New Release Spotlight: September 8, 2020 (Middle Grades)

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This week, I’m trying something different with the Spotlight. I’ve got three lists for you again today, but I’ve chosen my top five titles to spotlight instead. These are the cream-of-the-crop, the best-of-the-best titles that I would personally buy for my own library.

I added these and several titles to The Ginormous book list, so you can still see the titles I didn’t pick for my top 5. I’m hoping this makes my lists a bit less overwhelming for you and helps you narrow down the long lists of choices I give you each week.

For a full list of this week’s MG titles, see #1007-#790 on The Ginormous book list.


*The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling

One year after a random shooting changed their family forever, Nora and her father are exploring a slot canyon deep in the Arizona desert, hoping it will help them find peace. Nora longs for things to go back to normal, like they were when her mother was still alive, while her father keeps them isolated in fear of other people. But when they reach the bottom of the canyon, the unthinkable happens: A flash flood rips across their path, sweeping away Nora’s father and all of their supplies.

Suddenly, Nora finds herself lost and alone in the desert, facing dehydration, venomous scorpions, deadly snakes, and, worst of all, the Beast who has terrorized her dreams for the past year. If Nora is going to save herself and her father, she must conquer her fears, defeat the Beast, and find the courage to live her new life.

Why I chose it: Author Dusti Bowling’s Life of a Cactus books are a staple in today’s middle grade libraries. This book also got three starred professional reviews.

  • Genre(s): adventure, free verse
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: gun violence, grief, death of a parent, canyons, deserts, nightmares, survival, novels in verse, PTSD, hiking

The Barren Grounds by David A. Robertson

The Misewa Saga, book 1. Morgan and Eli, two Indigenous children forced away from their families and communities, are brought together in a foster home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They each feel disconnected, from their culture and each other, and struggle to fit in at school and at their new home.

Until they find a secret place, walled off in an unfinished attic bedroom.

A portal opens to another reality, Askí, bringing them onto frozen, barren grounds, where they meet Ochek (Fisher). The only hunter supporting his starving community, Misewa, Ochek welcomes the human children, teaching them traditional ways to survive. But as the need for food becomes desperate, they embark on a dangerous mission. Accompanied by Arik, a sassy Squirrel they catch stealing from the trapline, they try to save Misewa before the icy grip of winter freezes everything–including them.

Why I chose it: This book sounds a bit like the Narnia books. I like the inclusion of indigenous children as characters. It’s also Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: foster families, indigenous peoples (Cree), Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, survival, hunger, starvation, winter, foster siblings

One Time by Sharon Creech

Gina Filomena has been told she has an overactive imagination. With her bright clothing and artistic spirit, she’s always felt different from the other kids in her class. That is, until she meets her new neighbor, a mysterious boy named Antonio with a wide, welcoming smile.

Add in a creative new teacher, Miss Lightstone, and a world of possibilities opens up for Gina, Antonio, and their classmates. With the help of Antonio and Miss Lightstone, will Gina find the answers to the questions Who am I? and Who do I want to be?

Why I chose it: Though professional reviews are a bit lukewarm on this new title from Sharon Creech, I’m including it because the publisher’s summary compares it with Love That Dog, which is fantastic to introduce novels in verse to upper-elementary and middle school students. Sharon Creech’s novels are popular choices for classroom novels as well, so you will no doubt have teachers asking for her latest book. I will say that I’m not a fan of the cover. It looks dated, and the cover alone won’t draw students in.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: imagination, art, being different, friendship, identity, self-discovery, teachers, positive role models, Ohio, writing, Italian Americans

The Language of Ghosts by Heather Fawcett

Forced into exile on an enchanted, moving island, ex-princess Noa Marchena has two missions: reclaim her family’s stolen throne and ensure that the dark powers her older brother, Julian, possesses don’t go to his head in the process. But between babysitting her annoying little sister, Mite, and keeping an eye on the cake-loving sea monster that guards the moving island, Noa has her hands full.

When the siblings learn that their enemies are searching for a weapon capable of defeating Julian—whose legendary spell weaving is feared throughout the kingdom—once and for all, they vow to get to it first. To everyone’s surprise, the key to victory turns out to be a long-lost magical language—and only Noa can speak it. But what if by helping her brother, Noa ends up losing him?

Why I chose it: Seriously, this book had me at “cake-loving sea monster.” Reviews are positive, and Publishers Weekly starred it.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: princesses, islands, exile, powers, brothers and sisters, siblings, sea monsters

The Invisible Boy by Alyssa Hollingsworth (Author) and Deborah Lee (Illustrator)

If no one sees him, does he exist? This superhero-inspired adventure story explores friendship and what it means to be truly brave.

Nadia looks for adventure in the pages of her Superman comic books, until a mysterious boy saves her dog from drowning during a storm and then disappears. Now she finds herself in the role of Lois Lane, hunting down the scoop of the Invisible Boy. Suddenly she’s in a real-life adventure that’s far more dangerous than anything in her comic books.

Why I chose it: The boy in this story is “invisible” because he is a victim of child trafficking. The Publishers Weekly review also mentions that this book discusses children’s right to privacy on parents’ social media. Both of these topics are difficult to introduce to young audiences, and I like that this book does it.

  • Genre(s): adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: superheroes, child trafficking, dogs, rescues, survival, missing persons, investigations, journalism, comic books, Lois Lane, human rights, lawyers, healthcare for veterans, children’s right to privacy in social media



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.


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