by Ingrid Law
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
Mississippi “Mibs” Beaumont is approaching her 13th birthday, when all other members of her family (save her non-magically-endowed father, Poppa) come into their particular magical power, or savvy. Mibs’ brother can create storms with his temper; her mother is perfect at everything (including being imperfect). Mibs is excited, until her father is in a serious accident and hospitalized miles away, taking away her mother and eldest brother, leaving them unguarded and swept up into a pity birthday party thrown by the pastor’s wife (whose son Will, incidentally, Mibs has a bit of a crush on). But when her powers descend during the party, it’s time to grab her remaining two brothers and hit the road – literally. They stow away on the pink bus of a bible salesman visiting the church, along with Will and his 16-year-old sister, Bobbi, hoping that he’s heading toward Mibs’ parents.
This one was recommended to me by a new 9-year-old friend. It’s been on my to-read list for a while, but I love to take kids’ recommendations seriously so this time I actually picked it up (well, downloaded it to my e-reader; same diff). The story of the adventure they go on with Mibs’ savvy (telepathy, specifically if a person has ink on their skin) and the other characters they meet, is delightful and tidy and I loved watching them all grow and change. I especially liked how Mibs handled not being ready to kiss Will, and his response. Perfect. One spoiler note, on top of the burgeoning heterosexuality: Mibs’ Poppa doesn’t entirely recover from his head injury, and I did appreciate how it was handled very realistically.
by Christine Day
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
12-year-old Edie discovers a box in her attic with photos of a woman named Edith who looks just like her. In a flash, she and her best friends, Serenity and Amelia, are deep in the mystery. All Edie knows is that her mom was Native American and was adopted as a baby by a white family; she knows almost nothing of her heritage (though the book opens with a scene of her and her parents at a fireworks event on a reservation, seemingly engaging with other American Indians for the first time).
Along Edie’s journey of family discovery, she comes to grips with her changing relationships with her best friends and her family, and matures into an almost-teen who is ready for the truth. Spoiler alert: it turns out that Edie’s family story involves forcible separation of her mother as a baby from her mother, and it was awful and traumatic and systemic, even in the 1970s.
Debbie Reese, the gold standard for questions of American Indians in Children’s Literature (and has the website to prove it), gives this one a “recommended” rating on her website, so I made sure to snag it, and it does not disappoint! There is a reference to a boy of interest, but in general Edie’s focus is so laser-like on her family and on the dog she meets at the same time, so if young readers aren’t into romance, they will barely notice it.
by Julie Murphy
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
It probably goes without saying that I love Julie Murphy (along with most of the rest of the world), so I was extra excited to see that she has a middle grade debut! Sweet Pea DiMarco (real name: Patricia) is nearing the end of her seventh grade year when a few things are set in motion to start healing her relationship with her ex-best friend, Kiera. Sweet Pea’s neighbor, Miss Flora Mae, leaves town for a few weeks and leaves Sweet Pea in charge of mailing in her advice column letters and responses. But Sweet Pea recognizes Kiera’s handwriting on an envelope and can’t help herself; soon she’s writing advice all by herself. Miss Flora Mae happens to live next door to both Sweet Pea’s parents, who in their divorce decided to maintain nearly identical houses on the same street.
I loved all the relationships and complexity going on in Sweet Pea’s life: her friendships with Oscar and Kiera, her parents’ divorce and the reason for it that makes them the talk of the town, the advice-column writing. There were some cringe-worthy scenes, especially when Sweet Pea crashes Kiera’s birthday party with embarrassing gifts. I didn’t totally buy how they became friends again but it mostly worked.
by Angela Cervantes
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Lety and her best friends Brisa and Kennedy, rising 6th graders, are doing a special summer program volunteering at the local animal shelter. To Lety’s annoyance, their classmate Hunter is also there, and he scowls a lot and is rude to Lety about her not being a U.S. citizen or being fluent in English. They both want to be “shelter scribe,” the person who writes the profiles of the animals for the website, and get in trouble for developing a contest to determine who gets the honor. Over the course of the story, however, he opens up to Lety and the two become friends – and maybe someday will be more than friends?!
There’s also the sort of opposite storyline that happens with Brisa. While out shopping with her family and Lety, they encounter an angry white man who yells at them to learn English and “go back to Mexico” (Brisa’s family is from Peru, and even inserts a phrase in Quechua, the language of her grandparents, which was very cool). Brisa is scared and decides to leave the shelter camp to go to ESL summer school, but Lety comes up with a plan to get her back. She also comes up with a plan to get Hunter’s dog back for him, and to be able to adopt a dog herself.
This is not the first book in this series but it works quite well as a stand-alone read, and I learned about it because a fellow children’s librarian chose it for her 4th and 5th grade book club. I think it raises a lot of really great, topical issues and would be great for a book club, even if things get resolved very (too) neatly to be entirely satisfactory to me as an adult reader. I also suggested it to a fellow children’s librarian who writes animal profiles at a shelter! (I also especially love the word play because when this title is read aloud, it sounds like “let it out loud”!) There is some Spanish in here, and it is handled very well and not at all clunky.
by Mary E. Lambert
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
I picked up this book expecting it to be a light read, and it was not. (Who doesn’t love family game night?! Uh…) It was, however, a great story, and one not frequently told. Annabelle has just finished 7th grade and the summer stretches before her. However, it’s not full of sleepovers and friend visits – Annabelle has a self-imposed Five Mile Radius on her house because she’s embarrassed about her hoarder mother and the state of her house. That situation finally comes to a head – Annabelle’s father leaves, her older brother stays out as much as possible, and her little sister calls up Grandma to come help.
It didn’t resolve exactly how I thought it would, which is good – I thought it would be too simplistic, but Lambert really gets into some of the nuance, at least it seemed to me as someone who is not an insider to this situation. Most importantly, not only is Annabelle’s family starting to heal, but she is learning big adult lessons about how to manage her own emotions and mental health. Her big revelation comes when Grandma Nora says, “We are all broken, even you,” and Annabelle really considers what that means.
Annabelle also explores nuance in her friendships, with her new best friend Rae and her other friends who she realizes she still has things in common with and that Rae isn’t the perfect friend for her in all ways. Annabelle also has a crush on a boy, and the development of that is very adorable. Her brother’s protective reaction to this news is a bit bro-y, but also sweet in its own way. Annabelle and even her sister Leslie seem more than capable of managing their own love lives.
by Jasmine Warga
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars
This novel-in-verse is narrated by seventh grader Jude who moves to America with her mother. They leave behind her father, who refuses to leave his store in their seaside tourist town in Syria, and her college-age brother, who has gone off to fight the government (presumably making him part of ISIS, aka ISIL, though it is never explicitly stated). Jude and her mother move in with her mother’s brother, Uncle Mazin, his white wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Sarah, who is a year older than Jude. Sarah and Jude have a complicated relationship; Sarah is very preoccupied with fitting in and not being “weird,” which Jude is. Jude is simultaneously very aware of her outsider status and also not as worried as Sarah about the ways in which she doesn’t fit in. She doesn’t, for example, let it stop her from befriending other outcasts like Miles and Layla. Jude is upset that her letters to her best friend, Fatima, back home go unanswered, and finally finds out the reason why – Fatima and her family have fled to another country (Lebanon maybe?) and are unreachable. Jude finally finds her way in America, learning English, getting through to Sarah, getting closer to Miles (whom she describes as a ‘very cute boy’ and nothing more romantic than that happens) and landing a part in the school musical. There is an incident of Muslim extremist violence that changes the way people look at Jude, her family, Layla’s family, and their community, but it is also not specifically named as any one historically accurate attack. Her mother has a baby (she was very early on in her pregnancy when they left) and that fleshes out the rest of the plot, plus a small fight with Layla. Oh, and Jude starts her period, which means she also starts wearing hijab, which is also received in a variety of ways, especially within her own family, which was interesting. Overall a lovely, mostly gentle, not-quite-refugee story, with a young woman full of heart and confidence at its center. (It is also worth noting that, though Warga is Middle Eastern, she is not Syrian, so this story is not technically #ownvoices.)
by Alyson Gerber
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Seventh-grader Clea Adams is really struggling this year. She thinks she’s stupid and lazy and just needs to work harder. What she doesn’t realize is that she has ADHD, which makes it hard for her to focus – or, when she is in the zone, really hard to pull out of it. Over the course of the book, she not only comes to terms with her diagnosis but also learns not to be ashamed of it and to ask for accommodations. Once she does, everything gets a lot easier.
Clea’s little sister, Henley, is in maybe first grade and is very very shy. She has a lot of trouble speaking up and has accidents at school and other mishaps. Clearly Clea’s parents have a lot to deal with, especially her mom since her dad is on the road a lot for work. One thing Clea always had to look forward to was her weekly pizza-and-movie nights with her dad and her best friend, Red. But Clea’s impulsivity comes between her and Red, along with Red’s new best friend, Dylan, who is not so nice to her. Clea also becomes closer with Sanam, a girl on the chess team with Clea, Red, and Dylan. (There is some mild dating and hand holding and even a first kiss, for those concerned about such things.) I loved that Clea loved chess, and loved the use of chess as a metaphor. There’s also a bully named Quinn and I liked (for the most part) how Clea and her friends dealt with Quinn.
I generally really liked this book, and liked Clea a lot. I learned a lot about ADHD; since I live with someone with it that was partly why I picked this book up (though it’s important to note that it presents differently in boys/men than girls/women). My main issues were that the ADHD facts and theories felt pretty didactic in spots, and that Clea gets over her anger and suspicion of the psychologists and other adults involved pretty fast. Maybe ADHD is treated a lot differently now by peers but I would have thought that Clea would need a lot more to work through her anger about it. Sanam also reveals that she has dyslexia, which helps Clea ask for help from teachers, and also helps them get closer.