This bibliography is drawn from books published between 1995 and 2020. While some award-winners and bestsellers are included, part of the goal is to feature underappreciated gems. For more recent titles, visit Cynsations.
BECOMING NAOMI LEON by Pam Munoz Ryan (Scholastic, 2004). Naomi Soledad Leon Outlaw has had a lot to contend with in her young life, her name for one. Then there are her clothes (sewn in polyester by Gram), her difficulty speaking up, and her status at school as “nobody special.” But according to Gram, most problems can be overcome with positive thinking. And with Gram and her little brother, Owen, Naomi’s life at Avocado Acres Trailer Rancho in California is happy and peaceful…until their mother reappears after seven years of being gone, stirring up all sorts of questions and challenging Naomi to discover and proclaim who she really is. Ages 10-up. Compiled from promotional materials.
BIRD by Crystal Chan (Atheneum, 2014). Jewel never knew her brother Bird, but all her life she has lived in his shadow. Her parents blame Grandpa for the tragedy of their family’s past; they say that Grandpa attracted a malevolent spirit—a duppy—into their home. Grandpa hasn’t spoken a word since. Now Jewel is twelve, and she lives in a house full of secrets and impenetrable silence. Jewel is sure that no one will ever love her like they loved Bird, until the night that she meets a mysterious boy in a tree. Grandpa is convinced that the boy is a duppy, but Jewel knows that he is something more. And that maybe—just maybe—the time has come to break through the stagnant silence of the past. Ages 10-up. More on this title from Cynsations. Compiled from promotional materials.
BRENDAN BUCKLEY’S WORLD AND EVERYTHING IN IT by Sundee T. Frazier (Yearling, 2007). Ten-year-old Brendan Buckley is a self-declared scientist: asking questions and looking for answers, but most of all struggling against the overprotective behavior of his parents. Up until now, he has never even met his grandfather—the grandfather his mother won’t even speak of. A chance encounter brings Brendan and his grandfather together where Brendan initiates a relationship with estranged grandfather, Ed DeBose. While they share a passion for geology, they do not share the color of their skin; Brendan’s skin is brown, not pink like Ed DeBose’s. Pretty soon, Brendan sets out to uncover the reason behind Ed’s absence but soon discovers that family secrets can’t be explained by science. Ages 8-up. More on this title from Cynsations. Compiled from promotional materials. Don’t miss BRENDAN BUCKLEY’S SIXTH GRADE EXPERIMENT.
CAMO GIRL by Kekla Magoon (Aladdin, 2011). Ella and Z have been friends forever, both of them middle-school outsiders in their Las Vegas suburb. Ella is the only black girl in her grade and gets teased for the mottled colors of her face. (Her deceased father was white.) Z is the classic “weird kid” who maintains an elaborate—and public—fantasy life, starring himself as a brave knight. Though Z is content with his imagined world, Ella wishes for a larger group of friends, so she’s thrilled when Bailey, another black kid, arrives at their school. He’s popular and wants to befriend Ella—but to join the cool crowd, Ella would have to ditch Z. Does she stay loyal to the boy who has been her best and only friend for years, or jump at the chance to realize her dream of popularity? Author Kekla Magoon deftly navigates the muddy waters of racial and cultural identities in this contemporary exploration of one girl’s attempt to find herself. Ages 8-up. More on this title from Cynsations. Compiled from promotional materials.
DUST FROM OLD BONES by Sandra Forrester (Morrow, 1999). Simone Racine at first envies her lighter cousin Claire-Marie. But then Claire-Marie’s Creole father leaves her and her mother in sudden poverty. This triggers Simone’s realization that their lighter coloring is at best a mixed blessing. Throughout, Simone struggles with her heritage — black and white — and the contrary rules for those living in between. A fascinating period in New Orleans history. Ages 10-up.
FERALtrilogy by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2013-2015). Werecats battle the forces of evil for inclusion and social justice. Protagonists include Yoshi Kitahara, who is Eurasian (Japanese). Ages 14-up.
THE HOUSE YOU PASS ALONG THE WAY by Jacqueline Woodson (Delacorte, 1997). Staggerlee has always known she’s different, not just because her mother is white and her father is African American, not just because of her civil rights champion grandparents. When her adopted cousin Tyler, who calls herself “Trout” comes to visit, will Staggerlee better come to terms with questions of sexuality and identity? Winner of the 1998 Lambda Literary Award for Children’s/Young Adult. Ages 14-up.
IN THE SHADE OF THE NISPERO TREE by Carmen Bernier-Grand (Orchard, 1999). Teresa, 9, is caught between the mother who wants her to attend an exclusive school as a member of high society, and her father, who doesn’t want her to become a snob. Because of her own lies, she runs from her old life, following her mother’s wishes, and losing the friend who is dearest to her. This poignant novel, set in 1960s Puerto Rico, is at once the story of one very realized girl and an exploration of the complexity of class and ethnicity. Ages 8-up.
THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER by Dana Alison Levy (Delacorte, 2014). The start of the school year is not going as the Fletcher brothers hoped. Each boy finds his plans for success veering off in unexpected and sometimes disastrous directions. And at home, their miserable new neighbor complains about everything. As the year continues, the boys learn the hard and often hilarious lesson that sometimes what you least expect is what you come to care about the most. Ages 8-up. Compiled from promotional materials.
NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO by Greg Leitich Smith (Little, Brown, 2003). Elias, Shohei, and Honoria have always been a trio united against That Which Is The Peshtigo School. But suddenly it seems that understanding and sticking up for a best friend isn’t as easy as it used to be. Elias, reluctant science fair participant, finds himself defying the authority of Mr. Ethan Eden, teacher king of chem lab. Shohei, all-around slacker, is approaching a showdown with his transracially adoptive parents, who have decided that he needs to start “hearing” his ancestors. And Honoria, legal counsel extraordinaire, discovers that telling a best friend you like him, without actually telling him, is a lot harder than battling Goliath Reed or getting a piranha to become vegetarian. What three best friends find out about the Land of the Rising Sun, Pygocentrus nattereri, and Galileo’s choice, among other things, makes for a hilarious and intelligent read filled with wit, wisdom, and a little bit of science. Ages 10-up. Read The Story Behind The Story from Greg Leitich Smith. Don’t miss the companion book, TOFU AND T. REX.
OPERATION REDWOOD by S. Terrell French (Amulet/Abrams, 2009). Clandestine e-mail exchanges, secret trips, fake press releases, and a tree-house standoff are among the clever stunts and pranks the kid heroes pull in this exciting ecological adventure. “Sibley Carter is a moron and a world-class jerk,” reads Julian Carter-Li in an angry email message meant for his greedy, high-powered uncle. The fateful message sets him on the course to stop an environmental crime! His uncle’s company plans to cut down some of the oldest California redwood trees, and it’s up to Julian and a ragtag group of friends to figure out a way to stop them. This thrilling, thoughtful debut novel shows the power of determined individuals, no matter what their age, to stand up to wrongdoing. Ages 9-up. More on this title from Cynsations. Compiled from promotional materials.
THE OTHER HALF OF MY HEART by Sundee T. Frazier (Delacorte, 2010). When Minerva and Keira King were born, they made headlines: Keira is black like Mama, but Minni is white like Daddy. Together the family might look like part of a chessboard row, but they are first and foremost the close-knit Kings. Then Grandmother Johnson calls, to invite the twins down South to compete for the title of Miss Black Pearl Preteen of America. Minni dreads the spotlight, but Keira assures her that together they’ll get through their stay with Grandmother Johnson. But when their grandmother’s bias against Keira reveals itself, Keira pulls away from her twin. Minni has always believed that no matter how different she and Keira are, they share a deep bond of the heart. Now she’ll find out whether that’s really true. Ages 9-up. More on this title from Cynsations. Compiled from promotional materials.
RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME by Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2001). Cassidy Rain Berghoff didn’t know that the very night she decided to get a life would be the night that Galen would lose his. It’s been six months since her best friend died, and up until now, Rain has succeeded in shutting herself off from the world. But when controversy arises around her aunt Georgia’s Indian Camp in their mostly white Kansas community, Rain decides to face the world again—at least through the lens of a camera. Ages 10-up. CYN NOTE: Native identity is based on tribal citizenship; however, there is diversity within Native Nations.
SHADOWS of SHERWOOD by Kekla Magoon (Bloomsbury, 2015). The night her parents disappear, twelve-year-old Robyn Loxley must learn to fend for herself. Her home, Nott City, has been taken over by a harsh governor, Ignomus Crown. After fleeing for her life, Robyn has no choice but to join a band of strangers-misfit kids, each with their own special talent for mischief. Setting out to right the wrongs of Crown’s merciless government, they take their outlaw status in stride. But Robyn can’t rest until she finds her parents. As she pieces together clues from the night they disappeared, Robyn learns that her destiny is tied to the future of Nott City in ways she never expected. Sequels: REBELLION OF THIEVES, REIGN OF OUTLAWS. Ages 8-up. Compiled from promotional materials.
SISTERS OF THE NEVERSEA by Cynthia Leitich Smith, cover by Floyd Cooper (Heartdrum, 2021). Lily and Wendy have been best friends since they became stepsisters. But with their feuding parents planning to spend the summer apart, what will become of their family—and their friendship? Little do they know that a mysterious boy has been watching them from the oak tree outside their window. A boy who intends to take them away from home for good, to an island of wild animals, Merfolk, Fairies, and kidnapped children. A boy who calls himself Peter Pan. Ages 8-up.
TAE’S SONATA by Haemi Balgassi (Clarion, 1997). Tae has to sort out her feelings when she is assigned to do a school report on South Korea with a popular guy. An interracial romance and a sweet look at Korean American family life that also deals with what it’s like to feel spotlighted for your race. Ages 12-up.
TANTALIZE series by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2017-2013). Gender empowered and diverse flip on the Dracula mythology in a contemporary setting. Protagonists include Kieren Morales, who is Irish-Mexican American, and Miranda Shen McAllister, who is Eurasia (Chinese). Ages 14-up. CYN NOTE: Includes TANTALIZE, ETERNAL, BLESSED, DIABOLICAL and two graphic novels, TANTALIZE: KIEREN’S STORY and ETERNAL: ZACHARY’S STORY, both illustrated by Ming Doyle.
THIEF OF HEARTS by Laurence Yep (HarperCollins, 1995). In this sequel to CHILD OF THE OWL (1977), Stacy is called a “half-breed,” and both her loyalties and identity are challenged when Hong Ch’un moves from China to Stacy’s suburban California school. When Hong Ch’un is accused of stealing, Stacy is forced to carefully consider her own reaction and find out what has really happened. Much of this novel centers around Stacy’s struggle to reconcile her Chinese and white American heritage and related communities. Ages 8-up.
THE WINDOW by Michael Dorris (Modoc) (Hyperion, 1997). In this story, the late Michael Dorris returned his attention to Rayona Taylor, the hero of two of his books for adults, A YELLOW RAFT IN BLUE RIVER (1987) and CLOUD CHAMBER (1997). THE WINDOW is set earlier than the other two and features Rayona at age 11, whose Native mother is preoccupied with her own problems and whose African American father eventually ships her to live with his mother, sister, and grandmother. Ray has never met these relatives before and is surprised to discover that they are white. This is a quiet story, one in which the action is in the heart. Dorris’s writing is perceptive and evocative. Ages 8-up. CYN NOTE: Native identity is based on tribal citizenship; however, there is diversity within Native Nations.
THE WORLD OF DAUGHTER MCGUIRE by Sharon Dennis Wyeth (Delacorte, 1994). Daughter McGuire, 11, is facing a new school, her parents’ marital troubles, and a group of kids whose leader calls her a “zebra.” But by completing a school assignment on the history of her family, she gains pride, courage, and a sense of identity by drawing on the many gifts of her diverse heritage (African, Italian, Irish, Jewish, Russian, and American) and on the story of the brave ancestor for whom she is named. Ages 8-up.