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New Release Spotlight: January 19, 2021

Yet another huge list for January! This week, we have new titles from Malinda Lo, April Henry, Shaun David Hutchinson, Jack Prelutsky, Kathryn Lasky, and many more!

My picks of the week:

  • If I Tell You the Truth by Jasmin Kaur
  • 365 Days to Alaska by Cathy Carr
  • The Passover Guest by Susan Kusel

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1291-#1309 on The Ginormous book list.

*Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the question took root, but the answer was in full bloom the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club.

America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father–despite his hard-won citizenship–Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: discrimination, homophobia, LGBTQIA+, 1950s, communism, Red Scare, Chinese Americans, Chinatown, San Francisco, California, microaggressions, deportation

A Complicated Love Story Set in Space by Shaun David Hutchinson

When Noa closes his eyes on Earth and wakes up on a spaceship called Qriosity just as it’s about to explode, he’s pretty sure things can’t get much weirder.

Boy is he wrong.

Trapped aboard Qriosity are also DJ and Jenny, neither of whom remember how they got onboard the ship. Together, the three face all the dangers of space, along with murder, aliens, a school dance, and one really, really bad day. But none of this can prepare Noa for the biggest challenge–falling in love. And as Noa’s feelings for DJ deepen, he has to contend not just with the challenges of the present, but also with his memories of the past.

However, nothing is what it seems on Qriosity, and the truth will upend all of their lives forever.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): science fiction, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: space, murder, aliens, survival, LGBTQIA+

Playing with Fire by April Henry

Natalia is not the kind of girl who takes risks. Six years ago, she barely survived the house fire that killed her baby brother. Now she is cautious and always plays it safe. For months, her co-worker Wyatt has begged her to come hiking with him, and Natalia finally agrees.

But when a wildfire breaks out, blocking the trail back, a perfect sunny day quickly morphs into a nightmare. With no cell service, few supplies, and no clear way out of the burning forest, a group of strangers will have to become allies if they’re going to survive. Hiking in the dark, they must deal with injuries, wild animals and even a criminal on the lam―before the fire catches them.

  • Genre(s): adventure, thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: death of a sibling, anxiety, grief. house fire, wildfire, survival, hiking, forests, wilderness

*If I Tell You the Truth by Jasmin Kaur

Kiran flees her home in Punjab for a fresh start in Canada after a sexual assault leaves her pregnant. But overstaying her visa and living undocumented brings its own perils for both her and her daughter, Sahaara.

Sahaara would do anything to protect her mother. When she learns the truth about Kiran’s past, she feels compelled to seek justice–even if it means challenging a powerful and dangerous man.

SLJ and School Library Connection starred. This story is set over a 20-year period of the lives of mother and daughter.

  • Genre(s): free verse, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: India, Vancouver, Canada, teen pregnancy, rape, immigration, deportation, mothers and daughters, undocumented immigrants

Rise of the Red Hand by Olivia Chadha

Mechanists book 1. The South Asian Province is split in two. Uplanders lead luxurious lives inside a climate-controlled biodome, dependent on technology and gene therapy to keep them healthy and youthful forever. Outside, the poor and forgotten scrape by with discarded black-market robotics, a society of poverty-stricken cyborgs struggling to survive in slums threatened by rising sea levels, unbreathable air, and deadly superbugs.

Ashiva works for the Red Hand, an underground network of revolutionaries fighting the government, which is run by a merciless computer algorithm that dictates every citizen’s fate. She’s a smuggler with the best robotic arm and cybernetic enhancements the slums can offer, and her cargo includes the most vulnerable of the city’s abandoned children.

When Ashiva crosses paths with the brilliant hacker Riz-Ali, a privileged Uplander who finds himself embroiled in the Red Hand’s dangerous activities, they uncover a horrifying conspiracy that the government will do anything to bury. From armed guardians kidnapping children to massive robots flattening the slums, to a pandemic that threatens to sweep through the city like wildfire, Ashiva and Riz-Ali will have to put aside their differences in order to fight the system and save the communities they love from destruction.

  • Genre(s): science fiction, dystopia
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: Asia, technology, climate change, gene therapy, poverty, revolution, conspiracies, pandemic

Girl on the Line by Faith Gardner

Life’s tough when you didn’t expect to be living it. But now that Journey has a future, she apparently also has to figure out what that future’s supposed to look like.

Some days the pain feels as fresh as that day: the day she attempted suicide. Her parents don’t know how to speak to her. Her best friend cracks all the wrong jokes. Her bipolar II disorder feels like it swallows her completely.

But other days–they feel like revelations. Like meeting the dazzling Etta, a city college student who is a world unto herself. Or walking into the office of the volunteer hotline, and discovering a community as simultaneously strong and broken as she is.

Or uncovering the light within herself that she didn’t know existed.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: 9+
  • Themes: suicide, bipolar disorder, mental illness, LGBTQIA+, divorce

This Will Be Funny Someday by Katie Henry

Sixteen-year-old Izzy is used to keeping her thoughts to herself–in school, where her boyfriend does the talking for her, and at home, where it’s impossible to compete with her older siblings and high-powered parents.

When she mistakenly walks into a stand-up comedy club and performs, the experience is surprisingly cathartic. After the show, she meets Mo, an aspiring comic who’s everything Izzy’s not: bold, confident, comfortable in her skin. Mo invites Izzy to join her group of friends and introduces her to the Chicago open mic scene.

The only problem? Her new friends are college students–and Izzy tells them she’s one, too. Now Izzy, the dutiful daughter and model student, is sneaking out to perform stand-up with her comedy friends. Her controlling boyfriend is getting suspicious, and her former best friend knows there’s something going on.

But Izzy loves comedy and this newfound freedom. As her two parallel lives collide–in the most hilarious of ways–Izzy must choose to either hide what she really wants and who she really is, or finally, truly stand up for herself.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: stand-up comedy, Chicago, Illinois, lies, controlling boyfriends, breaking out of one’s shell, independence, confidence, toxic relationships, abusive relationships

Cast in Firelight by Dana Swift

Wickery, book 1. Debut author! Adraa is the royal heir of Belwar, a talented witch on the cusp of taking her royal ceremony test, and a girl who just wants to prove her worth to her people.

Jatin is the royal heir to Naupure, a competitive wizard who’s mastered all nine colors of magic, and a boy anxious to return home for the first time since he was a child.

Together, their arranged marriage will unite two of Wickery’s most powerful kingdoms. But after years of rivalry from afar, Adraa and Jatin only agree on one thing: their reunion will be anything but sweet.

Only, destiny has other plans and with the criminal underbelly of Belwar suddenly making a move for control, their paths cross…and neither realizes who the other is, adopting separate secret identities instead.

Between dodging deathly spells and keeping their true selves hidden, the pair must learn to put their trust in the other if either is to uncover the real threat. Now Wickery’s fate is in the hands of rivals? Fiancées? Partners? Whatever they are, it’s complicated and bound for greatness or destruction.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: witches, magic, wizards, arranged marriage, secret identity, rivals

Your Corner Dark by Desmond Hall

Things can change in a second:

The second Frankie Green gets that scholarship letter, he has his ticket out of Jamaica.

The second his longtime crush, Leah, asks him on a date, he’s in trouble.

The second his father gets shot, suddenly nothing else matters.

And the second Frankie joins his uncle’s gang in exchange for paying for his father’s medical bills, there’s no going back…or is there?

As Frankie does things he never thought he’d be capable of, he’s forced to confront the truth of the family and future he was born into—and the ones he wants to build for himself.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: Jamaica, gangs, fathers and sons, gun violence, family, poverty

Red Stars by Davide Morosinotto

Twins Viktor and Nadya are twelve years old when Hitler’s Germany declares war on the Soviet Union. With little notice, the city’s children are evacuated on trains that are meant to take them to safety.

Shockingly, Viktor and Nadya are separated, and disaster befalls them both. As the terrible conflict rages, each embarks on a desperate race across snow and ice, struggling through the destruction in an effort to be reunited. Their chances are slim, but they never lose hope.

In an original format–using the kids’ diary entries, with historical photos, maps, and drawings throughout, this fictionalized account of the Nazi siege of Leningrad during the Second World War, this heart-stopping story of danger, courage and bravery emphasizes the power of truth and what it means to be a hero.

Horn Book starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 6+
  • Themes: WWII, Nazis, Soviet Union, twins, winter, snow, survival, diary format, Leningrad

Seven Voyages: How China’s Treasure Fleet Conquered the Sea by Laurence Bergreen and Sara Fray

1405. The central coast of China.

At nearly seven feet tall, Admiral Zheng He looked out at the sea before him.

For the next three decades, the oceans would be his home, as he would command over 1,500 ships and thousands of sailors in seven journeys that would predate the heart of the European Age of Exploration. Over his seven epic journeys, Zheng He explored the Northern Pacific and Indian Oceans, traveling as far as the east coast of Africa, expanding Chinese power globally, warring with pirates, and capturing enemies along the way in the name of his emperor, Zhu Di. But this giant figure was not always at the helm of a ship.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: exploration, China, world history, 15th Century, Zheng He, early explorers, pirates, oceans, ships

*Hard-Boiled Bugs for Breakfast And Other Tasty Poems by Jack Prelutsky (Author) and Ruth Chan (Illustrator)

From a lizard playing a mandolin (although not very well) to the surprised guest of honor (at a birthday party he threw for himself), there’s something for everyone in Jack Prelutsky’s Hard-Boiled Bugs for Breakfast. Illustrator Ruth Chan’s lively and hilarious black-and-white art jumps off the page and illuminates a wide array of poetic forms, from haiku to concrete poems and everything in between.

Includes black-and-white line art on every page, plus an index.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): poetry, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-7
  • Themes: animals, life as a child

365 Days to Alaska by Cathy Carr

Debut author! Eleven-year-old Rigel Harman loves her life in off-the-grid Alaska. She hunts rabbits, takes correspondence classes through the mail, and plays dominoes with her family in their two-room cabin. She doesn’t mind not having electricity or running water—instead, she’s got tall trees, fresh streams, and endless sky.

But then her parents divorce, and Rigel and her sisters have to move with their mom to the Connecticut suburbs to live with a grandmother they’ve never met. Rigel hates it in Connecticut. It’s noisy, and crowded, and there’s no real nature. Her only hope is a secret pact that she made with her father: If she can stick it out in Connecticut for one year, he’ll bring her back home.

At first, surviving the year feels impossible. Middle school is nothing like the wilderness, and she doesn’t connect with anyone…until she befriends a crow living behind her school. And if this wild creature has made a life for itself in the suburbs, then, just maybe, Rigel can too.

Reviews for this title are glowing; I’m surprised it did not receive any starred reviews. Early Goodreads reviews are also very positive.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: Alaska, living off-grid, Connecticut, divorce, grandmothers, grandparents, middle school, nature, wilderness, birds, crows, family, friendship, bullying, new school, change

*The Passover Guest by Susan Kusel (Author) and Sean Rubin (Illustrator)

Debut author! It’s the Spring of 1933 in Washington D.C., and the Great Depression is hitting young Muriel’s family hard. Her father has lost his job, and her family barely has enough food most days, let alone for a Passover Seder. They don’t even have any wine to leave out for the prophet Elijah’s ceremonial cup.

With no feast to rush home to, Muriel wanders by the Lincoln Memorial, where she encounters a mysterious magician in whose hands juggled eggs become lit candles. After she makes a kind gesture, he encourages her to run home for her Seder, and when she does, she encounters a holiday miracle, a bountiful feast of brisket, soup, and matzah. But who was this mysterious benefactor? When Muriel sees Elijah’s ceremonial cup is empty, she has a good idea.

Booklist and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, retelling
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: Great Depression, 1930s, Washington, DC, Jewish characters, Passover, Jewish holidays, food, National Mall, national monuments, “The Magician”

Ten Animals in Antarctica by Moira Court

Antarctica is home to some amazing and unique animals. How many can you count?

It’s time to meet ten land and sea animals that live in Antarctica! From sailing leopard seals to haunting icefish, young readers will love discovering the many unique animals of our chilliest continent in this rhyming counting book.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 1
  • Themes: counting, animals, Antarctica, cold weather, winter, snow, ice, adaptations, rhyming, zoology

Lincoln Clears a Path: Abraham Lincoln’s Agricultural Legacy by Peggy Thomas (Author) and Stacy Innerst (Illustrator)

As a boy, Abraham Lincoln helped his family break through the wilderness and struggle on a frontier farm. When Lincoln was a young man, friends made it easier for him to get a better education and become a lawyer, so as a politician he paved the way for better schools and roads.

President Lincoln cleared a path to better farming, improved transportation, accessible education, and most importantly, freedom.

School Library Connection starred. The Kirkus review is more critical and worth a read before making purchasing decisions. The review is available on Titlewave.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-7
  • Themes: US presidents, Abraham Lincoln, farming, picture book for older readers, US Civil War

Maryam’s Magic: The Story of Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani by Megan Reid (Author) and Aaliya Jaleel (Illustrator)

As a little girl, Maryam Mirzakhani was spellbound by stories. She loved reading in Tehran’s crowded bookstores, and at home she’d spend hours crafting her own tales on giant rolls of paper.

Maryam loved school, especially her classes in reading and writing. But she did not like math. Numbers were nowhere near as interesting as the bold, adventurous characters she found in books. Until Maryam unexpectedly discovered a new genre of storytelling: In geometry, numbers became shapes, each with its own fascinating personality–making every equation a brilliant story waiting to be told.

As an adult, Maryam became a professor, inventing new formulas to solve some of math’s most complicated puzzles. And she made history by becoming the first woman–and the first Iranian–to win the Fields Medal, mathematics’ highest award.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: Grades K-4
  • Themes: math, mathematicians, Iran, reading, geometry, traditional gender roles, strong women, Fields Medal, STEAM, storytelling, Middle East

*Seeking an Aurora by Elizabeth Pulford (Author) and Anne Bannock (Illustrator)

A father wakes his child from sleep to beckon, “Come—we’re off to find an Aurora.” Through the silent frost, across fields, and up hills they climb…And then they wait. Together they share an unforgettable moment and the majestic splendor of the northern and southern lights.

This moving and lyrical story is paired with scientific information about the awe-inspiring northern and southern lights to further inspire readers to seek their own natural wonders. Printed on FSC-certified paper with vegetable-based inks.

Booklist and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: auroras, southern lights, northern lights, natural phenomena, fathers, nature, winter

She Caught the Light: Williamina Stevens Fleming: Astronomer by Kathryn Lasky (Author) and Julianna Swaney (Illustrator)

Ever since Williamina Fleming was little she was curious, and her childhood fascination with light inspired her life’s work. Mina became an astronomer in a time when women were discouraged from even looking through telescopes. Yet Mina believed that the universe, with its billions of stars, was a riddle—and she wanted to help solve it.

Mina ultimately helped to create a map of the universe that paved the way for astronomers. Newbery Honor–winning Kathryn Lasky shares her incredible true story.

Booklist starred. How beautiful is that cover?

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: curiosity, light, astronomy, astronomers, traditional gender roles, Women’s History Month, STEM




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.


  • I am so in awe of how you stay on top of new releases and the world of children’s lit. I am transitioning to a whole school librarian position next year at another international school in Beijing, and since I have been K-5 for the last 4 years I am looking at ways to get up to speed with middle grade/YA. Would you consider writing a blog post to expand on your “about the Spotlight” above? Also, regarding your book blurbs/summaries for promotion (reviews, toilet talkers, digital bulletin boards) – do you get these from publishers or do you have your own formula? I am such a fan of your hard work!

    • Hi, Heather,
      Thank you for your kind words! I actually think a post about how I do the Spotlight each week would be interesting! It’s quite an involved process for sure. I will add it to my schedule in the coming weeks.

      These are great questions! As for the summaries, I do different things based on audience. For the New Release Spotlights, they are mainly publisher summaries. The Spotlights are intended for librarians (adults). I do change the summaries sometimes, but it’s usually either to shorten them or to edit out excessively “flowery” language the publishers add. Picture book summaries are especially bad for excessively flowery publisher summaries. Any commentary I add after the publisher’s summary is my own. How much commentary I add, if any, just depends on the title.

      The Toilet Talkers and Digital BBs are intended for students. I rewrite the publisher summaries the vast majority of the time. Publisher summaries are often too long or give away too much plot, so I almost always shorten them if I am creating a resource for kids. I also try to “spice” them up to give them more kid-appeal or give the students a hook into wanting to read the book. In many cases, I’ve read the book myself, so I write the summary how I would tell a student about the book.


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