Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti BowlingFiction. The awkwardness of being the new kid at school is extra intense for 8th-grader Aven, who has to put up with her classmates gawping at her because she was born without arms. Telling tall tales about losing her arms while alligator wrestling doesn't help -- some people just don't get her humor -- but things start to look up when Aven befriends some fellow misfits (like Connor, who has Tourette's syndrome) and they begin investigating strange events at a ramshackle Western theme park. Readers who love realistic fiction will root for the memorable characters in this not-so-insignificant story.
It All Comes Down to This by Karen EnglishFiction. A lot things are changing for Sophie's family in the summer of 1965: her parents are fighting, her sister Lily is getting ready to leave for college, and they're the only African-American family in their new Los Angeles neighborhood. As Sophie struggles to find new friends and Lily gets involved with Nathan, the housekeeper's son, they get a wider view of the injustices (big and small) simmering all around them. In the tradition of Rita Williams-Garcia's Gaither Sisters trilogy, this family story uses a backdrop of real history to serve up an authentically complicated slice of life.
All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria JamiesonGraphic Novel. Don't call her a qualling toad-spotted clack-dish -- homeschooled 11-year-old Imogene "Impy" Vega has just been promoted to squire at the Renaissance Faire where her parents work. That means she's ready for a quest, and attending public school for the first time seems like just the thing to prove her mettle. But will the experience transform Impy into a brave knight, or a spiky dragon? If you love quirky yet realistic comics, you don't want to to miss this tale of friendship and "faire-mily" from the Newbery Honor-winning creator of Roller Girl.
The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. PérezFiction. Though her dad reminds her that the first rule of punk is to be yourself, 12-year-old punk rocker Malú finds it tough to claim her identity as a "weird, unladylike, sloppy-Spanish-speaking, half-Mexican kid." Her passion for making zines and playing loud music doesn't live up to her "SuperMexican" mom's expectations, and her unorthodox style gets her into trouble at school. Even so, Malú is determined to get a band together and make some noise. Whether or not you share her taste in music, you'll be rooting for this fierce and funny heroine.
Thornhill by Pam SmyGraphic Novel Hybrid. With a spellbinding blend of words and artwork, Thornhill pulls you into the lives to two girls who lived decades apart. In 1982, mute orphan girl Mary plans her revenge on the cruel bullies at the Thornhill Institute for Children, while in 2017, lonely Ella sees a girl wandering the grounds of the long-abandoned Institute. Mary's story is told through her diary entries while Ella's is told through illustrations, allowing each girl's sections to feel distinct -- until Ella finds Mary's diaries and their stories collide. Fans of Brian Selznick or Ransom Riggs won't want to miss the eerie artistry in this time-twisting tale.
If you're excited about The Book of Dust
The Twistrose Key by Tone AlmhjellFantasy. When a strange key magically summons 11-year-old Lin Rosenquist to the land of Sylveros, she's overjoyed to learn that the beautiful, wintry country is populated by talking former pets…including Rufus, Lin's dear departed pet vole. Danger looms, however, sending Lin and Rufus on a quest to find a lost child, fulfill a prophecy, and rescue Sylveros from cruel villains. Fans of the animal companions and high adventure in Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass should definitely pick up this richly drawn fantasy (and its sequel, Thornghost).
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly BarnhillFantasy. The Protectorate claims that babies have to be sacrificed every year to satisfy the evil forest witch. The villagers obey, never realizing that the witch, Xan, is actually a kind soul who rescues the abandoned infants. After Xan accidentally "enmagicks" one of the babies by feeding her moonlight, she decides raise to the child (now named Luna) herself, with some help from a sage swamp monster and a tiny, talkative dragon. As Luna's 13th birthday approaches and her magic grows, you'll discover that her story is just one of many threads in this award-winning page-turner. Like His Dark Materials, The Girl Who Drank the Moon uses fantasy to explore big questions about power and responsibility.
Rebel Genius by Michael Dante DiMartinoIn the Zizzolan Empire, where art is strictly illegal, 12-year-old orphan Giacomo is an outlaw. After a Genius (a forbidden creature that guides creative spirits) bonds with him, Giacomo knows he's in serious danger of being caught. Thankfully, his Genius guides him to a safe, secret place for rebellious artists. There, Giacomo learns to channel his creativity through sacred geometry, only to have his training disrupted by a quest to stop a power-hungry artist from destroying the world. Similar to the daemons in His Dark Materials, the Geniuses in this series opener will intrigue readers who long for an animal familiar of their own.
The Golden Specific by S.E. GroveFantasy. A year ago, Sophia Tims and her friend Theo survived a perilous trip through the various Ages of their chronologically fractured world. Now, a new clue about her missing parents leads Sophia on another journey, away from her safe home in 1890s Boston and into the Dark Ages, in search of an unmapped, plague-riddled city. "Brilliantly imagined and full of wonder" (Kirkus Reviews), this steampunk-infused 2nd volume in the Mapmakers trilogy offers a captivating combination of history, science, and fantasy, along with a hint of horror -- just the thing for fans of His Dark Materials.
Breadcrumbs by Anne UrsuFantasy. Ten-year-old Hazel Anderson isn't happy; her parents have split, and she's had to switch to a new school where neither the kids nor the teachers understand her. She figures that as long as she has her best friend, Jack, she'll be okay...and then Jack disappears. Determined to rescue him, Hazel ventures into the snow-covered Minnesota woods where she last saw Jack -- and discovers a frightening magical world full of mystery and danger. If you enjoyed the snowy rescue mission in The Golden Compass, or if you like haunting, poetic stories inspired by fairy tales, be sure to check out Breadcrumbs.
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