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All Middle Grade Coverage

Lisa Stringfellow’s debut middle grade novel, A Comb of Wishes, opens in the deep abyss of the ocean. Ophidia, a sea woman with beautiful green and gold scales, frantically searches for a missing box that contains her only hope of gaining a soul.

On land, 12-year-old Kela used to love beachcombing near her Caribbean island home, but since her mother died three months ago, she’s been adrift in her grief. Her only solace has been crafting with sea glass, creating jewelry from the colorful treasures her mother called “mermaid’s tears.” A historian at the local museum, Kela’s mother left her daughter a valuable gift: a love for the folk tales of the sea and their island, stories filled with shipwrecks, mermaids and mystery.

As Kela walks along the beach one day, she hears a mysterious hum that draws her to a sinkhole. Inside, she finds an ancient box containing a comb made of bone. Although she knows taking anything from the protected beach is wrong, Kela puts it in her bag. When the sea woman discovers that Kela has taken the comb, she offers to grant Kela one wish in exchange for it. But all magic has a cost.

A Comb of Wishes is a beguiling fantasy novel that will engage, inspire and challenge its readers. As Kela confronts her deepest fears and longings, she learns to accept the unacceptable and comes to understand the consequences that ripple outward from our choices. Stringfellow expertly balances the story’s dual settings, evoking Kela’s all-too-human sadness on land and the impact of her mother’s loss on her whole family, as well as Ophidia’s underwater world, where magical sea creatures dwell and wishes can come true, if the wisher is willing to pay the price.

In 2019, Stringfellow received Kweli’s inaugural Color of Children’s Literature Manuscript Award for A Comb of Wishes, and it’s easy to see why. She understands that the most powerful fantasy tales can be more true than ordinary life, and her immersive writing launches readers into Kela’s heart as she makes impossible choices. A Comb of Wishes is an extraordinary debut.

In her beguiling debut middle grade novel, Lisa Stringfellow shows how the most powerful fantasy tales can be more true than ordinary life.

Many Jewish children grow up with a distinct awareness of the darkness that exists in the world, but well-known works of Jewish American children’s literature limit their depictions of existential dangers to historical settings. Eric A. Kimmel’s Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins and Lois Lowry’s Numbers the Stars allude to genocide, while Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family books are about early 20th-century immigrants.

Aviva vs. the Dybbuk is one of the first middle grade novels to portray a modern-day Orthodox Jewish child. It’s the story of Aviva, who has been haunted—literally—for years by the loss of her father. There’s an empty seat at the kitchen table where her Abba should sit, and in his place, Aviva has a dybbuk, a mischievous spirit who’s always causing trouble.

Aviva lives with her mother and the dybbuk above a mikvah, a ritual bath used by Orthodox Jewish women. Although Aviva’s mother manages the mikvah, she otherwise rarely leaves their home, and she and Aviva have gradually drifted away from their friends and community, set apart by grief and the actions of the meddlesome dybbuk.

This year, everyone at school is looking forward to the Bas Mitzvah Bash, but when the principal asks Aviva and her former best friend, Kayla, to work together on the preparations, Aviva’s life becomes even more complicated. And then someone draws a pinwheel shape that Aviva’s never seen before in the wet cement of the sidewalk outside the mikvah, and everyone is suddenly very frightened . . .

Debut author Mari Lowe expertly captures the environment in which Orthodox children are raised while offering a glimpse into one family’s way forward after a tragic loss. Despite what she’s been through, Aviva still wants to play with her friends and be liked by her teachers. She feels cooped up at home, aches for an absent family member, misses her friends and begins to worry about her safety in the face of escalating threats to her community; these concerns ground the character and make her relatable. An early scene in Aviva vs. the Dybbuk highlights the key role that finding meaning in language plays in the Jewish experience, so Lowe’s inclusion of a racial slur later in the novel is notable, though some readers may feel that the scene in which it’s spoken would be impactful enough without it.

Aviva vs. the Dybbuk is deeply rooted in the specifics of Aviva’s Orthodox Jewish community, but its representation of loss, grief and healing will resonate with any reader who, like Aviva, has lost someone close to them and feels tangled up in grief.

Deeply rooted in its protagonist’s Orthodox Jewish community, Aviva vs. the Dybbuk’s depiction of grief and healing has wide appeal.

Beloved and bestselling children’s author Pam Muñoz Ryan offers a new tale featuring a compelling heroine, her supportive community and a shimmer of magic in Solimar: The Sword of the Monarchs.

Solimar’s quinceañera and her official coronation as princess of the small kingdom of San Gregorio are rapidly approaching, and she is about to face a lot of changes and new responsibilities. But all she really wants to do is witness the annual migration of the sacred monarch butterflies to the forest beyond the small village where she lives. 

During this grand event, something strange happens to Solimar, and she receives a magical gift that she doesn’t understand or know how to control. When dark forces threaten San Gregorio, Solimar must learn to harness her new power if she has any hope of saving her people, her family and her beloved monarch butterflies. 

In Solimar, longtime fans of Ryan’s books will recognize echoes of Esperanza Rising’s titular protagonist. Both girls take pride in their heritage and demonstrate strength and resilience when faced with situations that put them and the people they love in peril. These qualities make them easy to root for, but Ryan also skillfully tempers their exceptional qualities with realistic flaws, ensuring that they remain simultaneously admirable and relatable. 

Another element common to many of Ryan’s books present in Solimar is a tight-knit village filled with vibrant characters who genuinely care for each other and feel a sense of love for their home. Much as she did in Mañanaland, Ryan creates a portrait of a community with strong beliefs. The people of San Gregorio have a deep respect for nature, especially the monarch butterflies, which Ryan conveys through awe-inspiring descriptions of towering oyamel fir trees and thousands of delicate butterfly wings glittering in the sunlight. Readers will be immersed in the natural wonders of San Gregorio and understand Solimar’s determination to protect them.

With many hallmarks of the Newbery Honor recipient’s best-loved works, Solimar is a satisfying fantasy adventure that will delight faithful readers and send new ones scurrying to shelves to discover more of her wonderful tales.

Newbery Honor author Pam Muñoz Ryan offers a new tale about a compelling heroine, her supportive community and a shimmer of magic in Solimar.

Adults often wish they could revisit their own childhoods, but I find myself envying kids today when I survey all the great children’s books being published this year. These 15 titles are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the wonders that will fill young readers’ shelves  in 2022.

Sing, Aretha, Sing! by Hanif Abdurraqib, illustrated by Ashley Evans
FSG | February 1

Hanif Abdurraqib is an acclaimed writer of poetry and cultural criticism for adults. He received a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2021, and his 2019 book, Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest, was long-listed for the National Book Award. Plus, his 2021 book, A Little Devil in America, was BookPage’s best nonfiction book of the year.

Picture books require a deep attention to language that’s similar to poetry, so it’s always exciting when writers with backgrounds in poetry branch out into writing picture books. Abdurraqib is well-versed in music and cultural history, so I can’t wait to read this picture book that will explore Aretha Franklin’s connections to the civil rights movement.

Solimar: The Sword of the Monarchs by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Disney-Hyperion | February 1

Every new book from Newbery Honor author Pam Muñoz Ryan is cause for excitement, but the ambitious premise of Solimar offers more reason than usual. Set in a fictional fantasy kingdom, the story offers an irresistible royal heroine and a fascinating depiction of magic, told in Ryan’s signature lush and lyrical prose.

Out of a Jar by Deborah Marcero
Putnam | February 8

In BookPage’s review of author-illustrator Deborah Marcero’s previous picture book, In a Jar, reviewer Jill Lorenzini wrote that it “does what all the best picture books do: It captivates, entertains and leaves you with a reminder of magic still shimmering around the edges.” In a Jar’s ending didn’t seem to hint at a sequel, so it’s delightfully surprising that Marcero has created another story about Llewellyn the bunny and the things he tries to keep bottled up.

Mina by Matthew Forsythe
Paula Wiseman | February 15

Matthew Forsythe’s picture book Pokko and the Drum was one of 2019’s most singularly charming and acclaimed titles. Readers who loved it will want to line up outside their library or bookstore so they can be the first to discover his next book, Mina. Fans of Pokko’s dry humor and intricate colored pencil illustrations will find Mina a worthy successor.

John’s Turn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Kate Berube
Candlewick | March 1

Author Mac Barnett is one of the funniest, smartest and most prolific writers working in children’s literature today, and just about everything he publishes is worth a reader’s time. For John’s Turn, he’s paired with Kate Berube, an illustrator I love for her deceptively simple lines and masterful ability to convey complex emotions through facial expressions. It’s worth noting that Barnett is publishing two additional books this spring: a picture book illustrated by Marla Frazee called The Great Zapfino, out April 5 from Beach Lane, and a graphic novel adaptation of the “live cartoon” he developed during the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown with illustrator Shawn Harris called The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza, out May 10 from Katherine Tegen.

The Aquanaut by Dan Santat
Graphix | March 1

Dan Santat is best known as the Caldecott Medal-winning author-illustrator of 2014’s The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, as well as many other beloved picture books. However, I first became familiar with him as a graphic novelist via his hilarious, action-packed 2011 graphic novel, Sidekicks, the tale of a group of pets who belong to a superhero named Captain Amazing and who are, secretly, also superheroes. Santat packs so much imagination and heart into all of his books that I can’t wait to discover the story he’ll tell in this standalone graphic novel.

The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill
Algonquin | March 8

Kelly Barnhill’s Newbery Medal-winning The Girl Who Drank the Moon is an exquisite fantasy tale—and she hasn’t published anything for young readers in the five long years since it came out! She’s kept busy in the meantime, releasing a book of short stories for adults in 2018 and putting the finishing touches on The Ogress and the Orphans. Whether you’ve been counting the months, weeks and days or are brand-new to Barnhill’s sharp, word-perfect prose and classical yet fresh storytelling, you’re going to love this standalone fantasy.

Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle by Nina LaCour, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
Candlewick | March 29

Nina LaCour is an acclaimed and beloved young adult author whose 2018 novel, We Are Okay, won the American Library Association’s Michael L. Printz Medal for excellence in young adult literature—the YA equivalent of the Newbery Medal. There are very few picture books that depict families with two moms, so this book is notable for two reasons: It contributes sorely needed representation, and it’s LaCour’s first picture book! I’m also looking forward to the illustrations by talented up-and-comer Kaylani Juanita, whose work I’ve admired in picture books such as When Aidan Became a Brother and Magnificent Homespun Brown.

Perfectly Pegasus by Jessie Sima
Simon & Schuster | March 29

Every so often, an author-illustrator makes their debut with a book so fully formed that you read it and think, “Surely, this cannot be their first book!” So it was with Jessie Sima’s Not Quite Narwhal, which was published on Valentine’s Day in 2017 and has gone on to sell more than 250,000 copies. Sima has since published five more picture books, and this spring, they’ll publish this companion to their debut. Read enough picture books and you’ll realize how masterfully Sima walks the line between treacly and genuinely sweet. I can’t wait to read Perfectly Pegasus and let out an “awwwwww!” in spite of myself. 

A Duet for Home by Karina Yan Glaser
Clarion | April 5

Readers who love middle grade stories featuring big families have wholeheartedly embraced Karina Yan Glaser’s Vanderbeekers, who hit shelves in the fall of 2017 and have since starred in five heartwarming tales. I’m always intrigued when an author finds initial success with a series and then launches into either a standalone tale or a new series, because it gives them an opportunity to reveal new dimensions to their writing and storytelling. A Duet for Home is a standalone novel that seems poised to explore similar themes as in Glaser’s bestselling series, like family and what it means to find a home, but from a totally different lens.

I’d Like to Be the Window for a Wise Old Dog by Philip C. Stead
Doubleday | April 5

Speaking of remarkable debuts: Husband and wife team Philip C. and Erin E. Stead won the Caldecott Medal for their very first picture book, A Sick Day for Amos McGee. The Steads are picture book creators whose every release is noteworthy, but I find the title and cover of this one to be irresistibly enticing. Fans as well as dog lovers should know that this is Philip’s first of two canine-themed books in 2022: June will see the publication of Every Dog in the Neighborhood, illustrated by fellow Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell. It’s enough to make you bark with joy.      

Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone by Tae Keller
Random House | April 26

Middle grade author Tae Keller won the 2021 Newbery Medal for her second novel, How to Trap a Tiger. Winning an award as prestigious and influential as the Newbery or the Caldecott can change the entire trajectory of a creator’s career, and I’m endlessly fascinated to see what authors and illustrators choose to publish after winning such an award. Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone will blend contemporary middle school dynamics with a central mystery and a hint of science fiction.

The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton
Holt | May 3

It is such a good time to be a middle grade reader who loves tales of magic and adventure. Case in point: YA author Dhonielle Clayton is making her middle grade debut with The Marvellers, a fantasy novel that will blow the concept of the magical school sky-high—literally. The Arcanum Training Institute for Marvelous and Uncanny Endeavors is an academy in the clouds that attracts magically gifted students from all over the world, and it’s the enchanting setting for what’s sure to be the summer’s must-read middle grade fantasy.   

The World Belonged to Us by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Leo Espinosa
Nancy Paulsen | May 10

Jacqueline Woodson is one of the most beloved and acclaimed writers working today, and her reach knows no bounds. She has written books for readers of every age, from picture books to novels for adults, and has served as our National Ambassador for Children’s Literature. In her picture books, Woodson’s prose is often paired with artwork by exciting, talented illustrators, from Rafael López to James Ransome to E.B. Lewis. Here, she’s working with Colombian illustrator Leo Espinosa, who received a Pura Belpré Honor for his work on Junot Diaz’s picture book, Islandborn. The World Belonged to Us promises to be a nostalgic ode to summer in New York City as only these two talented creators could tell it.

Small Town Pride by Phil Stamper
HarperCollins | May 31

Phil Stamper has published three acclaimed, character-driven YA novels that offer complex depictions of LGBTQ+ teens. It’s thrilling to see him branch out into middle grade, particularly since middle grade books centering the experiences of LGBTQ+ kids are desperately needed. I also love that this book is going to be set in a small rural town. As YA author Preston Norton said in a recent Q&A with BookPage about his new book, Hopepunk, which takes place in rural Wyoming, “Queer stories are needed everywhere because queer people are everywhere.”

Check out our most anticipated titles of 2022 in every genre!

Take a glimpse at the wonders that will fill young readers' shelves in 2022.

Have you ever had one of those days where absolutely everything seems to be going wrong and there’s nothing you can do to change it? In Amber Smith’s Code Name: Serendipity, 11-year-old Sadie has been feeling this way all year. Her best friend, Jude, moved to Utah, she’s made an enemy of the meanest girl at her bus stop, her older brother has started acting like “a total butthead,” and something seems off about her grandfather, who recently moved in with Sadie’s family.

Then one day, while walking through the woods behind her house, Sadie hears a small voice in her head calling for help. She follows it and discovers Dewey, a stray dog with whom she somehow has a telepathic connection. Sadie knows that Dewey is just as lost and lonely as she is, so with help from her Gramps, she sets out on her greatest mission ever: convincing her moms to let her adopt Dewey. What Sadie doesn’t know is that this mission will accomplish so much more than she could ever imagine.

Beneath Code Name: Serendipity’s straightforward prose and grounded, almost ordinary conflicts lies a powerful and emotional story. Sadie is a remarkably realistic protagonist, and the challenges she faces are, for the most part, the relatable stuff of everyday life. She’s just received a processing disorder diagnosis and is starting an individualized education plan at school. She’s adjusting to a long-distance friendship with Jude. And she’s worried about all the small ways that her beloved Gramps seems to be changing. Although Sadie and Dewey’s supernatural quest to win over Sadie’s moms propels the plot forward, Smith’s nuanced, reassuring portrayal of Sadie and her family as they navigate a period of uncertainty is what sets this book apart.

Code Name: Serendipity is a warm, appealing novel about a girl who learns that even though it might seem like everything is going wrong, a bad day—or year—can always change for the better.

Amber Smith’s middle grade novel offers a reassuring, emotional story about a girl and her family navigating an uncertain time in their lives.

June Jackson is only 11 years old, but her dad already has her life mapped out. She’ll excel on Featherstone Creek Middle School’s field hockey and debate teams, get A’s in her classes and then attend Howard University, just like he did. Then she’ll become a lawyer and work at the firm he co-founded.

In Honest June, Tina Wells empathetically shows how these expectations burden eager-to-please June. Her parents work so hard to give her such a nice life, June muses, so what right does she have to ever tell them no?

June has become a pro at strategically nodding along and even lying. “Making people happy is what I’m good at,” she reasons. “Sometimes that means not telling people the whole truth.” Consequently, no one is aware of June’s true feelings—or how she catastrophizes about what might happen if she dares to express a contradictory opinion. But all the dissembling is wearing her down, and she’s begun having trouble focusing in class. It’s not a sustainable way to live, and June knows it.

Someone else knows it, too: Victoria, her fairy godmother (and Tracee Ellis Ross lookalike), who appears in the town carnival’s fun house and bestows a superpower upon the astonished June that renders her unable to lie. Of course, June sees the gift as a curse, and all of her many amusing attempts to circumvent the spell fail. Her only source of relief is her blog, Honest June. If June types out her feelings, she’ll never have to say them out loud, and nobody will be upset with her . . . right?

Brittney Bond’s cheerful illustrations offer a sweet counterpoint to the book’s growing psychological tensions, and their cartoonlike style keeps the tone light even as June walks an increasingly perilous tightrope. Will Victoria show up at an inopportune time? Will June’s strategies work, or will she be under the spell forever? How will June’s parents react if they find out the truth?

Readers will cheer June along on her journey and benefit from the valuable themes in Honest June. It’s a charming and resonant cautionary tale about the importance of being honest with others and—most of all—with ourselves.

In this charming and resonant tale, people-pleasing June’s fairy godmother gifts her with the inability to lie, but June thinks it’s more of a curse.

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