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Best Children’s Books 2022

Best Children's Books 2022

As parents, we rely on children’s literature to entertain our kids while helping them to understand our complicated world. When choosing the winners of our Parents Best Children’s Books for 2022, we strived to find titles that would fill your kids with a sense of wonder. The winning books speak to today’s issues, telling stories of identity and community. And the results are in order of publisher recommended age, from youngest to oldest. We can’t wait for you and your family to settle in and start reading.  



How We Chose the Winners

Our editors put a lot of thought and research into finding the 50 of the most critically acclaimed books of the year. From there, Parents editors asked their own kids (and their friends!) to read all of the books—from picture books to graphic novels, chapter, middle grade, and young adult books—to help select the winners. We centered stories that were fun but also brought more to the table, with depth, nuance and diversity of representation to bring you 25 books worthy of our Parents Best Children’s Book Seal.


  • Kid-Approved. We were only interested in books that held our kids’ attention and ignited their imaginations. Each one of these stories was read and loved by kids in the Parents family.  
  • Vetted by Our Editors. Parents know that a lifelong love of reading begins in childhood. So we were looking for books that are not only educational but also engaging.
  • Approved By Our Panel of Experts—Teachers and Librarians. An effort by publishers towards diversity in children’s literature has brought a rich array of new and emerging talent. With that in mind, we were focused on helping these writers find recognition.
  • Award-Winning. Countless children’s books are released every year, from additions to popular series to new books with beautiful illustrations and relevant messages. So we used book awards as a roadmap for narrowing down the options for this list.
  • Critically-Acclaimed. To gather these recommendations, we looked at bestseller lists on Amazon and Bookshop and recommendations from adults on Goodreads. 


Whether you’re looking for a title for a toddler or a teen, there’s something (amazing!) here for every kid reader on your list.



Our Experts

Once the parents and kids vetted our line up of top titles, we asked a smart and very well-read panel of teachers and librarians to chime in on the titles, too, highlighting their depth, diversity, and especially the fun factor. This year’s experts:


  • Angie Manfredi is a middle school librarian in New Mexico. She has worked in public, special, and school libraries and never gets tired of talking about books with kids. She believes all children have a right to books that accurately portray the world around them and literacy is a human right. In her spare time she sends snail mail, watches too many movies, and enjoys adventures.
  • Lisa Krok, MLIS, MEd., is a manager at Morley Library and a former teacher in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. She is the author of Novels in Verse for Teens: A Guidebook with Activities for Teachers and Librarians (ABC-CLIO). She has reviews in School Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews, and her passion is reaching marginalized teens and reluctant readers through young adult literature. Lisa has served on both the Best Fiction for Young Adults and Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers teams.
  • Jen Hubert Swan has been a school librarian for over twenty years. Currently she is the Upper School Librarian at Hackley School in Tarrytown, New York, and an adjunct professor of YA literature at Pratt Institute’s School of Information. Her book reviews have appeared in Horn Book magazine and the New York Times.
  • Greg Andree is a middle school ELA teacher, father of teen and tween readers, and has a TBR pile that would crush a lesser person.
  • Vera Ahiyya was raised in El Paso, Texas with her wonderful mother and amazing grandparents. Vera has taught Kindergarten and first grade for the last 16 years. Her online presence is dedicated to influencing other educators by spreading her vast knowledge and love of diverse children’s books. She is the author of Rebellious Read Alouds, a professional development book for educators. She is also the author of two picture books, You Have a Voice and KINDergarten.
  • Rekha Kuver, based in Seattle, has worked extensively in public libraries and the arts, and is most interested in creating communities centered in joy and liberation.



Picture Books

The Year We Learned to Fly, by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael Lopez

Nancy Paulsen Books 



Why It’s a Winner: When our children are bored, we sure know about it! In Jacqueline Woodson’s dazzling picture book, two siblings learn to use their imagination to escape their boredom. This valuable skill, their grandmother shows them, is in the history of their people and how they have long been dreaming of something better. Told in verse, Woodson’s story is an homage to Virginia Hamilton’s The People Could Fly. Accompanied by Rafael Lopez’s vibrant illustrations, this book teaches kids that their imaginations can take them anywhere. 


What Parents and Kids Say: 7-year-old Silas says, “I liked how it’s called The Year We Learned to Fly because that sounds cool, and I love how they were pretending to fly.”


What Our Experts Say:

“Helping younger generations nurture their imaginations and teaching them to fly is essential, especially in a world that doesn’t always embrace them. I love that Virginia Hamilton’s The People Could Fly inspired Jacqueline Woodson, and she and Rafael López could bring that spirit of imagination and liberation to The Year We Learned To Fly.

—Teacher Greg Andree

“In the spirit of Virginia Hamilton, Woodson’s characters delight in learning that imagination and stories propel them on sojourns that free their minds to fly, opening a world of possibilities for readers.”
—Librarian Lisa Krok



That’s Not My Name, by Anoosha Syed

Viking Books for Young Readers



Why It’s A Winner: Having your name perpetually butchered gets old fast. Pakistani-Canadian author Anoosha Syed’s debut story will resonate with all kids who’ve had their names mispronounced. Young Mirha is excited to make friends at her new school but becomes frustrated when everyone gets her name wrong. After she comes home wanting to change her name, Mirha’s mom explains that her name means happiness in Arabic and she’s encouraged to stand up for herself. The book’s lush illustrations and powerful message champions children to love their names and themselves.  


What Parents and Kids Say: Sugey Palomares, mom of Lucio, 7, and Ayana, 3, says: “Both kids loved this book. My daughter pointed at illustrations of the main character cooking with her mom and at the park. My son connected to the story and shared how kids and teachers at school mispronounce his name. He has talked about not liking his name before and we go over the meaning of his name and how special it is, but this book really helped seal the lesson of how special names are—especially unique ones.” 


What Our Experts Say:

“Can Mihra find the strength to show everyone just how beautiful her name is? Young Mihra is starting school and many of her friends (and teachers) cannot pronounce her name correctly.  A story about the importance of our names and the power of using your voice.”
—Teacher Vera Ahiyya



Pizza: A Slice of History, by Greg Pizzoli

Viking Books for Young Readers



Why It’s A Winner: What kid doesn’t love pizza? Greg Pizzoli’s nonfiction picture book about the history of pizza will appeal to readers of all ages. Narrated by a little mouse, the book uses bite-sized pieces of information and colorful illustrations to show children how food evolves over time. And even grownups will enjoy learning culinary facts. For instance, did you know Hawaiian Pizza was actually created in Canada? Just be prepared because everyone will want pizza for dinner after reading this. Yum. 

What Parents and Kids Say: Lael, 3, is in luck because, “My favorite part is that it’s about pizza.” 


What Our Experts Say:

“This enticing book will draw readers in to learn about the many different types of pizzas, some of which will surprise them. This book would be a fantastic read-aloud for a family, class, or library program followed by creative pizza making.”

—Librarian Lisa Krok

“A non-fiction book that can bring in a pizza-loving rat, the Grim Reaper, royalty, math, immigration, and the evolution of pizza? Kids will eat this up.”
—Teacher Greg Andree



Wutaryoo, by Nilah Magruder

Versify



Why It’s A Winner: Curiosity is the most wonderful trait of childhood. And Nilah Magruder’s picture book is brimming with it. Tired of not knowing who or what she is, an animal known as Wutaryoo—pronounced ‘What are you?’—sets off on a quest to find her true identity. She’s not quite a fox or a rabbit or a cat. So what is she? This playful story reads like a fable and kids will find peace in knowing that it’s okay if you don’t have all the answers. 

What Parents and Kids Say: Toby Lowenfels appreciates that this book appeals to all of her kids: “My 9-year-old liked that it was mysterious. My 7-year-old liked that it was all about animals. And my 5-year-old liked that the main character worked really hard.”


What Our Experts Say:

“With the breadth and depth of a beloved myth, this evocative and sweeping picture book takes readers on what can only be described as an epic journey. Our main character seeks to define herself but finds that not only is that harder than it looks but that, perhaps, what she learns about herself is more important. This story begs to be read aloud and will certainly be cherished for any kid who has ever wondered ‘who am I?’ (So: every kid.)”
—Librarian Angie Manfredi



Gibberish, by Young Vo

Levine Querido



Why It’s A Winner: On Dat’s first day of school in a new country everybody sounds like they’re speaking gibberish. Author Young Vo uses a clever combination of pictograms, illustrations, and colors to show what it feels like to move to a new place where you don’t speak the language. Readers work along with Dat to unpack the messages from his cartoonish classmates and children will find it rewarding to piece the narrative together. Gibberish is a creative way to show young readers an immigrant’s experience and the power of making one very good friend. 


What Parents and Kids Say: Ambreia Meadows-Fernandez’s 6-year-old says: “I like that there was this boy who did not know how to speak and read, and at the end, he finally learned how to read. I like old fashioned cartoons like Tom and Jerry, so I liked the black and white colors.” 


What Our Experts Say:

“A picture book unlike any you have ever experienced before. Author and illustrator Vo, who also works in animation, uses colors, illustration styles, symbols, and more to create the disorienting feeling of not understanding a new language and not knowing where you fit. The story does what all the best stories do: take a specific, unique story and make it feel universal and timeless. It is impossible to read this book and not be awed and moved and it begs to be shared. It is the perfect way to teach children empathy and kindness and it is the book we need right now.”
—Librarian Angie Manfredi




Chapter Books

Always, Clementine, by Carlie Sorosiak

Walker Books US



Why It’s A Winner: Sometimes we need a reminder of all the good in the world. Always, Clementine is a delightful book to read aloud to your kids because the characters are immensely likable. Clementine is a highly intelligent lab mouse who finds her calling in chess. The funny, poignant story is well-paced and will make readers fall in love with Clementine and her friends. Plus, there’s an overall message of self-love, which we could always use. 


What Our Parents and Kids Say: Nora, 10, reports: “I liked it because it wasn’t about a human. Instead it was about a very smart mouse who acted like a human.” 




Miles Lewis: King of the Ice, by Kelly Starling Lyons and Wayne Spencer

Penguin Workshop



Why It’s A Winner: This story has a little bit of everything: sports, science, history, family. And, most importantly, fun. Some readers might remember Miles as a character in Kelly Starling Lyons’ Jada Jones series. Now he’s being encouraged by friends and family to try ice skating. What begins as a dare from his best friend turns into a fast-paced story about a budding athlete giving it his all. There’s also some interesting background history on Willie O’Ree, the first Black hockey player in the NHL. And readers easing out of graphic novels into chapter books will appreciate the illustrations throughout the story. Talk about a score. 


What Parents and Kids Say: Charlene Barkulis says her 8-year-old was drawn to the book the second he laid eyes on the cover and found the story relatable: “I liked that he’s trying something new. It’s like me when I tried skateboarding.” 


What Our Experts Say:

“Perfect for all newly independent readers, the first book in a series about Miles Lewis is an accessible and engaging text. 4th grader Miles is easy to root for and care about and so many readers will see themselves in him. He’s good at some things, struggles with others, cares about his friends and family and loves learning and trying new things. He’s a real kid, basically, in just about every way. Short chapters, scattered illustrations, and a strong voice make this an outstanding choice for kids moving into chapter books. Don’t be surprised to find kids clamoring for more Miles.”
—Librarian Angie Manfredi



Pizza and Taco: Too Cool for School, by Stephen Shaskan

Random House Graphic



Why It’s A Winner: There’s something undeniably funny about a piece of walking, talking food wearing a set of sunglasses. Best friends Taco and Pizza grapple with the notion of coolness as they struggle to keep up with BLT, the new kid at school. The fourth title in this graphic novel series shows kids that being cool isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And being late for class or ending up in detention is never a good thing. Kids will have loads of fun reading this book while learning the valuable lesson that being true to yourself never goes out of style. 


What Parents and Kids Say: Shaiyar, 8, says: “Pizza and Taco are my favorite foods. They were funny as characters. They didn’t fit in with the others and they learned to be okay with that.”


What Our Experts Say:

“Pizza and Taco are back to school and find themselves faced with a perplexing question: are they cool? Their new friend BLT has opinions. With humor that is perfectly calibrated for 5- to 8-year-olds, these friends figure out that what makes them the coolest is their friendship.”
—Librarian Rekha Kuver



The Sheep, the Rooster, and the Duck, by Matt Phelan

Greenwillow Books



Why It’s A Winner: These are not your standard barnyard animals. In this whimsical piece of historical fiction, a sheep, a rooster and a duck team up to save both Benjamin Franklin and the world. In 1783 France, after the Peace of Paris, the animals enlist the help of kids Sophie and Emile to untangle a secret evil plot to overthrow French society. Elegant black and white illustrations accompany historical facts and a zany plot. The characters are so lovable, this makes the ideal adventure to read at bedtime before soaring into dreamland. 


What Parents and Kids Say: Gus, 10, and Cyrus, 8, concur: “This book is great because it sort of follows history, but then makes it even more interesting by adding animals and crazy situations. It was exciting and funny too.” 




PAWS: Gabby Gets It Together, by Nathan Fairbairn and Michelle Assarasakorn

Razorbill



Why It’s A Winner: Imagine The Babysitter’s Club but with dogs and you’ll have PAWS. In this wholesome graphic novel, Gabby, Priya, and Mindy are BFFs who are dying to have dogs of their own and settle instead for starting a dog walking business. Naturally, this isn’t as easy as it looks and soon the besties are arguing about everything. Readers will learn themes of apologizing and forgiveness and love the adorable puppy scenes. The Instagram posts at the end of the book, with Gabby’s dad commenting on every picture, are a relatable touch. Two paws up. 

What Parents and Kids Say: Esmeralda, 8, comments, “The animals were really cute and I like how the friends take care of the animals.” 


What Our Experts Say:

“I love Paws, a kind of dog-walking version of the classic Babysitters’ Club series. It has a cast of realistic friends with their own lives and pursuits, but also a love of animals that brings them together. The friends also have realistic tensions, problems, resentments, fights, and reconciliations as the business and life (and dogs) pull the friends in a dozen different directions.

Michelle Assarasakorn’s art is warm and brings the girls (and dogs) to life, and Nathan Fairbairn’s brings the girls’ business startup and friendship a realism that is appreciated by young readers.”
—Teacher Greg Andree




Middle Grade

The Midnight Children, by Dan Gameinhart

Henry Holt and Co.



Why It’s A Winner: Reading a story with a deliciously wicked villain is highly entertaining. And the villain at the center of The Midnight Children has black jellybean breath! Yuck. Fans of suspense will be drawn into the lives of shy, lonely Ravani and the group of runaway kids he meets in the town of Slaughterville. What secrets are they hiding? And where are the grownups? Some kids might find the slaughterhouse descriptions hard to stomach but it’s worth powering through for a hopeful story about family and adventure. This mysterious book is wildly popular and your kid might be one of many who wants to stay up all night to find out what happens. 


What Parents and Kids Say: Penelope, 10, and Maeve, 8, agree: “I liked the part when they escaped the hunter’s truck using teamwork. The hunter tried to attack them, but they cornered him and then they moved in with Ravini’s parents. I wish there was a sequel.”




Odder, by Katherine Applegate

 Feiwel & Friends



Why It’s A Winner: Not to judge a book by its cover…but how cute is that cover? Luckily, the inside contents are equally as charming. From Katherine Applegate, the award winning author of The One and Only Ivan, here’s a book for the entire family. Inspired by real-life events, the story is about a spunky otter named Odder who’s rescued by the caring staff at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Told in verse form, this is sure to become a modern classic and will be loved by kids and parents alike for being sweet and educational. It’s a wonderful fit for animal lovers and budding marine biologists. 


What Parents and Kids Say: Joshvir, 11, says: “I liked the short chapter format and it has a satisfying ending. No boring segments.” 


What Our Experts Say:

“Applegate once again captures the hearts of animal lovers in this accessible novel in verse about love and belonging.”
—Librarian Lisa Krok



A Rover’s Story, by Jasmine Warga

Balzer + Bray



Why It’s A Winner: Some authors have the ability to turn reluctant readers into book lovers. Jasmine Warga has created a sci fi novel with emotional depth that’s sure to lure in readers of all levels. With accessible chapters, her book tells the story of a Mars rover named Resilience (“Res” for short) that experiences human emotions. Heavily informed by research on NASA’s Mars Rover program, this is an engaging entry point into space exploration. The beeps and bops would make this a fun audiobook for your next road trip. Just be warned, the ending will make you choke up. You’d never think you’d connect so much to a rover! 


What Parents and Kids Say: Esméralda, 8, says: “I love how it is written in Resilience’s point of view and I love how he learns new things and vocabulary. I laughed that he calls different things by different names – like how he calls scientists “Hazmats.” It was hilarious. It also made me curious about space. My favorite part of the story so far is the launch. I love how Resilience and Fly help each other and how they are curious when they land on Mars.”


What Our Experts Say:

“This unique point of view from the Rover itself will hook young readers and is a great addition to STEM offerings.”
—Librarian Lisa Krok



Different Kinds of Fruit, by Kyle Lukoff

Dial Books



Why It’s A Winner: If ever there was a book for 2022, this is it. When sixth-grader Annabelle learns her dad is trans, she gains a whole new perspective on her family and herself. Stonewall Award-winning author Kyle Lukoff gives kids a thoughtful starting place for discussing gender and inclusion. Annabelle has a loving relationship with her parents and every character in the story faces challenges that require them to reflect and grow. It’s sure to be referenced for many years to come as a shining example of how a middle grade novel can cover complex topics without being pedantic. 


What Parents and Kids Say: Parent Amber Leventry loves that this is a book with trans and nonbinary representation. Eva, 11, chimes in: “I can’t wait to share this with Pride Club!” 


What Our Experts Say:

“Perhaps no one currently writing in middle grade is doing a better job of illustrating the power of found family and community than Lukoff and this book is the perfect example. Annabelle’s sixth grade year gets shaken up in all the best ways when the new kid Bailey shows up and they strike up a fast friendship that will help them both be their best selves. Bailey is a marvel of a character, vivacious, self-assured, likeable, and magnetic. They are exactly the type of character middle grade needs more of and sharing time with Annabelle and Bailey is genuinely a joy.”
—Librarian Angie Manfredi

“This heartfelt novel is both informational and approachable. Rainbow spectrum families, allies, and those who are not will receive a healthy boost of empathy from Lukoff’s depiction of Annabelle’s world.”
—Librarian Lisa Krok



Merci Suarez Plays It Cool, by Meg Medina

Candlewick Press 



Why It’s A Winner: Isn’t it refreshing to see a character who messes up every once in a while? In other words, she’s human. In a satisfying finale to her trilogy, Newbery Medalist Meg Medina follows Merci Suárez into an eighth grade year full of friendship, responsibility, and loss. Merci’s beloved grandfather, Lolo, has Alzheimer’s and she’s torn between friend groups at school. Middle grade readers will identify with these relatable situations and the book could be a helpful platform to discuss death and other family issues. Fans of the series will be sad to see it’s over but it does end on a hopeful note. 


What Parents and Kids Say: 9-year-old Lacy sums it up: “Hello, eighth grade.” 





Young Adult

Ophelia After All, by Racquel Marie

Feiwel & Friends



Why It’s A Winner: This book is a warm hug. Entering her senior year of high school, Ophelia Rojas loves rose gardening and boys. That is, until she develops a serious crush on a girl named Talia. Author Racquel Marie handles Ophelia’s voyage of identity and coming to terms with her queerness in a comforting, hearwarming way. It’s a valuable lesson in realizing it’s okay to change and embrace your true self. Truly unique and a joy to read from beginning to end, the amusing cast of characters will win over all readers.   


What Parents and Kids Say: Kavya, 12, raves: “I liked how much she cared about flowers and how many different types of roses there were. I liked how sarcastic Sammy was. The characters were really cool. It was a world I’d like to live in for a bit.” 




The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School, by Sonora Reyes

Balzer + Bray



Why It’s A Winner: This National Book Award finalist has heart and plenty of it. Sixteen-year-old Yamilet Flores is a queer Mexican American girl navigating Catholic school while falling in love. After being outed by her former best friend, Yamilet transfers to a very conservative Catholic school and forms a super-cute romance with a queer Asian American girl. This debut novel addresses teenage angst and family dynamics in a sharply funny and moving way. Readers will fall hard for this one. 


What Parents and Kids Say: Marisol, 12, says: “The MC is someone you want to be friends with. The book sort of has a Heartstopper vibe, and I love the character arcs with the parents, how what you think will happen based on things they say is flipped on its head—a very realistic experience for lots of queer kids.”


What Our Experts Say:

“Yamilet is newly enrolled in Catholic school and only has a few goals but one is key: staying in the closet and keeping her head down. Of course when Yamilet meets Bo, the only openly queer girl at school, and finds herself charmed and basically bowled over, this may end up being easier said than done. Reyes deftly manages the most amazing of feats: balancing a nuanced, emotionally deep story about identity and familial ties with a frothy, swoony teen romance. Combined, this makes this an unputdownable book with huge teen appeal.  
—Librarian Angie Manfredi

“This humorous and touching exploration of identity, family, and Mexican and Indigenous culture is a shining debut.”
—Librarian Lisa Krok



We Deserve Monuments, by Jas Hammonds

Roaring Brook Press



Why It’s A Winner: Get those tissues ready. We Deserve Monuments follows Avery, a queer biracial teen who moves to a Southern town with her parents to help her dying grandmother, Mama Letty. Debut author Jas Hammonds brings racial violence, family secrets, and mystery together in a way that’s poignant and gripping. Readers get to see Avery fall in love and find her place in this new community. So while this story is indeed very sad, there are moments of joy. 

What Our Parents and Kids Had to Say: Siblings Kavya, 10, and Saraya, 12, agree: “Loved the book. The diversity and acceptance was unlike any book we read. Would definitely read it again.” 


What Our Experts Say:

“This stellar debut skillfully takes on intense topics including deep-rooted systemic racism and dark family secrets, while incorporating a bit of sapphic romance. Bring your tissues.”
—Librarian Lisa Krok



All My Rage, by Sabaa Tahir

Razorbill 



Why It’s A Winner: Sometimes you need literature to address difficult real life issues. Alcoholism, Islamophobia, domestic violence, drug/sexual abuse, and racism—you name it, this book has it. Sabaa Tahir’s story about Muslim kids in California grappling with grief is the National Book Award winner for Young People’s Lit. The story is a profound exploration of forgiveness and heartache in a Pakistani community reeling from destructive choices. It took ten years to write and it shows. 


What Parents and Kids Say: Isabella, 13, says: “All My Rage is written beautifully. The characters feel real. Reading it is for sure an emotional roller coaster filled with ups and downs. Sabaa Tahir is an artist, painting the lives of her characters, allowing us to feel sympathy and hope, and allowing us to empathize with them as they persevere when faced with hardship. The quote, ‘Shock has faded into numbness. But grief is an animal I know. It’s retreated for now. But it’ll be back….’ stood out to me because it showed the despair felt by the character, Noor.”


What Our Experts Say:

“The beauty and tenacity of youth, faith and family are celebrated in this searing novel about two Pakistani teens searching for a way out of poverty and racism in a small desert town.”
—Librarian Jen Hubert Swan

“Tahir’s lyrical prose unpacks both the beautiful and the brutal. She deftly captures the layers of grief, rage, family, examination of faith, and forgiveness, while managing to inject levity into dire situations and provide a semblance of hope. Put this book at the top of your list.”

—Libarian Lisa Krok



A Scatter of Light, by Malinda Lo

Dutton Books for Young Readers



Why It’s A Winner: A lot can happen in a teenager’s summer. From the award-winning author of Last Night At The Telegraph Club, here’s a coming-of-age story about coming out. After her nude photos get leaked at school, Aria Tang-West is sent to spend the summer with her grandmother in California. She soon falls in love with Steph, her grandmother’s gardener, and dives deep into the working-class queer community. Set against the backdrop of the first major Supreme Court decisions legalizing gay marriage, the story is a tender exploration of sexuality, identity, art, and young love. This is not your average summer or book.  


What Parents and Kids Say: Kavya, 12, reports: “It’s a historical novel about when gay marriage was first legalized and it was interesting to see how different things were at the time. The writing was very vivid and descriptive.” 


What Our Experts Say:

“The intimate details and complex relationships of this perfectly rendered story of first love between two young women is reminiscent of Judy Blume’s classic Forever.”

—Librarian Jen Hubert Swan.




Graphic Novels

Frizzy, by Claribel Ortega and Rose Bousamra

First Second



Why It’s A Winner: A truly fantastic graphic novel manages to be deeply realistic and magical all at once. Enter: Frizzy. Marlene is a Dominican girl whose greatest enemy is the hair salon. Every week her mother makes her thick, curly hair get straightened so she can look more professional. Through awesome art—standout panels include Marelene’s vision of herself as a superhero—readers will see a young girl’s transformation from figuring out how to please her mother to being comfortable with herself. Thankfully, we even get to see Marlene’s mother make progress in the end. Turns out, we all have room to grow. 


What Parents and Kids Say: Eva, 9, is pumped: “I think it’s cool that Marlene’s family speaks Spanish, just like mine!” 


What Our Experts Say:

“Affirming and accessible with vivid illustrations; the facial expressions of the characters and the hair were especially striking. Fellow curly girls unite!”
—Librarian Lisa Krok



The Tryout, by Christina Soontornvat and Joanna Cacao

Graphix



Why It’s A Winner: Middle school’s awkward layers are a common denominator among all adolescents. Christina Soontornvat’s autobiographical story follows a Thai American girl in Texas who’s trying out for the cheerleading team with her best friend, an Iranian American. Both girls experience racism and bullying as they adjust to seventh grade and readers will become emotionally invested in their journey. Every kid will find a bit of themselves in Christina’s longing to fit in and fear of not belonging. Great illustrations plus a great plot equals game on. 


What Parents and Kids Say: “This one is super-fun, and based on the author’s own life, which is really cool. The character wants to be a cheerleader, and all-American, but she has to learn how to embrace who she is and define that in her own way,” says Kavya, 12.


What Our Experts Say:

“Do you remember the awkwardness of middle school? Hoping day in and day out that you would just ‘fit in’ and find out who you were? The Tryout is the true story of Christina’s experience in middle school. From helping her family at their restaurant, to trying out for the cheerleading team (IN FRONT OF THE ENTIRE SCHOOL!) This story is ultimately about discovering who you are, and knowing you are always enough.”
—Teacher Vera Ahiyya

“This graphic memoir has such a clear voice and relatable adolescent vulnerabilities. The ending was particularly strong with an encouraging message that will resonate with readers.”
—Librarian Lisa Krok



Isla to Island, by Alexis Castellanos

Atheneum Books for Young Readers



Why It’s A Winner: In a true testament to Alexis Castellano’s talent, she’s able to tell a hugely powerful story without using words. In the shadow of the Cuban Revolution, Marisol’s parents send her off to live with a foster family in Brooklyn, where the color is literally leached out of her world. Bright, gorgeous colors eventually return to Marisol’s life via books and nature, easing her difficult adjustment. Readers are provided with resources at the end of the graphic novel for learning more about Cuban culture and history. This touching book can be read in one sitting but will beckon multiple repeat readings. 


What Parents and Kids Say: Esméralda, 8, says: “I love how the colors of the illustrations change based on how Marisol is feeling. I also love the recipe for arroz con pollo in the back and want to try to make it.” Adds Oliver, 11: “If I was in Marisol’s situation I would not handle it like she did. She went through a lot with Cuba’s government getting violent and other personal things, and was sent to live in a new country. I really liked the book and I think others will, too.”


What Our Experts Say:

“I’m a ‘words’ person, so it’s amazing to me how so much story can be told with so few words. Images tell us everything we need to know, from the happiness Marisol has with her family in Cuba, her love of flowers and plants, to the danger that forces her parents to make devastating choice . . . to the cold new world Marisol finds in New York and how she finds a way to blossom.”

—Teacher Greg Andree



Fibbed, by Elizabeth Agyemang

Razorbill



Why It’s A Winner: We all want a heroine we can believe in. When young Nana gets in trouble at school for lying, she’s sent to live with her grandmother in Ghana. Once there, she discovers the magic of a new country and culture and is able to reconnect with her family. With fantastical descriptions of mischievous circus squirrels and poppy illustrations, kids will have fun getting lost in the magic of this graphic novel. This is storytelling at its most powerful.


What Parents and Kids Say: Nora, 10, comments: “I liked it because it was fantasy and fantasy is my favorite genre.” 


What Our Experts Say:

“Elizabeth Agyemang’s art makes Nana’s journey into a heroic adventure even before Ananse the Spider comes into her life. After all, leaving the United States to visit family in Ghana, and connecting with the stories of your family, is an epic journey all on its own. Ultimately, Nana sees that sharing stories, big or small or sill or strange, is the greatest gift you can give in this world.”

—Teacher Greg Andree

“Fascinating fable featuring a girl no one believes, Ananse the trickster from Ghana, environmental issues, and truth that always comes out in the end.”
—Librarian Lisa Krok



Growing Pangs, by Kathryn Ormsbee and Molly Brooks

Random House Graphic 



Why It’s A Winner: The most successful authors of middle grade books have the ability to connect with their readers as though they’re old friends. Kathryn Ormsbee fits that bill and then some. Growing Pangs follows Katie, a sixth grade homeschooler with a bundle of troubles. Not only is Katie worried about friendships and braces, she also battles serious OCD. Molly Brooks’s vivid art adds extra depth to the story, manifesting Katie’s anxiety as different animals. Rest assured, the book ends on a hopeful note when Katie connects with a therapist. There’s also an author’s note at the end where Ormsbee discusses her own experience with OCD in an honest, relatable way. What a comfort for kids who are looking for help and understanding. 

What Parents and Kids Say:  Kavya, 12, notes: “Katie’s going through a lot, but this is a sharp, sweet read and the art makes it really fun. I read it with my little brother, Shaiyar, and it was a good story for both of us.”


What Our Experts Say:

“Based on Kathryn Ormsbee’s experiences growing up, this book does such a good job depicting what having anxiety and OCD is like. What I like most about this story is how friendships are so realistic and messy. Katie navigates jealousies and hurt feelings, difficult power dynamics, and friendships that fade away. Each relationship valuable, helping Katie become the person she is by the story’s conclusion.”

—Teacher Greg Andree



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