New Release Spotlight: August 4, 2020 (Middle Grade Titles)

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What an incredible list for middle grades this week! I am more of a YA reader than middle grade, but I am super-excited about several titles on this list. The biggest one for me is Paola Santiago and the River of Tears. I saw that it was Rick Riordan Presents, and even before I read the description, I got all excited that it might be about La Llorona. It is! That is one of my favorite folklore stories! The Forest of Stars, Beetle & The Hollowbones, and The Girl and the Ghost also sound fantastic this week–you can tell Halloween is coming soon!


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 #881-#890 on The Ginormous book list.

*Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne (Author, Illustrator), Natalie Riess (Colorist), and Kristen Acampora (Colorist)

In the eerie town of ‘Allows, some people get to be magical sorceresses, while other people have their spirits trapped in the mall for all ghastly eternity.

Then there’s twelve-year-old goblin-witch Beetle, who’s caught in between. She’d rather skip being homeschooled completely and spend time with her best friend, Blob Glost. But the mall is getting boring, and B.G. is cursed to haunt it, tethered there by some unseen force. And now Beetle’s old best friend, Kat, is back in town for a sorcery apprenticeship with her Aunt Hollowbone. Kat is everything Beetle wants to be: beautiful, cool, great at magic, and kind of famous online. Beetle’s quickly being left in the dust.

But Kat’s mentor has set her own vile scheme in motion. If Blob Ghost doesn’t escape the mall soon, their afterlife might be coming to a very sticky end. Now, Beetle has less than a week to rescue her best ghost, encourage Kat to stand up for herself, and confront the magic she’s been avoiding for far too long. And hopefully ride a broom without crashing.

Multiple starred reviews! I’ll be ordering this for my own graphic novel reader!

  • Genre(s): fantasy, graphic novel
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: spirits, ghosts, magic, witches, goblins, sorcerers, escape, prisoners, malls

*The Summer We Found the Baby by Amy Hest

On the morning of the dedication of the new children’s library in Belle Beach, Long Island, eleven-year-old Julie Sweet and her six-year-old sister, Martha, find a baby in a basket on the library steps. At the same time, twelve-year-old Bruno Ben-Eli is on his way to the train station to catch the 9:15 train into New York City. He is on an important errand for his brother, who is a soldier overseas in World War II. But when Bruno spies Julie, the same Julie who hasn’t spoken to him for sixteen days, heading away from the library with a baby in her arms, he has to follow her. Holy everything, he thinks. Julie Sweet is a kidnapper.

Of course, the truth is much more complicated than the children know in this heartwarming and beautifully textured family story by award-winning author Amy Hest. Told in three distinct voices, each with a different take on events, the novel captures the moments and emotions of a life-changing summer — a summer in which a baby gives a family hope and brings a community together.

SLJ and Kirkus starred. Give this to fans of Bradley’s The War That Saved My Life.


  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: libraries, Long Island, New York, babies, sisters, WWII, soldiers, brothers, alternating voices, community, family

The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf

Suraya is delighted when her witch grandmother gifts her a pelesit. She names her ghostly companion Pink, and the two quickly become inseparable.

But Suraya doesn’t know that pelesits have a dark side—and when Pink’s shadows threaten to consume them both, they must find enough light to survive…before they are both lost to the darkness.

Give this to fans of Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, supernatural
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: ghosts, gifts, love, jealousy, friendship, grandmothers, witches, tricksters, revenge, Malaysian folktales, Islam, diverse characters, not fitting in, bullying

Second Dad Summer by Benjamin Klas (Author) and Fian Arroyo (Illustrator)

Debut author! Jeremiah just wants a normal summer with his dad. But his dad has moved in with his new boyfriend Michael who serves weird organic food and is constantly nagging him. Worst of all, Michael rides a bicycle decorated to look like a unicorn. This is not the summer Jeremiah wanted. But Jeremiah soon learns that being a family comes in many surprising forms.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: LGBT, fathers and sons, gay parents, family, Minneapolis, Pride, nontraditional families, accepting others for who they are, Hmong characters

*Paola Santiago and the River of Tears by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Space-obsessed 12-year-old Paola Santiago and her two best friends, Emma and Dante, know the rule: Stay away from the river. It’s all they’ve heard since a schoolmate of theirs drowned a year ago. Pao is embarrassed to admit that she has been told to stay away for even longer than that, because her mother is constantly warning her about La Llorona, the wailing ghost woman who wanders the banks of the Gila at night, looking for young people to drag into its murky depths.

Hating her mother’s humiliating superstitions and knowing that she and her friends would never venture into the water, Pao organizes a meet-up to test out her new telescope near the Gila, since it’s the best stargazing spot. But when Emma never arrives and Pao sees a shadowy figure in the reeds, it seems like maybe her mom was right…

Pao has always relied on hard science to make sense of the world, but to find her friend she will have to enter the world of her nightmares, which includes unnatural mist, mind-bending monsters, and relentless spirits controlled by a terrifying force that defies both logic and legend.

I cannot wait to read this one! I have been obsessed with the La Llorona story since I was a kid! SLJ and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): supernatural, fantasy, horror, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: Latinx folklore, La Llorona, ghosts, friendship, superstition, astronomy, missing persons, Arizona, science, the unexplained, scary stories

Me vs. the Multiverse: Pleased to Meet Me by S. G. Wilson

It all starts with a note folded into the shape of an origami octopus: “Hi, Me. Yes, you. You’re me, and I’m you.” If you believe this and the other origami notes that follow–which middle schooler Meade Macon absolutely, positively does NOT–the concept of parallel dimensions is true, and there is a convention full of alternate versions of Meade waiting for his RSVP. It’s got to be a joke.

Except…the octopus is an origami fold Meade thought he invented. And the note writer has a lot of intel on him that nobody else should know. I mean, he’s told his best friend Twig a lot about himself, but he’s definitely kept mum about that time he sleepwalk-peed into his Lego container when he was six. Could Me Con be a real thing? And why does the origami stalker want him to go so badly anyway?

It’s a Booklist starred review, but Kirkus is pretty scathing in its criticism of cultural appropriation and name-calling. Pair with Michael Grant’s Magnificent 12 series.

  • Genre(s): humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: parallel universes, origami, middle school, being average, multiple versions of self

School for Extraterrestrial Girls #1: Girl on Fire by Jeremy Whitley (Author) and Jamie Noguchi (Illustrator)

Tara Smith’s parents are super strict with all their rules and routines, and Tara is a dutiful daughter. Rule #1: No friends her own age. Rule #2: keep her bracelet on, or else. But when she breaks her routine―and then loses her bracelet―she’s in trouble.

Now outed as an extraterrestrial after wielding fire and losing her humanoid form, Tara is captured by the government. She’s given two options: get shipped far away where she won’t be a danger to anyone or stay on Earth and join a school for other extraterrestrial girls like her.

Things at the school aren’t easy―especially for the girl whose only friends were textbooks. But Tara’s goal to learn how to control her powers is soon sidelined by the discovery that the people she’s called Mom and Dad all these years aren’t her parents. With her not-parents still out there, Tara must rely on others for the first time to figure out who she really is before she’s kidnapped a second time.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, science fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: strict parents, extraterrestrial beings, humanoids, aliens, schools, powers, kidnappings, roommates, racism

The Forest of Stars by Heather Kassner (Author) and Iz Ptika (Illustrator)

Left all alone after her mother passes away, twelve-year-old Louisa LaRoche watches the sky for her father. Long ago, a powerful gust of wind swept through town, stealing him away on the wings of his untamed magic―the same magic that stirs within Louisa. As if she is made of hollow bones and too much air, her feet never quite touch the ground.

But for all her sky gazing, Louisa finds her fortune on the leaf-strewn street when she spots a gleaming black-and-gold invitation―a ticket to the Carnival Beneath the Stars. If her father fits in nowhere else, maybe she’ll find him there, dazzling crowds alongside the other strange and wonderful feats. Only, soon after she arrives, a tightrope act ends disastrously―and suspiciously. As fate tugs Louisa closer to the stars, she must decide if she’s willing to slip into the injured performer’s role, despite the darkness plucking at the carnival’s magical threads.

Kirkus starred. Contains black and white line drawings. Pair with Law’s Savvy, or for YA readers, Garber’s Caraval trilogy.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: grief, death of mother, missing father, magic, carnivals, levitation, found families, red herrings

Agent Moose by Mo O’Hara (Author), Jess Bradley (Illustrator)

Agent Moose, book 1. Something fishy is going on at the South Shore. Folks just disappear and are never seen again. But when Agent Moose learns that a key witness has gone missing, he and Owlfred ride to the rescue. Will they find the missing turtle before time runs out?

  • Genre(s): mystery, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-4
  • Themes: detectives, word play, alliteration, disguise, moose, owls, turtles

A Dog-Friendly Town by Josephine Cameronn

Twelve-year-old Epic McDade isn’t ready for middle school. He’d rather help out at his family’s dog-friendly bed n’ breakfast all summer, or return to his alternative elementary school in the fall, where learning feels safe. But change comes in all shapes and fur colors. When Carmelito, California is named America’s #1 Dog-Friendly Town, all the top dogs and their owners pour into Epic’s sleepy seaside neighborhood for a week of celebration.

The McDades are in dog heaven with all the new business until a famous dog’s jewel-encrusted collar goes missing. Every guest is a suspect, and Epic will have to embrace new friends and new ideas to sniff out the culprit before the week is through.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): mystery, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: middle school, bed and breakfasts, hotels, dogs, pets, alternative schools, California, missing objects, friendship




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