Justin Barisich

The range of graphic novels and nonfiction for children gets better, more exciting and more popular with each passing year. Even the choosiest young reader won’t be able to resist the charms of these wonderful books.

Marshmallow & Jordan

For the reader who carefully arranges their stuffed animals at the head of their bed every morning—and knows each and every one of their names

Growing up in Indonesia, Jordan is a talented basketball player who lives for the sport. She’s even named after her dad’s favorite player. After an accident two years ago, Jordan is also a paraplegic and uses a wheelchair. Although she’s still the captain of her school’s team, an official rule means she’s not allowed to participate in games against other teams. In spite of her teammates’ sincere efforts to make her feel included, it’s just not the same. 

Jordan’s life changes when she discovers an injured young white elephant at a park one day after basketball practice. She names him Marshmallow and, with help from her veterinarian mom, nurses him back to health. Jordan and Marshmallow become fast friends, but it’s soon clear that the connection between them runs much deeper. Marshmallow obviously needs Jordan’s help, but as it turns out, Jordan needs Marshmallow too. 

As Jordan leans on Marshmallow, he helps her begin to swim, and eventually she discovers a new athletic passion: water polo. But a worsening drought threatens the local water supply and the use of water for recreational purposes like swimming. Could there be a connection between Marshmallow and the much-needed rain?

Marshmallow & Jordan is a practically perfect graphic novel. Jordan’s strong spirit and earnest emotional vulnerabilities make her an appealing and relatable hero, and Marshmallow is irresistibly adorable as his big blue eyes shine with emotion. Lush and lovely, Alina Chau’s delicate watercolor illustrations are rendered in warm pastel tones. The book’s text is fairly minimal, so her images pull a great deal of the narrative weight, making this an ideal choice for young readers still gaining verbal confidence and fluency who would benefit from the unique interplay of words and images that graphic novels offer. 

This beautifully rendered tale, with its fluffy, marshmallow-sweet images, is all heart. 

—Sharon Verbeten

Another Kind

For the reader who has always felt a little out of place—except within the pages of a great book

Inside a hidden government-run facility called the Playroom, six creatures known as Irregularities are living out their childhoods quietly tucked away from society. There’s Omar, who’s half yeti; Sylvie, a will-o’-the-wisp; Newt, a lizard boy; Jaali, who can transform into a Nandi bear; Clarice, a selkie; and Maggie, who might be the daughter of Cthulhu. When the group’s secrecy is compromised and their safety endangered, government agents decide to move them to a more secure location.

Along the way, the powerful youngsters end up fending for themselves in a totally unfamiliar world filled with ordinary people who are totally unfamiliar with them. To survive, they must hide their unusual features and abilities—and avoid detection by dangerous forces that are hot on their trail. When the merry misfits meet other Irregularities and uncover rumors about a place called the Sanctuary, a place where they’ll all be safe, they’re determined to find it and make it their new home.

Trevor Bream’s narrative touches subtly on weighty themes, including gender identity, bullying and feelings of abandonment. At every turn, the story emphasizes the importance of self-acceptance and a sense of belonging within a community—empowering notions for young humans to consider.

Illustrator Cait May’s art is gorgeous. Just as Bream grounds their supernatural characters in emotional realism, May’s linework anchors this fantastical story in a detailed, realistic aesthetic. There’s a lightheartedness in her use of color that’s perfectly suited for a tale that never loses sight of its young characters’ optimism and hopefulness.

Another Kind is a magical graphic novel that movingly demonstrates the power of being different.

—Justin Barisich

★ The Secret Garden on 81st Street

For the reader who knows that if you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden receives a contemporary update in this thoughtful graphic novel. 

Mary Lennox is a loner, and she likes it that way. She doesn’t have friends in her everyday life, but she makes up for it by immersing herself in technology, especially via her cell phone and online video games. Her parents, who both work in Silicon Valley, aren’t home much, which doesn’t help Mary’s isolation. When they’re killed in a tragic accident, Mary must go live with her uncle, whom she barely knows. 

Uncle Archie keeps his New York City mansion tech-free, and Mary has an understandably hard time adjusting to his rules. But with help from her cousin, Colin, and her new friend Dickon, Mary begins to restore the rooftop garden at her uncle’s house. Gradually, Mary starts to acclimate to—and then thrive in—New York, working through her grief and forming meaningful connections along the way.

Adapting a beloved classic to a new form and setting is no small task, and it’s clear that author Ivy Noelle Weir and illustrator Amber Padilla did not take the challenge lightly. Their love for Burnett’s original novel shines through on every page and makes The Secret Garden on 81st Street a truly heartwarming experience. Padilla’s playful, cartoonlike style lends itself wonderfully to expressing the happiness and contentment that Mary slowly finds. Weir’s prose is refreshing and modern, with just enough nods to Burnett’s best-known lines to preserve the story’s classic roots.

Best of all, Weir revisits many of the themes of Burnett’s novel through a contemporary lens, approaching each character’s journey with sensitivity. Colin stays in his room all the time because of anxiety, while Uncle Archie is grieving the loss of his husband, Masahiro. These updates blend perfectly with some of the most powerful elements from the original story, such as the slow transformation of the garden and the ways that nature and human connection have the ability to heal us.

The Secret Garden on 81st Street is a beautiful and respectful new vision of a long-treasured tale.

—Hannah Lamb

Salt Magic

For the reader who would be more that willing to pay the hero’s price for a thrilling, out-of-this-world adventure

Hope Larson (A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel) teams up again with illustrator Rebecca Mock, her partner on Compass South, to create Salt Magic, an absorbing and fast-paced historical fantasy adventure.

There’s a hint of The Wizard of Oz to Salt Magic, which begins in our world, then launches its hero on a quest into a new, magical world before she finally returns home again. Twelve-year-old Vonceil is the youngest of five children on an Oklahoma farm in 1919. She is a determined and appealing character whose boredom and angst simmer on every page, perfectly conveyed through her many evocative facial expressions and especially her piercing eyes. 

As the story opens, Vonceil’s beloved brother Elber has finally returned from World War I after two long years away. Physically and mentally, he’s a changed man, and he seems to have no time for the fun he used to share with his littlest sister. Vonceil feels more alone than ever when Elber marries his sweetheart, Amelia, a local girl. Before long, however, a mysterious, wealthy woman in white named Greda appears in their small town. Greda was Elber’s nurse and lover in Paris, and she is so enraged to learn that Elber has married someone else that she curses his family’s farm, turning all of their precious fresh water into salt water. 

Vonceil feels responsible for Greda’s curse, having hoped that Elder would have a fabulous romance with someone from France and resented Amelia for marrying him instead. When she realizes that Greda is a salt witch, she sets out in the dark of night to try to make things right. So begins a fantastical journey that leads Vonceil to uncover not only Greda’s secrets but also numerous revelations about her own ancestors, culminating in a dangerous bargain to save the family farm and Elber’s life.

Mock’s illustrations make every enchanting, dangerous moment pop. Even a close-up of a seemingly simple handshake between Vonceil and Greta conveys the importance of their dire agreement. Other scenes expertly dramatize the desolate landscape Vonceil traverses, the inescapable power of the all-important salt crystals she discovers and the many strange creatures she encounters along the way. 

Salt Magic is a feast of a tale that treats readers to an epic battle between evil forces and a courageous, persistent young hero.

—Alice Cary

Other Boys

For the reader who needs to hear that they are never as alone as they sometimes might feel

Damian Alexander’s debut graphic memoir, Other Boys, is a powerfully compelling portrait of a boy learning to understand and accept himself.

Damian has always felt different. He and his brother live with their grandmother in a small apartment, because when they were very young, their father murdered their mother. Damian has also always enjoyed things that he thinks boys shouldn’t like, such as dolls, flowers and tea parties. He’s repeatedly been told that he’s too “girly” to fit in with boys, but girls often excluded him from playing with them because he’s a boy. His struggle to understand where he belongs has followed him all the way to middle school.

As he starts seventh grade at a new school, Damian has decided that the best way to avoid being bullied is to give his classmates absolutely nothing to bully him about. Damian is not merely planning to speak only when spoken to or to keep his voice to a whisper; he’s not going to speak at all. To anyone. But his silence doesn’t go unnoticed, and his grandmother arranges for him to see a therapist. With the therapist’s help, Damian begins to understand that he isn’t weird, strange or wrong. Meanwhile, he’s also discovering that not all boys are bullies, and some are even, well, pretty cute. The only way that Damian will find his place is by staying true to himself and finally speaking up. 

As he narrates in the voice of his seventh-grade self, Alexander skillfully uses flashbacks to fill in his personal history. His bright color palette balances the book’s darker elements, and his figures’ slightly enlarged faces keep readers focused on the emotion of each panel. Other Boys will be a life-changing read for any young person who is questioning their identity or searching for where they belong.

—Kevin Delecki 

Find more 2021 gift recommendations from BookPage.

Just try to resist the charms of these delightful middle grade graphic novels, perfect for gifting.
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The bestselling author of the young adult novel Dread Nation brings her storytelling prowess to middle grade to create a story that will definitely cause you to start seeing things—namely, ghosts, but also the injustices suffered by generations of Black Americans.

In Ophie’s Ghosts, Justina Ireland transports readers back to the early 1920s, a time when Black Americans were fleeing the South to escape the poverty and persecution caused by the long arm of Jim Crow laws. The novel opens in rural Georgia, as 12-year-old Ophelia “Ophie” Harrison’s father wakes her up in the middle of the night and tells her to take her mother to her favorite hiding spot just beyond the tree line. From there, she witnesses a mob of angry white men burn her family’s home to the ground. The next morning, Ophie learns her father was murdered by the same mob earlier that day because he voted—and that’s how Ophie discovers she can see and speak to ghosts.

Ophie and her mother flee to Pittsburgh to live with Great Aunt Rose with hopes of starting over. Rose tells Ophie that the women in their family have been seers for generations, aiding the ghosts trapped in this world so they can transition onward to the next. It’s their duty to help bring the ghosts peace so the human world can remain peaceful as well. In Pittsburgh, Ophie and her mother take jobs at Daffodil Manor, where they meet Mrs. Caruthers, the wealthy estate’s sickly, irritable matriarch, and her benevolent son, Richard. Daffodil Manor is also home to a full staff of house servants and a whole host of ghosts. 

Ophie gradually befriends the kind but elusive ghost of Clara, a servant whose unsolved murder occurred in the manor, which keeps Clara tied to it, unable to pass on. But Clara’s ghost can’t quite remember the details of what happened to her, so Ophie is determined to uncover the murderer as well as their motive. In doing so, she risks unearthing secrets about the dead that threaten to put the living directly in harm’s way.

Ophie is a compelling, realistic heroine with a strong sense of justice and duty. The hopefulness and idealism she’s able to retain, in spite of the horrors she’s experienced and the death that surrounds her wherever she goes, ultimately become her saving grace. Though the story’s pacing is uneven at times, Ireland conceals a massive reveal so expertly that even the savviest readers won’t see it coming.

In an author’s note included in advance editions of the book, Ireland writes that she wanted to explore the question, “How do we grieve when the ghosts of our loss appear in the everyday suffering around us?” Ophie’s Ghosts offers a moving answer through Ophie’s unwavering sense of what is just—for both the living and the dead.

The bestselling author of the young adult novel Dread Nation brings her storytelling prowess to middle grade to create a story that will definitely cause you to start seeing things—namely, ghosts, but also the injustices suffered by generations of Black Americans.

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Angie Thomas returns to the Garden Heights neighborhood in Concrete Rose, a powerhouse prequel that explores the life of Maverick Carter, the father of The Hate U Give’s protagonist, Starr.

As the book opens in 1998, Maverick is a carefree 17-year-old kid. He’s happy to spend time with his girlfriend, joke around with his cousin and deal a bit for the King Lords alongside his best friend—just enough to help his mom bring in a little extra cash, since his dad has been in prison for nine years.

But when Maverick finds out he’s the father of a 3-month-old boy, his world changes in an instant. He accepts his responsibility on the day he receives the results of the paternity test and begins to raise the child, even as the boy’s mother disappears.

As the weight and exhaustion of fatherhood begin to add up for Maverick—on top of balancing high school, work, relationships with his friends and maybe-still girlfriend, and the sudden, violent killing of someone who was like a brother to him—Thomas chronicles the makings of a character that readers have only previously known as a mature man and father figure. Along the way, Maverick wrestles with loyalty, revenge, responsibility and the siren song of the streets—one that promises a fast life down a hard road to ruin. Thomas also reveals the meanings behind Maverick’s name and his children’s names and deepens our understanding of the resonance of Tupac’s lyrics in these characters’ lives.

The Hate U Give became a literary phenomenon because of the depth and authenticity of Thomas’ characters, and those elements shine once again in Concrete Rose. Though it can be read as a standalone work, this prequel adds so much to our understanding of The Hate U Give that reading them together will be especially rewarding.

Angie Thomas returns to the Garden Heights neighborhood in Concrete Rose, a powerhouse prequel that explores the life of Maverick Carter, the father of The Hate U Give’s protagonist, Starr.

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Readers who love complex, mythology-based fantasies, meet your newest obsession.

For seven days every seven years, Greek gods must walk the earth as mere mortals during a period they call the Agon. Well, they don’t so much walk as fight for their lives. After thousands of years, many of the gods haven’t survived, as they’ve been hunted down by the descendants of ancient Greek heroes. Each heroic bloodline is sworn to protect a god, but these hunters are also eager to slay other families’ gods in order to seize the deities’ divine power and immortality.

Once an Agon ends, the family reaps the benefits of their deity’s powers, which they can use to build family-owned business empires. For example, a god’s healing powers can help create a pharmaceutical company, the powers of war are a boon to a weapons manufacturer, and so on.

Seventeen-year-old Melora “Lore” Perseous is the descendant of Greek hero Perseus, and as the last of her bloodline, she’s gone to great pains to remove herself from the Agon’s brutality. A rival bloodline led by Wrath, a hunter who slayed Ares and inherited his powers to become a god himself, viciously murdered Lore’s family during the last Agon, and though Lore is a highly skilled fighter, she went into hiding to avoid sharing her family’s fate.

But when the Agon begins again in New York City, Athena, one of the last remaining gods, comes knocking at Lore’s door. In exchange for Lore’s help to survive the Agon, Athena agrees to slay Wrath, their shared enemy, who’s set on slaughtering the other gods in order to ensure he—and no one else—inherits their powers.

Bestselling author Alexandra Bracken, whose Darkest Minds series was adapted into a movie of the same name in 2018, strikes a notably darker tone here than in her previous work. Lore’s world is a violent place, and Bracken doesn’t hold back. Though keeping track of hunter family genealogies as well as the histories of gods both old and new can be cumbersome at times, readers eager for detail-oriented world building will find Lore enthralling. Bracken’s well-drawn characters drive the narrative, keeping it anchored in gritty prose and high-stakes emotions.

Lore is a wildly inventive and ambitious blend of reimagined Greek mythology and contemporary urban fantasy.

Readers who love complex, mythology-based fantasies, meet your newest obsession.

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Prison is a box. Once a person is trapped inside, the box’s hard lines and confines become their entire world. The box presses down on the people it holds captive and tries to destroy what makes them unique, what makes them human, all in the interests of conformity, survival and the comfort of others. In Punching the Air, 16-year-old Amal Shahid finds himself slammed inside the cold, concrete box of a juvenile detention center after a false accusation.

Amal is a talented visual artist, an aspiring poet and rapper, a well-read scholar and a skilled skater, beloved by his Muslim family. He’s never fit easily into any box. Caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, Amal and his friends got into a fight with a group of white kids at the basketball court in Amal’s gentrifying neighborhood. Amal admits to throwing the first punch, but he definitely didn’t throw the punch that put one of the white kids in a coma. That doesn’t save him from becoming the victim of an unjust, racist system that punishes him for it anyway. As Amal serves out his sentence, he tries to write and paint his way out of the box, even as the box itself—and many of those trapped inside it with him—try to break him. In spite of his surroundings, he clings to hope and saves himself by finding his truth through art and creativity.

A fast-paced novel in verse co-authored by National Book Award finalist Ibi Zoboi (American Street) and activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five, Punching the Air is an intimate and moving portrait of the realities and consequences of the school-to-prison pipeline. Amal’s first-person narration is an extraordinary achievement of characterization. His voice on the page is youthful but wise, cutting but inviting, quiet but resonant; his words read effortlessly, but that effortlessness is clearly the result of skilled effort. Punching the Air more than deserves a place among both outstanding YA novels in verse, including Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X and Jason ReynoldsLong Way Down, and among YA novels that explore the intersection of race and justice, including Angie ThomasThe Hate U Give and Kim Johnson’s This Is My America. This is vital reading for every teen.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Punching the Air authors Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam discuss the power of art and creativity to set us free.

Prison is a box. Once a person is trapped inside, the box’s hard lines and confines become their entire world. The box presses down on the people it holds captive and tries to destroy what makes them unique, what makes them human, all in the interests of conformity, survival and the comfort of others. In […]
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Small-town Washington state, 1957: The Cold War with Russia is in full swing, the threat of nuclear war is omnipresent, the space race is in hyperspeed, and Sarah Dewhurst is making friends with the dragon her father begrudgingly hired to help on the family farm.

The Dewhurst farm has fallen on hard times since the death of Sarah’s mother, so Sarah’s father is paying Kazimir the dragon, a rare Russian blue, to burn and clear a few fields for them. But Kazimir, it turns out, has an ulterior motive for taking the job. He believes Sarah is at the heart of an ancient prophecy that predicts her role in preventing the end of the world.

As Sarah and Kazimir’s unlikely friendship grows, a highly trained assassin named Malcolm is sent on a divine mission by a cult of dragon worshippers to find and kill the savior mentioned in the prophecy, but he has to outrun the FBI first. When Malcolm’s and Sarah’s paths finally converge, entire worlds are literally ripped wide open.

The award-winning author of 10 previous novels, including the Chaos Walking trilogy and A Monster Calls (the basis for the feature film), Patrick Ness knows his way around highly original plots with fantastical elements. He’s a master at managing a plethora of tiny narrative threads, weaving them tightly together and then unraveling them with perfect pacing, an achievement as impressive as it is enjoyable to read.

Burn waltzes wryly through themes of implicit bias, explicit racism and religious fanaticism as it explores the power of a potentially self-fulfilling prophecy and the possibility of parallel universes. It’s a breakneck journey full of wit, sarcasm, bravery and a generous bit of magic as the fate of the world dangles delicately out the farmhouse window and a dark storm rolls in over the fields.

Small-town Washington state, 1957: The Cold War with Russia is in full swing, the threat of nuclear war is omnipresent, the space race is in hyperspeed, and Sarah Dewhurst is making friends with the dragon her father begrudgingly hired to help on the family farm. The Dewhurst farm has fallen on hard times since the […]
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Meet Morgan Parker—or the semiautobiographical version of her. She’s an amazingly smart student, a punk-rock aficionado and a black kid who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. The white kids she grew up with have never known what to think of her. The kids at her church are put off by her atheism. She has a love-hate relationship with therapy. But Morgan is tired of trying to fit in and be anyone other than who she’s always been. When she begins to put herself and her needs ahead of everyone she’s always been told she must appease, she discovers a life-changing bravery that is uniquely her own.

Despite being set in sunny, suburban California, Who Put This Song On? prefers to shy away from the light. The novel exposes Morgan’s depression and anxiety, her resultant inability to get along with her parents and her experiences of being told by people who barely know her that she’s “not really black”—all while dealing with the awkwardness of finding herself and where she fits in amid the emotional battlefield of the American high school.

In this novel based on her own teenage life and diaries, Parker offers a hilariously honest and heart-opening experience. It’s a wholly necessary debut by an award-winning poet.

Meet Morgan Parker—or the semiautobiographical version of her. She’s an amazingly smart student, a punk-rock aficionado and a black kid who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. The white kids she grew up with have never known what to think of her. The kids at her church are put off by her atheism. She has […]
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Set in modern-day San Francisco, The Beckoning Shadow ferries readers into the seedy underbelly of a world where humans with supernatural powers fight in a vicious tournament for a rare chance to rewrite their past.

Vesper wants nothing more than to blend in with the rest of humanity and pretend that her powers don’t exist. Unfortunately, she’s one of the Oddities—special humans born with powerful magical abilities—and is one of the most fearsome, as she’s a Harbinger who can read others’ worst nightmares and summon them into existence. But Vesper has already hurt too many people with her inability to control her powers—that is, until she meets Sam. A regular human who knows far more than he lets on, Sam offers to train Vesper and sponsor her in an underground fight between Oddities, the Tournament of the Unraveling.

As Sam trains Vesper in fighting techniques and helps her befriend other Oddities who teach her how to wield her dangerous powers, they learn more about each other’s past and discover that this fight has actually become a battle against death itself.

Fans of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, Fight Club and Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series will enjoy The Beckoning Shadow, screenwriter Katharyn Blair’s debut novel. Her genuine dialogue, authentic characters and perfectly paced fight scenes will keep readers’ blood pumping until the last page.

Vesper wants nothing more than to blend in with the rest of humanity and pretend that her powers don’t exist. Unfortunately, she’s one of the Oddities—special humans born with powerful magical abilities—and is one of the most fearsome, as she’s a Harbinger who can read others’ worst nightmares and summon them into existence. But Vesper has already hurt too many people with her inability to control her powers—that is, until she meets Sam. A regular human who knows far more than he lets on, Sam offers to train Vesper and sponsor her in an underground fight between Oddities, the Tournament of the Unraveling.

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Set in a remote Australian town that’s still reeling from a recent murder, The Things She’s Seen takes the reader on an emotional and metaphysical journey to solve a crime that no one could have seen coming—or solved—without help from something beyond this world.

Beth Teller isn’t like most people. She’s a half-aboriginal girl who died in a car accident and still roams this earth. The only person who can see and hear her now is her father, Michael, a police detective who’s drowning in grief from losing his only child. Michael is investigating a suspicious case of arson, and as he keeps unearthing clues and the small town’s dark secrets, Beth keeps reminding him of his humanity while using her supernatural abilities to aid in the investigation however she can.

When Michael begins questioning witnesses, he and Beth meet Isobel Catching at the hospital, and her account of the events leading up to the fire seem too fantastical and otherworldly to be relevant to the case, much less believable. But then Isobel reveals that she, too, can communicate with Beth, and the more she shares, the more her story begins to connect with the developing investigation. Soon, Beth and her father can’t help but begin seeing the world in a whole new light.

In their first joint YA novel, brother and sister authors Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina—descendants of the aboriginal Palyku people of Western Australia—have crafted a unique, enrapturing and experimental work in The Things She’s Seen. Their combined prose and poetry explore grief, love, violence, racism, marginalization, corruption and justice through a story filled with well-layered symbolism, transcendence and survival.

Set in a remote Australian town that is still reeling from a recent murder, The Things She’s Seen takes the reader on an emotional and metaphysical journey to solve a crime that no one could have ever seen coming—or unraveled—without help from something beyond this world.

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Reminiscent of both Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, bestselling children’s author Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Greystone Secrets: The Strangers is the first installment in the author’s latest intricately written and emotionally resonant sci-fi series.

When the three young Greystone siblings—Chess, Emma and Finn—hear the news that three siblings on the other side of the country who share their exact first and middle names, as well as their birthdays, were kidnapped, they can’t help but find it odd. Then, when their mom goes on a “work trip” out of town the very next day, they become even more suspicious and take the investigation into their own hands.

As they dig around the house for clues, they soon discover a coded message from their mom that leads them to a hidden room in their basement. But as they’re padding around for answers to the mysteries, the Greystone siblings accidentally find themselves in a whole different, parallel world—one that’s eerily similar to their own but strange enough to be dangerous if they don’t stay smart and stick together.

Adventures, mysteries and puzzles abound, and Haddix’s high-concept middle grade novel deftly uses her understanding of young readers’ innermost thoughts and emotions to bring her characters to life as they learn the importance of trusting themselves—and each other—in order to survive.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Margaret Peterson Haddix.

Reminiscent of both Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, bestselling children’s author Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Greystone Secrets: The Strangers is the first installment in the author’s latest intricately written and emotionally resonant sci-fi series.

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As part of the DC Icons series, where blockbuster authors reexplore and reimagine iconic superheroes for a new, young audience, Newberry Medal-winning author Matt de la Peña’s Superman: Dawnbreaker explores Clark Kent’s early years as a teenager in his small hometown. And just as Clark is learning his true identity and extraordinary abilities, he is simultaneously balancing the risks and responsibilities that accompany such power and exploring what it means to belong in today’s America.

Set against the backdrop of a fictional, modern-day Smallville, Kansas, readers meet a cast of familiar characters, including Clark’s parents, Lana Lang and Lex Luthor, but de la Peña also introduces readers to a bevy of new characters who are involved with the powerful Mankins Corporation. The multi-millionaire Mankins family, including Clark’s fellow high school student Bryan, have moved into Smallville to supposedly bring new jobs into the farming town. But as Clark and Lana befriend Bryan and do some digging into his father’s company, they soon learn that the corporation is not as kindhearted as the bosses would like the town to believe. All the while, Smallville’s Mexican-American residents have started suddenly disappearing, and it’s up to Clark and his friends to get to the bottom of it all before it tears the town apart.

De la Peña writes in an introductory note that “Superman belongs to all of us . . . he is an outsider who longs to make the world a kinder, safer place,” and the author does a phenomenal job of humanizing this powerful superhero in a way that makes him more relatable than he’s ever been before.

As part of the DC Icons series, where blockbuster authors reexplore and reimagine iconic superheroes for a new, young audience, Newberry Medal-winning author Matt de la Peña’s Superman: Dawnbreaker explores Clark Kent’s early years as a teenager in his small hometown. And just as Clark is learning his true identity and extraordinary abilities, he is simultaneously balancing the risks and responsibilities that accompany such power and exploring what it means to belong in today’s America.

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