New Release Spotlight: January 5, 2021 (Elementary + Picture Books)

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As is typical of January, this first Spotlight of 2021 is LONG! I’ve split it into three parts: YA, middle grades, and picture books/chapter books. Lots of good stuff on this week’s list!

My picks for chapter books + picture books this week:

  • The Highest Tribute by Kekla Magoon
  • Runaway: The Daring Escape of Ona Judge by Ray Anthony Shepard
  • The Beak Book by Robin Page

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1261-#1268 on The Ginormous book list.

*Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho (Author) and Dung Ho (Illustrator)

A young Asian girl notices that her eyes look different from her peers’. They have big, round eyes and long lashes. She realizes that her eyes are like her mother’s, her grandmother’s, and her little sister’s. They have eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea, crinkle into crescent moons, and are filled with stories of the past and hope for the future.

Drawing from the strength of these powerful women in her life, she recognizes her own beauty and discovers a path to self-love and empowerment. This powerful, poetic picture book will resonate with readers of all ages.

SLJ and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: Asians, eyes, similes, metaphors, women, generations, beauty, self-acceptance, heritage

*The Highest Tribute: Thurgood Marshall’s Life, Leadership, and Legacy by Kekla Magoon (Author) and Laura Freeman (Illustrator)

Growing up in Baltimore, Thurgood Marshall could see that things weren’t fair. The laws said that Black and white people couldn’t use the same schools, parks, or water fountains.

When Thurgood had to read the Constitution as punishment for a prank at school, his eyes were opened. It was clear to him that Jim Crow laws were wrong, and he was willing to do whatever it took to change them.

His determination to make sure all Americans were treated equally led him to law school and then the NAACP, where he argued cases like Brown v. Board of Education in front of the Supreme Court. But to become a Justice on the highest court in the land, Thurgood had to make space for himself every step of the way.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book biography, picture book for older readers
  • Recommended for: Grades PreS-4 (but I would put this in my middle school library, too)
  • Themes: Thurgood Marshall, Supreme Court, social justice, prejudice, racism, segregation, Jim Crow Laws, US Constitution, NAACP, Brown v. Board of Education, civil rights, US history

*Runaway: The Daring Escape of Ona Judge by Ray Anthony Shepard (Author) and Keith Mallett (Illustrator)

Ona Judge was enslaved by the Washingtons, and served the President’s wife, Martha. Ona was widely known for her excellent skills as a seamstress, and was raised alongside Washington’s grandchildren. Indeed, she was frequently mistaken for his granddaughter. This biography follows her childhood and adolescence until she decides to run away.

This book doesn’t shy away from the horrors of slavery, nor the complex role of house servants. Author Ray Anthony Shepard implicates the reader in Ona’s decision to emancipate herself by using a rhetorical refrain, “Why you run, Ona Judge?” This haunting meditation welcomes meaningful and necessary conversation among readers. Illustrator Keith Mallett’s rich paintings include fabric collage and add further feeling and majesty to Ona’s daring escape.

Publishers Weekly and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography, picture book for older readers
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4 (I also recommend middle school)
  • Themes: slavery, George Washington, escape, courage, freedom, African Americans, US history, US presidents

Scarlet’s Tale by Audrey Vernick (Author) and Peter Jarvis (Illustrator)

When Scarlet was born, her parents did the usual counting. Two eyes. One nose. Ten fingers. Ten toes. Also: one long, fluffy, fuzzy, furry tail. That was a surprise.

Born a bit different than expected, Scarlet has always embraced her uniqueness. When she starts preschool, though, she finds it can be a little scary to stand out from the crowd. But with the help of some new friends, Scarlet’s infectious enthusiasm has everyone celebrating what makes her special!

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-2
  • Themes: physical differences, tails, unique characters, unconditional love, social exclusion, happiness, starting school

Unlikely Friends by Norm Feuti

Beak & Ally, book 1. Ally the alligator is perfectly happy being alone…until one day a noisy bird named Beak lands on her snout.

Beak thinks Ally is lonely and needs a friend. He has all sorts of friendship goals in mind, like riding bikes together, going to the movies together, and even solving mysteries together!

But when a Long-Billed Party Pooper crashes Beak’s nest-warming party, Ally decides to show Beak something important to her: sticking up for what’s right.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, animal stories
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-5
  • Themes: early readers, alligators, birds, friendship, bullying someone into friendship

My Weird School Graphic Novel: Mr. Corbett Is in Orbit! by Dan Gutman (Author) and Jim Paillot (Illustrator)

Graphic novelization of the My Weird School series, book 1.

A.J. and his friends at Ella Mentry School are headed on a field trip to NASA headquarters. But their tour guide, Mr. Corbett, is a total space cadet! And what happens when A.J. accidentally launches the whole class into outer space?!

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-5
  • Themes: school, NASA, space, teachers, silly

The Great Escape by Alan Katz (Author) and Alex Lopez (Illustrator)

Society of Substitutes, book 1. When Milton Worthy learns his classroom’s pet ferret is the evil mastermind behind a dastardly plot for world domination, it’s more than just about any kid could handle. But then not every kid is the son of a member of the super-secret, super-awesome Society of Substitutes!

Now it’s up to Milton and his substitute teacher mom to save Beacher Elementary School before time runs out.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): humor, early chapter book
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-3
  • Themes: class pets, evil masterminds, secret societies, teachers, ferrets

She Persisted: Harriet Tubman by Andrea Davis Pinkney (Author), Chelsea Clinton (Author), Alexandra Boiger (Illustrator), and Gillian Flint (Illustrator)

Born enslaved, Harriet Tubman rose up to become one of the most successful, determined and well-known conductors of the Underground Railroad. With her family’s love planted firmly in her heart, Harriet looked to the North Star for guidance–and its light helped guide her way out of slavery. Her courage made it possible for her to help others reach freedom too.

This is the first book in a series of 13. One will be published each month this year. Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): early chapter book, biography
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-5
  • Themes: strong women, courage, slavery, the Underground Railroad, freedom, persistence, spies, US Civil War

The Beak Book by Robin Page

Birds around the world have so many amazing kinds of beaks! There are short beaks and long beaks, straight beaks and curved beaks, flat beaks and even spoon-shaped beaks. But what do all of these beaks do?

Discover how beaks of different shapes and sizes are adapted to help birds sip nectar, make nests, battle for mates, and more!

Publishers Weekly starred. I love this cover!

  • Genre(s): nonfiction picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades K-7
  • Themes: birds, ornithology, beaks, animal adaptations, zoology

Stella’s Stellar Hair by Yesenia Moises

Debut author/illustrator! It’s the day of the Big Star Little Gala, and Stella’s hair just isn’t acting right! What’s a girl to do?

Simple! Just hop on her hoverboard, visit each of her fabulous aunties across the solar system, and find the perfect hairdo along the way.

Stella’s Stellar Hair celebrates the joy of self-empowerment, shows off our solar system, and beautifully illustrates a variety of hairstyles from the African diaspora. Backmatter provides more information about each style and each planet.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: solar system, hair, African hairstyles, planets

Outside, Inside by LeUyen Pham

Something strange happened on an unremarkable day just before the season changed. Everybody who was outside…went inside.

Outside, it was quieter, wilder, and different. Inside, we laughed, we cried, and we grew. We remembered to protect the ones we love and love the ones who protect us.

While the world changed outside, we became stronger on the inside and believed that someday soon spring would come again.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: loss, grief, pandemic, social isolation, community, perseverance, hope



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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