Fall 2016’s Best Children’s and Middle Grade Books: Royal Babies, Refugees, and Reincarnation

Fall 2016’s Best Children’s and Middle Grade Books: Royal Babies, Refugees, and Reincarnation

Tell your kids to clear their schedules, because they’re going to want to spend some serious time reading this season. Readers of all ages will be moved by Francesca Sanna’s illustrated tale of a refugee family on the run, and kids will delight in laughing over the antics of Kate Beaton’s King Baby. Meanwhile, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Seeds of America trilogy is coming to a thrilling close that middle grade readers won’t want to miss, and fan-favorite Raina Telgemeier is delivering a ghostly graphic novel about sisterly love. Grab some apple cider donuts and a cozy blanket, and then settle in at your favorite park for a blissful and book-filled fall with your little reader.

Picture Books

The Journey

Fly away home

A family of refugees flees their war-torn homeland in this gorgeous and important picture book. Readers follow a little girl, her brother, and their mother as they travel by car, boat, train, and on foot in hopes of relocating to a safer place. In a thoughtful moment, the young narrator compares her family to the migrating birds she sees overhead. In her text and illustrations, author and illustrator Francesca Sanna strikes a fine balance between portraying the danger and the hope inherent in this story. The art gives the narrative a fairy tale quality, though adult readers are certain to recognize the real world parallels at play. This is a powerful book that is sure to encourage conversations with young readers about the struggles children living in unsafe environments currently face.

On shelves: September 13

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King Baby

Long may he reign

Kate Beaton delighted us last summer with her debut picture book, The Princess and the Pony, and we’re glad to see she has another royal tale for readers. The King himself narrates this hilarious book, kindly showering his parents subjects with affectionate goos and gaas, while also ensuring they obey his commands. Then a day comes when his two most loyal subjects can’t do as he asks, and he decides to take matters into his own hands and learns to crawl. As time passes, the King decides to abandon his crown in favor of instead becoming a “big boy.” But he fears what his subjects will do without his guidance. Utterly charming and delightful, this book will merit countless readings.

On shelves: September 13

The Princess and the Warrior

Together forever

In this picture book, author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh explores the Mexican legend of the volcanoes Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl. Princess Izta’s beauty is known far and wide, but only the warrior Popoca sees that her heart is just as kind and lovely. He hopes to marry her, but her father, the emperor, is against his daughter marrying a common soldier. The emperor declares that Popoca may marry Izta if Popoca defeats their people’s enemy, Jaguar Claw. Popoca bravely charges into battle, but Jaguar Claw is clever and (sensing defeat) sends a messenger to Izta claiming that Popoca is dead. This book isn’t for readers who require a happily-ever-after ending, but those who appreciate the never-ending love and faith between Izta and Popoca will find a lot to cherish here.

On shelves: September 20

Du Iz Tak?

English-to-insect dictionary not included

If you read this title and said, “What is that?” you’re on the right track, because that’s exactly what the bugs in this story seem to be asking when a tiny green shoot appears from the ground. The insects in question don’t speak English or any language that readers will recognize, and trying to decipher what they’re saying is half the fun of reading this tale. As the little sprout grows, the bugs turn it into a fort (or “furt”) and raise a pirate flag, making it part of their home. Attentive readers will enjoy following the plot through the illustrations and the expressions on the characters’ faces, while others will simply enjoy mimicking the silly language that the little insects speak in.

On shelves: October 18

Radiant Child

Don’t listen to the critics

The best way to encourage little readers with big dreams is to introduce them to a kid just like them who went on to do great things. Javaka Steptoe does exactly that in this creative book that chronicles the childhood of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a renowned artist best known for his 1980s street art. As a kid, Jean-Michel knew he loved art more than anything, and he wasn’t afraid to experiment by coloring outside of the lines and creating unique collages. To him, art didn’t need to have clean lines and sharp angles. Art could be both messy and beautiful at the same time. The book explores Jean-Michel’s early inspirations, and is an ideal gift for artistically inclined children who like to create outside of the box.

On shelves: October 25

The Cat From Hunger Mountain

One man’s trash…

High atop Hunger Mountain lives a cat lord. He demands the finest silks for his clothes, the best grains for his rice, and unwavering dedication from his servants. Even as the kingdom experiences a terrible drought, the cat lord continues to live lavishly and gives nothing to his hungry people. The servants leave one by one, until he’s utterly alone. Without food (or anyone to fetch him food), the cat lord makes his way down the mountain and discovers just how ungrateful he had been for all of the gifts life had given him. Kirkus calls Caldecott medalist Ed Young’s latest book a “visual masterpiece” and we have to agree. Young uses collages of photographs, textured paper, and other materials to create his images, gifting readers with a spread that is both abstract and remarkable.

On shelves: November 15

Middle Grade

Beautiful Blue World

Know your enemy, know yourself

In the fictional land of Sofarende, the never-ending war has made it necessary for children to contribute in whatever ways they can. After taking an aptitude test, 12-year-old Mathilde is taken away from her family and sent to live at Faetre, a boarding school-like environment where children decode messages. But Mathilde isn’t asked to work on codes. Instead, she’s introduced to Rainer, a young prisoner of war. She’s told to form a bond with him, which isn’t hard at all—they’re both far from home, scared, and lonely. The closer she gets to Rainer, the more she begins to question the war around her, especially when she has far more in common than expected with a boy meant to be her enemy. Readers will also be happy to know that Suzanne LaFleur has a sequel planned.

On shelves: September 13

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Ghosts

Hay más tiempo que vida

Adventure-loving Maya doesn’t worry about many things—even her cystic fibrosis, especially since her older sister Cat worries enough for the both of them. When their family moves to Bahía de la Luna, Cat is hopeful that the fresh air will help Maya breath more easily and stay healthy. When the girls learn that their town is haunted by ghosts, Maya is eager to connect with them and learn more about the afterlife. Cat, on the other hand, wants to steer clear—not wanting to confront death and the “what if”s that surround Maya’s worsening condition. As the town’s annual Día de los Muertos celebration draws ever closer, Cat realizes that she may need to put her own fears aside to support Maya. The relationship between the sisters truly shines here, as does Raina Telgemeier’s sensitive and assured handling of complex issues. This is yet another winner from Telgemeier.

On shelves: September 13

The Inquisitor’s Tale

I fart in your general direction

Told in the style of The Canterbury Tales, travelers meet in a French inn on a dark night in 1242 and begin to swap tales of an unlikely group of friends: Jeanne, a Christian peasant with prophetic visions; Gwenforte, Jeanne’s dog who was brought back from the dead; William, a Muslim monk-in-training who is known for his incredible strength; and Jacob, a Jewish boy with the power to heal. Through the travelers’ stories, readers learn that Jeanne, Gwenforte, William, and Jacob banded together after being driven from their villages by people who feared their gifts. After leaving their homes, the four journeyed across the lands and had adventures with knights, a king, and a farting dragon. Adam Gidwitz partners with illustrator Hatem Aly to create an unforgettable novel that is sure to be the talk of the season.

On shelves: September 27

Ashes

The world turned upside down

Laurie Halse Anderson’s Seeds of America trilogy comes to a moving and thought-provoking close this fall. Former slave Isabel guides the narrative once more as she and Curzon travel to Yorktown to rescue her 12-year-old sister Ruth, who is enslaved on a Southern plantation. Isabel and Curzon must evade bounty hunters as they travel further south, having been reported as runaways when they left Valley Forge. Curzon hopes to enlist with the patriots to fight in the war once they’ve rescued Ruth, but Isabel doesn’t believe that the fight for freedom will truly bring liberty to slaves. Her fears double when she learns that self-liberated men and women are being imprisoned and enslaved once more. Longtime readers will be completely satisfied with this final installment, and those who have yet to read this critically acclaimed series should use September to catch up.

On shelves: October 4

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Garvey’s Choice

Raise your voice

Garvey is bullied at school for his size, but his classmates’ taunts don’t bother him as much as his father’s do. Unlike his dad, Garvey has no interest in sports and instead is fascinated by science fiction and astronomy. Struggling with feelings of inadequacy and failure, Garvey binge eats as a way of coping. Things start to turn around when his classmates Joe and Manny convince him to try out for the choir. Garvey can’t catch a pass, but he sure can carry a tune and soon becomes a soloist in the school’s chorus. Through tanka poems, Nikki Grimes explores the pressures society places on young black boys and shows the joy that can be found in embracing yourself and your talents. Starred by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist, this book is not to be missed.

On shelves: October 4

The Dog, Ray

All girls go to heaven

When Daisy dies, the last place she expects to end up is at a job center where souls are rehoused in new bodies. Thanks to a mix-up with her reincarnation, she winds up returning as a puppy with all of her human memories intact. Daisy is quickly adopted, but she’s determined to find her human parents and runs away. On her journey, she meets a 14-year-old homeless boy named Pip who is searching for his father. Pip renames her Ray, and together, they try to find their respective families. As her loyalty to Pip grows and her canine instincts kick in, Daisy starts to forget her past life. For dog lovers, this tale of friendship is a must-read.

On shelves: November 1

Honorable Mention

Picture Books

Pond by Jim LaMarche (September 13)

Hank’s Big Day by Evan Kuhlman and Chuck Groenink (September 13)

Preaching to the Chickens by Jabari Asim, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (October 11)

A Small Thing… but Big by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Hadley Hooper (October 18)

The Bossier Baby by Marla Frazee (November 1)

Middle Grade

Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry by Susan Vaught (September 6)

The Best Man by Richard Peck (September 20)

Chasing at the Surface by Sharon Mentyka (October 4)

When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin (October 4)

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd (October 11)

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