Whether you’re eagerly looking forward to classes resuming or wishing summer would stretch a few more weeks, the first day of school in Central Texas is drawing close. And whether you’re calming nerves of prospective kindergarteners or not-so-gently nudging your teen to resume a better sleep schedule, we’ve got thematically appropriate titles for all ages.
The first day of kindergarten dawns with the sun blaring “like a million brass trumpets” and a pancake breakfast for “The King of Kindergarten” (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, $17.99). Author Derrick Barnes drew from his own experiences preparing four sons for that all-important first day, and his picture book is a preview that covers everything from dressing neatly in “handpicked garments from the far-off villages of Osh and Kosh” to going over classroom rules and “important matters such as shapes, the alphabet, and the never-ending mystery of numbers.” Illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton beautifully depicts the young boy’s confidence-boosting imagination: In one double-page spread, as he readies himself for walking through the school’s glassed-in front door, an imaginary crown reflects back atop his proud face. It’s an inspiring message that lays the groundwork for a successful introduction to school. (Ages 3-6)
Tameika has a hip-rolling happy dance, a stomping mad dance and a swayful soul dance. She adores singing and being onstage. So when her school decides to mount a production of “Snow White,” she can’t wait to audition. But then there are the whispers: “She can’t be Snow White.” “She’s too tall.” “She’s much too chubby.” “And she’s too brown.” Ashley Franklin’s “Not Quite Snow White” (HarperCollins, $17.99) shows how Tameika’s parents combat these messages and encourage their elementary schooler to shine bright on stage, worry-free. Illustrator Ebony Glenn captures Tameika’s joy in movement as well as her sadness and self-doubt at her classmates’ comments. Given the recent hubbub over the casting of Halle Bailey in the reboot of “Little Mermaid,” this picture book is as timely as it is thought-provoking. (Ages 4-8)
Lina is descended from a long line of Windtamers, so she can control the wind and weather — sort of. (Like middle-schoolers’ executive-function skills, her powers are still evolving.) But she doesn’t want to spend her entire existence up in the clouds with her family, so she convinces her parents to let her go to a magnet science school on the ground with her best friend Claudia. Hiding her powers isn’t as easy as she thinks, though, as Austinite Christina Soontornvat shows us in “Snow Place Like Home,” the entertaining first title in a planned six-volume “Diary of an Ice Princess” series (Scholastic, $5.99). Soontornvat deftly packs a ton of characterization into her early-reader story, from Lina’s equal loves for science and fancy dress to grappling with older relatives’ disapproval and school failures. She launches the series at 5 p.m. Aug. 10 at BookPeople; the second volume, “Frost Friends Forever,” publishes simultaneously. (Ages 7-9)
Karina never planned to be friends with Chris, especially after he laughed when the middle-school bullies made fun of her back in sixth grade. But the duo finds they have more in common than they expect when Karina’s grandfather starts tutoring Chris in seventh-grade math. “Count Me In,” (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, $16.99) Houston author Varsha Bajaj’s heartfelt new middle-grade novel, also explores racial stereotypes and school bullying as Karina and her family are targeted for their Indian heritage. Bajaj calls out prejudice both overt (the Indian-food menu scrawled with “Curry Stinks”) and unconscious, like when a classmate muses that attackers targeted Karina’s grandfather because “he was like a foreigner, a terrorist.” Karina quickly corrects that assumption: "My grandfather has lived in this country for fifty years. He is a citizen. A good one. Not a terrorist.” (Ages 10 and older)
Ebony-Grace has an active imagination, casting herself as one of her beloved science fiction space explorers as she’s sent from her comfortable Alabama home to live with her father in 1980s-era Harlem. The other kids label her an ice cream sandwich — chocolate on the outside, vanilla on the inside — but Ebony-Grace flies high in her dreams, never giving up on her space inner monologue despite ridicule from the other kids. “My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich” (Dutton, $16.99) is the middle-grade debut from Ibi Zoboi, whose “American Street” was a finalist for the National Book Award. In addition to its detailed but never labeled portrayal of Ebony-Grace’s neurodiverse brain, “Sandwich” includes comic panels that illuminate how she escapes into her “imagination location.” And the ‘80s references abound, from Diahann Carroll’s portrayal of Dominique Deveraux on “Dynasty” to Dapper Dan’s boutique and hip-hop music. (Ages 10 and older)
How far would you go to expose the truth — especially if it damaged your own sibling? That’s the quandary facing Lainey in Anna Priemaza’s “Fan the Fame” (HarperCollins, $17.99). Her older brother, a beloved and popular streamer, hires her as his handler during a gaming convention. But Lainey has seen Cody transform from the big brother she once trusted to sexist jerk, and she hates that his behind-the-scenes antics are so at odds with his public persona. Her struggle intersects with other members of Cody’s gaming team, a female gamer who’s attending the event hoping to channel Cody’s interest into subscribers of her own, and a fledgling streamer whose online success is a salve for some of his real-life challenges. Priemaza nails the gaming world with her depictions of cosplay, channel-building and parental cluelessness, but the theme of dissonance between image and reality, as well as the complicated gender politics, should resonate with all teens. (Ages 14 and older)
Ellis worries about how the world will end. Not in a theoretical, late-night party conversation sort of way, but as an all-encompassing anxiety that occupies a significant part of her waking hours. Her family and therapist are sympathetic yet want her to change. The only person who doesn’t is her new friend Hannah, who’s also a high school junior, a client of the same therapist — and someone who says she and Ellis were fated to meet, because she actually knows how the world will end. Katie Henry traces the growing friendship between the two in “Let’s Call It a Doomsday” (HarperCollins, $17.99), delving into the day-to-day thoughts of a teen with extreme anxiety with thoughtfulness, care and even humor: “I’ve never understood the fascination with zombies. With so many real things to be terrified of, things that could and do happen every day, why spend a moment’s thought on something fake?” (Ages 13 and older)