This month’s most exciting new middle grade and young adult books include a modern reimagining of Little Women in graphic novel form, a darkly hilarious novel about a dead best friend (who won’t stay dead), and the eagerly awaited follow-up to the New York Times bestseller The Hate U Give. Grab one of these new releases for your kids’ next road trip, plane ride, or family vacation!
1. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Graphic Novel: A Modern Retelling of Little Women by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo
From the publisher: “2018 marks the 150th anniversary of the classic Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Join Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy as they are re-envisioned as a blended family living in modern day NYC in this beautiful, full-color graphic novel that’s perfect for fans of Raina Telemeier’s Smile, Svetlana Chmakova’s Awkward, and Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl.”
What critics are saying: “[…] this tale offers a contemporary vision of sisterhood that will appeal to a diverse audience.” —Kirkus
Family Vacation Critic’s take: A modern retelling with all the charm and heart of the original novel, but updated for today’s young readers.
Age range: 9 to 12
2. Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly
From the publisher: “In the spirit of modern-day classics like Fish in a Tree and Counting by 7s comes the story of a deaf girl’s connection to a whale whose song can’t be heard by his species, and the journey she takes to help him.
From fixing the class computer to repairing old radios, 12-year-old Iris is a tech genius. But she’s the only deaf person in her school, so people often treat her like she’s not very smart. If you’ve ever felt like no one was listening to you, then you know how hard that can be.
When she learns about Blue 55, a real whale who is unable to speak to other whales, Iris understands how he must feel. Then she has an idea: she should invent a way to ‘sing’ to him! But he’s three thousand miles away. How will she play her song for him?
Full of heart and poignancy, this affecting story by sign language interpreter Lynne Kelly shows how a little determination can make big waves.”
What critics are saying: “This finely crafted novel affectingly illuminates issues of loneliness, belonging, and the power of communication.” —Publishers Weekly
Family Vacation Critic’s take: A clever premise and a winning protagonist. Highly recommended.
Age range: 8 to 12
3. Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon by John August
From the publisher: “From acclaimed screenwriter John August, Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon continues the spellbinding fantasy adventure series about the magic that lies just beyond our world.
Some legends are real. For Arlo Finch and the Rangers of Pine Mountain Company, summer camp is more than canoeing and hiking. It’s also a chance to search for ancient forest spirits and discover mysterious messages encoded in tree bark. But when Arlo and his best friends Indra and Wu stumble upon clues about the long-lost Yellow Patrol, Arlo uncovers a stunning history that leads right back to his very own family.”
What critics are saying: “Much like other popular series such as ‘Percy Jackson,’ [this is] an exciting fantasy novel grounded in reality with a strong emphasis on friendships and great characters. This new series will appeal to fans of mystery and adventure as well as reluctant readers.” —School Library Journal
Family Vacation Critic’s take: This sequel to Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire promises more of the same kind of fantasy adventure that won over so many young readers last year.
Age range: 8 to 11
4. The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu
From the publisher: “When you’re an identical twin, your story always starts with someone else. For Iris, that means her story starts with Lark.
Iris has always been the grounded, capable, and rational one; Lark has been inventive, dreamy, and brilliant—and from their first moments in the world together, they’ve never left each other’s side. Everyone around them realized early on what the two sisters already knew: they had better outcomes when they were together.
When fifth grade arrives, however, it’s decided that Iris and Lark should be split into different classrooms, and something breaks in them both. Iris is no longer so confident; Lark retreats into herself as she deals with challenges at school. And at the same time, something strange is happening in the city around them, things both great and small going missing without a trace.
As Iris begins to understand that anything can be lost in the blink of an eye, she decides it’s up to her to find a way to keep her sister safe.”
What critics are saying: “National Book Award nominee Ursu laces her story with fairy-tale elements and real-life monsters, while taking great care to cast girls in an empowering light and as authors (and heroes) of their own stories. It is a layered, mysterious tale that will speak to many.” —ALA Booklist (starred review)
Family Vacation Critic’s take: Keep your eyes on this one; we think it’s headed for some year-end awards.
Age range: 8 to 12
5. New Kid by Jerry Craft
From the publisher: “Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.
As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?”
What critics are saying: “An engrossing, humorous, and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in America.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Family Vacation Critic’s take: A fun, funny, and clever graphic novel with important things to say.
Age range: 8 to 12
6. Game of Stars by Sayantani DasGupta
From the publisher: “Saving the multiverse is no game. When the Demon Queen shows up in her bedroom, smelling of acid and surrounded by evil-looking bees, 12-year-old Kiranmala is uninterested. After all, it’s been weeks since she last heard from her friends in the Kingdom Beyond, the alternate dimension where she was born as an Indian princess.
But after a call to action over an interdimensional television station and a visit with some all-seeing birds, Kiran decides that she has to once again return to her homeland, where society is fraying, a terrible game show reigns supreme, and friends and foes alike are in danger. Everyone is running scared or imprisoned following the enactment of sudden and unfair rules of law.
However, things are a lot less clear than the last time she was in the Kingdom Beyond. Kiran must once again solve riddles and battle her evil Serpent King father—all while figuring out who her true friends are, and what it really means to be a hero.”
What critics are saying: “DasGupta once again wittily meshes Bengali folktales, intergalactic science, and a spectacular world of her own creation in a yarn that is part hero’s quest, part immigrant coming-of-age tale.”—Kirkus (starred review)
Family Vacation Critic’s take: This is the second volume in the “Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond” series, following last year’s much-loved The Serpent’s Secret.
Age range: 8 to 12
7. Ruby in the Sky by Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo
From the publisher: “Twelve-year-old Ruby Moon Hayes does not want her new classmates to ask about her father. She does not want them to know her mother has been arrested. And she definitely does not want to make any friends. Ruby just wants to stay as silent and invisible as a new moon in the frozen sky. She and her mother won’t be staying long in Vermont anyway, and then things can go back to the way they were before everything went wrong.
But keeping to herself isn’t easy when Ahmad Saleem, a Syrian refugee, decides he’s her new best friend. Or when she meets “the Bird Lady,” a recluse named Abigail who lives in a ramshackle shed near Ruby’s house. Before long Ahmad and Abigail have become Ruby’s friends—and she realizes there is more to their stories than everyone knows.
As ugly rumors begin to swirl around the people Ruby loves, she must make a choice: break her silence, or risk losing everything that’s come to mean so much to her. Ruby in the Sky is a story of the walls we hide behind, and the magic that can happen when we’re brave enough to break free.”
What critics are saying: “A quiet yet powerful story about courage.” —Booklist (starred review)
Family Vacation Critic’s take: This engaging, well-plotted, and complex novel may be grounded in reality, but the writing still feels almost magical.
Age range: 8 to 11
8. On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
From the publisher: “Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill.
But it’s hard to get your come up when you’re labeled a hoodlum at school, and your fridge at home is empty after your mom loses her job. So Bri pours her anger and frustration into her first song, which goes viral…for all the wrong reasons.
Bri soon finds herself at the center of a controversy, portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. But with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri doesn’t just want to make it—she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.
Insightful, unflinching, and full of heart, On the Come Up is an ode to hip hop from one of the most influential literary voices of a generation. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; and about how, especially for young black people, freedom of speech isn’t always free.”
What the critics say: “With sharp, even piercing, characterization, this indelible and intricate story of a young girl who is brilliant and sometimes reckless, who is deeply loved and rightfully angry at a world that reduces her to less than her big dreams call her to be, provides many pathways for readers.”—Horn Book (starred review)
Family Vacation Critic’s take: Angie Thomas’s highly anticipated follow-up to the mega-hit The Hate U Give is already getting rave reviews.
Age range: 13 and up
9. The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried by Shaun David Hutchinson
From the publisher: “Dino doesn’t mind spending time with the dead. His parents own a funeral home, and death is literally the family business. He’s just not used to them talking back. Until Dino’s ex-best friend July dies suddenly—and then comes back to life. Except not exactly. Somehow July is not quite alive, and not quite dead.
As Dino and July attempt to figure out what’s happening, they must also confront why and how their friendship ended so badly, and what they have left to understand about themselves, each other, and all those grand mysteries of life.
Critically acclaimed author Shaun Hutchinson delivers another wholly unique novel blending the real and surreal while reminding all of us what it is to love someone through and around our faults.”
What critics are saying: “A grotesque, mordantly funny, and tender look at friendship.”—School Library Journal (starred review)
Family Vacation Critic’s take: One of the year’s most anticipated LGBTQI books for young adult readers.
Age range: 14 and up
10. Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner
From the publisher: “Every Friday night, best friends Delia and Josie become Rayne Ravenscroft and Delilah Darkwood, hosts of the campy creature feature show Midnite Matinee on the local cable station TV Six.
But with the end of senior year quickly approaching, the girls face tough decisions about their futures. Josie has been dreading graduation, as she tries to decide whether to leave for a big university and chase her dream career in mainstream TV. And Lawson, one of the show’s guest performers, a talented MMA fighter with weaknesses for pancakes, fantasy novels, and Josie, is making her tough decision even harder.
Scary movies are the last connection Delia has to her dad, who abandoned the family years ago. If Midnite Matinee becomes a hit, maybe he’ll see it and want to be a part of her life again. And maybe Josie will stay with the show instead of leaving her behind, too.
As the tug-of-war between growing up and growing apart tests the bonds of their friendship, Josie and Delia start to realize that an uncertain future can be both monstrous . . . and momentous.”
What critics are saying: “Zentner’s quick-witted, charming characters tackle real-life issues with snappy dialogue and engaging levity.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Family Vacation Critic’s take: This one is both poignant and funny, and a testament to the power of friendship when everything feels like it’s about to change.
Age range: 14 and up
Editor’s note: Every month, Family Vacation Critic’s Senior Executive Editor Josh Roberts shares his picks for the best new MG/YA books for traveling families. Follow him on Twitter @joshwritesYA to join in the #kidlit conversation.
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