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Culture Children's Books
Tony Johnston & María Elena Fontanot de Rhoads
Twelve-year-old Manuel Flores leaves his family’s small farm in Mexico and jumps aboard La Bestia, The Beast, a freight train running from southern Mexico to the U.S. border. Fraught with danger, The Beast carries many people escaping Central America to their deaths and others to American soil, including Toño, Manuel’s brother. While attempting to join Toño, Manuel faces robbery, harassment, and beatings, but he also finds caring people along the way. When he finally reaches Toño in Los Angeles, his world expands, yet he finds himself longing for home. Johnston’s gripping story gives a compelling street-level look at immigration realities. (Ages 12-15)
Pay Attention, Carter Jones
Gary D. Schmidt
On the first day of sixth grade, Carter Jones is surprised to meet a portly Englishman at his front door. His name is Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick, or the Butler, as the family comes to know him. Carter’s late paternal grandfather sent him to help the struggling family, which is still grieving the death of Carter’s younger brother, while Carter’s dad is away on deployment. The Butler begins to provide the family grounding, even teaching Carter and his friends to play cricket. Schmidt delicately weaves together humorous scenes of adolescence, school, and family life with deeper themes of betrayal and grief. (Ages 10-12)
The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise
Ever since Coyote Sunrise’s mother and two sisters died in a car accident, she and her dad, Rodeo, have aimlessly driven around the country in a converted yellow school bus. But Coyote decides they must return home when a memory box she buried with her mother and sisters will soon be destroyed. On the journey, Coyote and Rodeo pick up a series of travelers with their own baggage, including a struggling musician, a mother and son escaping an abusive man, and a teenage girl whose parents banished her for being gay. Gemeinhart’s tale is raw and compelling, though sometimes forced, and occasional profanities don’t help. (Ages 12-15)
Van Markson differs from most 11-year-old boys because he is hard of hearing and relies on hearing aids. He also travels the world with his opera singer mother. But his world turns upside down when he meets a girl and a squirrel collecting coins—which are actually wishes—out of a fountain. This encounter leads to many more, revealing a hidden world where wishes, and cuddly-but-dangerous Wish Eaters, must be contained to prevent havoc. West’s fast-paced series opener is full of plot twists that gently compel young readers to think about whether getting what one wishes for is always beneficial. (Ages 8-12)
Author David Macaulay was 10 in 1957 when his family moved from England to the United States. Aboard a steamship, Macaulay recalls looking out a porthole every morning in anticipation of a glimpse of the Empire State Building. He is surprisingly disappointed by its size, but many years later he still remembers its allure, one of the reasons a foreign land became home.
Even as a boy Macaulay had a fascination with design, modeling, technology, and architecture, which eventually led him to write many award-winning nonfiction children’s books. His latest, Crossing on Time (Roaring Brook Press, 2019), harkens back to his childhood journey and to centuries before that when the discovery of steam power and steam boats, and the subsequent quest for speed and efficiency, changed ocean travel. With colorful art, detailed blueprints and diagrams, fascinating history, and good storytelling, the book is a good fit for ages 10 to 12. —M.J.
—This item has been updated to correct the year David Macaulay’s family moved to the United States.