New Release Spotlight: January 5, 2021 (Middle Grades 3-7)

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Welcome to January! The first Spotlight of the year is always a huge one, so I have split it into three parts: YA, middle grades, and picture books. This is the middle grade list. You can find links to YA and picture books at the bottom of this post.

My middle grade picks this week:

    • Race to the Bottom of the Earth by Rebecca E. F. Barone
    • Race Against Time: The Untold Story of Scipio Jones and the Battle to Save Twelve Innocent Men by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace

This week’s Middle Grade Spotlight titles are #1251-#1260 on The Ginormous book list.

*Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt

Set in 1968. Following the death of her closest friend in summer 1968, Meryl Lee Kowalski goes off to St. Elene’s Preparatory Academy for Girls, where she struggles to navigate the venerable boarding school’s traditions and a social structure heavily weighted toward students from wealthy backgrounds.

In a parallel story, Matt Coffin has wound up on the Maine coast near St. Elene’s with a pillowcase full of money lifted from the leader of a criminal gang, fearing the gang’s relentless, destructive pursuit. Both young people gradually dispel their loneliness, finding a way to be hopeful and also finding each other.

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: grief, death of a friend, boarding school, Maine, gangs, loneliness, Vietnam War, 1960s, courage

*Race Against Time: The Untold Story of Scipio Jones and the Battle to Save Twelve Innocent Men by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace

In October 1919, a group of Black sharecroppers met at a church in an Arkansas village to organize a union. Bullets rained down on the meeting from outside. Many were killed by a white mob, and others were rounded up and arrested.

Twelve of the sharecroppers were hastily tried and sentenced to death. Up stepped Scipio Africanus Jones, a self-taught lawyer who’d been born enslaved. Could he save the men’s lives and set them free?

Through their in-depth research and consultation with legal experts, award-winning nonfiction authors Sandra and Rich Wallace examine the complex proceedings and an unsung African American early civil rights hero.

Booklist and School Library Connection starred.

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-10
  • Themes: 1919, civil rights, law, court, justice, unionization, murder, sharecropping, prejudice, racism, US history, Arkansas, Red Summer, Thurgood Marshall, African Americans


*Race to the Bottom of the Earth: Surviving Antarctica by Rebecca E. F. Barone

In 1910, Captain Robert Scott prepared his crew for a trip that no one had ever completed: a journey to the South Pole. He vowed to get there any way he could, even if it meant looking death in the eye. Then, not long before he set out, another intrepid explorer, Roald Amundsen, set his sights on the same goal. Suddenly two teams were vying to be the first to make history–what was to be an expedition had become a perilous race.

In 2018, Captain Louis Rudd readied himself for a similarly grueling task: the first unaided, unsupported solo crossing of treacherous Antarctica. But little did he know that athlete Colin O’Brady was training for the same trek―and he was determined to beat Louis to the finish line.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction, survival, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-9
  • Themes: 1910, South Pole, journeys, exploration, races, Antarctica, winter, survival, competition, world history

*Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes

For centuries, accomplished women–of all races–have fallen out of the historical records. The same is true for gifted, prolific, women poets of the Harlem Renaissance who are little known, especially as compared to their male counterparts.

In this poetry collection, bestselling author Nikki Grimes uses “The Golden Shovel” poetic method to create wholly original poems based on the works of these groundbreaking women-and to introduce readers to their work.

Each poem is paired with one-of-a-kind art from today’s most exciting female African-American illustrators: Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Cozbi A. Cabrera, Nina Crews, Pat Cummings, Laura Freeman, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Ebony Glenn, April Harrison, Vashti Harrison, Ekua Holmes, Cathy Ann Johnson, Keisha Morris, Daria Peoples-Riley, Andrea Pippins, Erin Robinson, Shadra Strickland, Nicole Tadgell, and Elizabeth Zunon.

Legacy also includes a foreword, an introduction to the history of the Harlem Renaissance, author’s note, and poet biographies, which make this a wonderful resource and a book to cherish.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): poetry collection, biography
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: poets, Harlem Renaissance, African Americans, US history, women

The Lion of Mars Jennifer L. Holm

Bell has spent his whole life–all eleven years of it–on Mars. But he’s still just a regular kid–he loves cats, any kind of cake, and is curious about the secrets the adults in the US colony are keeping.

Like, why don’t have contact with anyone on the other Mars colonies? Why are they so isolated? When a virus breaks out and the grown-ups all fall ill, Bell and the other children are the only ones who can help. It’s up to Bell–a regular kid in a very different world–to uncover the truth and save his family…and possibly unite an entire planet.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): science fiction, adventure, survival
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: Mars, secrets, colonizing space, isolation, viruses, illness, community, cooperation

Root Magic by Eden Royce

It’s 1963, and things are changing for Jezebel Turner. Her beloved grandmother has just passed away. The local police deputy won’t stop harassing her family. With school integration arriving in South Carolina, Jez and her twin brother, Jay, are about to begin the school year with a bunch of new kids. But the biggest change comes when Jez and Jay turn eleven–and their uncle, Doc, tells them he’s going to train them in rootwork.

Jez and Jay have always been fascinated by the African American folk magic that has been the legacy of their family for generations–especially the curious potions and powders Doc and Gran would make for the people on their island. But Jez soon finds out that her family’s true power goes far beyond small charms and elixirs…and not a moment too soon. Because when evil both natural and supernatural comes to show itself in town, it’s going to take every bit of the magic she has inside her to see her through.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: South Carolina, twins, siblings, civil rights, 1960s, school desegregation, magic, African Americans, coming of age





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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  • Leigh Collazo,
    Thank you for the Caldecott and Newbury Power Point. I shared it with my students in January and learned a lot about the new winners.
    I have another request for you. My 4th graders have been reading Jerry Craft’s New Kid Graphic Novel and are now looking for a second Graphic Novel read for 3rd and 4th quarter. (A Graphic Novel published over one year+ so I can find Youtube readers.)
    What do you suggest? My students are 95% black and from lower economic background. Their literacy skills are low. Thank you.

    • Hi, Julie,
      How about When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson? It’s about a Somali refugee taking care of his special needs younger brother when they are separated from their parents. On Follett, grade level recommendations are 4-8. It’s a newer release though–2020.

      There is also Shuri by Nic Stone (2019). The novel Clean Getaway (also Nic Stone) isn’t a graphic novel, but it does have lots of illustrations. Again, both of these are from 2020.


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