Valentina Salazar Is Not a Monster Hunter by Zoraida CórdovaWhat it's about: Things were better for Valentina in the Before Times. Before her family abandoned their monster-rescuing travels. Before her dad died. So when she hears about a rare monster egg in need of protection, Valentina doesn't hesitate to hit the road with her siblings.
Featuring: winged cats, fire-breathing chipmunks, and grouchy unicorns, as well as a brave heroine, a tight-knit family, and a fun blend of humor and adventure. (Ages 8-12.)
High Score by Destiny HowellOne last job: Since transferring to a new school, 12-year-old DJ has steered clear of scams and schemes he used to mastermind. But now that his former partner-in-crime being pressured to pay an impossible 100,000 arcade tickets to the school bully, DJ's got to plan one final heist.
Why you might like it: Fast-paced and twisty, this crime caper will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Try this next: Varian Johnson's The Great Green Heist. (Ages 8-12.)
Let the Monster Out by Chad LucasStarring: newcomer Bones Malone and homeschooler Kyle Specks, baseball teammates who are both treated like misfits by the other kids in their tiny Nova Scotia town.
What happens: Bones and Kyle bond when they realize they've been having the same creepy dreams, and together they investigate the suspicious tech company that might be turning the local adults into zombies.
You might also like: Paolo Bacigalupi's Zombie Baseball Beatdown, another smart, offbeat mystery with paranormal atmosphere. (Ages 10-13.)
Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun by Tola OkogwuWhat it's about: After her hair takes on a life of its own to rescue her best friend, British Nigerian Onyeka heads to the Academy of the Sun in Lagos, where she can hone her psycho-kinetic abilities alongside other super-powered Solari kids.
Why you might like it: This gripping series starter introduces a high-tech society and high-stakes plot that'll leave you wanting more.
For fans of: Nnedi Okorafor's Akata Witch books or the Last Gate of the Emperor series by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen. (Ages 9-13.)
Your Pal Fred by Michael RexStarring: Fred, blue-haired, a human-shaped toy robot "programmed to spread kindness, friendship, and good vibes."
What happens: When Fred is accidentally re-activated, he discovers that the world has become a bleak wasteland ruled by rival warlords Papa Mayhem and Lord Bonkers. Can one gentle bot turn the tide of meanness with the power of high fives and stickers? You'll have to read this chapter book -- the 1st in a series -- to find out. (Ages 7-10.)
The Secret Battle of Evan Pao by Wendy Wan-Long ShangWhat it's about: Sixth-grader Evan Pao is hoping a for a new start in a new town, but instead he's faced with racist bullying as one of the only Asian American kids in a small Virginia town.
How it's told: You'll get to read several different points of view on Evan's demand to be involved in the school's annual Civil War celebration, including both Evan and Brady, the classmate who gives Evan the hardest time. (Ages 8-12.)
Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch by Julie AbeIntroducing: 12-year-old witch Eva, who hopes to use her unique repair magic to shield a seaside town from a terrifying storm. If she succeeds, she'll finally earn the rank of Novice Witch. If she fails, she'll lose her magic forever.
Series alert: For more of clever, resourceful Eva and her whimsical world, try the sequel, Eva Evergreen and the Cursed Witch.
For fans of: Eiko Kadono's Kiki's Delivery Service (or the movie based on it). (Ages 8-12.)
The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring BlakeWhat's new? Following her heart transplant, 12-year-old Sunny starts her New Life Plan: do cool stuff, find a new best friend, kiss a boy, and maybe even let her long-absent mom back into her life.
What happens: Sunny finds a new best friend in blue-haired girl Quinn -- and realizes that Quinn's the one she'd like to kiss.
You might also like: Lisa Jenn Bigelow's Drum Roll Please, another sweet story about family and middle school romance. (Ages 9-13.)
Lupe Wong Won't Dance by Donna Barba HigueraWhat it's about: Athletic seventh-grader Lupe needs an A in gym class in order to meet her hero, Major League pitcher Fu Li Hernandez (who's Asian/Latino, just like her). But to get an A in gym, she has to start a campaign to cancel her nemesis: the square dancing unit.
About the author: This funny, fresh, and multi-layered read is the 1st book from author Donna Barba Higuera, who won the 2022 Newbery Medal for The Last Cuentista. (Ages 8-12.)
Vera Vance, Comics Star by Claudia Mills; illustrated by Grace ZongWhat it's about: Vera is thrilled when her strict mom lets her go to comic-book camp at her after-school program. And Vera's proud of Little Spoon, the comic she creates. But is her newfound talent impressive enough that her mom will let her go on a field trip to a comic-con?
Who it's for: comic book fans, as well as anyone who likes short, realistic stories.
Series alert: This is the 2nd chapter book in the After-School Superstars series, each starring a different kid. (Ages 7-9.)
Dungeon Critters by Natalie Riess and Sara GoetterThe challenge: to learn the truth about the Devil's Thorn, a wicked weed invading the kingdom.
The adventurers: a group of animal friends including nervous plant expert June (a dog), wisecracking firebug Rose (a cat), strong and steady Goro (a snake), and bold, quick-tempered Prince Chirp (a frog).
Read it for: imaginative fantasy artwork, quirky humor, and a bit of romance. (Ages 8-13.)
Before the Ever After by Jacqueline WoodsonWhat it is: a story in verse about ZJ, whose dad is a famous football player with a life that seems like a fairy tale. But ZJ knows what's behind the perfect image: too many head injuries have damaged his dad's brain, and their whole family is changing because of it.
Why you might like it: This emotional story hits hard, taking an honest look at one boy trying to make it through confusion and sadness with help from his loved ones. (Ages 10-13.)
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