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New Release Spotlight: December 1, 2020

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A nice, meaty list for this first week of December! Several titles caught my eye this week:

  • YA–The Cousins (Karen McManus)
  • MG–Cat Kid Comic Club (Dav Pilkey)
  • PB–The Snow Dancer (Addie Boswell)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1198-#1221 on The Ginormous book list.

It Only Happens in the Movies by Holly Bourne

Audrey is over romance. While dealing with her parents’ contentious divorce, a breakup of her own, and shifting friendship dynamics, she has every reason to feel cynical. But then she meets Harry, her fellow coworker at the local cinema. He’s brash, impulsive, and a major flirt. And even though Audrey tries to resist, she finds herself falling for his charms. But in this funny, insightful, and ultimately empowering novel, love—and life—isn’t what it’s like in the movies.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): romance, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: divorce, breaking up, friendship, cynicism, teens with jobs, movies, rom-com

Heiress Apparently Diana Ma

Debut author! Gemma Huang is a recent transplant to Los Angeles from Illinois, having abandoned plans for college to pursue a career in acting, much to the dismay of her parents. Now she’s living with three roommates in a two-bedroom hovel, auditioning for bit roles that hardly cover rent.

Gemma’s big break comes when she’s asked to play a lead role in an update of M. Butterfly filming for the summer in Beijing. When she arrives, she’s stopped by paparazzi at the airport. She quickly realizes she may as well be the twin of one of the most notorious young socialites in Beijing.

Thus kicks off a summer of revelations, in which Gemma uncovers a legacy her parents have spent their lives protecting her from—one her mother would conceal from her daughter at any cost.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: Beijing, China, culture, family, heritage, secrets, feuds, actors, performers, Los Angeles, California, disapproving parents, making one’s own way, cousins, stereotypes

The Cousins by Karen McManus

Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story are cousins, but they barely know each another, and they’ve never even met their grandmother. Rich and reclusive, she disinherited their parents before they were born. So when they each receive a letter inviting them to work at her island resort for the summer, they’re surprised…and curious.

Their parents are all clear on one point–not going is not an option. This could be the opportunity to get back into Grandmother’s good graces. But when the cousins arrive on the island, it’s immediately clear that she has different plans for them. And the longer they stay, the more they realize how mysterious–and dark–their family’s past is.

The entire Story family has secrets. Whatever pulled them apart years ago isn’t over–and this summer, the cousins will learn everything.

  • Genre(s): mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 9+
  • Themes: family secrets, grandparents, grandmothers, cousins, summer, island resorts, estranged families, Japanese Americans

*The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person by Frederick Joseph

“We don’t see color.” “I didn’t know Black people liked Star Wars!” “What hood are you from?” For Frederick Joseph, life as a transfer student in a largely white high school was full of wince-worthy moments that he often simply let go. As he grew older, however, he saw these as missed opportunities not only to stand up for himself, but to spread awareness to those white people who didn’t see the negative impact they were having.

Speaking directly to the reader, The Black Friend calls up race-related anecdotes from the author’s past, weaving in his thoughts on why they were hurtful and how he might handle things differently now. Each chapter features the voice of at least one artist or activist, including Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give; April Reign, creator of #OscarsSoWhite; Jemele Hill, sports journalist and podcast host; and eleven others.

Touching on everything from cultural appropriation to power dynamics, “reverse racism” to white privilege, microaggressions to the tragic results of overt racism, this book serves as conversation starter, tool kit, and invaluable window into the life of a former “token Black kid” who now presents himself as the friend many readers need. Backmatter includes an encyclopedia of racism, providing details on relevant historical events, terminology, and more.

Booklist and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: prejudice, racism, microaggressions, white privilege, social issues, anecdotes

The Ballad of Ami Miles by Kristy Dallas Alley

Debut author! Raised in isolation at Heavenly Shepherd, her family’s trailer-dealership-turned-survival compound, Ami Miles knows that she was lucky to be born into a place of safety after the old world ended and the chaos began. But when her grandfather brings home a cold-eyed stranger, she realizes that her “destiny” as one of the few females capable of still bearing children isn’t something she’s ready to face.

With the help of one of her aunts, she flees the only life she’s ever known and sets off on a quest to find her long-lost mother (and hopefully a mate of her own choosing). But as she journeys, Ami discovers many new things about the world…and about herself.

Pair with The Handmaid’s Tale or The Grace Year.

  • Genre(s): dystopia, science fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: cults, grandparents, grandfathers, post-apocalypse, aunts, family, missing parent, LGBTQIA, viruses, religious compounds, forced marriage, community, security, women’s rights, individual vs. community

Finding a Way Home: Mildred and Richard Loving and the Fight for Marriage Equality by Larry Dane Brimner

Richard Perry Loving and Mildred Jeter Loving wanted to live out their married life near family in Virginia. However, the state refused to let them–because Richard was white and Mildred was black.

After being arrested and charged with a crime, the Lovings were forced to leave their home–until they turned to the legal system. In one of the country’s most prominent legal battles, Loving v. Virginia, the Lovings secured their future when the court struck down all state laws prohibiting mixed marriage.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grade 7+
  • Themes: civil rights, interracial marriage, Virginia, racism, social justice, Supreme Court cases, law, 20th Century

Admission by Julie Buxbaum

It’s good to be Chloe Wynn Berringer. She’s headed off to the college of her dreams. She’s going to prom with the boy she’s had a crush on since middle school. Her best friend always has her back, and her mom, a B-list Hollywood celebrity, may finally be on her way to the B+ list.

It’s good to be Chloe Wynn Berringer–at least, it was, until the FBI came knocking on her front door, guns at the ready, and her future went up in smoke. Now her mother is under arrest in a massive college admissions bribery scandal. Chloe, too, might be facing charges, and even time behind bars. The public is furious, the press is rabid, and the US attorney is out for blood.

As she loses everything she’s long taken for granted, Chloe must reckon not only with the truth of what happened, but also with the examination of her own guilt. Why did her parents think the only way for her to succeed was to cheat for her? What did she know, and when did she know it? And perhaps most importantly, what does it mean to be complicit?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grade 7+
  • Themes: Senior year, celebrity, college admissions scandals, legal cases, cheating, social class, entitlement, drug addiction

The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre by Robin Talley

Melody McIntyre, stage manager extraordinaire, has a plan for everything.

What she doesn’t have? Success with love. Every time she falls for someone during a school performance, both the romance and the show end in catastrophe. So, Mel swears off any entanglements until their upcoming production of Les Mis is over.

Of course, Mel didn’t count on Odile Rose, rising star in the acting world, auditioning for the spring performance. And she definitely didn’t expect Odile to be sweet and funny, and care as much about the play’s success as Mel.

Which means that Melody McIntyre’s only plan now is trying desperately not to fall in love.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: theater, backstage crew, rom-com, LGBTQIA, superstition, promposals

The Bitterwine Oath by Hannah West

San Solano, Texas, is a quaint town known for its charm, hospitality, and history of murder. Twice now, twelve men have been brutally killed, and no one knows who did it. A shadowy witch? A copycat killer? Or a man-hating murderess?

Eighteen-year-old Natalie Colter is sure that the rumors about her great-great-grandmother’s cult of wronged women are just gossip, but that doesn’t stop the true-crime writers and dark tourism bloggers from capitalizing on the town’s reputation. It’s an urban legend that’s hard to ignore, and it gets harder when Nat learns that the sisterhood is real. And magical. And they want her to join.

The more Nat learns of the Wardens’ supernatural history, the more she wonders about the real culprits behind the town’s ritualistic murders. Are the Wardens protecting San Solano from even darker forces? There are shadows in the woods, bones on the outskirts of town, and questions Nat needs answered.

But everything becomes more urgent when people start getting “marked” as new victims–including Levi Langford, the boy whose kiss haunted Nat for a year. With Levi in danger, doing nothing would be harder than fighting back.

  • Genre(s): supernatural, horror, thriller
  • Recommended for: Grade 8+
  • Themes: small towns, Texas, murder, rumors, cults, crime, magic, witchcraft, female empowerment

Never After: The Thirteenth Fairy by Melissa de la Cruz

Never After, book 1. Nothing ever happens in Filomena Jefferson-Cho’s sleepy little suburban town of North Pasadena. The sun shines every day, the grass is always a perfect green, and while her progressive school swears there’s no such thing as bullying, she still feels bummed out. But one day, when Filomena is walking home on her own, something strange happens.

Filomena is being followed by Jack Stalker, one of the heroes in the Thirteenth Fairy, a series of books she loves about a brave girl and her ragtag group of friends who save their world from an evil enchantress. She must be dreaming, or still reading a book. But Jack is insistent―he’s real, the stories are real, and Filomena must come with him at once!

Soon, Filomena is thrust into the world of evil fairies and beautiful princesses, sorcerers and slayers, where an evil queen drives her ruthless armies to destroy what is left of the Fairy tribes. To save herself and the kingdom of Westphalia, Filomena must find the truth behind the fairytales and set the world back to rights before the cycle of sleep and destruction begins once more.

Give to fans of the Land of Stories series. No starred reviews, but all professional reviews are excellent.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: bookisk, fairies, princesses, magic, sorcery, good versus evil, adopted protagonist, bullies, secret pasts, fairy tales

The History of the World in Comics by Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu (Author) and Adrienne Barman (Illustrator)

A paleontologist and a storyteller take two children through the birth of our planet, the beginning of microbes, and through the heydays of protozoans, dinosaurs, and early mammals with unfailing enthusiasm.

The art accurately portrays animal species and prehistoric landscapes, includes maps and infographics, but also adds humorous touches: a google-eyed prehistoric fish looking startled to be walking on land and the children popping out of a tree top to surprise a Brachiosaurus.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction, graphic novel
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: world history, science, animals, evolution, life, nature, dinosaurs

A Wolf for a Spell by Karah Sutton

Since she was a pup, Zima has been taught to fear humans–especially witches–but when her family is threatened, she has no choice but to seek help from the witch Baba Yaga.

Baba Yaga never does magic for free, but it just so happens that she needs a wolf’s keen nose for a secret plan she’s brewing. Before Zima knows what’s happening, the witch has cast a switching spell and run off into the woods, while Zima is left behind in Baba Yaga’s hut–and Baba Yaga’s body!

Meanwhile, a young village girl named Nadya is also seeking the witch’s help, and when she meets Zima (in Baba Yaga’s form), they discover that they face a common enemy. With danger closing in, Zima must unite the wolves, the witches and the villagers against an evil that threatens them all.

SLJ starred. Includes illustrations.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: witches, Baba Yaga, body swapping, wolves, magic, good versus evil, orphans

Cat Kid Comic Club by Dav Pilkey

Li’l Petey, Flippy, and Molly introduce twenty-one rambunctious, funny, and talented baby frogs to the art of comic making. As the story unwinds with mishaps and hilarity, readers get to see the progress, mistakes, and improvements that come with practice and persistence.

Squid Kid and Katydid, Baby Frog Squad, Monster Cheese Sandwich, and Birds Flowers Trees: A Haiku Photo Comic are just some of the mini-comics that are included as stories-within-the-story, each done in a different style, utilizing humor and drama, prose and poetry, illustrated in different media including acrylics, pastels, colored pencils, felt-tip markers, clay, hand-made cardboard sculptures, photographs, pipe cleaners, construction paper collages, and cookies.

I love everything about this! Mixed media, the importance of persistence, different writing styles…it’s a teacher’s dream and sure to fly off the shelves! Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 2+
  • Themes: art, writing, story within a story, mixed media, persistence, patience, practice

*The Smartest Kid in the Universe by Chris Grabenstein

12 year old Jake’s middle school is about to be shut down–unless Jake and his friends can figure out how to save it. When Jake spies a bowl of jellybeans at the hotel where his mom works, he eats them. But those weren’t just jellybeans, one of the scientists at his mom’s conference is developing the world’s first ingestible information pills. And THAT’S what Jake ate.

Before long, Jake is the smartest kid in the universe. But the pills haven’t been tested yet. And when word gets out about this new genius, people want him. The government. The mega corporations. Not all of them are good people!

Can Jake navigate the ins and outs of his newfound geniusdom (not to mention the ins and outs of middle school) and use his smarts to save his school? BONUS! Includes extra brainteasers to test your smarts!

SLJ and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): humor, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: middle school, accidents, intelligence, geniuses, brain teasers, conspiracies

Ice: Poems About Polar Life by Douglas Florian

The remote North and South Poles–which poet Douglas Florian calls our “Earth refrigerator”–are home to a wide variety of unusual, rarely-seen creatures including caribou, penguins, ptarmigans, narwhals, and many more! Young readers will love learning about these polar denizens and the ways they’ve adapted to their cold, windy, frozen environments.

Whimsical, colorful art and humorous poems introduce more than a dozen polar animals, and touch on the unique characteristics of the polar regions. Funny and educational, the book ends with an inspiring call to action about climate change, reminding us of our responsibility to take care of our planet.

Explores key scientific concepts such as animal adaptation, biomes, global warming, and interdependence in poems filled with rhyme, rhythm, figurative language.

  • Genre(s): poetry
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-4
  • Themes: science, polar regions, Arctic, Antarctic, North Pole, South Pole, nature, animals, adaptation, biomes, global warming, climate change, environment, winter, ice, snow

Little Red Hoodie by Martha Freeman (Author) and Marta Sevilla (Illustrator)

“Follow Magic Wand Lane to Glass Slipper Boulevard, right on Beanstalk, left on Breadcrumb, down the Garden Path, and you’re there,” said Little Red Hoodie’s mom, but Red wasn’t exactly paying attention.

Before she knows it, she’s hopelessly lost in the forest–and to make matters worse, someone has stolen her basket of goodies. It’ll take the whole forest to undercover the thief and get the directionally challenged Little Red Hoodie back on track to Grandma’s house.

  • Genre(s): retelling
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-5
  • Themes: fairy tales, Grimm, thieves, being lost, animals, literary characters, personification

*Girl Giant and the Monkey King by Van Hoang

Debut author! Eleven-year-old Thom Ngho is keeping a secret: she’s strong. Like suuuuper strong. Freakishly strong. And it’s making it impossible for her to fit in at her new middle school.

In a desperate bid to get rid of her super strength, Thom makes a deal with the Monkey King, a powerful deity and legendary trickster she accidentally released from his 500-year prison sentence. Thom agrees to help the Monkey King get back his magical staff if he’ll take away her strength.

Soon Thom is swept up in an ancient and fantastical world in where demons, dragons, and Jade princesses actually exist. But she quickly discovers that magic can’t cure everything, and dealing with the trickster god might be more trouble than it’s worth.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): mythology, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: superpowers, middle school, strength, Monkey King, tricksters, dragons, demons, Vietnamese mythology

Pirate Stew by Neil Gaiman (Author) and Chris Riddell (Illustrator)

Long John has a whole crew of wild pirates in tow, and—for one boy and his sister—he’s about to transform a perfectly ordinary evening into a riotous adventure beneath a pirate moon. It’s time to make some PIRATE STEW.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, humor
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: pirates, food, siblings, vocabulary, rhyming

The Snow Dancer by Addie Boswell (Author) and Mercè López (Illustrator)

Young dancer Sofia wakes up to a quiet, white world–it’s a snow day! She makes her way outside to the neighborhood park, where a field awaits her, white and shining and open. It isn’t long before the rest of the neighborhood wakes its sleepy head—and the other kids make their way to the park, scattering all of Sofia’s beautiful silence. But with the help of a new young friend, Sofia is ready to show everyone what a snow dancer can do on a perfect day like this. With lyrical language and gorgeous art, this book sparkles with all the joy and beauty of a snow day.

Perfect to pair with The Snowy Day. I could stare at that cover all day–gorgeous!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: friendship, snow, silence, dancing, onomatopoeia, imagery

The Little Kiwi’s New Year by Nikki Slade Robinson

The Maori New Year is a time for celebrating, food and family. A little Kiwi in the New Zealand coastal bush wakes up in the middle of her sleep because she can feel it coming. One by one, she runs to her friends to wake them up so that they can spend the Maori New Year together.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 1
  • Themes: Maori New Year, New Zealand, Kiwi, friendship, nighttime

Building Zaha: The Story of Architect Zaha Hadid by Victoria Tentler-Krylov

The city of Baghdad was full of thinkers, artists, and scientists, the littlest among them Zaha Hadid. Zaha knew from a young age that she wanted to be an architect. She set goals for herself and followed them against all odds.

A woman in a man’s world, and a person of color in a white field, Zaha was met with resistance at every turn. When critics called her a diva and claimed her ideas were unbuildable, she didn’t let their judgments stop her from setting goals and achieving them one by one, finding innovative ways to build projects that became famous the world over. She persisted, she followed her dreams, and she succeeded.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: Grades K-5
  • Themes: Baghdad, Iraq, architects, traditional gender roles, prejudice, racism, sexism, following one’s dreams, persistence

Dear Earth from Your Friends in Room 5 by Erin Dealey (Author) and Luisa Uribe (Illustrator)

A monthly exchange of ideas between the kids and Earth becomes a lasting friendship in this story about how to be an Earth Hero.

Learn about environmental conservation, along with simple things you can do to help care for the planet—like recycling and reducing energy consumption. The jacket cover is reversible and features a poster printed on the inside with twelve months of Earth Hero activities. These fun and interactive activities will encourage children to help protect our planet year-round.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: Earth Day, conservation, sustainability, letter-writing, epistolary, climate change

Porcupine Cupid by Jason June (Author) and Lori Richmond (Illustrator)

Love is in the air this Valentine’s Day–or it will be if Porcupine has any say. He uses his quills like Cupid’s arrows, hoping to bring the sweet and sentimental spirit of the holiday to all his forest friends. But with every poke! that Porcupine gives, he gets a hey!, ouch!, or yowser! in return.

It seems Porcupine’s mission isn’t turning out quite like he planned, but with some quick thinking he might just be able to save the day…and maybe find a valentine of his very own.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: Valentine’s Day, porcupines, negative attention, love, romance

Flying Free: How Bessie Coleman’s Dreams Took Flight by Karyn Parsons (Author), R. Gregory Christie (Illustrator)

Before Bessie Coleman blazed a high trail with her plane…Before she performed in death-defying flying shows that would earn her fame as “Queen Bess”…Before she traveled the country speaking out against discrimination, Bessie was a little girl with a big imagination that took her to the sky, through the clouds, and past the birds.

Knocking down barriers one by one, Bessie endured racism and grueling training to become the first black female pilot and an inspiration to Mae Jemison, Josephine Baker, and many more influential people of color for years to come.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: Bessie Coleman, pilots, US history, prejudice, discrimination, dreams, perseverance, African Americans, traditional gender roles, aviation history, famous Texans

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (YA):

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (MIDDLE GRADES):

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS & FAVORITE CHARACTERS (ELEMENTARY):

 

ABOUT THE SPOTLIGHT

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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