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New Release Spotlight: February 9, 2021

Rolling right along through 2021 with YET ANOTHER very strong list! This is the sixth Spotlight this year, and so far, all of them have been worth a look. If you have collection development money available, you’ll want to have a look at the last few Spotlights or at The Ginormous Book List (linked below).

My top picks this week:

  • We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire by Joy McCullough
  • One Jar of Magic by Corey Ann Haydu
  • Hello, Earth!: Poems to Our Planet by Joyce Sidman

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1349-#1366 on The Ginormous book list.

*The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki, and they are near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.

Booklist and SLJ Express starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: belonging, community, outcasts, strong females, human rights, women’s rights, misogyny, keeping women down

Game Changer by Neal Shusterman

All it takes is one hit on the football field, and suddenly Ash’s life doesn’t look quite the way he remembers it. Impossible though it seems, he’s been hit into another dimension–and keeps on bouncing through worlds that are almost-but-not-really his own.

The changes start small, but they quickly spiral out of control as Ash slides into universes where he has everything he’s ever wanted, universes where society is stuck in the past…universes where he finds himself looking at life through entirely different eyes.

And if he isn’t careful, the world he’s learning to see more clearly could blink out of existence.

This is a planned series for Netflix, but no date is given for its release. Neal Shusterman is working with Brian Yorkey, who adapted Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why for Netflix. Read more here.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, science fiction, speculative fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: football, head injuries, concussions, equality, privilege, other dimensions, empathy

As Far as You’ll Take Me by Phil Stamper

Marty arrives in London with nothing but his oboe and some savings from his summer job, but he’s excited to start his new life–where he’s no longer the closeted, shy kid who slips under the radar and is free to explore his sexuality without his parents’ disapproval.

From the outside, Marty’s life looks like a perfect fantasy: in the span of a few weeks, he’s made new friends, he’s getting closer with his first ever boyfriend, and he’s even traveling around Europe. But Marty knows he can’t keep up the facade. He hasn’t spoken to his parents since he arrived, he’s tearing through his meager savings, his homesickness and anxiety are getting worse and worse, and he hasn’t even come close to landing the job of his dreams. Will Marty be able to find a place that feels like home?

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: London, England, musicians, oboe, LGBTQIA+, family problems, financial problems, homesickness, anxiety, adulting, fundamental Christian families

*City of the Uncommon Thief by Lynne Bertrand

In a walled city of a mile-high iron guild towers, many things are common knowledge: No book in any of the city’s libraries reveals its place on a calendar or a map. No living beasts can be found within the city’s walls. And no good comes to the guilder or foundling who trespasses too far from their labors.

Even on the tower rooftops, where Errol Thebes and the rest of the city’s teenagers pass a few short years under an open sky, no one truly believes anything uncommon is possible within the city walls. But one guildmaster has broken tradition to protect her child, and now the whole city faces an uncommon threat: a pair of black iron spikes that has the power of both sword and needle on the rib cages of men has gone missing, but the mayhem they cause rises everywhere. If the spikes are not found, no wall will be high enough to protect the city–or the world beyond it.

Kirkus starred. Give this complex fantasy to fans of Leigh Bardugo and Sabaa Tahir.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: walled city, strong world-building, cousins, secrets, complex plots

*We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire by Joy McCullough

Em Morales’s older sister was raped by another student after a frat party. A jury eventually found the rapist guilty on all counts–a remarkable verdict that Em felt more than a little responsible for, since she was her sister’s strongest advocate on social media during the trial. Her passion and outspokenness helped dissuade the DA from settling for a plea deal. Em’s family would have real justice.

But the victory is short-lived. In a matter of minutes, justice vanishes as the judge turns the Morales family’s world upside down again by sentencing the rapist to no prison time. While her family is stunned, Em is literally sick with rage and guilt. To make matters worse, a news clip of her saying that the sentence makes her want to learn “how to use a sword” goes viral.

From this low point, Em must find a new reason to go on and help her family heal, and she finds it in the unlikely form of the story of a fifteenth-century French noblewoman, Marguerite de Bressieux, who is legendary as an avenging knight for rape victims.

THREE starred reviews! Pair with O’Neill’s Asking for It or Johnston’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: rape, social media, family, healing, trauma, vengeance, crime, biracial characters, sisters, misogyny

*The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold

When a deadly Fly Flu sweeps the globe, it leaves a shell of the world that once was.

Among the survivors are eighteen-year-old Nico and her dog, on a voyage devised by Nico’s father to find a mythical portal; a young artist named Kit, raised in an old abandoned cinema; and the enigmatic Deliverer, who lives Life after Life in an attempt to put the world back together.

As swarms of infected Flies roam the earth, these few survivors navigate the woods of post-apocalyptic New England, meeting others along the way, each on their own quest to find life and love in a world gone dark.

Booklist and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): science fiction, dystopia
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: pandemics, post-apocalypse, survival, New England, near-future, flies, flu epidemic, illness, dogs

In the Shadow of the Moon: America, Russia, and the Hidden History of the Space Race by Amy Cherrix

The most ambitious race humankind has ever undertaken was masterminded in the shadows by two engineers on opposite sides of the Cold War–Wernher von Braun, a former Nazi officer living in the US, and Sergei Korolev, a Russian rocket designer once jailed for crimes against his country–and your textbooks probably never told you.

Von Braun became an American hero, recognized the world over, while Korolev toiled in obscurity. These two brilliant rocketeers never met, but together they shaped the science of spaceflight and redefined modern warfare. From Stalin’s brutal Gulag prisons and Hitler’s concentration camps to Cape Canaveral and beyond, their simultaneous quests pushed science0–and human ingenuity–to the breaking point.

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: astronauts, space race, moon, space program, NASA, STEM, astrophysics, Russia, engineering

The Iron Raven by Julie Kagawa

The Iron Fey: Evenfall, book 1. Robin Goodfellow. Puck. Prankster, joker, raven, fool…King Oberon’s right-hand jester from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The legends are many, but the truth will now be known, as Puck finally tells his own story and faces a threat from a time before Faery began. A threat that brings him face-to-face with a new enemy…himself.

With the Iron Queen Meghan Chase and her prince consort, Puck’s longtime rival Ash, and allies old and new by his side, Puck begins a fantastical and dangerous adventure not to be missed or forgotten. Evenfall is coming, and with it a reckoning that even their combined powers and wits may not vanquish, as a shadow falls over the lands of Faery and the world slips into chaos.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: faeries, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare, tricksters, mythology

*One Jar of Magic by Corey Ann Haydu

Magic is like a dream. Delightful. Terrifying. Unreal.

Rose Alice Anders is Little Luck. Lucky to be born into the Anders family. Lucky to be just as special and magical as the most revered man in town–her father. The whole town has been waiting for Rose to turn twelve, when she can join them in their annual capturing of magic on New Year’s Day and become the person she was born to be.

But when that special day finally comes, Rose barely captures one tiny jar of magic. Now Rose’s dad won’t talk to her anymore and her friendships have gotten all twisted and wrong. So when Rose hears whispers that there are people who aren’t meant for magic at all, she begins to wonder if that’s who she belongs with.

Maybe if she’s away from all the magic, away from her dad telling her who she’s meant to be, who she has to be, Rose can begin to piece together what’s truly real in a world full of magic.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: magic, parental expectations, falling from grace, being true to oneself, identity, destiny, family, abuse, self-acceptance, world-building, siblings, brothers and sisters

The Last Rabbit by Shelley Moore Thomas

On the magical island of Hybrasil there lives a Magician and four enchanted rabbit sisters. One by one, the rabbits have been leaving the island, accompanied by a Boy and his boat. He takes them wherever they choose. When the rabbits leave the island, they can turn back into girls.

The last rabbit, Albie, remains. She does not want to leave, but the island is sinking. Before deciding where she wants to go, Albie visits each of her sisters. Caragh has joined a circus. Isolde is the captain of a pirate ship. And Rory wants to go home to the family’s house in Cork.

Through many furry twists and hoppity turns, we learn how one mistake can lead to many consequences, and that forgiveness and family are always within reach.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: animal stories, rabbits, magic, magicians, sisters, Ireland, Celtic mythology, WWII, orphans, islands

Of a Feather by Dayna Lorentz

Great horned owl Rufus is eight months old and still can’t hunt. When his mother is hit by a car, he discovers just how dangerous the forest can be.

Reenie has given up on adults and learned how to care for herself–a good thing, since she’s sent to live with an aunt she’s never met. Yet this aunt has a wonderful secret: she’s a falconer who agrees to help Reenie catch an injured passage hawk in the wild and rehabilitate it.

When Reenie traps bedraggled Rufus, his eyes lock onto her heart, and they form a powerful friendship. But can Rufus learn to trust in the outside world and fly free? And can Reenie open her heart enough to truly soar?

  • Genre(s): adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: orphans, owls, animals, birds, falconers, aunts, grief, alternating perspectives

*Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Edited by award-winning and bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith, this collection of intersecting stories by both new and veteran Native writers bursts with hope, joy, resilience, the strength of community, and Native pride.

Native families from Nations across the continent gather at the Dance for Mother Earth Powwow in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

In a high school gym full of color and song, people dance, sell beadwork and books, and celebrate friendship and heritage. Young protagonists will meet relatives from faraway, mysterious strangers, and sometimes one another (plus one scrappy rez dog).

They are the heroes of their own stories. Includes: Joseph Bruchac, Tim Tingle, Rebecca Roanhorse, Art Coulson, and many more.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): short stories
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: Native Americans, anthology, indigenous peoples, pride

Chef Yasmina and the Potato Panic by Wauter Mannaert

Yasmina isn’t like the other kids in her city. Maybe it’s the big chef hat she wears. Or the fact that she stuffs her dad’s lunchbox full of spring rolls instead of peanut butter and jelly. She might be an oddball, but no one can deny that Yasmina has a flair for food. All she needs to whip up a gourmet meal is a recipe from her cookbook and fresh vegetable form the community garden.

But everything changes when the garden is bulldozed and replaced with a strange new crop of potatoes. Her neighbors can’t get enough of these spuds! And after just one bite their behavior changes–they slobber, chase cats, and howl at the moon. What’s the secret ingredient in these potatoes that has everyone acting like a bunch of crazed canines? Yasmina needs to find a cure, and fast!

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: cooking, eccentricity, food, gardens, community, neighbors, genetically-modified foods, GMOs

*Butterfly for a King: Saving Hawaii’s Kamehameha Butterflies by Cindy Trumbore and Susan L. Roth

The beautiful Kamehameha butterfly lives in Hawaii and nowhere else on Earth. Named to honor the great king who united the Hawaiian Islands, the butterfly is one of only two species native to Hawaii.

After the Kamehameha butterfly became the state insect–thanks to a group of fifth graders–people noticed that the butterflies were disappearing. So a team of dedicated professional and citizen scientists began working together to restore the butterfly’s natural habitat and reintroduce butterflies in places where they were once found.

Booklist and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades K-7
  • Themes: Hawaii, King Kamehameha, butterflies, insects, conservation, community, kids helping environment

*We Wait for the Sun by Katie McCabe (Author) and Raissa Figueroa (Illustrator)

In the hour before dawn, Dovey Mae and Grandma Rachel step into the cool, damp night on a secret mission: to find the sweetest, ripest blackberries that grow deep in the woods.

But the nighttime holds a thousand sounds―and a thousand shadows―and Dovey Mae is frightened of the dark. But with the fierce and fearless Grandma Rachel at her side, the woods turn magical, and berry picking becomes an enchanting adventure that ends with the beauty and power of the sunrise.

A cherished memory from Dovey Johnson Roundtree’s childhood, this magical experience speaks to the joy that pulsed through her life, even under the shadow of Jim Crow. With Grandma Rachel’s lessons as her guiding light, Dovey Mae would go on to become a trailblazer of the civil rights movement–fighting for justice and equality in the military, the courtroom, and the church.

THREE starred reviews! This book is adapted from Roundtree’s book for adults, Mighty Justic.

  • Genre(s): picture book memoir
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: civil rights, quiet, anticipation, safety, nature, grandmothers, memories, Dovey Johnson Roundtree, Jim Crow laws, attorneys

When Cloud Became a Cloud by Rob Hodgson

The lifecycle of our protagonist, Cloud, is delightfully and sparsely narrated in nine short chapters that follow the stages of the water cycle. Young readers will welcome facts along with humor and personality as they bask in the accomplishment of breezing through each chapter.

SLJ starred. 64 pages.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction, easy chapter books
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: clouds, water cycle, science, personification, weather

*Hello, Earth!: Poems to Our Planet by Joyce Sidman (Author) and Miren Asiain Lora (Illustrator)

We walk on Earth’s surface every day, but how often do we wonder about the incredible planet around us? From the molten cracks below to the shimmering moon above, Hello, Earth! explores the wonders of the natural world. This playful journey across our puzzle-piece continents does not hesitate to ask questions—even of the Earth itself!

The book concludes with extensive scientific material to foster further learning about how the earth works, from water cycles to plate tectonics to the origin of ocean tides.

SLJ and Kirkus starred. Includes hidden “I Spy” style pictures!

  • Genre(s): poetry
  • Recommended for: Grades K-7
  • Themes: Earth Day, wonder, nature, science, water cycle, ocean tides, plate tectonics, animals

*Hello, Jimmy! by Anna Walker

Jack loves staying at his dad’s house. They have tacos and milkshakes, and make each other laugh. But lately Jack wonders if his dad is lonely when he isn’t there. Then Jimmy arrives. Jimmy is loud and obnoxious, but Dad thinks he’s clever and funny. Jack does not think he’s clever or funny. And he’s starting to wonder if Dad likes Jimmy better than he likes Jack. This beautifully written and illustrated book about the unconditional love a parent has for a child is both heartwarming and reassuring.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: fathers and sons, pets, parrots, birds, jealousy, communication, loneliness, single parents






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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