Jon Little

Portico Reeves isn't an average kid, and he doesn't live in an average house. He lives in the biggest house in the world. In fact, it's a castle. Well, it's actually an apartment building, but it is pretty big. And all those people who also live in the building? They're not neighbors. They're characters in a television show starring Portico's superhero alter ego: Stuntboy!

Is Stuntboy faster than a speeding bullet? No. Does he have X-ray vision or super strength? Also no. But he is brave enough to jump in front of the new kid, Zola, when she attracts the attention of Stuntboy's archnemesis, Herbert Singletary the Worst? You bet he is.

As Stuntboy, Portico can withstand a bully's barbed words, but when the trouble tracks closer to home, he struggles to keep up his superheroic facade. His grandmother calls it the frets. Portico's stomach begins to twist, and he doesn't know what to do. Lately, his parents' separation and constant arguing have been making Portico's frets worse than ever.

In his first original graphic novel, award-winning author Jason Reynolds, whose tenure as National Ambassador for Young People's literature was recently extended for a third year, gives readers a comic book superhero whose adventures feel both timely and classic. Stuntboy, in the Meantime is an imaginative tale of creative resilience and friendship.

The book's illustrations by Pura Belpré Illustrator Award-winning artist Raúl the Third are stylish and energetic. When Zola relates Portico's troubles to her favorite sci-fi TV show, "Super Space Warriors," scenes appear straight out of a midcentury comic book, complete with Benday dots and bold, psychedelic colors by Elaine Bay.

Beneath its superheroic trappings, Stuntboy, in the Meantime is an appealing story about a young boy struggling to bolster himself against the mundane uncertainties in his life. Portico finds winning allies in this quest, including Zola, who shows him strategies for settling his anxiety. Underpinning it all is the notion that to overcome our fears, we must turn our attention outward. To save ourselves, we must serve others.

Is Stuntboy faster than a speeding bullet? Er, no. Can he defeat the frets, those feelings he gets when his life feels out of control? Find out in Stuntboy, in the Meantime!

One morning, Malian awakens from a dream to find a dog outside her grandparents’ home on the reservation, where she’s been staying since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s the same dog, in fact, that she’d been dreaming of only minutes before. She names him Malsum, which means “wolf” in the language of her people, the Penacook. 

Malsum may look fierce, but he proves to be a gentle and loyal protector. When a coughing mail carrier approaches the house, Malsum’s bark keeps him at bay. When a woman from social services shows up, checking to see if the home Malian is living in is “fit” for children, Malsum stands between Malian and danger once again, his lethal canines bared.

If Malsum is Malian’s protector, her grandparents are her lodestar. They provide the stories and histories that lead her to a deeper understanding of herself and her country. Their stories reveal how COVID-19 and the postal service worker who exhibits its symptoms are not only a threat but also a reminder of pandemics past, of smallpox and other diseases that decimated Native tribes. Their stories link the nosy social service worker to generations of mistreatment of Native people, whether through bad faith treaties that forcibly removed them from their lands or by so-called “boarding schools” that separated children from their families, languages and culture.

Joseph Bruchac’s Rez Dogs is a poignant reminder that history, story and identity are intimately intertwined. Bruchac centers the story of one Native American girl during the pandemic and, with it, the stories of her family and her people. This short, pithy novel written in spare verse brings the weight of history to bear on the present, revealing not only how history shapes us but how, through the stories we tell, we can shape history.

Joseph Bruchac’s Rez Dogs is a poignant reminder that history, story and identity are intimately intertwined. Bruchac centers the story of one Native American girl during the pandemic and, with it, the stories of her family and her people.

Jacqueline Woodson’s Before the Ever After places professional football’s concussion epidemic front and center.

ZJ had it all: musical talent, a solid group of friends, a strong, supportive mom and a famous football-player dad he adored. But that was before. Before his dad’s hands began to tremble. Before his dad’s memory began to fade. When his father is diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease caused by the multiple concussions he experienced on the playing field, ZJ must face the prospect of losing his father and the relationship he holds most dear.

Award-winning author Woodson tells ZJ’s story in intimate, compelling poems that slip through time. We see ZJ as a small child riding on his father’s shoulders, far above the fray of reporters and fans. We hear their heart-to-heart conversations, listen to ZJ’s dad muse on his love for football and watch as the cracks and fissures of memory loss, anger and confusion creep into their idyllic life.

A stirring, character-driven novel in verse, Before the Ever After doesn’t sugarcoat harsh realities but addresses them with considered care and optimism. Woodson is far too adept a storyteller to directly answer many of the questions she raises, but ZJ’s quiet resilience and the network of nurturing figures who surround him suggest a path lit by glimmers of hope.

Jacqueline Woodson’s Before the Ever After places professional football’s concussion epidemic front and center. ZJ had it all: musical talent, a solid group of friends, a strong, supportive mom and a famous football-player dad he adored. But that was before. Before his dad’s hands began to tremble. Before his dad’s memory began to fade. When […]

Lami’s Nigerian home is part of a large compound where many other children and families live—not to mention cattle, goats, chickens and one grand old baobab tree, in whose shade the elders gather to converse.

In the compound, everyone is good at something. Lami’s sister Sadia is a spelling whiz. Fatima, Lami’s friend, is the fastest hair-braider around. And Lami has a special talent, too: She’s the best chicken catcher around.

Catch That Chicken! follows Lami as she zips across the bustling compound in pursuit of one fleeing fowl after another. “Get that chicken,” her grandmother shouts as Lami darts under laundry lines draped with brightly printed clothing. Hot on the chase, Lami zooms through a cattle pin and a schoolyard. When a chicken squawks up the branches of the baobab tree, Lami is undeterred.

The elders plead for care when they see her her teetering overhead, but Lami only has eyes for the object of her fowl pursuit. She creeps down a broad, sweeping branch, readies herself to lunge and then—CRASH! How will Lami catch chickens with an injured ankle?

Nigerian-born author and storyteller Atinuke’s clever narrative and Angela Brooksbank’s vibrant mixed-media illustrations bring an entire community to life in just a few pages. The book’s text makes excellent use of repetition and alliteration, ensuring a read-aloud hit that young readers will beg to hear again and again. Brooksbank’s images complement the text perfectly; her use of double-page spreads to set the scene and sequential panels to convey the action of Lami’s chases is the work of an illustrator who uses every inch of the page to its fullest potential.

Rooted in the wonderful specificity of everyday life in Nigeria, this tale of wit and perseverance has universal appeal. Catch That Chicken! is a joy.

Lami’s Nigerian home is part of a large compound where many other children and families live—not to mention cattle, goats, chickens and one grand old baobab tree, in whose shade the elders gather to converse. In the compound, everyone is good at something. Lami’s sister Sadia is a spelling whiz. Fatima, Lami’s friend, is the […]

From once-green leaves turning brilliant hues each autumn to our own eventually graying hair, our brief time together is marked by constant change. Pausing to reflect on life’s transience may inspire sadness, but in Things That Go Away, author-illustrator Beatrice Alemagna reminds us that change isn’t always an occasion for sorrow. 


Things That Go Away uses simple, image-driven language and engaging artwork to explore its titular concept. Between each spread of Alemagna’s signature oil paintings is a sheet of sparsely illustrated onion paper. With each turn of this translucent paper, Alemagna reveals things that vanish or are transformed, from the relenting pounding of rain that gives way to sunshine to music that fills a room only to dissolve into silence.

While the loss of a friend may cut us to the quick, other changes in our lives can be welcome, even joyful. Among the many transitions Alemagna includes are acknowledgements of the sweet solace that comes at the end of a fear-filled night and the relief we experience when the dense fog of dark thoughts finally clears. Through illustrations of steam unfurling from a morning cup of coffee and soap bubbles blown into the wind that drift upwards beyond the reach of giggling children’s fingertips, Alemagna suggests that we might find everyday transformations wondrous, rather than mundane, if we would only take the time to stop and consider them.

In spread after spread, Alemagna meditates on the wide range of changes we face as we live our lives. If this were all Things That Go Away accomplished, it would be enough. But in its ending, the book achieves much, much more. In her book’s final moments, Alemagna pivots from reflecting on things that change to show us, instead, something that endures. In a world adrift in change, Alemagna seems to say, something must anchor us, and for her, that something is love.

From once-green leaves turning brilliant hues each autumn to our own eventually graying hair, our brief time together is marked by constant change. Pausing to reflect on life’s transience may inspire sadness, but in Things That Go Away, author-illustrator Beatrice Alemagna reminds us that change isn’t always an occasion for sorrow. 
 Things That Go […]

Where’s Baby? puts a fresh twist on the concept behind the classic picture book Are You My Mother? Rather than a fledgling baby bird wandering far and wide, mistaking all manner of animals and objects for its mother, in Anne Hunter’s fanciful world, a hapless father fox sets out to find his cheeky baby pup.

Unable to find Baby Fox in the den, Papa Fox grabs his walking stick and heads into the forest. He climbs hills and wanders through fields. He peeks into burrows and peers into hollowed-out logs. Along the way, he finds an owl perched high in the canopy, a fish floating along in the creek and even a black bear out enjoying the day, but Baby Fox always manages to elude him.

Hunter’s illustrations are a striking testament to what can be achieved with just a few colored pencils and an ink pen. They’re also an integral part of this giggle-inducing hide-and-seek story, offering young readers the delight of spotting stealthy Baby Fox on each page as he sneaks around, avoiding his unwitting father’s gaze.

Though adults might be confused by Papa Fox’s inability to catch a glimpse of his child (is his vision going? Has he lost his keen sense of smell? Is he really that dull-witted?), clever and sharp-eyed children will look on Baby Fox’s evasions with glee as they point him out on page after page.

From its language to its artwork, Where’s Baby? is so sparse that it’s almost minimalist. At first glance, it seems to be a very simple book. And it is—simply entertaining.

Where’s Baby? puts a fresh twist on the concept behind the classic picture book Are You My Mother? Rather than a fledgling baby bird wandering far and wide, mistaking all manner of animals and objects for its mother, in Anne Hunter’s fanciful world, a hapless father fox sets out to find his cheeky baby pup. Unable […]

Sign Up

Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!

Trending Features

Sign Up

Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!