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New Release Spotlight: May 18, 2021

I’ve got a new feature on the Spotlight! I’ve added a bulleted area for protagonist diversity, which will include all the information I know about the protagonist(s) age, gender, religion, nationality, race, sexual orientation, and country of origin. This information is also included on Column L of The Ginormous book list.

This is our third Spotlight of May 2021, and once again, it’s a long and awesome list!

My top picks this week are:

  • On the Hook by Francisco X. Stork (YA)
  • Ophie’s Ghosts by Justina Ireland (MG)
  • No More Plastic by Alma Fullerton (picture book)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1629-#1650 on The Ginormous book list.

*Off the Record by Camryn Garrett

Ever since seventeen-year-old Josie Wright can remember, writing has been her identity, the thing that grounds her when everything else is a garbage fire. So when she wins a contest to write a celebrity profile for Deep Focus magazine, she’s equal parts excited and scared, but also ready. She’s got this.

Soon Josie is jetting off on a multi-city tour, rubbing elbows with sparkly celebrities, frenetic handlers, stone-faced producers, and eccentric stylists. She even finds herself catching feelings for the subject of her profile, dazzling young newcomer Marius Canet. Josie’s world is expanding so rapidly, she doesn’t know whether she’s flying or falling. But when a young actress lets her in on a terrible secret, the answer is clear: she’s in over her head.

One woman’s account leads to another and another. Josie wants to expose the man responsible, but she’s reluctant to speak up, unsure if this is her story to tell. What if she lets down the women who have entrusted her with their stories? What if this ends her writing career before it even begins? There are so many reasons not to go ahead, but if Josie doesn’t step up, who will?

THREE starred reviews! And how gorgeous is that front cover? On the TBR!

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: writers, journalism, contests, fame, secrets, #metoo, whistleblowers, feminism, African Americans, sexual assault
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 17, Black, from Atlanta

*On the Hook by Francisco X. Stork

Hector has always minded his own business, working hard to make his way to a better life someday. He’s the chess team champion, helps the family with his job at the grocery, and teaches his little sister to shoot hoops overhand.

Until Joey singles him out. Joey, whose older brother, Chavo, is head of the Discípulos gang, tells Hector that he’s going to kill him: maybe not today, or tomorrow, but someday. And Hector, frozen with fear, does nothing. From that day forward, Hector’s death is hanging over his head every time he leaves the house. He tries to fade into the shadows–to drop off Joey’s radar–to become no one.

But when a fight between Chavo and Hector’s brother Fili escalates, Hector is left with no choice but to take a stand.

The violent confrontation will take Hector places he never expected, including a reform school where he has to live side-by-side with his enemy, Joey. It’s up to Hector to choose whether he’s going to lose himself to revenge or get back to the hard work of living.

THREE starred reviews! Pair this with Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. Also on the TBR!

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: gangs, Hispanic Americans, reform school, violence, crime, El Paso, Texas, brothers, murder, revenge
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 16, Mexican American

*Perfectly Parvin by Olivia Abtahi

Parvin Mohammadi has just been dumped–only days after receiving official girlfriend status. Not only is she heartbroken, she’s humiliated. Enter high school heartthrob Matty Fumero, who just might be the smoking-hot cure to all her boy problems. If Parvin can get Matty to ask her to Homecoming, she’s positive it will prove to herself and her ex that she’s girlfriend material after all. There’s just one problem: Matty is definitely too cool for bassoon-playing, frizzy-haired, Cheeto-eating Parvin. Since being herself hasn’t worked for her in the past (see aforementioned dumping), she decides to start acting like the women in her favorite rom-coms. Those women aren’t loud, they certainly don’t cackle when they laugh, and they smile much more than they talk.

But Parvin discovers that being a rom-com dream girl is much harder than it looks. Also hard? The parent-mandated Farsi lessons. A confusing friendship with a boy who’s definitely not supposed to like her. And hardest of all, the ramifications of the Muslim ban on her family in Iran. Suddenly, being herself has never been more important.

Booklist and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): romance, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 6+
  • Themes: rom-com, being true to oneself, dating, Iranian Americans, Islamophobia, aunts
  • Protagonist description: American girl, Iranian American, age 14, Muslim

*Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean

Izumi Tanaka has never really felt like she fit in–it isn’t easy being Japanese American in her small, mostly white, northern California town. Raised by a single mother, it’s always been Izumi–or Izzy, because “It’s easier this way”–and her mom against the world. But then Izumi discovers a clue to her previously unknown father’s identity…and he’s none other than the Crown Prince of Japan. Which means outspoken, irreverent Izzy is literally a princess.

In a whirlwind, Izumi travels to Japan to meet the father she never knew and discover the country she always dreamed of. But being a princess isn’t all ball gowns and tiaras. There are conniving cousins, a hungry press, a scowling but handsome bodyguard who just might be her soulmate, and thousands of years of tradition and customs to learn practically overnight.

Izumi soon finds herself caught between worlds, and between versions of herself. Back home, she was never “American” enough, and in Japan, she must prove she’s “Japanese” enough. Will Izumi crumble under the weight of the crown, or will she live out her fairy tale, happily ever after?

Booklist and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: princesses, Japanese Americans, California, Japan, cultural identity, biracial teens
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 18, Japanese American

When the World Was Ours by Liz Kessler

Vienna. 1936. Three young friends–Leo, Elsa, and Max–spend a perfect day together, unaware that around them Europe is descending into a growing darkness and that they will soon be cruelly ripped apart from one another. With their lives taking them across Europe–to Germany, England, Prague, and Poland–will they ever find their way back to one another? Will they want to?

SLJ starred. The SLJ reviewer writes, “A must-have addition to any middle school collection that could easily become a classic like Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars.” High praise!

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-12
  • Themes: WWII, based on a true story, Holocaust, friendship, Europe, world history, Jews
  • Protagonist description: 3 Austrian teens–2 boys and 1 girl; the girl and one boy are Jewish; starts when they are age 9 but they grow into teens during the story

May the Best Man Win by ZR Ellor

Debut author! Jeremy Harkiss, cheer captain and student body president, won’t let coming out as a transgender boy ruin his senior year. Instead of bowing to the bigots and outdated school administration, Jeremy decides to make some noise–and how better than by challenging his all-star ex-boyfriend, Lukas for the title of Homecoming King?

Lukas Rivers, football star and head of the Homecoming Committee, is just trying to find order in his life after his older brother’s funeral and the loss long-term girlfriend–who turned out to be a boy. But when Jeremy threatens to break his heart and steal his crown, Lukas kick starts a plot to sabotage Jeremy’s campaign.

When both boys take their rivalry too far, the dance is on the verge of being canceled. To save Homecoming, they’ll have to face the hurt they’re both hiding–and the lingering butterflies they can’t deny.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades9-12
  • Themes: transgender, LGBTQIA+, Homecoming, cheerleading, football, exes, dating
  • Protagonist description: two boys, both white, one is transgender

Made in Korea by Sarah Suk

There’s nothing Valerie Kwon loves more than making a good sale. Together with her cousin Charlie, they run V&C K-BEAUTY, their school’s most successful student-run enterprise. With each sale, Valerie gets closer to taking her beloved and adventurous halmeoni to her dream city, Paris.

Enter the new kid in class, Wes Jung, who is determined to pursue music after graduation despite his parents’ major disapproval. When his classmates clamor to buy the K-pop branded beauty products his mom gave him to “make new friends,” he sees an opportunity–one that may be the key to help him pay for the music school tuition he knows his parents won’t cover.

What he doesn’t realize, though, is that he is now V&C K-BEAUTY’s biggest competitor.

Stakes are high as Valerie and Wes try to outsell each other, make the most money, and take the throne for the best business in school–all while trying to resist the undeniable spark that’s crackling between them. From hiring spies to all-or-nothing bets, the competition is much more than either of them bargained for.

But one thing is clear: only one Korean business can come out on top.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: Korean Americans, Paris, student businesses, rom-com, competition, entrepreneurship
  • Protagonist description: boy and girl, high school seniors, both Korean American

An Occasionally Happy Family by Cliff Burke

There are zero reasons for Theo Ripley to look forward to his family vacation. Not only are he, sister Laura, and nature-obsessed Dad going to Big Bend, the least popular National Park, but once there, the family will be camping. And Theo is an indoor animal. It doesn’t help that this will be the first vacation they’re taking since Mom passed away.

Once there, the family contends with 110 degree days, wild bears, and an annoying amateur ornithologist and his awful teenage vlogger son. Then, Theo’s dad hits him with a whopper of a surprise: the whole trip is just a trick to introduce his secret new girlfriend.

Theo tries to squash down the pain in his chest. But when it becomes clear that this is an auditioning-to-be-his-stepmom girlfriend, Theo must find a way to face his grief and talk to his dad before his family is forever changed.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: camping, vacation, death of a parent (mother), Big Bend National Park, summer, nature, parent’s new girlfriend, family problems, grief
  • Protagonist description: American boy, age 13, white

*Ophie’s Ghosts by Justina Ireland

Ophelia Harrison used to live in a small house in the Georgia countryside. But that was before the night in November 1922, and the cruel act that took her home and her father from her. Which was the same night that Ophie learned she can see ghosts.

Now Ophie and her mother are living in Pittsburgh with relatives they barely know. In the hopes of earning enough money to get their own place, Mama has gotten Ophie a job as a maid in the same old manor house where she works.

Daffodil Manor, like the wealthy Caruthers family who owns it, is haunted by memories and prejudices of the past–and, as Ophie discovers, ghosts as well. Ghosts who have their own loves and hatreds and desires, ghosts who have wronged others and ghosts who have themselves been wronged. As Ophie forms a friendship with one spirit whose life ended suddenly and unjustly, she wonders if she might be able to help–even as she comes to realize that Daffodil Manor may hold more secrets than she bargained for.

Booklist and BCCB starred. Pair with Ellen Oh’s Spirit Hunters series.

  • Genre(s): supernatural, thriller, historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: 1920s, ghosts, Georgia, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, maids, haunted houses, mansions, psychic abilities, racism, lynch mobs, death of a parent (father), murder, African Americans
  • Protagonist description: Black girl, American, age 12

Sunshine by Marion Dane Bauer

Newbery Honoree Marion Dane Bauer evokes the “summer that changed everything” in the life of a boy growing up without a mother.

Since as far back as Ben can remember, it’s been him, his devoted dad, and Sunshine–Ben’s little dog, who rarely leaves Ben’s side. It was Mom who did the leaving. Now, Ben is about to spend a whole week with his suddenly present mother in the wilds of northern Minnesota. On the remote island she calls home, Ben will learn to canoe, weather the elements, and weigh a burning question: when will she come back to where she belongs?

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-6
  • Themes: divorce, family problems, abandonment, dogs, imaginary pets, wilderness, Minnesota, anxiety, living off-grid
  • Protagonist description: white boy, upper-elementary age, American

Annie Lumsden, the Girl from the Sea by David Almond (Author) and Beatrice Alemagna (Illustrator)

Annie Lumsden has hair that drifts like seaweed, eyes that shine like rock pools, and thoughts that dart and dance like minnows. She lives with her artist mother by the sea, where she feels utterly at home.

Annie has long felt apart from the other girls at school. Words and numbers on the page don’t make sense to her, and strange maladies have been springing up that the doctors can’t explain. Annie’s mother says that all things can be turned into tales, and often she tells her daughter stories about the rocks she paints like faces, or the smoke that wafts from chimneys, or who Annie’s dad is.

But one day Annie asks her mother for a different tale, something with better truth in it–and on that same day a stranger in town, drawn to the sight of a girl who seems akin to the sea, helps Annie understand how special she is. Featuring Beatrice Alemagna’s expressive illustrations, this enchanting coming-of-age tale by the award-winning David Almond borrows from lore and flirts at the edges of mystery.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): early chapter book, magical realism
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: sea, feeling left out, storytelling, seizures
  • Protagonist description: English girl, white, age 13

Not All Heroes by Josephine Cameron

Even though her family moved across the country for a “fresh start” after her little brother’s death, eleven-year-old Zinnia Helinski still feels like she’s stuck waiting for her new life to begin. Then she spots her new neighbor, Kris, climbing down the fire escape of their apartment building. He’s wearing a black eye mask! And Spandex leggings…And a blue body suit?

Soon Zinnia finds herself in a secret club for kids who want to be heroes. The Reality Shifters don’t have superpowers, but they do have the power to make positive change in their neighborhoods. And a change is just what Zinnia is looking for!

At first, she feels invincible. Zinnia finally has friends and is on the kind of real-life adventures her little brother, Wally, would have loved. But when her teammates lose sight of their goals, Zinnia must find the balance between bravery and recklessness, and learn to be a hero without her cape.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: death of a sibling (younger brother), moving, starting a new school, grief, superheroes, secret clubs, community, courage, coastal Maine, doing good deeds
  • Protagonist description: American girl, white, 6th grade

The Kate In Between by Claire Swinarski

Kate McAllister is desperate for a change. Something to hit refresh and erase the pain of her mother leaving town without her. So when a group of popular girls folds Kate into their clique, it feels like the answer to all her problems—even if it means ditching Haddie, her childhood bestie.

But when Kate’s new friends decide that Haddie is their next target, Kate becomes a passive participant in a cruel incident that could have killed Haddie…had Kate not stepped in, at the last minute, and saved her. The next day, a cell phone video of the rescue goes viral, and Kate is hailed a hero. But Kate knows the truth—she was part of the problem—and it’s only a matter of time until the full version of the video is released and everyone knows it too.

With so much at stake, Kate must decide who she wants to be: a liar, a follower, or someone greater.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: bullying, friendship, secrets, standing up for what’s right, doing the right thing, mean girls
  • Protagonist description: American girl, white, age 12

Long Lost by Jacqueline West

Eleven-year-old Fiona has just read a book that doesn’t exist. When Fiona’s family moves to a new town to be closer to her older sister’s figure skating club–and far from Fiona’s close-knit group of friends–nobody seems to notice Fiona’s unhappiness. Alone and out of place, Fiona ventures to the town’s library, a rambling mansion donated by a long-dead heiress. And there she finds a gripping mystery novel about a small town, family secrets, and a tragic disappearance.

Soon Fiona begins to notice strange similarities that blur the lines between the novel and her new town. With a little help from a few odd Lost Lake locals, Fiona uncovers the book’s strange history. Lost Lake is a town of restless spirits, and Fiona will learn that both help and danger come from unexpected places–maybe even from the sister she thinks doesn’t care about her anymore.

  • Genre(s): mystery, supernatural
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: sisters, loneliness, libraries, small towns, local history, ghosts, bookish
  • Protagonist description: American girl, white, age 12

That Thing about Bollywood by Supriya Kelkar

You know how in Bollywood when people are in love, they sing and dance from the mountaintops? Eleven-year-old Sonali wonders if they do the same when they’re breaking up. The truth is, Sonali’s parents don’t get along, and it looks like they might be separating.

Sonali’s little brother, Ronak, is not taking the news well, constantly crying. Sonali would never do that. It’s embarrassing to let out so many feelings, to show the world how not okay you are. But then something strange happens, something magical, maybe. When Sonali gets upset during a field trip, she can’t bury her feelings like usual–instead, she suddenly bursts into a Bollywood song-and-dance routine about why she’s upset!

The next morning, much to her dismay, Sonali’s reality has shifted. Things seem brighter, almost too bright. Her parents have had Bollywood makeovers. Her friends are also breaking out into song and dance. And somehow, everyone is acting as if this is totally normal.

Sonali knows something has gone wrong, and she suspects it has something to do with her own mismanaged emotions. Can she figure it out before it’s too late?

  • Genre(s): magical realism
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: Bollywood, family problems, parental separation, divorce, holding in one’s feelings, dancing, singing, magic
  • Protagonist description: American girl with East Indian immigrant parents; age 11; 6th grade; lives in California

Starboy: Inspired by the Life and Lyrics of David Bowie by Jami Gigot

For as long as David could remember, he felt like a stranger on his own planet.
As if he’d fallen to Earth from outer space…

David Bowie is one of the most influential artists of our time, beloved for his joyful self-expression and fierce individuality. But how did he come to be this iconic Starman, celebrated by millions around the world?

Inspired by the life and lyrics of David Bowie, author-illustrator Jami Gigot imagines the story of a lonely young boy enchanted by the music of the stars–yet no one else can hear the shimmy–shake rhythm that moves through his body. At first misunderstood and ignored, David ultimately finds the courage to be true to himself, sparking a dazzling revolution…

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: David Bowie, loneliness, music, rock history, being true to oneself
  • Protagonist description: British boy, white

Etty Darwin and the Four Pebble Problem by Lauren Soloy

Etty loves make-believe.
Her dad loves science.
Etty believes in fairies.
Her dad would need to see some proof that they exist.
But they both love nature, conversation and each other.

A gorgeous rumination on belief and imagination featuring Henrietta (Etty) Darwin and her famous father, Charles. Etty went on to become a valued and keen editor of Charles’s work and a thoughtful and intellectual being in her own right. This imagined conversation between Etty and Charles as they stroll around Charles’s real-life “thinking track” explores their close relationship and shows that even science is nothing without an open mind and imagination.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: Charles Darwin, science, children of famous people, imagination, fairies
  • Protagonist description: British girl, white

No More Plastic by Alma Fullerton

Isley loves the ocean and everything in it. Well, almost everything. Her heart sinks at the sight of her Alantic Ocean shoreline covered in trash. One day, upon discovering a beached right whale that has starved to death after swallowing plastic, Isley decides enough is enough. She steers her family into adopting a zero-waste lifestyle, inspiring others to do the same. But when the adults around her give way to apathy and routine, how can Isley make sure her whale’s memory inspires lasting change?

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades K-3
  • Themes: ocean, plastic, pollution, conservation, sustainability, trash, whales, ocean life, zero-waste, recycling, Earth Day
  • Protagonist description: white girl with reddish hair

Now That Night Is Near by Astrid Lindgren (Author), Marit Tornqvist (Illustrator), and Polly Lawson (Translator)

It’s bedtime, and across the land everyone is settling down to sleep. The cows are lying down in their fields, the rabbits are snug in their burrows, and the birds are resting on their branches. Except someone isn’t quite ready to close their eyes just yet…

A curious cat gently wanders through midsummer fields, forests and dusky Swedish landscapes as the sun slowly sets. When will he be ready to sleep?

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: nighttime, animals, farm animals, cats, Sweden, bedtime
  • Protagonist description: biracial family

Wild Is the Wind by Grahame Baker-Smith

Cassi watches a little swift dive and swoop in the still air. In the rising sun the world seems to be holding its breath. Then a small breeze stirs the leaves in the trees, and as the wind grows bolder, a whiff of danger sends small creatures running for cover.

Across the ocean, the wind awakes with a fury, whipping the waves and cresting each one with wild white horses. And further on, around the still eye of a hurricane, clouds are carved into a great spiral, howling with stormy power. All this is witnessed by the swift as it finally comes to nest on the other side of the world, where the great wind has abated.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades K-5
  • Themes: wind, weather, nature, animals, hurricanes, circular stories
  • Protagonist description: brown-skinned girl

If Only… by Mies van Hout

What child has not daydreamed about having wings like a butterfly? But secretly, the flashy butterfly yearns for a stick insect’s privacy. And the stick insect wants to swim like a whirligig beetle.

One after the other, the denizens of bestselling author-illustrator Mies van Hout’s vibrant garden landscape wish to be like somebody else. From the glowing firefly to the capable spider to the adorable ladybugs, each one brings something to be admired. And when the dragonfly wishes to be like a child who can run, play, laugh, and build, a world of possibilities opens up.

A gentle but effective story for social emotional learning, If Only… allows children to reach their own conclusions and acknowledge that while it’s common to compare ourselves to others, it’s best to remember and celebrate what we ourselves can do.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: imagination, insects, spiders, nature, outdoor play
  • Protagonist description: children featured are racially-diverse

The Little Spacecraft That Could by Joyce Lapin (Author) and Simona Ceccarelli (Illustrator)

Ride along with the New Horizons spacecraft as she rockets three billion miles to Pluto! Watch her take the first close-up photos of Pluto, and then journey another billion miles to mini-world Arrokoth. You’ll whiz through space at more than 10 miles per second; learn how giant planet Jupiter helped the little spacecraft reach Pluto; and discover the astonishing surface feature that made the world fall in love with Pluto.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): informational picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-5
  • Themes: astronomy, New Horizons spacecraft, Pluto, outer planets, Kuiper Belt, Arrokoth, space travel, science, personification
  • Protagonist description: earth-bound scientists are all white except for one





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.


  • Thanks for adding the “Protagonist Description” – super helpful for aid for diversifying my school library! Appreciate all the work you do!

    • Thanks, Jaymie! I agree that it will be very helpful for librarians!

  • Thank you for featuring “The Little Spacecraft That Could!” I’m so happy to have your support in sharing this adventure with the world’s children!


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