New Release Spotlight: August 25, 2020 (Middle Grades)

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This week is a three-fer Spotlight! This is the Middle Grade list, which covers roughly Grades 3-8 (though there are a couple of outliers this week). The YA and Picture Book lists are linked at the bottom of this page.

My Middle Grade pick of the week is Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri. I have not read this book yet, but it got six starred professional reviews! It sounds super-unique and for some reason reminds me a bit of The Storyteller, a YA novel by Antonia Michaelis.


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 #944-#950 on The Ginormous book list.

*Letters from Cuba by Ruth Behar

The situation is getting dire for Jews in Poland on the eve of World War II. Esther’s father has fled to Cuba, and she is the first one to join him. It’s heartbreaking to be separated from her beloved sister, so Esther promises to write down everything that happens until they’re reunited.

And she does, recording both the good–the kindness of the Cuban people and her discovery of a valuable hidden talent–and the bad: the fact that Nazism has found a foothold even in Cuba. Esther’s evocative letters are full of her appreciation for life and reveal a resourceful, determined girl with a rare ability to bring people together, all the while striving to get the rest of their family out of Poland before it’s too late.

Kirkus and SLJ starred. This is another title that has huge discrepancies in the recommended grade level. Booklist recommends Grades 8-12, while SLJ and Kirkus recommend Grades 3-7. Publishers Weekly says ages 10+.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, biographical fiction
  • Recommended for: 3-12 (see note above about the range for this title)
  • Themes: WWII, Poland, Jews, Cuba, refugees, sisters, letters, Nazis, based on a true story. epistolary, 1930s, poetry, Spanish

*Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri

At the front of a middle school classroom in Oklahoma, a boy named Khosrou (whom everyone calls “Daniel”) stands, trying to tell a story. His story. But no one believes a word he says. To them he is a dark-skinned, hairy-armed boy with a big butt whose lunch smells funny; who makes things up and talks about poop too much.

But Khosrou’s stories, stretching back years, and decades, and centuries, are beautiful, and terrifying, from the moment his family fled Iran in the middle of the night with the secret police moments behind them, back to the sad, cement refugee camps of Italy, and further back to the fields near the river Aras, where rain-soaked flowers bled red like the yolk of sunset burst over everything, and further back still to the Jasmine-scented city of Isfahan.

We bounce between a school bus of kids armed with paper clip missiles and spitballs to the heroines and heroes of Khosrou’s family’s past, who ate pastries that made people weep and cry “Akh, Tamar!” and touched carpets woven with precious gems.

SIX starred reviews! The reviews are positively glowing for this unique title, so much so that I wouldn’t be surprised to see awards in its future. Like many titles on this week’s lists, the recommended grade level is a huge span, from Grade 4-12.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-12
  • Themes: bullying, refugees, Oklahoma, family history, refugee camps, middle school, empathy, Ancient Persia, storytelling

The Artifact Hunters by Janet Fox

Companion to: The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle. With tensions in Prague rising at the height of World War II, Isaac Wolf is forced to leave home with nothing more than a small backpack and a pendant in the shape of an eternity knot. His parents believe the pendant will keep him safe–if he can discover what it really means.

This clue leads him to Rookskill Castle, home of the Special Alternative Intelligence Unit where gifted children can learn to harness their powers to support the Allies’ cause. With the help of his new friends and an antique watch that allows him to travel through time, Isaac must unlock his own powers and uncover the true meaning of the eternity knot. The only way he can do that, though, is by hunting for a series of magical artifacts that are scattered throughout the past…and Isaac isn’t the only artifact hunter. Soon he finds himself in a race against a threat just as deadly as the war itself–one that his parents had been trying to shield him from all along.

  • Genre(s): adventure, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: WWII, Europe, giftedness, powers, magic, magical objects, scavenger hunts, Scotland, worldbuilding

Midnight at the Barclay Hotel by Fleur Bradley (Author) and Xavier Bonet (Illustrator)

When JJ Jacobson convinced his mom to accept a surprise invitation to an all-expenses-paid weekend getaway at the illustrious Barclay Hotel, he never imagined that he’d find himself in the midst of a murder mystery. He thought he was in for a run-of-the-mill weekend ghost hunting at the most haunted spot in town, but when he arrives at the Barclay Hotel and his mother is blamed for the hotel owner’s death, he realizes his weekend is going to be anything but ordinary.

Now, with the help of his new friends, Penny and Emma, JJ has to track down a killer, clear his mother’s name, and maybe even meet a ghost or two along the way.

  • Genre(s): mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: murder, hotels, ghosts, ghost hunters, mothers and sons, false accusations, Colorado, Agatha Christie

The Places We Sleep by Caroline DuBois

It’s early September 2001, and twelve-year-old Abbey is the new kid at school. Again.

Tennessee is her family’s latest stop in a series of moves due to her dad’s work in the Army, but this one might be different. Her school is far from Base, and for the first time, Abbey has found a real friend: loyal, courageous, athletic Camille.

And then it’s September 11. The country is under attack, and Abbey’s “home” looks like it might fall apart. America has changed overnight.

Abbey’s body changes, too, while her classmates argue and her family falters. Like everyone around her, she tries to make sense of her own experience as a part of the country’s collective pain. With her mother grieving and her father prepping for active duty, Abbey must learn to cope on her own.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, historical fiction, novels in verse
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: September 11, 2001, Tennessee, moving, starting at a new school, friendship, military families, menstruation, grief, anxiety, bullying, Muslims, Islamophobia

Once Upon a Unicorn by Lou Anders

Have you ever heard of a unicorn who is more interested in science experiments than magic?

Or a flaming horse who’s a walking fire hazard?

When a pumpkin-headed menace called Jack o’ the Hunt and monsters untold threaten their home, this unlikely pair must team up to save all of the Whisperwood–and themselves!

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: unicorns, magic, science, magical creatures, monsters, reluctant readers

Rip to the Rescue by Miriam Halahmy

Jack navigates the smoky, ash-covered streets of London amid air raid sirens and falling bombs, dodging shrapnel and listening for cries for help, as a bike messenger for fire crews. When Jack finds a dog, miraculously still alive after the latest Nazi bombing of London, he realizes there’s something extra special about the shaggy pup–he can smell people who are trapped under debris.

With his new canine companion, nicknamed Rip because of the dog’s torn ear, maybe Jack can do more than just relay messages back-and-forth–he can actually save lives. And if Jack’s friend Paula is right about the impending Nazi invasion, he and Rip will need to do all they can to help Jewish families like hers.

There’s just one problem: Jack has to convince his ill-tempered father to let him keep Rip.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, adventure, animal stories
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: dogs, London, England, WWII, bicycles, messengers, rescues, Nazis, war, Jews, based on a true story





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