New Release Spotlight: January 7, 2020 (Middle Grades)

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Welcome to the first New Release Spotlight of 2020! Because January is a huge month for new book releases, I’ve broken this week’s list into three parts: YA, middle grade, and picture books. If you are looking for the YA or picture book lists, I’ve linked them at the bottom of this post.

All books on this list have been added to The Ginormous, a Google spreadsheet of titles, authors, genres, themes, recommended grade levels, and number of starred professional reviews. I started The Ginormous back in October, and it’s grown to over 300 titles already!

So what looks good on this week’s middle grade list? Graphic novels! I’ve highlighted four new middle grade graphic novels, and three of the four each received two starred professional reviews. We also have new titles from Nic Stone, Deb Caletti (normally a YA author), Lesa Cline-Ransome, Gordon Korman, and Jo Cotterill.

As always, titles with a * by them received two or more starred professional reviews. This week’s YA and picture book Spotlights are linked at the bottom of this post. Enjoy!

*Clean Getaway by Nic Stone

How to Go on an Unplanned Road Trip with Your Grandma:
* Grab a Suitcase: Prepacked from the big spring break trip that got CANCELLED.
* Fasten Your Seatbelt: G’ma’s never conventional, so this trip won’t be either.
* Use the Green Book: G’ma’s most treasured possession. It holds history, memories, and most important, the way home.

What Not to Bring:
* A Cell Phone: Avoid contact with Dad at all costs. Even when G’ma starts acting stranger than usual.

Set against the backdrop of the segregation history of the American South, take a trip with an eleven-year-old boy who is about to discover that the world hasn’t always been a welcoming place for kids like him, and things aren’t always what they seem–his G’ma included.

Booklist and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: road trips, grandmothers, family problems, prejudice, racism, civil rights, Jim Crow Laws, African-Americans, Juarez, Mexico

Me and Banksy by Tanya Lloyd Kyi

Dominica’s private school is covered in cameras, and someone is hacking into them and posting embarrassing moments for the whole school to see. Like Ana picking her nose. When Dominica quickly changes her shirt from inside out in what she thinks is the privacy of a quiet corner in the library, she’s shocked — and embarrassed — to discover a video has captured this and is currently circulating amongst her schoolmates. So mortifying, especially since over the past three years, they’ve had a half-dozen school talks about social media safety.

Who has access to the school security cameras and why are they doing this? Dominica and her best friends, Holden and Saanvi, are determined to find out, and in the process start an art-based student campaign against cameras in the classroom.

  • Genre(s): mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: school safety, online privacy, cyber-bullying, hacking, social media

Humpty Dumpty Lived Near a Wall by Derek Hughes (Author) and Nathan Christopher (Illustrator)

“Humpty Dumpty lived near a wall…” begins this well-known fable. But this time Humpty is ready for battle, with a secret mission and a touch of mischief. Can all the King’s horses and all the King’s men help put Humpty together again? Or maybe the mission, no matter how small, is simply to question the point of a wall.

Wow, can you say “allegory”? No doubt this wall will remind older readers of Trump’s wall between Mexico and the USA. A great springboard for immigration and border wall discussions among older readers. Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-6 (you could read this with little ones, but it’s really juicy for middle and high schoolers!)
  • Themes: nursery rhymes, allegory, Humpty Dumpty, picture books for older readers, borders, walls

Leaving Lymon by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Companion to Finding Langston. Behind every bad boy is a story worth hearing and at least one chance for redemption. It’s 1946 and Lymon, uprooted from his life in the Deep South and moved up North, needs that chance.

Lymon’s father is, for the time being, at Parchman Farm–the Mississippi State Penitentiary–and his mother, whom he doesn’t remember all that much, has moved North. Fortunately, Lymon is being raised by his loving grandparents. Together, Lymon and his grandpops share a love of music, spending late summer nights playing the guitar.

But Lymon’s world as he knows it is about to dissolve. He will be sent on a journey to two Northern cities far from the country life he loves–and the version of himself he knows. Kirkus starred and a JLG selection.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction (1946)
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: Mississippi, incarcerated parents, grandparents, music, guitar, stepfamilies, prejudice, racism, the Great Migration, Chicago, Illinois, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Notorious by Gordon Korman

Keenan has lived all over the world but nowhere quite as strange as Centerlight Island, which is split between the United States and Canada. The only thing weirder than Centerlight itself is his neighbor Zarabeth, aka ZeeBee. ZeeBee is obsessed with the island’s history as a Prohibition-era smuggling route. She’s also convinced that her beloved dog, Barney, was murdered–something Keenan finds pretty hard to believe.

Just about everyone on Centerlight is a suspect, because everyone hated Barney, a huge dog–part mastiff, part rottweiler–notorious for terrorizing the community. Accompanied by a mild-mannered new dog who is practically Barney’s opposite, ZeeBee enlists Keenan’s help to solve the mystery.

As Keenan and ZeeBee start to unravel the clues, they uncover a shocking conspiracy that dates back to Centerlight’s gangster past. The good news is that Keenan may have found the best friend he’s ever had. The bad news is that the stakes are sky-high. And now someone is after them…

  • Genre(s): mystery, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: Prohibition, dogs, Canada, hidden treasure, gangsters

*Consent (For Kids!) Boundaries, Respect, and Being in Charge of You by Rachel Brian

Consent is like being ruler of your own country…population: YOU. This is a comic-style guide to consent and bodily autonomy. Readers will learn about boundaries and how to set them; ways to respect themselves and others; what to do if someone makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe; and much more. Along the way, they’ll be encouraged to reflect on (and improve!) their own behavior and to practice consent in their daily lives.

This is a great choice for health and parenting sections of elementary libraries. I like that this book acknowledges that not all kids feel they can talk to their parents and that they can also talk to a trusted teacher or friend. Kirkus and SLJ Express starred.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-5
  • Themes: consent, boundaries, sexual abuse, online predators, health and wellness

Brave. Black. First.: 50+ African American Women Who Changed the World by Cheryl Hudson (Author) and Erin K. Robinson (Illustrator)

Harriet Tubman guided the way.
Rosa Parks sat for equality.
Aretha Franklin sang from the soul.
Serena Williams bested the competition.
Michelle Obama transformed the White House.
Black women everywhere have changed the world!

Published in partnership with curators from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, this illustrated biography compilation captures the iconic moments of fifty African American women whose heroism and bravery rewrote the American story for the better.

They were fearless. They were bold. They were game changers.

  • Genre(s): collective biography, nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: women, racism, sexism, prejuduce, African-Americans, US History

Casper Tock and the Everdark Wings by Abi Elphinstone

The Unmapped Chronicles, book 1. Casper Tock hates risks and is allergic to adventures. So it comes as a nasty shock to him one day when he hides from bullies in an ancient grandfather clock—and ends up finding an entire world inside.

Casper discovers that this sky kingdom of Rumblestar is one of the four Unmapped Kingdoms in charge of controlling the weather in Casper’s own world. What’s more, Casper is now stuck in Rumblestar, and the only person there who doesn’t think he’s a demon spy is a strange girl named Utterly, who hates rules and is allergic to behaving.

All Casper wants is to find his way home, but Rumblestar is in trouble. An evil harpy called Morg is trying to steal the magic of the Unmapped Kingdoms. And if these kingdoms fall, Casper’s world will be destroyed as well.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: other worlds, weather, dragons, magic, loyalty, friendship

*The Deep & Dark Blue by Niki Smith

After a terrible political coup usurps their noble house, Hawke and Grayson flee to stay alive and assume new identities, Hanna and Grayce. Desperation and chance lead them to the Communion of Blue, an order of magical women who spin the threads of reality to their will.

As the twins learn more about the Communion, and themselves, they begin to hatch a plan to avenge their family and retake their royal home. While Hawke wants to return to his old life, Grayce struggles to keep the threads of her new life from unraveling, and realizes she wants to stay in the one place that will allow her to finally live as a girl.

Kirkus and SLJ Xpress starred.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, fantasy, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: family, magic, gender identity, acceptance, twins

*Cub by Cynthia L. Copeland

Twelve-year-old Cindy has just dipped a toe into seventh-grade drama–with its complicated friendships, bullies, and cute boys–when she earns an internship as a cub reporter at a local newspaper in the early 1970s. A (rare) young female reporter takes Cindy under her wing, and Cindy soon learns not only how to write a lead, but also how to respectfully question authority, how to assert herself in a world run by men, and–as the Watergate scandal unfolds–how brave reporting and writing can topple a corrupt world leader.

Searching for her own scoops, Cindy doesn’t always get it right, on paper or in real life. But whether she’s writing features about ghost hunters, falling off her bicycle and into her first crush, or navigating shifting friendships, Cindy grows wiser and more confident through every awkward and hilarious mistake.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, humor, historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: women’s rights, journalism, Watergate, political corruption, Equal Rights Amendment, bullying

Jelly by Jo Cotterill

Angelica (Jelly for short) is the queen of comedy at school. She has a personality as big as she is, and everyone loves her impressions. But Jelly isn’t as confident as she pretends to be. No one knows her deepest thoughts and feelings. She keeps those hidden away in a secret notebook.

Then her mom’s new boyfriend, Lennon, arrives. He’s kind and perceptive, and he is the first person to realize that Jelly is playing a part. Jelly shares her poetry with him and he convinces her to perform one of her poems as a song at the school talent show. Can Jelly risk letting people see the real her? What if it all goes wrong?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-7
  • Themes: depression, writing, British authors, single mothers

Real Pigeons Fight Crime by Andrew McDonald (Author) and Ben Wood (Illustrator)

Real Pigeons, book 1. What do REAL PIGEONS do? They fight crime, of course! Wait, what? You didn’t know your town is protected by a secret squad of crime-fighting feathered friends?

Well, you are about to get schooled. REAL PIGEONS solve mysteries! REAL PIGEONS fight bad guys! And REAL PIGEONS won’t stop until your neighborhood is safe and the questions are all answered: Like, why have all the breadcrumbs disappeared? And which food truck smells the best?

  • Genre(s): graphic novels, humor, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-7
  • Themes: slapstick comedy, crime, pigeons

Josie Bloom and the Emergency of Life by Susan Hill Long

Set in 1977. Josie Bloom discovers the first wad of money stuffed inside a packet of bologna, and the second hidden between the trash can and the bin liner. That money comes in handy when she finds the PAST DUE notice from the heating company. Seems like Grandpa has been spending more time feeding squirrels than paying the bills. But when a bill arrives that’s too big to handle, Josie’s going to need a plan to get more money–while keeping Grandpa’s odd behavior a secret.

I’d pair this with either Dicamillo’s Raymie Nightingale or Holm’s Sunny Side Up.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: Maine, grandparents, absent parents, blindness, baseball, fundraisers, 1970s

A Girl, a Raccoon, and the Midnight Moon by Karen Romano Young (Author) and Jessixa Bagley (Illustrator)

A New York City library branch has been designated for possible closure yet the bookish, socially awkward Pearl, the daughter of the librarian, can’t imagine a world without the library. When the head of their Edna St. Vincent Millay statue goes missing, closure is closer than ever. But Pearl is determined to save the library. And with a ragtag neighborhood library crew–including a constantly tap-dancing girl, an older boy she has a crush on, and a pack of literate raccoons–she just might be able to do it.

  • Genre(s): mystery, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5+
  • Themes: libraries, bookish, literary references, allusion, biracial protagonist, homelessness, community, New York City

A Flicker of Courage by Deb Caletti

The story takes place in a world much like ours, but at the same time not at all like ours, in which Vlad Luxor–a capricious, vain, infantile tyrant–rules over a town with an iron fist. He’s an emperor with no clothes, but woe is the person who points that out–they could wind up turned into a squirrel or lizard or who knows what! For in this world, the evil leader also has magic, which he uses to punish anyone who speaks out against him.

But in every classic tale with a despicable villain, there must also be a truly noble hero–in this case, four of them! Henry, Apollo, Pirate Girl, and JoJo must be their most brave and clever to break the spell Vlad Luxor has cast on Apollo’s brother, Rocco. For we can’t have Rocco remain a naked lizard for the rest of his life, now can we?

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: heroes, villains, courage, confidence, parental neglect, child abuse, good vs. evil, activism




Looking for more? Here are this week’s new releases for middle grades and picture books:



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