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All Middle Grade Coverage

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Jab. Duck-bap-bap. Jab. Duck-bap-bap. Duckbapbap. Duckbapbap. Find your rhythm. Feel your fists against the pads. Know where your next move is and who’s on your side. In Torrey Maldonado’s Hands, getting stronger, faster and tougher is all that 12-year-old Trevor cares about. 

As the book opens, Trevor’s life has been turned upside down. His stepdad has been arrested for hitting his mom and has threatened revenge against her for calling the police. In that moment, Trevor promised himself that no one will ever hit his mom ever again. 

It doesn’t matter that grown-ups keep telling him that he shows promise—academic promise, artistic promise, athletic promise—or that his dad and uncles wanted him to stay in school so he could get out of the projects. What matters to Trevor is that he has to protect his mom and sisters, and sometimes, he thinks, you just have to solve things with your hands.

Trevor throws himself into getting stronger and learning to fight, first on his own and later with his friend P, who moves into Trevor’s building. But when the trainer at the rec center refuses to help with training because he promised Trevor’s Uncle Lou that he would help Trevor “not to think with his fists,” Trevor begins to wonder whether fighting will solve his problems or just make new ones.

Hands is a compact, fast-paced novel narrated in a poetic, stream-of-consciousness style. Maldonado uses short, staccato sentences like feinted boxing jabs to draw readers in, then rocks them with explosive uppercuts of words and emotions, knocking them into unsteadiness and leaving them uncertain how the next round will go. Trevor’s journey through fear, anger and abandonment toward finding support and true strength is authentic and hopeful.

At just 128 pages, Hands is Maldonado’s shortest work. Although its length makes it approachable for older but less adept readers, the book never sacrifices linguistic or narrative complexity. Readers who enjoy realistic, slice-of-life fiction will be quickly engaged by Trevor’s story, and Maldonado will keep them hooked through all 10 rounds.

This fast-paced novel uses staccato sentences like feinted boxing jabs to draw readers in, then rocks them with explosive uppercuts of words and emotions.
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When Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney died in late 2021, he left behind an inspiring legacy, including the illustrations for more than 100 published books. It turns out that he also left behind an unfinished memoir about his boyhood during the late 1940s and ’50s, when he grew up on an all-Black block on East Earlham Street in Philadelphia.

According to a note from Pinkney’s editor, Andrea Spooner, Pinkney had not yet completed the dozens of graphite drawings he had intended to incorporate into Just Jerry: How Drawing Shaped My Life when he died. But he had finished the text and created many preparatory sketches as well as specific instructions for the book’s design. Fortunately for readers, Pinkney’s publisher chose to move forward with publication, using the available materials to achieve Pinkney’s goal of creating a visually immersive effect while also giving the book a lively, improvisatory feel. As it so happens, using sketchbook pages to illustrate a memoir about a young person’s growing identity as a visual artist is particularly apt: The narrator, like the art, is a work in progress. 

Pinkney, who had five siblings, describes seizing any available area in his overstuffed childhood home for drawing, including a favorite spot under the piano. He recalls how visits to his New Jersey relatives inspired his lifelong love of nature, and how much he admired his father’s ability to build things with his hands. Pinkney also writes frankly about the obstacles in his path, including segregation at school and coping with a learning disability. (He was diagnosed with dyslexia as an adult.) 

The most powerful aspects of Pinkney’s story involve the adults who recognized his innate artistic talents and gave them space to flourish. An elementary school teacher appointed Pinkney “class artist” to alleviate his difficulties with reading, and the owner of the newsstand where Pinkney found his first job allowed him to sell his drawings along with newspapers and introduced him to his first artistic mentor. Even Pinkney’s father, who worried about his son’s ability to make a living as an artist, encouraged his talents by letting him draw on the walls of his bedroom. Just Jerry is a moving and vivid reminder that a life in art can be made possible through hard work and dedication, and by giving talented young people the tools and support they need to succeed.

Just Jerry is a moving and vivid reminder that young people can have successful lives in the arts if they receive the tools and support they need.

It can be fun to speculate about nature versus nurture, to consider which of our quirks might be innate and which might have been shaped by where or with whom we grew up. While we’re at it, we can also ponder that well-known question of Shakespearean origin: What’s in a name? 

But Shenanigan Swift, the clever and engaging hero of Beth Lincoln’s debut novel, The Swifts: A Dictionary of Scoundrels, has recently realized that such musings aren’t so enjoyable anymore. Although Shenanigan’s name earns her a pass when she’s feeling stubborn or has done something an eensy bit destructive (like putting the family cat in the empty coffin before the monthly rehearsal of her aunt’s funeral), it also makes her feel misunderstood when others insist on seeing her solely as an embodiment of her name instead of as an individual.

However, Shenanigan is far from the only Swift with a name that’s both prediction and label. For generations, the Swifts have used their family dictionary to randomly select names that somehow become destinies. Shenanigan’s older sisters are named Phenomena and Felicity, her uncle is Maelstrom, her ancestors include Calamitous and Godwottery (the latter meaning “overly elaborate gardening” or “old-fashioned and affected language”), and the Swift family matriarch is Arch-Aunt Schadenfreude. Hilariously, the aforementioned cat is simply “John the Cat.”

This weekend, Shenanigan will meet even more relatives with dictionary-dictated names, because the Swift family reunion is nigh. Far-flung folks will descend upon the stately yet decrepit Swift House, a 17th-century manor packed with secret doors, the occasional turret and a library that holds both books and booby traps. It’s the perfect setting for the keystone activity of every reunion: the hunt for Grand-Uncle Vile’s long-lost fortune, which Shenanigan is determined to find all by herself. Alas, Shenanigan’s plans are interrupted when someone shoves Arch-Aunt Schadenfreude down the stairs, and other murders soon follow. Amid the ensuing shock and chaos, Shenanigan and Phenomena team up to solve the crimes before anyone else is harmed. 

Rife with delicious tension and charmingly dry wit, The Swifts explores and celebrates the wonders of wordplay and the complexity of identity while serving up a compelling murder mystery and a twisty treasure hunt. As Lincoln notes in her introduction, “The thing about language is that it can’t stay still. Restless and impatient, it races forward without waiting for our dictionaries to catch up.” Word nerds will emphatically agree—and they’ll be delighted to know that a sequel is in the works, too.

The Swifts celebrates the wonders of wordplay and the complexity of identity while serving up a compelling murder mystery and a twisty treasure hunt.

Is the book always better than the movie or TV show? Better read these soon-to-be adaptations ASAP so you can decide.

Dear Edward

By Ann Napolitano

Streaming now

Led by acclaimed actors Connie Britton (“Nashville”) and Taylor Schilling (“Orange Is the New Black”), plus newcomer Colin O’Brien, this Apple TV+ adaptation of Napolitano’s searing 2020 novel is sure to have viewers delicately dabbing their cheeks with a Kleenex. The first episode dropped on February 3. Read our Q&A with Ann Napolitano.

Daisy Jones & the Six

By Taylor Jenkins Reid

Streaming, March 2023

This runaway 2019 bestseller about a 1970s rock star is making its way to Amazon Prime Video—starring Riley Keough, the granddaughter of the ultimate 1970s rock star (Elvis), as its titular heroine. Told in a documentary style, just like the novel, the 10-episode series also stars Sam Claflin, Camila Monroe, Suki Waterhouse and Nabiyah Be.

Straight Man

By Richard Russo

Streaming as “Lucky Hank,” March 2023

Beloved “Better Call Saul” star Bob Odenkirk plays the titular character in this AMC series adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Russo’s take on university life in the Pennsylvania Rust Belt. The first episode airs on March 19.

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret

By Judy Blume

Theatrical release, April 2023

Blume’s 1970 coming-of-age story about an 11-year-old who moves from New York City to the New Jersey suburbs is a true classic, and it sounds like this film adaptation, which stars Abby Ryder Fortson as Margaret and Rachel McAdams (a literary adaptation veteran after starring in The Notebook and The Time-Traveler’s Wife) as her mother, Barbara, has the potential to become one too.

The Last Thing He Told Me

By Laura Dave

Streaming, April 2023

Produced by Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, this Apple TV+ production of Laura Dave’s gripping domestic thriller stars actor Jennifer Garner. Dave herself worked on the adaptation with her husband, Josh Singer, who boasts 2015 Best Picture winner Spotlight among his many film credits. The first two episodes will be released on April 14. Read our review of The Last Thing He Told Me.

City on Fire

By Garth Risk Hallberg

Streaming, May 2023

Hallberg’s atmospheric debut, set in the early 2000s, is coming to Apple TV+ as an eight-episode series on May 14. The cast includes Chase Sui Wonders, Wyatt Oleff, Jemima Kirke (“Girls”) and  Nico Tortorella (“Younger”) as NYU students who are drawn into a mysterious death. Read our interview with Garth Risk Hallberg.


By Hugh Howey 

Streaming, May 2023

Science fiction writer Graham Yost and director Morten Tyldum have come together, alongside executive producer and actress Rebecca Ferguson, in the creation of the Apple TV+ series based on Hugh Howey’s initially self-published sensation, Silo. Set in a dystopian society living within a silo hundreds of miles underground, this television series will be sure to inspire questioning of the rules by which our lives are ordered. 

The Perfect Find

By Tia Williams 

Streaming, June 2023 

In this romantic comedy from the author of Seven Days in June, Jenna Jones finally is on the upside in her career in the beauty industry when she falls hard for her boss’ son. Now, she must decide if her clandestine romance is worth risking everything. Actors Keith Powers and Gabrielle Union will play the leads in the Netflix adaptation.

Harold and the Purple Crayon

By Crockett Johnson

Theatrical release, June 2023

Released back in 1955, this children’s picture book has inspired everything from computer games to romantic comedies. Harold and his crayon will continue to draw new audiences and create new beauty and life in a feature film starring acclaimed actors like Lil Rel Howery, Zooey Deschanel and Zachary Levi. 


By Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin 

Theatrical release, July 2023

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, this movie details the life of Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb.” Featuring big-name actors like Robert Downey, Jr., Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh and Cillian Murphy, this should be a stirring watch. Read our review of American Prometheus.

Killers of the Flower Moon

By David Grann

Theatrical release, October 2023

Legendary director Martin Scorcese will be taking David Grann’s 2017 National Book Award finalist, which tells the true story of the shocking murders of members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma in the 1920s, to the screen. Frequent Scorcese collaborators Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert de Niro star alongside Native actors Tantoo Cardinal, Lily Gladstone and Tatanka Means. Read our review of Killers of the Flower Moon.

Who doesn’t love seeing their favorite characters brought to life? Here are 11 book-to-screen adaptations you won’t want to miss.

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois

I read the entirety of award-winning poet and novelist Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’ masterwork, all 816 pages of it, on the tiny screen of my phone during a trip throughout Washington. I can’t think of any other epic book that would be worth that kind of reading experience, but The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois is special. While driving across the state, I regularly came across attempts to recognize and honor the Indigenous peoples who once populated that land, gestures that I don’t often see in the South where I live. For this reason, the long gaze of Jeffers’ novel felt like the answer to a prayer. It tells the full history of an American family—whose heritage is African, Creek and Scottish—and their centurieslong connection to a bit of Georgia land, as revealed by the research of one descendant, Ailey. It made me wish that all American lands could have their chance to tell their full stories, all the way back to the beginning.

—Cat, Deputy Editor

Empire of Pain

It is rare that a book simultaneously checks the boxes of timely, important, in-depth and narratively gripping. But the 640 pages of journalist Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain walk the line between an impressively researched tome and a page-turning, propulsive story. Keefe’s 2021 tour de force recounts the full, damning tale of the Sackler family, spanning three generations of this American dynasty and their dealings at Purdue Pharma, the pharmaceutical company that produces the opioid pain pill OxyContin. The Sacklers worked hard to keep their name from being associated with OxyContin, and Empire of Pain makes it clear why—from their invention of the concept of marketing prescription drugs, to their tactic of offering regional sales reps monetary incentives for getting more doctors to prescribe more of their drugs, to their outright lies about how their product would not lead to addiction. It is a harrowing story of one family’s catastrophic contributions to the opioid crisis, masterfully told by a top-notch writer.

—Christy, Associate Editor

The Priory of the Orange Tree

“You have fished in the waters of history and arranged some fractured pieces into a picture . . . but your determination to make it truth does not mean it is so,” declares Ead, one of the heroines of The Priory of the Orange Tree. Reading Samantha Shannon’s 848-page novel can feel like arranging fractured pieces into a complete picture, as it depicts the intersecting journeys of four narrators from different corners of an exquisitely detailed fantasy world. Ead, Tané, Niclays and Loth each have deeply held beliefs about the nature of good and evil, and a crisis that could annihilate humanity is bringing those beliefs into conflict. I will admit that I picked up the book for its Sapphic love story, and that’s a good reason to read it. The romance was tender and gorgeous, unfolding slowly enough to surprise me even though I was looking for it. However, when the casualties become devastating, what keeps you going is the thrill of connecting fragments of history and mythology from each storyline, knowing you will “see soon enough whose truth is correct.”

—Phoebe, Subscriptions

The Vanity Fair Diaries

There are many reasons that British journalist, writer and editor Tina Brown could land on one’s radar. She’s the founding editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast, the first female editor of The New Yorker and the author of two bestselling books on the royal family. But the achievement that cemented Brown’s reputation was her miraculous turnaround of Vanity Fair. Resurrected by Condé Nast in 1983, the new VF was floundering, so the 30-year-old Brown quickly engaged talent like Dominick Dunne, Gail Sheehy and Helmut Newton, and wooed advertisers like Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. Controversial stories grabbed headlines; so did provocative covers (who can forget the shot of a nude, pregnant Demi Moore?). Brown loves gossip and has a sharp wit, which means her behind-the-scenes stories of the 1980s NYC glitterati alone could carry 500 pages of memoir. But she’s also honest about the mistakes she’s made and the challenge of balancing a family and career. The Vanity Fair Diaries will leave you hoping Brown chronicled her time at the New Yorker too.

—Trisha, Publisher

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The American Library Association’s Caldecott Medal is awarded each year to “the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.” In 2008, it was won by this love letter to French inventor and film director George Mélies. To make a 544-page story short, it’s extraordinary, with 158 pencil drawings that will make you rethink everything you think you know about what picture books can be. The Invention of Hugo Cabret begins by inviting you to “picture yourself sitting in the darkness, like the beginning of a movie” and then captures your imagination via 21 wordless spreads. In many ways, Brian Selznick’s story is about small things that combine to form a creation greater than the sum of its parts, from a boy who lives in a train station and steals toys from the cantankerous owner of a toy booth to paragraphs filled with exquisitely yet economically observed details. Few picture books can be described as perfect, but this is one of them.

—Stephanie, Associate Editor

Correction, February 15, 2023: This article previously misspelled the name of Dominick Dunne.

February is the shortest month, but if you're looking for a long book to keep you company until March begins to roar, our editors have a few suggestions.
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Aniana del Mar knows how to keep a secret. At her papi’s insistence, Ani keeps her swim meets and the medals she wins hidden from her mami, who fears the water after a hurricane destroyed her home and killed her brother. So when Ani’s body starts to ache, her joints swelling and her limbs radiating with pain, it’s not a difficult decision for Ani to keep it all a secret in order to continue swimming.

But then one morning, Ani wakes up in so much pain that she cannot move, and her life changes irrevocably. To help her doctors understand what might be happening, Ani must reveal to them—and to her mami—the truth about swimming. After Ani is diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), she feels as though she’s losing her swim team, her ability to focus in school and her mami’s trust. She clings to her hope of getting back in the water, but how can she convince her family to let her swim again when all they seem to do is worry? 

Characters with chronic pain are underrepresented in children’s literature, and in Aniana del Mar Jumps In, Dominican American debut author Jasminne Mendez offers a welcome addition to this small but growing group. The novel has many strengths, including Mendez’s excellent portrayal of Ani’s family and skillful juxtaposition of Ani’s religious mother with her more spiritual godmother, but it shines brightest in Mendez’s approach to writing about Ani’s JIA.

Ani’s initial realization that her aches aren’t typical, her choice to conceal her pain and the spiraling effects of that choice all offer realistic glimpses of what it’s like to deal with chronic illness at a young age. After her diagnosis, Ani struggles with the disconnect between how everyone around her treats her—as someone who is courageous but fragile—and the fact that she views herself as a girl who isn’t brave, but just “managing [her] life now.” Her realization that she’ll never be able to return to being “Old Ani” is reassuring and empowering. In a poem titled “New Ani,” she reflects, “New Ani knows that this is her body and she can / decide what to do with it. // New Ani is learning that she is strong enough, / like Galveston, to survive storm surges and sea sickness.”

Mendez conveys all of this through clever, accessible narrative verse. She makes creative use of added space between words, lines and letters (l i k e  so), as well as capitalization (“DriBbLe CrOsSoVeR / SHOOT!”). Young readers will not only immediately recognize many of these techniques from their own text messages but also be able to easily replicate them within their own poetry. For those especially eager to try their hand, Mendez includes a short guide to the various poetic forms she employed.

Aniana del Mar Jumps In will be enjoyed by aspiring poets and readers who like moving novels in verse such as Jasmine Warga’s Other Words for Home and Andrea Beatriz Arango’s Iveliz Explains It All. It will strike an even deeper chord with any reader who, like Ani, has experienced chronic pain—even if they try not to let it show.

Debut author Jasminne Mendez offers a welcome portrayal of a young protagonist navigating chronic pain in this accessible and empowering novel in verse.
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Eb didn’t mean to mess up Flow’s brand-new shoes, and Flow would never hit a girl, but in Kelly J. Baptist’s Eb & Flow, an accident leads to angry words, then a fistfight and then a 10-day suspension from school for seventh graders Ebony (Eb) and De’Kari (Flow). As they stare down two weeks at home, where they’ll be surrounded by parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, chores, homework and a whole lot of time to think, Eb and Flow must find a way to explain to their families and friends—and to themselves—what really happened.

During the suspension, Flow works through a list of chores from his mom and sneaks over to the rec center to swim. (His passion for the pool is why he likes to be called Flow.) Meanwhile, Eb is stuck at her grandmother’s house, even though her mom only lives a few miles away. She has to babysit her nephew, and she can’t even have her phone, because her grandma took it away. 

With each passing day, the situation between Eb and Flow evolves and escalates. At first, readers have only a murky awareness of the fight and the circumstances leading up to it, but Baptist slowly and brilliantly peels back the layers of Eb’s and Flow’s motivations and histories. A video of the altercation gets shared among their classmates, siblings and friends, and Eb and Flow tussle over the ways they’re each responsible for what happened. Each revelation forces readers to see the two characters anew. 

Baptist writes Eb & Flow in fluid free verse that alternates between Eb’s and Flow’s perspectives. The suspension gives the novel its structure, with each day composing one chapter. Baptist also skillfully highlights parallels between Eb’s and Flow’s lives, then braids them together in a realistic, satisfying conclusion. Expertly crafted with two wonderfully complex characters at its core, Eb & Flow is a masterful, moving middle grade novel.

This novel in verse set over the course of two seventh graders’ suspensions from school contains brilliantly crafted revelations that cast both characters in new lights.
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Twelve-year-old Lawrence and his family have had “a double dose of hard lately.” His dad left his mom and has been in and out of prison ever since, and Lawrence, his mom and little sister have recently moved from Charlotte to “the middle of Nowhere, North Carolina,” to live with Lawrence’s no-nonsense grandmother. When Lawrence is expelled from his new, mostly white middle school for fighting, Granny is quick to quash his plan to stay home and watch TV. 

When Mr. Dennis, who lives nearby, spots Lawrence walking aimlessly around the neighborhood, he invites the boy to join him at the local rec center, where he teaches Lawrence to play competitive chess. “Chess is a game for thinkers,” Mr. Dennis explains, and through the game, Lawrence learns lessons that apply to both chess and life, such as the importance of seeing the big picture and how to plan ahead and avoid falling into enemy traps. He also connects with other kids at the rec center, including brilliant Twyla, who captures his heart, and combative Deuce, who turns out to share something important in common with Lawrence.

In Not an Easy Win, author Chrystal D. Giles turns chess into a drama-filled endeavor that reaches its peak when Lawrence returns to Charlotte to compete in a junior chess tournament. These scenes are filled with all the tension and thrill of a high-stakes athletic final, and even readers with little or no knowledge of chess will be lured in.

Lawrence makes an appealing narrator, and his honesty will quickly win readers over. Giles has a knack for believable turns of phrase that memorably convey Lawrence’s emotions. For instance, when Lawrence recalls the day he was expelled, he observes, “There’s something about being constantly reminded that I’m different that makes me extra edgy, like a revved-up engine ready to spin out.”

Giles explains in an author’s note that, like Lawrence, she grew up in “a multigenerational home . . . with a parent who was absent and often incarcerated,” which led to “moments of embarrassment and shame.” Lawrence’s father doesn’t appear in the novel, but his son maintains a significant, supportive connection with him through an old iPod filled with his favorite songs. 

As Lawrence thinks back to how he felt when he first moved to his new home, he recalls wishing that his family could be “a normal family. I’d already figured out normal wasn’t real. Still, that didn’t stop anyone from wanting it.” With understanding and authenticity, Giles captures Lawrence’s feelings of confusion, displacement, anger, sadness and, eventually, hope. Not an Easy Win is a meaningful, moving read, especially for those who feel misunderstood or out of place. 

Chrystal D. Giles turns chess into a drama-filled endeavor in this empathetic novel with special appeal for anyone who feels misunderstood or out of place.
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Anya is about to become a Moth Keeper, a guardian tasked with protecting the Moon-Moths. According to the lore in Anya’s desert village, the moths were a gift from the Moon-Spirit, who wished to show her gratitude for the villagers’ choice to forswear daylight. Instead, they live their waking hours at night so the Moon-Spirit doesn’t have to be alone. Every year, the luminous Moon-Moths pollinate the Night-Flower tree, which the village relies on to thrive.

At first, Anya is convinced that caring for the moths will keep her “warm inside even on long, cold nights,” but the temptation of daylight chips away at her resolve. When the solitude and darkness become too much, Anya makes a decision with consequences that ripple across the desert and history itself. In The Moth Keeper, Eisner Award-winning graphic novelist K. O’Neill portrays how isolation can break even the strongest will, but a supportive community can mend all rifts.

O’Neill (The Tea Dragon Society, Aquicorn Cove) has established themself as a phenomenal graphic novel creator for middle grade audiences. Their work often explores themes of community and the natural world, and The Moth Keeper is no exception. In one scene, Anya’s friend Estell tells her about the essential role that the Night-Flower tree’s pollen plays in the desert: “That’s the magic of it—it’s part of the rhythm of nature. Everything is connected.” 

In their signature style, O’Neill’s soft, gentle artwork invites readers into a fantasy world dominated by every shade of blue and yellow. O’Neill plays subtly with graphics conventions to great effect. By eliminating the gutter when folktales are being told, for instance, they convey the larger-than-life significance of the stories to the village’s culture. Similarly, double-page spreads of the vast, rolling desert landscape capture “the smallness one feels standing amid such scenery,” as O’Neill explains in an afterword.

O’Neill’s books have a singular quality that makes them difficult to compare to anyone else’s work, aside from their own. Although its world building isn’t quite as rich as in the Tea Dragon series and the character development not as deep as in Aquicorn Cove, The Moth Keeper is still a charming story that will delight O’Neill’s fans and new readers alike, drawing them in like Moon-Moths to a lantern. 

This standalone graphic fantasy from Eisner Award winner K. O’Neill will delight fans and new readers alike, drawing them in like moths to a lantern.

In a note included with advance copies of Gillian McDunn’s fifth novel, the middle grade author shares that When Sea Becomes Sky is her “once-in-a-lifetime-book.” It is an undeniably beautiful story made for pondering and revisiting, and a tale that readers will surely treasure.

It’s been almost a year since rain fell on Pelican Island, a lovely place amid the coastal Carolina salt marshes where 11-year-old Bex and 9-year-old Davey live with their parents. In the summertime, Mom, a biology teacher, kayaks around collecting samples and specimens; Dad pilots a ferryboat and writes poetry; and Bex, Davey, and Davey’s cat, Squish, row out to the Thumb, their favorite spot on the island. The isolated, peaceful area contains a huge old live oak tree in which Squish lounges, Davey reads and Bex valiantly tries to conquer her writer’s block. 

But then, as Bex and Davey are enjoying their “just-us kind of summer,” two strange things appear. First, they find an orange X painted on their tree, a harbinger of a bridge-development project that will bring more tourism to the island while destroying so much of what the siblings hold dear. The second surprise might offer a solution: As the drought drags on, a statue slowly emerges from the marshy water at the Thumb, and Bex and Davey think they might be able to use it to stop the development project.

Bex convinces Davey to keep the statue a secret so they can figure out its origin without the interference of grown-ups, but they’ll have to hurry. The developers will break ground soon, and it’s going to be really hard for Bex and Davey to keep their investigation hidden from their parents and island neighbors for long. 

McDunn creates delicious and often funny tension as Bex and Davey sneak around in search of answers and discover even more questions. Readers will be intrigued and moved as they join the inseparable pair in their musings: If something is fleeting, does that make it less meaningful? What does it mean to endure? What does moving on look like, and is it different from leaving something—or someone—behind?

Illustrations by Yaoyao Ma Van As heighten the sense of place, and readers will practically smell the island’s salty air as they’re reminded of the importance of conservation and stewardship. When Sea Becomes Sky is an emotional, realistic chronicle of a special summer that considers big questions and appreciates quiet moments with mastery, compassion and care.

Readers will practically smell the salty island air in this novel about a special summer that considers big questions and appreciates quiet moments.
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If you’ve done any amount of air travel, you know that airports are perfect places for people-watching. And if you’ve ever encountered a flight delay, you’ve seen firsthand how overcrowded terminals combined with the frustration of changed or canceled plans can become a recipe for a uniquely stressful environment. That mixture makes a busy Chicago airport the perfect setting for You Are Here: Connecting Flights, a collection of linked short stories written by a dozen of the most acclaimed Asian American writers for children and young adults and featuring Asian American characters discovering their strengths and voices.

You Are Here opens with Christina Soontornvat’s contribution, which follows a boy named Paul as he prepares to pass through airport security with his parents, little sister and grandmother for a flight to Thailand. He learns that his grandmother has a secret in her carry-on bag, which begins a chain reaction that reverberates throughout several other stories.

The collection takes place on the weekend before Independence Day, so many characters are heading off on summer adventures, such as Mike Chen’s Lee, a talented Chinese American guitarist who’s en route to visit his uncle, and Susan Tan’s Ari, who’s navigating the recent divorce between her Jewish mother and her Chinese father. Others are preparing to discover their heritage through visits to their family’s countries of origin, though Meredith Ireland’s Mindy isn’t as eager to visit her Korean birthplace as her white adoptive dads seem to be.

Many characters experience racism and must find ways to counter stereotypes, including some that are internalized. Characters’ paths cross just like they would at a real airport, and careful readers will enjoy discovering how the stories intertwine in clever and revealing ways.

You Are Here was edited by We Need Diverse Books co-founder Ellen Oh, and it’s the first release from Allida, a new imprint at HarperCollins Children’s Books led by author Linda Sue Park and editor Anne Hoppe; both Oh and Park also contribute stories to the volume. In the book’s back matter, biographies of each author indicate who wrote which story and what contributors like Grace Lin, Minh Le and Erin Entrada Kelly have in common with their characters.

You Are Here vividly illustrates the talents of a diverse group of creators as well as the rich and varied range of Asian American experiences and identities.

You Are Here vividly illustrates the talents of a diverse group of creators as well as the rich and varied range of Asian American experiences and identities.

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