It’s summertime, and the reading is easy, with a fizzy mix of novels and nonfiction, both graphic and prose, on offer. Here’s a selection to take middle graders from June into August.
Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac (Dial Books, June 8): Opening as the Covid-19 epidemic locks down the United States, the Abenaki author’s latest novel finds Malian’s short winter visit with her grandparents on the Penacook reservation extended through spring. As she contends with online learning and missing her parents, a stray dog and her grandparents’ stories offer her comfort and deepen her sense of her Native identity.
The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor (Kokila, June 15): A Chinese American girl in a 19th-century Sierra Nevada logging camp spins tall tales in this richly textured graphic novel. Drawing upon legends like Paul Bunyan, Mei tells stories that bring comfort and hope to workers braving hazardous conditions, exploitative bosses, and xenophobic sentiments. Her crush on another girl adds sweetness to this resonant story.
Can You Hear a Penguin Fart on Mars? And Other Excellent Questions by Jim Benton (HarperAlley, June 29): The first in the Jop and Blip Wanna Know graphic nonfiction series, this humorous title gives young readers two robot guides to help them learn the answers to some of life’s big questions. With exquisite gravity they examine the matter, revealing lots of cool facts along the way and always respecting the principle that “everything is worth knowing!”
Bad Sister by Charise Mericle Harper, illustrated by Rory Lucey (First Second, July 13): This memoir offers an honest—and ultimately hopeful—look at sibling conflict and family dynamics. From rough play that leads to physical and emotional wounds to parental behavior that exacerbates a tenuous and ambivalent relationship, the graphic format is an ideal way to express the emotional intensity of these episodes from the popular author’s childhood.
Ocean’s Revenge by Gavin Aung Than (Random House, July 20): After their adventures in No Adults Allowed (2020), the Super Sidekicks are back and ready to save the world. When humanity is threatened by an angry Mother of Seas, Junior Justice, Flygirl, Dinomite, and Goo realize that the key to keeping land-dwellers safe is preserving the oceans first.
Fangs for Having Us by Nancy Krulik and illustrated by Harry Briggs (Aladdin, July 20): What Ms. Frizzle did for science and technology in the Magic School Bus books, Ms. Frogbottom is doing for geography in this new chapter-book series. A bat sighting at science camp leads the students of Class 4A to Transylvania and Dracula’s castle via their teacher’s magic map. And then Ms. Frogbottom disappears….
Black Boy Joy: 17 Stories Celebrating Black Boyhood edited by Kwame Mbalia (Delacorte, Aug. 3): A group of noted Black men and nonbinary people came together to create this multigenre, multiformat collection. From Jason Reynolds to Lamar Giles, Jerry Craft to Varian Johnson—and many more—these talented creators lend their voices to comics, poetry, and short stories that entertain and uplift Black boys and those who love them.
Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares by Tehlor Kay Mejia (Rick Riordan Presents/Disney, Aug. 3): This sequel reunites readers with a science-minded Mexican American girl who is plunged into a world of folklore and magic. After wrestling with (surely mythical?) La Llorona in Paola Santiago and the River of Tears (2020), Pao is back, and so are the supernatural threats. Luckily she’s got her chupacabra puppy by her side.
Laura Simeon and Vicky Smith are the young readers’ editors.