“THE THING ABOUT LUCK” by Cynthia Kadohata, illustrated by Julia Kuo (Atheneum)
This winner of a 2013 National Book Award shades toward young adult, as its 12-year-old heroine, Summer, edges toward adolescence. She rebels, misjudges, falls in love. As migrant wheat workers, she, her brother, and elderly grandparents must perform Herculean labors to make ends meet. With this story, as with her earlier “KIRA-KIRA,” Kadohata offers a lyrical, wry look into the hopes and hopelessness of youth.
“RELISH: My Life in the Kitchen” by Lucy Knisley (First Second)
“Relish” looks like a graphic novel, reads like a memoir, and serves as a cookbook for young would-be foodies and chefs. Knisley’s prose and graphic art possess a wonderfully tender honesty.
“FLORA & uLYSSES: The Illuminated Adventures” by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell (Candlewick)
A love story between a girl and her super-hero squirrel, “Flora & Ulysses” is that rarest of all treasures, a truly inventive and appealing children’s middle-grade novel. Brilliantly written and graphically engaging, it’s filled with adventure, poetry, and compassion. Worth rereading, and equally appealing for kids and adults.
“MISTER MAX: The Book of LosT Things” by Cynthia Voigt, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno (Knopf)
More classically middle-grade in tone, this story stars young Max, whose flamboyant actor parents are swept out of sight by an invitation from the nonexistent “Maharajah of Kashmir.” Max and his practical librarian Gram must turn detective and track them down in this first volume in a projected trilogy. “Mister Max” provides adventure, mystery, and bright comic turns. The characters are so vivid, the writing so vital, the tale is reminiscent of Charles Dickens.
“THE REAL BOy” by Anne Ursu, illustrated by Erin McGuire (Walden Pond)
The city of Asteri protects its “shining people” — wealthy, handsome folk who expect magic to solve every problem. But one by one, their children start to fail. The city’s magician disappears, leaving only Callie, a hapless apprentice, and Oscar, a tongue-tied, shop boy who labors in the magician’s cellar, to unearth mysteries and rescue the land. Ursu’s novel features hair-raising twists and turns. The story has special value for those struggling with autism, but its themes of magic and reality are universal. Harry Potter fans may have finally found a new book to love.