The books recommended below were published within the last several years. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.
Suggested grade level for all entries: K-3
The Great Migration: Journey to the North written by Eloise Greenfield; illus. by Jan Spivey Gilchrist (HarperCollins/Amistad)
Poignant poems (accompanied by collage illustrations of cut paper, ephemera, paint, and photographs) relate the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the cities of the North. 32 pages.
Never Forgotten written by Patricia C. McKissack; illus. by Leo and Diane Dillon (Random/Schwartz & Wade)
The four Mother Elements travel from 1725 Mali to South Carolina, where missing boy Mustafa has been enslaved. The rousing illustrations—bold, complex, and lucid—impart dramatic conviction. 48 pages.
Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku written by Lee Wardlaw; illus. by Eugene Yelchin (Holt)
In a series of haiku (technically “senryu”), a cat narrates the story of his adoption from a shelter and his new life. Graphite and gouache pictures match the poems’ sensitivity and humor. 40 pages.
Suggested grade level for all entries: 7 and up
All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg (Scholastic)
Vietnamese American Matt feels responsible for horrific injuries his little brother sustained in Vietnam during the war. Powerful images adeptly capture his painful memories. Grade level: 4-6. 219 pages.
Planet Middle School by Nikki Grimes (Bloomsbury)
Twelve-year-old Joy is self-conscious about being considered a tomboy in middle school. Breezy prose poems explore changing relationships and individuality versus gender-role conformity. Grade level: 4-6. 155 pages.
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai (HarperCollins/Harper)
Lai recounts events resembling her own family’s 1975 flight from Saigon. Vividly imagined verse captures the disorientation of changing cultures and a refugee’s complex emotions and loyalties. Grade level: 4-6. 263 pages.
Pearl Verses the World written by Sally Murphy; illus. by Heather Potter (Candlewick)
In this extended free-verse monologue, Pearl tells of her grandmother’s last days. An unpretentious voice accords Pearl dignity in her grief. Personality-rich drawings support the gentle tone. Grade level: 4-6. 73 pages.
Eddie’s War by Carol Fisher Saller (Namelos)
Beginning in 1934, brothers Eddie and Tom develop friendships, discover family secrets, and ponder the European conflict and their own community’s prejudice. Beautifully phrased vignettes create an authentic window into the past. Grade level: 4-6. 194 pages.
May B. by Caroline Starr Rose (Random/Schwartz & Wade)
On a Kansas prairie homestead, May is snowed in, unable to send for help. A close-up lens and a fine sense of rhythm relate the tense plot of dwindling supplies, lurking wolves, and claustrophobia. Grade level: 3-6. 240 pages.
Black Jack: The Ballad of Jack Johnson by Charles R. Smith, Jr.; illus. by Shane W. Evans (Roaring Brook/Porter)
This heavyweight’s quest to be champion was hampered by white title-holders; his persistence was eventually rewarded. Quotes of the time and oil paintings complement the ballad-style narrative. Grade level: 4-6. 40 pages.
Suggested grade level listed with each entry.
The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette’s Journey to Cuba by Margarita Engle (Holt)
Based upon feminist Fredrika Bremer’s interviews of Cuban slaves, free blacks, and poor whites, this vibrant narrative offers the perspectives of a young slave mentioned in her accounts and a (fictional) slave-owner’s daughter. 151 pages.
Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck by Margarita Engle (Holt)
First-person narratives by star-crossed lovers of Cuban legend; two historical figures, a pirate and a ruthless conquistador; and a fictional slave give readers spare pieces of one overall story. 145 pages.
A Girl Named Mister by Nikki Grimes (Zondervan)
Fifteen-year-old Mary, nicknamed Mister, describes her fall from grace with a poignant, genuine voice. For comfort, Mister looks to the experiences of another pregnant teen: Mary, mother of Jesus. 223 pages.
Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials by Stephanie Hemphill (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
This plausible interpretation of the Salem Witch Trials is a Puritan Mean Girls, with peer pressure driving the accusers. Perspective shifts among three girls with distinct personalities and motivations. 408 pages.
Exposed by Kimberly Marcus (Random House)
Liz can’t figure out why her best friend Kate is avoiding her. Slowly and skillfully, through prose poems, Kate’s secret is revealed: Liz’s brother raped her. When Liz confronts him, he denies it. Who is Liz to believe? 261 pages.
Karma by Cathy Ostlere (Penguin/Razorbill)
Maya’s Sikh father hides from vengeful mobs after Sikh extremists assassinate the Indian prime minister. Alone in an unfamiliar place, Maya befriends teenage boy Sandeep. A haunting exploration of what it means to be an outsider. 521 pages.
I’ll Be Watching by Pamela Porter (Groundwood)
In 1941 Saskatchewan, Nora, Jim Ran, and Addie are orphans struggling to survive winter; their ghostly parents watch over them. Multiple perspectives offer oral histories of a desperate time. 282 pages.
The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from The Titanic by Allan Wolf (Candlewick)
First-person accounts give voice to a cross section of Titanic passengers and crew. Hovering over all is the omniscient “Iceberg,” providing a menacing voiceover throughout the narrative. 467 pages.
Diego: Bigger than Life by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand; illus. by David Diaz (Cavendish)
Free verse relates the childhood of painter Diego Rivera, then highlights the passions of his adult life. These vignettes are accompanied by vibrant mixed-media silhouettes and Rivera’s own art. 64 pages.
Crossing Stones by Helen Frost (Farrar/Foster)
In 1917, neighboring families cope with WWI, influenza, and the suffragist movement. Disciplined poetic forms mitigate against sentimentality; distinct character voices lend immediacy. 184 pages.