Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

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Originally published in: 2017

What’s it about: Clayton Byrd loves nothing more than playing his blues harp with grandfather – Cool Papa Byrd. When Cool Papa Byrd passes suddenly Clayton struggles to adjust. He leaves home hoping to catch up with Cool Papa’s band of Bluesmen and finds an unexpected adventure on the way.

What made me pick it up: This is one of the finalists for this year’s National Book Award in Young People’s Literature – the winner will be announced tomorrow!

My favorite things: There’s a reason why Rita Williams-Garcia has won so many awards – she’s a masterful writer who never shies away from difficult topics. She takes a tale of love, loss, and grief and makes it thrilling but relatable. She weaves music throughout the story, making Clayton’s world come alive. No character is two dimensional, rather, she writes everyone as a full and complex person.

Who it’s great for:  Middle-grade readers looking for a story that treats black boys as real people and not as stereotypes. Fans of Williams-Garcia’s other work. Readers interested in the roles music can play in life.

Abby’s rating: five-shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

The Goat by Anne Fleming

thegoat

Originally published in: 2017

What’s it about: Kid and her parents leave Toronto to spend six months in New York City dogsitting for her father’s cousin while her mother performs in an off-broadway play. She befriends Will and the two of them confront their biggest fears to determinedly search for a goat rumored to bring seven years good luck to anyone who can spot him.

What made me pick it up: This was recommended by a colleague whose current ambition is to convince as many people as possible to read this book.

My favorite things: Fleming does a great job of introducing a variety of obstacles that characters face in daily life- in the form of disability, mental and physical illness, and loss – without sensationalizing them at all. Rather, each character’s experience of difference is matter-of-fact and something to be taken in stride rather than agonized over throughout the book. It’s a fun, quirky story that many readers will find both outrageous and relatable.

Who it’s great for: Middle-grade readers who like a quirky adventure. Fans of E.L. Konigsburg.

Abby’s rating: four-shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: Luna is stolen from her mother before she can walk and is rescued and lovingly raised raised by a witch who unintentionally grants her magic. She helps to unravel truth from the lies that mirror it in a battle that pits love and compassion against sorrow and violence.

What made me pick it up: This is the winner of the most recent Newbery Medal – I added it to my TBR list as soon as the award was announced.

My favorite things: The family Luna knows and loves is charming in their absurdity; an ancient witch who is feared and loved and, above all else, misunderstood; a perfectly tiny dragon with the capacity to become simply enormous if only he were ready to grow up; and a bog monster older than time who speaks almost exclusively in poetry. I love Barnhill’s whimsical style and it is sure to help young readers expand their vocabularies.

Who it’s great for: Middle grade and younger readers who like fantasy and can handle a bit of darkness. Those looking for strong female characters will find many here to inspire.

Abby’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells


Want a copy? Find one at Amazon (affiliate link) or see if it’s available at a library near you.


Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: Catrina struggles to adjust as her family moves to better accommodate her younger sister’s chronic illness. Their new community’s enthusiasm for ghosts and Día de Muertos is at once scary and a good opportunity to connect with their mother’s Mexican heritage.

What made me pick it up: I saw this on a colleague’s desk and needed to read it immediately.

My favorite things: In her latest book, Telgemeier successfully takes on a difficult topic and makes it more accessible and less scary. Her art and storytelling are as compelling as ever and make Ghosts difficult to put down even once.

Who it’s great for: Telgemeier’s devoted following will already know about this, but it’s a great choice for any tweens interested in graphic novels. This is also a great choice for those coping with chronic illness in one of their loved ones.

Abby’s rating: four-shells


Want a copy? Find one at Amazon (affiliate link) or see if it’s available at a library near you.


Pax by Sara Pennypacker


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What it’s about: Peter is a 12 year old boy and Pax is fox. They’ve been inseparable since the day Peter rescued Pax as a kit. Now they are being forced apart, but will go the distance to find their way back each other.

What made me pick it up: I actually picked this one up because the cover is so compelling.

My favorite things: Wow, reading Pax felt like getting punched in the gut-in a good way! Peter and Pax have an incredible bond, and I loved that we got to read about it from both of their perspectives. I was surprised to find that this story is really as much about war as it is about friendship. I wasn’t expecting war to feel as close as it does. Pennypacker does a great job of making war very real and very personal. Despite the heavy themes, Pax is mostly a story about love and friendship and how they can flourish even in troubled times. You’ll definitely want a box of tissues on hand before you dive into this one.

Who it’s great for: Tweens who can handle some graphic content. Those looking for a story of resilient love and friendship. Fans of The Fox and the Hound.

Abby’s rating: three-shells

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

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What it’s about: A young girl fears nothing and relies on no one, at least until she is confronted with the reality that jumbies exist. She learns that it’s okay to be scared and important to trust in your friends.

What made me pick it up: I was looking for a creepy middle grade read and came across The Jumbies. I was only planning to read the first few pages to get a feel for it, but I got sucked in.

My favorite things: I don’t know too much about Caribbean folklore, so I enjoyed getting to learn a little through the context of the story rather than having everything spelled out. I love the variety of characters and relationships that develop throughout the story. Baptiste does a great job of illustrating the idea that just because you are scared of someone or something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are dangerous or want to hurt you-sometimes they’re just different than you.

Who it’s great for: Tweens looking for stories of friendship. Fans of creepy. Those looking for a strong female lead.

Abby’s rating: four-shells