Juvenile Fiction:

“The Unteachables,” by Gordon Korman

Mr. Kermit was once among the best teachers at Greenwich Middle School, but a cheating scandal 25 years ago dampened his passion for the job, and now he is biding time until his early retirement. After the superintendent assigns him to the “Self-Contained Special Eighth-Grade Class” — widely called “the Unteachables” — he resigns himself to getting through the year, transferring his coffee and crossword habit to the new room, and ignoring his new students. The small class is known for being troublesome: Parker can’t make sense of letters, tough Elaine terrifies the others, Rahim sleeps all the time, and Kiana ends up in the class when her stepmother fails to register her for school. After Mr. Kermit’s former fiancee’s daughter turns out to be the new teacher next door and meddles with disciplining the bunch, Mr. Kermit stands up for the kids, and both students and teacher realize the value of their abilities. Chapters rotate narration between students and administrators, giving varied perspectives to this humorous classroom underdog story that champions teamwork, kindness, and hidden sparks. Ages 8—12

— Publishers Weekly

“Right as Rain,” by Lindsey Stoddard

Stoddard’s sophomore effort is an emotional exploration of grief, guilt, and the uplifting power of community. Following the death of her older brother, Guthrie, 10-year-old Rain and her family leave Vermont for Washington Heights in New York City. Guthrie’s death has affected her parents in vastly different ways. Her mother is in constant motion and avoids any talk of her son. Her father rarely leaves his bedroom, shutting himself off from the world. Their conflicting coping methods create a tense household that forces Rain to bury her feelings deep. Spare flashbacks to the tragic night unfold throughout the novel and slowly reveal Rain’s painful memories and misplaced guilt. Rain also struggles to transition to her new neighborhood, where the majority of people don’t look like her and the storefront signs are in Spanish. By opening up to new friendships and embracing her community, Rain develops a growing sense of empathy that allows her to recognize that pain is universal and creating connections is the key to healing. One of Rain’s most important relationships is with classmate Frankie, whose icy demeanor hides her loneliness. The girls bond through their shared love of running track, which provides freedom from the pressure of their everyday lives. This touching middle grade novel addresses the heartache of loss while also providing an insightful, accessible introduction to privilege, homelessness, and gentrification. Ages 8-12

— School Library Journal

“The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA,” by Brenda Woods

Woods (“Zoe in Wonderland”) contemplates American history in this sobering novel set in Birdsong, S.C., during the summer of 1946. On the day that Gabriel, who is white, receives a new bicycle for his 12th birthday, he runs a red light and is nearly struck by a car. Meriwether Hunter, an African-American mechanic who is looking for work, saves him. Gabriel helps Meriwether, a U.S. Army veteran who can fix almost anything, land a job at his father’s auto shop — much to the frustration of another mechanic, who is white, “mean as a raccoon with rabies,” and rumored to have friends in the KKK. Hearing Meriwether’s stories, and taking his advice to “try to see the goings-on of life through more eyes than just your own,” Gabriel is made aware of the divide between the lives of the town’s white and black residents, but his new knowledge might not be enough to save Meriwether and his family from harm. Even readers who have been taught about segregation in the South are likely to deepen their knowledge of the nuanced history through the novel’s handling of how white and African-American veterans were treated differently after WWII. The characters of impressionable Gabriel and Meriwether, whose patience is tried by society’s unfair rules, ring true as the story shows that “the world, including Birdsong USA, isn’t always pretty.” Ages 10 — up

— Publishers Weekly

“The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise,” by Dan Gemeinhart

In Gemeinhart’s latest heartwarming realistic fiction novel, authentic life experiences are tackled and resilience reigns supreme. Coyote is a young girl traveling the American countryside with her father. The pair made a home of a refurbished school bus after a terrible car accident killed Coyote’s mother and two sisters. When Coyote learns that a park that holds an important part of her past is set to be demolished, she and her father set a course back to Washington state. Through their travels, Coyote and her father pick up a kitten, wayward travelers, and knowledge of all kinds. Readers will be drawn into the story of Coyote immediately. Her authentic voice and personality shine. Gemeinhart takes readers on a cross-country experience of self-discovery and empathetic growth. The realistic cast of characters that join Coyote add dimension and depth to an already spirited story. Readers who have experienced loss will see themselves, while those that have not will learn through Coyote’s eyes. Ages 9-12

— School Library Journal

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