Only 27% of about 3700 children’s books published in 2018 featured a protagonist of color. That may be higher than the 11% seen a decade ago in 2009, but it still doesn’t meet the needs of the increasingly diverse America of today. We need diverse books, as both mirrors for children of color to see themselves represented in and as windows for children to gain insight into lives, cultures, and oppressions unlike their own. The following upcoming chapter books are promising mirrors and windows that will not only help your child avoid the 2019 summer slide, but also encourage them to find compassion, to find themselves, and build a better world for their future.
12 New Diverse Middle Grade Chapter Books for 2019
Trace by Pat Cummings
Historical fiction meets the supernatural in this “absorbing, multilayered novel” about a boy whose trip to the New York Public Library sends him on a ghost-led tour of some of the neighborhood’s unsettling racist history.
“Trace Carter doesn’t know how to feel at ease in his new life in New York. Even though his artsy Auntie Lea is cool, her brownstone still isn’t his home. Haunted by flashbacks of the accident that killed his parents, the best he can do is try to distract himself from memories of the past. But the past isn’t done with him. When Trace takes a wrong turn in the New York Public Library, he finds someone else lost in the stacks with him: a crying little boy, wearing old, tattered clothes. And though at first he can’t quite believe he’s seen a ghost, Trace soon discovers that the boy he saw has ties to Trace’s own history—and that he himself may be the key to setting the dead to rest.”
Aru Shah and the Song of Death by Roshani Chokshi (sequel)
A sequel to the critically acclaimed Aru Shah and the End of Time, this next story follows two divine friends as they try to save the world. Kirkus Reviews raves that this story “seamlessly weaves Indian cosmology and pop culture into a refreshingly feminist plot.”
“Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents best-selling author Roshani Chokshi and her sequel to Aru Shah and the End of Time. Aru is only just getting the hang of this whole Pandava thing when the Otherworld goes into full panic mode. The god of love’s bow and arrow have gone missing, and the thief isn’t playing Cupid. Instead, they’re turning people into heartless fighting-machine zombies. If that weren’t bad enough, somehow Aru gets framed as the thief. If she doesn’t find the arrow by the next full moon, she’ll be kicked out of the Otherworld. For good. But, for better or worse, she won’t be going it alone. Along with her soul-sister, Mini, Aru will team up with Brynne, an ultra-strong girl who knows more than she lets on, and Aiden, the boy who lives across the street and is also hiding plenty of secrets. Together they’ll battle demons, travel through a glittering and dangerous serpent realm, and discover that their enemy isn’t at all who they expected.”
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
A very timely novel about a young Syrian refugee trying to fit in at her new school as she navigates her new American home and the fear and homesickness that comes with leaving everything you’ve ever known. Publisher’s Weekly gives this important story a starred review.
“A middle grade novel in verse about a young girl who must leave Syria to move to the United States, perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds and Aisha Saeed. Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives. At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US-and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before. But this life also brings unexpected surprises-there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is. This lyrical, life-affirming story is about losing and finding home and, most importantly, finding yourself.”
The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by L.R. Giles
A series in the making, The Last Last-Day-of-Summer is set in Logan County, VA, “an exuberant vortex of weirdness,” and features two black tweenage boys who’s summer quickly goes from mundane to fantastical. Follow Otta and Sheed as they save Logan County from a mysterious time stopper. Publisher’s Weekly says The Last Last-Day-of-Summer incorporates “realism with themes of reconciliation, family, identity, and destiny.”
“Otto and Sheed are the local sleuths in their zany Virginia town, masters of unraveling mischief using their unmatched powers of deduction. And as the summer winds down and the first day of school looms, the boys are craving just a little bit more time for fun, even as they bicker over what kind of fun they want to have. That is, until a mysterious man appears with a camera that literally freezes time. Now, with the help of some very strange people and even stranger creatures, Otto and Sheed will have to put aside their differences to save their town—and each other—before time stops for good.”
Mya’s Strategy to Save the World by Tanya Lloyd Kyi
Mya Parsons is a new character for your feminist child to look up to. Mya is a bleeding heart activist who takes up just about every social cause she discovers and when she decides she wants a cell phone, the human rights abuses of the cobalt industry naturally arise. The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books writes that Mya’s Strategy to Save the World lends itself well to both discussion in a classroom setting and independent reading.
“Twelve-year-old Mya Parsons could save the world and organize her family, if only she had her own cell phone. A Dork Diaries for today’s socially conscious young readers. Mya Parsons runs her school’s social justice club with her best friend, Cleo. Her lifelong desire is to work for the United Nations and change the world, and then bask in all the ensuing adulation. Her more immediate desire is to get a phone, preferably one like Cleo’s, with a leopard-print case to match. When her distracted dad and her long-distance mom (temporarily in Myanmar taking care of Mya’s grandmother) both say no, no way, and possibly never, Mya launches a campaign to prove herself reliable and deserving. She advertises her babysitting services, takes on more responsibility around the house, and attempts to supervise her sister’s skateboarding lessons. Her efforts leave her ego bruised and the kitchen slightly scorched. She’s no closer to touch-screen victory, let alone the Nobel Peace Prize she deserves. But all that changes after an accident leaves Mya to take charge–an experience which helps her realize how much she’s grown, with or without access to proper communications.”
Orange for the Sunsets by Tina Athaide
One of the most amazing things about children’s books is their ability to be a window into a world that a child could not otherwise experience. Orange for Sunsets is set to be a great addition to that list of books. Set in 1972 Uganda, right after the President’s order to deport anyone of Indian descent, this story follows two children as they struggle to maintain their friendship through a political unrest that paints their differing heritage as incompatible.
“From debut author Tina Athaide comes a soaring tale of empathy, hope, and resilience, as two best friends living under Ugandan President Amin’s divisive rule must examine where—and who—they call home.”
Silver Meadows Summer by Emma Otheguy
Silver Meadows Summer is a classic children’s story about struggling to fit in but from the perspective of a Carolina, a Puerto Rican girl whose family has just moved to New York. Carolina struggles to be like other students but everything is so new, and she has fears about losing her culture. Silver Meadows Summer has received positive reviews from many publications including School Library Journal.
Just right for fans of Pam Muñoz Ryan, this story of moving out and moving on is a touching portrayal of the experience of leaving one’s home country and making new friends–sometimes where least expected.
My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi
Zoboi’s debut middle grade novel is scheduled to be published in August, but is already getting a ton of buzz for its representation of Ebony-Grace, a young, ambitious black girl who dreams of space, but struggles to connect her passion to Harlem, where she is staying with her father for a few weeks. Zoboi’s young adult novels have been well-received, and I suspect My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich will be equally as satisfying!
“National Book Award-finalist Ibi Zoboi makes her middle-grade debut with a moving story of a girl finding her place in a world that’s changing at warp speed. Twelve-year-old Ebony-Grace Norfleet has lived with her beloved grandfather Jeremiah in Huntsville, Alabama ever since she was little. As one of the first black engineers to integrate NASA, Jeremiah has nurtured Ebony-Grace’s love for all things outer space and science fiction-especially Star Wars and Star Trek. But in the summer of 1984, when trouble arises with Jeremiah, it’s decided she’ll spend a few weeks with her father in Harlem. Harlem is an exciting and terrifying place for a sheltered girl from Hunstville, and Ebony-Grace’s first instinct is to retreat into her imagination. But soon 126th Street begins to reveal that it has more in common with her beloved sci-fi adventures than she ever thought possible, and by summer’s end, Ebony-Grace discovers that Harlem has a place for a girl whose eyes are always on the stars.”
The Usual Suspects by Maurice Broaddus
Kirkus gave this upcoming novel a coveted starred review, saying it “describes an unjust system too many kids know intimately.” Thelonius and Nehemiah become suspects when a gun is found in their neighborhood park. This novel is sure to shed light on how young black boys can’t engage in silly childhood mischief without being viewed as criminals by society at large.
“Fans of Jason Reynolds and Sharon M. Draper will love this oh-so-honest middle grade novel from writer and educator Maurice Broaddus. Thelonius Mitchell is tired of being labeled. He’s in special ed, separated from the “normal” kids at school who don’t have any “issues.” That’s enough to make all the teachers and students look at him and his friends with a constant side-eye. (Although his disruptive antics and pranks have given him a rep too.) When a gun is found at a neighborhood hangout, Thelonius and his pals become instant suspects. Thelonius may be guilty of pulling crazy stunts at school, but a criminal? T isn’t about to let that label stick.”
For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington
Lockington has chosen the perfect title for her novel. Written in a combination of prose, poetry, and even blog posts, this book tells the story of Makeda, a young black girl adopted by a white family. Like many of the middle school girls who are sure to pick up Lockington’s book off the shelves for the title and cover alone, For Black Girls Like Me is about a girl trying to figure out who she is and what part her race plays in her overall identity.
“I am a girl but most days I feel like a question mark. Makeda June Kirkland is eleven-years-old, adopted, and black. Her parents and big sister are white, and even though she loves her family very much, Makeda often feels left out. When Makeda’s family moves from Maryland to New Mexico, she leaves behind her best friend, Lena- the only other adopted black girl she knows- for a new life. In New Mexico, everything is different. At home, Makeda’s sister is too cool to hang out with her anymore and at school, she can’t seem to find one real friend. Through it all, Makeda can’t help but wonder: What would it feel like to grow up with a family that looks like me? Through singing, dreaming, and writing secret messages back and forth with Lena, Makeda might just carve a small place for herself in the world. In this lyrical coming-of-age story about family, sisterhood, music, race, and identity, Mariama J. Lockington draws on some of the emotional truths from her own experiences growing up with an adoptive white family. For Black Girls Like Me is for anyone who has ever asked themselves: How do you figure out where you are going if you don’t know where you came from?”
Dactyl Hill Squad: Freedom Fire by Daniel Jose Older
Fantasy is a genre notorious for adhering to a white default, but occasionally, a fantasy series comes along that breaks that mold. Dactyl Hill Squad is one of them. Dactyl Hill Squad has gotten starred reviews on both of its installments so far, by cleverly combining dinosaurs with interesting bits of American history.
“Magdalys and the squad are flying south on pteroback. South to rescue her older brother. South to war. The squad links up with the dino-mounted troops of the Louisiana Native Guard, an all-black regiment in the Union Army fighting to free their people. They’re led by General Sheridan, surrounded by enemy forces in Tennessee and desperate for any edge to sway the tide of battle. Magdalys’s burgeoning powers might be the Union’s last hope. But she doesn’t want to abandon the search for her brother. And she might not be the only one with a mysterious connection to dinosaurs. With the Civil War raging around her and the Union on the brink of collapse, how can Magdalys choose between the army that needs her help to survive and the brother she risked everything to save?”
Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai
Pie in the Sky, a book about the Chinese immigrant experience, is a great choice for adding diversity to your reluctant reader’s summer reading list. This novel is written Diary of a Wimpy Kid-style, with lots of illustrations intermixed with the prose.
“A poignant, laugh-out-loud illustrated middle-grade novel about an eleven-year-old boy’s immigration experience, his annoying little brother, and their cake-baking hijinks! “Pie in the Sky is like enjoying a decadent cake . . . heartwarming and rib-tickling.” -Terri Libenson, bestselling author of Invisible Emmie Sometimes life isn’t a piece of cake . . . When Jingwen moves to a new country, he feels like he’s landed on Mars. School is torture, making friends is impossible since he doesn’t speak English, and he’s often stuck looking after his (extremely irritating) little brother, Yanghao. To distract himself from the loneliness, Jingwen daydreams about making all the cakes on the menu of Pie in the Sky, the bakery his father had planned to open before he unexpectedly passed away. The only problem is his mother has laid down one major rule: the brothers are not to use the oven while she’s at work. As Jingwen and Yanghao bake elaborate cakes, they’ll have to cook up elaborate excuses to keep the cake making a secret from Mama. In her hilarious, moving middle-grade debut, Remy Lai delivers a scrumptious combination of vibrant graphic art and pitch-perfect writing that will appeal to fans of Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Real Friends, Kelly Yang’s Front Desk, and Jerry Craft’s New Kid.”