New Release Spotlight: October 6, 2020

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A super-long list this week! The picture books were especially crazy–I found 19 new picture books this week that received at least one starred review. Out of 24 titles that made the list, here are my top three picks:

  • Strongman: The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy by Kenneth C. Davis (YA)
  • Closer to Nowhere by Ellen Hopkins (MG)
  • All Because You Matter by Tami Charles (Author) and Bryan Collier (Illustrator)

This week’s titles are #1081-#1103 on The Ginormous book list.

Apple: (Skin to the Core) by Eric Gansworth

The term “Apple” is a slur in Native communities across the country. It’s for someone supposedly “red on the outside, white on the inside.”

Eric Gansworth is telling his story in Apple (Skin to the Core). The story of his family, of Onondaga among Tuscaroras, of Native folks everywhere. From the horrible legacy of the government boarding schools, to a boy watching his siblings leave and return and leave again, to a young man fighting to be an artist who balances multiple worlds.

Eric shatters that slur and reclaims it in verse and prose and imagery that truly lives up to the word heartbreaking.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): poetry, memoir
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: Native Americans, identity, Tuscaroras, reservations, boarding schools, grandparents, systemic racism, feeling like an outsider, belonging, loss of culture, community

Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz

Lana Torres has always preferred dragons to people. In a few weeks, sixteen countries will compete in the Blazewrath World Cup, a tournament where dragons and their riders fight for glory in a dangerous relay. Lana longs to represent her native Puerto Rico in their first ever World Cup appearance, and when Puerto Rico’s Runner―the only player without a dragon steed―is kicked off the team, she’s given the chance.

But when she discovers that a former Blazewrath superstar has teamed up with the Sire―a legendary dragon who’s cursed into human form―the safety of the Cup is jeopardized. The pair are burning down dragon sanctuaries around the world and refuse to stop unless the Cup gets cancelled. All Lana wanted was to represent her country. Now, to do that, she’ll have to navigate an international conspiracy that’s deadlier than her beloved sport.

Booklist starred. Give this to fans of Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, magical realism
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: dragons, Puerto Rico, tournaments, competitions, identity, coming-of-age

Something Happened to Ali Greenleaf by Hayley Krischer

Debut author!

Ali Greenleaf and Blythe Jensen couldn’t be more different.

Ali is sweet, bitingly funny, and just a little naive. Blythe is beautiful, terrifying, and the most popular girl in school. They’ve never even talked to each other, until a party when Ali decides she’ll finally make her move on Sean Nessel, her longtime crush and the soccer team’s superstar. But Sean pushes Ali farther than she wants to go. When she resists–he rapes her.

Blythe sees Ali when she runs from the party, everyone sees her. And Blythe knows something happened with Sean; she knows how he treats girls. Even so, she’s his best friend, his confidant. When he tells her it was a misunderstanding, she decides to help him make things right.

So Blythe befriends Ali, bringing her into a circle of ruthless popular girls, and sharing her own dark secrets. Despite the betrayal at the heart of their relationship, they see each other, in a way no one ever has before.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: rape, sexual abuse, high school, popularity, emotionally-unavailable mothers, substance abuse, bipolar disorder, bullying, consent, #metoo

The Code for Love and Heartbreak by Jillian Cantor

When math genius Emma and her coding club co-president, George, are tasked with brainstorming a new project, The Code for Love is born.

George disapproves of Emma’s idea of creating a matchmaking app, accusing her of meddling in people’s lives. But all the happy new couples at school are proof that the app works. At least at first.

Emma’s code is flawless. So why is it that perfectly matched couples start breaking up, the wrong people keep falling for each other, and Emma’s own feelings defy any algorithm?

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: school clubs, math, matchmaking, apps, retelling (Emma by Jane Austen), rom-coms

The End by Mats Strandberg

When will the world end? With Foxworth, a massive comet, hurtling toward Earth, humanity now knows the exact date.

Seventeen-year-old Simon wants to spend his last weeks with the people he cares about most, especially his goal-oriented swimmer ex-girlfriend, Tilda, who dumped him shortly after the news broke. Since Lucinda was diagnosed with cancer she’s, retreated into herself preparing for the inevitable. Suddenly facing down a death that makes her the same as everyone else, she longs to connect again but doesn’t quite know where to start. Reaching out to her former best friend Tilda seems like a good first step. Then Tilda is found dead and accusations start circling that Simon is the killer. As the days tick down, Simon and Lucinda only want to know the truth, but the more they uncover about the final days of the girl they both cared for deeply, the clearer the things that really matter become.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): science fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: apocalypse, comets, death, murder, cancer, friends, coming-of-age

I Hope You’re Listening by Tom Ryan

In her small town, seventeen year-old Delia “Dee” Skinner is known as the girl who wasn’t taken. Ten years ago, she witnessed the abduction of her best friend, Sibby. And though she told the police everything she remembered, it wasn’t enough. Sibby was never seen again.

At night, Dee deals with her guilt by becoming someone else: the Seeker, the voice behind the popular true crime podcast Radio Silent, which features missing persons cases and works with online sleuths to solve them. Nobody knows Dee’s the Seeker, and she plans to keep it that way. When another little girl goes missing, and the case is linked to Sibby’s disappearance, Dee has a chance to get answers, with the help of her virtual detectives and the intriguing new girl at school. But how much is she willing to reveal about herself in order to uncover the truth? Dee’s about to find out what’s really at stake in unraveling the mystery of the little girls who vanished.

  • Genre(s): mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: abduction, kidnapping, survivor’s guilt, podcasts, missing persons, secret identity, detectives, LGBTQIA, lesbians, anxiety

Strongman: The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy by Kenneth C. Davis

What makes a country fall to a dictator? How do authoritarian leaders―strongmen―capable of killing millions acquire their power? How are they able to defeat the ideal of democracy? And what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

By profiling five of the most notoriously ruthless dictators in history―Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Saddam Hussein―Kenneth C. Davis seeks to answer these questions, examining the forces in these strongmen’s personal lives and historical periods that shaped the leaders they’d become.

Meticulously researched and complete with photographs, Strongman provides insight into the lives of five leaders who callously transformed the world and serves as an invaluable resource in an era when democracy itself seems in peril.

Kirkus starred. Give to fans of the Wicked History series.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction, biography
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: dictators, power, world history, democracy, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Saddam Hussein, Germany, Russia, Italy, China, Iraq, government

Broken Wish by Julie C. Dao

The Mirror, book 1. Sixteen-year-old Elva has a secret. She has visions and strange powers that she will do anything to hide. She knows the warnings about what happens to witches in their small village of Hanau. She’s heard the terrible things people say about the Witch of the North Woods, and the malicious hunts that follow.

But when Elva accidentally witnesses a devastating vision of the future, she decides she has to do everything she can to prevent it. Tapping into her powers for the first time, Elva discovers a magical mirror and its owner-none other than the Witch of the North Woods herself. As Elva learns more about her burgeoning magic, and the lines between hero and villain start to blur, she must find a way to right past wrongs before it’s too late.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 6-12
  • Themes: powers, magic, witches, witch hunts, visions, fairy tales, curses, superstition

Out!: How to Be Your Authentic Self by Miles McKenna

Activist Miles McKenna came out on his YouTube channel in 2017, documenting his transition to help other teens navigate their identities and take charge of their own coming-out stories.

From that wisdom comes Out!, the ultimate coming-out survival guide. Find validation, inspiration, and support for your questions big and small—whether you’re exploring your identity or seeking to understand the experience of an awesome queer person in your life.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: coming out, LGBTQIA, empowerment, gender identity, sexual orientation

*How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure by John Rocco

Everyone knows of Neil Armstrong’s famous first steps on the moon. But what did it really take to get us there?

The Moon landing is one of the most ambitious, thrilling, and dangerous ventures in human history. This exquisitely researched and illustrated book tells the stories of the 400,000 unsung heroes–the engineers, mathematicians, seamstresses, welders, and factory workers–and their innovations and life-changing technological leaps forward that allowed NASA to achieve this unparalleled accomplishment.

From the shocking launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik to the triumphant splashdown of Apollo 11, Caldecott Honor winner John Rocco answers every possible question about this world-altering mission. Each challenging step in the space race is revealed, examined, and displayed through stunning diagrams, experiments, moments of crisis, and unforgettable human stories.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: Neil Armstrong, space exploration, moon landing, engineering, math, STEAM, technology, Apollo 11, space race, 1960s

The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Mila, her sisters, and her brother, Oskar, live in a small forest cabin, surviving in a world gripped by frost and snow. When a mysterious man shows up on her doorstep, Mila and her family grant him shelter for the night. But in the morning, the man is gone—and he’s taken Oskar with them.

Determined to save their brother, Mila and her sisters set out on a mission to rescue him. But challenges await them at every turn: wolves with the speed of demons, tempestuous gold, an untrustworthy mage—and always the relentless, stinging freeze of winter.

Inspired by European folklore. Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-10
  • Themes: siblings, brothers and sisters, winter, kidnapping, magic, missing parent (father), forests, Scandinavian mythology, bears

Trowbridge Road by Marcella Pixley

It’s the summer of ’83 on Trowbridge Road, and June Bug Jordan is hungry. Months after her father’s death from complications from AIDS, her mother has stopped cooking and refuses to leave the house, instead locking herself away to scour at the germs she believes are everywhere.

June Bug threatens this precarious existence by going out into the neighborhood, gradually befriending Ziggy, an imaginative boy who is living with his Nana Jean after experiencing troubles of his own. But as June Bug’s connection to the world grows stronger, her mother’s grows more distant–even dangerous–pushing June Bug to choose between truth and healing and the only home she has ever known.

Kirkus starred. Give this to fans of Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8+
  • Themes: 1980s, death of a parent (father), mental illness, depression, AIDS, grief, neighbors, fear of germs

Desert Diary: Japanese American Kids Behind Barbed Wire by Michael O. Tunnell

A classroom diary created by Japanese American children paints a vivid picture of daily life in a so-called “internment camp.”

Mae Yanagi was eight years old when she started school at Topaz Camp in Utah. She and her third-grade classmates began keeping an illustrated diary, full of details about schoolwork, sports, pets, holidays, and health–as experienced from behind barbed wire.

Diary pages, archival photographs, and narrative nonfiction text convey the harsh changes experienced by the children, as well as their remarkable resilience.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: diaries & journals, internment camps, Japanese Americans, resilience, US history, WWII, 1940s, schools, Utah, Asian Americans

The Missing: The True Story of My Family in World War II by Michael Rosen

“They were there at the beginning of the war, but they were gone by the end. I suppose they died in the camps.”

That’s all young Michael Rosen, born in England just after the end of the Second World War, was told about the six great-aunts and great-uncles who had been living in Poland or France at the beginning of that war.

This wasn’t enough for him. So, as an adult, he started to search. He asked relatives for any papers they might have. He read book after book. He searched online, time and again, as more information was digitized and suddenly there to be found.

In a unique mix of memoir, history, and poetry, Michael Rosen explores his family history, digging up more details than he ever thought he would and sharing them with readers so that now, a lifetime after the Nazis tried to make the world forget the Rosen family and the rest of Europe’s Jews, his readers can do something essential: remember.

With an extensive list of titles for further reading, maps of France and Poland, a family tree, and an introduction by lauded author and anthologist Marc Aronson, this immensely readable narrative offers a vital tool for talking to children about the Holocaust against the background of the ongoing refugee crisis.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): memoir, poetry
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-9
  • Themes: family history, WWII, Europe, Nazis, Jewish persecution, France, Poland, war

Premeditated Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery, book 1. Twelve-year-old Myrtle Hardcastle has a passion for justice and a Highly Unconventional obsession with criminal science. Armed with her father’s law books and her mum’s microscope, Myrtle studies toxicology, keeps abreast of the latest developments in crime scene analysis, and Observes her neighbors in the quiet village of Swinburne, England.

When her next-door neighbor, a wealthy spinster and eccentric breeder of rare flowers, dies under Mysterious Circumstances, Myrtle seizes her chance. With her unflappable governess, Miss Ada Judson, by her side, Myrtle takes it upon herself to prove Miss Wodehouse was murdered and find the killer, even if nobody else believes her — not even her father, the town prosecutor.

Reviewers mention advanced vocabulary, so this would be fantastic for young readers looking for a more advanced mystery than what’s available for this age group. The sequel, How to Get Away with Myrtle, is publishing simultaneously. I love both titles!

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): mystery, historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: forensic science, law, crime, England, neighbors, governesses, murder, 19th Century, detectives, advanced vocabulary

Closer to Nowhere by Ellen Hopkins

For the most part, Hannah’s life is just how she wants it. She has two supportive parents, she’s popular at school, and she’s been killing it at gymnastics. But when her cousin Cal moves in with her family, everything changes. Cal tells half-truths and tall tales, pranks Hannah constantly, and seems to be the reason her parents are fighting more and more. Nothing is how it used to be. She knows that Cal went through a lot after his mom died and she is trying to be patient, but most days Hannah just wishes Cal never moved in.

For his part, Cal is trying his hardest to fit in, but not everyone is as appreciative of his unique sense of humor and storytelling gifts as he is. Humor and stories might be his defense mechanism, but if Cal doesn’t let his walls down soon, he might push away the very people who are trying their best to love him.

Hannah and Cal are both sixth graders.

  • Genre(s): free verse, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: cousins, troubled youth, death of a parent (mother), family, drug addiction, arguing parents, lying, not fitting in, alternating perspectives, overcoming adversity

Arlo & Pips King of the Birds by Elise Gravel

Like most crows, Arlo has a big brain. But Arlo has something else: a little pal who’s not afraid to tell him when he’s being insufferable!

In the first of three episodes, a battle of the brains and bird-to-bird banter soon turns into an unexpected friendship. Arlo and Pips’ adventures include a visit the big city and the beach on their hunt for shiny things and French fries. Cool crow facts are included throughout the book.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, chapter book, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-5
  • Themes: crows, friendship, animals, cities, beaches

*All Because You Matter by Tami Charles (Author) and Bryan Collier (Illustrator)

This is a poetic, lyrical text that is part love letter, part anthem, assuring readers that they always have, and always will, matter. This rhythmic lullaby reassures readers that their matter and their worth is never diminished, no matter the circumstance: through the joy and wonder of their first steps and first laughs, through the hardship of adolescent struggles, and the pain and heartbreak of current events, they always have, and always will, matter.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: #BlackLivesMatter, African Americans, family, community, strength, power, self-worth

Let’s Save Our Planet: Forests: Uncover the Facts. Be Inspired. Make A Difference by Jess French (Author) and Alexander Mostov (Illustrator)

Discover everything you need to know about deforestation and the ways we can tackle it. From scientists and conservationists helping to protect forest creatures to tech inventions like robot tree-planters, this book helps readers discover the solutions to deforestation that are being worked on around the world right now.

Readers can begin by exploring different forest types around the world, discovering what makes each of them precious and unique, before taking a look at the causes, effects, and solutions to deforestation. The final section explores what readers can do to help. Filled with guides, tips, and lessons in how to use your voice and change your habits, these pages help readers learn how they can make a difference.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction, science
  • Recommended for: Grades K-5
  • Themes: conservation, Earth Day, forests, deforestation


Migrants by Issa Wantanabe

The migrants must leave the forest. Borders are crossed, sacrifices made, loved ones are lost. It takes such courage to reach the end. At last the journey is over and the migrants arrive. This is the new place.

With forceful simplicity, Migrants narrates the journey of a group of animals leaving a leafless forest. Borders must be crossed, sacrifices made, loved ones left behind.

Watanabe takes extraordinary care to show the individuality and humanity of each migrant―through the detailed patterns on their clothing, their care of each other as they set up camp, the symbol of the blue ibis showing the connection between past and future, life and death.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades K-4
  • Themes: migration, animals, forests, adversity, journeys, determination

The Most Beautiful Thing by Kao Kalia Yang (Author) and Khoa Le (Illustrator)

Drawn from author Kao Kalia Yang’s childhood experiences as a Hmong refugee, this picture book portrays a family with a great deal of love and little money.

Weaving together Kalia’s story with that of her beloved grandmother, the book moves from the jungles of Laos to the family’s early years in the United States.

When Kalia becomes unhappy about having to do without and decides she wants braces to improve her smile, it is her grandmother―a woman who has just one tooth in her mouth―who helps her see that true beauty is found with those we love most.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, memoir
  • Recommended for: Grades K-4
  • Themes: family, refugees, Hmong, Laos, immigration, grandmothers, overcoming adversity

My Hair is Magic! by M. L. Marroquin (Author) and Tonya Engel (Illustrator)

This little girl knows her hair is great just as it is. When people ask, “Why is your hair so BIG?” she answers, “Why isn’t yours?” Her hair is soft, it protects her, it’s both gentle and fierce. While some might worry about how it’s different and try to contain it, she gives it the freedom to be so extraordinary it almost has a life of its own.

Kirkus starred. How fabulous is that cover?!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: hair, self-esteem, body-positivity, African Americans, beauty, uniqueness

*Your House, My House by Marianne Dubuc

It’s a special day at 3 Maple Street. It’s Little Rabbit’s birthday! His mother makes him his favorite breakfast. His sister has drawn him a picture. And, best of all, he’s having a birthday party! His friends are invited, his father is decorating, and his mother is baking a cake.

But that’s not the only thing going on at 3 Maple Street today. The Cat family is moving in upstairs…the Fox family is having a new baby…Mr. Owl is trying to sleep…there’s so much happening inside (and outside) this lively building, it’s hard to keep track!

Publishers Weekly and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: neighborhoods, birthdays, animals, rabbits, nursery rhymes, detailed illustrations, community, neighbors


Turtle Walk by Matt Phelan

Spring blooms, and a turtle family is on the move. Slow and steady, they travel up, up, up, the gentle hill through all four seasons. Where are they going? To the top of the sledding hill, of course! But how will they get back down the hill to a well-deserved winter’s rest?

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-2
  • Themes: rhyming text, spring, turtles, patience, seasons, taking one’s time, family





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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