Sense of place

As in King and the Dragonflies, setting is a key part of these recent intermediate and middle-school realistic stories.

In Some Places More than Others, Amara's twelfth birthday trip with her dad becomes a whirlwind of highs and lows as she's introduced to the rich history of African Americans in Harlem, learns how to relate to her cousins, and uncovers the source of her father and grandfather's estrangement. Renée Watson proves her deftness in depicting settings — both Amara's hometown of Beaverton, Oregon, and New York City — and conveys the importance of loving family through differences. (Bloomsbury, 9–12 years)

Twelve-year-old Japanese Canadian boy Kaede's mother died recently in a car accident. Now he's spending the summer in Tokyo with his father and half-brother — neither of whom he's seen since his parents' divorce nine years ago. Kaede's first-person narrative effectively alternates with the letters he's writing in a journal for school. All the Ways Home by Elsie Chapman is rich with the sensory details of life in Tokyo and the complexities of a boy finding his way. (Feiwel, 9–12 years)

Ten blocks. Ten stories about middle schoolers, each filled with humor and heart. In Jason Reynolds's Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks the characters cope with difficult problems, but they are first and foremost ordinary, good kids. Names, jokes, and details are cleverly woven between tales to show the interconnectedness of the characters' world, while the individually distinct stories remind us that you never know what someone else is going through. (Atheneum/Dlouhy, 10–14 years)

In David Almond's The Color of the Sun, Davie wanders his British town and countryside, searching for the accused murderer of one of the older village boys. He meets friends and strangers, listens to their stories, ponders big questions, and sketches. Taking place in a single day, this story works particularly well through its authenticity of setting, dreamlike prose, and the specificity of one particular curious, sweet, grieving boy. (Candlewick, 10–14 years)

From the January 2020 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Cynthia K. Ritter
Cynthia K. Ritter

Cynthia K. Ritter is managing editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She earned a master's degree in children's literature from Simmons University.

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