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New Release Spotlight: February 2, 2021

Oh, my goodness, these huge Spotlights are wearing me out! This is the FIFTH week in a row of a huge Spotlight. Trust me, these are only the tip of the iceberg this week; the list could easily have been double this size.

My picks of the week:

  • This Is Not the Jess Show by Anna Carey (YA)
  • The Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold (middle grades)
  • Milo Imagines the World by Matt de la Peña (picture book)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1329-#1348 on The Ginormous book list.

*Love Is a Revolution by Renée Watson

When Nala Robertson reluctantly agrees to attend an open mic night for her cousin-sister-friend Imani’s birthday, she finds herself falling in instant love with Tye Brown, the MC.

He’s perfect, except…Tye is an activist and is spending the summer putting on events for the community when Nala would rather watch movies and try out the new seasonal flavors at the local creamery. In order to impress Tye, Nala tells a few tiny lies to have enough in common with him.

As they spend more time together, sharing more of themselves, some of those lies get harder to keep up. As Nala falls deeper into keeping up her lies and into love, she’ll learn all the ways love is hard, and how self-love is revolutionary.

Booklist and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): romance, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: dating, lies, activism, first love, plus-sized characters, cousins, family, community, acceptance, African Americans, strong female protagonists, racism

Muse by Brittany Cavallaro

In the year 1893, war is brewing in the First American Kingdom. Claire Emerson’s father is a sought-after inventor, but he believes his genius is a gift granted to him by his daughter’s touch. He keeps Claire under his control.

As their province prepares for war, Claire plans to escape, even as her best friend, Beatrix, tries to convince her to stay and help with the growing resistance movement that wants to see a woman on the throne.

When her father’s weapon fails to fire on the World’s Fair’s opening day, Claire is taken captive by Governor Remy Duchamp, St. Cloud’s young, untried ruler. Remy believes that Claire’s touch bestows graces he’s never had, and with political rivals planning his demise, Claire might be his only ally.

I included this book because it sounds unique, but reviews are mixed.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: alternative history, 19th Century, magic, magical abilities, 1893 World’s Fair, power, politics, feminism

Muted by Tami Charles

For seventeen-year-old Denver, music is everything. Writing, performing, and her ultimate goal: escaping her very small, very white hometown.

So Denver is more than ready on the day she and her best friends Dali and Shak sing their way into the orbit of the biggest R&B star in the world, Sean “Mercury” Ellis. Merc gives them everything: parties, perks, wild nights–plus hours and hours in the recording studio. Even the painful sacrifices and the lies the girls have to tell are all worth it.

Until they’re not. Denver begins to realize that she’s trapped in Merc’s world, struggling to hold on to her own voice. As the dream turns into a nightmare, she must make a choice: lose her big break, or get broken.

Pair with Grown by Tiffany Jackson.

  • Genre(s): free verse, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: music industry, musicians, novels in verse, exploitation, African Americans, rape, abuse

Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado

Debut author! Charlie Vega is a lot of things. Smart. Funny. Artistic. Ambitious. Fat.

People sometimes have a problem with that last one. Especially her mom. Charlie wants a good relationship with her body, but it’s hard, and her mom leaving a billion weight loss shakes on her dresser doesn’t help. The world and everyone in it have ideas about what she should look like: thinner, lighter, slimmer-faced, straighter-haired. Be smaller. Be whiter. Be quieter.

But there’s one person who’s always in Charlie’s corner: her best friend Amelia. Slim. Popular. Athletic. Totally dope. So when Charlie starts a tentative relationship with cute classmate Brian, the first worthwhile guy to notice her, everything is perfect until she learns one thing–he asked Amelia out first. So is she his second choice or what? Does he even really see her?

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: best friends, plus-sized characters, mothers and daughters, self-esteem, weight issues, Connecticut

*The Poetry of Secrets by Cambria Gordon

Isabel Perez carries secrets with her every day. As a young woman in 1481, Trujillo, Spain, Isabel should be overjoyed that the alguacil of the city wants to marry her. She is supposed to be flattered especially because she and her family are conversos–Jews forced to convert to Catholicism–leaving them low in the hierarchy of the new Spanish order. But, although she can’t tell anyone, she only has eyes for Diego Altamirano, a young nobleman whose family would never let him court Isabel.

So for now she sneaks out to attend poetry readings, for she longs to one day be a famous poet… another secret wish that may never come true.

But Isabel’s most dangerous secret is this: Though the Perezes claim to be New Christians, they still practice Judaism in the refuge of their own home. When the Spanish Inquisition reaches Trujillo determined to punish such judaizers, Isabel finds herself in more danger than she ever could have imagined. Amidst the bloodshed and intolerance, she and Diego will have to fight for their lives in a quest to truly be free.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: 15th Century, Spain, Jewish characters, forced religious conversion, poetry, Spanish Inquisition, religious persecution

*The Project by Courtney Summers

Lo Denham is used to being on her own. After her parents died, Lo’s sister, Bea, joined The Unity Project, leaving Lo in the care of their great aunt. Thanks to its extensive charitable work and community outreach, The Unity Project has won the hearts and minds of most in the Upstate New York region, but Lo knows there’s more to the group than meets the eye. She’s spent the last six years of her life trying–and failing–to prove it.

When a man shows up at the magazine Lo works for claiming The Unity Project killed his son, Lo sees the perfect opportunity to expose the group and reunite with Bea once and for all. When her investigation puts her in the direct path of its charismatic and mysterious leader, Lev Warren, he proposes a deal: if she can prove the worst of her suspicions about The Unity Project, she may expose them. If she can’t, she must finally leave them alone.

But as Lo delves deeper into The Project, the lives of its members, and spends more time with Lev, it upends everything she thought she knew about her sister, herself, cults, and the world around her–to the point she can no longer tell what’s real or true. Lo never thought she could afford to believe in Lev Warren…but now she doesn’t know if she can afford not to.

THREE starred reviews! I’m a huge fan of Courtney Summers, and this one is now on the TBR!

  • Genre(s): thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: cults, murder, corruption, cover-ups, sisters, missing persons, orphans, mind games, manipulation

This Is Not the Jess Show by Anna Carey

The year is 1998: Titanic just won 6 Oscars, boy bands are dominating MTV’s airwaves, and like any other teenager Jess Flynn is just trying to survive high school. Between a crush on her childhood best friend, overprotective parents, and her sister’s worsening health, the only constant is her hometown of Swickley, which feels smaller by the day.

Jess is resigned to her small-town life, until the day she discovers a mysterious device with an apple logo, causing her to question everything and everyone she’s ever known. As more cracks appear in Jess’s world, she faces a choice: can she live the rest of her life knowing it’s a lie or should she risk everything for the truth?

This will remind many readers (who are old enough to have seen it) of The Truman Show.

  • Genre(s): thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 6+
  • Themes: 1990s, small town life, sisters, illness, reality TV, lies

A Taste for Love by Jennifer Yen

Debut author! To her friends, high school senior Liza Yang is nearly perfect. Smart, kind, and pretty, she dreams big and never shies away from a challenge. But to her mom, Liza is anything but. Compared to her older sister Jeannie, Liza is stubborn, rebellious, and worst of all, determined to push back against all of Mrs. Yang’s traditional values, especially when it comes to dating.

The one thing mother and daughter do agree on is their love of baking. Mrs. Yang is the owner of Houston’s popular Yin & Yang Bakery. With college just around the corner, Liza agrees to help out at the bakery’s annual junior competition to prove to her mom that she’s more than her rebellious tendencies once and for all. But when Liza arrives on the first day of the bake-off, she realizes there’s a catch: all of the contestants are young Asian American men her mother has handpicked for Liza to date.

The bachelorette situation Liza has found herself in is made even worse when she happens to be grudgingly attracted to one of the contestants; the stoic, impenetrable, annoyingly hot James Wong. As she battles against her feelings for James, and for her mother’s approval, Liza begins to realize there’s no tried and true recipe for love.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: perfection, mothers and daughters, baking, Houston, Texas, dating, Asian Americans, Taiwanese Americans, parental approval, rebellion

Ground Zero by Alan Gratz

September 11, 2001, New York City: Brandon is visiting his dad at work, on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center. Out of nowhere, an airplane slams into the tower, creating a fiery nightmare of terror and confusion. And Brandon is in the middle of it all. Can he survive–and escape?

September 11, 2019, Afghanistan: Reshmina has grown up in the shadow of war, but she dreams of peace and progress. When a battle erupts in her village, Reshmina stumbles upon a wounded American soldier named Taz. Should she help Taz–and put herself and her family in mortal danger?

Two kids. One devastating day. Nothing will ever be the same.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction,
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: September 11, 2001, New York City, World Trade Center, Afghanistan, war, alternating timelines, alternating perspectives, US history, Afghan War

The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. (as told to his brother) by David Levithan

Aidan disappeared for six days. Six agonizing days of searches and police and questions and constant vigils. Then, just as suddenly as he vanished, Aidan reappears. Where has he been? The story he tells is simply…impossible. But it’s the story Aidan is sticking to.

His brother, Lucas, wants to believe him. But Lucas is aware of what other people, including their parents, are saying: that Aidan is making it all up to disguise the fact that he ran away.

When the kids in school hear Aidan’s story, they taunt him. But still Aidan clings to his story. And as he becomes more of an outcast, Lucas becomes more and more concerned. Being on Aidan’s side would mean believing in the impossible. But how can you believe in the impossible when everything and everybody is telling you not to?

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): mystery, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: missing persons, brothers, not being believed, doubt, siblings, LGBTQIA+, runaways, family trauma

*Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca

Reha feels torn between two worlds: school, where she’s the only Indian American student, and home, with her family’s traditions and holidays. But Reha’s parents don’t understand why she’s conflicted–they only notice when Reha doesn’t meet their strict expectations. Reha feels disconnected from her mother, or Amma, although their names are linked–Reha means “star” and Punam means “moon”–but they are a universe apart.

Then Reha finds out that her Amma is sick. Really sick.

Reha, who dreams of becoming a doctor even though she can’t stomach the sight of blood, is determined to make her Amma well again. She’ll be the perfect daughter, if it means saving her Amma’s life.

Booklist and School Library Connection starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, historical fiction, free verse
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-10
  • Themes: Indian Americans, strict parents, mothers and daughters, leukemia (parent), novels in verse, #ownvoices, 1980s, identity

We Must Not Forget: Holocaust Stories of Survival and Resistance by Deborah Hopkinson

As World War II raged, millions of young Jewish people were caught up in the horrors of the Nazis’ Final Solution. Many readers know of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi state’s genocidal campaign against European Jews and others of so-called “inferior” races. Yet so many of the individual stories remain buried in time. Of those who endured the Holocaust, some were caught by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps, some hid right under Hitler’s nose, some were separated from their parents, some chose to fight back. Against all odds, some survived. They all have stories that must be told. They all have stories we must keep safe in our collective memory.

Author Deborah Hopkinson allows the voices of Holocaust survivors to live on the page, recalling their persecution, survival, and resistance. Focusing on testimonies from across Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Poland, Hopkinson paints a moving and diverse portrait of the Jewish youth experience in Europe under the shadow of the Third Reich. With archival images and myriad interviews, this compelling and beautifully told addition to Holocaust history not only honors the courage of the victims, but calls young readers to action — by reminding them that heroism begins with the ordinary, everyday feat of showing compassion toward our fellow citizens.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: WWII, Holocaust, Jews, persecution, Adolf Hitler, concentration camps, unsung heroes, survival, world history, first-hand accounts

The Boy Who Failed Show and Tell by Jordan Sonnenblick

In a typical school year, every kid has one or two things go wrong. But for Jordan, there’s A LOT going wrong ALL THE TIME.

Take this year. Here are some of the thing going wrong:

–His teacher hates him.

–He has a slight breathing problem because of his asthma. And breathing is never really an optional activity.

–His pet snake has given birth to way, way, way too many baby snakes, all who need a home.

–He is finding that becoming The World’s Best Drummer in no time whatsoever is maybe not the easiest goal.

–There are bullies ready to stomp him when all he has to defend himself with is a lunchbox.

And all this doesn’t even include the freak swing set accident, the fears inside his head, or the funniest class presentation ever.

By keeping his cool (some of the time), banging on the drums (a lot), and keeping his sense of humor (all the time), Jordan’s going to try to make it through the year…and grow up to write a book about it!

  • Genre(s): memoir, autobiography, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: asthma, school, drummers, fourth grade, pet snakes, exotic pets, authors

*The Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold

It’s 1985 and ten-year-old Gabrielle is excited to be moving from Haiti to America. Unfortunately, her parents won’t be able to join her yet and she’ll be living in a place called Brooklyn, New York, with relatives she has never met.

She promises her parents that she will behave, but life proves to be difficult in the United States, from learning the language to always feeling like she doesn’t fit in to being bullied.

So when a witch offers her a chance to speak English perfectly and be “American,” she makes the deal. But soon she realizes how much she has given up by trying to fit in and, along with her two new friends (one of them a talking rat), takes on the witch in an epic battle to try to reverse the spell.

Booklist and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): magical realism, retelling
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: 1980s, Haiti, immigration, Brooklyn, New York, family, not fitting in, bullying, witches, identity, Cinderella new kid at school, Black families, talking animals

The Ash House by Angharad Walker

When Eleven-year-old Sol arrives at the Ash House, desperate for a cure for his complex pain syndrome, he finds a community of strange children long abandoned by their mysterious Headmaster.

The children at the Ash House want the new boy to love their home as much as they do. They give him a name like theirs. They show him the dorms and tell him about the wonderful oasis that the Headmaster has created for them. But the new boy already has a name. Doesn’t he? At least he did before he walked through those gates…

  • Genre(s): thriller, mystery, supernatural, scary stories
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-9
  • Themes: chronic pain, boarding schools, new kid at school, memory, identity

*Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford (Author) and Floyd Cooper (Illustrator)

Celebrated author Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator Floyd Cooper provide a powerful look at the Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the worst incidents of racial violence in our nation’s history. The book traces the history of African Americans in Tulsa’s Greenwood district and chronicles the devastation that occurred in 1921 when a white mob attacked the Black community.

News of what happened was largely suppressed, and no official investigation occurred for seventy-five years. This picture book sensitively introduces young readers to this tragedy and concludes with a call for a better future.

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book for older readers
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: social issues, racism, massacres, US history, African Americans, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1920s, #BlackLivesMatter, 100th anniversary, mob violence, cover-ups

*The Midnight Fair by Gideon Sterer (Author) and Mariachiara Di Giorgio (Illustrator)

Far from the city, but not quite the countryside, lies a fairground.

When night comes and the fair is empty, something unexpected happens. Wild animals emerge from the forest, a brave raccoon pulls a lever, and the roller coasters and rides explode back into bright, neon life. It’s time for the woodland creatures to head to the fair!

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): wordless picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: woodland animals, carnivals, fairgrounds, play, fun, nighttime

*Milo Imagines the World by Matt de la Peña (Author) and Christian Robinson (Illustrator)

Milo is on a long subway ride with his older sister. To pass the time, he studies the faces around him and makes pictures of their lives. There’s the whiskered man with the crossword puzzle; Milo imagines him playing solitaire in a cluttered apartment full of pets. There’s the wedding-dressed woman with a little dog peeking out of her handbag; Milo imagines her in a grand cathedral ceremony.

And then there’s the boy in the suit with the bright white sneakers; Milo imagines him arriving home to a castle with a drawbridge and a butler. But when the boy in the suit gets off on the same stop as Milo–walking the same path, going to the exact same place–Milo realizes that you can’t really know anyone just by looking at them.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: subway, people watching, diversity, imagination, appearances, incarcerated parents, prison visiting day, African Americans, drawing

My Red Hat by Rachel Stubbs

Debut author! A hat can do many things. It can keep you warm and dry. It can help you stand out in a crowd, or it can help you blend in. It can hold your dreams or your secrets, and it can hide your fears.

This book pairs winsomely expressive artwork with a gentle meditation on family connection and memory, as a grandfather offers his grandchild the anticipation of a life lived with wonder and openness…and a very special hat.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: hats, generations, grandparents, grandfathers, travel, imagination

*Mel Fell by Corey R. Tabor

Readers will delight in turning their book sideways and upside down to follow Mel on her journey from downward fall to triumphant flight in this tale of self-confidence and taking a leap of faith.

Sometimes, you might fall down…down…down.

before you learn to fly up…up…up!

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: birds, Kingfishers, baby animals, perseverance, learning to fly, courage, trying something new






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 already bought Milo for my grandnephew and can’t wait for him to get it! I love Christian Robinson soooo much!

  • Also, I love all the books coming out and that you remind me each week of them. 🙂
    And thanks for the age recommendations – always helpful.


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