The books Southern indie booksellers are recommending to readers everywhere!

Middle Grade

Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna

This is it! My favorite middle-grade book of 2021. Full of adventure, humor, and friendship, Kiki’s story had me hooked from start to finish. I laughed, cried, and audibly gasped as the story unfolded through the lens of her vivid imagination. I particularly liked the handling and validation of Kiki’s struggles with anxiety. Great for fans of Aru Shah, Inkheart, or anything by Rick Riordan- Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom is not to be missed!

Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna, (List Price: 17.99, Viking Books for Young Readers, 9780593206973, July 2021)

Reviewed by Mary Louise Callaghan, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow by Emma Steinkellner

What an awesome sequel! So much of the first was about Moth learning her history, but this new installment is more about learning herself, which I adore. Her mom’s romantic subplot is also a great addition, and the added strength of the three Hush women is a sight to behold.

The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow by Emma Steinkellner (List Price: $12.99, Aladdin, 9781534431485, 7/6/2021)

Reviewed by Amber Brown, Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina

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Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte, Ann Xu (Illus.)

My daughter and I loved this graphic novel about a girl who moves to Seattle from Taiwan. Like many immigrant stories, this one had multiple examples of the prejudices immigrant children can experience. Cici made friends, but there were times they thought they needed to speak slowly to her (they didn’t), that her lunch was gross (because it wasn’t “American”), and there were multiple times when people referred to her as Chinese and didn’t bother to remember her correction to “Taiwanese.” Cici’s struggles to both fit in as well as maintain her delight in her culture came through in the pages. My daughter, six, loved the cooking aspects and the story segued into a good discussion about culture and identity.

Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte, Ann Xu (Illus.) (List Price: $12.99, HarperAlley, 9780062973863, 10/27/2020)

Reviewed by Jenny Luper, Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, North Carolina

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The Last Rabbit by Shelley Moore Thomas

The Last Rabbit has the heart of The Velveteen Rabbit with the mischief of Peter Rabbit. It is sure to be a new classic for children of all ages! This is the beautifully told story about a little rabbit, the last of four sisters, trying to find her path in life while realizing family is all around.

The Last Rabbit by Shelley Moore Thomas (List Price: $16.99, Wendy Lamb Books, 9780593173534, 2/9/2021)

Reviewed by Olivia Schaffer, The Bookshelf in Thomasville, Georgia

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Unsettled by Reem Faruqi

I love a good novel-in-verse! This book is perfect for any young reader who has arrived at a new school and does not fit in with their new classmates. Nurah’s family has moved from Pakistan to Peachtree City, Georgia, so we get to see her tackle her culture shock and overcome her shyness in order to stand up not only for herself but for others in need.

Unsettled by Reem Faruqi (List Price: $16.99, HarperCollins, 9780063044708, 5/11/2021)

Reviewed by Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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Ground Zero by Alan Gratz

Alan Gratz, historical fiction go-to for middle school, has moved from WWII to more contemporary times with his newest novel Ground Zero. Told from the viewpoint of two teens on opposite sides of the globe, Gratz reframes the 9/11 story for the eyes and ears of young readers. This one is sure to be an instant bestseller.

Ground Zero by Alan Gratz (List Price: $17.99, Scholastic Press, 9781338245752, 2/2/2021)

Reviewed by Angie Tally, The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina

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Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba, Avery Fischer Udagawa (Trans.), Miho Satake (Illus.)

It’s summer break! There’s time for fun and friends, but Kazu has decided to investigate a paranormal occurrence tied to the history of his street, Temple Alley. As Kazu and his friends discover new clues about the past by talking to family members, nagging neighbors, and even reading ancient magazines, they realize that they might have to rely on their peculiar neighbor, Ms. Minakami, to solve the mystery. Complete with a story within a story, this summertime sleuth is mischievous and magical.

Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba, Avery Fischer Udagawa (Trans.), Miho Satake (Illus.) (List Price: $18, Restless Books, 9781632063038, 7/6/2021)

Reviewed by Cat Chapman, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Florida

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Many Points of Me by Caroline Gertler

Georgia’s dad was an artist before he died. Now Georgia struggles with his legacy, with people thinking they know him because of his art. Her best friend Theo is the only one who might understand, except he’s also focused on art, especially his own. And while Georgia’s own art has always been important to her, it’s taken a backseat to figuring out the mystery of what her dad’s last unfinished painting was supposed to be. A heartfelt story about art and grief and friendship for anyone trying to determine where they fit in their own life when everything has changed.

Many Points of Me by Caroline Gertler (List Price: $16.99, Greenwillow Books, 9780063027008, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Melissa Oates, Fiction Addiction in Greenville, South Carolina

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Lola Benko, Treasure Hunter by Beth McMullen

My ten-year-old son and I read this book together and we loved it! As soon as we finished it, and with the foreshadowing to the next book, he exclaimed, “I want the next book NOW!”

Lola Benko, Treasure Hunter by Beth McMullen (List Price: $17.99, Aladdin, 9781534456693, 8/25/2020)

Reviewed by Marcia Albert, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee

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A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus

A deep and delightful story of what it means to be part of a family. William, Edmund, and Anna discover enemies, friends, compassion, and the power of books are all part of their search for a forever home. Like cocoa on a winter day, this book will leave you cozy and smiling.

A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus (List Price: $17.99, Margaret Ferguson Books, 9780823447053, 2/2/2021)

Reviewed by Susan Williams, M Judson, Booksellers and Storytellers in Greenville, South Carolina

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Manu: A Graphic Novel by Kelly Fernández

This adorable, vibrant, and fantastical graphic novel perfectly captures the power and magic of friendship. Despite her best intentions, Manu somehow manages to get into trouble a lot–whether it’s with her teachers, classmates, or best friend, Josefina. Her magical powers are too much to handle, until one day, they disappear. Manu and Josefina try to get them back, but in doing so, make a choice with consequences far worse than any detention. Their friendship is strong, but are Manu and Josefina powerful enough to make things right?

Manu: A Graphic Novel by Kelly Fernández (List Price: $24.99, Graphix, 9781338264197, 10/19/2021)

Reviewed by Cat Chapman, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Florida

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Small Room, Big Dreams: The Journey of Julián and Joaquin Castro by Monica Brown, Mirelle Ortega

Small Room, Big Dreams is the story of Joaquin and Julián Castro, identical twin brothers born in San Antonio. Raised from a young age by their grandmother to love books and their mother to understand the importance of participating in their community through politics, Joaquin and Julián have dedicated their lives to service and improving their communities. I hope this book inspires children to become involved in their communities and dream big!

Small Room, Big Dreams: The Journey of Julián and Joaquin Castro by Monica Brown, Mirelle Ortega (List Price: $18.99, Quill Tree Books, 9780062985736, 5/4/2021)

Reviewed by Beth Seufer Buss, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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The Last Bear by Hannah Gold

I devoured this book like a hungry polar bear with a jar of peanut butter. Gold’s debut is a sweet blend of friendship, conservation, and family. I adored April and her friendship with Bear, how they learned so much from each other. I was especially charmed by him teaching her to reach deep inside herself to roar, and how to put your ear to the earth to really listen. Both things all humans need to spend a little more time perfecting. I bet we’d be kinder to ourselves, each other, and nature if we did. Conservation has a soft spot in my heart and this story is a well-written balance of facing what feels like an unsurmountable problem with global warming and polar bear loss of habitat and giving children agency by listening, seeing a problem, and doing their best to make it right.

The Last Bear by Hannah Gold (List Price: $19.99, HarperCollins, 9780063041073, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Candice Conner, The Haunted Bookshop in Mobile, Alabama

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Cathedral of Bones by A. J. Steiger

Simon’s life goal is to be an Animist–someone who can call on beings from the shadow realm adjacent to theirs to do good and keep the peace–but he’s not a very good one. When a town’s request for help goes unanswered by the Animists in charge, Simon decides to take matters into his own hands and sets off to deal with the monster–whom he discovers is actually a girl named Alice who doesn’t remember how she became a monster. Simon and Alice join forces to search out the secrets in Alice’s past, and in so doing find secrets that affect Simon and their whole world. A dark middle-grade fantasy that will appeal to fans of Kelly Barnhill, about identity and finding your self worth.

Cathedral of Bones by A. J. Steiger (List Price: $16, HarperCollins, 9780062934796, February, 2021)

Reviewed by Melissa Oates, Fiction Addiction in Greenville, South Carolina

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Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire

If you’ve ever wondered if an adult book could be written to be accessible to not just YA but middle grade readers too, wonder no longer: the book of your dreams is here. Across the Green Grass Fields is a wonderful coming-of-age story with all the mandatory trappings: bullying, parental oversight, unicorns, evil queens, and an intersex main character. It’s Tanith Lee rewriting Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. This standalone novella is a wonderful entrance to the Hooflands, and I can’t wait to double back and read more.

Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire (List Price: $19.99, Tordotcom, 9781250213594, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Lizy Coale, Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda, Florida

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Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable, Stephanie Yue (Illus

This graphic novel is perfect for anyone who loves cats! I love a good superhero comic, but this one was extra special in that the line between superhero and supervillain was blurred. Katie is just trying to make enough money to attend camp, but she soon starts to speculate about what her new boss might be doing on her night shift. 217 cat sidekicks make this comic a purr-fect read!

Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable, Stephanie Yue (Illus (List Price: $12.99, Random House Books for Young Readers, 9781984895639, 1/5/2021)

Reviewed by Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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The Sea in Winter by Christine Day

When Maisie injures her knee, she is forced to take a break from her one true love…ballet. After she convinces her mom and stepdad that she is recovered enough to go on a family hiking trip, things don’t go her way, and she is left questioning what is truly important in life. Throughout her struggle with priorities, loss, and friendships, her family stands by her side and sees her through it, and she discovers that with a little bit of hope and a different perspective, she can weather any storm life throws at her. A very sweet story!

The Sea in Winter by Christine Day (List Price: $16.99, Heartdrum, 9780062872043, 1/5/2021)

Reviewed by Mary Patterson, The Little Bookshop in Midlothian, Virginia.

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She Persisted: Harriet Tubman by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Chelsea Clinton, Gillian Flint

Harriet Tubman was one of my favorite people to learn about as a child, so I’m thrilled to have a new book to share with my nieces and the young readers at Bookmarks! In She Persisted: Harriet Tubman, Andrea Davis-Pinkney shares an inspiring portrait of the life of this American legend: daughter, slave, Underground Railroad conductor, nurse, spy, wife, and advocate for women’s rights. Gillian Flint’s illustrations bring the story to life, helping share Tubman’s story with a new generation.

She Persisted: Harriet Tubman by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Chelsea Clinton, Gillian Flint (List Price: $14.99, Philomel Books, 9780593115657, 1/5/2021)

Reviewed by Beth Seufer Buss, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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Root Magic by Eden Royce

Root Magic is an own-voices magical realism story about two Gullah Geechee twins, Jezebel and Jay, who start to learn rootwork from their uncle after their grandmother’s passing in 1963. A perfect blend of historical fiction, supernatural fantasy, and a classic story of family and friendship, ROOT MAGIC will capture readers, teleporting them to the mysterious marsh inhabited by supernatural beings. Scarier than hags, though, is a local white police officer who has taken to threatening the Turner family. Luckily, Jezebel’s growing affinity for rootwork may save the day. This magical book is sure to be one of my favorites for young readers!

Root Magic by Eden Royce (List Price: $16.99, Walden Pond Press, 9780062899576, 1/5/2021)

Reviewed by Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston

This is the start of a brilliant new middle grade fantasy series. Move over, Harry Potter. It’s time for some #blackgirlmagic. This was a super fun read but also touches on racism and class issues with a deft hand. Can’t wait for the next one!

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston (List Price: $1.99, Balzer + Bray, 9780062975164, January, 2021).

Reviewed by Melissa Taylor, E. Shaver, bookseller in Savannah, GA

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Once Upon a Unicorn by Lou Anders

If you live near the Glistening Isles and/or Whisperwood then you know that just about any challenge you encounter might involve creatures whose names reflect their true dispositions, or at least what they let you see. This includes a Night Mare named Midnight and a Unicorn named Curious. You will also recognize that unicorns are becoming scarce, as they are hunted for the medicinal properties in their horns. The biggest threat to the unicorns, as well to other magical creatures and all living creatures, really, was that humans either no longer believed or just did not care. Eventually, something was bound to happen…

Once Upon a Unicorn by Lou Anders (List Price $16.99, Crown Books for Young Readers), recommended by Square Books, Oxford MS.

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Blue Skies by Anne Bustard

It’s 1949 in Gladiola, Texas. Everyone in town is excited about the Merci train full of gifts rolling through from France as a thank you for America’s help in WWII. Glory Bea is expecting a special gift to arrive on the train, her father. No one can stop her from believing in this miracle, not her mom’s new boyfriend or the grownups who thwart her railroad scouting mission. Blue Skies is perfect for fans of heartfelt middle grade with a twist of humor.

Blue Skies by Anne Bustard (List price: $17.99, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), recommended by Parnassus Books, Nashville, TN.

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Jasmine Green Rescues: A Piglet Called Truffle by Helen Peters, Ellie Snowdon (Illustrator)

This fun new series will get early readers a chance to love reading. Fun and beautiful while pulling at the strings of your heart for the love of animals. Delightful.

Jasmine Green Rescues: A Piglet Called Truffle by Helen Peters, Ellie Snowdon (Illustrator) (List price: $14.99, Walker Books US), recommended by Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC.

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