Board, picture, middle grade, and YA books reflect the richness of Black lives.
Keller draws on the history of the American Civil War in this picture book centering on Lettie, a girl searching for her family. A work of historical fiction, the book incorporates real ads placed in 19th-century newspapers by Black Americans hoping to locate lost or scattered family members in the aftermath of the war and emancipation.
The Equinox Test
Students at the Brooklyn School of Magic are tested inside and outside the classroom in this illustrated series launch from New Yorker cartoonist Montague. The upcoming Equinox Test will decide whether Rose, Amethyst, and Lavender continue their study of magic. In the meantime, the three Magic Bearers must also deal with family expectations, homesickness, and a cheating scandal.
PW’s starred review called Gomera-Tavarez’s debut short story collection, High Spirits, “sensitive” and “soulfully crafted.” In the writer and graphic designer’s new work of YA magical realism, three Caribbean American teenagers growing up in New Jersey are aided by magical talismans—a mind-controlling jacket, a miraculous baseball bat, and a ring that acts as a love charm—as they navigate overcrowded schools, overpowering crushes, and other trials of adolescence.
Accepting the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2020, Callender said that young readers “are the ones who are meant to change everything.” They make what PW’s starred review called a “standout” YA fantasy debut with the story of Ash and Ramsay, a pair of young alchemists in New Anglia. The two meet on the grounds of the College of Alchemic Science and team up to undertake a dangerous quest, drawn to each other despite their differences.
Kamau & ZuZu Find a Way
National Book Critics Circle Award finalist and poet Girmay crafts a cosmic metaphor for the Black diaspora in this picture book illustrated by New Yorker contributor Ejaita. After Kamau and his grandmother ZuZu suddenly wake up on the moon, they must draw on the culture ZuZu lovingly remembers in order to thrive and establish connections with far-flung, much-missed relatives.
Featuring photos and illustrations depicting the author’s travels, this memoir weaves together history, science, and the curious logistics of spending time on the world’s coldest continent. Coretta Scott King Honoree Neri told PW that his work is driven by the wish to speak to children “who often lack access to science and nature, as well as role models of color.”
The Old Truck
In this board book adaptation of the Pumphrey brothers’ PW-starred debut, they revisit the story of a trusty, loyal truck used by a Black farming family. As the family’s daughter grows up, the truck grows old. But the daughter’s dedication, ambition, and hard work—“she dreamed and persisted”—may prove restorative.
This wide-ranging anthology gathers work by 37 poets, including Kwame Alexander, Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Audre Lorde, and Danez Smith. Themes of belonging, alienation, community, and race, as well as influences from history and myth, structure the collection. “Our goal is to show it all,” the editors write, and to invite “young adults into this lush world of folklore and the Black experience.”
Punk Rock Karaoke
A nonbinary rocker comes of age in this graphic novel from cartoonist Xunise. As school wraps up and the summer begins in Chicago, Ariel Grace Jones and their friends Michele and Gael hope that their punk band Baby Hares will finally become a success, even as their dedication to music and commitment to their friendship are tested. In the DIY tradition, Xunise includes a zine illustrating the touchstones of punk rock history.
The Secret Library
The latest from National Book Award finalist and NAACP Image Award winner Magoon is a fantastical tale of discovery, as Dally, a biracial 11-year-old, explores a library where every book has the ability to send her on a voyage through time. Adventuring with pirates and uncovering the secrets of her family’s history, Dally must contend with her strict mother’s plans for her future while learning to take her own desires into account.
Winston, whose Lotus Bloom and the Afro Revolution addressed bullying within communities of color, writes about the foster care system in this middle grade novel. Sharkita “Kita” Hayes does everything she can to keep her family in one place, even as she fears that her mother’s difficulties with drinking will cause Kita and her siblings to be split up. When her dance coach becomes involved, Kita discovers that her fears may have been misplaced.
Set at the Carnival festival, Brazil’s most beloved public holiday, this picture book celebrates and encourages individuality as well communal joy. Colorful illustrations of festivalgoers include signage with Portuguese words like sorvete (ice cream) and milho (corn). Pippins also includes instructions for making a fancy mask, carrying the holiday’s vibrant spirit beyond the book’s pages. —V.K.