Back-to-School Picks for Young Readers

Back-to-School Picks for Young Readers

Back-to-School Picks for Young Readers


Teachers and librarians, we appreciate everything you do and want to help you gear up for the school year! Five sweeps winners will receive a collection of books perfect for kicking off the 2023-2024 school year plus a $100 gift card to Staples and a $15 giftcard to Starbucks to restock and recharge. Find a full list of Social Emotional Learning books perfect for reading and sharing during this time of change below.


Social emotional learning (SEL) units “foster mindful, engaged behavior among students. Recognizing the value of emotional awareness for any student population, the core SEL competencies include self- and social awareness, relationship skills, decision-making, and self-management,” says School Library Journal.

Find books to support your SEL units here!

Try these books in your next SEL unit:

<strong>Picture Books</strong><strong>Chapter Books</strong><strong>Middle Grade Books</strong><strong>Young Adult Books</strong>
Small Knight and the Anxiety Monster

Small Knight and the Anxiety Monster by Manka Kasha

An adorable, heartfelt picture book debut from Manka Kasha, Small Knight and the Anxiety Monster follows the magical quest of a knight finding the courage to confront an ever growing monster.

“This fairy tale is partially, and powerfully, about facing anxiety, but also about finding the courage to defy expectations…The illustrations, done in watercolors and ink, provide astonishing bursts of color and comic, or sometimes scary, details. The sort of book that may stick with kids years after reading.” —Booklist


The New Kid Has Fleas by Ame Dyckman; illustrated by Eda Kaban

From bestselling author Ame Dyckman and illustrator Eda Kaban, The New Kid Has Fleas is a hilarious picture book about a new kid in school who appears to have been raised by wolves.

Vibrant, digital illustrations capture the tone and wit of the narrative. A lively read-aloud choice.” -Carolyn Phelan Booklist

A whimsical readaloud about unexpected friendship.” –The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books


I Wish You Knew / Ojalá Supieras by Jackie Azúa Kramer; illustrated by Magdalena Mora

A timely and moving tale about the uncertainty a young woman feels when her father is deported and the empathy that grows when we share and listen to one another.

Un cuento oportuno y conmovedor sobre la incertidumbre que siente una joven cuando deportan a su padrey la empatía que crece cuando compartimos y nos escuchamos unos a los otros.

“At the center of Estrella’s school is an old oak tree a locus for the children and their teacher to explore, learn, play, and share their thoughts and fears. . . A teacher sees Estrella and, with the help of the all-knowing oak, finds a way to invite her and the other students to share the things they wish the teacher knew. . . This mediation on social and emotional communication will prompt readers, old and young, to open up about their vulnerabilities.” Booklist

What's the Matter, Marlo?

What’s the Matter, Marlo? by Andrew Arnold

What’s the Matter Marlo? is a picture book about best friends that highlights empathy, as well as anger and sadness, and reminds us that these aren’t feelings to run away from, but instead to help each other through.

★ “A sweet, reassuring validation of the power of a close friendship and empathy.”  Kirkus, starred review

★ “Profound and reassuring.Publishers Weekly, starred review


The Little Guys by Vera Brosgol

An adorable cautionary tale from Caldecott Honoree Vera Brosgol! This slyly funny and rambunctious read-aloud explores how strength in numbers only works when the whole community unites together.

“What a fantastic message: not just teamwork, but actual community.” New York Times

★ “[A] pointed exploration of the notion that collective action just becomes mob rule without a moral foundation.Bookliststarred review

★ “A great discussion starter.School Library Journalstarred review

★ “Well suited for read-alouds.Horn Bookstarred review


Honeysmoke by Monique Fields; illustrated by Yesenia Moises

A young biracial girl looks around her world for her color. She finally chooses her own, and creates a new word for herself honeysmoke. For multiracial children, and all children everywhere, this picture book offers a universal message that empowers young people to create their own self-identity.

“Fields’ extensive experience writing about race and identity translates with beautiful simplicity here for younger readers, and Moises paints Simone with great tenderness. Booklist

fierce 2

I Will Be Fierce by Bea Birdsong; illustrated by Nidhi Chanani

A powerful picture book about courage, confidence, kindness, and finding the extraordinary in everyday moments. It’s a brand new day, and a young girl decides to take on the world like a brave explorer heading off on an epic fairytale quest. From home to school and back again, our hero conquers the Mountain of Knowledge (the library), forges new bridges (friendships), and leads the victorious charge home on her steed (the school bus).

A MacKids School & Library Staff Pick!

A multicultural girl-power manifesto…Birdsong’s repeated refrain underlines the unambiguous message of this sassy picture book, and Chanani’s bold and energetic illustrations reinforce the text’s punchy, feminist-y declarations… the book will find repeated use in the classroom.” Kirkus Reviews

Hold Hands

Hold Hands by Sara Varon

A sweet rhyming story about friendship and connection. Everybody holds hands. You can hold hands with your little brother or your best friend. You can hold hands with your classmate or even your favorite doll! Gather up your little ones, hold their hands, and share this heartwarming book.

With gentle guidance, young readers will pick up on the broader message that hand-holding…embodies strong emotional connection, bonding, and inclusion..” Kirkus Reviews


It Feels Good to be Yourself by Theresa Thorn; illustrated by Noah Grigni

A picture book that introduces the concept of gender identity to the youngest reader. With child-friendly language and vibrant art, It Feels Good to Be Yourself provides young readers and parents alike with the vocabulary to discuss this important topic with sensitivity.

A MacKids School & Library Staff Pick!

★ “This expansive, straightforward framing of gender emphasizes curiosity, joy, and positive self-expression…Exceptional.” Kirkus Reviewsstarred review

★ “The spirit of free expression and creativity infuses every spread of this inclusive exploration.Publishers Weeklystarred review

★ “As the song has it, we’re living in a big, wide wonderful world. And this book is a welcome addition to it.” Bookliststarred review


Ogilvy by Deborah Underwood; illustrated by T. L. McBeth
When Ogilvy moves to a new town, the possibilities feel endless. There are so many new bunny friends and fun things to do together! But in this town, bunnies in dresses play ball and knit socks, and bunnies in sweaters make art and climb rocks. Ogilvy wants to do everything and won’t let a sweater or a dress get in the way.

★ “Clothes do not make the bunny. It’s a strong message told subtly.” Kirkus Reviewsstarred review

“Seussian in theme and verse, the enjoyable readaloud…offers an excellent entry point to conversations about celebrating individuality and personal choice.Publishers Weekly

Be Kind 3

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller; illustrated by Jen Hill

From asking the new girl to play to standing up for someone being bullied, this moving story explores what kindness is, and how any act, big or small, can make a difference or at least help a friend.

[A] lovely exploration of empathy and thoughtfulness.”
Publishers Weeklystarred review

“These days, it seems more important than ever for books to show young people how to act with thoughtfulness, civility, and kindness.The New York Times Book Review

Be Strong

Be Strong by Pat Zietlow; illustrated by Jen Hill

A picture book about finding strength in unlikely places from the team behind the hugely popular New York Times bestseller Be Kind.

[A] lovely exploration of empathy and thoughtfulness.Publishers Weeklystarred review for BE KIND

★ “This exploration of the true meaning of being strong is layered and lovely, provoking deep thought, feeling, and conversation about this important virtue and its corollaries perseverance, leadership, and caring.” Kirkus Reviews, starred review for BE STRONG

Where is Bina Bear?

Where is Bina Bear? by Mike Curato

In Mike Curato’s funny, poignant picture book Where Is Bina Bear?, a little rabbit throws a party but can’t find best friend Bina Bear anywhere!

“Even the most outgoing child will learn to empathize with those that don’t have fun in crowds . . . Imbued with understanding and overt silliness.” Kirkus Reviews

A tender tribute to both lone wolves (er, bears) and the beings who love them.” Publishers Weekly

“This warm and comforting look at friendship offers meaningful insight into the value of support and acceptance.” The Horn Book

How to Hug a Pufferfish

How to Hug a Pufferfish by Ellie Peterson

A picture book about a group of underwater friends who learn to ask for permission before showing their prickly, pufferfish pal some love.

“Peterson’s expressive undersea cast shines from the blue ocean depths with big, googly eyes and animated personalities. Serious topics of consent, respect, and finding other ways to show affection bounce through the waves and end up buoyantly accessible and clear.Kirkus Reviews

“[Peterson’s] wide-eyed underwater creatures have a goofy appeal, and it’s easy to see the huggability of Pufferfish, with its bubbly eyes and gap-toothed smile. [A] gentle introduction to ideas of consent and boundaries.” The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

Appealing characters and action, [make] this an engaging tome for burgeoning consent shelves.School Library Journal

See You Someday Soon 2

See You Someday Soon by Pat Zietlow Miller; illustrated by Suzy Lee

From the author of the mega-bestseller Be Kind and the winner of the 2022 Hans Christian Andersen Award comes a picture book for anyone who’s ever loved someone far away.

★ “A touching depiction of love across the miles between a grandmother and a grandchild… Pick up this title someday soon.” Kirkus Review, starred review

★ “While this reassuring picture book is particularly apt for COVID-19, it will be welcomed by anyone suffering separation and seeking comfort.” Horn Book Magazine, starred review

[A] playful spin on modern grandparent-child relationships.” Publishers Weekly

Annie's Cat Is Sad

Annie’s Cat Is Sad by Heather Smith; illustrated by Karen Obuhanych

A little girl navigates her cat’s bad day in this picture book about exploring sadness and how we find comfort.

Sometimes we just have to feel our feelings, even when it’s easier to project them onto someone else. Viewers who struggle to express their emotions in a healthy way may benefit from Annie’s acceptance, or at least from her reliance on a trusty feline to make things better.”–Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books

Listen Up, Louella 1

Listen Up, Louella by Ashley Belote

An overly excited elephant learns to listen with a little help from her new friends in Listen Up, Louella, an adorably humorous new picture book from Ashley Belote, the illustrator of Frankenslime.

Louella is VERY excited to be at Roar Scout Camp. There’s so many fun things for her to do! But Louella is so busy having fun that she doesn’t stop to listen to anyone else… Or to realize that maybe her new friends aren’t having quite as much fun as she is.

When Louella misses an important invitation, it’s up to Tarantula and the rest of their friends to help Louella learn to listen and play together.

Tomatoes in My Lunchbox 3

Tomatoes in My Lunchbox by Costantia Manoli; illustrated by Magdalena Mora

A moving picture book from a debut author about the first day of school, layered with themes about the immigrant experience and the universal experience of feeling out of place.

★ “[A] beautifully told and illustrated story that expresses, with sensitivity and inspired use of figurative language, a child’s attempt to fit with the dominant culture a common experience that will resonate with many readers and inspire empathy in others.” Kirkusstarred review

★ “An excellent choice for back to school and “new kid” picture book collections. This will resonate with many readers.” School Library Journalstarred review

A comforting book for a child who may feel isolated due to an uncommon name, or for one feeling uprooted and adrift in a new place.” Horn Book Magazine

“An expressive picture book that articulates a young immigrant’s viewpoint
.  Booklist

Skeletina and the In-Between World

Skeletina and the In-Between World / Skeletina y el Entremundo by Susie Jaramillo; translated by Leslie Rodriguez

Inspired by Mexican culture and perfect for fans of the hit movies Coco and The Nightmare Before ChristmasSkeletina and the In-Between World is the first book in a series that combines kooky characters and a spooky story with important and resonant themes about empathy, bravery, self-esteem, and the enduring power of love.

“Skeletina y el Entremundos”, escrito por Susie Jaramillo, es un libro de niños inspirado por el Día de Muertos, perfecto para los fans de películas como Coco y El Libro de la vida. Este es el primer libro en una serie que combina personajes chiflados y una escalofriante aventura, con temas importantes sobre empatía, valentía, autoestima y el interminable poder del amor.

“Susie Jaramillo’s artwork is captivating, with details, bold colors, and intricate use of delicate grays and blacks that result in an ethereal look… Unique characters and rich illustrations.”  Kirkus

What Are You?-2

What Are You? by Christian Trimmer; illustrations by Mike Curato

From Christian Trimmer and award-winning illustrator Mike Curato comes What Are You?, a brilliant, new early-reader picture book brimming with warmth and playfulness that explores questions of race and identity.

When a puggle meets two new poodle friends, there is a question the poodles feel they must ask.

What are you?
What am I?
Yes, what are you?
I am a dog.
No, what are you?

So begins a conversation about family and identity, and about the things we’re good at… and why we’re good at them.

Brimming with warmth and playfulness, What Are You? is an exemplary picture book for early readers. Equally funny and thoughtful, the book includes prompts to facilitate important first conversations about stereotypes and bias between child and adult.

You Matter to Me

You Matter to Me by Doyin Richards; illustrated by Robert Paul Jr.

In this picture book written by Doyin Richards and illustrated by Robert Paul Jr., You Matter to Me, a dog describes what it’s like to go on walks with his Black owner and wishes that people would see his human as he does: with love.

“Taking on an extremely sensitive subject, this is an excellent first purchase that should be read aloud, and read often.”  School Library Journal, starred review

I Have a Question 1

I Have a Question by Andrew Arnold

From rising picture book star Andrew Arnold comes I Have a Question, a book for anyone who’s ever felt too shy, too afraid, or too silly to raise their hand and ask a question.

“Reluctant queriers will relate to the issues raised by the story, which doesn’t take itself too seriously, and may well feel a sense of relief and reassurance. Although some of the questions are actually quite ridiculous (“Can I be a moth?”), the act of asking them isn’t.” – Horn Book

Quiet Time with My Seeya 3

Quiet Time with My Seeya by Dinalie Dabarera

A lush and endearing picture book about the special days a child spends with her Sinhalese grandfather, her Seeya, despite their language barrier.

★ “A visually and textually gorgeous story about love in a multilingual family.” Kirkusstarred review

★”[The art is] sweetly affectionate [with] lavish colored pencil scenes whose visible grain summons a velvety dimensionality. Throughout, onomatopoeic phrases get to the root of the duo’s emotional reactions and their tenderly rendered bond, which offers an image of camaraderie and relative quiet as love’s true language.” Publisher’s Weeklystarred review

“This will resonate with intergenerational families in which linguistic and cultural differences may be an obstacle for communication at least on the surface… [A] welcome addition to the growing canon of immigrant stories for children.” Booklist

Harold the Iceberg Melts Down

Harold the Iceberg Melts Down by Lisa Wyzlic; illustrated by Rebecca Syracuse

A lettuce who thinks he’s a melting iceberg learns how to cool himself down emotionally with the help of his friends in this whimsical picture book debut.

A punny tale of food friends tackling anxiety and climate change … With humor and a light touch, Wyzlic balances brief expository passages with emotional dialogue. Syracuse’s digitally rendered anthropomorphic foods feature noodly stick limbs, expressive eyes, and enjoyable edible details, among them a chair made of bread and olives, a butter-stick TV stand, and a hot-sauce mustache.” Publishers Weekly

“The stratagems for handling stress are useful, and the colorful, cartoonish digital illustrations are energetic and expressive. … Fun, with worthwhile points raised. It may even get some kids to try lettuce.” Kirkus Reviews

The characters, googly-eyed vegetables with loads of digitally acquired personality, are charming, more than charitable, and children will love the adventure.” School Library Journal

I’m Sticking with You

I’m Sticking with You and the Chicken Too! by Smriti Prasadam-Halls; illustrated by Steve Small

In this follow up to I’m Sticking with You, Bear and Squirrel are back, and they’re perfectly in tune. They make merry music, they sing the same song it’s all going great, until Chicken comes along.

Chicken knows she could add something to Bear and Squirrel’s band of two, but the duo is certain that three is a crowd! Fed up, Chicken leaves and lands herself in hot water. Will Bear and Squirrel come to the rescue?

The Unwelcome Surprise

The Unwelcome Surprise by Olga Herrera

A hilarious and endearing debut picture book about a dog whose daily routine is disrupted when he encounters a monstrous surprise in the living room.

Every morning, Bongo walks downstairs to get his food, passing his dried-up potted plant, his old stained chair, and his stinky stained carpet. Until one morning…something is different! Something monstrous is in his way! Bongo is beside himself with worry; will it take his walks? What if it eats his food? Or even worse…what if it takes his family?!


Jumper by Jessica Lanan

From critically acclaimed illustrator of The Lost Package comes a bold nonfiction story following a day in the life of a backyard jumping spider – meticulously researched and utterly charming.

★ “Readers will leap for this magnificent glimpse at a most marvelous arachnid.”  Kirkus Reviews, starred review

★ “An immersive exploration of a common jumping spider’s abilities and physical traits.” – Publishers Weekly, starred review

Simple but cinematic…satisfyingly dramatic.”  BCCB

“Lush and dramatic.”  Hornbook Magazine

Nothing's Wrong

Nothing’s Wrong! by Jory John; illustrated by Erin Kraan

From #1 New York Times–bestselling author of The Bad Seed, Jory John, and illustrator Erin Kraan comes a meaningful yet utterly hilarious tale a companion to the popular picture book, Something’s Wrong!

“Imparts a gentle, satisfying message about the importance of a good friend.” Kirkus

“Readers will be laughing out loud while learning the dynamics of friendship from two very different perspectives… The charming characters will have readers rooting for all involved, especially when all the woodland creatures join in the fun. This book is a wonderful exploration of the complexities of friendship and the importance of understanding unspoken cues… A gentle reminder for all ages that life’s ups and downs can be shared, this book is a welcome addition to any elementary ­library.” School Library Journal

“A pie that plops, a mood that drops, and a friendship that never stops are the main ingredients of John’s latest zany adventure… [The illustrations] create a wonderfully textured, vivid world. A great resolution involves a picnic, many forest animals, and a resounding message about the power of always being there for your friends.” Booklist

Invader From Mars

Invader From Mars by Peggy Robbins Janousky; illustrated by Karen Obuhanych

A hilarious new sibling story that ends with an out-of-this-world twist, for fans of Wolfie the Bunny.

One afternoon, Micah comes home to find trouble taped to the refrigerator door. His parents claim it’s a picture of his soon-to-be baby sister, but Micah is sure it’s a Martian.

When the baby arrives, his parents insist that she’s perfectly precious but Micah’s no fool. He knows Martians do not come in peace . . .

But in a laugh-out-loud Show-and-Share day at school, Micah learns how special a baby sister can really be.

Sparkella 1

The One and Only Sparkella and the Big Lie by Channing Tatum; illustrated by Kim Barnes

The One and Only Sparkella and the Big Lie continues actor, producer and director Channing Tatum’s Sparkella picture book series, a charming ode to self-reliance and the love between father and daughter, illustrated by Kim Barnes.

Effervescent … Comfortingly reassuring … An awesome-tastic invitation to have or share thoughts about bad and better choices.” Kirkus Reviews

Cape 1

Cape by Kevin Johnson; illustrated by Kitt Thomas

A young child learns that even superheroes hurt too in this heartrending story about loss and love, written by debut author Kevin Johnson and illustrated by #1 New York Times bestselling illustrator Kitt Thomas.

★ “A resonant child’s-eye view of grief and hope.” Kirkus Reviewsstarred review

★ “Our young Black protagonist knows the day ahead will be hard, so after getting dressed in his new suit, he makes sure to also put on his bright red cape. He’s hoping the cape will hold off any unwelcome memories… Of course, even his best efforts can’t stop the grief, and as he finally lets himself remember his father, he also remembers the love they shared.” Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Booksstarred review

★ “This book is a very welcome and ­approachable way to discuss grief and death with young readers.” Horn Bookstarred review

“Purchase for help with social-emotional learning and to give greater guidance to the trauma of loss for young children; this need not be used solely in cases of extreme grief, but to encourage empathy, understanding, and articulation of loss.” School Library Journal

Hidden Gem

Hidden Gem by Linda Liu

Prepare to fall in love with this debut picture book and its irresistibly quirky story of a tiny, unassuming rock’s journey to self-confidence, perfect for fans of Eric Carle & Jon Klassen.

★ “While there are many recent children’s books that celebrate identity, make room for this one, which blends subtle humor and superb design for a profound, deftly conveyed message. ” Kirkus Reviewsstarred review

“Alongside message-forward text, it’s the glowing colors of Liu’s distinctive visual style that carry the overarching message of self-wonder and innate worth.” Publishers Weekly

“Liu’s art matches the quirky tone of the book, using predominantly geometrical shapes with beautifully textured watercolor patterns . . . the reminder to love yourself as you are is still sweet and worthy of sharing.” The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

Monster Baker

Monster Baker by Laura Lavoie; illustrated by Vanessa Morales

From Laura Lavoie, the author of Vampire Vacation comes Monster Baker, a punny picture book with bright and colorful illustrations by Vanessa Morales about an adorable monster who learns about determination after a series of baking disasters, perfect for fans of Marigold Bakes a Cake.

“Creative food names contain plenty of giggle-inducing puns, and the bright illustrations add to the fun…. A little patience and plenty of creativity create a recipe for a yummy success!”  Kirkus

More Than Words 2

More Than Words by Roz MacLean

In the tradition of All Are Welcome and The Day You Begin comes a touching picture book about the many unique ways we communicate, and how we can better listen to and respect these different modes of expression.

★ “MacLean’s gouache, pencil crayon, acrylic ink, and digital illustrations depict a class diverse in skin tone, ethnicity, religion, and ability. We see children who use wheelchairs, a child with a hearing impairment, a service dog, and a student who uses oxygen tubing . . . A warmly inclusive look at the many ways we communicate with one another.” Kirkus Reviewsstarred review

“With affirming and informative language, this book has a place in every collection supporting and celebrating the many methods of communication children and adults are using today. Highly recommended.” School Library Journal

Not He Or She 1

Not He Or She, I’m Me by A. M. Wild; illustrated by Kah Yangni

In this bright and joyous picture book readers follow a day in the life of a young gender non-binary child.

A child gets ready for a wonderful day. They gleefully get dressed, hug their parents, go to school, and play with friends. All the while, unapologetically reminding themselves that they are and can only be themselves.

The non-binary experience is brightly illustrated as we follow our main character through their typical day. The story’s bouncy and fun refrain reminds all readers of gender neutral pronouns and affirms the identities of non-binary children encouraging readers to practice empathy for themselves and others.

Party Pooper

Party Pooper by Jennifer Gray Olson

A hilarious, yet tender and sincere picture book about making mistakes, owning up to them, and asking forgiveness.

Every party has a pooper. You may not have wanted one. You certainly did not invite one. But, inevitably, every party will have one. So what should you do?

In Party Pooper, Jennifer Gray Olson tackles complex SEL themes with expertise, grace, and laugh-out-loud humor. It’s a thoughtful, yet entertaining examination that has equal empathy for the party goers and, of course, the party pooper.

Boys Don\&#039;t Fry2

Boys Don’t Fry by Kimberly Lee; illustrated by Charlene Chua

Jin wishes his family would ask him to help prepare the Lunar New Year feast. But boys, or Babas, never get asked only Nyonyas, the girls.

This loving picture book about a young Malaysian boy who defies gender expectations will make hearts warm and stomachs hungry. With beautifully vibrant illustrations of a traditional nyonya kitchen, Boys Don’t Fry is a heartfelt celebration of family, culture, and traditions both old and new.


Doggo and Pupper 1

Doggo and Pupper Search for Cozy by Katherine Applegate; illustrated by Charlie Alder

In Doggo and Pupper Search for Cozy – the conclusion to the Doggo and Pupper early readers trilogy by New York Times-bestselling author Katherine Applegate with a brightly colored palette from Charlie Alder – the canines help Cat adjust to a big change: A new bed!

When Cat announces that the Humans have given her a surprise present, Doggo and Pupper are all ears. But when they find out that Cat has a new bed and misses her old one, they set out to help her search for cozy.

Change is difficult, and Katherine Applegate understands how it feels to miss a beloved source of security. Very young readers will relate to Doggo, Pupper, and Cat, and appreciate their friendship and empathy.



THE GRAY by Chris Baron

The Gray is a sensitively told middle grade story from Chris Baron about living with anxiety and finding ways to cope.

It’s been a tough year for Sasha he’s been bullied at his middle school and his anxiety, which he calls the Gray, is growing.

“Thirteen-year-old Sasha deals with generalized anxiety and panic attacks, which he has dubbed “The Gray.” They get worse when he spends too much time on his electronic devices, so his concerned parents decide a device-free month upstate with his great-aunt Ruthie will be a tonic. … Happily, once there he quickly makes a friend in Ivy; unhappily, he runs afoul of a band of bullies, from whom he is rescued by a mysteriously taciturn, solitary boy named Eli. … Baron’s often-quiet story is well-plotted, and the characters are empathetic, especially Eli. The theme, change, is well-handled and perhaps will change readers as much as it does Sasha in the end.” Booklist


JAWBREAKER by Christina Wyman

Perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, a refreshingly honest middle-grade debut novel about toxic sibling rivalry, socioeconomic disparity, and dental drama.

Inspired by Christina Wyman’s own experience with a Class II malocclusion, Jawbreaker is a humorous, heartfelt, and refreshingly relatable story.

“Wyman is unafraid to treat her readership like intelligent human beings capable of contemplating a complex story full of self-doubt, bullying, economic disparities, justice, and equity . . . Plus, it’s horribly difficult to put down! I dare you to read even two chapters and not be engulfed in the narrative. Smart and savvy, Jawbreaker is the novel you wish you had read as a kid and are grateful that kids get to read today.” Betsy Bird, A Fuse #8 Production, A School Library Journal Blog



Maddie and Chloe have always been best friends, until last year, when Chloe’s popularity and budding fame as an actor left Maddie in the dust one too many times. Their friendship is over, and they’re both ready to move on.

But when the girls arrive at summer camp, they discover that the universe isn’t ready to let go of this friendship just yet: They’re cabinmates, and each of them has to spend the summer with her ex–best friend. Is it time to try again, or are they doomed to drift apart for good?

★ “Readers who enjoy nuanced character studies will be entranced, and those who think friendship is always a simple thing will be left with much to ponder.” Booklist, starred review


THE DOG KNIGHT by Jeremy Whitley; illustrated by Bre Indigo

One day Frankie is a relatively normal middle schooler, with relatively normal challenges, like finding the perfect outfit to wear during their drum solo during the upcoming band concert. The next, they save a friendly golden retriever from bullies and suddenly find themselves in a giant magical doghouse, with a funny looking helmet, talking to a group of dog superheroes called the Pawtheon about a job offer.

If Frankie can prove that they possess the six dog virtues of loyalty, kindness, honesty, justice, stubbornness, and smell, they will be named the Dog Knight and be given the power to fight alongside the Pawtheon and save the world from the forces of chaos.

A well crafted story about the struggles of children who identify as nonbinary. The Dog Knight shows us that when we are true to ourselves and stand up for what’s right, everybody wins; A powerful lesson in leading by example, illustrated in spectacular fashion.” –Andrew Aydin, coauthor of MARCH and RUN


HOPE IN THE VALLEY by Mitali Perkins

Twelve-year-old Indian-American Pandita Paul doesn’t like change. She’s not ready to start middle school and leave the comforts of childhood behind. Most of all, Pandita doesn’t want to feel like she’s leaving her mother, who died a few years ago, behind. After a falling out with her best friend, Pandita is planning to spend most of her summer break reading and writing in her favorite secret space: the abandoned but majestic mansion across the street.

But then the unthinkable happens. The town announces that the old home will be bulldozed in favor of new maybe affordable housing. With her family on opposing sides of the issue, Pandita must find her voice and the strength to move on in order to give her community hope.

“Grief, memories, and the difficulty of letting go permeate this powerful story about family, friendship, and finding your voice . . . deeply compelling . . . A riveting, courage-filled story.” Kirkus Reviewsstarred review

Though the novel is set in the 1980s, issues surrounding housing inequity and financial precarity deeply resonate with present-day challenges. Employing Pandu’s lilting voice and quiet bravery, Perkins crafts an introspective novel about moving on from loss and finding the courage to fight for what one believes in.” Publishers Weeklystarred review


FRIENDS FOREVER by Shannon Hale; illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Following up their mega-bestselling Real Friends and Best Friends graphic memoirs, Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham are back with Friends Forever, a story about learning to love yourself exactly as you are.

“Capturing the visceral embarrassments of middle school in 1987 Salt Lake City, Shannon’s emotions are vivid and often excruciating . . . [and] Pham’s artwork is vibrant and appealing.” Kirkus Review

★ “With the combination of Hale’s lucid writing and Pham’s masterful portrayal of body and language and facial expression, this books homes in squarely and affirmingly on teen angst and worries.Bookliststarred review


OTHER BOYS by Damian Alexander

In Other Boys, debut author Damian Alexander delivers a moving middle grade graphic memoir about his struggles with bullying, the death of his mother, and coming out.

“Damian Alexander traces with poignant accuracy the story of boys who find themselves erased at a certain age. This book should be read by queer kids and parents alike.” Garrard Conley, New York Times–bestselling author of Boy Erased

“Honest and incredibly brave, this deeply relatable story will resonate with anyone who’s looking for their place in the world. Other Boys is a book I so desperately needed as a teen.” Phil Stamper, bestselling author of The Gravity of Us and As Far As You ’ll Take Me



For fans of John Green and Emily X.R. Pan, The Half-Orphan’s Handbook by Joan F. Smith is a coming-of-age story and an empathetic, authentic exploration of grief with a sharp sense of humor and a big heart.

A tender, honest exploration of finding a way through the impossible.” Kirkus Review

“This debut novel’s believable characters make plain that suffering the loss of a loved one while young is difficult, and common.” School Library Journal


Bright by Brigit Young

In this poignant middle grade novel, a struggling student joins her school’s celebrated quiz team in a bid to avoid failing eighth grade.

“[A] pitch-perfect narrative… A winner, indeed, especially for readers who question their own worth.” Kirkus Review

“[A] thoughtfully rendered novel that… organically explores concepts of what it means to work hard and be smart through Marianne’s realistically bumpy arc.” Publishers Weekly

“A gentle reminder that not everyone is who they seem and a great pick for middle-grade readers searching for where they belong.  Booklist

Ride On

Ride On by Faith Erin Hicks

In Ride On, this middle grade graphic novel from Faith Erin Hicks, twelve-year-old Victoria is burned out from the high-pressure world or riding competitions. Can she get back to basics and rekindle her love of horses? Perfect for fans of Best Friends and Stargazing!

Hicks gives her uncommon depth, thanks to multifaceted and distinctive characters, nuanced conversations about passion and privilege, and heartening emotional growth. A solid, well-wrought comic for fans of character-driven stories and, naturally, anyone obsessed with riding horses.” Booklist, starred review

Featuring funny dialogue and Hicks’s signature art including sharply rendered horses in motion this attentively layered, low-stakes graphic novel is told with an insider’s understanding of both stable culture and fandom.” Publisher’s Weekly, starred review

★ “A ‘perfect ride‘ of a graphic ­novel that shows that there really is something special about horse friends.” School Library Journal, starred review

Frizzy 1

Frizzy by Claribel A. Ortega; illustrated by Rose Bousamra

A middle grade graphic novel about Marlene, a young girl who stops straightening her hair and embraces her natural curls.

★ “Marlene’s journey of personal growth will evoke catharsis and joy. An exquisite excavation of hair politics, family dynamics, and self-love.”” Kirkus, starred review

“A wonderful tale about what it truly means to have good hair . . . and a good heart.” Varian Johnson, award-winning author of Twins

I desperately wish I’d had a book like this when I was growing upFrizzy is uplifting, affirming, and healing to all kids who love their curls. Curly hair power!” Zoraida Córdova, award-winning author of Valentina Salazar Is Not a Monster Hunter



Whimsy is back in the hospital for treatment of clinical depression. When she meets a boy named Faerry, she recognizes they both have magic in the marrow of their bones. And when Faerry and his family move to the same street, the two start to realize that their lifelines may have twined and untwined many times before.

They are both terrified of the forest at the end of Marsh Creek Lane.

The Forest whispers to Whimsy. The Forest might hold the answers to the part of Faerry he feels is missing. They discover the Forest holds monsters, fairy tales, and pain that they have both been running from for 11 years.

“Stunning... Readers will revel in the depth of Whimsy and Faerry’s relationship, all the while finding solace and relief in the calculated messiness of their search for wholeness.” Booklist, starred review

“This phenomenal novel-in-verse transports readers
 into an impassioned tale of heartache and hope that belongs on every bookshelf serving teens.” School Library Journal, starred review

Raw and poignant and promising hope, even when it seems there is no way out.” Shelf Awareness, starred review


YOU DON’T HAVE A SHOT by Racquel Marie

Valentina “Vale” Castillo-Green’s life revolves around soccer. Her friends, her future, and her father’s intense expectations are all wrapped up in the beautiful game. But after she incites a fight during playoffs with her long-time rival, Leticia Ortiz, everything she’s been working toward seems to disappear.

Vale escapes to her beloved childhood soccer camp for a summer of relaxation and redemption…only to find out that she and the endlessly aggravating Leticia will be co-captaining a team that could play in front of college scouts. But the competition might be stiffer than expected, so unless they can get their rookie team’s act together, this second chance and any hope of playing college soccer will slip through Vale’s fingers. When the growing pressure, friendship friction, and her overbearing father push Vale to turn to Leticia for help, what starts off as a shaky alliance of necessity begins to blossom into something more through a shared love of soccer. . . and maybe each other.

★”Via Vale’s witty and acerbic first-person narration and her palpable passion for soccer, Marie delivers a textured sapphic romp that spins an earned enemies–to–lovers romance amid empathetic depictions of one teenager coming to terms with the effects of her treatment of others, as well as her treatment of herself.Publishers Weekly, starred review


FOREVER IS NOW by Mariama J. Lockington

School is out, and even though she’s been struggling to manage her chronic anxiety, Sadie is hopeful better times are ahead. Or at least, she thought she was safe. When her girlfriend reveals some unexpected news and the two witness a violent incident of police brutality unfold before them, Sadie’s whole world is upended in an instant.

I’m not safe anywhere.

When Sadie’s therapist gives her a diagnosis for her debilitating panic agoraphobia she starts on a path of acceptance and healing.

“An outstanding novel in-verse that tells the story of a teenager’s struggles to better both her mental health and her community. Lockington’s approachable poetry covers heavy topics readers may find emotionally demanding mental health, family dynamics, anti-Blackness, social activism, sexuality, social media, romance. The author elegantly and compassionately portrays Sadie’s complicated, sensitive struggle with agoraphobia and depicts various realistic ways people might respond to the mental health of their loved ones.” Shelf Awarenessstarred review



After her parents go on the run, a teenage girl placed in the care of a cousin she barely knows learns to trust and open up in The Melancholy of Summer, a lyrical YA contemporary coming-of-age story by Louisa Onomé

Life with cousin Olu is awkward for many reasons not least of all because Olu has her own drama to deal with. But with her cousin and friends’ efforts, maybe Summer can learn to trust people enough to let them in again?

“…tenderhearted novel of family and trust…a pacey, well-crafted character study that explores one teenager’s pursuit of safety and home amid life-changing circumstances.”  Publishers Weekly

“The nuanced portrayal of the effects of emotional distress is deeply layered in this well-paced novel… An engaging read that explores the impact of trauma and the uncertainties of young adulthood.” Kirkus



A vibrant and emotional novel from debut author Dan Clay about a boy who turns toward love, self-expression, and drag when the unthinkable happens, perfect for fans of Jandy Nelson and Julie Murphy.

If only Mark Davis hadn’t put on a dress for the talent show. It was a joke other guys did it too but when his boyfriend saw Mark in that dress, everything changed.

And now, fresh on the heels of high school heartbreak, Mark has given up on love. Maybe some people are just too much for this world too weird, too wild, too feminine, too everything. Thankfully, his older brother Eric always knows what to say to keep Mark from spinning into self-loathing. “Be yourself! Your full sequin-y self.”

Becoming a Queen is all about finding your true self, even when the path is rocky at times. Real, tender, heartbreaking, and joyful all at once, Dan Clay has delivered a delight of a debut that will keep you turning the pages. Put this one on your shelves!”  Jennifer Mathieu, author of Bad Girls Never Say Die and Moxie



Some girls call their mother their best friend. Marisol Martin? She could never relate. She and her mom were forever locked in an argument with no beginning and no end. Clothes, church, boys, no matter the topic, Marisol always felt like there was an unbridgeable gap between them that they were perpetually shouting across, one that she longed to close.

But when her mother dies suddenly, Marisol is left with no one to fight against, haunted by all the things that she both said and didn’t say. Her dad seems completely lost, and worse, baffled by Marisol’s attempts to connect with her mother’s memory through her Filipino culture. Her brother Bernie is retreating further and further into himself. And when Marisol sleeps with her best friend’s boyfriend – and then punches said best friend in the face – she’s left alone, with nothing but a burning anger, and nowhere for it to go.

And Marisol is determined to stay angry, after all, there’s a lot to be angry about– her father, her mother, the world. But as a new friendship begins to develop with someone who just might understand, Marisol reluctantly starts to open up to her, and to the possibility there’s something else on the other side of that anger– something more to who she is, and who she could be.

“Readers who relish deep character development will appreciate Marisol’s messy evolution toward self-forgiveness…Heart-wrenching and heart-filled.”
Kirkus (starred)


THE MINUS-ONE CLUB by Kekla Magoon

Fifteen-year-old Kermit Sanders knows grief and its all-encompassing shadows. After losing his beloved older sister in a tragic car accident, nothing quite punctures through the feelings of loss. Everywhere Kermit goes, he is reminded of her.

But then Kermit finds a mysterious invitation in his locker, signed anonymously with “-1.” He has no idea what he’s in for, but he shows up to find out. Dubbed the “Minus-One Club,” a group of his schoolmates has banded together as a form of moral support. The members have just one thing in common they have all suffered the tragic loss of someone they loved.

★ “This timely and thoughtful novel makes room for the increasing depth and complexity of navigating
adolescence alongside grief, religious dissent, and healing.” – Booklist, Starred Review


SCOUT’S HONOR by Lily Anderson

Prudence Perry is a third-generation Ladybird Scout who must battle literal (and figurative) monsters and the weight of her legacy in Scout’s Honor by Lily Anderson, a YA paranormal perfect for fans of Stranger Things and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

★ “Anderson deftly balances snarky humor and heart-thumping action with affecting discussions about friendship, inclusivity, and mental health. The surprise-studded plot seamlessly integrates both Anderson’s clever, unique mythology and excerpts from the Ladybird Handbook, and the realistically rendered, intersectionally diverse cast is kind, charismatic, and full of moxie.” Publishers Weeklystarred review

★ “Anderson. . .has written a ridiculously fun and campy horror romp, which also incorporates thoughtful commentary about mental and emotional health, inclusion, and facing your fears.” Bookliststarred review

★ “Buffy fans. . .will be. . reveling in the whirl of teen angst and ichor-spattered fun.” Kirkus Reviewsstarred review

★ “With a sly sense of humor and nostalgia . . . author Lily Anderson offers a clever subversion of “chosen one” narratives as the novel explores tantalizing “what ifs” like “What if Buffy had just gone to a psychiatrist?” and “What if Girl Scouts were masters of cookies and karate?” It’s an absurd premise, but Anderson makes it work through unself-conscious world building and a skillful blend of fantastical and real-world threats. . . It’s hilarious and heart-wrenching in equal measure.BookPagestarred review