New Release Spotlight: August 13, 2019

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September is always a huge month for new book releases. Even though it’s only mid-August, I am already seeing an uptick in the number of new releases each week. As with last week, I had to be very choosy about what went on this week’s list. I like to try to keep the weekly lists to around 15 titles (it is a spotlight, after all!). My criteria for selection includes professional reviews, Goodreads reviews, cultural and racial diversity, an international focus, and underrepresented topics. Above all, I only add titles to this list if they have kid appeal and I would buy them for my own school library.

As always, titles start with YA and descend through middle grades and picture books. Any title with a * next to the title received at least two starred professional reviews.

*The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

Atlanta, 1890. By day, seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady’s maid for the cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. But by night, Jo moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a newspaper advice column for the genteel Southern lady, “Dear Miss Sweetie.” When her column becomes wildly popular, she uses the power of the pen to address some of society’s ills, but she’s not prepared for the backlash that follows when her column challenges fixed ideas about race and gender. While her opponents clamor to uncover the secret identity of Miss Sweetie, a mysterious letter sets Jo off on a search for her own past and the parents who abandoned her as a baby. But when her efforts put her in the crosshairs of Atlanta’s most notorious criminal, Jo must decide whether she, a girl used to living in the shadows, is ready to step into the light.

PAGES: 374
GENRE: historical fiction
THEMES: newspapers, Chinese-Americans, advice columns, crime
READALIKES: These Shallow Graves (Donnelly), Miss Fortune Cookie (Bjorkman)
STARS AND AWARDS: Booklist starred, BCCB starred, Publishers Weekly starred, SLJ starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Unflinching in its portrayals of racism yet ultimately hopeful and heartfelt, this narrative places voices frequently left out of historical fiction center stage. Recommended for any collection.” (SLJ, 1 June 2019)

We Are the Ghosts by Vicky Skinner

When Ellie’s estranged brother, Luke, dies in a car accident, she’s not sure whether to be devastated that she lost the person who was once her best friend or enraged, still, that he left without a word a year ago. Now, the only people who seem to understand what she’s going through are Luke’s best friend and his ex-girlfriend, who she bonds with over their desire to figure out where Luke went when he walked out of their lives. As she gets closer to them, and closer to Cade, a boy who seems determined to get to know her better, she realizes that she’s not the only one with reasons to be angry at Luke. And when Ellie makes a discovery that changes everything, she and her new friends hit the road, hoping that following Luke’s trail will bring them answers about the life Luke was living away from them.

PAGES: 272
GENRE: realistic fiction, mystery
THEMES: grief, road trips, friendship
READALIKES: The Astonishing Color of After (Pan), Love Letters to the Dead (Dellaira)

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “This haunting mystery will engage teens who have had to come to know themselves better via the people around them.” (SLJ Express, 12 July 2019)

Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black by Marcus Sedgwick (Author), Julian Sedgwick (Author), and Alexis Deacon (Illustrator)

Harry Black, a conscientious objector, artist, and firefighter battling the blazes of German bombing in London in 1944, wakes in the hospital to news that his soldier brother, Ellis, has been killed. In the delirium of his wounded state, Harry’s mind begins to blur the distinctions between the reality of war-torn London, the fiction of his unpublished sci-fi novel, and the myth of “Orpheus and Eurydice.” Driven by visions of Ellis still alive and a sense of poetic inevitability, Harry sets off on a search for his brother that will lead him deep into the city’s Underworld. Illustrated novel

PAGES: 312
GENRE: historical fiction
THEMES: grief, WWII, England, “Orpheus and Eurydice”
READALIKES: Soldier Boy (Hutton), Never Fall Down (McCormick)
STARS AND AWARDS: Booklist starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “The marriage of fantastical elements with the atrocities of war is not new, nor is World War II an unexplored literary topic, but this triptych treatment is interesting.” (SLJ, 1 Aug 2019)

Gut Check by Eric Kester

Wyatt has wanted nothing more than to play football on Grayport’s championship-winning team. But not for the fame, glory, or girls. It’s his last chance to build a relationship with his older brother Brett, the star quarterback, before he leaves for college. Now that their team has gained national attention, a big win could be just what the small town needs in order to rebound from a fishing season that has been devastated by Red Tide. But when Brett suffers a terrible concussion, Wyatt must decide if keeping his brother’s secret is worth risking his scholarship future.

PAGES: 295
GENRE: realistic fiction, sports, humor
THEMES: football, concussions, , traumatic brain injuries, brothers
READALIKES: Friday Night Lights (Bissinger), Concusion (Laskas)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Even though the conflict resolution seems a bit pat, Kester’s debut novel will strike a chord with teens.” (SLJ, 1 Aug 2019)

Bright Star by Erin Swan

Debut author! No one remembers how the war between humans and elves began, but the bloodshed has torn the land of Paerolia apart for nearly five hundred years. Half-human, half-elf, Andra has been rejected for her blood her entire life. A traumatic experience in her childhood left her mute and subdued, a servant in the Chief Judge’s manor. But when an assassination team, led by the secretive and alluring Kael, infiltrates the manor and makes a quick escape, she takes her chance and flees with them.Andra is thrust into the ranks of a secret rebellion–a group of outcasts and believers seeking to overthrow the Chief Judge and replace the corrupt government with new members, ones who will restore and preserve the land they love. Now, the girl who was once an outcast must somehow become the leader Paerolia needs.

PAGES: 385
GENRE: fantasy
THEMES: magic, rebellion, dragons
READALIKES: An Ember in the Ashes (Tahir), Seraphina (Hartman)

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “While not revolutionary, the book’s fierce protagonist and vivid action will make it a solid read for young fans of the genre.” (Booklist, Jul 2019)

*A Slip of a Girl by Patricia Reilly Giff

Anna’s mother has died, and her older siblings have emigrated, leaving Anna and her father to care for a young sister with special needs. And though their family has worked this land for years, they’re in danger of losing it as poor crop yields leave them without money to pay their rent.

When a violent encounter with the Lord’s rent collector results in Anna and her father’s arrest, all seems lost. But Anna sees her chance and bolts from the jailhouse. On the run, Anna must rely on her own inner strength to protect her sister–and try to find a way to save her family.

PAGES: 234
GENRE: free verse, historical fiction
THEMES: Ireland, sisters, The Great Hunger (Ireland), Land War (Ireland)
READALIKES: The War That Saved My Life (Bradley), Inside Out & Back Again (Lai)
STARS AND AWARDS: Booklist starred, Kirkus starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Traditional customs and language are woven into the tale as deftly as Aunt Ethna weaves at her loom.” (Kirkus starred review, 15 Jul 2019)

*Miep and the Most Famous Diary: The Woman Who Rescued Anne Frank’s Diary by Meeg Pincus (Author) and Jordi Solano (Illustrator)

The story of Anne Frank and her diary is one of the world’s most important and well-known, but less is known about the woman who sheltered Anne and her family for years and, ultimately, rescued Anne’s diary from Nazi clutches. Miep Gies was a woman who rose to bravery when humanity needed it and risked everything for her neighbors. It is because of Miep we know Anne Frank–and now, this is Miep’s story.

GENRE: picture book for older readers
THEMES: WWII, Holocaust, Ann Frank, Miep Gies, courage, humanity
READALIKES: The Whispering Town (Elvgren), The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark (Deedy)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred, SLJ Express starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Pincus narrates the terrible facts accurately, not understating them but not allowing the horrors to overwhelm the intensely heroic accomplishment of this kind, courageous woman, employing quotes from Miep’s own writing.” (Kirkus starred review, 1 July 2019)

Mayhem and Madness: Chronicles of a Teenaged Supervillain by J. A. Dauber

Bailey is a pretty average teenager in a pretty average town. He runs track, gets decent grades, and has an unrequited crush. So what is a super-powered flying suit of computerized armor doing twenty feet under his boring suburban home? Bailey needs to know where it came from, if it belonged to his long-missing father, and most importantly, if it can be used to bring his dad back.

This lightning-fast adventure inspired by classic comic book tales pushes a good kid to his limits and questions the difference between a hero and a villain. One day he’s getting beat up by the captain of the football team, the next day he’s robbing banks on Fifth Avenue, stealing diamonds from Tiffany’s, and zooming through aerial dogfights. But how much bad is Bailey willing to do to bring his dad home safely?

PAGES: 302
GENRE: adventure
THEMES: superheroes, missing parent
READALIKES: Steelheart (Sanderson), H.I.V.E.: Higher Institute of Villainous Education (Walden)

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Dauber’s debut novel offers a hero’s journey from the perspective of a villain, perfect for fans of superhero stories in search of something new.” (Booklist, Jul 2019)

Stay by Bobbie Pyron

Piper’s life is turned upside down when her family moves into a shelter in a whole new city. But while Hope House offers her new challenges, it also brings new friendships, like the girls in Firefly Girls Troop 423 and a sweet street dog named Baby. So when Baby’s person goes missing, Piper knows she has to help. But helping means finding the courage to trust herself and her new friends, no matter what anyone says about them, before Baby gets taken away for good.

PAGES: 296
GENRE: realistic fiction, animal stories
THEMES: homelessness, friendship, dogs
READALIKES: Pax (Pennypacker), How to Steal a Dog (O’Connor)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “This title is an excellent book for raising awareness and empathy.” (SLJ, 1 Aug 2019)

Someplace to Call Home by Sandra Dallas

In 1933, what’s left of the Turner family–twelve-year-old Hallie and her two brothers–finds itself driving the back roads of rural America. The children have been swept up into a new migratory way of life. America is facing two devastating crises: the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Hundreds of thousands of people in cities across the country have lost jobs. In rural America it isn’t any better as crops suffer from the never-ending drought. Driven by severe economic hardship, thousands of people take to the road to seek whatever work they can find, often splintering fragile families in the process. As the Turner children move from town to town, searching for work and trying to cobble together the basic necessities of life, they are met with suspicion and hostility. They are viewed as outsiders in their own country. Will they ever find a place to call home?

PAGES: 240
GENRE: historical fiction
THEMES: The Dust Bowl, The Great Depression, migrant workers, child labor, homelessness
READALIKES: Out of the Dust (Hesse), Empty Places (Wiechman), Turtle in Paradise (Holm)

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “This historical novel about the importance of family, belonging, and kindness will do well among young readers interested in the past.” (SLJ, 1 Aug 2019)

Ghost and Bone by Andrew Prentice

Oscar Grimstone is a normal kid-aside from his secret Curse. Whenever he touches something living, like a flower or his classroom goldfish, they always seem to die. But then Oscar discovers an even bigger secret- even though he is very much alive, he has the ability to transform into a ghost.

Just when he thinks things can’t get any stranger two ghosts show up at his home in a skeleton carriage and he winds up joining them on a journey beyond the real world to a place he never knew existed-the city of ghosts. There Oscar will discover a place where people go once they die, before they aboard a ship to the The Other Side. But will he find out who he really is?

PAGES: 210
GENRE: supernatural, scary stories
THEMES: ghosts
READALIKES: Spirit Hunters (Oh), The Bone Garden (Kassner)

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “The plot moves at a fast pace and is a fun introduction to some light horror, but it’s the world-building and characters that are the stars of the show.” (SLJ, 1 Aug 2019)

*Why by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Bear just wants to water his flowers, but Rabbit needs to know–why? Bear is looking forward to a peaceful night of stargazing, but all Rabbit cares about is- why?

As the two friends spend time together through spring, summer, and into fall, Rabbit persistently and simply asks Bear why, encouraging the reader to figure out for themselves the reason for each question that Bear patiently answers, over and over again…until there’s a questions that he has no answer for.

GENRE: picture book
THEMES: friendship, “why?”
READALIKES: Hum and Swish (Myers), Elephant and Piggie series (Willems); Winnie the Pooh (Milne)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred, Booklist starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Illustrations and text meld to provide a rich one-on-one reading experience that will be particularly resonate for any adult who has cared for a child in the ‘why’ phase.” (SLJ, 1 Aug 2019)

Spot & Dot by Henry Cole

Follow Spot the cat and Dot thedog on their wordless journey through the city. We quickly realize that it’s Dot the dog who is missing this time, and Spot is trying to get her back home. We follow these two on a different journey through the city as they weave in and out of a bakery, a library, a busy park, and more. And with a surprise twist at the end, we realize that “home” for both cat and dog was never very far away.

PAGES: unpaged
GENRE: wordless picture book
THEMES: friendship, cats, dogs, city life
READALIKES: Spot, the Cat (Cole), Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug (Newgarden)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “An extraordinary search-and-find that delivers the hum and intrigue found in a city’s multitudes and also the singular feeling of returning to one’s individual place in the world.” (Kirkus starred review, 1 May 2019)

As Warm As the Sun by Kate McMullan (Author) and Jim McMullan (Illustrator)

Toby loves basking in the morning sun, snuggling in a lap in the afternoon, and toasting his tummy by the fireside at night, but somehow his warm spots never last. What Toby wants more than anything is to find something as warm as the sun that never fades or fizzles.

Then one day, Pinkie comes along, and she starts hogging all of Toby’s favorite places. Toby feels alone and forgotten, and slinks away…but Pinkie follows him, determined to prove that she is the something as warm as the sun Toby has been looking for all along.

GENRE: picture book
THEMES: friendship, dogs, jealousy
READALIKES: Julius, the Baby of the World (Henkes), Pig the Pug (Blabey)

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Any child that has experienced the addition of a sibling will appreciate Toby’s feelings and will be happy for Toby as he discovers that his place in the home is always secure.” (SLJ, 1 Aug 2019)







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