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On grief, anxiety, and finding one’s fit

CHILDREN’S BOOKS | Reviewing four new stories for pre-teens

On grief, anxiety, and finding one’s fit
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If You Read This

Kereen Getten
(Delacorte Press 2022)

Three years ago, Brie lost her mama to ­cancer, and though her father is still living, Brie feels she’s lost him, too. He seems to care nothing about his daughter now, and constantly ­prioritizes his job at the local resort over spending time with her. Mama, on the other hand, continues to show her love, even after death, through a series of scavenger-hunt-like letters that Brie receives on her 12th birthday. The letters send the Jamaican pre-teen, her two best friends, and Brie’s lovable Nana on an enchanting coming-of-age adventure that paints a beautiful ­picture of island life, loss, and life’s most ­precious treasures. Don’t miss this one. Ages 8-12

Where the Water Takes Us

Alan Barillaro
(Candlewick 2023)

When her mother’s pregnancy turns high-risk, 11-year-old Ava’s parents send her to stay with her grandparents for the summer. Ava normally loves spending time with her Nonno and Nonna at their island lakehouse, but this trip she’s overcome with anxiety, worrying that she may lose her mother forever. And an annoyingly happy boy named Cody just won’t leave her to her misery. When a woodpecker dies in front of Ava, she takes it as a sign that her family must be cursed—but can a curse be reversed? Pick this book up for a cinematic, careful, ­coming-of-age story that beautifully portrays strong intergenerational relationships and inadvertently points readers to the wisdom of the Serenity Prayer. Ages 8-12

The Big Sting

Rachelle Delaney
(Tundra Books 2023)

Eleven-year-old Leo is an “auditor,” according to a personality website. And while that label bums him out, he can’t really argue with it: He’s analytical, somewhat anxious, and an “armchair adventurer,” to quote his dad. But that label starts to peel a bit when Leo and his younger sister, Lizzie, spend a week with their gruff and grieving grandpa, who’s on a mission to find his late wife’s stolen beehives. A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection, this light and punny coming-of-age mystery explores grief, family, and the complexities of self as it treks readers through a fun farm/island adventure. Note: A random tertiary character ­mentions “mom’s girlfriend.” Ages 8-12

Elf Dog & Owl Head

M.T. Anderson
(Candlewick 2023)

When a COVID-like pandemic shuts down Clay’s world, the flanked-by-two-sisters middle child is tired of trying to play Frisbee solo. He ventures into the woods behind his house where he encounters a royal elf-hound who has escaped from a harsh underworld. The dog, Elphinore, quickly becomes Clay’s best friend, and when Clay is by her side, his eyes are opened to magical realms and mystical creatures that he was previously blind to. But not all of these creatures want to be found by humans, and Clay soon discovers that some of them are dark and dangerous. A fast-paced, fantastical springboard for a family discussion about how there is more to this world than what we can see. Ages 8-12

Whitney Williams

Whitney works on WORLD’s development team and has spent more than a decade with the organization in various roles. She earned a journalism degree from Baylor University and resides in Texas with her husband and three sons.


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