Meet the Imprints: Carolrhoda Books & Carolrhoda Lab

We kick off our Meet the Imprints feature with Carolrhoda Books (middle grade fiction) and Carolrhoda Lab (young adult fiction). The mission of Carolrhoda Books is to publish distinctive books with heart, including picture books (which we’ll cover later) and middle grade novels that tackle tough and timely subject matter, in stories told with fresh voices and adventurous writing. Carolrhoda Lab YA novels are unflinching, voice-driven narratives that enthrall and challenge readers. Read on to learn more about the books, and the editorial vision behind them.

Carolrhoda Books has been publishing high-quality, award-winning books since 1969, and our middle grade novels stand out not only for their quality, but also for the breadth of stories they cover.

Some of our best-known middle grade novels are:

AfterMath

  • Interest Level: Grade 5 – Grade 8
  • Reading Level: Grade 5

“This book is a gift to the culture.” —Amy Schumer, writer, actor, and activist

After her brother’s death from a congenital heart defect, twelve-year-old Lucy is not prepared to be the new kid at school—especially in a grade full of survivors of a shooting that happened four years ago. Without the shared past that both unites and divides her classmates, Lucy feels isolated and unable to share her family’s own loss, which is profoundly different from the trauma of her peers.

Lucy clings to her love of math, which provides the absolute answers she craves. But through budding friendships and an after-school mime class, Lucy discovers that while grief can take many shapes and sadness may feel infinite, love is just as powerful.

Without Refuge

  • Interest Level: Grade 4 – Grade 7
  • Reading Level: Grade 4

Thirteen-year-old Ghalib wishes his life could go back to normal. He wishes he could still hang out at the market with his friends, root for his favorite soccer team, even go to school. But civil war has destroyed his home.

As violence rages around them, his family makes the difficult choice to flee Syria. Together they start out on a dangerous journey toward Europe. Along the way, they encounter closely guarded borders, hardscrabble refugee camps, and an ocean crossing that they may not survive.

The gripping story of one boy’s journey to find refuge pays tribute to struggles millions of Syrians face in today’s real-world crisis.

Auma’s Long Run

  • Interest Level: Grade 3 – Grade 6
  • Reading Level: Grade 4

Auma loves to run. In her small Kenyan village, she’s a track star with big dreams. A track scholarship could allow her to attend high school and maybe even become a doctor. But a strange new sickness called AIDS is ravaging the village, and when her father becomes ill, Auma’s family needs her help at home. Soon more people are getting sick—even dying—and no one knows why. Now Auma faces a difficult choice. Should she stay to support her struggling family or leave to pursue her own future? Auma knows her family is depending on her, but leaving might be the only way to find the answers to questions about this new disease.

•A BEA Editors’ Buzz Pick
•A Kirkus Reviews Best Middle-Grade Book of 2016
•A Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year

Carolrhoda Lab novels examine teenage life from many different perspectives, allowing YA readers to explore new and surprising ways of thinking about themselves and the world around them. Tackling relevant issues through a wide variety of genres, Carolrhoda Lab is proud to offer thought-provoking stories told by fresh voices. Our list includes many titles recognized with starred reviews and awards, including Printz Honor Awards and a National Book Award Finalist.

Some of our celebrated YA novels are:

What Girls Are Made Of

  • Interest Level: Grade 8 – Grade 12
  • Reading Level: Grade 6

A 2017 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature Finalist

When Nina Faye was fourteen, her mother told her there was no such thing as unconditional love. Nina believed her. Now she’ll do anything for the boy she loves, to prove she’s worthy of him. But when he breaks up with her, Nina is lost. What is she if not a girlfriend? What is she made of? Broken-hearted, Nina tries to figure out what the conditions of love are.

“Finally, finally, a book that is fully girl, with all of the gore and grace of growing up female exposed.” —Carrie Mesrobian, author of the William C. Morris finalist, Sex & Violence

Where I Belong

  • Interest Level: Grade 6 – Grade 12
  • Reading Level: Grade 6

A Pura Belpré Honor Book

An immigrant teen fights for her family, her future, and the place she calls home.

In the spring of 2018, Guatemalan American high school senior Milagros “Millie” Vargas knows her life is about to change. She has lived in Corpus Christi, Texas, ever since her parents sought asylum there when she was a baby. Now a citizen, Millie devotes herself to school and caring for her younger siblings while her mom works as a housekeeper for the wealthy Wheeler family. With college on the horizon, Millie is torn between attending her dream school and staying close to home, where she knows she’s needed. She is disturbed by what’s happening to asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, but she doesn’t see herself as an activist or a change-maker. She’s just trying to take care of her own family.

Then Mr. Wheeler, a U.S. Senate candidate, mentions Millie’s achievements in a campaign speech about “deserving” immigrants. It doesn’t take long for people to identify Millie’s family and place them at the center of a statewide immigration debate. Faced with journalists, trolls, anonymous threats, and the Wheelers’ good intentions—especially those of Mr. Wheeler’s son, Charlie—Millie must confront the complexity of her past, the uncertainty of her future, and her place in the country that she believed was home.

Like Spilled Water

  • Interest Level: Grade 8 – Grade 12
  • Reading Level: Grade 6

Nineteen-year-old Na has always lived in the shadow of her younger brother, Bao-bao, her parents’ cherished son. Years ago, Na’s parents left her in the countryside and went to work in the city, bringing Bao-bao along and committing everything to his education.

But when Bao-bao dies suddenly, Na realizes how little she knew him. Did he really kill himself because of a low score on China’s all-important college entrance exam? Na learns that Bao-bao had many secrets and that his death may not be what it seems. Na’s parents expect her to quit her vocational school and go to work, forcing Na to confront traditional expectations for and pressures on young women.

I, Claudia

  • Interest Level: Grade 8 – Grade 12
  • Reading Level: Grade 6

A 2019 Michael L. Printz Honor Book

Disaffected teen historian Claudia McCarthy never expected to be in charge of Imperial Day Academy, but by accident, design, or scheme, she is pulled into the tumultuous and high-profile world of the Senate and Honor Council. Suddenly, Claudia is wielding power over her fellow students that she never expected to have and isn’t sure she wants.

Claudia vows to use her power to help the school. But there are forces aligned against her: shocking scandals, tyrants waiting in the wings, and political dilemmas with no easy answers. As Claudia struggles to be a force for good in the universe, she wrestles with the question: does power inevitably corrupt?

What is your editorial vision for Carolrhoda middle grade and Carolrhoda Lab?
I look for stories that are honest with young readers—stories that respect their intelligence and offer them new ways to think about the world. I aim to publish as wide a variety of voices as possible, showcasing characters who face the messiness and scariness of reality head on and find connection, growth, and empowerment in all kinds of ways.

What makes Carolrhoda and Carolrhoda Lab different from others in publishing?
I’ve got a trade young adult and middle-grade fiction list nestled into an independent publisher that isn’t solely focused on trade books. That’s very unusual. It means I’ve been able to keep my list small and selective, so I’m not juggling more books than I can do justice to. I give every book my undivided attention and work to build collaborative, supportive relationships with my authors. Every editor wants to be able to do that, but many simply can’t carve out the time given their workloads. It’s also a privilege to be able to invest my time and energy equally in each book, instead of having to choose one or two books that’ll get the most attention vs. a “midlist” that’ll get whatever’s left over.

How do you decide what to acquire?
I look for something I haven’t seen yet or haven’t seen enough of—a voice or an angle that hasn’t been featured on my list in recent seasons. I mostly acquire contemporary realism and historical realism because they’re what I do best and they have so much uncharted territory; there’s always something new waiting to be discovered. I’ll occasionally spring for a story with magical or speculative elements if it’s still solidly grounded in reality, either via a real-world setting or through the themes it’s exploring. It’s not just a matter of personal taste. I enjoy reading fantasy, but it’s not my greatest strength editorially—same for romcoms or animal-centered stories—and I know other editors are doing great work in those spaces. I’m looking for the gaps I can fill particularly well as an editor—and, crucially, for authors who feel I’ll be the right caretaker for their stories. I learned early on that I shouldn’t be editing a book unless the author and I were on the same page about where the story was trying to go and how we would get it there. I might love a premise, but I’ll only move forward if I’m confident the author and I see eye to eye about the execution. It’s my job to help authors tell their stories as effectively as possible, not to impose my vision on their material, so I try to acquire projects for which my passion and the author’s passion are a match.

Your degree is in creative writing. How did you wind up in your current role?
I started out at Lerner as an intern and, after being hired on, helped out with pretty much every imprint here over my first couple of years. Learning the craft of editing educational nonfiction was surprisingly useful preparation for editing fiction. A lot of practical structural questions—“Is this information in the right place?”; “Is the meaning of this clear?”—apply to fiction as well as nonfiction and helped me approach fiction as more than just vibes. That said, I love the freedom that comes with editing fiction: suggesting plot changes, teasing out character development, even helping an author rename characters or places. Can’t change names in nonfiction! I’m indebted to Andrew Karre, who started Carolrhoda’s YA and MG fiction lists, for seeing potential in me as a fiction editor and giving me the chance to gradually start specializing in that area.

What is the state of publishing in your genre right now?
Oh, good, a softball question! In YA and MG fiction, there’s a fairly clear tug-of-war between those who want to expand readers’ horizons and those who want to keep offerings “safe”—by which they mean comfortable for them. I don’t believe any industry has ever gotten more relevant by keeping people in power comfortable. If we want to reach the readers who need us most, we have to keep pushing out of that comfort zone, which for many of us involves examining our own privilege and working to show meaningful allyship with marginalized people who’ve traditionally been shut out of (or kept at the fringes of) publishing. I believe the future of YA and MG fiction lies in that direction, but we have a lot of work ahead of us.

What are you reading right now, for work or for pleasure?
I’m finally getting to Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro and am annoyed at myself for letting it sit on a table for so many months. I’m also listening to the audiobook of Break This House by Candice Iloh—at 1.5 speed because it’s a page turner.

See what’s coming up from Carolrhoda middle grade and Carolrhoda Lab.

Stay tuned for more Meet the Imprints posts!

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