New Release Spotlight: April 21, 2020

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Happy Earth Week! This is normally one of my favorite times of the school year, and I’m sad that this year continues to be a fluke. There are so many fun activities to do for Earth Day!

The middle grade titles are once again my favorites on the Spotlight. New titles from Alex Gino and Lauren Wolk are not to be missed for upper-elementary and middle school libraries.

As always, titles with a * by them received two or more starred professional reviews. All titles on this week’s list have been added to The Ginormous book list, which has grown to over 600 titles!

*Kent State by Deborah Wiles

May 4, 1970. Kent State University.

As protesters roil the campus, National Guardsmen are called in. In the chaos of what happens next, shots are fired and four students are killed. To this day, there is still argument of what happened and why.

Told in multiple voices from a number of vantage points–protestor, Guardsman, townie, student–Deborah Wiles’s Kent State gives a moving, terrifying, galvanizing picture of what happened that weekend in Ohio…an event that, even 50 years later, still resonates deeply.

Three starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, free verse
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: poetry, multiple perspectives, protests, police violence, murder, US history, Ohio, universities, colleges, Vietnam War, Cambodia, social unrest

Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan

Jubilee has it all together. She’s an elite cellist, and when she’s not working in her stepmom’s indie comic shop, she’s prepping for the biggest audition of her life.

Ridley is barely holding it together. His parents own the biggest comic-store chain in the country, and Ridley can’t stop disappointing them–that is, when they’re even paying attention.

They meet one fateful night at a comic convention prom, and the two can’t help falling for each other. Too bad their parents are at each other’s throats every chance they get, making a relationship between them nearly impossible…unless they manage to keep it a secret.

Then again, the feud between their families may be the least of their problems. As Ridley’s anxiety spirals, Jubilee tries to help but finds her focus torn between her fast-approaching audition and their intensifying relationship. What if love can’t conquer all? What if each of them needs more than the other can give?

  • Genre(s): romance, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: anxiety, mental illness, suicidal thoughts, lesbian mothers, comic books, Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare spin-offs

Unscripted by Nicole Kronzer

Debut author! Seventeen-year-old Zelda Bailey-Cho has her future all planned out: improv camp, then Second City, and finally Saturday Night Live. She’s thrilled when she lands a spot on the coveted varsity team at a prestigious improv camp, which means she’ll get to perform for professional scouts;including her hero, Nina Knightley.

But even though she’s hardworking and talented, Zelda’s also the only girl on Varsity, so she’s the target for humiliation from her teammates. And her 20-year-old coach, Ben, is cruel to her at practice and way too nice to her when they’re alone. Zelda wants to fight back, but is sacrificing her best shot at her dream too heavy a price to pay?

  • Genre(s): humor, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: comedy, sexism, toxic masculinity, discrimination, improv

The Silence of Bones by June Hur

1800, Joseon (Korea). Homesick and orphaned sixteen-year-old Seol is living out the ancient curse: “May you live in interesting times.” Indentured to the police bureau, she’s been tasked with assisting a well-respected young inspector with the investigation into the politically charged murder of a noblewoman.

As they delve deeper into the dead woman’s secrets, Seol forms an unlikely bond of friendship with the inspector. But her loyalty is tested when he becomes the prime suspect, and Seol may be the only one capable of discovering what truly happened on the night of the murder. But in a land where silence and obedience are valued above all else, curiosity can be deadly.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 9+
  • Themes: Korea, 19th Century, secrets, police, detectives, murder, politics

Send Pics by Lauren McLaughlin

At Jonesville High, casual misogyny runs rampant, slut-shaming is a given, and school athletes are glorified above all else. Best friends Suze, Nikki, Ani, and Lydia swear they’ll always have each other’s backs against predatory guys—so when Suze suddenly starts dating wrestling star and toxic douchebag Tarkin Shaw, it’s a big betrayal.

Turns out, it’s not a relationship―it’s blackmail. At first, Suze feels like she has no choice but to go along with it, but when Tarkin starts demanding more, she enlists the help of intelligent misfits DeShawn and Marcus to beat Tarkin at his own game. As Marcus points out, what could possibly go wrong?

The answer: everything. And by the time the teens realize they’re fighting against forces much bigger than the Tarkin Shaws of the world, losing isn’t an option.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: misogyny, feminism, toxic masculinity, bullying, sexual abuse, racism

*Rick by Alex Gino

Eleven-year-old Rick Ramsey has generally gone along with everybody, just not making waves, even though he is increasingly uncomfortable with his father’s jokes about girls, and his best friend’s explicit talk about sex; but now in middle school he discovers the Rainbow Spectrum club, where kids of many genders and identities can express themselves–and maybe among them he can find new friends and discover his own identity, which may just be to opt out of sex altogether.

FOUR starred reviews! This is a must for middle school libraries!

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: LGBT+, gender identity, asexuality, transgender, identity, acceptance, grandparents, grandfathers

*Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk

When the Great Depression takes almost everything they own, Ellie’s family is forced to leave their home in town and start over in the untamed forests of nearby Echo Mountain. Ellie has found a welcome freedom, and a love of the natural world, in her new life on the mountain. But there is little joy, even for Ellie, as her family struggles with the aftermath of an accident that has left her father in a coma. An accident unfairly blamed on Ellie.

Determined to help her father, Ellie will make her way to the top of the mountain in search of the healing secrets of a woman known only as “the hag.” But the hag, and the mountain, still have many untold stories left to reveal and, with them, a fresh chance at happiness.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: Great Depression, poverty, nature, accidents, injured parents, healing, Maine

*Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box by Evette Dionne

For African American women, the fight for the right to vote was only one battle. An eye-opening book that tells the important, overlooked story of black women as a force in the suffrage movement–when fellow suffragists did not accept them as equal partners in the struggle. Susan B. Anthony. Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Alice Paul. The Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls. The 1913 Women’s March in D.C. When the epic story of the suffrage movement in the United States is told, the most familiar leaders, speakers at meetings, and participants in marches written about or pictured are generally white. That’s not the real story. Women of color, especially African American women, were fighting for their right to vote and to be treated as full, equal citizens of the United States.

Illustrated with photos and drawings. Includes bibliographic references and an index. Kirkus and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-11
  • Themes: suffrage, discrimination, sexism, gender roles, voting rights, civil rights, US history, protests, activism

Powwow: A Celebration through Song and Dance by Karen Pheasant-Neganigwane

Powwow is a celebration of Indigenous song and dance. Journey through the history of powwow culture in North America, from its origins to the thriving powwow culture of today. As a lifelong competitive powwow dancer, Karen Pheasant-Neganigwane is a guide to the protocols, regalia, songs, dances and even food you can find at powwows from coast to coast, as well as the important role they play in Indigenous culture and reconciliation.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: indigenous peoples, Native Americans, music, dance, tradition, culture, powwow

*The Water Bears by Kim Baker

Newt Gomez has a thing with bears. Last year he survived a bear attack. And this year, he finds an unusual bear statue that just might grant wishes. Newt’s best friend, Ethan, notices a wishbone on the statue and decides to make a wish. When it comes true, Newt thinks it’s a coincidence. Even as more people wish on the bear and their wishes come true, Newt is not convinced.

But Newt has a wish too: while he loves his home on eccentric Murphy Island, he wants to go to middle school on the mainland, where his warm extended family lives. There, he’s not the only Latinx kid, he won’t have to drive the former taco truck–a gift from his parents–and he won’t have to perform in the talent show. Most importantly, on the mainland, he never has bad dreams about the attack. Newt is almost ready to make a secret wish when everything changes.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: bears, wild animals, animal attacks, wishes< Hispanic-Americans, survival, self-acceptance

Beyond Words: What Wolves and Dogs Think and Feel by Carl Safina

Eye-opening, wise, and filled with triumphant and heartbreaking stories about the wolf population at Yellowstone (as well as some personal anecdotes about dogs), Beyond Words explores the mysteries of animal thought and behavior for young readers. Weaving decades of field research with exciting new discoveries about the brain, and complete with astonishing photos, Beyond Words offers an extraordinary look at what makes these animals different from us, but more importantly, what makes them similar, namely, their feelings of joy, grief, anger, and love. These similarities between human and nonhuman consciousness and empathy allow the reader to reexamine how we interact with animals as well as how we see our own place in the world.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: dogs, wolves, animals, nature, Yellowstone Park, animal behavior

Wrong Way Summer by Heidi Lang

Claire used to love her dad’s fantastical stories, especially tales about her absent mom–who could be off with the circus or stolen by the troll king, depending on the day. But now that she’s 12, Claire thinks she’s old enough to know the truth. When her dad sells the house and moves her and her brother into a converted van, she’s tired of the tall tales and refuses to pretend it’s all some grand adventure, despite how enthusiastically her little brother embraces this newest fantasy. Claire is faced with a choice: Will she play along with the stories her dad is spinning for her little brother, or will she force her family to face reality once and for all?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: storytelling, family secrets, homelessness, poverty, siblings, road trips

This Way, Charlie by Caron Levis (Author) and Charles Santoso (Illustrator)

From the award-winning team behind Ida, Always comes a story about a friendship that grows between a blind horse and a gruff goat. All the animals at the Open Bud Ranch can see that Jack likes keeping his space to himself. But when Charlie arrives, he doesn’t see Jack at all. He’s still getting used to seeing out of only one of his eyes. The two get off to a bumpy start. At first, Jack is anxious and distrustful. But one day, he summons his courage and guides Charlie to his favorite sunlit field. And so begins a powerful friendship that will be tested by life’s storms but will ultimately change each life for the better.

SLJ starred. Pair this picture book with Hatkoff’s Owen and Mzee: The Language of Friendship.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: animals, horses, goats, blindness, compassion, friendship, disabilities, based on a true story

Peter and the Tree Children by Peter Wohlleben (Author) and Cale Atkinson (Illustrator)

Piet the squirrel feels all alone in his forest home. Luckily, Peter the Forester has the perfect plan to cheer him up: a search for tree children. You can’t be lonely in a forest full of friends! As they wander, Peter shares amazing facts about trees, how they communicate and care for each other, and the struggles they endure. Soon, the little squirrel is feeling much better—especially when he realizes he’s helped the tree children grow.

Mixed professional reviews on this one; I’ve included it in the Spotlight because SLJ starred it. SLJ recommends it for Earth Day storytime. Kirkus calls it “patronizing” to younger readers, and Publishers Weeklysays that the cartoonish illustrations do not go with the naturalistic subject matter.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: trees, sustainability, deforestation, plants, forests, Earth Day, nature, science

Rain Boy by Dylan Glynn

Debut author! Wherever he goes, Rain Boy brings wet–which means he’s not very popular. Sun Kidd brings sunshine everywhere she goes, so everyone loves her. Only Sun Kidd sees what’s special about Rain Boy. But when she invites him to her birthday party, disaster strikes, and Rain Boy storms. Now the world is nothing but rain. Will the other kids ever love Rain Boy for being himself? And. more importantly, can Rain Boy learn to love his rain?

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: weather, empathy, acceptance, social skills, emotions






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One Comment

  • As always, thank you so much for putting all of this together. It saves me so much time when I’m building my purchase orders! ‘Hope you and your family are well and safe.


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