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4 delightful new books for middle-grade readers

History, fantasy, humor, and drama mingle in these four wonderful new books for middle-grade readers – out just in time for summer reading.

Amal Unbound By Aisha Saeed Nancy Paulsen Books 240 pp.

From a young girl with real-world fears of never returning home, to a dwarf who doesn’t feel at home underground, the characters in these four new novels for young readers (ages 9-12) will transport them to imagined places, make them laugh, and occasionally break their hearts.

"Amal Unbound"
By Aisha Saeed
Penguin
Recommended for readers ages 10 and up

Amal loves school and dreams of becoming a teacher in her native Pakistan. Books, especially poetry, are her window to a wider world. But after the birth of a new baby, her mother needs her, and Amal’s world changes. Her father insists that as the eldest daughter, her place is now at home.

The family and her entire village live in fear of making a wrong move that could cost them their lives or at the very least their livelihood. But Amal’s heart and her powerful courage get the best of her one day as she shops at the market. When she insults the local ruling family, the 12-year-old is sent to their estate to repay the crime of speaking out. Amal’s father’s advice comes too late: “Bite your tongue one minute and prevent a lifetime of burden.”

This empowering story from Pakistani American writer Saeed will show young readers how equality, justice, and bravery – even when you’re frightened of the consequences – are more than headlines. The author’s note connects Amal to Malala Yousafzai and encourages readers to speak out, while recognizing that fiction often has happier endings than reality.

"Bob"
By Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead
Feiwel and Friends
Recommended for readers ages 8-12

In the five years since Livy and her mom last visited her grandmother in Australia, Bob has waited in a closet. He longs to “stare up at the wide, blue sky that I’d almost forgotten existed.” Now Livy has returned, and although she needs the prodding of a chess piece, a local friend, and even the greenish fellow she left behind dressed in a chicken suit, her memories eventually, slowly return. Who is this creature named Bob? He likes licorice and reads the fat dictionary left in the closet. He’s wistfully sad and funny at the same time. But that’s about all he – or we as readers – know. Figuring out where he came from and what will happen to him, and to his friendship with Livy, remains at the heart of this small gem of a book till the very end. Young readers will love following the clues that unravel their story.

Two award-winning authors have teamed up to create a delightfully whimsical tale that begs to be read with a friend. Don’t miss Bob.

"Evangeline of the Bayou"
By Jan Eldredge
Balzar + Bray
320 pp.
Recommended for readers ages 8-12

Evangeline Clement’s grandmother is a "haunt huntress" living in the swamplands of Louisiana, and 12-year-old Evangeline assumes she’s inherited her powers. Determined to teach the girl her healing secrets, Gran brings her to New Orleans to save a possibly dying or perhaps possessed wife and mother. Once there, Evangeline must put her nascent training into play to fight some truly sinister characters and a huge hulking beast.

Will the horrid rougarou overpower good and conquer Evangeline? Does she have the magic she needs? Can she trust everyone who claims to be a friend? Eldridge, a native Louisianan, perfectly captures the voodoo, gris-gris pouches, and even Mardi Gras floats in Evangeline of the Bayou, her exciting, fun, and glorious debut novel.

Grump:
The (Fairly) True Tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
By Lisel Shurtliff
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
304 pp.
Recommended for readers ages 8-12
The latest in this imaginative series of fairy tale take-offs features – you guessed it – one of the infamous seven dwarves. Grump and his fellow dwarves are all here, sneezing, stuttering, complaining and singing. But for reasons both humorous and poignant, Grump has never fit in underground with the others. When he finally ventures to The Surface and encounters a few humans, he feels more at home than he ever did working the deep mines. But poor, gullible Grump is easily duped by the Evil Queen who orders him to verify that Snow White has been killed. She hasn’t. He and his fellow dwarves band together to save the princess (who is no shrinking violet, even if she does willingly nibble from a poison apple). The crew rallies, builds a proper shelter, and for at least a few pages, all is well. But of course, this is a fairy tale and Shurtliff is a master storyteller. Things are bound to take a few detours and wrong turns. Highly readable, fun to share, Grump is the perfect book to kick off a summer of reading.

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