New Release Spotlight: July 28, 2020

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The last Spotlight in July 2020 brings us 15 new titles, more than half of which are for middle and high school. I only found two picture books to share with you this week, but both look super-cute!

Don’t-miss titles on this week’s list include: This Is My America by Kim Johnson (YA), The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf (middle grades), and Pencil: A Story with a Point by Amy Ingalls (picture book).


The New Release Spotlight began in May 2016 as a way to help librarians keep up with the many new children’s and YA books that are released each week. Every Tuesday, school librarian Leigh Collazo compiles the New Release Spotlight using a combination of Follett’s Titlewave, Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes and Noble. As always, titles with a * by them received two or more starred professional reviews. Recommended grade levels represent the range of grade levels recommended by professional book reviewers.

The titles on this week’s list are #856-#871 on The Ginormous book list.

*True or False: A CIA Analyst’s Guide to Spotting Fake News by Cindy L. Otis

“Fake news” is a term you’ve probably heard a lot in the last few years, but it’s not a new phenomenon. From the ancient Egyptians to the French Revolution to Jack the Ripper and the founding fathers, fake news has been around as long as human civilization. But that doesn’t mean that we should just give up on the idea of finding the truth.

In True or False, former CIA analyst Cindy Otis will take readers through the history and impact of misinformation over the centuries, sharing stories from the past and insights that readers today can gain from them. Then, she shares lessons learned in over a decade working for the CIA, including actionable tips on how to spot fake news, how to make sense of the information we receive each day, and, perhaps most importantly, how to understand and see past our own information biases, so that we can think critically about important issues and put events happening around us into context.

SLJ and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: propaganda, fake news, CIA, misinformation, truth, media, news

The Stepping Off Place by Cameron Kelly Rosenblum

Debut author! In the summer before senior year, Reid is in the thick of Scofield High’s in-crowd thanks to her best friend, Hattie, who has been her social oxygen since middle school.

But summer is when Hattie goes to her family’s Maine island home. Instead of sitting inside for eight weeks, waiting for her to return, Reid and their friend, Sam, enter into a pact—to live it up, one party at a time.

But days before Hattie is due home, Reid finds out the shocking news that Hattie has died by suicide. Driven by a desperate need to understand what went wrong, Reid searches for answers.

In doing so, she uncovers painful secrets about the person she thought she knew better than herself. And the truth will force Reid to reexamine everything.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: suicide, friendship, secrets, summer, senior year, coming of age, grief, understanding

This Is My America by Kim Johnson

Debut author! Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time–her dad has only 267 days left.

Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: prisoners, parents in prison, fathers and daughters, death row, innocence, false accusations, racism, prejudice, #blacklivesmatter, murder, siblings, brothers and sisters, African Americans, anti-racism

I Kissed Alice by Anna Birch and Victoria Ying

Rhodes and Iliana couldn’t be more different, but that’s not why they hate each other.

Rhodes, a gifted artist, has always excelled at Alabama’s Conservatory of the Arts (until she’s hit with a secret bout of creator’s block), while Iliana, a transfer student, tries to outshine everyone with her intense, competitive work ethic. Since only one of them can get the coveted Capstone scholarship, the competition between them is fierce.

They both escape the pressure on a fanfic site where they are unknowingly collaborating on a webcomic. And despite being worst enemies in real life, their anonymous online identities I-Kissed-Alice and Curious-in-Cheshire are starting to like each other…a lot. When the truth comes out, will they destroy each other’s future?

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: competition, stress, academic pressure, webcomics, secret identities, LGBT+, Alabama, lesbians, fanfic

Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Today, she hates him. It’s the last day of senior year. Rowan Roth and Neil McNair have been bitter rivals for all of high school, clashing on test scores, student council elections, and even gym class pull-up contests. While Rowan, who secretly wants to write romance novels, is anxious about the future, she’d love to beat her infuriating nemesis one last time.

Tonight, she puts up with him. When Neil is named valedictorian, Rowan has only one chance at victory: Howl, a senior class game that takes them all over Seattle, a farewell tour of the city she loves. But after learning a group of seniors is out to get them, she and Neil reluctantly decide to team up until they’re the last players left—and then they’ll destroy each other.

As Rowan spends more time with Neil, she realizes he’s much more than the awkward linguistics nerd she’s sparred with for the past four years. And, perhaps, this boy she claims to despise might actually be the boy of her dreams. Tomorrow…maybe she’s already fallen for him.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12 (though I’m not sure I agree with Grade 7 considering the ages of the characters)
  • Themes: academic rivalry, competition, valedictorian, enemies to lovers, Seattle, Washington, Jewish characters

The Girl in the White Van by April Henry

April Henry has been a go-to for many students in my libraries. I have students who have read all her books, so I know this one will be popular. I have always enjoyed booktalking April Henry titles!

When Savannah disappears soon after arguing with her mom’s boyfriend, everyone assumes she’s run away. The truth is much worse. She’s been kidnapped by a man in a white van who locks her in an old trailer home, far from prying eyes.

And worse yet, Savannah’s not alone: ten months earlier, Jenny met the same fate and nearly died trying to escape. Now as the two girls wonder if he will hold them captive forever or kill them, they must join forces to break out―even if it means they die trying.

  • Genre(s): mystery, thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: family problems, kung fu, kidnapping, captives, Portland, Oregon, Bruce Lee, multiple perspectives

A Wicked Magic by Sasha Laurens

Debut author! Dan and Liss are witches. The Black Book granted them that power. Harnessing that power feels good, especially when everything in their lives makes them feel powerless.

During a spell gone wrong, Liss’s boyfriend is snatched away by an evil entity and presumed dead. Dan and Liss’s friendship dies that night, too. How can they practice magic after the darkness that they conjured?

Months later, Liss discovers that her boyfriend is alive, trapped underground in the grips of an ancient force. She must save him, and she needs Dan and the power of The Black Book to do so. Dan is quickly sucked back into Liss’s orbit and pushes away her best friend, Alexa. But Alexa has some big secrets she’s hiding and her own unique magical disaster to deal with.

When another teenager disappears, the girls know it’s no coincidence. What greedy magic have they awakened? And what does it want with these teens it has stolen?

  • Genre(s): fantasy, supernatural
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: witches, powers, evil, missing persons, magic, friendship, alternating perspectives, California

Race through the Skies: The Week the World Learned to Fly by Martin W. Sandler

In 1903, the Wright brothers made three brief flights, and no one was there to watch them. Six years later, Wilbur Wright traveled to Europe to evangelicize about aviation and raise money for patents–and the world got aviation fever.

That summer, a group of champagne companies organized the first ever international air meet in Rheims, France. They knew they could throw a great party and sell a lot of champagne. They didn’t know that this single week would change the course of aviation history.

Through remarkable photographs, firsthand accounts, and lively narrative, Marty Sandler tells the story of how the Grande Semaine d’Aviation de la Champagne marked the public introduction to flight.

    • Genre(s): nonfiction
    • Recommended for: Grades 5-10
    • Themes: history of aviation, Wright Brothers, exploration, discovery, aeronautics, female aviators, pilots

Condor Comeback by Sy Montgomery (Author) and Tianne Strombeck (Photographer)

Scientists in the Field series. In April of 1987 the last wild California condor was captured and taken to live in captivity like the other twenty-six remaining birds of its kind. Many thought that the days were over of of this remarkable, distinguished bird that had roamed the skies of North and Central American for thousands of years.

Sy Montgomery employs her skill for on-the-ground reporting, shrewd observation, and stunning narrative prose to detail the efforts of scientists, volunteers, and everyday citizens to get California condors back in the wild. In particular, Montgomery profiles employees at the Santa Barbara Zoo who have worked tirelessly to raise abandoned chicks, nurse sick birds back to health, and conduct research that can support legislation to ban what is probably the largest threat to the existence of the wild condor: lead bullets.

Includes bibliography, index, and further reading. Kirkus starred.

    • Genre(s): nonfiction
    • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
    • Themes: endangered animals, California condor, birds of prey, science, STEM, vultures

The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Raúf

Debut author! There used to be an empty chair at the back of Mrs. Khan’s classroom, but on the third Tuesday of the school year a new kid fills it: nine-year-old Ahmet, a Syrian refugee.

The whole class is curious about this new boy–he doesn’t seem to smile, and he doesn’t talk much. But after learning that Ahmet fled a Very Real War and was separated from his family along the way, a determined group of his classmates bands together to concoct the Greatest Idea in the World–a magnificent plan to reunite Ahmet with his loved ones.

This accessible, kid-friendly story about the refugee crisis highlights the community-changing potential of standing as an ally and reminds readers that everyone deserves a place to call home.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-6
  • Themes: refugees, Syria, war, family separation, community, kindness, empathy, home, friendship, UK, England, school stories, back-to-school

The Highland Falcon Thief by M. G. Leonard, Sam Sedgman, and Elisa Paganelli (Illustrator)

Adventures on Trains, book 1. When eleven-year-old Harrison “Hal” Beck is forced to accompany his travel-writer uncle on the last journey of a royal train, he expects a boring trip spent away from video games and children his age.

But then Hal spots a girl who should not be on board, and he quickly makes friends with the stowaway, Lenny. Things get even more interesting when the royal prince and princess board for the last leg of the journey―because the princess’s diamond necklace is soon stolen and replaced with a fake! Suspicion falls on the one person who isn’t supposed to be there: Lenny.

It’s up to Hal, his keen observation, and his skill as a budding sketch artist to uncover the real jewel thief, clear his friend’s name, and return the diamond necklace before The Highland Falcon makes its last stop.

  • Genre(s): mystery, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: journeys, trains, stowaways, royalty, theft, drawing, sketch artists, detectives, false accusations

How to Build a Story…Or, the Big What If by Frances O’Roark Dowell (Author) and Stacy Ebert (Illustrator)

If you’ve written anything, ever, you’re already a writer—so, congratulations! As many aspiring authors know, though, telling an actual, complete story is, well, a different story.

As unfinished drafts pile up and writers’ block strikes, it may start to feel like there’s a special formula to finishing a project that you’re just not getting. But crafting a story isn’t magic, if you have a little know-how! And here it is—know-how! In her witty, clever way, critically acclaimed author Frances O’Roark Dowell explains the storytelling process with simple, easy-to-understand steps. Follow along as she shares sample stories and identifies building blocks and obstacles to conquer—all hilariously illustrated, in a way that’ll have you typing all the way to the end of your own story.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: creative writing, publishing, writer’s block, storytelling, editing, the writing process

*Monster and Boy by Hannah Barnaby (Author) and Anoosha Syed (Illustrator)

When Monster (who lives under the bed) meets Boy (who sleeps in the bed), Boy starts to scream―and Monster promptly swallows him. It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship!

Booklist and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): adventure, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-4
  • Themes: monsters, friendship, chapter books, dreams

Dan Unmasked by Chris Negron

Debut author! Whether they’re on the baseball field or in Nate’s basement devouring the newest issue of their favorite comic book, Dan and Nate are always talking. Until they’re not.

After an accident at baseball practice, Nate’s fallen into a coma. And if Dan ever wants to talk to Nate again, he’s got to take a page out of his hero Captain Nexus’s book, and do whatever it takes to save the day.

But heroes have powers—and without Nate, all Dan has is a closet stuffed with comics and a best-friend-shaped hole in his heart. There’s no way a regular kid can save the day all on his own. Right?

  • Genre(s): sports fiction, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-7
  • Themes: baseball, friendship, accidents, best friends, comics, heroes, art, drawing

A Little Space for Me by Jennifer Gray Olson

Sometimes, when it’s too loud, too crowded, too messy, too smelly, or for no reason at all, you might just need a little bit of space to feel like yourself again.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-3
  • Themes: mindfulness, silence, chaos, interracial families, meditation, rest

Pencil: A Story With A Point by Ann Ingalls (Author) and Dean Griffiths (Illustrator)

Pencil and his boy Jackson are a great pair: they draw, they sketch, they scribble. But then Jackson gets Tablet and Pencil finds himself dumped in the dreaded junk drawer; he just can’t compete with Tablet’s videos, games, and movies. How will Pencil ever reclaim Jackson’s attention?

With the help of some new pun-loving junk-drawer friends (and a drooling, pencil-chomping dog), Pencil sketches out a plan to draw Jackson back into their friendship.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: friendship, personification, drawing, pencils, electronics, screen addiction, puns, art



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  • According to Amazon, The Boy at the Back of the Class was published August 6, 2019.

    • Awww…snap! I guess it’s getting an extra shout-out from me today!


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