Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee
This book is a great mix of fantasy and sci-fi for middle grade readers who love adventure books. Min, a shapeshifter, begins her adventure when an investigator comes to her home in Jinju inquiring about her brother who he accuses of deserting his responsibilities as a Space Cadet. Min knows her brother, so instead of cooperating, she takes off to find him. This book also offers opportunities for children to think about questions of ethics and morality. Many of Min’s, and her friends’, actions walk the line between trickery and obligation. I enjoyed it and I’m sure kids will, too!
Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy by Rey Terciero
Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy is a retelling of Little Women with a diverse cast, modern drama and issues, and set in Brooklyn, NY. The story has parallels with the original story and retains that “epic” feel of older novels. It’s pretty dramatic- there are a lot of tears, but the tweens will probably love it more for that. I’m going to recommend this one to the same demographic that enjoys Raina Telgemeier, Svetlana Chmkova, and the like. It’s a mature next step for these readers.
Meena Meets Her Match by Karla Manternatch
A fantastic early chapter book about friendship, managing emotions, and battling an unknown illness. What I love most about this book is the way Meena handles her “Ups and Downs” as she calls them. She is very aware of her feelings and what she needs to do to manage them. This book would make a great chapter book to read together as a family and discuss. It is also pretty funny and Meena is a well-developed character. It should hold the attention of any kid who enjoys Junie B. Jones, Judy Moody, and other books with a humorous, young protagonist written in 1st person.
Spy Runner by Eugene Yelchin
A rambunctious boy finds himself caught in the middle of a real-life spy mission. The target could be anyone- the gold-toothed man standing outside his house, the 2 G-men asking him questions, or even the Russian living in his house! This book is set during the Cold War.
Totally outside my regular genre preference, but also totally worth it! Very fast-paced, cliffhangers at the end of every short chapter, dispersed with atmospheric illustrations. Makes for great readers’ advisory for middle grade readers of historical fiction, spy stories, action adventures, etc.
The Moon Within by Aida Salazar
Celi is a Afrolatinx girl who is growing up. She has a best friend, a crush, and is waiting on her period. In many ways, this is a classic story. In other ways, it’s completely revolutionary.
Celi has amazing group of women around that affirm her body and womanhood. They even plan to celebrate her first period with a Moon Ceremony inspired by her Mexica and Yoruba heritage. Celi isn’t too excited about it but her Mima says: “Celi, your moon will not be like mine / You will not begin womanhood in doubt / in shame / but surrounded by the strength / of women in your community” I’m honestly without words. I can’t imagine having a story so affirming of my woman-ness as a child and I imagine it would have been a very positive thing if I did. I’m glad Salazar has provided such a story for the young girls of today.
When I first read reviews for this book and it mentioned that not only was it a feminist dream of a story, but also portrayed a gender fluid child as Celi’s best friend, I was excited but also skeptical— are we just trying to cram in as many social justice issues as possible into this narrative? But I stand corrected, Salazar has written a beautiful, representative piece of children’s fiction. Not only is Mar’s portrayal important for representation, he doesn’t feel like an out of place character at all. His story fits beautifully with the Mexica spirituality and coming of age rituals.
This story does use a lot of Nuathl and Spanish. And it’s written in verse. This often made it challenging to read and understand, and I imagine it would be a challenge for many children…. but I don’t think that takes away from its greatness. Not all books have to cater to English speakers.