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The Beatryce Prophecy

Kate DiCamillo, illus. by Sophie Blackall (Candlewick)

Set “during a time of war” when “terrible things happen everywhere,” and tenderly illuminated by Blackall’s atmospheric, fine-lined art, DiCamillo’s engrossing, deliberately told medieval fable follows Beatryce, a girl who can read despite her society’s mores, and Answelica, the ferocious goat who protects her.

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Black Boy Joy: 17 Stories Celebrating Black Boyhood

Edited by Kwame Mbalia (Delacorte)

Focusing on Black boys’ happiness, this luminous, genre-bending anthology edited by Mbalia features 17 stories by as many Black male and nonbinary authors, including Jerry Craft, Lamar Giles, and Jason Reynolds. Filtering perennial subjects such as friendship, gender identity, and family through lenses of magic, space travel, superheroes, and more, this is a profoundly exuberant celebration of carefree Black experiences.

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Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Shutdown

Steve Sheinkin (Roaring Brook)

Immediately hooking readers with the account of a hollow coin’s chance finding, Sheinkin’s twisty, tautly paced spy story documents the Cold War period and escalating conflict, extending to the Cuban Missile Crisis. In addition to spies and political machinations, it skillfully describes the science behind the race via a charged narrative that maintains a keen attention to detail.

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Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood

Gary Paulsen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

In a raw and riveting survival story about personal resilience amid trauma, the late Paulsen shares the turbulent early experiences—from life as a boy in 1944 Chicago to his enlistment in the military—that led to his writing career, rendering “the boy” a curious and savvy protagonist who constantly forges ahead in this hopeful third-person memoir.

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How to Become a Planet

Nicole Melleby (Algonquin)

Melleby follows Pluto Jean Timoney, diagnosed with depression and anxiety after being gripped with a desire to “just stop” a month before seventh grade’s end. Uninterested in her traditional summer activities, space-loving Pluto begins a tentative journey navigating her mental health while embarking on a friendship with gender-questioning Fallon in this acutely observed, authentically told tale sprinkled with astronomy metaphors.

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The Insiders

Mark Oshiro (HarperCollins)

Investigating the idea of safe spaces while injecting a contemporary story of middle school cliques with magical realism, Oshiro’s gentle, intersectionally inclusive saga drops 12-year-old Héctor Muñoz, an assured gay theater kid from San Francisco, into a new suburban school, where a janitor’s closet appears whenever he requires a refuge.

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Katie the Catsitter (Katie the Catsitter #1)

Colleen AF Venable, illus. by Stephanie Yue (Random House)

When preteen New Yorker Katie Spera takes a cat-sitting gig, she’s surprised to learn that her neighbor’s 217 cats are both evil and extremely capable, with specialties including computer hacking, lock picking, and talent scouting. Yue’s expressive cartoons and Venable’s text make for a laugh-out-loud funny, well-paced series starter that’s Neko Atsume meets The Tick.

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The Last Cuentista

Donna Barba Higuera (Levine Querido)

Centuries after boarding one of the last ships off-world, an aspiring storyteller discovers that she alone remembers life on Earth and must use her wits and her knowledge of Mexican folklore as protection against a cultlike group. Gripping, euphonious, and full of storytelling magic, Higuera’s suspenseful speculative novel explores how story can awaken empathy, hope, and even resistance.

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Playing the Cards You’re Dealt

Varian Johnson (Scholastic Press)

Via an engaging, “mostly hands-off” omniscient narrator who dynamically breaks down the “great African American institution called spades,” Johnson deftly addresses themes of toxic masculinity, family, and legacy in this vividly told novel centering Black 10-year-old card shark Anthony “Ant” Joplin, who prepares for an annual spades tournament while learning truths about his family and navigating friend dynamics.

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The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book: A Greenglass House Story

Kate Milford, illus. by Nicole Wong (Clarion)

Fifteen stranded individuals alternately spin stories during a storm in this deliciously folkloric, carefully plotted compilation that has roots in Milford’s Greenglass House. The tales, which focus on “peddlers, tricksters, gamblers, and lovers,” coalesce to form an elegant feat of telescopic storytelling that serves as both map and key to a dazzling and immersive mystery.

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Samira Surfs

Rukhsanna Guidroz, illus. by Fahmida Azim (Kokila)

In 2012, Samira, an 11-year-old Rohingya refugee living in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, steers clear of the water following the boat trip from Burma that took her grandparents. But when she sees a group of Bengali surfer girls, she finds that surfing offers a secret pleasure and a sisterhood. With immersive illustrations by Azim, Guidroz’s riveting novel-in-verse employs sensory diction and spare poetic touches in a richly told story.

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Sisters of the Neversea

Cynthia Leitich Smith (Heartdrum)

Centering a mixed Creek and British family, Smith’s smart Peter Pan reboot follows 12-year-old stepsisters Lily and Wendy, whose family is on the brink of separation when Peter Pan enters, looking for his shadow and enticing Wendy and her young brother Michael to fly to Neverland. Lily shortly follows, soon learning Peter isn’t what he seems in this sharp, contemporary retelling starring Indigenous kids.

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Starfish

Lisa Fipps (Penguin/Paulsen)

To avoid the bullying she’s long endured, 11-year-old Ellie lives by the unspoken Fat Girl Rules—the rules one learns “when you break them—/ and suffer/ the consequences.” Finding solace in her pool, and growing support from new friends, her father, and a therapist, aspiring poet Ellie discovers her voice in Fipps’s triumphant verse novel centering self-acceptance and self-advocacy.

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Stuntboy, in the Meantime

Jason Reynolds, illus. by Raúl the Third (Atheneum/Dlouhy)

In a lively apartment community, Portico Reeves navigates the stress of his ever-fighting parents and his own “frets”; as secret alter ego Stuntboy, he watches over the building’s larger-than-life characters, keeping “other superheroes safe, so they can save the world!” Vibrant, comic book–style art and running gags balance serious moments in this engaging, high-energy collaboration by Reynolds and Raúl the Third.

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Too Bright to See

Kyle Lukoff (Dial)

In this gently paced debut, 11-year-old Bug’s beloved uncle Roderick has just died, and his family’s house, always haunted, has gained a new ghost—one intent on sending Bug a message. Lukoff makes thought-provoking use of the ghost story framework to reflect Bug’s experiences as a trans boy, using creepy horror elements to portray dysphoria and societally enforced femininity.

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Too Small Tola

Atinuke, illus. by Onyinye Iwu (Candlewick)

In this trio of stories, Atinuke and Iwu introduce counting whiz Tola, who lives with her siblings and industrious grandmother while their father works abroad. Invoking all senses to render contemporary Nigeria and consistently affirming the value of community care, the creators celebrate the beauty of daily life through Tola’s joy, wonder, and perseverance.

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