New Release Spotlight: September 1, 2020 (Middle Grades)

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This week’s New Release Spotlight is lengthy and as such, has three parts. This is the Middle Grade list. The YA and Picture Books lists are linked at the bottom of this post.

My pick of the week for middle grades isn’t the one you’d probably expect. The new Jacqueline Woodson book with five starred professional reviews is a no-brainer. If you are a middle grade library with any budget at all, you should get that book. Because, duh, it’s Jacqueline Woodson and has five starred reviews.

The book I’m personally most excited about this week got zero starred reviews. I think it will be incredibly popular because it’s middle grade horror, something students ask for all the time and I never have enough of. My pick of the week for Middle Grades? Scritch Scratch, a ghost story by Lindsay Currie.


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 #971-#982 on The Ginormous book list.

*Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson

For as long as ZJ can remember, his dad has been everyone’s hero. As a charming, talented pro football star, he’s as beloved to the neighborhood kids he plays with as he is to his millions of adoring sports fans.

But lately life at ZJ’s house is anything but charming. His dad is having trouble remembering things and seems to be angry all the time. ZJ’s mom explains it’s because of all the head injuries his dad sustained during his career.

ZJ can understand that–but it doesn’t make the sting any less real when his own father forgets his name. As ZJ contemplates his new reality, he has to figure out how to hold on tight to family traditions and recollections of the glory days, all the while wondering what their past amounts to if his father can’t remember it. And most importantly, can those happy feelings ever be reclaimed when they are all so busy aching for the past?

FIVE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: contact sports, head injuries, concussions, brain trauma, TBI, fathers and sons, African Americans, sports, football, mental illness, family, community

*Tune It Out by Jamie Sumner

Lou Montgomery has the voice of an angel, or so her mother tells her and anyone else who will listen. But Lou can only hear the fear in her own voice. She’s never liked crowds or loud noises or even high fives; in fact, she’s terrified of them, which makes her pretty sure there’s something wrong with her.

When Lou crashes their pickup on a dark and snowy road, child services separate the mother-daughter duo. Now she has to start all over again at a fancy private school far away from anything she’s ever known. With help from an outgoing new friend, her aunt and uncle, and the school counselor, she begins to see things differently. A sensory processing disorder isn’t something to be ashamed of, and music might just be the thing that saves Lou—and maybe her mom, too.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: mothers and daughters, foster families, sensory processing disorder, music, singers, child neglect, theater, homelessness, private schools, aunts and uncles, extended family, poverty

Pine Island Home by Polly Horvath

When the McCready sisters’ parents are washed away in a tsunami, their Great Aunt Martha volunteers to have them live with her on her farm in British Columbia. But while they are traveling there, Martha dies unexpectedly, forcing Fiona, the eldest, to come up with a scheme to keep social services from separating the girls–a scheme that will only work if no one knows they are living on their own.

Fiona approaches their grouchy and indifferent neighbor Al and asks if he will pretend to be their live-in legal guardian should papers need to be signed or if anyone comes snooping around. He reluctantly agrees, under the condition that they bring him dinner every night.

As weeks pass, Fiona takes on more and more adult responsibilities, while each of the younger girls finds their own special role in their atypical family. But even if things seem to be falling into place, Fiona is sure it’s only a matter of time before they are caught.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: orphans, sisters, British Columbia, Canada, aunts, social services, siblings

Scritch Scratch by Lindsay Currie

Claire has absolutely no interest in the paranormal. She’s a scientist, which is why she can’t think of anything worse than having to help out her dad on one of his ghost-themed Chicago bus tours. She thinks she’s made it through when she sees a boy with a sad face and dark eyes at the back of the bus. There’s something off about his presence, especially because when she checks at the end of the tour…he’s gone.

Claire tries to brush it off, she must be imagining things, letting her dad’s ghost stories get the best of her. But then the scratching starts. Voices whisper to her in the dark. The number 396 appears everywhere she turns. And the boy with the dark eyes starts following her.

Claire is being haunted. The boy from the bus wants something…and Claire needs to find out what before it’s too late.

  • Genre(s): horror, supernatural, thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: science, unexplained, ghosts, Chicago, Illinois, hauntings, Chicago history, local history

This Is Your Brain on Stereotypes: How Science Is Tackling Unconscious Bias by Tanya Lloyd Kyi (Author) and Drew Shannon (Illustrator)

From the time we’re babies, our brains constantly sort and label the world around us–a skill that’s crucial for our survival. But, as adolescents are all too aware, there’s a tremendous downside: when we do this to groups of people it can cause great harm.

Here’s a comprehensive introduction to the science behind stereotypes that will help young people make sense of why we classify people, and how we can change our thinking. It covers the history of identifying stereotypes, secret biases in our brains, and how stereotypes affect our sense of self. Most importantly, it covers current research into how science can help us overcome our biases, offering hope for a future where stereotypes are less prevalent and the world is more fair for everyone.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-10
  • Themes: stereotypes, discrimination, bias, the brain, identity, self, fairness

*The Silver Arrow by Lev Grossman

Kate and her younger brother Tom lead dull, uninteresting lives. And if their dull, uninteresting parents are anything to go by, they don’t have much to look forward to. Why can’t Kate have thrilling adventures and save the world the way people do in books? Even her 11th birthday is shaping up to be mundane–that is, until her mysterious and highly irresponsible Uncle Herbert, whom she’s never even met before, surprises her with the most unexpected, exhilarating, inappropriate birthday present of all time: a colossal steam locomotive called the Silver Arrow.

Kate and Tom’s parents want to send it right back where it came from. But Kate and Tom have other ideas–and so does the Silver Arrow–and soon they’re off to distant lands along magical rail lines in the company of an assortment of exotic animals who, it turns out, can talk. With only curiosity, excitement, their own resourcefulness and the thrill of the unknown to guide them, Kate and Tom are on the adventure of a lifetime…and who knows? They just might end up saving the world after all.

Booklist and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: siblings, brothers and sisters, birthdays, uncles, trains, extreme wealth, magic, talking animals, sustainability, Earth Day, conservation

A Whale of the Wild by Rosanne Parry (Author) and Lindsay Moore (Illustrator)

Companion to: A Wolf Called Wander. For Vega and her family, salmon is life. And Vega is learning to be a salmon finder, preparing for the day when she will be her family’s matriarch.

But then she and her brother Deneb are separated from their pod when a devastating earthquake and tsunami render the seascape unrecognizable. Vega must use every skill she has to lead her brother back to their family. The young orcas face a shark attack, hunger, the deep ocean, and polluted waters on their journey. Will Vega become the leader she’s destined to be?

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): adventure, animal stories
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-5
  • Themes: brothers and sisters, siblings, natural disasters, orcas, marine life, oceans, survival, conservation, environment, pollution, impact of humans on animals

The Wild Path by Sarah R. Baughman

Twelve-year-old Claire Barton doesn’t like the “flutter feeling” that fills her chest when she worries about the future, but she knows what she loves: the land that’s been in her family for three generations; her best friend Maya; her family’s horses, Sunny and Sam; and her older brother Andy. That’s why, with Andy recently sent to rehab and her parents planning to sell the horses, Claire’s world feels like it might flutter to pieces.

When Claire learns about equine therapy, she imagines a less lonely future that keeps her family together, brother and horses included. But, when she finds what seem to be mysterious wild horses in the woods behind her house, she realizes she has a bit more company than she bargained for. With this new secret–and a little bit of luck–Claire will discover the beauty of change, the power of family, and the strength within herself.

  • Genre(s): magical realism
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: anxiety, horses, brothers and sisters, siblings, rehab, family, addiction, magical realism, parental job loss, New Hampshire

Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse

Debut author!

Effie lost her mom.
Lost her home.
And now she has to live with two strange aunts who she’s never met before.

Life in Brooklyn takes a strange twist for Effie as she learns more about her family and herself. With new friends who will do whatever they can to be there for her, a cursed pop-star, and her new magically-inclined family — Effie’s life is about to get interesting.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: death of a parent, orphans, aunts, extended family, Brooklyn, magic, witches

Nature All Around: Birds by Pamela Hickman (Author) and Carolyn Gavin (Illustrator)

Because birds can be spotted in every neighborhood, and in all seasons, they are an excellent choice for piquing children’s interest in wildlife. Here’s a guide to birds that makes the perfect starting point. Colorful pages explore the characteristics of different bird species, along with many of their fascinating and unique features, from their feathers to their eggs and nests. A journey through a year in the lives of birds gives readers clues to what to look for, season by season. And a beginning bird-watcher section helps youngsters get started in the field, including a list of what tools they need to use, and guiding questions to help with bird identification (for example, by their song, size and unusual color patterns).

This book has curriculum applications in grades two to five, when children are learning about the characteristics of living things, and covers both life science and earth science topics. End matter includes information on how readers can help endangered birds, a bird feeder activity, a glossary and an index.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-5
  • Themes: animals, birds, birdwatching, wildlife, nature, living things, life science

Milo Moss Is Officially Un-Amazing by Lauren Allbright

Twelve-year-old Milo Moss has been on a mission to achieve his family’s lifelong goal: breaking a Guinness World Record. It’s why he and his parents, along with thousands of others, are standing in the middle of a football stadium dressed as human-sized cockroaches.

But when the record attempt doesn’t exactly go as planned, Milo and his family are failures once again. Now more than ever, Milo needs support from his best friend, Jesse (who also happens to be his nephew–don’t ask, it’s complicated). But when Jesse discovers the truth about Milo’s record attempt, he pressures him to come clean to the whole school.

Desperate to avoid public humiliation, Milo must team up with an unlikely ally to stop the record madness once and for all. Will Milo be able to leave behind his dream of breaking into Guinness? Or will he learn that sometimes there’s more to life than winning?

  • Genre(s): humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: world records, success and failure, friendship, eccentricity, lying, forgery, uncles

Jayla Jumps In by Joy Jones

When eleven-year-old Jayla finds out that her mother used to be a Double Dutch champion, she’s stunned. Her mom, who’s on doctor’s orders to lower her blood pressure, could move like that?!?

Jayla decides to follow in her mom’s footsteps, thinking that maybe double Dutch can make her stand out in her big, quirky family. As she puts together a team at school and prepares to compete, Jayla finds that Double Dutch is about a lot more than jumping rope―and it just might change her life in ways she never imagined.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, sports fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: jump rope, Double Dutch, large families, school teams, sports, healthy lifestyles, community, Washington, DC, importance of exercise, mothers and daughters




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