New Release Spotlight: September 22, 2020

Currently Reading...
Just finished...

It’s a cool morning here in the Virginia mountains! This week’s Spotlight is heavy on the YA titles, so middle and high school librarians, this one’s for you! We also have new picture books from Kevin Henkes and an adorable new graphic novel of Little Women (set in modern times!).

My top picks this week are:

  • Early Departures by Justin A. Reynolds (YA)
  • Jo: An Adaptation of Little Women (Sort of) by Kathleen Gros (middle grade)
  • Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki

This week’s titles are #1053-#1066 on The Ginormous book list.

*Early Departures by Justin A. Reynolds

What if you could bring your best friend back to life—but only for a short time?

Jamal’s best friend, Q, doesn’t know that he died, and that he’s about to die…again. He doesn’t know that Jamal tried to save him. And that the reason they haven’t been friends for two years is because Jamal blames Q for the accident that killed his parents.

But what if Jamal could have a second chance? A new technology allows Q to be reanimated for a few weeks before he dies…permanently. And Q’s mom is not about to let anyone ruin this miracle by telling Q about his impending death. So how can Jamal fix everything if he can’t tell Q the truth?

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): science fiction, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: life after death, grief, secrets, friendship, male friends, estranged friends, African Americans, time travel

How It All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi

Eighteen-year-old Amir Azadi always knew coming out to his Muslim family would be messy–he just didn’t think it would end in an airport interrogation room. But when faced with a failed relationship, bullies, and blackmail, running away to Rome is his only option. Right?

Soon, late nights with new friends and dates in the Sistine Chapel start to feel like second nature… until his old life comes knocking on his door. Now, Amir has to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth to a US Customs officer, or risk losing his hard-won freedom.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: coming out, LGBT+, Muslims, running away, bullying, blackmail, being yourself, Rome, Italy, Iranian Americans, US Customs, Islamophobia

*Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh

Debut author! A mixed-heritage dancer’s coming of age within the African diaspora is shaped by abuse at the hands of a cousin, her mother’s descent into addiction, and her father’s efforts to create a Nigerian-inspired home in America

Booklist and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, free verse
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: dancers, abuse, addiction, African heritage, Nigeria, coming of age, novels in verse, Washington, DC, dysfunctional families, rape, neglectful parents

Smash It! by Francina Simone

A loose retelling of Othello! Olivia “Liv” James is done with letting her insecurities get the best of her. So she does what any self-respecting hot mess of a girl who wants to SMASH junior year does…

After Liv shows up to a Halloween party in khaki shorts—why, God, why?—she decides to set aside her wack AF ways. She makes a list—a F*ck-It list.

1. Be bold—do the thing that scares me.

2. Learn to take a compliment.

3. Stand out instead of back.

She kicks it off by trying out for the school musical, saying yes to a date and making new friends. Life is great when you stop punking yourself! However, with change comes a lot of missteps, and being bold means following her heart. So what happens when Liv’s heart is interested in three different guys—and two of them are her best friends? What is she supposed to do when she gets dumped by a guy she’s not even dating? How does one Smash It! after the humiliation of being friend-zoned?

In Liv’s own words, “F*ck it. What’s the worst that can happen?” A lot, apparently.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): retelling, realistic fiction, romance, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: Shakespeare, Othello, year of yes, , rom-com, body image, taking risks, self-esteem, insecurity, friendship

Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite by Zoraida Cordova and Natalie C. Parker

In this new collection, you’ll find stories about lurking vampires of social media, rebellious vampires hungry for more than just blood, eager vampires coming out―and going out for their first kill―and other bold, breathtaking, dangerous, dreamy, eerie, iconic, powerful creatures of the night. Welcome to the evolution of the vampire―and a revolution on the page.

Includes stories by authors both bestselling and acclaimed, including Samira Ahmed, Dhonielle Clayton, Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker, Tessa Gratton, Heidi Heilig, Julie Murphy, Mark Oshiro, Rebecca Roanhorse, Laura Ruby, Victoria “V. E.” Schwab, and Kayla Whaley.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): short stories, anthology, supernatural
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: vampires, immortality, diversity

Channel Kindness: Stories of Kindness and Community by various authors

Within these pages, you’ll meet young change-makers who found their inner strength, who prevailed in the face of bullies, who started their own social movements, who decided to break through the mental health stigma and share how they felt, who created safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth, and who have embraced kindness with every fiber of their being by helping others without the expectation of anything in return.

This collection of short stories has a much longer publisher’s summary, but I it sounds a lot like an ad for Lady Gaga. Regardless, the book itself is a necessary one for our libraries, and that’s why I’m including it.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction, anthology
  • Recommended for: Grades 6-12
  • Themes: LGBTQIA, gender identity, overcoming adversity, resilience, being yourself, social issues, Lady Gaga

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix

In a slightly alternate London in 1983, Susan Arkshaw is looking for her father, a man she has never met. Crime boss Frank Thringley might be able to help her, but Susan doesn’t get time to ask Frank any questions before he is turned to dust by the prick of a silver hatpin in the hands of the outrageously attractive Merlin.

Merlin is a young left-handed bookseller (one of the fighting ones), who with the right-handed booksellers (the intellectual ones), are an extended family of magical beings who police the mythic and legendary Old World when it intrudes on the modern world, in addition to running several bookshops.

Susan’s search for her father begins with her mother’s possibly misremembered or misspelled surnames, a reading room ticket, and a silver cigarette case engraved with something that might be a coat of arms.

Merlin has a quest of his own, to find the Old World entity who used ordinary criminals to kill his mother. As he and his sister, the right-handed bookseller Vivien, tread in the path of a botched or covered-up police investigation from years past, they find this quest strangely overlaps with Susan’s. Who or what was her father? Susan, Merlin, and Vivien must find out, as the Old World erupts dangerously into the New.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: alternate history, London, England, UK, 1980s, organized crime, missing parent, fathers and daughters, bookish, magic, family, Old World vs. modern world, bookstores

*Spindlefish and Stars by Christiane M. Andrews

Clothilde has lived her whole life in the shadows with her (sometimes) thieving and (always) ailing father. But when he fails to meet her one morning, sending her instead a mysterious ticket of “half-passage,” Clo finds herself journeying across the sea to reunite with him. The ticket, however, leaves her on a sunless island inhabited only by creaking fishermen, a rumpled old woman, a piggish cat, and a moon-cheeked boy named Cary.

Clo is quickly locked away and made to spend her days in unnerving chores with the island’s extraordinary fish, while the old woman sits nearby weaving an endless gray tapestry. Frustrated and aching with the loss of her father, Clo must unravel the mysteries of the island and all that’s hidden in the vast tapestry’s threads–secrets both exquisite and terrible. And she must decide how much of herself to give up in order to save those she thought she’d lost forever.

Three starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): fantasy, mythology, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: Greek mythology, thieves, islands, fathers and daughters, tapestries, secrets, epics, weaving, storytelling

Jo: An Adaptation of Little Women (Sort Of) by Kathleen Gros

With the start of eighth grade, Jo March decides it’s time to get serious about her writing and joins the school newspaper. But even with her new friend Freddie cheering her on, becoming a hard-hitting journalist is a lot harder than Jo imagined.

That’s not all that’s tough. Jo and her sisters–Meg, Beth, and Amy–are getting used to a new normal at home, with their dad deployed overseas and their mom, a nurse, working overtime.

And while it helps to hang out with Laurie, the boy who just moved next door, things get complicated when he tells Jo he has feelings for her. Feelings that Jo doesn’t have for him…or for any boy. Feelings she’s never shared with anyone before. Feelings that Jo might have for Freddie.

A modern twist on Little Women…in a graphic novel format? Yes, please! This sounds super-cute. I know there is a major twist in this surrounding Beth’s fate, too–yay for that!

  • Genre(s): retelling, graphic novel
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: Little Women, newspaper, writers, sisters, deployed parents, military families

Atty at Law by Tim Lockette

Debut author! Atticus Peale is desperately trying to save the life of a dog in the animal shelter where she volunteers. And an alligator in the swamp who only allegedly tried to eat a fisherman.

Her father named her after his favorite character, a lawyer in a famous book, but everyone calls her Atty, and no one, except her dad, stepmom, and stepbrother, thinks she’s old enough to make a legal case for those who, as Atty points out, can’t speak up for themselves.

She’s learning some law basics from her dad, who is defending an illiterate man in town on a murder charge. But when strange occurrences begin to threaten Atty’s efforts, she isn’t sure which is more difficult: coming to the defense of the voiceless, countering the sideways looks she and her biracial family get in their Alabama town, or navigating the social scene of middle school. But one thing she is sure of: Jethro Gersham did not kill anyone, and she is determined to find out who did.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): mystery, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: animal rights, lawyers, court cases, biracial families, Alabama, murder, false accusations, bullying

No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History by Lindsay H. Metcalf (Editor), Keila V. Dawson (Editor), Jeanette Bradley (Editor, Illustrator)

Mari Copeny demanded clean water in Flint. Jazz Jennings insisted, as a transgirl, on playing soccer with the girls’ team. From Viridiana Sanchez Santos’s quinceañera demonstration against anti-immigrant policy to Zach Wahls’s moving declaration that his two moms and he were a family like any other, No Voice Too Small celebrates the young people who know how to be the change they seek.

Fourteen poems honor these young activists. Featuring poems by Lesléa Newman, Traci Sorell, and Nikki Grimes. Additional text goes into detail about each youth activist’s life and how readers can get involved.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, collected biography, poetry
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-7
  • Themes: activism, strong girls, youth activism, protests, social issues, LGBTQIA, gay rights, immigrant rights, water pollution

*The Oboe Goes Boom Boom Boom by Colleen AF Venable (Author) and Lian Cho (Illustrator)

The band director knows everything about all the instruments, and he can’t wait to help find the perfect one for you. But an irrepressible young girl keeps interrupting with enthusiastic BOOM BOOM BOOMS on her drum. At least until the band director introduces one instrument that’s even louder.

This laugh-out-loud picture book from National Book Award–longlisted author Colleen AF Venable is packed with boundless energy and giggle-worthy jokes—as well as information about eight instruments commonly played in school bands. Each child in the band is inspired by a real-life musician, and biographies are included at the end of the book.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: band, orchestra, music, conductors, onomatopoeia, musical instruments


*Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki

Tie on your apron! Roll up your sleeves!
Pans are out, oven is hot, the kitchen’s all ready!
Where do we start?

In this lively, rousing picture book from Caldecott Honoree Jillian Tamaki, a crew of resourceful neighbors comes together to prepare a meal for their community. With a garden full of produce, a joyfully chaotic kitchen, and a friendly meal shared at the table, Our Little Kitchen is a celebration of full bellies and looking out for one another. Bonus materials include recipes and an author’s note about the volunteering experience that inspired the book.

Publishers Weekly and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreK-Grade 3
  • Themes: kitchens, food, tradition, family, community

*Sun Flower Lion by Kevin Henkes

On a warm morning, a little lion sleeps under a sun that shines so brightly, it looks like a flower. He dreams the flower is as big as the sun. He dreams the flower is a cookie. He lets his imagination soar.

Caldecott Medalist Kevin Henkes uses simple shapes, limited colors, and a pitch-perfect text to tell Lion’s story in this transcendent picture book. Sun Flower Lion introduces emerging readers to short chapters, action verbs, and adjectives, while bright illustrations transform simple shapes into something magical.

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): wordless picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 1
  • Themes: lions, flowers, dreams, shapes, colors




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.


Product categories

One Comment

  • Thank you so much for returning to old format! I use this resource every week and in this format, it saves me so much time. You are so appreciated!!!!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

I accept the Privacy Policy * for Click to select the duration you give consent until.