This first one was terrific. It's called "Listen, Slowly" by Thanhha Lai. If you read children's literature at all, you might recognize Thanhha Lai's name... she wrote a book a few years ago called "Inside Out and Back Again" which was a Newbery honoree and the National Book Award winner. I think this one is even more accessible because it's written in prose and the character's voice is so strong and clear, I think she will resonate with a lot of kids. It's about a Vietnamese American girl named Mai (or Mia in America) who lives in California with her mom and dad and grandmother. She has lots of friends and likes surfing and hanging out and has big plans for the summer. Until her parents come to her and tell her that they want her to go with Viet Nam with her grandmother and her dad. They have a lead on some information about her grandfather, who disappeared during the war. Mia goes with them, but not with out a lot of whining and angst. She finds Viet Nam in turns hot, wet, delicious, and disgusting. She meets her extended family and tries to hurry the process of finding out about her grandfather along so she can get back to her friends in America. It's a really great story about learning to appreciate other cultures and learning to appreciate your parents. I liked this one a lot.
The second one grew on me... It's called "Blackbird Fly" by Erin Entrada Kelly. It's about Apple who is 12 (a popular age for middle grade fiction). She lives with her mom (her dad died long ago) in a small town in Louisiana. Apple and her mom came from the Philippines and don't look like everybody else in a small town in Louisiana and it bothers Apple, A LOT. At the beginning of the story, Apple goes to a friend's house and when boys show up, it's apparent that the boys are NOT nice. When the girls allow the teasing to go on, Apple gets the message and goes home but the teasing continues and morphs into flat-out bullying. Apple seems to believe that she deserves this kind of treatment and blames her mother. But Apple loves music and really wants to play. She keeps asking her mother for a guitar. Her mother keeps saying no but Apple comes up with her own plan and a new boy shows up who has enough self-confidence to stand up to the bullies. I really liked his character and Apple's character gets better once he turns up. This one would be great to connect to "Bystander" by James Preller which also has themes of bullying and how even if you aren't really participating, you are condoning bullying by just standing by. I liked this one a lot too.
I'd never heard of this one "Absolutely Truly" by Heather Vogel Frederick. It looks like it might be the beginning of a series of books about the same characters and I hope so because I thought they were terrific. Truly Lovejoy is one of seven kids in her family and she's right in the middle. Her family has moved around quite a bit because her dad has been in the military. Unfortunately, he was wounded in the line of duty and his military career is over. Her dad's parents own a small bookstore in their hometown and when they decide to go on adventure, Truly's family plus Truly's aunt (her dad's big sister) step in to take over the bookstore, which means a move across country, leaving her friends, particularly her best friend (who is also her cousin). In addition to dealing with new kids, a grumpy dad, and COLD weather, there's a mystery afoot. The clues are letters. Truly finds the first one in a copy of Charlotte's Web. With help from her new friends, Truly unravels the mystery. There are some really great text to text connections, some very interesting characters, and a lot of fun.