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New Release Spotlight: April 13, 2021

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So much craziness this week! We’ve been dealing with multiple power outages, more Mexico visa stuff, a stolen credit card number, and problems with PayPal this week. On top of that, we are moving in two weeks and nothing–not even one thing–is packed yet! Serenity now!

*breathes deep*

At least the weather has been glorious! And the Spotlight is done for the week! I’ve got a great list for you this week, especially for picture books! We have several debut authors this week, along with new titles from Dusti Bowling, Jon Klassen, and Elisha Cooper.

This week’s top picks are:

  • Alien Nation by Sandro Bassi (YA)
  • Hear My Voice/Escucha mi voz: The Testimonies of Children Detained at the Southern Border of the United States by Warren Binford (middle grades)
  • The Capybaras by by Alfredo Soderguit (picture books)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1532-#1549 on The Ginormous book list.

Alien Nation by Sandro Bassi

How unique! I don’t have a great description of this book, but it is a wordless picture book from a Venezuelan artist. The publisher’s description reads, “A wordless wonder of a picture book, reminiscent of David Wiesner and Chris Van Allsburg. An unforgettable subway ride in an alien world filled with truths of our own.” The images are of people riding on a subway and obsessed with their phones. The beings at first look like aliens from a strange world, but upon closer examination, they are actually humans dressed in winter clothes.

Kirkus starred. All illustrations are black and white crosshatch drawings. Great for anyone who enjoys ecclectic artwork or who just wants something different. The English teacher in me sees creative writing prompts for middle school students in these pictures. This would be a good book to just leave lying around the house or on the coffee table at home. Who could resist that cover image?

  • Genre(s): wordless picture book, science fiction
  • Recommended for: All ages. The recommended ages are all over the place, from PreS to YA. I’m going to say any age can enjoy this book. I would definitely buy it for my secondary library.
  • Themes: dependence on technology, smartphones, art, drawings, aliens, subway, trains

The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky

When it comes to horror movies, the rules are clear:

–Avoid abandoned buildings, warehouses, and cabins at all times.
–Stay together: don’t split up, not even just to “check something out.”
–If there’s a murderer on the loose, do not make out with anyone.

If only surviving in real life were this easy…

New girl Rachel Chavez turns to horror movies for comfort, preferring stabby serial killers and homicidal dolls to the bored rich kids of Manhattan Prep…and to certain memories she’d preferred to keep buried.

Then Rachel is recruited by the Mary Shelley Club, a mysterious society of students who orchestrate Fear Tests, elaborate pranks inspired by urban legends and movie tropes. At first, Rachel embraces the power that comes with reckless pranking. But as the Fear Tests escalate, the competition turns deadly, and it’s clear Rachel is playing a game she can’t afford to lose.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): horror, thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: pranking, fear, horror movies, satire, safety, Brookyln, New York, prep schools, power over others

Notes from a Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi and Joshua David Stein

This is the Young Reader’s Adaptation of the adult memoir of the same title.

Food was Kwame Onwuachi’s first great love. He connected to cooking via his mother, in the family’s modest Bronx apartment. From that spark, he launched his own catering company with twenty thousand dollars he made selling candy on the subway and trained in the kitchens of some of the most acclaimed restaurants in the country. He faced many challenges on the road to success, including breaking free of a dangerous downward spiral due to temptation and easy money, and grappling with just how unwelcoming the world of fine dining can be for people of color.

Born on Long Island and raised in New York City, Nigeria, and Louisiana, Kwame Onwuachi’s incredible story is one of survival and ingenuity in the face of adversity.

  • Genre(s): memoir, nonfiction, autobiography
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: foodies, chefs, Bronx, New York, small businesses, entrepreneurship, restaurant work, discrimination, Nigerian Americans, overcoming adversity

Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders

Unstoppable, book 1. Tina never worries about being “ordinary”–she doesn’t have to, since she’s known practically forever that she’s not just Tina Mains, average teenager and beloved daughter. She’s also the keeper of an interplanetary rescue beacon, and one day soon, it’s going to activate, and then her dreams of saving all the worlds and adventuring among the stars will finally be possible. Tina’s legacy, after all, is intergalactic–she is the hidden clone of a famed alien hero, left on Earth disguised as a human to give the universe another chance to defeat a terrible evil.

But when the beacon activates, it turns out that Tina’s destiny isn’t quite what she expected. Things are far more dangerous than she ever assumed–and everyone in the galaxy is expecting her to actually be the brilliant tactician and legendary savior Captain Thaoh Argentian.

But Tina….is just Tina. And the Royal Fleet is losing the war, badly–the starship that found her is on the run and they barely manage to escape Earth with the planet still intact.

Luckily, Tina is surrounded by a crew she can trust, and her best friend Rachel, and she is still determined to save all the worlds. But first she’ll have to save herself.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): science fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: saving the galaxy, destiny, clones, aliens, space opera, LGBTQIA+

The Sky Above Us by Natalie Lund

The morning after their senior year beach party, Izzy, Cass, and Janie are woken by a thundering overhead. Then they and their classmates watch in shock as a plane crashes into the water. When the passengers are finally recovered, they are identified as Izzy’s twin brother, Israel, Cass’s ex-boyfriend, Shane, and Janie’s best friend, Nate. But Izzy can feel when her brother is in pain, and she knows he’s not really dead. So she, Cass, and Janie set out to discover what actually happened that day–and why the boys were on the plane.

Told in alternating timelines and points of view, this novel follows the three boys in the weeks leading up to that fateful flight, and the girls they left behind as they try to piece together the truth about the boys they loved and thought they knew.

  • Genre(s): mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: plane crashes, twins, alternating timelines, tragedy, grief, secrets, Texas, Venezuelan Americans, reincarnation

The Backups: A Summer of Stardom by Alex de Campi (Author), Lara Kane (Illustrator), Dee Cunniffe (Contributor), and Ted Brandt (Contributor)

Spending an entire summer on tour as a backup singer for pop star Nika Nitro? What?! That’s the DREAM, right? Especially for Jenni, Lauren, and Maggie, three misfit performing arts students with hopes of making it in the music world.

But being twenty feet from fame isn’t easy. Between crushes, constant rehearsals, Nika’s sky-high expectations, and their own insecurities, this dream is starting to feel more like a nightmare. And that’s before they accidentally start a beef with a rival band threatening to reveal a secret that could end Nika’s career.

Can this trio of new friends come together to save the tour, or will the Backups be kept out of the spotlight forever?

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: music, singers, performing arts, fame, celebrity, rivalry, secrets, friendship

*Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls by Kaela Rivera

Debut author! Living in the remote town of Tierra del Sol is dangerous, especially in the criatura months, when powerful spirits roam the desert and threaten humankind. But Cecelia Rios has always believed there was more to the criaturas, much to her family’s disapproval. After all, only brujas–humans who capture and control criaturas–consort with the spirits, and brujeria is a terrible crime.

When her older sister, Juana, is kidnapped by El Sombrerón, a powerful dark criatura, Cece is determined to bring Juana back. To get into Devil’s Alley, though, she’ll have to become a bruja herself–while hiding her quest from her parents, her town, and the other brujas. Thankfully, the legendary criatura Coyote has a soft spot for humans and agrees to help her on her journey.

With him at her side, Cece sets out to reunite her family–and maybe even change what it means to be a bruja along the way.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): adventure, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: sisters, kidnapping, brujas, witches, Mexican folklore, deserts, Spanish, Nahuatl, Mesoamerican folklore

The Threads of Magic by Alison Croggon

Pip lives by his wits in the city of Clarel. But when he picks the wrong pocket, Pip finds himself in possession of a strange dried heart in a silver casket–and those who lost it will stop at nothing to get it back. With assassins on his trail and the ominous heart beginning to whisper to him, Pip and his childlike older sister El are drawn deeper into the forbidden world of magic.

Now they must seek the help of the secret witches of Clarel and Princess Georgette–who is sick of being a pawn in everyone else’s game–to wage revolution against a chilling king, a power-hungry church cardinal, and an ancient evil they don’t truly understand.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: pickpockets, hearts, assassins, magical objects. siblings, magic, witches, princesses, good versus evil

Leonard (My Life as a Cat) by Carlie Sorosiak

The cat that Olive rescues from a flood has a secret: he’s not really a cat at all, but an alien who crashed to Earth on a beam of light.

The cat, whom Olive names Leonard, was prepared to visit the planet as a human–but something went wrong. Now Leonard may never know what it’s like to hold an umbrella, go bowling, or host a dinner party.

While Olive worries about whether she will have to move after her mom and her new boyfriend get back from their summer vacation, Leonard tries to figure out how to get from South Carolina to Yellowstone National Park, because if he’s not there at the end of the month, he’ll miss his ride home. But as Olive teaches Leonard about the beautiful and confusing world of humans, he starts to realize how much he cares about this particular one. A sweet and dryly funny story about what it means to be human–and what it means to be home.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): humor, animal stories
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: cats, aliens, South Carolina, Yellowstone National Park, home, compassion

The Last Windwitch by Jennifer Adam

Debut author! Many years ago, in the kingdom of Fenwood Reach, there was a powerful Windwitch who wove the seasons, keeping the land bountiful and the people happy. But then a dark magic drove her from the realm, and the world fell into chaos.

Brida is content in her small village of Oak Hollow. There, she’s plenty occupied trying to convince her fickle magic to actually do what it’s meant to in her work as a hedgewitch’s apprentice–until she accidentally catches the attention of the wicked queen.

On the run from the queen’s huntsman and her all-seeing Crow spies, Brida discovers the truth about her family, her magic, and who she is destined to be–and that she may hold the power to defeating the wicked queen and setting the kingdom right again.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: witches, magic, queens, kingdoms, destiny

*Hear My Voice/Escucha mi voz: The Testimonies of Children Detained at the Southern Border of the United States by Warren Binford

Debut author! Every day, children in migration are detained at the US-Mexico border. They are scared, alone, and their lives are in limbo. Hear My Voice/Escucha mi voz shares the stories of 61 these children, from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Ecuador, and Mexico, ranging in age from five to seventeen–in their own words from actual sworn testimonies. Befitting the spirit of the project, the book is in English on one side; then flip it over, and there’s a complete Spanish version.

Illustrated by 17 Latinx artists, including Caldecott Medalist and multiple Pura Belpré Illustrator Award-winning Yuyi Morales and Pura Belpré Illustrator Award-winning Raὺl the Third. Includes information, questions, and action points. Buying this book benefits Project Amplify, an organization that supports children in migration.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction picture book, picture book for older readers
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-AD
  • Themes: US-Mexico border, immigrants, Central America, bilingual, Spanish, migration, border crisis, social issues

The Chance to Fly by Ali Stroker and Stacy Davidowitz

Thirteen-year-old Nat Beacon loves a lot of things: her dog Warbucks, her best friend Chloe, and competing on her wheelchair racing team, the Zoomers, to name a few. But there’s one thing she’s absolutely OBSESSED with: MUSICALS! From Hamilton to Les Mis, there’s not a cast album she hasn’t memorized and belted along to. She’s never actually been in a musical though, or even seen an actor who uses a wheelchair for mobility on stage. Would someone like Nat ever get cast?

But when Nat’s family moves from California to New Jersey, Nat stumbles upon auditions for a kids’ production of Wicked, one of her favorite musicals ever! And she gets into the ensemble! The other cast members are super cool and inclusive (well, most of them)— especially Malik, the male lead and cutest boy Nat’s ever seen. But when things go awry a week before opening night, will Nat be able to cast her fears and insecurities aside and “Defy Gravity” in every sense of the song title?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: wheelchairs, disabilities, inclusion, musicals, drama, theater, performing arts, Wicked, New Jersey, new kid in school, moving away

Aven Green Sleuthing Machine by Dusti Bowling

Prequel to: Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus. Third-grader Aven Green has been solving mysteries for a whole month–cracking such cases as The Mystery of the Cranky Mom.

But can this perceptive detective solve two cases at the same time? First her teacher’s lunch bag disappears. Then Aven’s great-grandma’s dog goes missing. Fortunately, since Aven was born without arms, all the “arm” cells went to her super-powered brain instead. (That’s her theory.) This hilarious chapter book showcases a new side to Dusti Bowling’s unforgettable protagonist.

SLJ starred. Contains blackline illustrations.

  • Genre(s): mystery, humor, early chapter book
  • Recommended for: Grade 1-4
  • Themes: detectives, disabilities, born without arms, everyday mysteries

*Orangutan Hats and Other Tools Animals Use by Richard Haynes (Author) and Stephanie Laberis (Illustrator)

Move over, humans! We’re not the only creatures who can invent and use tools to keep ourselves fed, warm, safe, healthy, comfortable–even entertained. Thanks to the careful observations of biologists working in the field, we now know that elephants use sunscreen, long-tailed macaques floss their teeth, assassin bugs use bait to lure their prey, orangutans make pillows, and crows will go sledding just for fun. Who’s the clever one now, eh?

Join writer Richard Haynes and illustrator Stephanie Laberis for a walk on the wild side and get ready to be astonished, delighted, and amused by this jam-packed exploration. Interested readers will find a map, an introduction, a glossary, an index, and a bibliography for further investigation.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades K-5
  • Themes: animals, tools, nature, orangutans, elephants, monkeys, crows

*The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen

There is a spot.
It is a good spot.
It is the perfect spot to stand.
There is no reason to ever leave.
But somewhere above there is also a rock.
A rock from the sky.

This is a hilarious meditation on the workings of friendship, fate, shared futuristic visions, and that funny feeling you get that there’s something off somewhere, but you just can’t put your finger on it. Merging broad visual suspense with wry wit, celebrated picture book creator Jon Klassen gives us a wholly original comedy for the ages.

FIVE starred reviews! This is a long-form picture book with five interconnected short stories.

  • Genre(s): long-form picture book, humor
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: friendship, fate, having a “bad feeling about something,” turtles, armadillos, snakes

The Story of Bodri by Hédi Fried (Author) and Stina Wirsén (Illustrator)

Hédi spends her days playing with her dog Bodri in the park, but her quiet world starts to crumble the day she hears Adolf Hitler on the radio. Germany’s leader hates her and her family, just because they are Jewish. And Hitler doesn’t even know them–it doesn’t make any sense. Soon Nazi Germany invades Hédi’s country, and her life changes forever.

Inspired by the author’s experiences, this book is a thoughtful introduction to the Holocaust for young readers. Strikingly honest prose and illustrations share an unforgettable story about a faithful dog, a family in danger, and the power of hope in unimaginable circumstances.

Kirkus starred. Reading the reviews–particularly the Kirkus review–on Titlewave made me tear up. A must for elementary and middle school libraries. Also note that as of this writing the title is misspelled on Titlewave–search for “The Story of Bordi” instead.

  • Genre(s): picture book for older readers, memoir
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-7
  • Themes: dogs, Holocaust, Adolf Hitler, Jewish characters, Nazis, family, Hungary, sisters, perseverance, concentration camps, based on a true story

Yes & No by Elisha Cooper

Join a cat and puppy pair through their day–the ups of being fed and romping through grass, and the downs of days that are too short and things that don’t go as planned–as they realize that sometimes the very best thing that can happen is just being together.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 1
  • Themes: dogs, cats, daily routine, friendship, different personalities

*The Capybaras by Alfredo Soderguit

Debut author! Hens and their chicks are living safe and secure in their coop–or at least it seems that way. They are happy with life as it is.

Until the day the capybaras appear. To the hens, the capybaras are too big, too wet, and too hairy. But it’s hunting season, and the capybaras need somewhere safe to hide. So, the hens say they can stay, but they have to follow the rules. Can they?

As the days pass, minds begin to change and new possibilities appear. Will the hens finally accept the capybaras for who they are?

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: chickens, capybaras, hiding, safety, making room, animals, rules, community

 

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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