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Finding home

Four novels for middle-grade readers feature memorable and likable protagonists who face economic hardship, homelessness, and prejudice in addition to the usual challenges of growing up. For an author’s perspective on narratives of children finding — or making — home, read E. Lockhart’s Horn Book Magazine Writer’s Page article “On Home, Empathy, and Voice.”

In Front Desk by Kelly Yang, resourceful ten-year-old Mia Tang works the front desk at the motel her parents, recent Chinese immigrants, are thrilled to now manage. Then the washing machine breaks. A car is stolen. Mia’s mother is beaten up. And what will happen if the motel owner finds out the Tangs have been secretly sheltering immigrants? Mia’s gradual understanding of racism and prejudice in America and her subsequent activism are at the heart of this triumphant, entertaining tale. (Scholastic/Levine, 8–11 years)

After Cora’s father dies, her family’s financial situation deteriorates dramatically; they lose their home and begin living in a shelter. Cora craves stability, but adult responsibilities, including the care of her developmentally disabled younger sister, keep intruding on her wishes. The insecurity of homelessness and the limited options of those living in poverty sear the pages of Melissa Sarno’s thought-provoking debut novel Just Under the Clouds. (Knopf, 9–12 years)

In Why Can’t I Be You, when eleven-year-old Claire’s best friend Brianna moves into a mansion, it’s hard for Claire, who lives in a trailer park, not to feel envious. Then Brianna’s slightly older cousin convinces Brianna it’s time for boy-girl parties, which adds to Claire’s sense of being left behind. Melissa Walker’s sensitive friendship story is honest about the potential for economic disparities to compound the challenges of growing up. (HarperCollins/Harper, 9–12 years)

Unable to afford an apartment, twelve-year-old Felix and his loving but irresponsible mother set up housekeeping in a pop-top van in Susin Nielsen’s No Fixed Address. When Felix learns that his favorite game show is hosting a junior tournament, he decides its cash prize will solve all his problems and sets out to win. Felix is a compelling narrator, engaging both as he keeps a wry sense of humor about his situation and when he realizes he can no longer rely on the adults in his life. (Random House/Lamb, 9–12 years)

From the October 2018 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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