Every February, there is a flood of interest in books honoring African American history, a topic inextricably linked to American history as a whole and deserving of year-round attention. Stories of enduring and overcoming adversity—though they offer critical awareness—must be balanced by the kind of mundane tales that have long been a staple of white children’s literature. Too many adults assume that various books “don’t count” if they aren’t about suffering—or that they’re unrealistic and deserving of criticism if they don’t focus on bias. Black children, like all children, deserve books where just being who they are is normal and positive, not exclusively or primarily a source of pain. For readers who are not black, it can be difficult to imagine what you do not see and therefore easy to attribute the lives of black peers to the narrative margins. These recent and upcoming middle-aged releases celebrate black families and help round out the stories we share with young people.
Operation Sisterhood by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (Crown, Jan. 4): Bo is content with things as they are. The 11-year-old and her mother are a close couple, happy in their cozy Bronx apartment. Discovering that she becomes part of a lavishly blended family when her mother marries boyfriend Bill is news that takes some adjustment: Bill arrives with a Harlem brownstone, a variety of pets, a daughter, and a chosen family with two more little girls. Fans of classic ensemble casts, such as in Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-kind familywill warm to this cheerful book with its strong sense of place.
Pizza My Heart by Rhiannon Richardson (Scholastic, Jan. 4): In a story that will resonate with many tweens, seventh-grader Maya must adapt to some major changes. On the plus side, Soul Slice, her parents’ Brooklyn pizza parlor, is so successful that they’re expanding. On the other hand, this means a move – to a Pennsylvania suburb. Setting up a new restaurant is hard work, and Maya is forced to deliver bike pizzas, which clashes with her desire to pursue her passion through an after-school art club. With the help of a cute (but annoying) boy, she devises a plan that is sure to succeed, right?
Just right Jillian by Nicole D. Collier (Versify/HarperCollins, Feb 1): Losing her beloved grandmother is hard for 10-year-old Jillian, who struggles with social anxiety. Mom teaches female leadership workshops and Dad is a high-flying tech professional, but Jillian’s self-awareness holds her back. To divert attention, she bows to peer pressure in her clothes and hairstyles and struggles to speak out in class. But fond memories of Grammy’s quiet, unwavering encouragement help her find the inner strength to take on new challenges, such as entering her school’s annual academic competition. This comforting, thoughtful story is a loving testament to family ties.
Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Perseverance by Sonja Thomas (Aladdin, March 22): This touching novel for fans of relationship-based stories introduces science-crazed Mira Williams. Ever since her best friend moved, it feels like they’re drifting apart. Meanwhile, the obnoxious Tamika, who beat her at the school science fair four years in a row, has moved into the neighborhood. Dad lost his job, mom works extra hours and now Sir Fig Newton, her loyal feline friend, has diabetes. They cannot afford the vet bills and will have to find him a new home unless Mira can use her creativity and flexibility to raise the necessary funds.
Laura Simeon is an editor for young readers.