From Colin Kaepernick's first book to the adventures of young Witchlings, we round up our favorite picture book and middle-grade releases.

From the first children's book by football star Colin Kaepernick to a fantastic graphic novel about a mysterious Aquanaut, these stories deal with everything from identity and self-acceptance to the challenges of finding a true place in your community.  Here, EW recommends 5 of the most exciting recent releases for kids. 

Age 4 +

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I Am Golden
Credit: Feiwel and Friends

I Am Golden by Eva Chen, Illustrated by Sophie Diao

Centered on a little girl named Mei, best-selling author Eva Chen's evocative picture book talks about the beauties and struggles of the Chinese-American immigrant experience. As Mei's parents tell her all the reasons why she should be treasured for who she is, they remind her that she has a secret power all her own, a golden flame within her that flickers distinctively no matter what difficulties she might face. Gorgeously illustrated by Sophie Diao, I Am Golden touches on the pain of being treated differently while celebrating Asian culture and pride. — Lauren Morgan

Stella Keeps the Sun Up
Credit: Denene Millner Books/Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Stella Keeps the Sun Up by Clothilde Ewing, Illustrated by Lynn Gaines

On the first page of this charming children's book, the titular 6-year-old introduces herself by explaining, "I don't look like a star, but I do like to sparkle!" For the next 34 sprightly pages, Stella (and her trusted pal Roger, a shenanigans-enabling stuffed blue hippo) does just that on her campaign to extend the day. After applying delightful childhood logic – if it never gets dark, you never have to go to sleep – she attempts to problem solve her way to perpetual play. My own crafty 6-year-old and I worked our way through Stella's day, which felt wonderfully similar in its routine and revelry. As someone who grew up not seeing myself in the books I read, I appreciated that Stella and her best friend Kamrynn represented a wider spectrum of children — and did so in a casual way. That matter-of-fact approach made the representation feel real, not routine. For me, that was magic. For my 6-year-old daughter, the magic was in creating her own wacky ways to keep the sun up as she followed along with her new fictional foil. Sparkle, indeed.— Mary Margaret

I Color Myself Different
Credit: Scholastic Inc.

I Color Myself Different by Colin Kaepernick, Illustrated by Eric Wilkerson

In the lovely first release from Colin Kaepernick's publishing imprint, the civil rights activist and former quarterback recounts how something as small as a childhood drawing assignment sparked a change in how he viewed his place in the world. By coloring himself differently from his adoptive white family and being upset by his classmates' confusion that his parents were a different race, the future NFL star realizes that what makes him different from his loved ones also makes him special. With charming illustrations by Eric Wilkerson, I Color Myself Different shows how the inspiring stories of Black heroes that came before him leads the young Kaepernick to the acceptance and celebration of his Black identity.—LM

Age 8 +

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Witchlings by Claribel A. Ortega
Credit: Scholastic Press

Witchlings by Claribel A. Ortega

In Claribel A. Ortega's enchanting middle grade novel, young Witchling Seven Salazar can't believe her bad luck when her town's Black Moon Ceremony goes awry. Instead of getting sorted into her favorite coven, House Hyacinth, she gets stuck as one of the dreaded town Spares, lesser witches who typically never achieve their full powers and are treated like outcasts. Faced with losing her powers forever when their new coven doesn't properly seal, Seven invokes the impossible task and along with her fellow Spares, Thorn, the new girl in town with a tragic past, and Valley, her long-time bully hiding a sad secret of her own, they must defeat the terrifying Nightbeast within three weeks or be turned into toads. That's just the beginning of Ortega's inventive story, which besides its cozy, lived-in feel has a mystery that will keep kids guessing and a charming protagonist in the plucky, brave Seven, who learns over the course of the story that, "Any witch can be a friend, if you just give them a chance." —LM

The Aquanaut by Dan Santat
Credit: Graphix

The Aquanaut by Dan Santat

Ten years in the making, Caldecott medalist Dan Santat's inventive and heartfelt graphic novel takes place at Aqualand, a marine theme park where Sophia Revoy and her Uncle Paul, a marine biologist, have been struggling in the wake of her father's death five years before. When the mysterious Aquanaut appears wearing her father's old diving suit, Sophia's life gets turned upside down as she discovers it's piloted by Antonio, Carlos and Jobim, three sea creatures who have a connection with her late father (and who Santat named after the famous Brazilian musician, Antônio Carlos Jobim). Through the Aquanaut, Sophia realizes that while Aqualand was founded as a marine life reserve, Paul's current money hungry partner has distorted its original mission and the animals are suffering in return. Reminiscent of the fish prison break in Finding Dory, Santat takes the reader on a fantastic, funny adventure as Sophia and the Aquanaut plan a daring rescue of the park's sea life and Uncle Paul realizes he can no longer hold onto Aqualand's past as a way to memorialize his lost brother but must chart a new course for his family's future. —LM

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