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New Release Spotlight: March 9, 2021

I’ve got 18 new titles for you this week! Like last week, middle grade titles look especially excellent!

My top picks:

  • American Betiya by Anuradha D. Rajurkar
  • Starfish by Lisa Fipps
  • Kafka and the Doll by Larissa Theule

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1426-#1443 on The Ginormous book list.

*Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human by Erika Moen (Author) and Matthew Nolan (Author)

Growing up is complicated. How do you find the answers to all the questions you have about yourself, about your identity, and about your body? Let’s Talk About It provides a comprehensive, thoughtful, well-researched graphic novel guide to everything you need to know.

Discusses relationships, friendships, gender, sexuality, anatomy, body image, safe sex, sexting, jealousy, rejection, sex education, and more.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: sexual health, menstruation, safe sex, dating, sex education, body positivity

American Betiya by Anuradha D. Rajurkar

Debut author! Rani Kelkar has never lied to her parents, until she meets Oliver. The same qualities that draw her in–his tattoos, his charisma, his passion for art–make him her mother’s worst nightmare.

They begin dating in secret, but when Oliver’s troubled home life unravels, he starts to ask more of Rani than she knows how to give, desperately trying to fit into her world, no matter how high the cost. When a twist of fate leads Rani from Evanston, Illinois to Pune, India for a summer, she has a reckoning with herself–and what’s really brewing beneath the surface of her first love.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, (problematic) romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: #ownvoices, Indian Americans, cultural identity, dating, secret relationships, stereotypes, immigrant families, microaggressions, first love

Tell Me My Name by Amy Reed

On wealthy Commodore Island, Fern is watching and waiting–for summer, for college, for her childhood best friend to decide he loves her.

Then Ivy Avila lands on the island like a falling star. When Ivy shines on her, Fern feels seen. When they’re together, Fern has purpose. She glimpses the secrets Ivy hides behind her fame, her fortune, the lavish parties she throws at her great glass house, and understands that Ivy hurts in ways Fern can’t fathom.

Soon, it’s clear Ivy wants someone Fern can help her get. But as the two pull closer, Fern’s cozy life on Commodore unravels: drought descends, fires burn, and a reckless night spins out of control. Everything Fern thought she understood–about her home, herself, the boy she loved, about Ivy Avila–twists and bends into something new. And Fern won’t emerge the same person she was.

Retelling of The Great Gatsby. SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): retelling, thriller, dystopia
  • Recommended for: 9+
  • Themes: near-future, toxic friendships, celebrities, mental trauma

Things That Grow by Meredith Goldstein

When Lori’s Dorothy Parker–loving grandmother dies, Lori’s world is turned upside down. Grandma Sheryl was everything to Lori–and not just because Sheryl raised Lori when Lori’s mom got a job out of town. Now Lori’s mom is insisting on moving her away from her beloved Boston right before senior year. Desperate to stay for as long as possible, Lori insists on honoring her grandmother’s last request before she moves: to scatter Sheryl’s ashes near things that grow.

Along with her uncle Seth and Chris, best friend and love-of-her-life crush, Lori sets off on a road trip to visit her grandmother’s favorite gardens. Dodging forest bathers, scandalized volunteers, and angry homeowners, they come to terms with the shape of life after Grandma Sheryl. Saying goodbye isn’t easy, but Lori might just find a way to move forward surrounded by the people she loves.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: grief, grandmothers, moving away, road trips, saying goodbye ,coming of age

*When We Were Infinite by Kelly Loy Gilbert

All Beth wants is for her tight-knit circle of friends–Grace Nakamura, Brandon Lin, Sunny Chen, and Jason Tsou–to stay together. With her family splintered and her future a question mark, these friends are all she has–even if she sometimes wonders if she truly fits in with them. Besides, she’s certain she’ll never be able to tell Jason how she really feels about him, so friendship will have to be enough.

Then Beth witnesses a private act of violence in Jason’s home, and the whole group is shaken. Beth and her friends make a pact to do whatever it takes to protect Jason, no matter the sacrifice. But when even their fierce loyalty isn’t enough to stop Jason from making a life-altering choice, Beth must decide how far she’s willing to go for him–and how much of herself she’s willing to give up.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: friendship, fitting in, domestic violence, abuse, musicians, orchestra, family problems, Asian Americans, confidence, people-pleasing

Sing Me Forgotten by Jessica S. Olson

Cast into a well at birth for being one of the magical few who can manipulate memories when people sing, she was saved by Cyril, the opera house’s owner. Since that day, he has given her sanctuary from the murderous world outside. All he asks in return is that she use her power to keep ticket sales high—and that she stay out of sight. For if anyone discovers she survived, Isda and Cyril would pay with their lives.

But Isda breaks Cyril’s cardinal rule when she meets Emeric Rodin, a charming boy who throws her quiet, solitary life out of balance. His voice is unlike any she’s ever heard, but the real shock comes when she finds in his memories hints of a way to finally break free of her gilded prison.

Haunted by this possibility, Isda spends more and more time with Emeric, searching for answers in his music and his past. But the price of freedom is steeper than Isda could ever know. For even as she struggles with her growing feelings for Emeric, she learns that in order to take charge of her own destiny, she must become the monster the world tried to drown in the first place.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, retelling
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: magic, opera, singers, The Phantom of the Opera, monsters

It’s Kind of a Cheesy Love Story by Lauren Morrill

After her mother gave birth to her in the bathroom of a local pizzeria, Beck has been given the dubious privilege of having minor fame, free pizza for life, and a guaranteed job when she turns sixteen–a job she unfortunately can’t afford to turn down.

Now she’s stuck with her geeky co-workers instead of taking Instagram-ready shots with her best friends (and her epic crush).

But maybe the pizza people aren’t all bad. Maybe that pizza delivery guy is kind of cute. And maybe there’s a way to make this Bathroom Baby thing work for her. Because when disaster strikes the beloved pizza place that’s started to feel like home, she’s going to need a miracle–one that might even mean bringing her two worlds together.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: teens with jobs, pizza, restaurants, rom-com

*Starfish by Lisa Fipps

Debut author! Ever since 11-year old Ellie wore a whale swimsuit and made a big splash at her fifth birthday party, she’s been bullied about her weight.

To cope, she tries to live by the Fat Girl Rules–like “no making waves,” “avoid eating in public,” and “don’t move so fast that your body jiggles.” And she’s found her safe space–her swimming pool–where she feels weightless in a fat-obsessed world. In the water, she can stretch herself out like a starfish and take up all the room she wants.

It’s also where she can get away from her pushy mom, who thinks criticizing Ellie’s weight will motivate her to diet. Fortunately, Ellie has allies in her dad, her therapist, and her new neighbor, Catalina, who loves Ellie for who she is. With this support buoying her, Ellie might finally be able to cast aside the Fat Girl Rules and starfish in real life–by unapologetically being her own fabulous self.

FOUR starred reviews! This is an excellent middle grade alternative to Julie Murphy’s Dumplin. I always love “fat girl” books, so this one is definitely on my TBR! I won’t be at all surprised to see this one added to the Texas Lonestar Reading List and the Spirit of Texas–Middle School Reading List in the next year or two.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, novels in verse
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: weight issues, body image, bullying, swimming, mothers and daughters, conflict with parent, Dallas, Texas, Jewish characters

The Wild Huntsboys by Martin Stewart

Debut author! In a city overrun by war, Luka doesn’t have time for games. So when his little sister asks him to care for her faeries as she’s sent away to escape the air raids, he dismisses her childish­ness. But it’s already more than he can bear to see her go, so he promises to do as she asks.

A promise that Luka quickly breaks. In an empty home, anger and frustration get the better of him. Instead of leav­ing an offering for the faeries, he flings their saucer of milk as far out the window as he can. Big mistake. The faeries are not only very real, but they’re more ter­rifying than he could have ever imag­ined. And now they want revenge.

With the aid of his new friends–a savvy techie, a quiet evacuee, and an unlikely ally–Luka has three days to turn his house into a fortress. But his problems are even more complicated than he thought: it’s not just the faeries who are out to get the Wild Huntsboys.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: brothers and sisters, siblings, faeries, war, curses, technology

Abby, Tried and True by Donna Gephart

When Abby Braverman’s best friend, Cat, moves to Israel, she’s sure it’s the worst thing that could happen.

But then her older brother, Paul, is diagnosed with cancer, and life upends again. Now it’s up to Abby to find a way to navigate seventh grade without her best friend, help keep her brother’s spirits up during difficult treatments, and figure out her surprising new feelings for the boy next door.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: siblings, cancer, major life changes, social anxiety, neighbors, first crush, Jewish families, introverts, poetry, pet turtles

*Amber and Clay by Laura Amy Schlitz (Author) and Julia Iredale (Illustrator)

In a warlike land of wind and sunlight, “ringed by a restless sea,” live Rhaskos and Melisto, spiritual twins with little in common beyond the violent and mysterious forces that dictate their lives. A Thracian slave in a Greek household, Rhaskos is as common as clay, a stable boy worth less than a donkey, much less a horse.

Wrenched from his mother at a tender age, he nurtures in secret, aided by Socrates, his passions for art and philosophy. Melisto is a spoiled aristocrat, a girl as precious as amber but willful and wild. She’ll marry and be tamed–the curse of all highborn girls–but risk her life for a season first to serve Artemis, goddess of the hunt.

Bound by destiny, Melisto and Rhaskos–Amber and Clay–never meet in the flesh. By the time they do, one of them is a ghost. But the thin line between life and death is just one boundary their unlikely friendship crosses. It takes an army of snarky gods and fearsome goddesses, slaves and masters, mothers and philosophers to help shape their story into a gorgeously distilled, symphonic tour de force.

Blends verse, prose, and illustrated archeological “artifacts.”

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, adventure, fantasy novels in verse
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: Ancient Greece, slaves, Socrates, arts, Artemis, Greek mythology, ghosts, fate

Violet and the Pie of Life by D. L. Green

Twelve-year-old Violet has two great loves in her life: math and pie. And she loves her parents, even though her mom never stops nagging and her dad can be unreliable. Mom plus Dad doesn’t equal perfection. Still, Violet knows her parents could solve their problems if they just applied simple math.

#1: Adjust the ratio of Mom’s nagging to her compliments.
#2: Multiply Dad’s funny stories by a factor of three.
#3: Add in romantic stuff wherever possible.

But when her dad walks out, Violet realizes that the odds do not look good. Why can’t her parents get along like popular, perfect Ally’s parents? Would it be better to have no dad at all, like her best friend, McKenzie? Violet is considering the data when she and Ally get cast in the school play, and McKenzie doesn’t–a probability that Violet never calculated. Maybe friendship and family have more variables than she thought.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: Pi Day, math, parental separation, family problems, drama, theater, middle school

*Amina’s Song by Hena Khan

Sequel to: Amina’s Voice. It’s the last few days of her vacation in Pakistan, and Amina has loved every minute of it. The food, the shops, the time she’s spent with her family–all of it holds a special place in Amina’s heart. Now that the school year is starting again, she’s sad to leave, but also excited to share the wonders of Pakistan with her friends back in Greendale.

After she’s home, though, her friends don’t seem overly interested in her trip. And when she decides to do a presentation on Pakistani hero Malala Yousafzai, her classmates focus on the worst parts of the story. How can Amina share the beauty of Pakistan when no one wants to listen?

I don’t normally Spotlight sequels…unless they get starred reviews. This one was starred by both SLJ and Booklist).

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: Malala Yousafzai, Pakistan, friendship, identity, growing apart from friends, diverse characters, being from two cultures

*Out of Nowhere by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

Beetle and Caterpillar are best friends. Every day, they sit together on a big rock, sharing a picnic and looking out over the forest. But one day, Caterpillar goes missing and Beetle cannot find her.

Beetle sets out on a long journey through the forest, but Caterpillar is nowhere to be seen. Beetle’s just about to give up when a friendly (and rather familiar) butterfly appears out of nowhere. Can it be Beetle’s friend? She may look different, but the love they feel for one another is the same as ever.

Kirkus and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: insects, caterpillars, beetles, friendship, butterflies, change, unconditional love

Kafka and the Doll by Larissa Theule (Author) and Rebecca Green (Illustrator)

Inspired by a true story, Kafka and the Doll recounts a remarkable gesture of kindness from one of the world’s most bewildering and iconic writers.

In the fall of 1923, Franz Kafka encountered a distraught little girl on a walk in the park. She’d lost her doll and was inconsolable. Kafka told her the doll wasn’t lost, but instead, traveling the world and having grand adventures! And to reassure her, Kafka began delivering letters from the doll to the girl for weeks.

The legend of Kafka and the doll has captivated imaginations for decades as it reveals the playful and compassionate side of a man known for his dark and brooding tales. Kafka and the Doll is a testament to living life to the fullest and to the life-changing power of storytelling.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades K-4
  • Themes: authors, 20th Century, 1920s, kindness, writing, letters, dolls, sadness, lost things

The Big House and the Little House by Yoshi Ueno (Author) and Emiko Fujishima (Illustrator)

Little Mouse and Big Bear live on opposite ends of the same road, and they both would like a friend. But every morning, Little Mouse and Big Bear pass by each other, unnoticed. Until one day, their eyes meet!

It’s a little awkward at first–as most new friendships can be–but soon enough they’re sipping warm tea together in Big Bear’s cozy home, and making plans to meet again the following Sunday. When a nasty storm blows into town will it wreck everything they’ve built?

This tale of friendship and bravery will warm your heart like a cookie and a warm drink shared with a friend.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: neighbors, friendships, storms, mice, bears, making new friends, loneliness

Can I Sit with You? by Sarah Jacoby

This is a touching story about a dog who’s there for his girl through highs and lows, joys and sorrows, news and olds. As the girl changes and grows, her dog’s love remains steadfast. Both characters discover how life transforms and expands with someone you love next to you.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: dogs, strays, friendship, pets, listening, growing up, loyalty, devotion

The Ramble Shamble Children by Christina Soontornvat (Author) and Lauren Castillo

Merra, Locky, Roozle, Finn, and little Jory love their ramble shamble house. It’s a lot of work taking care of the garden, the chickens, and themselves, but they all pitch in to make it easier–even Jory, who looks after the mud puddles.

When they come across a picture of a “proper” house in a book, they start wondering if their own home is good enough. So they get to work “propering up” the garden, the chickens, and even the mud puddles.

But the results aren’t exactly what they expected, and when their now-proper household’s youngest member goes missing, they realize that their ramble shamble home might be just right for their family, after all.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 1
  • Themes: homes, siblings, working together, teamwork, poverty, family

 

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (YA):

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (MIDDLE GRADES):

 

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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