"DEAR WORLD: A Syrian Girl's Story of War and Plea for Peace," by Bana Alabed, Simon & Schuster, 205 pages (nf) (ages 7 and up)
It can be difficult to feel connected to the current refugee statistics we read in the news and harder still to help our children understand the plight of those forced to leave their homes. World Vision reported this year that Syria, still embroiled in civil war, has 6.3 million displaced citizens, with 5.1 million as refugees. Half of those refugees are children. Before she became one of them, 7-year-old Bana Alabed, then a resident of Aleppo, started tweeting out in 2016 descriptions of life in a war zone, from the daily bombings, to trying to go to school with shootings in the streets, to finally fleeing with her family for Turkey following the destruction of their home. In "Dear World," Bana's writing is simple and clear, easy for a child to understand, but moving for readers of any age. Her mother Fatemah's thoughtful and often heartbreaking letters intersperse Bana's narrative, making this an ideal book for parents to read with their children. When Bana writes about how much she loves her favorite pink sparkly Barbie shoes and wishes for a baby sister, the words feel like they could have been written by any 7-year-old. But when this little girl writes that the thing she wishes for most in the world is for "people to stop fighting with bombs and guns in Syria and all over the world," those nameless refugees become a little more personal.
Content advisory: "Dear World" has mild descriptions of violence and addresses difficult subject matters, but in a manner that is suitable for young readers.
— Cristy Meiners
"THE UNEXPECTED LIFE OF OLIVER CROMWELL PITTS: Being an Absolutely Accurate Autobiographical Account of My Follies, Fortune, and Fate," by Avi, Algonquin Young Readers, $16.95, 304 pages (f) (ages 9-12)
The titular 12-year-old narrator of Newbury Medalist Avi's book "The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts" may be small for his age (which lands him in trouble on more than one occasion), but the plucky lad is no stranger to out-sized exploits. The story, set in 1724 England, is a rip-roaring adventure tale with thieves, kidnappings and some truly awful bad guys — and wonderful chapter titles like, "In Which I Introduce Myself after Which I Immediately Plunge into a Desperate Situation." Avi, one of the great writers for young people working today, blends Pitts' fictional story with historical figures of the age, throwing in plenty of juicy details about England's terrible social history along the way. Young readers will be introduced to injustices of the past while still moving quickly through the pages, thanks, in part, to Avi's short, cliff-hanger chapters. This is the first of a two-book series.
Content advisory: While containing some intense moments, "The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts" is suitable for young readers.
— Cristy Meiners
"THE PERFECT SCORE," by Rob Buyea, Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 368 pages (f) (ages 9-12)
School has begun at Lake View Middle School and nothing is going right for the sixth grade. Pearl Woods, a strict (and ancient) substitute teacher, will be filling in for the year, and with the CSA exams coming up, students have more practice tests than they can count. But it turns out for some kids in the grade, there's even more going wrong at home than in the classroom. Gavin has to tend his little sister while his parents are working, so he'll never get to try out for the football team. His best friend, Randi, just can't nail those landings while her mom keeps monitoring her gymnastic practices. And Natalie, a wannabe lawyer, knows right from wrong — or so she thinks — but as teacher's pet, has never made a good friend in school. Trevor acts the part of a bully in the classroom, but at home he's the underdog. And Scott just wants to make everything right, and yet always winds up in a mess. But when the CSA tests come up and the pressure to ace them is on, the kids at Lake View Middle School have a solution where everybody wins. Or so they think. "The Perfect Score" is an engaging coming-to-age story that teaches the importance of honesty, friendship and the value of good hard work.
Content advisory: Some violence in bullying scenes, but never extreme.
— Danielle Christensen
"THE WORLD'S GREATEST ADVENTURE MACHINE," by Frank Cole, Delacorte Books for Young Readers, $16.99, 71 pages (ages 7-9)
When the Castleton Brothers choose four kids to participate in a contest to be the first to ride the rollercoaster named The World's Greatest Adventure Machine, the winners quickly realize the twists and turns at Castlecorp don't exist solely on the ride. Frank Cole writes a suspenseful story with mystery, surprises, secrets, humor and four kids finding out appearances aren't everything and individual difference can make a group stronger. Told in alternating third person point of view between the four children, "The World's Greatest Adventure Machine" is a fun ride for the whole family to share.
Content advisory: "The World's Greatest Adventure Machine" is suitable for all readers.
— Tara Creel
"SWING IT, SUNNY," by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm, Scholastic, 217 pages (f) (ages 9-12)
This charming graphic novel follows the appropriately named Sunny as she learns to navigate middle school and her beloved big brother's behavioral problems in 1976 Pennsylvania. Sunny, readers learn from the first page, is a lover: she loves her grandpa who lives in Florida; her baby brother; her best friend Deb; and especially "The Six Million Dollar Man," her favorite TV show. But her love is rebuffed by her older brother Dale, who has been sent away to military school to work on his behavioral problems. Younger readers will enjoy Matthew Holm's bright, expressive illustrations and Jennifer L. Holm's compassionate understanding of life in middle school and navigating friends and family in those pre-teen years.
Content advisory: "Swing It, Sunny" is suitable for all readers.
— Cristy Meiners