The Kids Are All Right

Middle Grade Books About the Immigrant & Refugee Experience

Hey Kid Lit fans!

Due to a glitch in our newsletter mailing, the newsletter that went out on July 16th was actually supposed to be the newsletter for July 30th! That’s what I get for writing newsletters early so I can go on vacation without having to do work.

Anyway, if you were confused why the subject of that newsletter was middle grade books about the immigrant and refugee experience, it was because that newsletter was supposed have the subject, “Children’s Book Authors Give TED Talks.” The original information for the immigrant and refugee experience books are here, as well as the books that released on July 17th and 18th. I have included the books that release on August 1st as well, just so we can all be up to date.

There has been so much talk this past year about immigration and refugees, and not surprisingly there are many children’s books that shine a light on the immigrant experience. I wrote a post on Book Riot last year with picture book and middle grade recommendations, but there have been some new middle grade books that have come into my radar that I wanted to share today.

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For fans of the award-winning SECRET AGENT JACK STALWART comes a new chapter book series! Jack teams up with his older brother, Max, to solve international mysteries, using their special training as secret agents.

In THE BATTLE FOR THE EMERALD BUDDHA, Jack is temporarily retired from the Global Protection Force and on family vacation. However, Jack and Max are motivated to act when a band of thieves takes the Emerald Buddha from the Grand Palace in Bangkok. On their own, up against one of the smartest and wealthiest villains they’ve ever faced, can the brothers find Thailand’s treasure in time?

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar is based on the author’s own experience as Cuban-Jewish immigrant growing up in New York City. In the story, Ruthie Mizrahi and her family moves from Castro-ruled Cuba and starts a new life only to find that life in America is not quite what they expected. When her father comes home with his dream car and they go for a drive, a horrific crash ends with Ruthie in a full body cast and restricted to her bed for a long recovery. Along the way, Ruthie turns to art and the kindness of neighbors and watching the seasons change outside her window. This was a beautiful read, and I appreciated a story from a Cuban immigrant’s perspective.

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan is one of the first titles to be released by Salaam Reads, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. Salaam Reads was founded in 2016 and aims to introduce readers of all faiths and backgrounds to a wide variety of Muslim children and families and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves reflected positively in published works. In this book, Pakistani-American Muslim girl Amina struggles with the changes she finds in middle school. Her best friend Soojin suddenly starts hanging out with the “cool” girls and starts talking about changing her name to something more “American”. Meanwhile, Amina’s uncle comes for a visit, which throws the family into a flurry of preparation and a new self-consciousness about their life in America. I loved this story (and isn’t that cover fantastic?).

In Refugee, Alan Gratz (July 25, Scholastic Press) tells the story of three kids from different generations. Here is the description from Goodreads: “JOSEF is a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world . . . ISABEL is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and unrest plaguing her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety in America . . . MAHMOUD is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe . . . All three kids go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. All will face unimaginable dangers — from drownings to bombings to betrayals. But there is always the hope of tomorrow. And although Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, their stories will tie together in the end.”

Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly is a book that I related to as a daughter of immigrants myself. Here’s the description: “Apple has always felt a little different from her classmates. She and her mother moved to Louisiana from the Philippines when she was little, and her mother still cooks Filipino foods, makes mistakes with her English, and chastises Apple for becoming “too American.” It becomes unbearable in middle school, when the boys—the stupid, stupid boys—in Apple’s class put her name on the Dog Log, the list of the most unpopular girls in school. When Apple’s friends turn on her and everything about her life starts to seem weird and embarrassing, Apple turns to music. If she can just save enough to buy a guitar and learn to play, maybe she can change herself. It might be the music that saves her . . . or it might be her two new friends, who show how special she really is.”

One Good Thing About America, by former ELL teacher Ruth Freeman, is filled with letters written by Anais, a Congolese immigrant, to her grandmother Oma. When Anais struggles with adapting to American culture, Oma encourages her to write “one good thing about America” every day. Along the way, Anais records stories from her life living in the shelter with her mother and brother as well as the ELL classroom she goes to everyday.


New Releases for July 17 & 18!
There are a couple of new picture book releases I’m excited about this week. The first is Marti’s Song for Freedom/Martí’s y sus versos por la libertad by Emma Otheguy, Adriana Dominguez, and Beatriz Vidal (July 17, Lee and Low Books). Here is the description: “A bilingual biography of José Martí, who dedicated his life to the promotion of liberty, the abolishment of slavery, political independence for Cuba, and intellectual freedom. Written in verse with excerpts from Martí’s seminal work, Versos sencillos.”

The Scariest Book Ever by Bob Shea (July 18, Disney-Hyperion) is one of those books that are somewhat interactive, which always seems to be a hit among kids. Here is the description: “Reader beware! This is the scariest book ever! Or so claims its melodramatic ghost narrator. You can go ahead and turn the page, but don’t expect him to come with you. Anything might pop out of that black hole in the middle of the forest. What do you mean it’s just a bunny? Well, it’s probably a bunny with big fangs. Watch out, it’s–picking pumpkins with its friends, you say? Actually, despite the ghost’s scare-mongering, none of the animal characters in the illustrations seem scary at all. . . . What’s up with that? Many delights, such as surprises after the page turn, an alarmist narrator, and punch lines to anticipate make this book a scream for both kids and parents.”

For middle grade readers, there are a few great titles coming out this week. The Next Best Junior Chef: Lights, Camera, Cook! by Cherise Meride Harper, illustrated by Aurélie Blard-Quintard. This is such a fun read, and the layout is very inviting to reluctant readers and readers who also love graphic novels. “It’s “lights, camera, cook!” for four tween contestants—energetic Tate, charming Rae, worldly Caroline, and hyper-competitive Oliver—who are all about to enter a televised cooking competition. What will the kids cook up? How will they all get along on- and off-camera? Which junior chef will have the grit—and maybe the grits—to make it through each challenge? And which junior chef will have to hang their apron up for good?”

What Goes Up by Katie Kennedy (July 18, Bloomsbury) is a fun, action-packed book that will appeal to fans of the Moon Base Alpha series by Stuart Gibbs. “Rosa and Eddie are among hundreds of teens applying to NASA’s mysterious Interworlds Agency. They’re not exactly sure what the top-secret program entails, but they know they want in. Rosa has her brilliant parents’ legacies to live up to, and Eddie has nowhere else to go–he’s certainly not going to stick around and wait for his violent father to get out of jail. Even if they are selected, they have no idea what lies in store. But first they have to make it through round after round of crazy-competitive testing.”

And finally, When Friendship Followed Me Home by Paul Griffin (July 18, Puffin Books) comes out in paperback this week! I loved this book, and I cannot wait to read Paul’s new book, Saving Marty (September 19, Dial Books). Here’s the description for When Friendship Followed Me Home: “Ben Coffin has never been one for making friends. As a former foster kid, he knows people can up and leave without so much as a goodbye. Ben prefers to spend his time with the characters in his favorite sci-fi books…until he rescues an abandoned mutt from the alley next-door to the Coney Island Library. Scruffy little Flip leads Ben to befriend a fellow book-lover named Halley—yes, like the comet—a girl unlike anyone he has ever met. Ben begins thinking of her as “Rainbow Girl” because of her crazy-colored clothes and her laugh, pure magic, the kind that makes you smile away the stormiest day. Rainbow Girl convinces Ben to write a novel with her.  But as their story unfolds Ben’s life begins to unravel, and Ben must discover for himself the truth about friendship and the meaning of home.”

New Releases for August 1!
Please note that all descriptions come from Goodreads.

Picture Books

This Beautiful Day by Richard Jackson, illustrated by Suzy Lee (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dloughy Books)
“Why spend a rainy day inside? As three children embrace a grey day, they seems to beckon the bright as they jump, splash, and dance outside, chasing the rain away. The day’s palette shifts from greys to a hint of blue, then more blue. Then green! Then yellow! Until the day is a technicolor extravaganza that would make Mary Poppins proud. A joyous homage to the power of a positive attitude.”

Boo Who? by Ben Clanton (Candlewick Press)
Okay, I just need to say that I loved this book! It’s absolutely adorable. Here is the description: “Boo is new. And even if the other kids are welcoming, it can be scary being new, especially for a shy ghost who can t play any of their games. (“You tagged me? Oh, sorry. I couldn t feel it.”) Can Boo find a way to fit in and make friends with the rest of the group? From the creator of Rex Wrecks It! comes a funny story about feeling invisible and finding a way to be seen and appreciated for who you are.”

Applesauce Day by Lisa Amstutz (Albert Whitman & Company)
“Maria and her family visit an apple orchard and pick apples. Then it’s time to turn the apples into applesauce! Every year they use the special pot that has been in the family for generations to make applesauce. First they wash the apples. Then Grandma cuts them into quarters. Follow each step in the process as everyone helps to make delicious applesauce!”

Pattan’s Pumpkin: An Indian Flood Story by Chitra Sounder, illustrated by Frane Lessac (Candlewick Press)
“When Pattan finds a yellow-flower vine wilting in his valley, he replants and cares for it, watching as a pumpkin appears and grows taller than the goats, taller than the elephants, as tall as the very mountains. When a terrible storm rages across the valley, Pattan wonders if perhaps his pumpkin can save the seeds and grains and saplings, the goats and birds and bison, and protect them all as the storm clouds burst and the waters rise. Frane Lessac’s brilliantly hued artwork is a feast for the eyes, while Chitra Soundar’s thoughtful retelling is a fascinating example of the kinds of stories told the world over — and the differences that make each version unique.”

Middle Grade Books

Zinnia and the Bees by Danielle Davis (Capstone Young Readers)
“While Zinnia’s classmates are celebrating the last day of seventh grade, she’s in the vice principal’s office, serving detention. Her offense? Harmlessly yarn-bombing a statue of the school mascot. When Zinnia rushes home to commiserate with her older brother and best friend, Adam, she’s devastated to discover that he’s gone ― with no explanation. Zinnia’s day surely can’t get any worse . . . until a colony of honeybees inhabits her hive-like hair!”

Room of Shadows by Ronald Kidd (Albert Whitman & Company)
“Ever since his dad left, David Cray has had anger issues. So after he beats up school bully Jake Bragg, his mom grounds him in their creepy new house. Bored, David discovers a secret room with an old-fashioned desk, a chest, and a carving of a raven. Suddenly he’s having strange dreams about the room and the house, and violence seems to follow him wherever he goes. Who is the Raven who is taking responsibility for these violent pranks? And why do the pranks resemble Poe’s stories?”

Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies by Jonathan Rosen (Sky Pony Press)
“Twelve-year-old Devin Dexter has a problem. Well, actually, many of them. His cousin, Tommy, sees conspiracies around every corner. And Tommy thinks Devin’s new neighbor, Herb, is a warlock—but nobody believes him. Even Devin’s skeptical. But soon strange things start happening. Things like the hot new Christmas toy, the Cuddle Bunny, coming to life. That would be great because, after all, who doesn’t love a cute bunny? But these aren’t the kind of bunnies you can snuggle with. These bunnies are dangerous. Devin and Tommy set out to prove Herb is a warlock and to stop the mob of bunnies, but will they have enough time before the whole town of Gravesend is overrun by the cutest little monsters ever?”

The Loser’s Club by Andrew Clements (Random House Books for Young Readers)
“Sixth grader Alec can’t put a good book down. So when Principal Vance lays down the law–pay attention in class, or else–Alec takes action. He can’t lose all his reading time, so he starts a club. A club he intends to be the only member of. After all, reading isn’t a team sport, and no one would want to join something called the Losers Club, right? But as more and more kids find their way to Alec’s club–including his ex-friend turned bully and the girl Alec is maybe starting to like–Alec notices something. Real life might be messier than his favorite books, but it’s just as interesting.”

The Danger Gang by Stephen Bramucci (Bloomsbury)
“Ronald Zupan is a daring master adventurer! But he actually hasn’t experienced any grand adventures . . . YET! When his world-traveling parents are kidnapped on his twelfth birthday, Ronald seizes the chance to prove himself with a dazzling, danger-defying rescue operation. Teaming up with his trusty butler Jeeves, his quick-witted fencing nemesis Julianne Sato, and his pet cobra Carter, Ronald sets course for the jungle of Borneo where his parents were last sighted. If they can crash-land a plane and outrun a hungry snow leopard, surely they can find the secret lair of Zeetan Z, the world’s most ruthless pirate! But as their adventure becomes more and more dangerous, can Ronald and his companions muster enough courage to see this adventure through?”


Right now I’m reading The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh (9/19, Little, Brown), and Secret Coders: Robots and Repeats by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes (10/3, First Second). What children’s books are you reading and enjoying this week? Find me on social media and let me know! I’m on Twitter at @KarinaYanGlaser, on Instagram at @KarinaIsReadingAndWriting, or send me an email at Have a great week!

Until next time,

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