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New Release Spotlight: May 25, 2021

Wrapping up the last Spotlight of May with another amazing list! The entire month of May has been incredible for new releases. Before placing any new book orders for summer delivery, you might also have a look at the previous May 2021 Spotlights.

My top picks for this week:

  • Pumpkin by Julie Murphy (YA)
  • How to Become a Planet by Nicole Melleby (MG)
  • The Gravity Tree by Anna Crowley Redding (picture book)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1651-#1675 on The Ginormous book list.

Pumpkin by Julie Murphy

Waylon Russell Brewer is a fat, openly gay boy stuck in the small West Texas town of Clover City. His plan is to bide his time until he can graduate, move to Austin with his twin sister, Clementine, and finally go Full Waylon so that he can live his Julie-the-hills-are-alive-with-the-sound-of-music-Andrews truth.

So when Clementine deviates from their master plan right after Waylon gets dumped, he throws caution to the wind and creates an audition tape for his favorite TV drag show, Fiercest of Them All. What he doesn’t count on is the tape getting accidentally shared with the entire school. As a result, Waylon is nominated for prom queen as a joke. Clem’s girlfriend, Hannah Perez, also receives a joke nomination for prom king.

Waylon and Hannah decide there’s only one thing to do: run–and leave high school with a bang. A very glittery bang. Along the way, Waylon discovers that there is a lot more to running for prom court than campaign posters and plastic crowns, especially when he has to spend so much time with the very cute and infuriating prom king nominee Tucker Watson.

Waylon will need to learn that the best plan for tomorrow is living for today…especially with the help of some fellow queens.

Booklist starred. Love love love this author and the characters she creates! Definitely on the TBR!

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: drag queens, LGBTQIA+, overweight teens, Texas, small towns, friendship, courage, Prom Court, being oneself, self-esteem, homophobia, bullying, twins, brothers and sisters
  • Protagonist description: boy, 17, white, fat, openly gay, American, from Texas

*A Sitting in St. James by Rita Williams-Garcia

1860, Louisiana. After serving as mistress of Le Petit Cottage for more than six decades, Madame Sylvie Guilbert has decided, in spite of her family’s objections, to sit for a portrait.

While Madame plots her last hurrah, stories that span generations–from the big house to out in the fields–of routine horrors, secrets buried as deep as the family fortune, and the tangled bonds of descendants and enslaved.

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-AD
  • Themes: slavery, US history, 19th Century, Louisiana, plantations, privilege, exploitation, dysfunctional families
  • Protagonist description: wide assortment of diverse characters

*Misfit in Love by S.K. Ali

Sequel to: Saints and Misfits. Janna Yusuf is so excited for the weekend: her brother Muhammad’s getting married, and she’s reuniting with her mom, whom she’s missed the whole summer.

And Nuah’s arriving for the weekend too. The last time she saw him, Janna wasn’t ready to reciprocate his feelings for her. But things are different now. She’s finished high school, ready for college…and ready for Nuah. It’s time for Janna’s (carefully planned) summer of love to begin–starting right at the wedding.

But it wouldn’t be a wedding if everything went according to plan. Muhammad’s party choices aren’t in line with his fiancée’s taste at all, Janna’s dad is acting strange, and her mom is spending more time with an old friend (and maybe love interest?) than Janna. And Nuah’s treating her differently.

Just when things couldn’t get more complicated, two newcomers–the dreamy Haytham and brooding Layth–have Janna more confused than ever about what her misfit heart really wants. Janna’s summer of love is turning out to be super crowded and painfully unpredictable.

Booklist and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: weddings, Muslims, discrimination, racism, unrequited love
  • Protagonist description: Egyptian and Indian American girl, Muslim, presumably a HS senior since she is preparing for college

Aetherbound by E.K. Johnston

Pendt Harland’s family sees her as a waste of food on their long-haul space cruiser when her genes reveal an undesirable mutation. But if she plays her cards right she might have a chance to do much more than survive. During a space-station layover, Pendt escapes and forms a lucky bond with the Brannick twins, the teenage heirs of the powerful family that owns the station. Against all odds, the trio hatches a long-shot scheme to take over the station and thwart the destinies they never wished for.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): science fiction, dystopia
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: genetic mutations, outer space, survival, twins, LGBTQIA+, space opera, human trafficking, gene editing, oppression, chosen families
  • Protagonist description: girl, white, age 17

Not My Problem by Ciara Smyth

Aideen has plenty of problems she can’t solve. But when she stumbles upon overachiever Meabh Kowalska having a full-blown meltdown, she sees one that she can actually fix. Meabh is desperate to escape her crushing pile of extracurriculars. Aideen volunteers to help–by pushing her down the stairs.

Problem? Solved. Meabh’s sprained ankle is the perfect excuse to ditch her overwhelming schedule. But when one of their classmates learns about their little scheme, more “clients” start asking for Aideen’s “help”–kicking off a semester of traded favors, ill-advised hijinks, and even an unexpected chance at love.

Fixing other people’s problems won’t fix her own. But it might be the push Aideen needs to start.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: intentional injuries, overachievers, favors, LGBTQIA+, coming of age
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 16, Irish, white, lesbian

Version Zero by David Yoon

Max, a data whiz at the social media company Wren, has gotten a firsthand glimpse of the dark side of big tech. When he questions what his company does with the data they collect, he’s fired…then black-balled across Silicon Valley.

With time on his hands and revenge on his mind, Max and his longtime friend (and secretly the love of his life) Akiko, decide to get even by rebooting the internet. After all, in order to fix things, sometimes you have to break them. But when Max and Akiko join forces with a reclusive tech baron, they learn that breaking things can have unintended–and catastrophic–consequences.

This is an adult novel by a YA author. Booklist also recommends it for teen readers.

  • Genre(s): science fiction, thriller
  • Recommended for: older teens, adults
  • Themes: big tech, coding, disgruntled employees, data collection, blackballed, injustice, getting fired, hackers, Silicon Valley, revenge, LGBTQIA+, breaking the internet, social media, social hierarchy
  • Protagonist description: young adult, male, Salvadoran American

Sixteen Scandals by Sophie Jordan

The youngest of four daughters, Primrose Ainsworth is used to getting lost in the shuffle. But when her parents decide to delay her debut into English society, Prim hatches a plan to go rogue on the night of her sixteenth birthday.

Donning a mask, Prim escapes to the infamous Vauxhall Gardens for one wild night. When her cover is nearly blown, a mysterious stranger intercedes, and Prim finds an unexpected partner in mischief…and romance. But when it’s revealed her new ally isn’t who he says he is, her one night of fun may last past dawn.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: English high society, London, regency, 19th Century, social class, power dynamics
  • Protagonist description: British girl, age 16, lives in London, wealthy family, white

The Hollow Inside by Brooke Lauren Davis

Debut author! Seventeen-year-old Phoenix has spent much of her life drifting from town to town with her mom Nina, using their charms to swindle and steal to get by. Now they’ve made it to their ultimate destination, Mom’s hometown of Jasper Hollow. The plan: bring down Ellis Bowman, the man who ruined Nina’s life.

When Phoenix gets caught spying on Ellis, she spins a convincing story that inadvertently gives her full access to the Bowman family. As she digs deeper into their secrets (and begins to fall for daughter Melody), she finds herself entrenched in the tale of a death and a disappearance that doesn’t entirely line up with what Mom has told her.

But there’s even more to this story Phoenix doesn’t know. Who, if anyone, is telling the whole truth about what happened?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: revenge, lies, secrets, small towns, homelessness, abduction, Ohio, Appalachian Mountains
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 16, American, white

The Ivies by Alexa Donne

Everyone knows the Ivies: the most coveted universities in the United States.

Far more important are the Ivies. The Ivies at Claflin Academy, that is. Five girls with the same mission: to get into the Ivy League by any means necessary.

I would know. I’m one of them. We disrupt class ranks, club leaderships, and academic competitions…among other things. We improve our own odds by decreasing the fortunes of others. Because hyper-elite competitive college admissions is serious business. And in some cases, it’s deadly.

  • Genre(s): thriller, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: Ivy League, university, overachievers, competition, murder, Massachusetts, morals, ethics, elite boarding schools, college admissions
  • Protagonist description: five American girls; high school seniors–3 white, 1 Black, and 1 Korean

Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar

Everyone likes Humaira “Hani” Khan–she’s easy going and one of the most popular girls at school. But when she comes out to her friends as bisexual, they invalidate her identity, saying she can’t be bi if she’s only dated guys. Panicked, Hani blurts out that she’s in a relationship…with a girl her friends absolutely hate–Ishita “Ishu” Dey.

Ishu is the complete opposite of Hani. She’s an academic overachiever who hopes that becoming head girl will set her on the right track for college. But Ishita agrees to help Hani, if Hani will help her become more popular so that she stands a chance of being elected head girl.

Despite their mutually beneficial pact, they start developing real feelings for each other. But relationships are complicated, and some people will do anything to stop two Bengali girls from achieving happily ever after.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: coming out, popularity, identity, bisexuality, LGBTQIA+, overachievers, school leadership, Bengali, Asian Americans, Ireland, Islamophobia, gossip, rumors
  • Protagonist description: two Bengali girls, living in Ireland, bisexual

Shark Summer by Ira Marcks

When a Hollywood film crew arrives on Martha’s Vineyard with a mechanical shark and a youth film contest boasting a huge cash prize, disgraced pitcher Gayle “Blue Streak” Briar sees a chance to turn a bad season into the best summer ever.

After recruiting aspiring cinematographer Elijah Jones and moody director Maddie Grey, Gayle and her crew set out to uncover the truth of the island’s own phantom shark and win the prize money. But these unlikely friends are about to discover what happens when you turn your camera toward the bad things lurking below the surface.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: sharks, contests, film, Martha’s Vineyard, making movies, local legends, summer break
  • Protagonist description: boys and girls, around age 12-13, most are white, 1 is brown-skinned

How to Become a Planet by Nicole Melleby

For Pluto, summer has always started with a trip to the planetarium. It’s the launch to her favorite season, which also includes visits to the boardwalk arcade, working in her mom’s pizzeria, and her best friend Meredith’s birthday party. But this summer, none of that feels possible.

A month before the end of the school year, Pluto’s frightened mom broke down Pluto’s bedroom door. What came next were doctor’s appointments, a diagnosis of depression, and a big black hole that still sits on Pluto’s chest, making it too hard to do anything.

Pluto can’t explain to her mom why she can’t do the things she used to love. And it isn’t until Pluto’s dad threatens to make her move with him to the city–where he believes his money, in particular, could help–that Pluto becomes desperate enough to do whatever it takes to be the old Pluto again.

She develops a plan and a checklist: If she takes her medication, if she goes to the planetarium with her mom for her birthday, if she successfully finishes her summer school work with her tutor, if she goes to Meredith’s birthday party…if she does all the things that “normal” Pluto would do, she can stay with her mom in Jersey. But it takes a new therapist, a new tutor, and a new (and cute) friend with a checklist and plan of her own for Pluto to learn that there is no old and new Pluto. There’s just her.

Publishers Weekly and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: depression, mental illness, summer, anxiety, New Jersey, single mothers, divorced parents, boardwalk, beach
  • Protagonist description: 7th grade girl, age 12, American (New Jersey)

Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea by Ashley Herring Blake

Hazel Bly used to live in the perfect house with the perfect family in sunny California. But when a kayaking trip goes horribly wrong, Mum is suddenly gone forever and Hazel is left with crippling anxiety and a jagged scar on her face. After Mum’s death, Hazel, her other mother, Mama, and her little sister, Peach, needed a fresh start. So for the last two years, the Bly girls have lived all over the country, never settling anywhere for more than a few months.

When the family arrives in Rose Harbor, Maine, there’s a wildness to the small town that feels like magic. But when Mama runs into an old childhood friend–Claire–suddenly Hazel’s tight-knit world is infiltrated. To make it worse, she has a daughter Hazel’s age, Lemon, who can’t stop rambling on and on about the Rose Maid, a local 150-year-old mermaid myth.

Soon, Hazel finds herself just as obsessed with the Rose Maid as Lemon is–because what if magic were real? What if grief really could change you so much, you weren’t even yourself anymore? And what if instead you emerged from the darkness stronger than before?

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: death of mother, grief, facial scars, anxiety, sisters, lesbian mothers, Maine, mermaids, local myths, death of a twin
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 12, American

*Da Vinci’s Cat by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Federico doesn’t mind being a political hostage in the Pope’s palace, especially now that he has a cat as a friend. But he must admit that a kitten walking into a wardrobe and returning full-grown a moment later is quite odd. Even stranger is Herbert, apparently an art collector from the future, who emerges from the wardrobe the next night. Herbert barters with Federico to get a sketch signed by the famous painter Raphael, but his plans take a dangerous turn when he hurries back to his era, desperate to save a dying girl.

Bee never wanted to move to New Jersey. When a neighbor shows Bee a sketch that perfectly resembles her, Bee, freaked out, solidifies her resolve to keep to herself. But then she meets a friendly cat and discovers a mysterious cabinet in her neighbor’s attic–a cabinet that leads her to Renaissance Rome. Bee, who has learned about Raphael and Michelangelo in school, never expected she’d get to meet them and see them paint their masterpieces.

Booklist and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): mystery, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: art history, cats, Renaissance, Rome, Italy, portals, magic, time travel, 16th Century, Michelangelo, DaVinci, Raphael, painters, artists, hostages, popes
  • Protagonist description: boy and girl, both age 11, girl is Italian American

*Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L. D. Lapinski

Originally published in 2020 in the UK. Debut author! When twelve-year-old Flick Hudson accidentally ends up in the Strangeworlds Travel Agency, she uncovers a fantastic secret: there are hundreds of other worlds just steps away from hers. All you have to do to visit them is just jump into the right suitcase. Then Flick gets the invitation of a lifetime: join Strangeworlds’ magical travel society and explore other worlds.

But, unbeknownst to Flick, the world at the very center of it all, a city called Five Lights, is in danger. Buildings and even streets are mysteriously disappearing. Once Flick realizes what’s happening she must race against time, travelling through unchartered worlds, seeking a way to fix Five Lights before it collapses into nothingness–and takes her world with it.

Publishers Weekly and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): adventure, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-9
  • Themes: other worlds, magic, travel, exploration, England
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 12, white, British

Pawcasso by Remy Lai

Every Saturday, Pawcasso trots into town with a basket, a shopping list, and cash in paw to buy groceries for his family. One day, he passes eleven-year-old Jo, peering out the window of her house, bored and lonely. Astonished by the sight of an adorable basket-toting dog on his own, Jo follows Pawcasso, and when she’s seen alongside him by a group of kids from her school, they mistake her for Pawcasso’s owner.

Excited to make new friends, Jo reluctantly hides the truth and agrees to let “her” dog model for an art class the kids attend. What could go wrong? But what starts as a Chihuahua-sized lie quickly grows Great Dane-sized when animal control receives complaints about a dog roaming the streets off-leash. With Pawcasso’s freedom at stake, is Jo willing to spill the truth and risk her new friendships?

  • Genre(s): graphic novel
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: dogs, animals, personification, lies, summer break, loneliness, art, painting, friendship
  • Protagonist description: girl, Asian American, age 11

The Mending Summer by Ali Standish

For Georgia, this summer is shaping up to be a big disappointment. Mama is busy studying for her biology degree. Daddy is working nights, and often the man who comes home isn’t Daddy. He’s a man who looks like Daddy, but walks a little wobbly. Who sounds like Daddy, but sings a little too loud. Georgia calls him the Shadow Man.

So now, instead of riding horses with her friends at camp, Georgia is sent off to the country to stay with her mysterious great-aunt for the summer to avoid her parents’ fighting.

There, a lonely Georgia meets a mysterious friend named Angela and together, they discover a magical lake–one that can make wishes come true. At first, the lake offers Georgia a thrilling escape from her worries and hope that she can use its magic to heal her family. But as things grow worse at home, a troubled boy appears at the lake and the wishes threaten to spiral out of control…

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: summer break, alcoholic parent, addiction, great aunts, family problems, arguing parents, loneliness, wishes, magic, lakes, North Carolina
  • Protagonist description: girl, white, age 12, American

*Memory Jars by Vera Brosgol

Freda is devastated when she can’t eat all the delicious blueberries she’s picked. She has to wait a whole year before they’re back, and she doesn’t want to lose them! Then Gran reminds her that they can save blueberries in a jar, as jam. So Freda begins to save all her favorite things. But it turns out that saving everything also means she can’t enjoy anything, and Freda realizes that some things are best saved as memories.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: memories, saving things, favorite things, grandmothers, collecting, food preservation, cooking, recipes
  • Protagonist description: Black girl, elementary age; grandmother is also Black

*We All Play by Julie Flett

This book celebrates diversity and the interconnectedness of nature through an Indigenous perspective, complete with a glossary of Cree words for wild animals at the back of the book, and children repeating a Cree phrase throughout the book. Readers will encounter birds who chase and chirp, bears who wiggle and wobble, whales who swim and squirt, owls who peek and peep, and a diverse group of kids who love to do the same, shouting: “We play too! / kimetawanaw mina!’

Kirkus and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: Cree language, animals, nature, Indigenous peoples, #ownvoices, glossary
  • Protagonist description: children in the story have a range of skin tones

Show Us Where You Live, Humpback by Beryl Young (Author) and Sakika Kikuchi (Illustrator)

Swimming, singing, and blowing bubbles–children and baby whales love many of the same things! This lyrical picture book shows us how whales’ underwater lives are touchingly like our own. Patterned in a call-and-response format, Show Us Where You Live, Humpback is a great bedtime read-aloud.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: whales, bedtime stories, nature, animals, baby animals
  • Protagonist description: olive-skinned child and mother

It Began with Lemonade by Gideon Sterer (Author) and Lian Cho (Illustrator)

One scorching hot summer day, a spunky young girl decides to sell lemonade…only to find there are too many other young entrepreneurs on her street with the same idea. So she sets off with her lemonade stand and ends up at the river’s edge, where she discovers a most unexpected, quirky, and very thirsty clientele.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: entrepreneurship, lemonade stands, ingenuity, problem solving, thirst, alliteration, similes, imagination
  • Protagonist description: nameless girl with dark hair and tan skin; her neighborhood is diverse

Brave as a Mouse by Nicolo Carozzi

A goldfish and a mouse become fast friends as they play in and around the goldfish’s bowl. But when three cats crash the party and terrify the poor goldfish, the brave little mouse gets an idea. She leads the three black cats on a wild and epic chase up and down and over and around until they find themselves surrounded by absolutely irresistible food in the pantry.

The cats gorge themselves so much that they fall into a deep sleep, but the mouse knows they won’t sleep forever. So the brave little mouse gets another idea to keep the goldfish out of harm’s way for good!

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: cats, goldfish, mice, friendship, safety
  • Protagonist description: all characters are animals (3 black cats, goldfish, brown and white mice)

*Dear Treefrog by Joyce Sidman (Author) and Diana Sudyka (Illustrator)

When a shy girl moves to a strange new home, she discovers a treefrog perched in a secret spot nearby and learns that sometimes, all it takes to connect with the people and the world around us is a little patience, a curious mind, and a willingness to see the world through a different perspective than your own.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book, poetry
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: nature, tree frogs, shyness, moving, new kid in town, loneliness, noticing details
  • Protagonist description: white-skinned girl with straight black hair and almond-shaped eyes

The Gravity Tree: The True Story of a Tree That Inspired the World by Anna Crowley Redding (Author) and Yas Imamura (Illustrator)

A tree may seem like a rather ordinary thing. But hundreds of years ago, a tree was about to embark on an extraordinary journey. And it all started with just a speck of a seed…

It began in the 1600s with a seed that became the tree that grew the apple that fell right before Isaac Newton’s eyes. This seemingly simple event sparked one of the greatest scientific discoveries–Newton’s theory of gravity! A chain reaction of ideas and discoveries followed from the likes of Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, who traveled to the place where these scientific journeys began–Isaac’s tree.

Kirkus starred. I love when these Spotlights teach me something new! I’ve of course heard the story of Isaac Newton and the apple, but I didn’t realize this tree actually exists and is still alive! Further, it’s become a place for scientists and others to visit and reflect. How cool! This book will fit nicely into STEAM units or any unit that focuses on physics, trees, gravity, or important scientists.

  • Genre(s): informational picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: Sir Isaac Newton, scientists, gravity, physics, apples, botany, plants, trees
  • Protagonist description: white British man born in the 17th Century

Dessert Island by Ben Zhu

Debut author! Monkey is on a dessert island. It is made of frosting, berries, and other delicious things.

Fox is on a desert island. It is made of dirt, rocks, and sand.

But as time goes on, their fortunes change, and Monkey and Fox discover that no animal is an island.

This wonderfully layered story has themes of consumption and conservation at its center, and wraps up with a sweet and satisfying ending.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: desserts, islands, monkeys, foxes, spelling, homophones, storms, kindness
  • Protagonist description: characters are animals–yellow monkey and orange fox





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.



  • Remy Lai is from Australia, so I wonder if Pawcasso is set there or if it is not really evident US or Australia? We’ve just selected her previous book Fly on the Wall as a Panda Book Award Middle Readers nominated title for the 2021-2022 school year. I’m excited to add her books to my library’s collection!

    • Awww…the Panda Awards! I know them from my years in Shanghai!


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