The Lucky Ones by Linda Williams Jackson; Candlewick Press, 320 pages ($18.99). Ages 8 to 12.
Linda Williams Jackson, author of “Midnight Without a Moon” and sequel “A Sky Full of Stars,” offers an engaging portrait of a boy who dreams of becoming a lawyer or teacher as a way to lift his family out of poverty in this novel inspired by Robert F. Kennedy’s 1967 “Poverty Tour” of the Mississippi Delta.
11-year-old Ellis Earl Brown lives with his widowed mother, eight siblings and a niece in a leaky shack at the end of a long road that sometimes stays flooded for days at a time. Ellis appreciates the lunch his teacher serves the students every day and especially appreciates learning about Thurgood Marshall and civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman. He is thrilled to be among the students invited to greet Sen. Kennedy at the airport. But will his family’s dire financial situation mean he has to quit school to help support the family as his older siblings have?
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The author paints a vivid portrait of what it was like to be this poor: gnawing hunger, threadbare clothing, only pallets to sleep on, no indoor plumbing, no money for a doctor for Ellis’ brother, Oscar. Ellis’ loving mother wears herself out working for pennies as a maid for white women, leaving 14-year-old Jeannette in charge of the kids.
The author also offers an engaging portrait of a loving family’s day-to-day concerns, of sibling rivalries and squabbles, a mother’s worries, Ellis’ annoyance with his little sister for broadcasting every detail of his family’s business. The novel begins with Ellis’ hilarious negotiation with 8-year-old Carrie Ann over how to split the two Moon Pies left over from the afternoon snack at school.
The trip to welcome RFK to Mississippi gives the children a shocking look at the ugly realities of a segregated South including racist protesters at the airport and hostility from staff at a restaurant where they stop for breakfast.
The author explains the storybook ending she came up with for this novel in an afterword. She grew up in the Mississippi Delta in a family helped by Head Start, food stamps and Aid to Families With Dependent Children, but says she wanted a more hopeful, stigma-free outcome for Ellis and his family. Hence the success of the Brown Blues singing group.
Forging Silver Into Stars by Brigid Kemmerer; Bloomsbury, 542 pages ($18.99) Ages 13 to 17.
This thrilling first book of a new series is set in the fantasy world of Brigid Kammerer’s marvelous Cursebreaker series, after the events of “A Vow so Dark and Deadly,” and can be appreciated without even having read those books. Kemmerer offers appealing characters, swashbuckling action, compelling political intrigue, a slow-burning romance and marvelous fantasy touches including the bird-humanlike scravers.
Magic had been banished in the land of Syhl Shallow but is made legal again when the Syhl Shallow queen marries Emberfall’s king, a magesmith or practitioner of magic. Distrust of magic lingers in Syhl Shallow and a rebel faction known as Truthbringers plots the assassination of King Gray.
In the remote Syhl Shallow village of Briarlock teenage neighbors Callyn and Jax are distrustful of magic but are too busy earning a living to have strong allegiance to either side of the debate. Magic killed Callyn’s parents: her soldier mother during war and her father during a violent protest at the royal palace, leaving Callyn alone to run her family’s bakery and care for her younger sister. Despite an accident that cost him a foot, Jax works as a blacksmith at his family’s forge, enduring physical and verbal abuse from his bitter, alcoholic father.
Desperate for money, Jax agrees to a stranger’s offer of silver to hold messages for anti-magic forces. Then 19-year-old Tycho, the dashing courier tasked with investigating the threats against the king, arrives in Briarlock. The compelling narration alternates between Callyn, Jax and Tycho, and the explosive finale leaves the reader eager for the next installment.
Alone Like Me by Rebecca Evans; Anne Schwartz Books/Random House, 40 pages ($17.99) Ages 4 to 8.
A little girl moves her parents from the mountains of China to a big city and desperately lonely until she makes a friend in a lonely apartment in this poignant picture book featuring delicate pencil and watercolor illustrations by debut author-illustrator Rebecca Evans.