New Release Spotlight: August 11, 2020

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Whoa! I’ve got 19 books for you this week! I usually aim for a maximum of 15 on a single list, and I considered splitting this one into separate lists for YA, MG, and Picture Books. The problem was, it was the middle grade books that really stood out this week. The YA and PB lists don’t stand out enough this week to merit their own list. Three books this week received three or more starred professional reviews, and one title–Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley–received SIX starred reviews! I don’t see that very often!

My top picks of the week are:

YA: Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything (Gilliland)

MG: Fighting Words (Bradley) and All He Knew (Frost)

PB: The Blue House (Wahl)


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 & 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 #898-#916 on The Ginormous book list.

*Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

Debut author! It’s been three years since ICE raids and phone calls from Mexico and an ill-fated walk across the Sonoran. Three years since Sia Martinez’s mom disappeared. Sia wants to move on, but it’s hard in her tiny Arizona town where people refer to her mom’s deportation as “an unfortunate incident.”

Sia knows that her mom must be dead, but every new moon Sia drives into the desert and lights San Anthony and la Guadalupe candles to guide her mom home.

Then one night, under a million stars, Sia’s life and the world as we know it cracks wide open. Because a blue-lit spacecraft crashes in front of Sia’s car…and it’s carrying her mom, who’s very much alive.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): science fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9+
  • Themes: aliens, alien abductions, immigration, Mexican-Americans, missing persons, PTSD, mothers and daughters, racism, conspiracy theories

Facing the Sun by Janice Lynn Mather

Eve is the rock in her family of seven, the one they always depend on. But when her dad is diagnosed with cancer, she wants nothing more than to trade her worries for some red lipstick and a carefree night.

Faith is the dancer all the boys want, but she only has eyes for the one she can’t have. Only thing is, all the flirting in the world can’t distract her from her broken home life…or the secrets that she hides.

KeeKee is the poet who won’t follow the rules, not even to please her estranged father. But after a horrible betrayal, she’ll have to choose between being right and losing everyone she loves.

Nia is the prisoner longing to escape her overprotective mother. A summer art program might be her ticket to freedom, yet it comes with a terrible price—and the risk may not be worth the reward.

Ready or not, it’s time for these four friends to face the sun.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: Bahamas, Caribbean, friendship, alternating perspectives, dementia, siblings, terminal illness, family problems, secrets, poetry, overprotective parents, arts, community, economic expansion, commercial development, protests

Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar

Debut author! The daughter of a star and a mortal, Sheetal is used to keeping secrets. Pretending to be “normal.” But when an accidental flare of her starfire puts her human father in the hospital, Sheetal needs a full star’s help to heal him. A star like her mother, who returned to the sky long ago.

Sheetal’s quest to save her father will take her to a celestial court of shining wonders and dark shadows, where she must take the stage as her family’s champion in a competition to decide the next ruling house of the heavens—and win, or risk never returning to Earth at all.

Professional reviews are generally positive, but both Publishers Weekly and Kirkus mildly criticize character development.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: fathers and daughters, mothers and daughters, Indian Americans, stars, Indic mythology, Hinduism, New Jersey, worldbuilding, diverse characters

*The Daughters of Ys by M.T. Anderson

Ys, city of wealth and wonder, has a history of dark secrets. Queen Malgven used magic to raise the great walls that keep Ys safe from the tumultuous sea. But after the queen’s inexplicable death, her daughters drift apart. Rozenn, the heir to the throne, spends her time on the moors communing with wild animals, while Dahut, the youngest, enjoys the splendors of royal life and is eager to take part in palace intrigue.

When Rozenn and Dahut’s bond is irrevocably changed, the fate of Ys is sealed, exposing the monsters that lurk in plain view. M. T. Anderson and Jo Rioux reimagine this classic Breton folktale of love, loss, and rebirth, revealing the secrets that lie beneath the surface.

Three starred reviews! This reminds me a bit of Kendare Blake’s Three Dark Crowns. Several professional reviews mention nudity and sex in the book, but all say it is mild and not explicit.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-AD
  • Themes: queens, magic, daughters, sisters, folktales, corruption, Celts, Brittany

Cut Off by Adrianne Finlay

Each contestant has their own reasons—and their own secrets—for joining the new virtual reality show CUT/OFF that places a group of teenagers alone in the wilderness. It’s a simple premise: whoever lasts the longest without “tapping out” wins a cash prize.

Not only that, new software creates a totally unprecedented television experience, allowing viewers to touch, see, and live everything along with the contestants. But what happens when “tapping out” doesn’t work and no one comes to save you? What happens when the whole world seemingly disappears while you’re stranded in the wild?

Four teenagers must confront their greatest fears, their deepest secrets, and one another when they discover they are truly cut off from reality. Told partially through transcripts and official documents.

  • Genre(s): action, thriller, science fiction, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: virtual reality, game show contestants, television, survival, fear, secrets, virtual reality, British Colombia, Canada, alternating perspectives

Chasing Starlight by Teri Bailey Black

1938. The Golden Age of Hollywood. Palm trees and movie stars. Film studios pumping out musicals and gangster films at a furious pace. Everyone wants to be a star except society girl and aspiring astronomer Kate Hildebrand. She’s already famous after a childhood tragedy turned her into a newspaper headline. What she craves now is stability.

But when Kate has to move to Hollywood to live with her washed-up silent film star grandfather, she walks into a murder scene and finds herself on the front page again. She suspects one of the young men boarding in her grandfather’s run-down mansion is the killer–or maybe even her grandfather. Now, Kate must discover the killer while working on the set of a musical–and falling in love. Will her stars align so she can catch the murderer and live the dream in Old Hollywood? Or will she find that she’s just chasing starlight?

  • Genre(s): mystery, romance, thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: Hollywood, 1930s, fame, movie stars, tragedy, grandfathers, grandparents, murder, boarders, mansions, Pasedena, California, gender stereotypes

*Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Ten-tear-old Della has always had her older sister, Suki: When their mom went to prison, Della had Suki. When their mom’s boyfriend took them in, Della had Suki. When that same boyfriend did something so awful they had to run fast, Della had Suki. Suki is Della’s own wolf–her protector.

But who has been protecting Suki? Della might get told off for swearing at school, but she has always known how to keep quiet where it counts. Then Suki tries to kill herself, and Della’s world turns so far upside down, it feels like it’s shaking her by the ankles. Maybe she’s been quiet about the wrong things. Maybe it’s time to be loud.

SIX starred reviews! This one is added to my TBR. I love this author (she also wrote The War That Saved My Life), and the topic is something you don’t see often in middle grade books.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: abuse, parent in prison, sisters, siblings, sexual abuse, foster families, suicide attempts, aftermath of abuse, survival, fighting in school, toxic masculinity

All He Knew by Helen Frost

Henry has been deaf from an early age―he is intelligent and aware of language, but by age six, he has decided it’s not safe to speak to strangers. When the time comes for him to start school, he is labeled “unteachable.” Because his family has very little money, his parents and older sister, Molly, feel powerless to help him. Henry is sent to Riverview, a bleak institution where he is misunderstood, underestimated, and harshly treated.

Victor, a conscientious objector to World War II, is part of a Civilian Public Service program offered as an alternative to the draft. In 1942, he arrives at Riverview to serve as an attendant and quickly sees that Henry is far from unteachable―he is brave, clever, and sometimes mischievous. In Victor’s care, Henry begins to see how things can change for the better.

SLJ starred. Another author I love! This one is also on my TBR.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, free verse
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: deafness, selective mutism, poverty, institutional living, abuse, 1940s, WWII, novels in verse, inspired by a true story, brothers and sisters, siblings, conscientious objectors

*The Talk: Conversations about Race, Love & Truth by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson (both Editors)

Thirty diverse, award-winning authors and illustrators engage young people in frank discussions about racism, identity and self-esteem. This anthology features stories and images filled with love, acceptance, truth, peace, and an assurance that there can be hope for a better tomorrow.

Featured contributors: Selina Alko, Tracey Baptiste, Derrick Barnes, Natacha Bustos, Cozbi A. Cabrera, Raúl Colón, Adam Gidwitz, Nikki Grimes, Rudy Gutierrez, April Harrison, Wade Hudson, Gordon C. James, Minh Lê, E. B. Lewis, Grace Lin, Torrey Maldonado, Meg Medina, Christopher Myers, Daniel Nayeri, Zeke Peña, Peter H. Reynolds, Erin K. Robinson, Traci Sorell, Shadra Strickland, Don Tate, MaryBeth Timothy, Duncan Tonatiuh, Renée Watson, Valerie Wilson Wesley, Sharon Dennis Wyeth.

Booklist and Kirkus starred. Pair with Stamped (Reynolds, Kendi) and We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices (Hudson).

  • Genre(s): anthology
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-AD
  • Themes: ethnicity, minorities, race relations, racism, self-esteem, short stories, essays, poetry, Asians, Latinx, indigenous peoples

This Town is Not All Right by M.K. Krys

Twelve-year old twins Beacon and Everleigh McCullough are moving from their home in sunny LA to Driftwood Harbor, a rainy fishing village in New England. If that wasn’t bad enough, there’s something strange about this town and the mysterious group of too-perfect students called The Gold Stars. After Everleigh is recruited into their ranks, Beacon must uncover Driftwood Harbor’s frightening secret before he loses his sister forever.

  • Genre(s): horror, supernatural, mystery, science fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: twins, New England, secrets, perfection, Maine, death of a sibling, UFOs, grief, brothers and sisters, siblings

A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan

Sixth graders Sara and Elizabeth could not be more different. Sara is at a new school that is completely unlike the small Islamic school she used to attend. Elizabeth has her own problems: her British mum has been struggling with depression.

The girls meet in an after-school South Asian cooking class, which Elizabeth takes because her mom has stopped cooking, and which Sara, who hates to cook, is forced to attend because her mother is the teacher. The girls form a shaky alliance that gradually deepens, and they make plans to create the most amazing, mouth-watering cross-cultural dish together and win a spot on a local food show. They make good cooking partners…but can they learn to trust each other enough to become true friends?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: cooking, friendship, parental depression, mental health, Asians, alternating perspectives, school clubs, mothers and daughters, becoming a US citizen, Pakistani Americans, middle school, Islam, racism, Jewish characters

How to Be a Girl in the World by Caela Carter

Lydia hasn’t felt comfortable in her own skin since the boys at her school started commenting on the way she looks in her uniform. Her cousin and friends think she should be flattered, but the boys—and sometimes her mom’s boyfriend, Jeremy—make Lydia uncomfortable and confused. Even more confusing is when Jeremy hovers too close and hugs a little too long.

Then her mom surprises her by buying a dilapidated house in their neighborhood. Lydia hopes to find a little bit of magic in their new home. But just like the adults in her life, and God, and her friends, the magic Lydia deeply believes in eventually loses its power to keep her safe.

SLJ starred. Pair with Maybe He Just Likes You (Dee).

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: unwanted attention, toxic masculinity, magic, safety, body image, Catholic schools, cousins, parent in rehab, consent, #metoo, mothers and daughters

*Finish the Fight!: The Brave and Revolutionary Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote by Veronica Chambers and The Staff of The New York Times

Who was at the forefront of women’s right to vote? We know a few famous names, like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but what about so many others from diverse backgrounds—black, Asian, Latinx, Native American, and more—who helped lead the fight for suffrage? On the hundredth anniversary of the historic win for women’s rights, it’s time to celebrate the names and stories of the women whose stories have yet to be told.

Portraits accompany biographies of such fierce but forgotten women as Yankton Dakota Sioux writer and advocate Zitkála-Šá, Mary Eliza Church Terrell, who co-founded the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), and Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, who, at just sixteen years old, helped lead the biggest parade in history to promote the cause of suffrage.

Booklist and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): collected biography, nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: women’s rights, suffrage, diversity, 19th Century, 20th Century, US History, activism, abolition, protecting Native lands, LGBT+ rights, voting rights

What If a Fish by Anika Fajardo

Half-Colombian Eddie Aguado has never really felt Colombian. Especially after Papa died. And since Mama keeps her memories of Papa locked up where Eddie can’t get to them, he only has Papa’s third-place fishing tournament medal to remember him by. He’ll have to figure out how to be more Colombian on his own.

As if by magic, the perfect opportunity arises. Eddie—who’s never left Minnesota—is invited to spend the summer in Colombia with his older half-brother. But as his adventure unfolds, he feels more and more like a fish out of water.

  • Genre(s): magical realism
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: Colombians, Cartagena, Colombia, death of a parent, fishing, brothers, half-siblings, grief, identity, friendship, grandmothers, family

*The Blue House by Phoebe Wahl

For as long as he can remember, Leo has lived in the blue house with his dad, but lately the neighborhood is changing. People are leaving, houses are being knocked down, and shiny new buildings are going up in their place. When Leo and his dad are forced to leave, they aren’t happy about it. They howl and rage and dance out their feelings. When the time comes, they leave the blue house behind–there was never any choice, not really–but little by little, they find a way to keep its memory alive in their new home.

An obvious paring for Burton’s The Little House. FIVE starred reviews!!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: urban development, change, homes, new experiences, moving away, neighborhoods, music, art, healing

*13 Stories About Harris by Amy Schwartz

Thirteen stories in a 40-page picture book? Yep! This is actually 13 different vignettes about a young boy in different situations. Some are only one page, and others are a few pages long. I think this would be great for teaching inferencing since the reader has to infer a lot of information from the illustrations. There is also lots of room for discussion about what might have happened before or after the vignette, making it a great tool for creative writing.

SLJ Express and Hornbook starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades PreS-2
  • Themes: play, imagination, creative writing, inferencing, childhood, short stories, vignettes, neighborhoods, friends

I Promise by LeBron James

Debut author! Yes, this is THAT LeBron James, the NBA basketball player. It’s easy to be wary of celebrity picture books, but in some cases, they are more than just a flash in the pan. This book is a poem of promises, illustrated with children of diverse skin tones. The underlying point for readers is to participate in school, be active in communities, and keep family close.

This also might make a good book for back-to-school, especially in these difficult and uncertain times. Teachers could read the book to the class and discuss promises the teachers can make to help students with anxiety about the pandemic and the return to school. On a side note, the audiobook is narrated by Gloria James, LeBron’s mother.

You can see some examples of the illustrations on Amazon. I love how eye-catching and colorful they are, plus they feature children of many different skin tones and ethnicities playing together.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: inspirational, basketball, celebrities, rhyming books, poetry, diversity

Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack by Sandra Nickel (Author) and Oliver Dominguez (Illustrator)

Ignacio Anaya was born in Mexico in 1895, and like a lot of Ignacios, he was nicknamed Nacho. Young Nacho loved to eat and cook, and when he grew up, he found a job in a restaurant. Eventually he became head waiter at the Victory Club, a popular restaurant in Piedras Negras, Mexico, right across the Rio Grande river from Eagle Pass, Texas.

One afternoon in 1940, during the Victory Club’s quiet hours between lunch and dinner, Mamie Finan, a regular customer from the US, walked in with three friends. They wanted a snack–something new, something different. Nacho rushed to the kitchen and improvised with what was on hand: corn tortillas, cheddar cheese, and jalapeño peppers. In that moment, Nacho’s Special, the dish that later became known simply as nachos, was born!

Word of this delicious new snack spread quickly. Soon restaurants all over Mexico, the United States, and later the world, were serving nachos. Little did Nacho know that his name would one day be a household word around the globe!

Pair this one with Mr. Crum’s Potato Predicament (Renaud) for another story of an “accidental” snack invention.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 7 (no kidding! What a range!)
  • Themes: food, cooking, chefs, Mexico, restaurants, nachos, snacks

Not an Alphabet Book: The Case of the Missing Cake by Eoin McLaughlin (Author) and Marc Boutavant (Illustrator)

There has been a terrible crime, Bear tells us. Someone has STOLEN a delicious chocolate cake! Bear sets off to find the culprit, questioning characters and compiling clues from A to Z. Among the suspects: a gingerbread man (G) with a bite out of his head, a kite (K) that may be above the law, and an octopus (O) with grabby tentacles. But– hold on–are those crumbs on Bear’s page? Is that frosting on his face? Looks like our narrator is a little unreliable! And it appears our culprit might be the one that Bear wants readers to suspect the least of all.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, humor, mystery
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 1
  • Themes: bears, theft, detectives, clues, suspects, witnesses, alibis, alphabet books




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