Spring 2018’s Best Children’s and Middle Grade Books

Spring 2018’s Best Children’s and Middle Grade Books

The sun is shining, gardens are blooming, and we are celebrating because spring is finally here. This season brings April showers, May flowers, and a new crop of must-read children’s books. Picture book fans will want to get their hands on Junot Díaz’s first children’s book and Jillian Tamaki’s gorgeous ode to colors. Middle grade readers cannot miss Jewell Parker Rhodes’ heartbreaking exploration of racism in America or the first book in Katherine Applegate’s new adventure series. So pack a picnic basket and scope out the best spot in the park. You’ve got a lot of reading to do.

Picture Books

Islandborn

In his letter to the readers of Islandborn, Junot Díaz writes that “children’s books are our first passports into the world.” If this is true, we can think of no better trip for young readers this spring than a visit to Lola’s neighborhood. Lola’s classmates are ecstatic when their teacher asks them to draw the countries they immigrated from. They all seem to have memories of their first homes, while Lola has none. Lola was born on the Island, but she moved to America with her family as a baby. At first, Lola is heartbroken by her lack of memories, but as she hears stories of the Island from her friends, neighbors, and family, she realizes that the Island is a part of who she is. She’s connected to it wherever she goes. Díaz’ heartwarming story is paired with vibrant artwork from Leo Espinosa, resulting in an empowering celebration of identity, community, and home.

On shelves: March 13

They Say Blue

Jillian Tamaki brings her considerable talents to the world of picture books in this captivating tale about a young girl’s contemplation of the colors that surround her. The narrator observes the dark eyes of a crow, the lilac of a budding flower, and the way water is blue in the sea and clear in her hands. A particularly stunning spread exploring both orange and red lets the girl’s imagination soar as she considers colors that don’t need to be seen to be known—the golden yolk of an egg, the deep red in her veins. Little readers will close this book and immediately want to catalogue the colors in their own lives, while older readers who have loved Tamaki’s other works (SuperMutant Magic Academy, This One Summer) will enjoy taking in the gorgeous imagery.

On shelves: March 13

The Funeral

This picture book from Matt James explores the funeral of a distant relative through the eyes of a young girl. Norma can tell from the tissues in her mom’s purse (a million, she swears) that funerals are a sad affair. But she can’t help her excitement over skipping school and getting to see her favorite cousin, Ray. Norma and Ray are silent during the church service, and after they head outside and practice cartwheels in the grass. The text contains gentle prodding questions from both children about Frank, the great-uncle who passed: Was he old? Is he still a person? James’ book perfectly captures a child seeking understanding about death, but also taking time to celebrate life.

On shelves: April 3

Hello Lighthouse

Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall transports readers to an isolated lighthouse on a tiny island. A new keeper arrives and quickly begins turning the place into a home, knowing that his wife will soon be joining him. His days are packed with different responsibilities: Sometimes he is simply keeping a log of his duties, and other days he must rescue shipwrecked sailors. On one very special day, he logs the birth of his first child. Watercolor and ink illustrations pair perfectly with the setting. This is the ideal book for those fascinated by all aspects of life by the sea, and adults should prepare for young readers to demand a trip to the nearest lighthouse after turning the final page.

On shelves: April 10

Fur, Feather, Fin-All of Us Are Kin

Aspiring zoologists, this one is for you! Author Diane Lang and illustrator Stephanie Laberis take readers on a thrilling tour of the animal kingdom. From snowy owls to tadpoles, from humpback whales to humans, this book celebrates both what makes different animals unique and what they have in common. The text is written in rhyming verse and filled with facts that will spark a desire to learn even more about the fascinating creatures featured here. Readers are sure to demand repeat readings so they can revisit the colorful designs of their favorite animals.

On shelves: May 1

Ocean Meets Sky

Brothers Terry and Eric Fan, who readers will remember from the stunning The Night Gardener, return with an incredible tale of a boy searching for the place where the oceans meets the sky. Finn used to spend hours listening to his grandfather tells stories about the magical place where the ocean and sky meet. On what would have been his grandfather’s 90th birthday, Finn decides to build a boat and set sail. Exhausted from building, he falls asleep and dreams of a giant golden fish, bookish birds, moon jellies, and his grandfather. Give this book to imaginative readers who long for fantastical adventures.

On shelves: May 15

Middle Grade

The Night Diary

A month after her twelfth birthday, Nisha’s country is split in two. The year is 1947 and her homeland, newly free of British rule, is divided into Pakistan and India. The separation creates growing tension between Hindus and Muslims, and it leaves Nisha, whose father is Hindu and whose late mother was Muslim, unsure of where she fits in. When conflicts begin to arise near home, Nisha’s father decides they must leave Pakistan and move to India. It’s a dangerous journey, and many other refugees have been killed for trying to cross the border. Unable to emotionally connect with her father, Nisha begins writing letters to her mother, who died when she was young, and along the way she begins to find the answers she’s looking for. Veera Hiranandani’s middle grade novel portrays a moving coming-of-age story while educating readers about the history of India and Pakistan.

On shelves: March 6

Hurricane Child

Twelve-year-old Caroline Murphy believes she is cursed. It’s a rumor on Water Island that any child born during a storm is, and Caroline (who was born during a hurricane) believes that the curse explains why her mother left her a year ago, why she’s bullied, and why she sees a spirit that no one else can see. But Caroline’s luck begins to change when Kalinda, a girl from Barbados, joins her class. The two become fast friends, and soon Kalinda agrees to help Caroline search for her mother. As the two grow closer, Caroline realizes that she’s developing a crush on Kalinda. She begins to wonder how to make sense of her growing feelings when her Catholic education has taught her they must be wrong. Kheryn Callender’s novel is a stunning portrait of a young girl growing up and yearning to understand herself and the world around her.

On shelves: March 27

The Island at the End of Everything

Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s novel introduces readers to Amihan, a 12-year-old girl living on Culion Island in 1906. The island serves as a leper colony, and though Ami’s mother has leprosy, Ami does not. Her entire world is ripped apart when a government official named Mr. Zamora arrives and reveals his plans to quarantine the island and relocate everyone who doesn’t have leprosy. Ami is moved to an orphanage on another island, and it’s there that she meets Mariposa. Together, the girls hatch a plan to escape and return to their home. Hargrave doesn’t shy away from showing the horrific prejudices and stigmas that those with Hansen’s disease face, though it’s balanced by Ami’s compassion and loving heart. Inspired by the real history of Culion Island, this is a heartbreaking and powerful tale that readers won’t soon forget.

On shelves: April 10

Ghost Boys

Jewell Parker Rhodes’ latest book explores the intersection of modern and historical racism. Twelve-year-old Jerome is playing in the park when a police officer mistakes his toy gun for a real one. The officer shoots and kills Jerome, who then roams his old neighborhood as a ghost, witnessing the effect his death has on the community. Jerome realizes that he’s just one of many ghost boys who were victims of prejudiced violence, including Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin. This is an emotional read, but a relevant and painfully necessary one about confronting police brutality, racism, and injustice.

On shelves: April 17

The Last

Readers seeking a thrilling adventure this spring won’t want to miss the first book in Katherine Applegate’s new Endling series. The story takes place in Nedarra, a kingdom plagued by war. Byx is a dairne, a doglike creature with opposable thumbs and the ability to walk on two legs. Her pack members are the latest casualties of the fighting, and when she realizes that she is the lone survivor, Byx fears that she may be the last of her kind in Nedarra. She sets off on a journey to find shelter, along the way partnering with Tobble, a wobbyk, and Khara, a 14-year-old human. Applegate’s novel tackles topics such as genocide and environmental conservation, offering readers the opportunity to explore these complex themes while rooting for brave and bold protagonists.

On shelves: May 1

The Penderwicks at Last

In this fifth and final installment, Jeanne Birdsall takes the Penderwick family back to the place where their adventures first began: Arundel. There’s a wedding on the horizon and the entire family is buzzing with excitement, especially eleven-year-old Lydia, who is visiting Arundel for the very first time. Lydia narrates, sharing her summer adventures with readers: making friends, dancing, playing with dogs, and being surrounded by sisterly love. Readers who have grown up alongside the Penderwicks will cherish this satisfying finale, and find comfort in their ability to revisit this family over and over again.

On shelves: May 15

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