Set in Chicago, this New York Times bestseller blends history with current events. A twelve-year-old black boy, Jerome, is shot and killed by a white police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real one. As a ghost, Jerome witnesses the aftermath and devastation of his death on his family, the police officer, and the community. The only person who can see Jerome is Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, and through her eyes, the reader sees the tragedy of this mistake on all those involved. Jerome also meets another ghost, that of Emmett Till, and learns the horrific details of his murder in 1955 and of the existence of other “ghost boys” who hope to keep history from repeating itself. Told in short, poetic chapters, this book is a must-read for middle school students struggling to deal with the racial complexities of today’s world.
Bryan is a quiet, Afro-Puerto Rican boy who enjoys comic books, video games and drawing. His dad, recently released from jail, and older sister worry that the sixth grader is “soft” and advise him that it is better to be feared than liked. His level-headed mother encourages him to focus on school and to make good choices. When she encourages him to become friends with Mike, a seventh grader she believes is a good student and role model, Bryan is initially excited to find that he and this new friend share a love of superheroes and may be the brother he has always wanted. When Mike begins challenging Bryan to join him in skipping school and subway surfing, however, Bryan feels conflicted about how to handle this new aspect of their friendship. Frustrated by his father’s inability to control his temper and subsequent return to jail, Bryan fears that his own anger at being manipulated by Mike may cause him to lose control as well. This realistic look at making choices when the correct path seems less than certain is a good choice for tween readers who prefer a fast-paced story that reflects their own friendship and identity issues.
Set in a vaguely defined future, this adventure tale of sisterhood on the high seas is the first in a fast-paced trilogy featuring diverse characters and strong female protagonists. Ever since Caledonia Styx’s mother was killed and her brother taken by the Bullets, an army under the control of the ruthless warlord Aric Althair, the young heroine has vowed revenge and rescue. Now the captain of her mother’s ship, Caledonia almost loses her best friend and second in command, Pisces, while on a mission to destroy a barge containing large quantities of a drug Althair uses to keep his crews under control. When Pisces, feared dead, emerges from the sea, she declares that her life was saved by a Bullet, a young man who is with her and claims to be a deserter with valuable information about the evil dictator, his massive fleet of warships, and the brothers Cal and Pisces believe are dead. Will Cal and her crew trust this stranger and his offer to help them reunite their families, confronting an overwhelming enemy with little chance of survival? Their decision and the actions that follow will mean the difference between life and death. (Note: There is a vague inference of romantic attraction between two of the female characters.)
The Science of Breakable Things:
Seventh-grader Natalie used to love science and spent lots of time with her botanist mom in her laboratory. Her enthusiastic science teacher, Mr. Neely, encourages his students to ask questions and use the scientific method to solve problems. Natalie isn’t sure that the scientific method is going to be of much help to her now, however. Her mom has seemed to stop caring about her daughter and husband, rarely getting out of bed or leaving her room. When Natalie and her friends, Dari, a smart Indian immigrant boy, and Twig, a wealthy white best friend, are encouraged by Mr. Neely to enter an egg drop competition, she is initially dubious. When she learns that a substantial cash prize will go to the winner, however, she believes that it may be the answer to helping her mom. With the money, she could take her mom to visit the desert of New Mexico where the miraculous Cobalt Blue Orchid, a flower her mother wrote a book about, thrives in spite of the harsh environment. Certain that this will bring her mom the joy she needs, Natalie is determined that she and her friends will win the competition. Told in first person journal like entries, this STEM inspired book is the story of one girl’s search to understand the science of hope, love and miracles. A relevant look at the impact of depression on families that belongs in every classroom library.
It is 1932 and twelve-year-old Cal Blackbird and his father, a World War I veteran, have been riding the rails after losing their farm in the Great Depression, eking out a living as “knights of the road”. When Cal’s dad hears that many of his fellow vets plan to gather in Washington D.C. to demand the government payments they were promised but never received, he decides he must join the effort. To keep Cal safe while he is away, Pop, who is a Creek Indian, sends him to a boarding school for native Americans in Oklahoma. The other Creek boys at the school take Cal under their wing, support direly needed in the face of the harsh and often miserable conditions he encounters. As Cal begins to learn about his people’s history, language, and heritage, he grows to value his Creek identity and the strength of the friends he makes. Written by Joseph Bruchac, the author of Code Talker, this is must-read historical fiction.
Shoe Dog: Young Reader’s Edition:
This young reader’s edition of the autobiography of Phil Knight, the founder of the multi-billion dollar company Nike, reveals the journey of this successful entrepreneur, a high school and college track star, from his days as a young importer of Japanese running shoes to the establishment of the sports company he is known for today. Highlighting the challenges of acquiring the financing and key employees necessary to keep Blue Ribbon Sports, Knight’s original business, afloat, this is a nonfiction choice that every sports fan and budding business person will want to read.
As her mother begins weeks of radioactive cancer treatment, thirteen-year-old Lizzie jumps at the chance to spend the summer with her mother’s brother, Uncle Davy, in the refurbished schoolhouse he calls home in the Adirondacks. Lizzie treasures the time she spends with her uncle and with his neighbor, a Salvadoran immigrant boy with dwarfism named Matias. The two enjoy spending time outdoors while he paints and she writes. When Matias fails to show up one afternoon, however, Lizzie fears the worst. Two dangerous convicts have escaped from a nearby prison and the authorities fear they have taken Matias. When Uncle Davy goes missing as well, Lizzie believes she is the only one who knows these woods well enough to find and save them. Told in short chapters addressed to an unknown listener whose identity is revealed only at the end of the book, this story of one girl’s courage in the wilds of the Adirondack mountains is perfect for fans of tales of challenge and survival. (Note: There is one reference to a previous same sex relationship of Uncle Davy’s.)
Someone Like Me: How One Undocumented Girl Fought for Her American Dream:
In this true story of hard work and determination, social justice advocate and vice president at Goldman Sachs, Julissa Arce tells of her journey to belong in America while growing up as an undocumented immigrant living in Texas. Left behind in her hometown of Taxco, Mexico with her sisters and grandmother while her parents worked tirelessly in America in hopes of providing a better life for their children, Julissa keenly felt her parents’ absence and began to get in trouble. Her parents brought her to live with them in San Antonio where she continued to live even after her tourist visa expired. Despite a constant fear of deportation, she was determined to succeed in school and in life, facing numerous challenges along the way but also finding friendship and support from many she met. An inspiring look at both the determination and flaws of a new generation of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. today, this is a book that shouldn’t be overlooked.