Angela Leeper

David is a popular senior, class president, on the fast track to college and part of a power couple with A-list girlfriend Sharon. After being home-schooled until eighth grade, Jamie is a loner sophomore who has never been kissed and who is still grieving the loss of her father. These two seemingly mismatched teens meet when David’s usually manageable cystic fibrosis lands him in the hospitable indefinitely and Jamie, a Smile Awhile volunteer, makes her rounds on his floor. In Just Breathe, Cammie McGovern (A Step Toward Falling) traces the development of their tenuous relationship in alternating perspectives.

David and Jamie’s interactions begin with light banter, making origami and watching classic movies. But they turn to deeper discussions as David must confront life-or-death decisions. While ruminating about his future, David decides what really matters in the time he has left. At the top of his growing list is spending more time with Jamie.

At the beginning of this authentic novel, made all the more gripping by David and Jamie’s candid conversations, readers may get the impression that David’s dilemma is the story’s focus. But as they discover more about Jamie’s background, they’ll realize that Jamie is no stranger to being a hospital patient either, and that there’s more going on behind her ability to connect with David’s need for healing.

Just when David and Jamie’s relationship is about to flourish, reality strikes, leaving both teens’ health in precarious situations. The effect is intense, and it pushes the boundaries of friendship and love. Although the future is uncertain for David and Jamie, McGovern leaves readers with a sense of hope in the face of adversity.

David is a popular senior, class president, on the fast track to college and part of a power couple with A-list girlfriend Sharon. After being home-schooled until eighth grade, Jamie is a loner sophomore who has never been kissed and who is still grieving the loss of her father. These two seemingly mismatched teens meet […]

It could be the end of Earth as they know it. A newly discovered alien planet that calls itself Alma has sent humanity a message: In seven days, it will decide whether or not to destroy Earth. But three teens have more pressing problems in Farah Naz Rishi’s dynamic debut, I Hope You Get This Message.

Since his dad died, Jesse has been trying to ensure he and his mom don’t lose their home in Roswell, New Mexico. Although the Latino teen dates other guys, he never gets too close to them. Cate, on the other hand, has a bucket list of actions she wants to check off in San Francisco, but finds it hard to take care of herself while also caring for her schizophrenic single mom. Finally, Adeem, an amateur radio enthusiast in Carson City, Nevada, is still grieving the loss of his older sister, Leyla, who ran away from their Muslim family after coming out. As the possible apocalypse motivates Cate to search for her long-lost father and Adeem to search for Leyla, Jesse uses his dad’s abandoned computer in a scheme to charge gullible travelers to send their final wishes to Alma.

This nuanced and realistic story (with a twist of science fiction) is driven not merely by Jesse, Cate and Adeem’s journeys, but by the moments where those journeys intersect. The novel aptly culminates in Roswell, a town at the heart of alien lore. Along with the three protagonists’ points of view, Rishi also includes excerpts from the aliens’ deliberations on Alma; the alien perspective provides an enlightening, external look at the harsh realities and endless potential of human beings. For Adeem, Cate, Jesse and readers alike, the end of the world might turn out to be the beginning of hope.

It could be the end of Earth as they know it. A newly discovered alien planet that calls itself Alma has sent humanity a message: In seven days, it will decide whether or not to destroy Earth. But three teens have more pressing problems in Farah Naz Rishi’s dynamic debut, I Hope You Get This […]

Twelve-year-old amateur astronomer Liberty Johansen used to love watching the stars and making up new constellations with her dad. But since her parents decided to separate and her father moved out of the house, spending time with her father and the love shared between them have become relics of the past.

Now Liberty is angry all the time. She’s angry at her depressed father for living with a new girlfriend, at her former friend Leah and her classmates who have “excommunicated” her, at the pressure to find boyfriends and girlfriends and even at her steadfast mother (though Liberty isn’t sure why). The only one who seems to understand Liberty’s pain is a meteorite that fell from space when Liberty’s own sense of normalcy fell down around her, too.

In this searingly realistic novel, author Amy Sarig King explores mental illness, the trauma of divorce and their intertwined relationship. Mingled with Liberty’s anger is an overwhelming sense of loss, making her wonder whether she might be depressed or prone to depression like her father.

As spunky, resilient Liberty meets with counselors, talks (and listens!) to her meteorite and sets boundaries for herself, she learns that divorce is a kind of mourning, complete with its own stages of grief. While full acceptance might still be as far away as the cosmos, she begins to recognize her control, including how to chart her stars—and her new life—again. Through Liberty’s process, King gives young readers who are also struggling with these issues the hope to persevere.

Twelve-year-old amateur astronomer Liberty Johansen used to love watching the stars and making up new constellations with her dad. But since her parents decided to separate and her father moved out of the house, spending time with her father and the love shared between them have become relics of the past. Now Liberty is angry […]

Alexa, age 9 ¾, and her group of friends are changed when a boy named Ahmet takes the seat at the back of the class. In this debut novel and British import, the classmates learn that this quiet boy is a refugee from Syria. Brendan the Bully and his gang try to terrorize Ahmet, other students spread rumors about him, and parents instill intolerance in their children by spewing disparaging remarks about him. Nevertheless, Alexa sets out not only to befriend this newcomer but also to understand what it means to be a refugee.

She starts with a list of questions, from why he had to leave his home country to what his favorite fruit is. But as Alexa learns more about Ahmet, including his arduous trek across countries and his separation from his family, she forms even more questions. And when Alexa discovers that England’s borders will soon close and Ahmet may never get to see his parents again, she gathers her friends to carry out “The Greatest Idea in the World,” a daring plan that involves contacting the queen for assistance.

Onjali Q. Raúf’s heartwarming story highlights the plight of young refugees around the world. To help children comprehend and empathize with Ahmet’s plight, the book offers additional information about refugees in the United States, refugee resettlement agencies and how refugees differ from migrants. Readers of all ages will appreciate the guided questions and discussion prompts to think about one’s own identity and place.

Alexa sets out to befriend a newcomer and to understand what it means to be a refugee.

M.G. Hennessey knows that some children lead tough lives. Her debut, The Other Boy, tackled what it’s like to be transgender, and her sophomore novel, The Echo Park Castaways, takes readers into the foster care system. Alternating perspectives follow Nevaeh, a black eighth-grader who dreams of becoming a doctor; Vic, a Salvadoran-American fifth-grader whose father was deported and who disassociates by assuming a spy persona; and Mara, a tiny Latinx third-grade girl with limited English skills. Together they live with widowed, overworked Mrs. K in her Echo Park, California, home. In this insightful story, their set routines are disrupted by the arrival of Quentin, who has Asperger’s.

When Quentin becomes adamant about seeing his sick mother, Vic takes on the challenge of Quentin’s reunion. When quiet Mara sneaks along, Nevaeh, the caregiver of the group, must find them and bring them back before their foster mother decides to kick them all out. It begins as a doomed trek filled with buses and unknown neighborhoods, but a string of unexpected joys, truths and one life-altering Ferris wheel ride weave through the day.

Hennessey tempers the harsh realities of these “castaways” with hope and love. While the four children know they’ll probably always be in the foster care system, they’re also held together by an unbreakable bond of support and family.

M.G. Hennessey knows that some children lead tough lives. Her debut, The Other Boy, tackled what it’s like to be transgender, and her sophomore novel, The Echo Park Castaways, takes readers into the foster care system. Alternating perspectives follow Nevaeh, a black eighth-grader who dreams of becoming a doctor; Vic, a Salvadoran-American fifth-grader whose father was deported and who disassociates by assuming a spy persona; and Mara, a tiny Latinx third-grade girl with limited English skills. Together they live with widowed, overworked Mrs. K in her Echo Park, California, home. In this insightful story, their set routines are disrupted by the arrival of Quentin, who has Asperger’s.

Two new picture books with expertly crafted illustrations encourage young readers to venture off the path.


In Susanna Mattiangeli’s The Hideout, a young girl named Hannah decides to live in the park. Topping off her orange hair with a raccoon hat, Hannah sets up a shelter amid the dense foliage. She’s not alone, though. After finding an Odd Furry Creature, she shares her secret hideout, making them each a bed out of leaves and matching capes out of feathers.

Together, they relish their time in the wild, eating biscuit cookies, roasting pigeons on the campfire and collecting caterpillars, sticks and other bits. But what does this Odd Furry Creature even look like? Illustrator Felicita Sala’s intriguing watercolor and colored pencil illustrations slowly reveal its unusual features, from its talon fingers to its fluffy blue tail. Sala also conveys the differences between the quiet and increasingly overgrown vines of the hideout and the bustling activity in the rest of the park.

Although Hannah enjoys her undisturbed time with the Odd Furry Creature, she also realizes that time spent with dogs, balloons and people is also important. She leads her new companion out of the thicket and into the brightly lit park, but when an adult calls to her again, the story ends with Hannah back in her bedroom. With a fine blend of imagination and friendship, Hannah’s adventure is reminiscent of Where the Wild Things Are.

Once there was a river that flowed through a forest. But it didn’t know it was a river until Bear came along. When Bear’s tree-trunk perch snaps, it sends Bear floating down the river on the log, but he doesn’t know it’s the start of an adventure until Froggy hops on him. Thus begins Richard T. Morris’s uproarious Bear Came Along. The fun continues as Bear and Froggy are joined by the Turtles, Beaver, the Raccoons and Duck. Encouraged by the river’s twists and turns—and Beaver’s captain skills—they don’t know to be cautious until a waterfall comes along.

As the woodland animals hold onto one another, they survive the fall, enjoy the ride and realize that although they sometimes live separately, they all rely on one another. Illustrator LeUyen Pham’s watercolor, ink and gouache illustrations show the animals’ exaggerated expressions, which add to the hilarity and tension leading up to the waterfall, and the details in the patterned landscape offer an enriched reading experience.

The opening endpapers offer a black-and-white panoramic view of the story ahead. As children turn the pages, they’ll notice more and more colors as each animal arrives. The final scene and endpapers burst with colors as nature thrives together. Many humans will find plenty to learn about friendship and community from these spirited animals.

Two new picture books with expertly crafted illustrations encourage young readers to venture off the path.

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.

Trending Features

Sign Up

Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!