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All Children's Coverage

Breathtaking picture books, heartwarming chapter books and enthralling middle grade books await young readers—or anyone who enjoys a good story—in our list of most anticipated children’s books this fall.

Sam’s Super Seats by Keah Brown, illustrated by Sharee Miller
Kokila | August 23

Author Keah Brown created the viral hashtag #DisabledAndCute to challenge widespread misperceptions and representations of disabled people, themes she also explored in The Pretty One, her essay collection for adult readers. In Sam’s Super Seats, her first picture book, Brown introduces Sam, a girl who has cerebral palsy, which means that sometimes she needs to sit down and rest. Engaging illustrations by Sharee Miller capture a fun shopping trip to the mall that Sam shares with her friends before the first day of school. Cheerful and conversational, Sam’s Super Seats is an intersectional addition to the back-to-school picture book canon.

Patchwork by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Corinna Luyken
Putnam | August 30

In recent decades, the Newbery Medal has typically honored longer works of children’s literature, so author Matt de la Peña defied both convention and expectation by winning the 2016 Newbery for Last Stop on Market Street, a picture book that also earned illustrator Christian Robinson a Caldecott Honor. De la Peña has been on a hot streak ever since, publishing two more books with Robinson (Carmela Full of Wishes and Milo Imagines the World) as well as Love, which features art by Loren Long. 

In the meantime, illustrator Corinna Luyken has established a name for herself via thoughtful picture books, including the bestsellers My Heart and The Book of Mistakes, her 2017 debut, as well as through her work with writers such as Kate Hoefler (Nothing in Common) and Marcy Campbell (Something Good). Luyken and de la Peña’s first picture book together, Patchwork is a poetic ode to possibility that’s perfect for readers who love de la Peña’s lyricism and Luyken’s effortlessly impressionistic art.

A Taste of Magic by J. Elle
Bloomsbury | August 30

We don’t like to pat ourselves on the back too much, but we did highlight author J. Elle’s debut novel, a YA fantasy called Wings of Ebony, as one of our most anticipated books of 2021, and the book went on to become an instant bestseller and establish Elle as one of the most exciting new voices in YA. So we were thrilled when Elle’s first book for younger readers, A Taste of Magic, was announced. The story of a young witch named Kyana who enters a baking contest in the hopes of using the prize money to save her magical school, A Taste of Magic looks enchantingly scrumptious.

Magnolia Flower by Zora Neale Hurston, adapted by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrated by Loveis Wise
HarperCollins | September 6

Earlier this year, HarperCollins announced an ambitious new project: National Book Award-winning author and scholar Ibram X. Kendi would adapt six works by Zora Neale Hurston for young readers. Hurston is best known today as a novelist, but she also wrote short stories and collected folk tales as an anthropologist throughout the South. In this first volume, Kendi’s adaptation of one such short story is paired with vibrant illustrations by Loveis Wise, a rising star who has recently illustrated picture books by Ibi Zoboi (The People Remember) and Jeanne Walker Harvey (Ablaze With Color). We can’t think of two people more perfectly suited to bring Hurston’s work to a new generation of readers.

Spy School: Project X by Stuart Gibbs
Simon & Schuster | September 6

In the decade since middle grade author Stuart Gibbs published Spy School, a mystery novel about a boy named Ben who attends the CIA’s top secret Academy of Espionage, Gibbs has written nine more books in his Spy School series. What’s more, he’s also released books in four additional blockbuster series, publishing 14 titles across them. This year, Gibbs publishes his 10th Spy School novel, the opaquely titled Spy School: Project X, in which Ben will go head to head with his longtime nemesis. How is it possible, we ask, to create such consistently thrilling, entertaining reads at such a rapid pace while also getting the recommended eight hours of sleep every night? Our current working theory involves clones, but if Gibbs wants to enlighten us, he knows how to find us.

Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall
Little, Brown | September 13

In the 84-year history of the Caldecott Medal, only a handful of illustrators, including Barbara Cooney, David Wiesner, Leo and Diane Dillon and Robert McCloskey, have won multiple medals. Author-illustrator Sophie Blackall joined their rarified ranks in 2019 when she won her second medal for Hello Lighthouse. (She won her first in 2016 for Finding Winnie.) To create Farmhouse, Blackall incorporates mixed media into her illustrations as she tells a remarkably personal story about a family and their home. 

Odder by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Charles Santoso
Feiwel & Friends | September 20

Author Katherine Applegate has been turning kids into readers with fantastical stories filled with heart for more than two decades, and we’re fortunate that the 2013 Newbery Medalist shows no sign of slowing down. In order to know whether you’ll love this novel in verse about a young sea otter whose life is changed at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, you really only need to look at the cover. Seriously, we dare you to attempt to resist its charms.

The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander
Little, Brown | September 27

Poet Kwame Alexander took the world of children’s literature by storm when he won the 2015 Newbery Medal for The Crossover, a novel in verse. Not content to rest on his laurels, Alexander won a Newbery Honor in 2020 for The Undefeated, a picture book for which illustrator Kadir Nelson also won the Caldecott Medal. The Door of No Return sees Alexander take another exciting, ambitious step forward, this time into historical fiction. The novel opens in West Africa in 1860 and follows a boy named Kofi who is swept up into the unstoppable current of history.

Meanwhile Back on Earth . . . by Oliver Jeffers
Philomel | October 4

Author-illustrator Oliver Jeffers is one of the most successful picture book creators working today. He’s sold more than 12 million copies of titles that include Stuck, The Heart and the Bottle and, of course, The Day the Crayons Quit, which features text by author Drew Daywalt paired with Jeffers’ unmistakable artwork. Meanwhile Back on Earth continues a theme Jeffers has been exploring since his 2017 book, Here We Are, portraying a parent introducing their children to some aspect of human existence. In this case, Jeffers addresses the long history of conflict among people.

A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga
Balzer + Bray | October 4

If you loved Wall-E and Peter Brown’s The Wild Robot, or if looking at the recently released photographs from the James Webb Space Telescope filled you with awe and wonder, you won’t want to miss Jasmine Warga’s middle grade novel A Rover’s Story. Warga has a knack for plumbing the emotional depths of a story, so imbuing a Mars rover with humanity and heart seems like exactly the sort of new challenge we love to see authors take on.  

The Real Dada Mother Goose by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Julia Rothman
Candlewick | October 11

Author Jon Scieszka began his kidlit career with three postmodern picture books: The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!, illustrated by Lane Smith; The Frog Prince, Continued, illustrated by Steven Johnson; and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, another collaboration with Smith that earned a Caldecott Honor. In the three decades since, Scieszka has brought his signature humor to chapter books, middle grade novels and a memoir. He even served as the first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. He comes full circle with The Real Dada Mother Goose, partnering with illustrator Julia Rothman to offer a new take on another beloved work of children’s literature, Blanche Fisher Wright’s The Real Mother Goose. We can practically hear the storytime giggles now.

I Don’t Care by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Molly Idle and Juana Martinez-Neal
Neal Porter | October 11

Picture books illustrated by multiple illustrators aren’t unheard of, though in such cases, each illustrator typically works individually, creating separate images and giving each page a different look and feel. It’s much less common for illustrators to truly collaborate and create artwork together, as Caldecott Medalists Molly Idle and Juana Martinez-Neal did with I Don’t Care, a quirky ode to friendship with text by bestselling author Julie Fogliano. We hope their work inspires more collaborative picture books in the future.

Our Friend Hedgehog: A Place to Call Home by Lauren Castillo
Knopf | October 18

Caldecott Honor recipient Lauren Castillo published Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us in May 2020—little more than two years ago, and yet it feels like centuries have passed since then. Castillo completed our Meet the Author questionnaire in February of that year. “What message would you like to send to young readers?” we asked her. “Be brave,” she wrote, with no way of knowing how much bravery we were all about to need. In Our Friend Hedgehog: A Place to Call Home, Castillo returns at long last to the woodsy world of Hedgehog and her friends for more stories of adventure and friendship, and we can’t wait to join her there.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
Orchard | October 18

Author Mac Barnett and illustrator Jon Klassen first collaborated in 2012. The result of that collaboration, Extra Yarn, won a Caldecott Honor. They’ve since created five more picture books together, including Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, which won another Caldecott Honor, and the Shapes trilogy (Triangle, Square and Circle), all featuring Barnett’s dry wit and Klassen’s deceptively simple art. The duo will enter ambitious new territory this fall as they launch a planned series of reenvisioned fairy tales, beginning with the Norwegian story of The Three Billy Goats Gruff.  

The Tryout by Christina Soontornvat, illustrated by Joanna Cacao
Graphix | November 1

In 2021, Christina Soontornvat joined an exclusive club, becoming one of only a few authors to receive Newbery recognition for two different books in the same year. What’s more, Soontornvat’s two Newbery Honors were for two very different books, a fantasy novel (A Wish in the Dark) and a work of narrative nonfiction (All Thirteen). But Soontornvat has always had range, publishing fiction and nonfiction picture books and a chapter book series in addition to her middle grade titles. With The Tryout, Soontornvat takes on two more new categories in one book: graphic novels and memoir. Accompanied by illustrations from webcomic artist Joanna Cacao, Soontornvat tells a story drawn from her own middle school experiences that fans of Jerry Craft’s New Kid and Shannon Hale’s Real Friends will enjoy.

Forget homework and after-school activities. Instead, make time to enjoy these upcoming children’s books.

★ Invisible

A fresh and cleverly conceived take on the beloved 1985 film The Breakfast Club, Invisible is a colorful and engaging tale written by first-time graphic novel author Christina Diaz Gonzalez and illustrated by Gabriela Epstein (Claudia and the New Girl). 

Diaz writes in both English and Spanish, the languages spoken by her archetypal characters. There’s George Rivera, the brain; Sara Domínguez, the loner; Miguel Soto, the athlete; Dayara Gómez, the tough one; and Nico Piñeda, the rich kid. Their heritage is linked to different places, including Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, but since they all speak Spanish, the kids keep getting lumped together at Conrad Middle School by fellow students and school administrators alike. 

As Invisible opens, it’s happened again: Principal Powell won’t earn a community service initiative trophy unless 100% of students participate, so he informs George that he’ll be spending mornings with “students like you” helping grouchy Mrs. Grouser in the school cafeteria. The five kids greet each other with wariness that soon becomes bickering as they resist the idea they could actually have anything in common. Sure, they’re all varying degrees of bilingual, and yes, they’ve all been stereotyped because of it. But otherwise? Pfft! But when an opportunity to really help someone arises—one that will require creative thinking plus significant subterfuge—the kids have to make a decision. Can they work together to achieve a meaningful goal? 

Diaz Gonzalez’s previous novel, Concealed, won the 2022 Edgar Award for best juvenile title, and she builds wonderful suspense here as the students strive to find common ground. Meanwhile, Epstein’s art conveys the group’s swirling emotions, from Dayara’s frustration (ugh, homework!) to George’s embarrassment (oh, crushes!) to everyone’s wide-eyed worry that they’ll be caught breaking Mrs. Grouser’s rules. 

In an author’s note, Diaz Gonzalez explains that she knows what it’s like to be a student learning English as a second language “who may feel a little lost . . . when surrounded by words that they don’t yet understand.” Her own experiences fueled her desire to create “a single book that could be read and enjoyed no matter which language you [speak].” 

With Invisible, she and Epstein have done just that. The book’s visual context clues and helpful dialogue bubbles (with solid outlines to indicate speech and dashed outlines for translations) bolster an already meaningful coming-of-age tale. Invisible celebrates individuality and community while transcending language barriers. 

★ Twin Cities

Must a border also be a barrier? In their first graphic novel for middle grade readers, Jose Pimienta compassionately explores this question through the eyes of 12-year-old twins Teresa and Fernando.

The twins live with their parents in Mexicali, Mexico, just over the border that runs between the U.S. and Mexico. For years, they’ve happily been classmates at school and BFFs at home. They spend the summer after sixth grade in a bonanza of togetherness, filling their days with basketball and movies and tree-climbing, all portrayed by Pimienta in a kinetic, wordless double-page spread that hums with the joy of a strong sibling bond.

But the twins’ paths diverge when seventh grade begins. Teresa goes to school in Calexico, California, while Fernando stays in Mexicali. Fernando has noticed that Teresa has begun to rebuff their joint nickname, but it’s not until the first day of class that he realizes she is also eager to put space between them, to try new things alone. 

Pimienta uses evocative, parallel-panel sequences to illustrate the twins’ vastly different experiences, in different countries, just several miles apart. Fernando’s friends, Tony and Victor, join his sister at school in Calexico, leaving Fernando lonely and adrift—and excited to see Teresa when she gets home each day. Teresa, however, feels stifled by her brother’s attention. She has so much homework, and she wants to do well so that she can go to college and perhaps even work in America someday. Tension builds between the twins as they contend with new friends and chores-obsessed parents.

Middle school is never easy, but it’s even harder when you think you might lose your best friend for reasons you don’t quite understand. In Twin Cities, Pimienta addresses this possibility from a place of sensitivity, sympathy and personal curiosity: In an author’s note, they reveal that they also grew up in Mexicali and were offered—but declined—the option to study in the U.S. “I still wonder what would have happened had I made a different choice,” they write. 

That’s just one revelation among many to be found in Twin Cities’ notably substantive back matter, which also includes Pimienta’s musings on siblinghood and identity, character sketches, a map of both border towns and more. From start to finish, Twin Cities is a superbly crafted work of art and emotion that marks Pimienta as a creator to watch.

Will grumpy teachers, evolving friendships and mountains of homework spell disaster and doom for these heroes, or will lunchroom hijinks, video game extravaganzas and amazing discoveries prevail?

The best picture books tap honestly and unpatronizingly into children's emotions. These two books remind children that being human means appreciating the complex emotions we all experience. 

Sometimes I Grumblesquinch

“I'm a really nice kid,” declares protagonist Katie Honors on the first page of author Rachel Vail and illustrator Hyewon Yum’s Sometimes I Grumblesquinch, a tale about the pitfalls of trying to tame emotions. Katie tries to be on her best behavior at all times. She's “a good sport” when she loses a soccer match: “‘Good game,’ I say. . . . I hardly frown.” Katie’s mom declares that her daughter is “such a pleasure,” and Katie takes pride in knowing that her parents are proud of her. But readers, privy to Katie's inner thoughts, know that she contains multitudes.

Katie's little brother, Chuck, annoys her, and she routinely bottles up how he makes her feel. “Sometimes I grumblesquinch,” Katie confesses. When this happens, her “insides tighten” and she has “mean thoughts,” such as wishing that she had “a trampoline or a tree house or a giraffe instead of a brother.” Vail captures Katie's feelings with an unequivocal, refreshing candor that's deeply respectful toward Katie's complicated interior life: “I wish I could pop [Chuck] like a balloon. . . . I wish he would disappear.” When Katie finally snaps, Yum's soft color palette and smooth linework are transformed: Intense colors and ragged, angular lines embody Katie's acute fear that her parents “won't think I am such a pleasure anymore.” 

But Katie's mother gently validates Katie's feelings, telling her daughter that she understands how a person can hold both frustration and love for someone. A shocked Katie nods and tells readers, “This nod is true.” These four words convey so much about how children—especially girls—are encouraged to suppress their feelings and minimize their emotions. When Katie acknowledges that her nod is “true,” she's also suggesting that some of her smiles have been insincere, even forced. 

It's moving to watch Katie begin to understand that attempting to ignore healthy but negative emotions, all in the name of being likable, still causes harm. Even after failing to grumblesquinch all her feelings, Katie still receives a loving hug from her mom, who has space for “the whole me” in her arms.

What Feelings Do When No One's Looking    

Polish author Tina Oziewicz offers readers a whole host of emotions in What Feelings Do When No One's Looking, translated from the Polish by Jennifer Croft. (Kudos to Oziewicz’s American publisher, Elsewhere Editions, for placing the translator's name prominently on the cover.) 

Because the book's title tells readers precisely what to expect, the first spread dives right in, introducing Curiosity, a creature with large ears who sits atop a tall chimney, eager to see what's beyond the horizon. Curiosity is followed by Joy, Gratitude, Calm, Envy, Insecurities, Shame, Courage, Bliss and more, each depicted on its own spread. 

Illustrator Aleksandra Zając (making her picture book debut) introduces an endearing cast of characters, conveying these emotions as furry, amicable creatures who move about on clean, uncluttered backgrounds. Her crisp, fine lines and gray-tone palette (with subtle touches of coral, sky blue and sage) ensure that even the more volatile emotions, such as Anger, won't frighten the youngest readers.

This is a picture book filled with surprises. There are unexpected personifications (“Jitters sit in a rusty can in a dark corner under a wardrobe.” “Nostalgia sniffs a scarf.”), but Oziewicz also has a startlingly succinct and evocative way of capturing these feelings. “Anxiety juggles,” for one. These two words float amid ample white space next to an unhappy-looking creature atop a unicycle trying to keep five balls in the air, its mouth a thin, wavy line. A full-bleed illustration shows a wide-eyed creature attempting to blend in with patterned floral wallpaper: “Fear pretends it isn't there.” And what else would Hope do but pack “a sandwich for the road”? 

Oziewicz and Zając link two spreads in an especially meaningful way: Readers learn that Hate “chews through links and cables. Can't connect! Can't connect!” But in the book's final spread, Love, who is an electrician, holds an oversize lightbulb aglow with amber hues. The bulb seems to run from the same rose-colored cable Hate tried so vehemently to destroy. 

What Feelings Do When No One's Looking will prompt thoughtful conversations about the wide range of feelings a person can experience. It's exactly the sort of book that Katie Honors—and all children—need. 

These children’s books put some of our most complex emotions into words (and pictures!).

Lupe Lopez: Rock Star Rules

Lupe Lopez is ready to rock and roll her way into kindergarten. Fresh from a summer of drumming and perfecting her hip new look, she knows all rock stars make their own rules. Lupe is committed to never letting anyone tell her what to do, being as loud as possible and making “fans, not friends.” Unsurprisingly, this works great for Lupe—but not so well for Ms. Quintanilla, Lupe’s new teacher. 

Little by little, Lupe learns that even rock stars have to adhere to the rules (sometimes). Drumming belongs more on a stage than in the classroom, and friends are much better than fans—especially when they start a band together! Best of all, Lupe finds a way to remain the one-of-a-kind, “Texas-size” kindergarten rock star she is. 

Lupe Lopez: Rock Star Rules is a fun, fresh addition to the back-to-school picture book canon. It’s perfect for young readers who march to the beat of their own drums but may benefit from a gentle reminder to respect the needs of others around them. 

Lupe is the brainchild of a picture book dream team: co-writers e.E Charlton-Trujillo and Pat Zietlow Miller (Be Kind), and illustrator Joe Cepeda. Stonewall Award-winning Charlton-Trujillo’s influence as a South Texas native is clear in the familiar and joyful portrait of Lupe’s predominantly Latinx Hector P. Garcia Elementary school, complete with the requisite map of Texas on the classroom wall and bilingual labeling of classroom objects. (Don’t miss the nod to legendary Tejano musician Selena in Ms. Quintanilla’s name.) 

Zietlow Miller’s signature voice contributes to the story’s rhythm and narrative structure, both of which make Lupe Lopez: Rock Star Rules an excellent read-aloud. Children will love drumming along with Lupe when she shouts “¡Ran! ¡Rataplán! Boom-tica-bam! ¡Pit-a-pat. Rat-a-tat. Wham-wham-wham! ¡Soy famosa!” 

Pura Belpré Honor recipient Cepeda’s crisp, classical illustration style is perfect for a story with this much heart. He spares no detail in bringing Lupe to life on the page, right down to the pigtails in her hair and the pencils she uses for her drumsticks. 

Together, Charlton-Trujillo, Zietlow Miller and Cepeda have created an unforgettable heroine who will leap off the page and right onto your bookshelf. Fans of feisty heroines such as Russell and Lillian Hoban’s Frances, Ian Falconer’s Olivia and Monica Brown and Sara Palacios’ Marisol McDonald will be clamoring to join Lupe’s band.

One Boy Watching

As many children in rural areas know, living in the country often means being the first to board the school bus in the morning and the last to get dropped off at the end of the day. It means mornings of quiet reflection as the world wakes up and evenings spent on winding gravel roads toward home. 

One Boy Watching is a nearly wordless picture book that opens as the sun is just barely beginning to rise, when a school bus arrives at a boy’s rural home. Some introductory descriptions follow the unnamed protagonist as he steps onto the bus (“Twenty-eight empty seats. . . . One bus at sunrise under an infinite sky.”), but the scene’s beauty can be found in the serene spaces between those phrases. The reader is invited to sit peacefully, to breathe deeply, to soak in the prismatic watercolor and colored pencil sunrise skies. 

Author-illustrator Grant Snider, the creator of the popular webcomic “Incidental Comics,” reprises the same hushed feeling found in his earlier picture books, including What Color Is Night and What Sound Is Morning. His artistry seems simple: It’s light on distinct detail and heavy on bold lines, capturing the shapes of objects just barely visible in the early dawn, such as bulbous trees or the peak of a roof. Later spreads contain sights that will be familiar to rural school bus riders: pastures of hay bales, the glow of headlights in the early dawn, fields of rusted cars, water towers, the silhouettes of distant barns and feed silos. 

The real wow factor, however, is in the quietly powerful way that Snider uses color. By blending colors, lines and shapes into one another, Snider mimics the blur of what children see from a bus window on the way to school. As the journey continues and more children board the bus, the reader can almost hear the sound of their laughter, the rumble of the bus’s engine and the wail of a train horn at the railroad crossing—all with hardly any words on the page. 

Reserved, thoughtful readers who prefer to spend time lingering over illustrations or making up their own stories about the stories they read will especially appreciate One Boy Watching. It vividly conveys the experiences of those first-to-get-on, last-to-get-off students who witness a sunrise every morning and a sunset every evening as they mark the beginning and end of each school day.

The first day of school is a momentous occasion for many children. These picture books capture the experience with sparkle and style.

From the very first page of Natalie Lloyd’s Hummingbird, the unforgettable spirit of 12-year-old Olive Miracle Martin shines. 

Olive has been home-schooled because she has a medical condition called osteogenesis imperfecta, which causes her bones to break very easily. Olive is filled with joy-kabooms (“joy and excitement all mixed together”) as she confesses that her “prayer, and wish, and wildest hope” is to attend Macklemore Middle School. 

Olive’s parents agree that it’s time for her to try attending traditional school. There, she is soon swept up into a grand adventure: the search for a legendary hummingbird said to grant a wish to whomever finds it. The only problem is that everyone else in Olive’s small town of Wildwood, Tennessee, is on the hunt too. Nonetheless, Olive is certain she can locate the creature. When she does, she plans to make the biggest wish of all. 

Lloyd situates Olive amid a large cast of characters and several memorable settings. IOlive shares a warmly supportive home with her blended family, whose cottage is deep in the supposedly haunted Piney Woods near “a mountain town full of folktales.” Macklemore Middle School is an equally enchanting place that features unusual therapy animals (a sloth named Bon Jovi and a llama named Edna) and an aviary converted to a library. 

‘Hummingbird’ author Natalie Lloyd reveals what she learned through writing Olive’s story.

At Macklemore, Olive makes new friends and takes an instant liking to her creative, encouraging teacher, Mr. Watson. Eventually, she auditions for the school play, a production based on the poetry of Emily Dickinson called “Hope Like Features.” These scenes link the novel’s avian motifs with the mix of wonder and isolation that deep-thinking Olive experiences throughout the novel.  

At times, Lloyd’s prose shifts into lines of free verse poetry, and these moments are often among the novel’s most powerful. “Fragile is what I’ll always be. I get that. / But I am / a thousand other things, too,” Olive reflects. “I’m / whole constellations / of wonders and weirdness / and hope.”

Like Olive, Lloyd also has osteogenesis imperfecta, and she writes about living with a serious medical condition with sensitivity. Readers will quickly understand Olive’s frustrations and desires: There’s no ramp to the stage where she longs to perform, and when she drops her tray during her first visit to the school cafeteria, she wonders whether attending Macklemore might have been a mistake. 

Hummingbird is a rare novel, as exceptional as the magical hummingbird at its center. Lloyd’s writing will bring to mind some of the most beloved creators of children’s literature, such as Kate DiCamillo and Judy Blume. With exceptional style and empathy, Hummingbird exquisitely addresses weighty themes in a jubilant yet realistic way, broken bones and all. As Olive herself declares, “Nobody can stick this bird in a tree. . . . I am born to fly!”

Read a Q&A with ’Hummingbird’ author Natalie Lloyd.

With exceptional style and empathy, Hummingbird exquisitely addresses weighty themes in a jubilant yet realistic way. This is a novel as rare as the magical bird at its center.

Readers, prepare to meet the most memorable middle grade protagonist of 2022. Twelve-year-old Olive Miracle Martin, the instantly endearing hero of Hummingbird, is, in her own words, a “joy-kaboom.” After being homeschooled due to a medical condition called osteogenesis imperfecta (sometimes known as brittle bone disease), Olive begins attending Macklemore Middle School, where local legend tells of a magical, wish-granting hummingbird. Will finding the hummingbird make Olive's deepest wish come true?

Author Natalie Lloyd brings a uniquely personal perspective to Olive's story, imbuing her extraordinary hero with unforgettable warmth, honesty and heart.

You and Olive both have osteogenesis imperfecta. In what other ways are you alike? How are you different?
Initially, I was very hesitant to write about a character who had the same disability that I do. I really wanted Olive's story to be about more than her body, so I tried to smoosh the “bone stuff” to the background. But the more I revised Hummingbird, the more I realized that Olive's disability is naturally a source of conflict for her, like it is for me. My disability informs how I move through my daily life and the world, and how I exist in my body. It's only one part of the big constellation of my life, but it's still a part. So we do have that Big Thing in common, Olive and I. 

But we share other things too. Olive and I are both creative, and we both love love. We're both ardent fans of Dolly Parton and Judy Blume. We both think that one true BFF can make all the difference in helping you feel like you belong. And we're both a little weird. If I were a character in a book, I would be somewhere between Anne Shirley and Luna Lovegood, and Olive falls on that spectrum too. Even though I've always been a bit shy, I love theater. Olive is the same way. She puzzles over the dichotomy of wanting to stand out (in her heart-shaped sunglasses and bedazzled wheelchair) and wanting to blend in and be “normal.”  

As far as our differences, Olive has a gentle boldness and assertiveness that I would like to have. Her confidence is still growing, of course, but she's not afraid to ask hard questions and love completely, and I adore that about her. 

Tell us about the word fragile and the role it plays in this story.    
Like Olive, being described as “fragile” has been commonplace for me for as long as I can remember. In a literal sense, it's true. My bones break easily; my body is fragile. And yet, even though that's true, there has always been a part of me that bristles at that description. Because I know there is so much more to me—to everybody—than a body.

In 2019, I had a hard reckoning with the word fragile. I walked through the kitchen late one night to check a door and slipped in dog drool. I heard the snap in my thigh before I hit the ground and knew I'd broken my femur. That's supposed to be the strongest bone in a human body, but my femurs have always been fragile. It's a painful break and a long recovery, so I felt like my world was paused again because of my fragile places. 

I had tried so hard to lean into all the other aspects of who I'd become: I was a writer (which still feels like a dream come true). I was independent. I am married to a kind and wonderful man whom I describe as Gilbert Blythe with sleeve tattoos, and I loved the life we'd built. And then something in me broke, again, and I needed help with everything. I told my husband that I felt broken all over, and he said, “Your leg is broken. You aren't broken.” It helped me get a grip on Olive's whole story. She starts out on a mission to prove to everybody she's not fragile. But really, the only person she ever has to prove that to is herself.

“So much of what I write comes down to how much I love and miss people. Every story is a love story.”

Olive's narration sometimes shifts from prose into verse. How did this choice come about? What role has poetry played in your life?
I wasn't planning to write any element of Olive's story in verse, but a whole draft came out that way. I showed it to my brilliant editor, Mallory Kass, and told her that something about it felt really freeing and right for this story, so we looked closely at the text together. I realized the places the verse felt the most important to me was when Olive was reflecting on her body. Those thoughts about her body—how it's fragile, different and changing—break, just like her bones do. Mallory encouraged me to try writing the story with both forms, and it was the exact blend I wanted. I could lean into Olive's humor a little easier and explore her world more fully in prose, but verse felt like the right carrier for her weightier thoughts about herself.  

Poetry factored big into my middle school era. I wrote some terribly cringey poems that my parents still have. I also got a book of Emily Dickinson poems that's still on my bookshelf. Back then, I mostly loved Dickinson's work for its cadence and moodiness. I also loved how she compared big feelings (like hope) to ephemeral things in nature (like “a thing with feathers”). Middle school is also when I wore out Dolly Parton cassette tapes, singing “Eagle When She Flies” to my audience of Popples and Care Bears. 

Between Emily and Dolly, I fell in love with poetry, and I still adore it. I used to say that I ate poems for breakfast, by which I mean: I would read a Mary Oliver poem every morning. I still try to do that. It makes my heart feel awake. And of course, I love folk and alt-country, singer-songwriter music—poetry with a banjo in the mix.

Olive's grandfather is a well-known birder, and it's a passion he shares with his granddaughter. Did your research include delving into birds and birding? If so, what are some of your favorite things that you learned?
There's a subtle connection Olive and I have: While my granny wasn't a birder, she was obsessed with birds. She could name a bird by its song, and I always thought that was such a cool way to be connected to the world. I enjoy reading about birds and watching them, too. 

“I'm smitten with the idea of big magic existing in a small creature.”

Sometimes when I see a hummingbird, I gasp. I know they aren't uncommon but they feel special to me. I like their bejeweled feathers and buzzy wings. Reading about them was especially fun as I wrote this book. Here are some fun facts: Most hummingbirds weigh about as much as a nickel, they can fly backwards, and—this is my favorite—they remember human faces. There are also lots of legends and folklore connected to hummingbirds. I'm smitten with the idea of big magic existing in a small creature.

Olive's story feels inextricable from its setting, and I think many readers will wish they could visit Olive's fictional hometown of Wildwood, Tennessee. Why was creating such a strong sense of place important to you? Do you have any recommendations for real-world spots that might feel a little like Wildwood?
It's fun to create a town in a novel because I get to pack it full of spots I love. But I definitely understand the need to see the real inspiration. Some of my favorite go-to towns for inspiration in Tennessee are Lenoir City, Signal Mountain and Sweetwater. I also like to visit towns in the Blue Ridge Mountains, like Franklin and Hendersonville in North Carolina, when I need some fodder. If readers are ever able to visit the Smoky Mountains, I highly recommend it. That would give them a good idea of the scope of Olive's natural world. It's a misty, magical place full of woods and babbling brooks. And birdsong. And ghost stories. And a hummingbird, or two.

Hummingbird beautifully depicts so many different characters' relationships to faith and spirituality. Was this an element of the book from the beginning? What was the most challenging part of incorporating it?
Olive's spirituality was always threaded through the book. The biggest challenge in writing about her faith was this: I want every reader, regardless of what they believe, to feel safe in my books. Olive's personal wrestling with her faith is connected to mine. I'm a person of faith, but when bones break and I'm in pain (or when someone I love is in pain), obviously that's hard to process. One of my favorite attributes of Southern fiction is how faith and folklore collide; it felt right for Olive to interact with both. And it felt right—and true—that the people Olive loves all have different relationships to faith, too.

“You get to take up as much space as you want on this planet in exactly the body you are in. You deserve to move through the world with joy and confidence. Your experience matters.”

Your books often include elements of magic, and Olive herself loves fantasy and fairy tales. What draws you to incorporating this into your work? What's magical to you?  
I think we all write what we love to read, and I was once (and always) a queen in Narnia. I adored books like Roald Dahl's Matilda and Lynne Reid Banks' The Fairy Rebel and stories where magic was a flicker in a very real world. I'm still drawn to that gentle magic in books. Deep down, I love that the world is sometimes un-figure-out-able.

It sounds cheesy, but the best magic for me is love. There are certainly moments of little magic in every day: birds singing, dogs that snuggle, sunsets smeared on a mountain sky, cherry popsicles on a hot day, a perfect song lyric. But there's no magic like love, like hearing the voice of someone you love. Like hugging someone you love and have missed. So much of what I write comes down to how much I love and miss people. Every story is a love story.  

What did you learn about yourself from writing Olive's story?
I don't want to spoil anything, but what Olive and I both learned is reflected in the last line of the book. And while my first hope for readers is that Hummingbird gives them joy-kabooms, I also hope that it's found by anyone who needs that last-line reminder. 

And I also learned this: You get to take up as much space as you want on this planet in exactly the body you are in. You deserve to move through the world with joy and confidence. Your experience matters. One thing I love about the KidLit community, and all the readers, writers, teachers, librarians and publishing people who abide in it, is our determination to create safe spaces where kids get to grow into their most authentic selves. It's a deep honor to be a little part of that world.

Read our starred review of ‘Hummingbird.’

In her best book yet, Natalie Lloyd creates a safe space for readers to explore fragility and strength.

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