.