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New Release Spotlight: February 16, 2021

You know that feeling when a date comes, and you know that there’s something important about that date? A birthday, perhaps? An anniversary?

That happened to me last Thursday. At first, I thought it was because Feb. 11, 2020 was the day we were scheduled to leave Mexico for Shanghai last year. We got stuck in Mexico instead–thanks, Covid–and we’re still here. We could have returned by now, but we decided to stay since we were able to get our two dogs out of Shanghai and to Mexico.

Anyway, the date kept bugging me until it hit me…it was my 10 year blogging anniversary! I wrote my first-ever MrsReaderPants post on Feb. 11, 2011! The first-ever post was a book review for Matched by Ally Condie that has since been deleted due to its extreme level of awful writing. The earliest post that hasn’t been deleted was from March 1, 2011, which is this book review for Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver.

I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for TEN YEARS! My boys were 3 and 6 when I started this journey; one is now 16, and the other turned 14 yesterday. Both are taller than I am! What started as a hobby is now my full-time job. So crazy!

For the Spotlight, I got a bit of a break for me this week as this week’s list is the smallest list I’ve had in 2021 so far. Today’s Spotlight features more middle grade and picture books than YA. Especially timely is Marisa Reichardt’s A Shot at Normal, which is about a teen girl who sues her “anti-vaxxer” parents after she contracts (and likely spreads) measles. With coronavirus vaccines in the news every day right now, this is an incredibly timely storyline that will spark plenty of discussion among readers.

My top picks:

  • A Shot at Normal by Marisa Reichardt (YA)
  • Spin With Me by Ami Polonsky (MG)
  • 13 Ways to Eat a Fly by Sue Heavenrich

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1367-#1383 on The Ginormous book list.

Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher

Debut author! Eighteen-year-old Amelia Griffin is obsessed with the famous Orman Chronicles, written by the young and reclusive prodigy N. E. Endsley. They’re the books that brought her and her best friend Jenna together after Amelia’s father left and her family imploded. So when Amelia and Jenna get the opportunity to attend a book festival with Endsley in attendance, Amelia is ecstatic. It’s the perfect way to start off their last summer before college.

In a heartbeat, everything goes horribly wrong. When Jenna gets a chance to meet the author and Amelia doesn’t, the two have a blowout fight like they’ve never experienced. And before Amelia has a chance to mend things, Jenna is killed in a freak car accident. Grief-stricken, and without her best friend to guide her, Amelia questions everything she had planned for the future.

When a mysterious, rare edition of the Orman Chronicles arrives, Amelia is convinced that it somehow came from Jenna. Tracking the book to an obscure but enchanting bookstore in Michigan, Amelia is shocked to find herself face-to-face with the enigmatic and handsome N. E. Endsley himself, the reason for Amelia’s and Jenna’s fight and perhaps the clue to what Jenna wanted to tell her all along.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: grief, best friends, arguments, authors, bookish, Michigan, car accidents, bookstores

The Wide Starlight by Nicole Lesperance

Sixteen-year-old Eline Davis knows it’s true. She was there ten years ago, on a frozen fjord in Svalbard, Norway, the night her mother whistled at the lights and then vanished.

Now, Eli lives an ordinary life with her dad on Cape Cod. But when the Northern Lights are visible over the Cape for just one night, she can’t resist the possibility of seeing her mother again. So she whistles–and it works. Her mother appears, with snowy hair, frosty fingertips and a hazy story of where she’s been all these years. And she doesn’t return alone.

Along with Eli’s mother’s reappearance come strange, impossible things. Narwhals swimming in Cape Cod Bay, meteorites landing in Eli’s yard, and three shadowy princesses with ominous messages. It’s all too much, too fast, and Eli pushes her mother away. She disappears again–but this time, she leaves behind a note that will send Eli on a journey across continents, to the northern tip of the world:

Find me where I left you.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: Norway, Northern Lights, Cape Cod, mothers and daughters, missing persons, mysterious phenomena, auroras, storytelling, winter, Norwegian folktales

A Shot at Normal by Marisa Reichardt

Juniper Jade’s parents are hippies. They didn’t attend the first Woodstock, but they were there for the second one. The Jade family lives an all-organic homeschool lifestyle that means no plastics, no cell phones, and no vaccines. It isn’t exactly normal, but it’s the only thing Juniper has ever known. She doesn’t agree with her parents on everything, but she knows that to be in this family, you’ve got to stick to the rules. That is, until the unthinkable happens.

Juniper contracts the measles and unknowingly passes the disease along, with tragic consequences. She is shell-shocked. Juniper knows she is responsible and feels simultaneously helpless and furious at her parents, and herself.

Now, with the help of Nico, the boy who works at the library and loves movies and may just be more than a friend, Juniper comes to a decision: she is going to get vaccinated. Her parents refuse so Juniper arms herself with a lawyer and prepares for battle. But is waging war for her autonomy worth losing her family? How much is Juniper willing to risk for a shot at normal?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: vaccines, anti-vaxxers, lawsuits, litigation, unconventional parenting, homeschooling, measles, going against wishes of parents

Twelve Nights by Andrew Zurcher

Debut author! Kay’s father has gone missing on Christmas Eve! And when Kay and her sister Ell go to his office, everyone he works with claims never to have heard of him. So later that evening, when Kay wakes up to find two mysterious strangers outside her bedroom window, talking about her father and looking for the last remnants of his existence, she demands to know what’s happened to her dad.

The two strangers, Flip and Will, are wraiths, on a mission to bring Kay and Ell’s father to their world–the world of woven stories and grand imagination that their father has spent his career studying. Only things in that world have gone very wrong, and the Bride of Bithynia, the only being who can set things right, is nowhere to be found. Can Kay and Ell find their father and join Flip and Will in a centuries-old battle to save the world?

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): mystery, fantasy, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-9
  • Themes: fathers and daughters, missing persons, Christmas, folklore, mythology

Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found by Rucker Moses and Theo Gangi

Twelve-year old Kingston has just moved from the suburbs back to Echo City, Brooklyn–the last place his father was seen alive. Kingston’s father was King Preston, one of the world’s greatest magicians. Until one trick went wrong and he disappeared. Now that Kingston is back in Echo City, he’s determined to find his father.

Somehow, though, when his father disappeared, he took all of Echo City’s magic with him. Now Echo City–a ghost of its past–is living up to its name. With no magic left, the magicians have packed up and left town and those who’ve stayed behind don’t look too kindly on any who reminds them of what they once had.

When Kingston finds a magic box his father left behind as a clue, Kingston knows there’s more to his father’s disappearance than meets the eye. He’ll have to keep it a secret–that is, until he can restore magic to Echo City. With his cousin Veronica and childhood friend Too Tall Eddie, Kingston works to solve the clues, but one wrong move and his father might not be the only one who goes missing.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: magicians, missing persons, fathers and sons, magic, cousins, African Americans, Brooklyn, New York

Spin With Me by Ami Polonsky

Essie is a thirteen-year-old girl feeling glum about starting a new school after her professor dad takes a temporary teaching position in a different town. She has 110 days here and can’t wait for them to end. Then she meets Ollie, who is nonbinary. Ollie has beautiful blue eyes and a confident smile. Soon, Essie isn’t counting down the days until she can leave so much as she’s dreading when her time with Ollie will come to an end.

Meanwhile, Ollie is experiencing a crush of their own…on Essie. As Ollie struggles to balance their passion for queer advocacy with their other interests, they slowly find themselves falling for a girl whose stay is about to come to an end. Can the two unwind their merry-go-round of feelings before it’s too late?

SLJ starred. This is the same author as Gracefully Grayson.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: nonbinary persons, temporary move, new schools, gender identity, North Carolina, LGBTQIA+

Cathedral of Bones by A. J. Steiger

Simon Frost lives in a curious place, where magic is used by the very best Animists to do wondrous things–like call upon imps, wraiths, and all manner of monsters to right wrongs, deliver justice, and accomplish feats no human could achieve.

Simon Frost is not one of those Animists, though he’s been trying to become one for years.

When a plea arrives from a distant hamlet, preyed upon by an abominable monster, Simon sees the opportunity to finally prove his worth.

But upon arriving in the tiny village, Simon finds not just a monster but a key to his past–and a pathway into an unbelievable future.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: magical creatures, animals, monsters

*The Deepest Breath by Meg Grehan

11-year-old Stevie is an avid reader and she knows a lot of things about a lot of things. But these are the things she’d like to know the most:

1. The ocean and all the things that live there and why it’s so scary
2. The stars and all the constellations
3. How phones work
4. What happened to Princess Anastasia
5. Knots

Knowing things makes Stevie feel safe, powerful, and in control should anything bad happen. And with the help of her mom, she is finding the tools to manage her anxiety.

But there’s one something Stevie doesn’t know, one thing she wants to understand above everything else, and one thing she isn’t quite ready to share with her mom: the fizzy feeling she gets in her chest when she looks at her friend, Chloe. What does it mean and why isn’t she ready to talk about it?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: anxiety, bookish, LGBTQIA+, coming out

Pepper Page Saves the Universe! by Landry Q. Walker (Author) and Eric Jones (Illustrator)

The year is 2421. Awkward and shy, Pepper buries herself in the universe of the classic fictional superhero Supernova to avoid dealing with the perils of the 9th grade. But then fate intervenes when Pepper encounters a strange cat named Mister McKittens and stumbles into a volatile science experiment run by a sinister substitute teacher named Doctor Killian.

Pepper is flung into another dimension, bringing her face to face with an order of cosmic beings who declare her to be the steward of their great power, champion of harmony in the universe, protector of worlds present and past.

Now, in the 21st Century, Pepper finds that she herself is the real Supernova. But as Pepper soon learns, escapist fantasy and reality are two very different things.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, science fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-10
  • Themes: future, cats, supervillians, substitute teachers, other dimensions, comics, superheroes, time travel

Project Startup #1by Laura d’Asaro (Author), Rose Wang (Author), Heather Alexander (Author), Vanessa Flores (Illustrator)

Eat Bugs, book 1. Hallie and Jaye are both sixth graders at Brookdale Middle School, but they couldn’t be more different. Jaye is one of the popular kids who’ll do almost anything to maintain her status. Hallie’s only friend has moved away, and she couldn’t care less what anyone thinks of her. So when the two girls are paired up as partners for a pitch competition held by their Business Education and Entrepreneurship class, it’s not exactly a perfect match. After all, Jaye doesn’t want to be seen with the kid who was dubbed “Bug Girl” after eating a fried cricket during a class trip to the zoo!

But the pair are stuck together, and soon enough Jaye is also stuck with Hallie’s idea: finding creative ways to sell bugs as food. Jaye’s not thrilled but is willing to give it a shot, since winners get to compete in the county competition, potentially followed by states and nationals. And Jaye wants to win.

As the competition heats up, can Hallie and Jaye make the judges say “Bug appétit!” or will they only hear crickets?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: sixth grade, popularity, friendship, competitions, business, bugs, insects, vegetarians

Life in the Balance by Jen Petro-Roy

Veronica Conway has been looking forward to trying out for the All-Star softball team for years. She’s practically been playing the game since she was a baby. She should have this tryout on lock.

Except right before tryouts, Veronica’s mom announces that she’s entering rehab for alcoholism, and her dad tells her that they may not be able to afford the fees needed to be on the team.

Veronica decides to enter the town talent show in an effort to make her own money, but along the way discovers a new hobby that leads her to doubt her feelings for the game she thought she loved so much.

Is her mom the only one learning balance, or can Veronica find a way to discover what she really wants to do with her life?

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: parents, softball, sports, alcoholism, addiction, rehab, money problems, talent shows, hobbies, sixth grade

13 Ways to Eat a Fly by Sue Heavenrich (Author) and David Clark (Illustrator)

Science meets subtraction in this fresh and funny STEM picture book with plenty of ewww factor to please young readers. A swarm of thirteen flies buzzes along, losing one member to each predator along the way. Whether the unfortunate insects are zapped or wrapped, liquefied or zombified, the science is real–and hilariously gross. Includes a guide to eating bugs, complete with nutritional information for a single serving of flies.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade
  • Themes: insects, flies, food chain, subtraction, STEAM, thirteen, math, science, predators, prey

*My First Day by Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien

This is no ordinary first journey. The raining season has come to the Mekong Delta, and An, a young Vietnamese boy, sets out alone in a wooden boat wearing a little backpack and armed only with a single oar. On the way, he is confronted by giant crested waves, heavy rainfall and an eerie forests where fear takes hold of him. Although daunted by the dark unknown, An realizes that he is not alone and continues to paddle. He knows it will all be worth it when he reaches his destination.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: Vietnam, boats, unknown, journeys, overcoming adversity, danger, mangroves, flooding, adventures

Early One Morning by Mem Fox (Author) and Christine Davenier (Illustrator)

Early one morning, a little boy sets out to find something for his breakfast. He searches the farm for it. Could it be by the gate? In the truck? In the haystack? Little ones will delight in seeing barnyard animals and guessing what it is the little boy is searching for until he finally finds it and settles in for a delicious breakfast with his grandmother.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: farms, farm animals, farm life, breakfast, grandparents, morning

*The Tale of the Mandarin Duck: A Modern Fable by Bette Midler (Author) and Michiko Kakutani (Photographer, Afterword)

In the fall of 2018, a Mandarin duck–an inhabitant of East Asia–mysteriously appeared in the Central Park Pond in Manhattan. No one knew how the rainbow-colored duck got there or why it just as mysteriously disappeared a short time later. This book is just as much about human connection and seeing things with your own eyes (not through a screen) as it is about a duck.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred it, but interestingly, SLJ calls it “an additional purchase, at best.”

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: ducks, New York City, Central Park, technology, screen time, community, autumn

The Last Straw: Kids vs. Plastics by Susan Hood (Author) and Christiane Engel (Illustrator)

There’s no doubt about it—plastic is in almost everything. From our phones and computers to our toys and utensils, plastic is everywhere. But the amount of plastic we throw away is hurting the health of our planet.

With this book, readers will learn about the growing plastic problem and meet some of the young activists who are standing up and speaking out for change.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction, poetry collection
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: conservation, plastic pollution, Earth Day, STEM, problem-solving, activism, garbage

Shy Willow by Cat Min

Willow is shy. VERY shy.

Her home is in an abandoned mailbox, and she’d rather stay put. Outside kids scream and soccer balls collide, trees look like monsters, and rain is noisy in a scary kind of way. It’s much nicer to stay inside, drawing. But then a young boy drops a letter in Willow’s mailbox: it’s a note to the moon asking for a special favor. Willow knows that if she doesn’t brave the world outside, the letter will never be delivered, and the boy will be heartbroken. Should she try? Can she?

Cat Min delivers a breathtakingly illustrated story about shyness, the power of empathy, and what it means to make a friend.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture books
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 1
  • Themes: shyness, introversion, letters, rabbits, mailboxes, artists, drawing, balloons, moon, imagination





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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