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New Release Spotlight: March 2, 2021

It’s March already? WOW! Lots of big authors releasing new titles this week–particularly for middle grades–plus several sequels! I’ve spotlighted a whopping 25 titles this week.

 My top picks:

  • Justine by Forsyth Harmon (YA)
  • Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd (MG)
  • The Old Boat by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1401-#1425 on The Ginormous book list.

Home Is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo

Nima doesn’t feel understood. By her mother, who grew up far away in a different land. By her suburban town, which makes her feel too much like an outsider to fit in and not enough like an outsider to feel like that she belongs somewhere else. At least she has her childhood friend Haitham, with whom she can let her guard down and be herself. Until she doesn’t.

As the ground is pulled out from under her, Nima must grapple with the phantom of a life not chosen, the name her parents didn’t give her at birth: Yasmeen. But that other name, that other girl, might just be more real than Nima knows. And more hungry. And the life Nima has, the one she keeps wishing were someone else’s…she might have to fight for it with a fierceness she never knew she had.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, poetry
  • Recommended for: Grades 6+
  • Themes: identity, novel in verse, Muslim Americans, immigrants, poverty, single mothers, Islamophobia, loneliness, regret

Yolk by Mary H. K. Choi

Jayne and June Baek are nothing alike. June’s three years older, a classic first-born, know-it-all narc with a problematic finance job and an equally soulless apartment (according to Jayne). Jayne is an emotionally stunted, self-obsessed basket case who lives in squalor, has egregious taste in men, and needs to get to class and stop wasting Mom and Dad’s money (if you ask June). Once thick as thieves, these sisters who moved from Seoul to San Antonio to New York together now don’t want anything to do with each other.

That is, until June gets cancer. And Jayne becomes the only one who can help her.

Flung together by circumstance, housing woes, and family secrets, will the sisters learn more about each other than they’re willing to confront? And what if while helping June, Jayne has to confront the fact that maybe she’s sick, too?

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: sisters, sibling rivalry, family problems, Korean Americans, New York, college, cancer, mental health, cultural identity

Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke by Andrew Maraniss

On October 2nd, 1977, Glenn Burke, outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, made history without even swinging a bat. When his teammate Dusty Baker hit a historic home run, Glenn enthusiastically congratulated him with the first ever high five.

But Glenn also made history in another way–he was the first openly gay MLB player. While he did not come out publicly until after his playing days were over, Glenn’s sexuality was known to his teammates, family, and friends. His MLB career would be cut short after only three years, but his legacy and impact on the athletic and LGBTQIA+ community would resonate for years to come.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): biography, sports, narrative nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: baseball, LGBTQIA+ firsts, coming out, addiction, AIDS, LA Dodgers, 1970s

Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft

Debut author! Wren Southerland’s reckless use of magic has cost her everything: she’s been dismissed from the Queen’s Guard and separated from her best friend–the girl she loves. So when a letter arrives from a reclusive lord, asking Wren to come to his estate, Colwick Hall, to cure his servant from a mysterious illness, she seizes her chance to redeem herself.

The mansion is crumbling, icy winds haunt the caved-in halls, and her eccentric host forbids her from leaving her room after dark. Worse, Wren’s patient isn’t a servant at all but Hal Cavendish, the infamous Reaper of Vesria and her kingdom’s sworn enemy. Hal also came to Colwick Hall for redemption, but the secrets in the estate may lead to both of their deaths.

With sinister forces at work, Wren and Hal realize they’ll have to join together if they have any hope of saving their kingdoms. But as Wren circles closer to the nefarious truth behind Hal’s illness, they realize they have no escape from the monsters within the mansion. All they have is each other, and a startling desire that could be their downfall.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: magic, healers, illness, winter, ice, snow, mansions

Rosie Loves Jack by Mel Darbon

Rosie loves Jack. Jack loves Rosie. So when they’re separated, Rosie will do anything to find the boy who makes the sun shine in her head. Even defy her parents’ orders and run away from home. Even struggle across London and travel to Brighton on her own, though the trains are cancelled and the snow is falling. Even though people might think a girl like Rosie, who has Down syndrome, could never survive on her own.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: Down Syndrome, running away, London, England, snow, winter, anger, determination, congenital brain injury

Once upon a Quinceanera by Monica Gomez-Hira

Carmen Aguilar just wants to make her happily ever after come true. Except apparently “happily ever after” for Carmen involves being stuck in an unpaid summer internship. Now she has to perform as a party princess! In a ball gown. During the summer. In Miami.

Fine. Except that’s only the first misfortune in what’s turning out to a summer of Utter Disaster.

But if Carmen can manage dancing in the blistering heat, fending off an oh-so-unfortunately attractive ex, and stopping her spoiled cousin from ruining her own quinceañera–Carmen might just get that happily ever after–after all.

How cute does this sound? No starred reviews, but all professional reviews I read are positive.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: princesses, parties, teens with jobs, internship, theater, acting, quinceañeras, Latinx culture, rom-com, Miami, Florida, cousins, Cuban Americans, Puerto Ricans

Justine by Forsyth Harmon

Debut author! Summer 1999. Long Island, New York. Bored, restless, and lonely, Ali never expected her life would change as dramatically as it did the day she walked into the local Stop & Shop. But she’s never met anyone like Justine, the store’s cashier. Justine is so tall and thin she looks almost two-dimensional, and there’s a dazzling mischief in her wide smile. “Her smile lit me up and exposed me all at once,” Ali admits. “Justine was the light shining on me and the dark shadow it cast, and I wanted to stand there forever in the relief of that contrast.”

Ali applies for a job on the spot, securing a place for herself in Justine’s glittering vicinity. As Justine takes Ali under her wing, Ali learns how best to bag groceries, what foods to eat (and not to eat), how to shoplift, who to admire, and who she can become outside of her cold home, where her inattentive grandmother hardly notices the changes in her. Ali becomes more and more fixated on Justine, reshaping herself in her new idol’s image, leading to a series of events that spiral from superficial to seismic.

This is described as an “illustrated novel.” On the TBR it goes!

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-AD
  • Themes: coming of age, neglect, teens with jobs, LGBTQIA+, 1990s, Long Island, New York, risky behavior, shoplifting, eating disorders, body image, obsession with physical appearance, toxic relationships

The Memory Thief by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Thirteen Witches, book 1. Twelve-year-old Rosie Singer’s mom is missing whatever it is that makes mothers love their daughters. All her life, Rosie has known this…and turned to stories for comfort. Then, on the night Rosie decides to throw her stories away forever, an invisible ally helps her discover the Witch Hunter’s Guide to the Universe, a book that claims that all of the evil in the world stems from thirteen witches who are unseen and unstoppable. One of these witches–the Memory Thief–holds an insidious power to steal our most precious treasures: our memories. And it is this witch who has cursed Rosie’s mother.

In her quest to save her mom–and with her wild, loyal friend “Germ” by her side–Rosie will find the layers hidden under the reality she only thought she knew: where ghosts linger as shades of the past, where clouds witness the world, and a ladder dangles from the moon leading to something bigger and more. Here, words are weapons against the darkness, and witch hunters are those brave enough to wield their imaginations in the face of the unthinkable.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: magic, witches, memories, mothers and daughters, bookish

The Elephant in the Room by Holly Goldberg Sloan

It’s been almost a year since Sila’s mother traveled halfway around the world to Turkey, hoping to secure the immigration paperwork that would allow her to return to her family in the United States.

The long separation is almost impossible for Sila to withstand. But things change when Sila accompanies her father (who is a mechanic) outside their Oregon town to fix a truck. There, behind an enormous stone wall, she meets a grandfatherly man who only months before won the state lottery. Their new alliance leads to the rescue of a circus elephant named Veda, and then to a friendship with an unusual boy named Mateo, proving that comfort and hope come in the most unlikely of places.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: Oregon, lottery, absent parent, elephant, circus, immigration, animal cruelty, autism, flamingos, Turkish Americans, multiple perspectives

Wild River by Rodman Philbrick

Daniel Redmayne is fast asleep on the first night of a white water rafting trip, when he’s awoken by screams. The dam has failed. The river is surging, and their camp will be under water in a matter of moments.

As the shrieking roar of the river rushes closer, the kids scramble to higher ground. They make it; their counselors do not.

Now they’re on their own, with barely any food or supplies, in the middle of the Montana wilderness. Do Daniel and his four classmates have what it takes to stay alive until they can get rescued? Alone in the wild, they forge powerful bonds–but develop dangerous disagreements. If nature doesn’t break them, they might just destroy each other.

  • Genre(s): adventure, survival
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: white water rafting, Montana, school trips, wilderness, bullying, conflict

Rescue by Jennifer Nielsen

Six hundred and fifty-seven days ago, Meg Kenyon’s father left their home in France to fight for the Allies in World War II, and that was the last time Meg saw him. Recently, she heard he was being held prisoner by the Nazis, a terrible sentence from which Meg fears he’ll never return. All she has left of him are the codes he placed in a jar for her to decipher, an affectionate game the two of them shared. But the codes are running low, and soon there’ll be nothing left of Papa for Meg to hold on to at all.

Suddenly, an impossible chance to save her father falls into Meg’s lap. After following a trail of blood in the snow, Meggie finds an injured British spy hiding in her grandmother’s barn. Captain Stewart tells her that a family of German refugees must be guided across Nazi-occupied France to neutral Spain, whereupon one of them has promised to free Meg’s father. Captain Stewart was meant to take that family on their journey, but too injured to complete the task himself, he offers it to Meg, along with a final code from Papa to help complete the mission–perhaps the most important, and most difficult, riddle she’s received yet.

As the Nazis flood Meg’s village in fierce pursuit, she accepts the duty and begins the trek across France. Leading strangers through treacherous territory, Meg faces danger and uncertainty at every turn, all the while struggling to crack her father’s code. The message, as she unravels it, reveals secrets costly enough to risk the mission and even her own life. Can Meg solve the puzzle, rescue the family, and save her father?

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: WWII, France, prisoners of war, fathers and daughters, riddles, codes, rescue missions

Houdini and Me by Dan Gutman

Eleven-year-old Harry Mancini is NOT Harry Houdini–the famous escape artist who died in 1926. But Harry DOES live in Houdini’s old New York City home, and he definitely knows everything there is to know about Houdini’s life. What is he supposed to do, then, when someone starts texting him claiming that they’re Houdini, communicating from beyond the grave? Respond, of course.

It’s hard for Harry to believe that Houdini is really contacting him, but this Houdini texts the secrets to all of the escape tricks the dead Houdini used to do. What’s more, Houdini’s offering Harry a chance to go back in time and experience it for himself. Should Harry ignore what must be a hoax? Or should he give it a try and take Houdini up on this death-defying offer?

  • Genre(s): fantasy, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: magic, Harry Houdini, magicians, escape artists, New York City, comas, ghosts

These Unlucky Stars by Gillian McDunn

Ever since her mother left a few years ago, Annie has felt like the odd one out in her family. Her dad and brother are practical and organized–they just don’t understand the way she thinks, in lines and color. Everywhere she turns, she feels like an outsider, even at school, so she’s been reluctant to get close to anyone.

When a “Ding-Dong-Ditch” attempt goes wrong, Annie finds herself stuck making amends with Gloria, the eccentric elderly lady she disturbed. As she begins to connect with Gloria and her weird little dog, it becomes clear that Gloria won’t be able to live on her own for much longer. But it’s this brief and important friendship that gives Annie the confidence to let people in, and see how rich life can be when you decide to make your own luck and chart your own path to happiness.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: luck, parental abandonment, siblings, family problems, grief, intergenerational friendship, neighbors, elderly independence

*Too Small Tola by Atinuke (Author) and Onyinye Iwu (Illustrator)

Tola lives in an apartment in the busy city of Lagos, Nigeria, with her sister, Moji, who is very clever; her brother, Dapo, who is very fast; and Grandmommy, who is very bossy.

Tola may be small, but she’s strong enough to carry a basket brimming with groceries home from the market, and she’s clever enough to count out Grandmommy’s change. When the faucets in the apartment break, it’s Tola who brings water from the well. And when Mr. Abdul, the tailor, has an accident and needs help taking his customers’ measurements, only Tola can save the day.

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, early chapter book
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-4
  • Themes: Lagos, Nigeria, siblings, grandparents, chores, Africa, neighbors, community, being small

Planet Ocean: Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean by Patricia Newman (Author) and Annie Crawley (Photographer)

A little more than 70 percent of Planet Earth is ocean. So wouldn’t a better name for our global home be Planet Ocean?

You may be surprised at just how closely YOU are connected to the ocean. Regardless of where you live, every breath you take and every drop of water you drink links you to the ocean. And because of this connection, the ocean’s health affects all of us.

Dive in with author Patricia Newman and photographer Annie Crawley–visit the Coral Triangle near Indonesia, the Salish Sea in the Pacific Northwest, and the Arctic Ocean at the top of the world. Find out about problems including climate change, ocean acidification, and plastic pollution, and meet inspiring local people who are leading the way to reverse the ways in which humans have harmed the ocean.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: oceans, conservation, Earth Day, pollution, climate change, plastic, science, environment

Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd (Author) and Michelle Mee Nutter (Illustrator)

At home, Maggie is the odd one out. Her parents are preoccupied with the new baby they’re expecting, and her younger brothers are twins and always in their own world.

Maggie thinks a new puppy is the answer, but when she goes to select one on her birthday, she breaks out in hives and rashes. She’s severely allergic to anything with fur! Can Maggie outsmart her allergies and find the perfect pet?

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: siblings, feeling left out, allergies, expecting a new baby, new school, pets

Delphine and the Silver Needle by Alyssa Moon

When Delphine, a young orphaned dressmaker mouse living in the walls of Cinderella’s château, stumbles upon an enormous secret, it upends everything she thought she knew: The magical tailor mice of legend really existed. Racing to stay ahead of King Midnight, the fearsome leader of the rats who is bent on harnessing age-old magic, Delphine embarks on an epic quest to uncover the truth about the past. Joined by Alexander, the most pompous noblemouse in the royal court, she travels a perilous route, encountering strange enemies and unlikely allies along the way.

Can Delphine uncover the truth and save the kingdom? Or will the evil King Midnight succeed in harnessing the power of the tailor mice?

  • Genre(s): fantasy, retelling, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: animals, mice, Cinderella, magic, rats, good versus evil, kings, dressmakers, personification

The Girl Who Stole an Elephant by Nizrana Farook

Chaya, a nobleman’s rebellious, outspoken, no-nonsense daughter, just can’t resist the shiny temptations the king’s palace has to offer. But playing Robin Hood for her impoverished community doesn’t come without risks. When Chaya steals the queen’s jewels from a bedside table, a messy getaway jeopardizes the life of a close friend.

After an equally haphazard prison break, Chaya barely escapes on the king’s prized elephant! With leeches and revolution lurking in the jungle, Chaya leads her companions on a thrilling adventure. After leaving her village as a thief, can she return as a hero? Or will Chaya’s sticky fingers be the beginning―or the end―of everything for the intrepid gang?

  • Genre(s): adventure, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: thieves, Robin Hood, elephants, strong heroines, Sri Lanka

Knight of the Cape by Terry Catasus Jennings (Author) and Fatima Anaya (Illustrator)

Definitely Dominguita, book 1. All Dominguita wants to do is read. Especially the books in Spanish that Abuela gave to her just before she moved away. They were classics that Abuela and Dominguita read together, classics her abuela brought with her all the way from Cuba when she was a young girl. It helps Dominguita feel like Abuela’s still there with her.

One of her favorites, Don Quixote, tells of a brave knight errant who tries to do good deeds. Dominguita decides that she, too, will become a knight and do good deeds around her community, creating a grand adventure for her to share with her abuela. And when the class bully tells Dominguita that girls can’t be knights, Dom is determined to prove him wrong. With a team of new friends, can Dominguita learn how to be the hero of her own story?

Kirkus starred. Book 2, Captain Dom’s Treasure, publishes simultaneously.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, early chapter book
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-4
  • Themes: bookish, Cuban Americans, Spanish language, grandmothers, traditional gender roles, girl power, heroes, bullying, dementia, knights, #ownvoices, play

*Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me by Susan L. Roth

Sibert Medalist Susan L. Roth is like a bowerbird, a small black bird found in Australia and New Guinea that builds elaborate structures from various materials they find near their habitats.

Though Susan creates books to attract readers and bowerbirds build bowers to attract a mate, both get their ideas from the world around them and the materials they find. Both love colors. No two of their respective creations are alike. And most importantly, both Susan and the bowerbirds aspire for their finished works to be greater than the sum of their parts.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book, nonfiction
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: Australia, New Zealand, Oceania, birds, art, found objects, building, creativity, writing, projects, comparisons

*Daisy by Jessixa Bagley

“Daisies seem so simple on the surface, but when you look closely you see their hidden beauty.”

That’s what Daisy the warthog’s mom always says, and it’s the reason she got her name. But when Daisy goes to school, she doesn’t feel like her name. The other kids, Rose, Violet, and Petunia, make fun of her and call her “Thistle.”

Daisy spends a lot of time with her head down, but she doesn’t need her classmates to have fun. When she looks at the forest floor, she starts to find all sorts of treasures, beautiful things that were once special and have since been forgotten. The other kids might make fun of her pastime, but it turns out she’s not the only one who appreciates the hidden beauty of forgotten things when she meets a like-minded new friend.

Kirkus and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: teasing, animals, bullying, friendship, finding beauty in ordinary things, warthogs, secret hideouts, skunks, empathy

*Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand (Author) and Nabi H. Ali (Illustrator)

Laxmi never paid much attention to the tiny hairs above her lip. But one day while playing farm animals at recess, her friends point out that her whiskers would make her the perfect cat. She starts to notice body hair all over–on her arms, legs, and even between her eyebrows.

With her parents’ help, Laxmi learns that hair isn’t just for heads, but that it grows everywhere, regardless of gender.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: body hair, growing up, puberty, body positivity, Indian Americans, Hindi language

*The Lost Package by Richard Ho (Author) and Jessica Lanan (Illustrator)

A little girl sends a package from her home in New York to her friend in San Francisco. Along the way, a truck hits a bump in the road, and the package falls off. Another child finds the package and helps deliver it to its recipient.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: USPS, lost in the mail, friendship, post office, jobs, USA, Golden Gate Bridge

*The Wisdom of Trees: How Trees Work Together to Form a Natural Kingdom by Lita Judge

The story of a tree is a story of community, communication, and cooperation. Although trees may seem like silent, independent organisms, they form a network buzzing with life: they talk, share food, raise their young, and offer protection. Trees thrive on diversity, learn from their ancestors, and give back to their communities. Trees not only sustain life on our planet–they can also teach us important lessons about patience, survival, and teamwork.

FOUR STARRED REVIEWS!

  • Genre(s): picture book for older readers, poetry, nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: nature, trees, Earth Day, conservation, biodiversity

The Old Boat by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey

From the creators of The Old Truck. Off a small island an old boat sets sail and a young boy finds home.

Together, boy and boat ride the shifting tides, catching wants and wishes until fate calls for a sea change. Brothers and collaborators Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey’s newest picture book is a masterfully crafted celebration of the natural world and tribute to the families we make and the homes that we nurture.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: circle of life, aging, parent and child, fathers, fishing, pollution, ocean, multigenerational

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (YA):

 

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (MIDDLE GRADES):

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS & FAVORITE CHARACTERS (ELEMENTARY):

ABOUT THE SPOTLIGHT

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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