New Release Spotlight: January 12, 2021

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Another large list for January! This one is so huge that I probably should have split it into three separate lists. Major authors this week include: Angie Thomas, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ann Bausum, Rachel Vincent, Kimberly Willis Holt, Gary Paulsen, Kelly DiPucchio, Brian Pinkney, Nikki Grimes, and Alicia D. Williams. WOW!

My top picks for this week:

  • Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas (YA)
  • Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair: Inside the 1944 Plot to Kill Hitler and the Ghost Children of His Revenge by Ann Bausum
  • Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston by Alicia D. Williams

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1269-#1290 on The Ginormous book list.

*Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

Prequel to: The Hate U Give. Set in 1998. If there’s one thing seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter knows, it’s that a real man takes care of his family. As the son of a former gang legend, Mav does that the only way he knows how: dealing for the King Lords. With this money he can help his mom, who works two jobs while his dad’s in prison.

Life’s not perfect, but with a fly girlfriend and a cousin who always has his back, Mav’s got everything under control.

Until, that is, Maverick finds out he’s a father.

Suddenly he has a baby, Seven, who depends on him for everything. But it’s not so easy to sling dope, finish school, and raise a child. So when he’s offered the chance to go straight, he takes it. In a world where he’s expected to amount to nothing, maybe Mav can prove he’s different.

When King Lord blood runs through your veins, though, you can’t just walk away. Loyalty, revenge, and responsibility threaten to tear Mav apart, especially after the brutal murder of a loved one. He’ll have to figure out for himself what it really means to be a man.

FOUR starred reviews! A must for all high school libraries.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: family, parenthood, teen fathers, teen parents, gangs, parent in prison, prequels, African Americans, prejudice, racism, violence

Meet-Cute Project by Rhiannon Richardson

Debut author! Mia’s friends love rom-coms. Mia hates them. They’re silly, contrived, and not at all realistic. Besides, there are more important things to worry about—like how to handle living with her bridezilla sister, Sam, who’s never appreciated Mia, and surviving junior year juggling every school club offered and acing all of her classes.

So when Mia is tasked with finding a date to her sister’s wedding, her options are practically nonexistent.

Mia’s friends, however, have an idea. It’s a little crazy, a little out there, and a lot inspired by the movies they love that Mia begrudgingly watches too.

Mia just needs a meet-cute.

  • Genre(s): romance, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: rom-com, weddings, bridezillas, dating, overachievers, sisters

The Beautiful Struggle (Adapted for Young Adults) by Ta-Nehisi Coates

As a child, Ta-Nehisi Coates was seen by his father, Paul, as too sensitive and lacking focus. Paul Coates was a Vietnam vet who’d been part of the Black Panthers and was dedicated to reading and publishing the history of African civilization. When it came to his sons, he was committed to raising proud Black men equipped to deal with a racist society, during a turbulent period in the collapsing city of Baltimore where they lived.

Coates details with candor the challenges of dealing with his tough-love father, the influence of his mother, and the dynamics of his extended family, including his brother “Big Bill,” who was on a very different path than Ta-Nehisi. Coates also tells of his family struggles at school and with girls, making this a timely story to which many readers will relate.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): memoir, biography, nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: African Americans, fathers and sons, racism, Baltimore, Maryland, family problems, Black Panthers, brothers

Into the Heartless Wood by Joanna Ruth Meyer

Deep in the wood lives a witch queen and her eight tree siren daughters. For centuries, they have harvested souls to feed the heartless tree, using its power to grow their ever reaching kingdom of ash, birch, and oak.

Owen Merrick lives at the edge of the forest, mapping the stars for the king in his father’s observatory. For years, he has resisted venturing over the garden wall, until one day he must enter the woods to find his missing sister. But one of the witch’s tree siren daughters, Seren, decides to save his life instead of end it. Now, no matter how hard he tries, he can’t stop thinking about her–the birch-bright hue of her skin and the way violets bloom in her hair. Every night, he goes into the wood to meet her, and their love for each other grows.

But when the constellations shift, the stars foretell an inevitable war between the witch queen and the king. With Seren compelled to fight for her mother, and Owen forced to join the king’s army, they are plunged into the heart of a conflict that seemingly no one can win and that might destroy both their kingdoms forever.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, romance, steampunk
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: sirens, witches, trees, prophecies, forests, missing persons, star-crossed

You Have a Match by Emma Lord

When Abby signs up for a DNA service, it’s mainly to give her friend and secret love interest, Leo, a nudge. After all, she knows who she is already: Avid photographer. Injury-prone tree climber. Best friend to Leo and Connie…although ever since the B.E.I. (Big Embarrassing Incident) with Leo, things have been awkward on that front.

But she didn’t know she’s a younger sister.

When the DNA service reveals Abby has a secret sister, shimmery-haired Instagram star Savannah Tully, it’s hard to believe they’re from the same planet, never mind the same parents–especially considering Savannah, queen of green smoothies, is only a year and a half older than Abby herself.

The logical course of action? Meet up at summer camp (obviously) and figure out why Abby’s parents gave Savvy up for adoption. But there are complications: Savvy is a rigid rule-follower and total narc. Leo is the camp’s co-chef, putting Abby’s growing feelings for him on blast. And her parents have a secret that threatens to unravel everything.

But part of life is showing up, leaning in, and learning to fit all your awkward pieces together. Because sometimes, the hardest things can also be the best ones.

  • Genre(s): romance, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: sisters, DNA, family secrets, social media, celebrity, summer camp, adoption, summer reads

Every Single Lie by Rachel Vincent

Nobody in sixteen-year-old Beckett’s life seems to be telling the whole story. Her boyfriend Jake keeps hiding texts, which could mean he’s cheating on her. Her father lied about losing his job and so much more before his shocking death. And everyone in school seems to be whispering about her and her family behind her back.

But none of that compares to the day Beckett finds the body of a newborn baby in a gym bag–Jake’s gym bag–on the floor of her high school locker room. As word leaks out, rumors that Beckett’s the mother take off like wildfire in a town all too ready to believe the worst of her.

Beckett soon finds herself facing threats and accusations both heartbreaking and dangerous. Nobody believes her side of the story, and as the police investigation unfolds, she discovers that everyone has a secret to hide and the truth could alter everything she thought she knew.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): thriller, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: secrets, lies, death of a parent, family, drug overdose, rumors, police, social media

Chlorine Sky by Mahogany L. Browne

Picked on at home, criticized for talking trash while beating boys at basketball, and always seen as less than her best friend, Skyy struggles to like and accept herself.

With gritty and heartbreaking honesty, Mahogany L. Browne delivers a novel-in-verse about broken promises, fast rumors, and when growing up means growing apart from your best friend.

  • Genre(s): free verse, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: novel in verse, African Americans, rumors, basketball, dating, self-acceptance, sisters, single mothers, single parents

Pudge and Prejudice by A.K. Pittman

Set in Texas, 1984. After moving to Northfield with her family, Elyse Nebbit faces the challenge of finding her place in a new school, one dominated by social status and Friday night football.

When Elyse’s effortlessly beautiful older sister Jayne starts dating Charlie Bingley, the captain of the school football team, Elyse finds herself curious about Charlie’s popular and brooding best friend, Billy Fitz.

Elyse’s body insecurities eventually complicate her relationship with Billy, leaving Jayne and Elyse’s exceedingly blunt friend, Lottie, to step in and help Elyse accept herself for who she is, pant size and all.

  • Genre(s): romance, retelling, historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: overweight, body image, Pride and Prejudice, new student, body positivity, 1980s, Texas

The Ambassador of Nowhere, Texas by Kimberly Willis Holt

Companion to: When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. Decades after the Vietnam War and Toby’s life-changing summer with Zachary Beaver, Toby’s daughter Rylee is at a crossroads.

Her best friend Twig has started pushing her away just as Joe, a new kid from New York, settles into their small town of Antler. Rylee befriends Joe and learns that Joe’s father was a first responder on 9/11. The two unlikely friends soon embark on a project to find Zachary Beaver and hopefully reconnect him with Rylee’s father almost thirty years later.

Interestingly, Booklist starred this title, but Kirkus says that it “sticks to the shallows.” Zachary Beaver was popular as a whole-class novel early in my career (early-2000s), but I haven’t seen it taught in many years. Maybe this book will renew interest?

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: 9/11, September 11, 2001, best friend fallout, death of a parent, first responders, Texas, small town life

*Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood by Gary Paulsen

What life events made Gary Paulsen a writer? This book portrays a series of life-altering moments from his turbulent childhood as his own original survival story.

If not for his summer escape from a shockingly neglectful Chicago upbringing to a North Woods homestead at age five, there never would have been a Hatchet. Without the encouragement of the librarian who handed him his first book at age thirteen, he may never have become a reader. And without his desperate teenage enlistment in the Army, he would not have discovered his true calling as a storyteller.

Publishers Weekly and Kirkus starred. Told in five sections. Paulsen writes in third person, referring to his childhood self as “the boy.” This will be an easy sell in middle school libraries.

  • Genre(s): memoir, autobiography, nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3+
  • Themes: overcoming adversity, survival, North Dakota, family problems, dysfunctional families, child abuse, addiction

Alone by Megan E. Freeman

Debut author! When twelve-year-old Maddie hatches a scheme for a secret sleepover with her two best friends, she ends up waking up to a nightmare. She’s alone–left behind in a town that has been mysteriously evacuated and abandoned.

With no one to rely on, no power, and no working phone lines or internet access, Maddie slowly learns to survive on her own. Her only companions are a Rottweiler named George and all the books she can read. After a rough start, Maddie learns to trust her own ingenuity and invents clever ways to survive in a place that has been deserted and forgotten.

As months pass, she escapes natural disasters, looters, and wild animals. But Maddie’s most formidable enemy is the crushing loneliness she faces every day. Can Maddie’s stubborn will to survive carry her through the most frightening experience of her life?

  • Genre(s): adventure, free verse
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-9
  • Themes: disappearances, survival, dogs, loneliness, novels in verse, tornadoes, Colorado, reluctant readers

*Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair: Inside the 1944 Plot to Kill Hitler and the Ghost Children of His Revenge by Ann Bausum

“I’ve come on orders from Berlin to fetch the three children.” –Gestapo agent, August 24, 1944

With those chilling words, Christa von Hofacker and her younger siblings found themselves ensnared in a web of family punishment designed to please one man–Adolf Hitler. The furious dictator sought merciless revenge against not only Christa’s father and the other Germans who had just tried to overthrow his government. He wanted to torment their relatives, too, regardless of age or stature. All of them. Including every last child.

Booklist and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction
  • Recommended for: 6+
  • Themes: Holocaust, WWII, Adolf Hitler, Germany, revenge, assassination plot, Valkyrie, world history

Many Points of Me by Caroline Gertler

Georgia Rosenbloom’s father was a famous artist. His most well-known paintings were a series of asterisms–patterns of stars–that he created. One represented a bird, one himself, and one Georgia’s mother. There was supposed to be a fourth asterism, but Georgia’s father died before he could paint it. Georgia’s mother and her best friend, Theo, are certain that the last asterism would’ve been of Georgia, but Georgia isn’t so sure. She isn’t sure about anything anymore–including whether Theo is still her best friend.

Then Georgia finds a sketch her father made of her. One with pencil points marked on the back–just like those in the asterism paintings. Could this finally be the proof that the last painting would have been of her?

Georgia’s quest to prove her theory takes her around her Upper West Side neighborhood in New York City and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was almost a second home to Georgia, having visited favorite artists and paintings there constantly with her father. But the sketch leads right back to where she’s always belonged–with the people who love her no matter what.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: artists, asterisms, stars, New York City, Metropolitan Museum of Art, museums, art, grief, death of a parent, fathers and daughters, family

City of the Plague God by Sarwat Chadda

A Rick Riordan Presents book. Thirteen-year-old Sik wants a simple life going to school and helping at his parents’ deli in the evenings. But all that is blown to smithereens when Nergal comes looking for him, thinking that Sik holds the secret to eternal life. Turns out Sik is immortal but doesn’t know it, and that’s about to get him and the entire city into deep, deep trouble.

Sik’s not in this alone. He’s got Belet, the adopted daughter of Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, on his side, and a former hero named Gilgamesh, who has taken up gardening in Central Park. Now all they have to do is retrieve the Flower of Immortality to save Manhattan from being wiped out by disease. To succeed, they’ll have to conquer sly demons, treacherous gods, and their own darkest nightmares.

  • Genre(s): mythology, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: Ancient Mesopotamia, New York City, Muslims, #ownvoices, plagues, refugees, Islamophobia, apocalypse, demons, polytheism

Welcome to Your Period! by Yumi Stynes (Author), Melissa Dr. Kang (Author), and Jennifer Latham (Illustrator)

Getting your period for the first time can be mortifying, weird, and messy–and asking questions about it can feel even worse. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

This taboo-free guide is packed with honest advice and big-sisterly wisdom on all the things girls need to know: from what cramps feel like to whether you can feel blood coming out, to what you should do if your pad leaks onto your clothes.

Welcome to Your Period includes case studies, first-person accounts, questions from real teens, and answers from health journalist Yumi Stynes and adolescent health specialist Melissa Kang, MD. Cheerful illustrations keep the tone fun, and help with how-tos on different period supplies. There are even suggestions for throwing a first-period party. With its inclusive, body-positive message, pocket size, and reassuring vibe, this must-have menstruation manual will make girls feel not only normal but proud.

I am a huge fan of school libraries–including elementary libraries–making great books about menstruation available to students. Both boys and girls need to understand it, even if they may be giggly or silly about it. Even if this title isn’t for your library (it’s recommended for Grades 5-10), please consider adding some titles! I especially love that they’ve included menstrual cups, girls with disabilities, and transgender boys in the book.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-10
  • Themes: menstruation, sex education, health, puberty, personal hygiene

*Time for Kenny by Brian Pinkney

It’s time for Kenny to get up and enjoy the day with his family! In four deceptively simple stories, Brian Pinkney guides readers through a young child’s day.

First, Kenny must get dressed. Maybe he can wear his mom’s shoes? And his grandpa’s hat seems to fit perfectly on his head. Luckily, with the help of his family, Kenny is finally set to go. Then he must overcome his fear of the monstrous vacuum cleaner, learn to play soccer with his big sister, and–after all that fun–get ready for bedtime.

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book with chapters
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 1
  • Themes: African Americans, boys, daily routines, family, buses

*Try It!: How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat by Mara Rockliff (Author) and Giselle Potter (Illustrator)

In 1956, Frieda Caplan started working at the Seventh Street Produce Market in Los Angeles. Instead of competing with the men in the business with their apples, potatoes, and tomatoes, Frieda thought, why not try something new? Staring with mushrooms, Frieda began introducing fresh and unusual foods to her customers–snap peas, seedless watermelon, mangos, and more!

This groundbreaking woman brought a whole world of delicious foods to the United States, forever changing the way we eat. Frieda Kaplan was always willing to try something new–are you?

Horn Book and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: PreS-5
  • Themes: 1950s, food, fruits and vegetables, trying new things, open mindedness, market, creativity, ingenuity, gender discrimination

*Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston by Alicia D. Williams (Author) and Jacqueline Alcántara (Illustrator)

Zora was a girl who hankered for tales like bees for honey. Now, her mama always told her that if she wanted something, “to jump at de sun”, because even though you might not land quite that high, at least you’d get off the ground.

So Zora jumped from place to place, from the porch of the general store where she listened to folktales, to Howard University, to Harlem. And everywhere she jumped, she shined sunlight on the tales most people hadn’t been bothered to listen to until Zora. The tales no one had written down until Zora. Tales on a whole culture of literature overlooked…until Zora. Until Zora jumped.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: PreS-4
  • Themes: storytelling, jumping, American authors, Harlem Renaissance, African Americans, making an effort, folktales, oral tradition

Oona by Kelly DiPucchio (Author) and Raissa Figueroa (Illustrator)

Oona and her best friend Otto love to search for treasure…and often find trouble instead.

Messy trouble.

Tricky trouble.

Even shark-related trouble.

That’s never stopped them before, though!

After all, no proper treasure hunt is without some adventure. But when the grandest treasure yet is stuck in a deep, dark rift, Oona’s not sure if she can dive right in. What might be waiting for her in those unknown waters?

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: K-3
  • Themes: mermaids, exploration, adventure, ocean, treasure hunting

Sheepish (Wolf Under Cover) by Helen Yoon

Wolf dreams of tasty sheep—sheep sandwiches, sheep sushi, sheep tacos! In his clever sheep costume, he infiltrates the friendly neighborhood herd, blending in by helping with chores, reading bedtime stories to the lambs, and working up a sweat in sheep aerobics class.

Wolf’s sneaky plan works so well, he becomes part of the family. And suddenly, the sheep don’t seem quite as tasty.

With a charming twist ending and lots of visual fun—including the running theme of Wolf’s disguise not being quite as convincing as he thinks—this hilarious take on the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing will have readers howling for more.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, humor
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: wolves, sheep, disguises, predators, community, friends

Off to See the Sea by Nikki Grimes (Author) and Elizabeth Zunon (Illustrator)

An adventurous bath time story full of magic. The faucet flows like a waterfall, the bathroom floor is a distant shore, toy boats sail against the waves. An imagination-fueled adventure on the high seas is just what it takes to get little one clean.

Booklist starred. This one reminds me of one of my boys’ favorite picture books: Way Down Deep in the Deep Blue Sea by Jan Peck.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: bath time, imagination, play, ocean, adventure, pretending

*Ten Beautiful Things by Molly Griffin (Author) and Maribel LeChuga (Illustrator)

Lily and her grandmother search for ten beautiful things as they take a long car ride to Iowa and Lily’s new home with Gran. At first, Lily sees nothing beautiful in the April slush and cloudy sky. Soon though, Lily can see beauty in unexpected places, from the smell of spring mud to a cloud shaped like a swan to a dilapitated barn. A furious rainstorm mirrors Lily’s anxiety, but as it clears Lily discovers the tenth beautiful thing: Lily and Gran and their love for each other.

Ten Beautiful Things leaves the exact cause of Lily’s move ambiguous, making it perfect for anyone helping a child navigate change, whether it be the loss of a parent, entering or leaving a foster home, or moving.

Booklist and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: moving to a new home, grandmothers, beauty, senses, life changes






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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