New Release Spotlight: August 25, 2020 (Picture Books)

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This week’s Spotlight is in three parts: YA, Middle Grades, and Picture Books. This is the Picture Book list. The YA and Middle Grades lists are linked at the bottom of this post.

A strong picture book list this week! My Pick of the Week is the last one on this list: Pierre the Maze Detective. It’s a puzzle book, and though it didn’t receive any starred reviews, I know students will love it!


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 #951-#959 on The Ginormous book list.

*Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars by Gary Golio (Author) and E.B. Lewis (Illustrator)

Willie Johnson was born in 1897, and from the beginning he loved to sing–and play his cigar box guitar. But his childhood was interrupted when he lost his mother and his sight. How does a blind boy make his way in the world?

Fortunately for Willie, the music saved him and brought him back into the light. His powerful voice, combined with the wailing of his slide guitar, moved people. Willie made a name for himself performing on street corners all over Texas. And one day he hit it big when he got a record deal and his songs were played on the radio.

Then in 1977, his song–“Dark Was the Night”–was chosen to light up the darkness when it was launched into space on the Voyager I space probe’s famous Golden Record. His immortal song was selected for the way it expresses the loneliness humans all feel, while reminding us we’re not alone.

Kirkus and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: Grades K-5
  • Themes: blindness, guitars, singers, musicians, music, overcoming adversity, African Americans, light and dark imagery, Voyager I spacecraft, Golden Record, Texas

Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice by Nikki Grimes (Author) and Laura Freeman (Illustrator)

When Kamala Harris was young, she often accompanied her parents to civil rights marches—so many, in fact, that when her mother asked a frustrated Kamala what she wanted, the young girl responded with: “Freedom!”

As Kamala grew from a small girl in Oakland to a senator running for president, it was this long-fostered belief in freedom and justice for all people that shaped her into the inspiring figure she is today. From fighting for the use of a soccer field in middle school to fighting for the people of her home state in Congress, Senator Harris used her voice to speak up for what she believed in and for those who were otherwise unheard. Her dedication led to her being selected as the Democratic vice presidential nominee in the 2020 election.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: civil rights, political leaders, 2020 election, speaking up, Democrats, African Americans, presidential candidates, Senators, California, protests, #BLM

Mr. Nogginbody and the Childish Child by David Shannon

When Mr. Nogginbody has to babysit, he thinks it should be straightforward: give the child a chocolate soda so he’ll do his homework. Unfortunately for Mr. N, he follows those steps in that order, and the child refuses to study, teasing his sitter and jumping on the couch just out of reach. Determined to put a stop to the childish shenanigans, Mr. Nogginbody jumps up after him. But he quickly discovers just how much fun being a kid can be.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, humor
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 1
  • Themes: babysitting, play, fun

*RESPECT: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford (Author) and Frank Morrison (Illustrator)

Aretha Franklin was born to sing. The daughter of a pastor and a gospel singer, her musical talent was clear from her earliest days in her father’s Detroit church where her soaring voice spanned more than three octaves.

Her string of hit songs earned her the title “the Queen of Soul,” multiple Grammy Awards, and a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But Aretha didn’t just raise her voice in song, she also spoke out against injustice and fought for civil rights.

SLJ and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: Aretha Franklin, African Americans, soul, music, singers, musicians, gospel, civil rights, Detroit, presidential inauguration

We Disagree by Bethanie Deeney Murguia

Mouse likes figs. Squirrel prefers twigs. Mouse likes blue and polka dots. Squirrel likes red and does not like spots. It seems that they disagree on everything! Is there any way they can be friends, despite their differences?

Oh, my goodness, what a timely book! It seems no one agrees on anything these days. Very much needed in today’s emotionally-charged political atmosphere. This is written in verse and meant to be read-aloud with two voices.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: disagreement, opinions, mice, squirrels, friendship, rhyme, respecting differences

Penny and the Plain Piece of Paper by Miri Leshem-Pelly

Penny lives on a plain piece of paper, with just one problem–she’s bored. There’s nothing to do, no one to talk to, not a single way to keep herself entertained! Not one to wallow, Penny makes a decision: it’s high time she ventured out into the world and explored other types of paper.

But when she’s not serious enough for the newspaper, not angular enough for the graph paper, and not repetitive enough for the wrapping paper, Penny doesn’t know where she belongs. With some help from the friends she’s met along her journey, though, she comes up with the perfect paper plan for herself.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: paper, school supplies, characters, personality, identity, boredom, friendship, personification

Me & Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera

On a rainy day when the house smells like cinnamon and Papa and Luca are still asleep, when the clouds are wearing shadows and the wind paints the window with beads of water, I want to be everywhere Mama is.

With lyrical prose and a tender touch, Mama and Me is an ode to the strength of the bond between a mother and a daughter as they spend a rainy day together.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grades 2
  • Themes: rain, closeness, family, African Americans, mothers, mornings, slice of life

Little Fox by Edward van de Vendel (Author), Marije Tolman (Illustrator), and David Colmer (Translator)

Good parents everywhere know the tension of wanting our kids to be curious, to have rich experiences and friends…but to be perfectly safe while doing it. Little Fox knows all about it!

His father (in classic picture book fashion) warns him of the danger everywhere. But Little Fox still frolics with butterflies, scavenges for food, and searches for new friends. Then one day he takes a tumble, bumps his head, and starts dreaming of things that reflect both the beauty he’s seen and the scary things he’s heard.

Dutch translation. Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: fear, beauty, safety, parents, story within a story, foxes, personification

Pierre The Maze Detective: The Mystery of the Empire Maze Tower by Hiro Kamigaki (Illustrator) and IC4DESIGN (Illustrator)

Pierre and Carmen are called to New Maze City, along with others of the world’s best Maze Detectives, to help solve the puzzles, protect the treasure and stop Mr. X. But can you help them make it in time?

Mr. X the Phantom Thief is back, with a new evil plan! He wants to steal the shining light from the top of the Empire Maze Tower, New Maze City’s greatest treasure.

A thrilling new maze challenge adventure for Pierre the Maze Detective and all detectives aged 8+ is hours of puzzle fun. Take a trip through a fantastic world of underground cities, hot–air balloons, tree–top towns and haunted houses. Trace your way through each maze, spot the clues and solve the extra mystery challenges along the way. Featuring new mazes and seek–and–find challenges in a series of IC4DESIGN’s trademark and popular detailed cityscapes.

Translated from Japanese.

  • Genre(s): puzzle book, picture book mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: search and find, puzzles,mazes, detectives, dogs



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