New Release Spotlight: April 20, 2021

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More power outages this week! There’s a scheduled outage tomorrow, but maybe they will actually be able to fix some of the problems we’ve been having lately. For the past two weeks, they power has gone out randomly and without warning. I usually try to run one week ahead on the Spotlights, but the power outages have me a few days behind!

We have new titles this week from Erin Bowman, Becky Albertalli, Kyle Lukoff, Gail Villanueva, and Cynthia Levinson. Don’t miss all the nature picture books ahead of Earth Day this Thursday!

My top picks this week:

  • From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement by Paula Yoo (YA)
  • Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff (middle grades)
  • The People’s Painter by Cynthia Levinson (picture book)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1550-#1570 on The Ginormous book list.

Dustborn by Erin Bowman

Delta of Dead River has always been told to hide her back, where a map is branded on her skin to a rumored paradise called the Verdant. In a wasteland plagued by dust squalls, geomagnetic storms, and solar flares, many would kill for it–even if no one can read it. So when raiders sent by a man known as the General attack her village, Delta suspects he is searching for her.

Delta sets out to rescue her family but quickly learns that in the Wastes no one can be trusted–perhaps not even her childhood friend, Asher, who has been missing for nearly a decade. If Delta can trust Asher, she just might decode the map and trade evidence of the Verdant to the General for her family. What Delta doesn’t count on is what waits at the Verdant: a long-forgotten secret that will shake the foundation of her entire world.

SLJ starred. The cover and description of this one remind me of Moira Young’s Dustlands series. I loved that book, but I hope this one isn’t too similar. Dustborn is a standalone.

  • Genre(s): post-apocalypse, Western
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: maps, trust, babies, secrets, wastelands

*From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement by Paula Yoo

America in 1982: Japanese car companies are on the rise and believed to be putting U.S. autoworkers out of their jobs. Anti–Asian American sentiment simmers, especially in Detroit. A bar fight turns fatal, leaving a Chinese American man, Vincent Chin, beaten to death at the hands of two white men, autoworker Ronald Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz.

Paula Yoo has crafted a searing examination of the killing and the trial and verdicts that followed. When Ebens and Nitz pled guilty to manslaughter and received only a $3,000 fine and three years’ probation, the lenient sentence sparked outrage. The protests that followed led to a federal civil rights trial–the first involving a crime against an Asian American–and galvanized what came to be known as the Asian American movement.

Extensively researched from court transcripts, contemporary news accounts, and in-person interviews with key participants, From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry is a suspenseful, nuanced, and authoritative portrait of a pivotal moment in civil rights history, and a man who became a symbol against hatred and racism.

Booklist and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: racism, discrimination, civil rights, hatred against Asian Americans, Detroit, Michigan, murder, trials, protests, court transcripts, news, interviews, injustice, Covid-19

*The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur

1426, Joseon (Korea). Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest near a gruesome crime scene.

Years later, Detective Min–Hwani’s father–learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared from the same forest that nearly stole his daughters. He travels to their hometown on the island of Jeju to investigate…only to vanish as well.

Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village–and collides with her now estranged sister, Maewol–Hwani comes to realize that the answer could lie within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 6+
  • Themes: Korea, 15th Century, murder, Jeju Island, detectives, missing persons, sisters, Asia

She Drives Me Crazy by Kelly Quindlen

After an embarrassing loss to her ex-girlfriend in their first basketball game of the season, seventeen-year-old Scottie Zajac gets into a fender bender with the worst possible person: her nemesis, Irene Abraham, head cheerleader for the Fighting Reindeer.

Irene is as mean as she is beautiful, so Scottie makes a point to keep her distance. When the accident sends Irene’s car to the shop for weeks’ worth of repairs and the girls are forced to carpool, their rocky start only gets bumpier.

But when an opportunity arises for Scottie to get back at her toxic ex–and climb her school’s social ladder–she bribes Irene into an elaborate fake-dating scheme that threatens to reveal some very real feelings.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: basketball, LGBTQIA+, car accidents, fake dating, sports, cheerleading, rumors

*Kate in Waiting by Becky Albertalli

Contrary to popular belief, best friends Kate Garfield and Anderson Walker are not codependent. Carpooling to and from theater rehearsals? Environmentally sound and efficient. Consulting each other on every single life decision? Basic good judgment. Pining for the same guys from afar? Shared crushes are more fun anyway.

But when Kate and Andy’s latest long-distance crush shows up at their school, everything goes off-script. Matt Olsson is talented and sweet, and Kate likes him. She really likes him. The only problem? So does Anderson.

Turns out, communal crushes aren’t so fun when real feelings are involved. This one might even bring the curtains down on Kate and Anderson’s friendship.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: best friends, boys coming between friends, LGBTQIA+, theater, performing arts, rom-com

Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

In this book, the impact of wildfire, a wayward priest, or a mysterious disappearance ricochet across communities, threading through stories. Here, ordinary actions such as ice skating or going to church reveal hidden truths. One choice threatens a lifelong friendship. Siblings save each other. Rescue and second chances are possible, and so is revenge.

On the surface, it seems that nothing ever happens in these towns. But underneath that surface, teenagers’ lives blaze with fury, with secrets, and with love so strong it burns a path to the future.

How cool is this? This book reminds me of movies like Magnolia and Love, Actually and books like Binchy’s The Copper Beech. I love the “interconnected stories” format and plan to read this one for sure.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: Alaska, American west, small towns, rural areas, interconnected stories, revenge, sexual abuse, missing persons, wildfires, crime, nature

The Half-Orphan’s Handbook by Joan F. Smith

Debut author! It’s been three months since Lila lost her father to suicide. Since then, she’s learned to protect herself from pain by following two unbreakable rules:

1. The only people who can truly hurt you are the ones you love. Therefore, love no one.

2. Stay away from liars. Liars are the worst.

But when Lila’s mother sends her to a summer-long grief camp, it’s suddenly harder for Lila to follow these rules. Potential new friends and an unexpected crush threaten to drag her back into life for the first time since her dad’s death.

On top of everything, there’s more about what happened that Lila doesn’t know, and facing the truth about her family will be the hardest part of learning how a broken heart can love again.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: suicide, death of a parent, addiction, gambling, camps, grief, mental illness, lies

These Feathered Flames by Alexandra Overy

Based on a Russian folktale. When twin heirs are born in Tourin, their fates are decided at a young age. While Izaveta remained at court to learn the skills she’d need as the future queen, Asya was taken away to train with her aunt, the mysterious Firebird, who ensured magic remained balanced in the realm.

But before Asya’s training is completed, the ancient power blooms inside her, which can mean only one thing: the queen is dead, and a new ruler must be crowned. As the princesses come to understand everything their roles entail, they’ll discover who they can trust, who they can love—and who killed their mother.

Give this one to fans of Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, retelling
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: twins, fate, Russian folktales, royalty, queens, magic, LGBTQIA+, sisters

Where Secrets Lie by Eva V. Gibson

Amy Larsen has spent every summer with her cousin Ben and their best friend Teddy in River Run, Kentucky. They love country life and welcome the break from her intensive ambitions and overbearing mother…until the summer she and Teddy confront the changing feelings and simmering sexual tension growing between them, destroying the threesome’s friendship in a dramatic face-off.

One year later, Amy returns to River Run dreading what she might find. But when Teddy’s sister disappears, Amy, Ben, and Teddy agree to put aside their differences to search for her. As they dig deeper into the dark history of their small town, all three friends must unearth the truths that tie their families to tragedy, cope with their own toxic upbringings and beliefs, and atone for the damage done to each other and themselves.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): mystery, thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: Kentucky, missing persons, friendship drama, tragedy, toxic families, Southern gothic, social class differences, class privilege, old money

*Boy, Everywhere by A. M. Dassu

Thirteen-year old Sami loves his life in Damascus, Syria. He hangs out with his best friend playing video games; he’s trying out for the football team; he adores his family and gets annoyed by them in equal measure. But his comfortable life gets sidetracked abruptly after a bombing in a nearby shopping mall. Knowing that the violence will only get worse, Sami’s parents decide they must flee their home for the safety of the UK.

Boy, Everywhere chronicles their harrowing journey and struggle to settle in a new land. Forced to sell all their belongings and leave their friends and beloved grandmother behind, Sami and his family travel across the Middle East to Turkey, where they end up in a smuggler’s den. From there, they cross the treacherous waters of the Mediterranean and manage to fly to England, only to be separated and detained in an immigration prison for the crime of seeking asylum. Yet the transition from refugee to immigrant in a new life will be the greatest challenge Sami has ever faced.

Kirkus and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 6-9
  • Themes: Syria, refugees, bombings, terrorism, violence, immigrants, asylum seekers, England

*Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff

It’s the summer before middle school and eleven-year-old Bug’s best friend Moira has decided the two of them need to use the next few months to prepare. For Moira, this means figuring out the right clothes to wear, learning how to put on makeup, and deciding which boys are cuter in their yearbook photos than in real life.

But none of this is all that appealing to Bug, who doesn’t particularly want to spend more time trying to understand how to be a girl. Besides, there’s something more important to worry about: A ghost is haunting Bug’s eerie old house in rural Vermont…and maybe haunting Bug in particular. As Bug begins to untangle the mystery of who this ghost is and what they’re trying to say, an altogether different truth comes to light–Bug is transgender.

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): mystery, supernatural
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: LGBTQIA+, transgender, starting middle school, divergent friendships, summer, ghosts, Vermont, gender identity, rural life

The Way of the Hive by Jay Hosler

Nyuki is a brand-new honeybee–and she has a lot of questions. Like:

–When does a bee go through metamorphosis?
–Why does a queen bee sometimes leave her hive?
–And where does all this honey come from, anyway?!

But Nyuki’s biggest question is, “What is this inner voice I hear, and why does it tell me to go forth to adventure?

Follow Nyuki on a lifelong journey as she annoys her sisters, avoids predators, and learns to trust her inner voice as she masters the way of the hive.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): animal stories, graphic novel
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: honeybees, entomology, life cycle, circle of life, sisters

Sugar and Spite by Gail D. Villanueva

Can a bully be defeated by a magical love potion?

Jolina can’t take Claudine’s bullying any longer! The taunts and teasing are too much. Though Jolina knows she’s still in-training to use her grandfather’s arbularyo magic, she sneaks into his potions lab to get her revenge. Jolina brews a batch of gayuma, a powerful love potion.

And it works. The love potion conquers Claudine’s hateful nature. In fact, Claudine doesn’t just stop bullying Jolina–now she wants to be Jolina’s BFF, and does everything and anything Jolina asks.

But magic comes with a cost, and bad intentions beget bad returns. Controlling another person’s ability to love — –or hate–will certainly have consequences. The magic demands payment, and it is about to come for Jolina in the form of a powerful storm…

Magic and reality mingle in this brilliant new middle-grade novel by Gail D. Villanueva that asks whether it’s ever okay to take away someone’s free will.

Kirkus starred. Set in The Philippines.

  • Genre(s): magical realism
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: bullying, love potions, magic, controlling another person, #ownvoices, Philippines, racism, social class

*We Are Still Here!: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know by Traci Sorell (Author) and Frane Lessac (Illustrator)

Too often, Native American history is treated as a finished chapter instead of relevant and ongoing. This companion book to the award-winning We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga offers readers everything they never learned in school about Native American people’s past, present, and future.

Precise, lyrical writing presents topics including: forced assimilation (such as boarding schools), land allotment and Native tribal reorganization, termination (the US government not recognizing tribes as nations), Native urban relocation (from reservations), self-determination (tribal self-empowerment), Native civil rights, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), religious freedom, economic development (including casino development), Native language revival efforts, cultural persistence, and nationhood.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-6
  • Themes: Native Americans, indigenous peoples, reservations, forced assimilation, civil rights, US history

Popcorn Bob by Maranke Rinck (Author), Martijn van der Linden (Illustrator), and Nancy Forest-Flier (Translator)

Ellis loves popcorn. Who doesn’t?

But one day her school goes on a healthy eating campaign and her dads decide to follow suit, banning all snack foods from their house, INCLUDING POPCORN. Unfair.

Ellis has got to get around that edict, so one night she pops a bag of popcorn out back in the garage…and she’s met with more than just her favorite salty snack. One kernel refuses to pop, and soon it’s sprouted a face, arms, and legs! He introduces himself as Popcorn Bob, and he is NOT in a good mood. (Ever, really.) He’s absolutely ravenous, and no amount of food keeps him from being hangry. Bob causes no end of chaos for Ellis, and she decides to rid herself of him once and for all, except…she actually starts to like him.

  • Genre(s): humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-5
  • Themes: popcorn, food, health, nutrition, absurd

*The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art by Cynthia Levinson (Author) and Evan Turk (Illustrator)

As an observant child growing up in Lithuania, Ben Shahn yearns to draw everything he sees–and, after seeing his father banished by the Czar for demanding workers’ rights, he develops a keen sense of justice, too.

So when Ben and the rest of his family make their way to America, Ben brings both his sharp artistic eye and his desire to fight for what’s right. As he grows, he speaks for justice through his art–by disarming classmates who bully him because he’s Jewish, by defying his teachers’ insistence that he paint beautiful landscapes rather than true stories, by urging the US government to pass Depression-era laws to help people find food and jobs.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: Lithuania, trauma, justice, civil rights, artists, immigration, Jewish people, social issues, painters

*Sunrise Summer by Matthew Swanson (Author) and Robbi Behr (Illustrator)

When a girl and her family travel four thousand miles from home, it’s not your typical summer vacation. Everything is different on the Alaskan tundra–where the grizzly bears roam and the sockeye salmon swim–including the rules. A girl can do things she wouldn’t, and couldn’t, do at home.

She can wake up at midnight to work with her mom on a fishing crew. She can learn what it means to be an essential part of a team. She can become a braver, stronger, and ever-more capable version of herself. She can take her next big step. She’s ready for her first real sunrise.

Booklist and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: Alaska, summer, nature, new experiences, fishing, siblings, family, adventure

*The Night Walk by Marie Dorleans

Mama opened our bedroom door. “Wake up, you two,” she whispered. “Let’s go, so we get there on time.”

Excited, the sleepy family step outside into a beautiful summer night. The world is quiet and shadowy, filled with fresh smells and amazing sights. Is this what they miss when they’re asleep?

Together, they walk out of their sleeping village. What will they find in the dark landscape?

This beautiful and evocative book movingly recalls family trips and the excitement of unknown adventure, while celebrating the awe-inspiring joy of the natural world.

Kirkus and Booklist starred. Pair with Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: nature, nighttime, sunrise, sensory language, walks, adventure, family

Bird House by Blanca Gómez

On a snowy day, a grandmother and grandchild find an injured bird. They take it home and care for it until it can fly around the living room. It is fantastic–just like everything at Abuela’s house! But a fantastic moment is also bittersweet, for the little bird’s recovery means that it’s time to let it fly free.

Drawing inspiration from a formative childhood experience, Blanca Gómez crafts a deceptively simple story that is morally and emotionally resonant and is brimming with love, wonder, and a deep respect for the natural world.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: winter, Spanish language, grandparents, birds, freedom, letting things go, respect for nature

Outside, You Notice by Erin Alladin (Author) and Andrea Blinick (Illustrator)

Time spent in the outdoors stirs a child’s imagination. Nature sparks wonder, wonder leads to curiosity, and curiosity brings about a greater knowledge of the world and one’s self. In Outside, You Notice, a meditative thread of child-like observations (How after the rain / Everything smells greener) is paired with facts about the habits and habitats of animals, insects, birds, and plants (A tree’s roots reach as wide as its branches).

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades K-4
  • Themes: spending time in nature, outdoors, play, stress relief, anxiety, Earth Day

How to Make a Bird by Meg McKinlay (Author) and Matt Ottley (Illustrator)

To make a bird, you’ll need hundreds of tiny, hollow bones, so light you can barely feel them on your palm. So light they can float on air. Next you’ll need feathers for warmth and lift. There will be more besides–perhaps shells and stones for last touches. But what will finally make your bird tremble with dreams of open sky and soaring flight?

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: birds, nature, feathers, bird anatomy, flying, artists, letting go







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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