Summertime is reading time. Of course, I read during the school year, but I read at least twice as much in the summer. As I do, I am on a quest to find the books. The welcome picture book. The first read aloud. The book that will make my 5th graders laugh uncontrollably. These must be exceptional books, and they have to be brand-spankin’-new. I want these to be books no one has read previously. (I’m a big believer in the power of rereads, but for these important firsts, I want to start with a clean slate!) In August of 2017, those special books were: You’re Finally Here! by Melanie Watt, Lemons by Melissa Savage, and The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Drew Daywalt.
I’ve been busy on my quest this summer. I’ve read 17 middle-grade novels and nearly as many picture books. I haven’t settled on the books for August 2018 yet, but I have read some excellent contenders! In the process, I’ve noticed Being the Change has become an important filter for me. Even before I get to the bookstore, I’m reading reviews with a Being the Change lens. I’m looking for books that will give us especially rich opportunities to discuss good listening, identity, names, bias, and microaggressions. I realize that most books have elements that would lend themselves to these thoughtful conversations, but here are some new releases (in addition to the excellent lists Sara provides on pp. 135-136) that have stood out to me in my personal quest. Note that the list is a balance between books I’ve read and loved and books I’m highly anticipating.
Julian is a Mermaid – Jessica Love
This is a quiet picture book with very few words and rich illustrations that tell much of the story. I’ve read it several times and each time I love Julian’s Abuela more.
The Parker Inheritance – Varian Johnson
A mystery, part tribute to The Westing Game, part historical fiction, The Parker Inheritance examines racism as it existed in the 1950s and as it exists today in the same small South Carolina town. A fascinating look at the many ways racism, bias, and prejudice keep people from being completely honest —whether to protect others or to protect themselves—both now and in the past.
Front Desk – Kelly Yang
Based on Yang’s own childhood, Front Desk tells the story of Mia Tang, a 10-year-old whose parents have secured a job running a motel for the horrible, Mr. Yao. Mia and her family are immigrants figuring out how to survive in an America where the struggle is much greater than they could have ever imagined. There are many heavy themes here—abuse, extortion, homelessness, racism, bias—but Yang illuminates the harsh realities immigrants face, while somehow maintaining the hopeful, positive tone befitting Mia’s buoyant character. There are obviously many opportunities for Being the Change conversations in Front Desk, but one of the more poignant ties for me is Mia’s struggle to not let her own mother’s bias define her.
I hope every middle-grade teacher will have a chance to read Kelly Yang’s Front Desk this summer!
The First Rule of Punk – Celia Pérez
This one was actually released last summer and won a 2017 Pura Belpré Honor. I added it to my list because I loved it so much and identity was the central theme. María Luisa O’Neill-Morales, a.k.a. Malú, has a tough time when her “SuperMexican” mom takes a professor job in Chicago and Malú has to leave her ultra-cool record-store-owning dad behind in Florida. Malú, as the new kid at her middle school, is harassed by the queen bee for not being Mexican enough (a “coconut”) and at home is admonished to be a proper Mexican señorita by her mom. Malú’s goal? Perfecting her punk identity. Throughout Malú struggles against societal expectations in an attempt to fulfill what her dad says is the first rule of punk: Be Yourself.
Sticks and Stones – Abby Cooper
Published in the summer of 2016, this is a new-to-me book that jumped out at me, thanks to my new Being the Change lens. I haven’t read Sticks and Stones yet, but listen to how promising it sounds:
“Sticks & Stones by Abby Cooper is a feel-good middle-grade debut with just a dash of magic…
Ever since she was a baby, the words people use to describe Elyse have instantly appeared on her arms and legs. At first, it was just “cute” and “adorable,” but as she’s gotten older and kids have gotten meaner, words like “loser” and “pathetic” appear, and those words bubble up and itch. And then there are words like “interesting,” which she’s not really sure how to feel about.
Now, at age twelve, she’s starting middle school, and just when her friends who used to accept and protect her are drifting away, she receives an anonymous note saying “I know who you are, and I know what you’re dealing with. I want to help.” As Elyse works to solve the mystery of who is sending her these notes, she also finds new ways to accept who she is and to become her best self.”
Positively Izzy and Invisible Emmie – Terri Libenson
Also set in middle school, these two graphic novels capture the pain and frustration inherent in not only figuring out your own identity, but in convincing others to accept you for who you say you are. Invisible Emmie was a touchstone book for several of my 6th-grade girls this year, who found in it a much-needed mirror. I hope both Izzy and Emmie get a chance to create Identity Statements in the new school year!
The Cardboard Kingdom – Chad Sell
Check out the link for Betsy Bird’s review on Goodreads; it hooked me!
Promising New Releases That I’ve Pre-ordered
What Can a Citizen Do? – Dave Eggers
“Empowering and timeless, What Can a Citizen Do? is the latest collaboration from the acclaimed duo behind the bestselling Her Right Foot: Dave Eggers and Shawn Harris. This is a book for today’s youth about what it means to be a citizen.
Across the course of several seemingly unrelated but ultimately connected actions by different children, we watch how kids turn a lonely island into a community—and watch a journey from what the world should be to what the world could be.
This is a book about what citizenship—good citizenship—means to you, and to us all.”
Harbor Me – Jacqueline Woodson
“Jacqueline Woodson’s first middle-grade novel since National Book Award winner Brown Girl Dreaming celebrates the healing that can occur when a group of students shares their stories.
It all starts when six kids have to meet for a weekly chat—by themselves, with no adults to listen in. There, in the room they soon dub the ARTT Room (short for “A Room to Talk”), they discover it’s safe to talk about what’s bothering them—everything from Esteban’s father’s deportation and Haley’s father’s incarceration to Amari’s fears of racial profiling and Ashton’s adjustment to his changing family fortunes. When the six are together, they can express the feelings and fears they have to hide from the rest of the world. And together, they can grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives.”
The Day You Begin – Jacqueline Woodson
“National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson and two-time Pura Belpre Illustrator Award winner Rafael Lopez have teamed up to create a poignant, yet heartening book about finding the courage to connect, even when you feel scared and alone.
There will be times when you walk into a room
and no one there is quite like you.
There are many reasons to feel different. Maybe it’s how you look or talk, or where you’re from; maybe it’s what you eat, or something just as random. It’s not easy to take those first steps into a place where nobody really knows you yet, but somehow you do it.
Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical text and Rafael Lopez’s dazzling art reminds us that we all feel like outsiders sometimes-and how brave it is that we go forth anyway. And that sometimes, when we reach out and begin to share our stories, others will be happy to meet us halfway.”