JUNIOR EDITION: New Fiction for Younger Readers searches out the best of recent releases for K through 12. Celia also enjoys finding great options for teens among new novels published for adults. We hope Celia's terrific choices get kids excited about reading, and help create the next generation of readers and writers!
Mama’s Work Shoes
By Caron Levis and Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Published by Abrams Books for Younger Readers
The shoes have the floor!
This is the story of two pairs of feet that do everything together. One set belongs to Perry, whose young, pretty Mama is the most important person in her whole world. Mama’s are the others, and her most important person is Perry. In the park, they match in sneakers. In rain and snow, boots do the trick. Fuzzy slippers are for story time, and bare feet go with beach and bubble baths.
Mama’s Work Shoes doesn’t opt for the straight-and-narrow, though. It’s a lovable, perceptive rumination on the meaning and merits of change. Because Perry associates a series of different, comfortingly familiar sounds with mama-size footwear (colorfully illustrated here), a new “click-clack, click-clack” from a pair of shiny high heels doesn’t bring her up short until she contrasts them with her own red canvas lace-ups. And their audacity! The pumps part ways with the sneakers at Nan’s house, and take Mama off to work for the first time in Perry’s life. Nan trots out appealing activities to ease Perry’s loneliness, but it’s Mama who arrives at a solution that speaks the language of shoes, and it’s a delight.
Rat Rule #79
By Rivka Galchen, illustrated by Elena Megalos
Published by Restless Books/Simon and Schuster
Rat Rule #79, the kids’ fiction debut by New Yorker “20 Under 40” author Rivka Galchen, will have you at Chapter o. Her adventure story is a merry mind-maze featuring a girl named Fred, her fantastical travels in a world reached through a giant paper lantern, and a pun-loving parade of animals variously supportive or exceedingly unfriendly. She’s on what could be construed as a rescue mission to find her mother, were she not so miffed at her, and puzzled as to her apparently taking the glowing orb suddenly parked on their nighttime lawn for granted.
Well, yeah. Fred’s expectations for her 13th birthday the next day share a number with that first chapter. No cake, no friends, no presents, no nothing in yet another new town that her flighty math-teacher mom will briefly insist on calling home. Fred 100% blames her for the fiasco. But follow she does. When Fred ditches her nascent teenage nihilism to enter the luminous unknown, Galchen really turns up the wordplay, bunking her for starters with a pachyderm in a dungeon, an elephant in a room that requires an escape plan. In the Land of the Impossible, where a vicious Rat Queen rules, Galchen is just as nimble with math. No matter what number shows up—a doubly Dark Wood, a nine-dot puzzle, a dozen Arctic hares—it’s usually a version of Catch 22.
But Fred is nobody’s fool except the tricky dreamscape’s. As her quest gathers steam and quirky companionship, from a Know It Owl to a Know-Nothing Badger, a dog named Dogma and the pivotal Dear Hart, she also acquires a sense of direction. Outfitted with the birthday presents of a moral compass and trusted friendship, she’s ready to chart her own way.2 .
By Jimmy Cajoleas
Published by Amulet Books/Abrams
Age 14 and up
For years before Jimmy Cajoleas rolled up on the University of Mississippi to get a creative writing MFA, he toured in the alt rock group Colour Revolt. Maybe he passed through towns like Benign, the spectral map dot his Minor Prophets tucks up into Louisiana’s half-wild, thinly populated northwest corner. It’s perfectly situated at the intersection of hopped-up horror and Southern Gothic.
To Lee Sanford, an agonized loner beset by visions since childhood, and Murphy, his devil-may-care sister, it’s always been the place his mother ran away from. But her sudden death and a menacing stepfather have them pointing a stolen Trans Am as best they can figure in the direction of The Farm, the ancestral property thereabouts that their estranged grandmother still runs. It promises safety. It keeps going back on its word. Cajoleas surveys the seemingly endless estate for the wrong turns of history, for harvests sprung from bad seeds, for utopian dreams buzz-sawed into nightmarish tyranny. Playing the heavy, the 1960s shift a hippie commune into a pernicious cult.
Its story a tangle of overstepped lines—from pious to power-hungry, protective to violent, well-meaning to corrupt, mystical to occult—Minor Prophets is scary stuff. It’s also frightening for another reason. Set on a plantation in all but name, its fictional geography close by Louisiana’s very real “Bloody Caddo” County, where for decades some of this nation’s worst atrocities against African-Americans took place, it lacks even a single black character.
Dear Haiti, Love Alaine
By Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite
Published by Ink Yard Press
Age 16 and up
What was Alaine Beauparlant thinking?
Or at least not according to how a Haitian-American 17-year-old, Ivy League-bound-as-all-get-out, is supposed to. In the lusciously layered Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, she turns a mocking mirror on her socially prominent Miami milieu by dubbing her behavior The Incident. Let’s just say it’s one of the funniest, smartest, intellectually acute and self-sabotaging performances ever let loose on St. Catherine de’ Ricci Academy, the highly proper, academically snooty girls school that promptly suspends her for two months. Not that she hasn’t been longing for a trip to Haiti, but she hadn’t planned on it as banishment, or her work for her Tati Estelle’s NGO as mandated from on high.
Luckily, St. Catherine doesn’t know about the cute intern waiting on the other end, and wouldn’t know what to do with Alaine’s deep dive into Haiti’s past and present once she gets there. A debut novel by sisters Maika and Maritza Moulite, Dear Haiti wraps endearing irreverence around a lot of heart. The writer Alaine wants to become is fully conveyed, ideally a combination of her mother, a famous TV journalist mostly off on far-flung crusades, and her psychiatrist father, burdened with a family secret that Alaine will be forced to share.
From the perspective of the budding writer the Moulites create, there’s more to Haiti than Alaine ever imagined, its politics more complex, its history more capacious, its ties to the supernatural more real, its suffering and sacrifices far greater, and its everyday more filled with beauty. Both the allure and terror hold personal implications, Alaine’s studious research veering into dicey adventure as she susses out the bygone fates of women born into her family. She has ideas about their lost chances for changing the world. Instead, it’s up to her.4 .