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Wrap up some great books for kids

Sharyn Vane Special to the American-Statesman
“The Forgotten Girl“ by India Hill Brown

Experience, or thing? There’s an easy way to gift both at once — books. From a magical circus to an arresting post-apocalyptic African fantasy, here are new middle-grade and young adult titles that will plunge readers deeply into other worlds. Looking for picture book recommendations? Check out our latest edition of Statesman Selects Kids for inclusive titles that span holiday celebrations, reimagined classics and more.

Cassie Beasley first introduced us to Micah Tuttle in 2015’s “Circus Mirandus,” a delightfully layered tale of the search for belonging. In her new sequel, “The Bootlace Magician” (Dial/Penguin, $17.99), Micah has just turned 11 and is experimenting more with his magic skills — crucial for the battle he’ll have to fight to protect the circus. “Just remember to pay attention to your own magic,” flame artist Firesleight warns him. “You’re getting to know your own power, and the little details of how it works can turn out to be much more important than you think. Sometimes, your magic surprises you. Sometimes, those surprises can get you into trouble.” (Ages 9-12)

Edie knows she has Native ancestors, but she’s clueless about the traditions of her heritage. Her father is white, and her mother was adopted by a white couple, so she hasn’t grown up learning about her history. That all changes when the 13-year-old sifts through pictures in the attic of her Seattle home and finds a photograph of a woman who looks just like her. In fact, there’s a whole folder of photos, plus a letter signed, “Love, Edith.” So begins “I Can Make This Promise” (Candlewick Press, $16.99), a coming-of-age story from debut author Christine Day. Day, an enrolled member of the Upper Skagit, drew on her own experiences as a Native woman to sketch Edie’s story, which also plumbs family separation. Look forward to more Native stories with the recent announcement of HarperCollins’ Heartdrum imprint, helmed by Austin novelist Cynthia Leitich Smith and with a launch list that includes a new middle-grade novel from Day. (Ages 8-12)

Iris and Daniel are just out to enjoy themselves on a moonlit, snowy night at Christmastime. Iris plunks down to make a snow angel but uncovers the grave of an 11-year-old girl, which turns out to be part of an abandoned cemetery for the black residents of tiny Easaw, N.C. Soon, “The Forgotten Girl” (Scholastic, $16.99) is haunting her. In India Hill Brown’s spooky, absorbing debut, Iris and Daniel join forces to research what happened to young Avery Moore, which exposes racial divides in their town that still linger in modern times. The novel intertwines the horrors of history with some truly goosebump-worthy moments, like Daniel’s grandmother Suga warning them about the spirits of the snow who feed on children outside after dark. (Ages 10-12)

The Hudson siblings learned to time travel in Liesl Shurtliff’s “Time Castaways” series kickoff, “The Mona Lisa Key.” Now comes the follow-up, “The Obsidian Compass” (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, $16.99), which finds them squaring off again with the evil Capt. Vincent, who escaped across time with the compass and a letter from its inventor. Thirteen-year-old Matt, desperate to rescue his friend Jia from the captain’s clutches, builds a new compass in hopes that he and his twin siblings can find Vincent and Jia. Adventures ensue, in locations as varied as ancient Siberia and modern Los Angeles (the ‘90s are still considered modern, right?). Shurtliff’s steady hand and surprising plot twists make this second volume a romp and sets up questions for the trilogy’s finale, dubbed “The Forbidden Lock.” (Ages 8-12)

Darcy Wells loves to escape into books. She adores the characters and stories, but she also relishes the way they help her escape her surroundings, particularly the overcrowded apartment she shares with her mother, who hoards. “She overdosed on things,” Darcy explains. “Our home was wasted with them.” Laura Taylor Namey’s “The Library of Lost Things” (Inkyard Press/HarperCollins, $18.99) follows Darcy as she slowly finds romance and learns that being honest about her struggles is just as rewarding as her favorite fictional plots. Literary quotes that open each chapter will appeal to devoted bibliophiles. (Ages 12 and older)

Tochi Onyebuchi’s mother’s childhood during the Nigerian civil war was his inspiration for “War Girls” (Razorbill/Penguin, $17.99), an Afrofuturist fantasy centering on two sisters desperately seeking peace in a post-apocalyptic Nigeria. Onyebuchi’s world-building, first showcased in 2017’s “Beasts Made of Night,” is even more exquisite here. It’s 2172. Young warrior Onyii has a bionic prosthesis in place of one of her arms. Some of her organs are also manufactured, so as to better withstand the radiation that permeates a world ravaged by climate change and nuclear war. Her brilliant younger sister, Ify, studies orbital physics in her spare time and has created the Accent, technology that gives her immense insight into those around her. The two live in an orphan camp but are separated in the midst of conflict, giving Onyebuchi a platform to explore not only the toll of war but also the ties of sisterhood and the ethics of technology. The ending sets up what should be a much-anticipated sequel. (Ages 14 and older)

From classic Christmas stories to universal tales of family, this edition of Statesman Selects Kids features picture books that are ripe for gift-giving in addition to diversifying your young reader’s bookshelf. Need more ideas? Check out the titles in BookPeople’s Modern First Library,, curated to include a wide selection of diverse first books.

Oscar-nominated actress Lupita Nyong’o joins the ranks of crossover picture book authors with “Sulwe” (Simon and Schuster, $17.99), the story of a little girl who was “born the color of midnight.” Sulwe hates the nicknames the schoolchildren call her, and desperately wants to look more like her light-skinned sister. She eats only the “lightest, brightest foods,” to no avail. Her mother encourages her to be proud, but it’s only when she hops aboard a shooting star to learn about the mythic duality of day and night — and the beauty of both —that Sulwe truly embraces herself.

Nyong’o notes that like her young protagonist, she got teased about her dark skin as a child: “My goal in writing ‘Sulwe’ is to provide young children with a path toward seeing their own beauty, regardless of what society tells them.” Illustrator Vashti Harrison (“Little Leaders”) depicts a Sulwe just as luminous as the shooting star of the story.

True inclusion means that children see themselves in the pages of all kinds of stories, not just ones specifically related to their race or other minority status. That’s why Jabari Asim’s board book “My Baby Loves Christmas” (HarperFestival/HarperCollins, $7.99), illustrated by Tara Nicole Whitaker, is so welcome. It’s simply a baby of color and her family enjoying all the sights and sounds of the season, from singing carols with her parents to hanging stockings by the fireplace: “Baby loves tinsel, bright lights that shine … and gingerbread men all in a line.”

Similarly, seek out the new version of “The Nutcracker” from Penguin Bedtime Classics, a series of reimagined board book classics refreshed with new art centering diverse characters: A brown-skinned, bespectacled Clara battles the familiar mouse soldiers, and “Alice in Wonderland” features a dark-skinned Alice hurtling down the rabbit hole (Penguin Books, $7.99 each). Future editions will include “The Wizard of Oz” and “Jack and the Beanstalk.” In the same spirit, HarperFestival’s “Baby Scientist” board books feature a dark-skinned “Baby Botanist” and an Asian “Baby Astronaut” (HarperCollins, $8.99 each).

Amy can do lots of things — except make a perfect bao. Sometimes she overstuffs the traditional Chinese dumplings; sometimes they fall apart before they can be eaten. How can her mother, father and grandmother all make soft, fluffy and delicious bao? “Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao” (Simon and Schuster, $17.99) is author Kat Zhang’s answer, full of persistence, patience and recipes. Illustrator Charlene Chua shows us Amy’s supportive family as well as a wonderfully inclusive double-page spread of Amy and her classmates chowing down on bao. Lessons in resilience should always be this tasty.

Statesman Selects Kids: New picture books for the holidays