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!
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!
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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!

Each of these picture books explores the most complex emotion of all: love. They're the perfect gift for a young child or a new or expecting parent, exquisite keepsakes for families to cherish and pass on as the years go by.

★ What Is Love?

Author Mac Barnett spins a remarkable story from a simple question in What Is Love?. When a boy asks his grandmother what love is, she suggests that he venture into the world to find an answer for himself, so the lad leaves home on an unusual quest. Along the way, he encounters a wide range of characters, each of whom offers a different perspective on the meaning of the emotion. 

For the carpenter, love is a house that "wobbles and creaks." The structure may be unsteady, the carpenter says, "But in the end, the thing stands." For the actor, love is applause from an adoring audience. "At that moment," the actor tells the boy, "you know: You exist. You are seen." Yet these and other responses fail to satisfy the boy. Not until he returns home, having reached adulthood, is he able to identify for himself the meaning of love.

Barnett's story is profound and accessible, a tale infused with a sense of adventure and a timeless quality. Carson Ellis' illustrations add color and energy to the proceedings. Thanks to her fanciful, detailed depictions, each character the boy encounters has a distinct personality. This journey will inspire readers to consider the book's central question and come up with answers of their own.

Bigger Than a Bumblebee

In Joseph Kuefler's delightful Bigger Than a Bumblebee, a mother introduces her child to the wonders of the world, but none of them compare to the miracle of the love they share. In beautifully poetic text, the mother explains to her "darling" that they are both smaller and larger than their animal friends—smaller than the brown bear and the giraffe, but bigger than the mouse and the porcupine. In the end, though, what matters most is love, an emotion that cannot be measured: "Love is me and you," she says. "Our love is small, but it is big, too."

Kuefler's splendid illustrations portray an array of natural phenomena, from faraway stars in the night sky, to a stream teeming with toads and fireflies, to a patch of desert populated by birds and a solitary long-eared jack rabbit. Young readers will be captivated by the dynamic spreads and the creatures, great and small, that Kuefler includes. A moving celebration of the majesty of nature and the bond between parent and child, Bigger Than a Bumblebee powerfully delivers a heartfelt message: Love is limitless and unquantifiable, a force that knows no boundaries. 

★ My Love for You Is Always

In the warm, wonderful My Love for You Is Always, a young boy quizzes his mother about the nature of love. "Does it have a taste or a smell?" he wonders as he helps her in the kitchen. As she puts together a traditional Chinese feast for their family, his mother takes inspiration from the dishes they're cooking to answer his questions. Author Gillian Sze's text is full of sensory imagery. Love, the boy's mother tells him, "tastes sweeter than the red dates I put in your soup. My love is that savored first bite of spun sugar." When the boy asks, "Does it make a sound?" his mother replies, "Sometimes it's crisp like winter radish. Other times it's quiet like simmering broth."

Michelle Lee's colored pencil and gouache illustrations are sweet and soft. Through images of swirling fish, delicate cranes and a fabulous crimson dragon, she brings a touch of magic to Sze's tale. The ritual of the family meal—sharing food that's been prepared with care and intention—adds a unique layer to the story and underscores the sense of abundance and comfort that love can provide. My Love for You Is Always closes on a cozy note and an image of mother, son and other relatives gathered together for dinner. From start to finish, it's a charming and delicious tale.

l'll Meet You in Your Dreams 

Jessica Young and Rafael López pay tribute to the connections between parents and children in their lovely, lyrical book, l'll Meet You in Your Dreams. It's narrated by a parent who offers an inspiring message about the power of familial love to encourage youngsters to make discoveries about the world, pursue their passions and achieve independence.

Young's rhyming text contains refreshing imagery and makes allusions to the natural world—a mouse and a mole snuggling in an underground den, and a hawk and an eagle soaring over the earth—to highlight the many facets of love, showing how it can nurture, protect and inspire. Her brief, uplifting stanzas add to the story's appeal. "As you grow, I'll be with you, / for every step, your whole life through," the narrator says. "And where the future gleams . . . / I'll meet you in your dreams." 

López's out-of-this-world illustrations reflect the buoyant spirit of Young's text. They follow two different parents and their children in whimsical scenes that capture the marvels of wildlife and  the passage of time. A joyful examination of parental love and its ability to provide a solid foundation for children—a starting point from which anything is possible—I'll Meet You in Your Dreams is a precious title that's sure to become a family favorite.

Find more 2021 gift recommendations from BookPage.

These beautiful picture books, perfect for gifting, offer moving depictions of love in all its forms.

As Christmas approaches, cuddle up with picture books that pack a surprising amount of holiday cheer into a mere 40 pages. They're perfect for sharing with the little bundles of joy in your life: young readers!

★ Tiny Reindeer

Chris Naylor-Ballesteros' Tiny Reindeer isn't just small. In fact, he's hoof-high to Santa's "big, stamping, snorting reindeer." Naylor-Ballesteros takes the tiny theme and runs with it, revealing entertaining new delights with every page turn. 

Tiny Reindeer yearns to be useful, but clever vignettes depict him tangled in reins and harnesses, taking an unexpected bath in a water bowl and covered in tape and twine after attempting to wrap gifts. Then he stumbles upon a letter from a girl asking Santa for a little reindeer to go with her small sleigh, which was crafted for her by her grandfather. "He wanted to make a reindeer too," she writes, "but couldn't in the end so my sleigh won't ever fly anywhere." 

Naylor-Ballesteros handles the death of a grandparent subtly and with touching sensitivity as Tiny Reindeer realizes this is his time to shine. Clad in a jaunty hat and scarf, he takes a flying leap into the back of Santa's sleigh, parachutes down the girl's chimney (using her letter as his chute) and then faces his most challenging obstacle yet: climbing the stairs.   

During this busy time of year, it's easy for children to feel overlooked or left out of adults' hustle and bustle. Young readers will adore Tiny Reindeer's determined attempts to fit in and stand out. Naylor-Ballesteros paces his story perfectly, and every player, including the girl, Tiny Reindeer and Santa himself, gets their moment in the spotlight. Tiny Reindeer is a wonderful addition to the Christmas picture book canon that reminds us of the special gifts we all have to offer, no matter how tiny we might be.

The Christmas Owl

A unique blend of fact and fiction, The Christmas Owl follows a little owl during an incredible true journey that took place in 2020.

After delivering a spruce tree from Oneonta, New York, workers erecting the Christmas tree display at New York City's Rockefeller Center discovered a saw-whet owl, the smallest owl species in the northeastern United States, huddled in its branches. The public was enchanted by the tiny hitchhiker, who was transported to a wildlife rehabilitation center in upstate New York run by Ellen Kalish, where he was given the name Rockefeller—Rocky for short.

Co-authors Kalish and Gideon Sterer (The Midnight Fair) transform this incident into a magical holiday tale centered on Little Owl as she tries to learn the meaning of Christmas. Ramona Kaulitzki's illustrations set a festive mood from the start as Little Owl flies out ahead of a group of animals—moose, rabbit, skunk and squirrel—galloping through falling snow. In the distance, a village nestles in the valley below, dotted with towering evergreen trees. One of the trees is Little Owl's home, destined to be cut down and transported far away. Kaulitzki's art is bathed in beautiful shades of deep blue, giving each page a wintry glow. Warm touches of yellow, including twinkling lights and the yellows of taxis, trucks and workers' jackets, add to the effect.

The book focuses on Little Owl's perspective every step of the way. Her wide eyes reflect wisdom and surprise simultaneously, whether she's gazing around at a strange new urban landscape or looking up into Kalish's kind, welcoming eyes at the wildlife center. Little Owl's innocent confusion about Christmas, a new word she hears from both humans and her woodland friends, reflects many children's sense of wonder about the season. As Kalish nurses Little Owl back to health, the owl ponders, "Could Christmas be caring? Could Christmas be kind?"

Fascinating back matter provides a nice contrast to the anthropomorphized tale. Kalish describes exactly what happened to the real Rocky, including her release into the wild to begin migrating south. The Christmas Owl is an intriguing fable that offers young readers much to contemplate, including the impact of human actions on the natural world.

Zee Grows a Tree

How do Christmas trees grow so big and tall, anyway? Zee Grows a Tree cleverly weaves the details into a fictional story that juxtaposes a child's growth against that of a Douglas fir. 

On the day that Zee Cooper is born, a seedling pokes up from the soil at her family's tree farm. Her parents put it in a pot labeled "Zee's Tree," and their baby girl learns to love and nurture it as it grows alongside her, eventually inspiring her to want to become a botanist when she's an adult. 

Author Elizabeth Rusch excels at showing similarities between Zee and her tree. At age 4, Zee is shorter than the kids in her class. "Everyone grows at different rates," Zee's father tells her. She repeats his reassuring words as she measures her tree, which is also shorter than the other trees. Rusch adds touches of drama throughout, depicting Zee going to great lengths to protect her fir from extreme heat and cold. Rusch also incorporates brief factual notes about fir trees on various pages, as well as more extensive information at the end of the book.

Will Hillenbrand's lively illustrations infuse each page of this quiet, measured story with action and emotion. As the tree thrives, Zee soars through the air in a tire swing, heads off on the school bus and bounces a soccer ball on her knee. Hillenbrand expertly portrays the strong bond that Zee feels with her tree, capturing the curiosity, concern and compassion on her face as she inspects the sapling. When she camps alongside it during a heat wave, her lantern casts a lovely glow as she reads aloud to her tree, her gray cat curled up at her knee, ice cubes spread around the tree's trunk to ward off the effects of drought. 

Although Zee Grows a Tree ends on a seasonal note (don't worry, Zee's tree stays firmly planted in the ground), this informative tale will be enjoyed by young naturalists at any time of year. 

Find more 2021 gift recommendations from BookPage.

Share these delightful picture books with the bundles of joy in your life.

Delight the teenager on your holiday list with a fabulous graphic novel or gripping true story guaranteed to make them swoon, giggle or gasp.

The Girl From the Sea

For the reader who longs to be carried away on the waves of a fantastical story

In The Girl From the Sea, author-illustrator Molly Knox Ostertag blends myth and realism to create a story about the things we'd rather keep submerged—and what happens when they surface with a splash.

Morgan Kwon is 15 and part of a power clique at her high school that serves as a frothy diversion from her unhappy family life. She's just biding her time until she can move away from her small island town and finally come out as gay. 

One rainy night at the rocky seaside cliffs that are her favorite place to sit and think, Morgan slips on the wet stones and falls into the water. She's rescued by a mysterious girl named Keltie, who is kind of cute, really, and an awfully powerful swimmer, but the instant connection between them threatens all the secrets that Morgan's been carefully concealing from her friends and family. 

Ostertag (The Witch Boy) is an expert at conveying complex emotions and subtly shifting the mood from one panel to the next. Morgan is part of a group text message thread with her friends, which  includes numerous invitations that Morgan declines, at first because of her feelings of loneliness and depression, and later because Keltie is clearly not welcome among the group, even as she and Morgan are tentatively falling for each other. Ostertag initially depicts Morgan's home life with her stressed mom and angry little brother in stark, silent scenes, but as secrets come to light and Morgan's family reach out to one another, there's a warmth to their time together that lifts off the page.

This graphic novel's narrative flows so smoothly that you might find yourself reading it in one big gulp, and its resolution is bittersweet but hopeful. The Girl From the Sea is a wistful romance that will catch readers by the heart.

—Heather Seggel

Passport

For the reader who has always suspected there was more to their parents than meets the eye

"¿Qué está pasando?" Early in her graphic memoir, Passport, author-illustrator Sophia Glock writes that this phrase—which means "what is going on?"—is her mantra at the Spanish-language immersion high school she attends in Central America. The phrase is a lifeline as Glock navigates the usual challenges of teenage life, but it takes on another meaning when Glock discovers that she is the daughter of CIA agents who have been keeping her in the dark. 

Growing up, Glock lived all over the world because of her parents' ambiguous "work." What work is that, exactly? She has no idea. The more questions she asks, the fewer answers she receives. Just keep your head down, her parents tell her. Stay safe, and if you can, why don't you let us know what your friends' parents do for a living?

When Glock reads a letter that her older sister, away at college, wrote to their parents, the blanks in her life begin to fill in, though she is too afraid to confront her parents directly. Instead, like any frustrated teen, she exercises her autonomy and starts telling lies of her own. Boys, girls, drinking and partying abound while Glock travels through the gauntlet of adolescence and the tension between her ever-accumulating little lies versus her parents' one big lie threatens to boil over.

Glock's depictions of quiet yet consequential moments, such as when she ponders the choices her parents have made, are especially spellbinding. Her sparse, restrained art style evokes the feeling of a memory play, a recollection both real and ethereal. She renders the entire book in only three colors: shades of a reddish pink, a cold blue and white. Her characters aren't always easily distinguishable from one another, and while that can cause some confusion in the story, the overall effect is satisfying. After all, how much does Glock really know about the people around her? ¿Qué está pasando? In her author's note, Glock concedes as much. "These stories are as true as I remember them," she writes. The CIA's publication review board nixed some of the particulars of Passport before it was published, which makes the details that did end up in the book all the more dramatic.

A deceptively spare graphic novel chock-full of depth and beauty, Passport is an unusual coming-of-age memoir that's totally worth the trip. 

—Luis G. Rendon

★ The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor

For the reader who loves spooky castles and fears no gothic terror, not even marauding zombie bunnies

Haley is so exuberantly dedicated to gothic romances that her exasperated teacher orders her to stop writing book reports on Wuthering Heights (and no, she cannot do an interpretive dance about it instead!). After school, Haley sets out for home in the rain, and lo! As she stands on a bridge, dramatically sighing, she sees a man struggling in the dark waters below. She dives in to rescue the floundering fellow, conks out after her exertions and awakens abed in Willowweep Manor, attended by a dour housekeeper named Wilhelmina. Have Haley's period-piece dreams come true? 

Turns out, Haley has indeed been inadvertently catapulted into a world much like those in her beloved books. There's a castle (complete with "baleful catacombs" and an on-site ghost) and verdant moors, as well as three handsome brothers—stoic Laurence, brooding Montague and vacuous Cuthbert—who took her in after she saved Montague from drowning.

But Haley soon discovers another side to Willowweep. It's a gasket universe, a liminal space between Earth and an evil dimension laden with a substance called bile that destroys everything in its globby, neon green path. Can Haley help the brothers fend off the encroaching forces of darkness before it's too late? 

The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor is a hoot right from the get-go, but when everyone bands together to defend the manor, author Shaenon K. Garrity's tale becomes ever more hilarious and exciting. Humorous metafictional quips fly hither and yon as the characters take up arms, squabble over strategy and realize they've got to break a few rules (and defy a few tropes) if they want to prevail. 

Christopher Baldwin's art is full-bore appealing. He has an excellent command of color: Brooding browns underlie characters' stress while sky blues highlight Haley's growing confidence. Facial expressions are little comedies unto themselves, including horses who side-eye Cuthbert's silliness, and slack-faced bile-addled bunnies who adorably chant "Destroy." 

The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor celebrates and satirizes a beloved genre while encouraging readers to defy the rules and become the heroes of their own stories.

—Linda M. Castellitto

Find more 2021 gift recommendations from BookPage.

Looking for something to please a choosy teen reader? Look no further than these gripping graphic tales.

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.

These two picture books—one set in the city, the other set on a farm—remind us that wherever we may be during the Christmas holiday season, there's always something special about coming together to care for others and share simple gifts. 

With all her heart, Deja wants to believe in Santa, despite the doubts that her classmates have instilled in her. After all, her family's apartment doesn't have a chimney, and really, just how could Santa actually live at the North Pole? Deja's mom sets out to answer these and many other questions about how Santa navigates the big city to find their home. She even reveals how he finds Deja when her family spends Christmas with their relatives in Jamaica. 

In the process, readers see glimpses of Deja's family and community, from Mr. Clark, who cares for their apartment building, to Mr. Ortiz at the bodega, to Deja's aunties and uncles. They're all happy to answer Deja's questions about how Santa works and provide evidence that "magic always finds a way." Although Deja hopes to pose her questions directly to the source by staying up late to catch Santa in the act, well, we all know that small eyes eventually close, even on Christmas Eve. But Santa leaves behind a very special message for Deja, ensuring that the young believer will enthusiastically begin counting down the days to the next Christmas.

Tiffany D. Jackson's lively, heartwarming text is brought vividly to life by Reggie Brown's bright, bold artwork that depicts Deja's close-knit community within a bustling and colorful city setting. Many children share Deja's questions about how Santa can find them (How will he get into the building? Where will the reindeer land?), making this book an excellent alternative to Santa stories about families who live in houses with chimneys and depict only white Santas and Santa's helpers. Santa in the City is a wonderfully magical and inclusive holiday story. 

When her parents announce that they'll be keeping Christmas simple this year, the young narrator of Phyllis Alsdurf and Lisa Hunt's A Simple Christmas on the Farm is less than enthused. For one thing, her dad explains, they'll be making all their own presents. But after the girl and her mom pick out a small, straggly Christmas tree, she gets into the spirit of focusing "less on getting and more on giving," and makes a plan to host a gathering of friends and neighbors in their little red barn.

The girl and her mom bake cut-out cookies, and as the girl hands them out, she invites members of her diverse rural community to the celebration. Among the attendees are the girl's grandparents, who live nearby, a nurse at the senior center that the girl and her mom visit every month and the town veterinarian and her family. The ensuing feast is a delicious spread that includes candied yams, roast beef, tamales and, of course, Christmas cookies, all set against the warm glow of the barn's interior, decorated with pine garlands and string lights.

Hunt's artwork tends toward simple shapes and bright colors, giving it a folksy feel. She often sets off outdoor scenes with white space, which emphasizes the snowy landscape. Alsdurf extends her story's theme in a practical way by including instructions for three easy projects that families can make together at home, such as star-shaped ornaments the girl creates with her grandmother from scraps of fabric and old buttons.

Just as in Santa in the City, A Simple Christmas on the Farm ends as the narrator looks forward to another Christmas, highlighting one of the simplest joys of the season, no matter where or how it's celebrated: the secure knowledge that it will always come again. 

Wherever we may be during the Christmas holiday season, there’s something special about coming together to care for others and share simple gifts. 

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Trending YA & Children's

When teen girls just can't take it anymore

Katherine Howe’s new YA novel Conversion alternates between two narratives. In one, contemporary high school student Colleen Rowley’s senior year at the high-pressure St. Joan’s Academy for Girls is interrupted by the outbreak of an unexplained illness. In the other, set at the beginning of the 18th century, a woman confesses to the role she played as a teenager in perpetuating the Salem witchcraft panic of 1692. Taken together, the two stories dare their reader to rethink the differences between past and present, rumor and truth, and science and magic.

BookPage caught up with Howe to find out more about her writing process, her most influential book and her unusual family history.

In Rivals, Tommy Greenwald’s second novel set in the fictional town of Walthorne (after 2018’s Game Changer), having fun is immaterial when it comes to a high-pressure middle school basketball season between the Walthorne North Cougars and the Walthorne South Panthers. Everyone wants to win, and they’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen.

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