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New Release Spotlight: January 26, 2021

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This week’s Spotlight is another great mix of genres and authors!

My top picks this week:

  • The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe (YA)
  • Dance, Nana, Dance / Baila, Nana, Baila: Cuban Folktales in English and Spanish by Joe Hayes
  • Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued by Peter Sís (picture book)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1310-#1328 on The Ginormous book list.

The Knockout by Sajni Patel

Debut author!  If seventeen-year-old Kareena Thakkar is going to alienate herself from the entire Indian community, she might as well do it gloriously. She’s landed the chance of a lifetime, an invitation to the US Muay Thai Open, which could lead to a spot on the first-ever Olympic team. If only her sport wasn’t seen as something too rough for girls, something she’s afraid to share with anyone outside of her family. Despite pleasing her parents, excelling at school, and making plans to get her family out of debt, Kareena’s never felt quite Indian enough, and her training is only making it worse.

Which is inconvenient, since she’s starting to fall for Amit Patel, who just might be the world’s most perfect Indian. Admitting her feelings for Amit will cost Kareena more than just her pride—she’ll have to face his parents’ disapproval, battle her own insecurities, and remain focused for the big fight. Kareena’s bid for the Olympics could very well make history–if she has the courage to go for it.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: muay thai, Indian-Americans, Olympics, traditional gender roles, family debt, Texas, cultural identity, sick parent, #ownvoices, females in sports

Time Travel for Love and Profit by Sarah Lariviere

Fourteen-year-old Nephele used to have friends. Well, she had a friend. That friend made the adjustment to high school easily, leaving Nephele behind in the process. And as Nephele looks ahead, all she can see is three very lonely years.

Nephele is also a whip-smart lover of math and science, so she makes a plan. Step one: invent time travel. Step two: go back in time, have a do-over of 9th grade, crack the code on making friends and become beloved and popular.

Does it work? Sort of. Nephele does travel through time, but not the way she planned–she’s created a time loop, and she’s the only one looping. And she keeps looping, for ten years, always alone. Now, facing ninth grade for the tenth time, Nephele knows what to expect. Or so she thinks.

She didn’t anticipate that her new teacher would be a boy from her long ago ninth grade class, now a grown man; that she would finally make a new friend, after ten years. And, she couldn’t have pictured someone like Jazz, with his deep violet eyes, goofy magic tricks and the quietly intense way he sees her. After ten freshman years, she still has a lot more to learn. But now that she’s finally figured out how to go back, has she found something worth staying for?

  • Genre(s): science fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: high school, time travel, time loop, friendlessness, geniuses, scientists, Greek Americans, bullying, math

Unchosen by Katharyn Blair

For Charlotte Holloway, the world ended twice. The first was when her childhood crush, Dean, fell in love–with her older sister.

The second was when the Crimson, a curse spread through eye contact, turned the majority of humanity into flesh-eating monsters.

Neither end of the world changed Charlotte. She’s still in the shadows of her siblings. Her popular older sister, Harlow, now commands forces of survivors. And her talented younger sister, Vanessa, is the Chosen One–who, legend has it, can end the curse.

When their settlement is raided by those seeking the Chosen One, Charlotte makes a reckless decision to save Vanessa: she takes her place as prisoner.

  • Genre(s): horror, thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: zombies, vampires, curses, sisters, near-future, viruses, pandemics

*The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe

Nora O’Malley’s been a lot of girls. As the daughter of a con-artist who targets criminal men, she grew up as her mother’s protégé. But when her mom fell for the mark instead of conning him, Nora pulled the ultimate con: escape.

For five years Nora’s been playing at normal. But she needs to dust off the skills she ditched because she has three problems:

#1: Her ex walked in on her with her girlfriend. Even though they’re all friends, Wes didn’t know about her and Iris.

#2: The morning after Wes finds them kissing, they all have to meet to deposit the fundraiser money they raised at the bank. It’s a nightmare that goes from awkward to deadly, because:

#3: Right after they enter the bank, two guys start robbing it.

The bank robbers may be trouble, but Nora’s something else entirely. They have no idea who they’re really holding hostage.

Booklist and Kirkus starred. This one reminds me a bit of Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter, Heist Society by Ally Carter, and Zero Day by Jan Gangsei. I loved all three of those, and I will definitely be reading this one, too!

  • Genre(s): thriller, action-adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: con-artists, secret identity, LGBTQIA+, bank robberies, crime, hostages

Wings of Ebony by J. Elle

Debut author! When Rue’s mother is shot dead on her doorstep, life for Rue and her younger sister changes forever. Rue’s taken from her neighborhood by the father she never knew, forced to leave her little sister behind, and whisked away to Ghizon–a hidden island of magic wielders.

Rue is the only half-god, half-human there, where leaders protect their magical powers at all costs and thrive on human suffering. Miserable and desperate to see her sister on the anniversary of their mother’s death, Rue breaks Ghizon’s sacred Do Not Leave Law and returns to Houston, only to discover that Black kids are being forced into crime and violence. And her sister, Tasha, is in danger of falling sway to the very forces that claimed their mother’s life.

Worse still, evidence mounts that the evil plaguing East Row is the same one that lurks in Ghizon–an evil that will stop at nothing until it has stolen everything from her and everyone she loves. Rue must embrace her true identity and wield the full magnitude of her ancestors’ power to save her neighborhood before the gods burn it to the ground.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: demigods, magic, sisters, Houston, Texas, crime, violence, African Americans, murdered parent, racism, colonialism, genocide, vengeance

Don’t Tell a Soul by Kirsten Miller

All Bram wanted was to disappear–from her old life, her family’s past, and from the scandal that continues to haunt her. The only place left to go is Louth, the tiny town on the Hudson River where her uncle, James, has been renovating an old mansion.

But James is haunted by his own ghosts. Months earlier, his beloved wife died in a fire that people say was set by her daughter. The tragedy left James a shell of the man Bram knew–and destroyed half the house he’d so lovingly restored.

The manor is creepy, and so are the locals. The people of Louth don’t want outsiders like Bram in their town, and with each passing day she’s discovering that the rumors they spread are just as disturbing as the secrets they hide. Most frightening of all are the legends they tell about the Dead Girls. Girls whose lives were cut short in the very house Bram now calls home.

The terrifying reality is that the Dead Girls may have never left the manor. And if Bram looks too hard into the town’s haunted past, she might not either.

  • Genre(s): supernatural, paranormal, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: haunted houses, ghosts, mansions, secrets, gothic novels, deadly fires, misogynistic society

City of Villains by Estelle Laure

Mary Elizabeth Heart is a high school senior by day, but by night she’s an intern at the Monarch City police department. She watches with envy from behind a desk as detectives come and go, trying to contain the city’s growing crime rate. For years, tension has simmered between the city’s wealthy elite, and their plans to gentrify the decaying neighborhood called the Scar–once upon a time the epicenter of all things magic.

When the daughter of one of the city’s most powerful businessmen goes missing, Mary Elizabeth is thrilled when the Chief actually puts her on the case. But what begins as one missing person’s report soon multiplies, leading her down the rabbit hole of a city in turmoil. There she finds a girl with horns, a boyfriend with secrets, and what seems to be a sea monster lurking in a poison lake. As the mystery circles closer to home, Mary finds herself caught in the fight between those who once had magic, and those who will do anything to bring it back.

This dark and edgy YA series explores the reimagined origins of Maleficent, Ursula, Captain Hook, and other infamous Disney Villains like you’ve never seen before.

  • Genre(s): retelling, fantasy, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: interns, teens with jobs, police, detectives, magic, missing persons, sea monsters, Disney origin stories

The Impossible Climb (Young Readers Adaptation): Alex Honnold, El Capitan, and a Climber’s Life by Mark Synnott and Hampton Synnott

On June 3, 2017, as seen in the Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo, Alex Honnold achieved what most had written off as unattainable: a 3,000-foot vertical climb of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, without a rope or harness. At the time, only a few knew what he was attempting to do, but after topping out at 9:28 am, having spent just under four hours on this historic feat, author Mark Synnott broke the story for National Geographic and the world watched in awe.

Now adapted for a younger audience, The Impossible Climb tells the gripping story of how a quiet kid from Sacramento, California, grew up to capture the attention of the entire globe by redefining the limits of human potential through hard work, discipline, and a deep respect for the natural world.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): biography, memoir, narrative nonfiction, sports
  • Recommended for: Grades 6-10
  • Themes: Yosemite National Park, El Capitan, climbing, perseverance, mountaineers, rock climbing

Dance, Nana, Dance / Baila, Nana, Baila: Cuban Folktales in English and Spanish by Joe Hayes (Author) and Trenard Sayago Mauricio (Illustrator)

In this Aesop Prize-winning book, reformatted for middle grade readers, folklorist and storyteller Joe Hayes shares stories he learned after years visiting Cuba and listening to local storytellers. He first visited Holguín, Cuba, the sister city of his hometown, Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2001. He fell in love with the island and began to look for opportunities to meet and listen to Cuban storytellers, and to share the stories he knew from the American Southwest. He returned year after year, establishing a rich cultural exchange between U.S. and Cuban storytellers. Out of that collaboration came this fun collection of thirteen Cuban folktales.

Criticas starred.

  • Genre(s): short stories, folktales
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-8
  • Themes: Cuba, oral tradition, storytelling, bilingual, Caribbean, Spanish

The Good War by Todd Strasser

There’s a new afterschool club at Ironville Middle School. Ms. Peterson is starting a video game club where the students will playing The Good War, a new game based on World War II.

They are divided into two teams: Axis and Allies, and they will be simulating a war they know nothing about yet. Only one team will win. But what starts out as friendly competition, takes an unexpected turn for the worst when an one player takes the game too far.

Can an afterschool club change the way the students see each other…and how they see the world?

This is an interesting and timely premise that has gotten mixed reviews. Books featuring video games tend to do well with students, but I recommend librarians either read this book or do a deep-dive into some of the reviews before purchasing.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: video games, WWII, school, clubs, hate groups, cautionary tales, Nazism, social media

Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles

Debut author! Wes Henderson has the best style in sixth grade. That–and hanging out with his crew (his best friends since little-kid days) and playing video games–is what he wants to be thinking about at the start of the school year, not the protests his parents are always dragging him to.

But when a real estate developer makes an offer to buy Kensington Oaks, the neighborhood Wes has lived his whole life, everything changes. The grownups are supposed to have all the answers, but all they’re doing is arguing. Even Wes’s best friends are fighting. And some of them may be moving. Wes isn’t about to give up the only home he’s ever known. Wes has always been good at puzzles, and he knows there has to be a missing piece that will solve this puzzle and save the Oaks. But can he find it…before it’s too late?

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: community, African Americans, middle school, protests, home, activism, working poor

The In-Between by Rebecca K.S. Ansari

Cooper is lost. Ever since his father left their family three years ago, he has become distant from his friends, constantly annoyed by his little sister, Jess, and completely fed up with the pale, creepy rich girl who moved in next door and won’t stop staring at him. So when Cooper learns of an unsolved mystery his sister has discovered online, he welcomes the distraction.

It’s the tale of a deadly train crash that occurred a hundred years ago, in which one young boy among the dead was never identified. The only distinguishing mark on him was a strange insignia on his suit coat, a symbol no one had seen before or since. Jess is fascinated by the mystery of the unknown child–because she’s seen the insignia. It’s the symbol of the jacket of the girl next door.

As they uncover more information–and mounting evidence of the girl’s seemingly impossible connection to the tragedy–Cooper and Jess begin to wonder if a similar disaster could be heading to their hometown.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): mystery, supernatural
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: train wrecks, disasters, twist endings, grief, anger, family problems, siblings, brothers and sisters, neighbors

Noah McNichol and the Backstage Ghost by Martha Freeman

Break a leg! That’s what you say to actors when what you mean is Have a good show!. Anything else is bad luck. When Miss Magnus literally breaks her leg, eleven-year-old Noah McNichol and the rest of the Plattsfield Winklebottom Memorial Sixth-Grade Players are left without a director for their production of Hamlet.

Coach Fig comes to the rescue—sort of. He’ll direct, even though he is clearly more interested in whatever is happening on his phone than in directing. He doesn’t even know upstage from downstage! But then something weird happens: out of nowhere appears a strangely dressed old guy named Mike. He tells Noah he has theater experience, before disappearing–poof.

Noah has some investigating to do and some decisions to make. Like, does he care more that their new director might be a ghost or about getting to make his stage debut? And who is Mike and why has he decided to help? As things get weirder and weirder, one thing becomes clear: The show must go on, and Noah will do whatever it takes to make sure that happens.

  • Genre(s): mystery, supernatural
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: theater, drama, luck, superstition, Hamlet, Shakespeare, ghosts

*Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued by Peter Sís

In 1938, twenty-nine-year-old Nicholas Winton saved the lives of almost 700 children trapped in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia–a story he never told and that remained unknown until an unforgettable TV appearance in the 1980s reunited him with some of the children he saved.

Czech-American artist, MacArthur Fellow, and Andersen Award winner Peter Sís dramatizes Winton’s story in this distinctive and deeply personal picture book. He intertwines Nicky’s efforts with the story of one of the children he saved–a young girl named Vera, whose family enlisted Nicky’s aid when the Germans occupied their country. As the war passes and Vera grows up, she must find balance in her dual identities–one her birthright, the other her choice.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-7
  • Themes: Holocaust, Nazis, Czechoslovakia, 1930s, WWII, unsung heroes

Night Shadows by Barbara DaCosta (Author) and Ed Young (Illustrator)

Each night kids have been creeping around and spray painting houses in Tasha’s neighborhood. For two days in a row, her neighbor Mrs. Lucy awakes to find graffiti outside her home. Tasha helps her paint over it.

They discover that they are alike, except for their age, and become inseparable. But who keeps defacing Mrs. Lucy’s house? Ed Young’s inimitable cut-out art sensitively conveys the characters’ emotions and the drama of the story: as the truth is discovered, the houses become multicolored, but the characters remain faceless. Then when the miscreants are revealed, Tasha’s and Mrs. Lucy’s faces become visible.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: vandalism, intergenerational friendships, neighbors, forgiveness

There is a Rainbow by Theresa Trinder (Author) and Grant Snider (Illustrator)

On the other side of a window, there is a neighbor.
On the other side of a sadness, there is a hug.
And on the other side of a storm, there is a rainbow.

A hopeful picture book that reminds readers we are all connected. Sometimes we are separated by distance, sometimes by the way we feel. Even though the world is full of barriers that can make us feel alone, we are all just on one end of a rainbow-connected by all that color and light, there is always something, or someone, waiting for us on the other side!

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: Covid-19, hope, pandemic, rainbows, human connection, community

*What’s the Matter, Marlo? by Andrew Arnold

Marlo and Coco are best friends. They do everything together–they read together, laugh together, and play games together. After all, they’re best friends. And that’s what best friends do.

But one day, when Coco asks Marlo to play, he doesn’t answer. Instead, Marlo turns away ignoring Coco, until he’s lost in his anger. Coco is worried about her friend, but then she remembers she can always find Marlo.

Publishers Weekly and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 1
  • Themes: best friends, sadness, death of a pet, dogs, grief, comfort

Bear Island by Matthew Cordell

Louise and her family are sad over the loss of their beloved dog, Charlie. “Life will not be the same,” Louise says, as she visits a little island that Charlie loved.

But on a visit to the island after Charlie’s death, something strange happens: She meets a bear. At first, she’s afraid, but soon she realizes that the bear is sad, too. As Louise visits more often, she realizes that getting over loss takes time. And just when she starts to feel better, it’s time for Bear to bed down for the winter.

Once again, Louise believes that life will not be the same. But sometimes, things can change for the better, and on the first warm day of spring, her family welcomes a new member. Here is a lovely, poignant story about loss and healing that will bring comfort to even the youngest readers.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: death of a pet, bears, islands, grief, hibernation, loss, healing

Don’t Hug Doug: (He Doesn’t Like It) by Carrie Finison (Author) and Daniel Wiseman (Illustrator)

Doug doesn’t like hugs. He thinks hugs are too squeezy, too squashy, too squooshy, too smooshy. He doesn’t like hello hugs or goodbye hugs, game-winning home run hugs or dropped ice cream cone hugs, and he definitely doesn’t like birthday hugs. He’d much rather give a high five–or a low five, a side five, a double five, or a spinny five. Yup, some people love hugs; other people don’t. So how can you tell if someone likes hugs or not? There’s only one way to find out: Ask! Because everybody gets to decide for themselves whether they want a hug or not.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: hugging, personal space, social-emotional learning, respect

 

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (YA):

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (MIDDLE GRADES):

 

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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