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New Release Spotlight: June 22, 2021

A slightly shorter list this week due to Claudette (a tropical depression for us last week). We got a ton of rain for several days, which causes our internet to slow to a crawl. Adding insult to injury, Titlewave–critical to the Spotlights–was down all day on Saturday.

This week’s top picks:

  • Darling by K. Ancrum (YA)
  • Chunky by Yehudi Mercado (MG)
  • My Monster Moofy by Annie Watson (PB)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1734-#1748 on The Ginormous book list.

*Blackout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, et. al.

A summer heatwave blankets New York City in darkness. But as the city is thrown into confusion, a different kind of electricity sparks…

A first meeting.

Long-time friends.

Bitter exes.

And maybe the beginning of something new.

When the lights go out, people reveal hidden truths. Love blossoms, friendship transforms, and new possibilities take flight.

Beloved authors–Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon–celebrate the beauty of six couples and the unforgettable magic that can be found on a sweltering starry night in the city.

Booklist and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): short stories, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: summer, heatwaves. blackouts, African Americans, LGBTQIA+
  • Protagonist description: multiple Black characters, some are queer

*Violet Ghosts by Leah Thomas

Set in 2002. Dani’s best friend, Sarah, is a ghost. But maybe that’s normal when you’ve spent your childhood running from an abusive parent.

Dani and Sarah might be more than friends, though Dani dares not say so. Dani is afraid that if he tells Sarah he’s trans, she won’t bother haunting him anymore. Sarah’s got good reason to distrust boys, having been strangled by one.

After Sarah and Dani come across another ghost haunted by her own brutal murder, they set out to bring peace and safety to spirits like her. But when an old rival reenters Dani’s life, their unexpected friendship gives Dani a strange new feeling of belonging. As Dani starts to find his place in the living world, he’ll need to let go of his ghosts.

Kirkus and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): supernatural, magical realism
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: abusive parent, ghosts, best friends, transgender, murder, coming out, toxic masculinity, violence
  • Protagonist description: transgender boy, age 15

My Contrary Mary by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

The Lady Janies, book 1. Told in three alternating voices. Welcome to Renaissance France, a place of poison and plots, of beauties and beasts, of mice and…queens?

Mary is the queen of Scotland and the jewel of the French court. Except when she’s a mouse. Yes, reader, Mary is an Eðian (shapeshifter) in a kingdom where Verities rule. It’s a secret that could cost her a head–or a tail.

Luckily, Mary has a confidant in her betrothed, Francis. But things at the gilded court take a treacherous turn after the king meets a suspicious end. Thrust onto the throne, Mary and Francis face a viper’s nest of conspiracies, traps, and treason. And if Mary’s secret is revealed, heads are bound to roll.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: shapeshifters, France, Renaissance, French history, murder, betrothals, secrets, Mary Queen of Scots, royalty, LGBTQIA+, 16th Century, Nostradamus, puns, Disney references
  • Protagonist description: all main characters are white

Between You, Me, and the Honeybees by Amelia Diane Coombs

Josie Hazeldine has just graduated from high school, and she’s ready for a summer full of sunshine, beekeeping, and…lying to her mom.

Josie’s mom couldn’t be more proud of her daughter going to college, something she never got to do. But Josie wants to stay in her California hometown and take over the family business, Hazeldine Honey. So that college acceptance her mom is thrilled about? Yeah, Josie turned it down. But she’s going to come clean–just not yet.

The neighbor’s artsy, adorable grandson who’s in town for the summer makes Josie’s web of lies even more tangled. He’s into Josie and the feeling is very mutual, but he’s a Blumstein–the sworn enemy of the Hazeldines and their number one competition in the annual Honey Show at the end of July. As their secret fling goes on, Josie knows she’s getting in way too deep to leave him behind when summer’s over.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: beekeeping, summer, teens with jobs, family businesses, secrets, lies, grandmothers, Parkinson’s Disease, anxiety, California
  • Protagonist description: American girl, white, recent high school graduate

The Tragedy of Dane Riley by Kat Spears

Dane Riley’s grasp on reality is slipping, and he’s not sure that he cares. While his mother has moved on after his father’s death, Dane desperately misses the man who made Dane feel okay to be himself. He can’t stand his mother’s boyfriend, or the boyfriend’s son, whose favorite pastime is tormenting Dane. Then there’s the girl next door: Dane can’t quite define their relationship, and he doesn’t know if he’s got the courage to leave the friend zone.

An emotional novel about mental health, and dealing with grief and growing up, The Tragedy of Dane Riley is the story of a teenager looking to make sense of his feelings in the wake of tragedy, and finding the strength he needs to make life worth living.

This is a contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: death of a parent (father), bullying, mental health, grief, coming of age, Hamlet, Shakespeare, Virginia, suicide
  • Protagonist description: Dane is white; Ophelia is biracial (Black and white)

Darling by K. Ancrum

On Wendy Darling’s first night in Chicago, a boy called Peter appears at her window. He’s dizzying, captivating, beautiful―so she agrees to join him for a night on the town.

Wendy thinks they’re heading to a party, but instead they’re soon running in the city’s underground. She makes friends―a punk girl named Tinkerbelle and the lost boys Peter watches over. And she makes enemies―the terrifying Detective Hook, and maybe Peter himself, as his sinister secrets start coming to light. Can Wendy find the courage to survive this night―and make sure everyone else does, too?

  • Genre(s): thriller, retelling, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: Peter Pan, Chicago, overprotective parents, recklessness, city underground, found families
  • Protagonist description: Wendy Darling is Black and American; Peter Pan is white; lots of diversity in secondary characters

Fierce as the Wind by Tara Wilson Redd

When Miho’s boyfriend breaks up with her without warning, all she can see is red–the color of blinding fury and pain, and the color of the fire she sets in an oil drum on the beach, burning every scrap of their memories.

It’s spring of senior year in Oahu, and while her friends are getting ready for college, Miho’s deep in her misery, delivering pizzas on her bike. But then inspiration strikes: she’ll do a triathlon. The training is brutal for a girl who has never even run a mile–though she can bike and swim. With the constant support of her friends and her dad, Miho digs deep to find just how fierce her determination is and how many obstacles she can overcome.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: Hawaii, heartbreak, teens with jobs, triathlons, racing, physical training, perseverance, overcoming obstacles, fathers and daughters
  • Protagonist description: Miho is multiracial–Black, Japanese, and others

Ahmed Aziz’s Epic Year by Nina Hamza

Debut author! Ahmed Aziz is having an epic year–epically bad.

After his dad gets sick, the family moves from Hawaii to Minnesota for his dad’s treatment. Even though his dad grew up there, Ahmed can’t imagine a worse place to live. He’s one of the only brown kids in his school. And as a proud slacker, Ahmed doesn’t want to deal with expectations from his new teachers.

Ahmed surprises himself by actually reading the assigned books for his English class: Holes, Bridge to Terabithia, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Shockingly, he doesn’t hate them. Ahmed also starts learning about his uncle, who died before Ahmed was born. Getting bits and pieces of his family’s history might be the one upside of the move, as his dad’s health hangs in the balance and the school bully refuses to leave him alone. Will Ahmed ever warm to Minnesota?

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: parent illness (father), Hawaii, Minnesota, school difficulties, reading, bullying, #ownvoices
  • Protagonist description: Indian boy, age 12, Muslim

My Own World by Mike Holmes

Life is difficult for nine-year-old Nathan. All he dreams of is hanging out with his older brother, watching Raiders of the Lost Ark, and enjoying summer vacation far away from the neighborhood bullies.

When he overhears his parents talking about a family crisis, he seeks sanctuary from his troubles. In an abandoned lighthouse, Nathan discovers a portal to a berry-colored world where time has little meaning and he, finally, is in control. There, his imagination takes him on wondrous adventures, across seas and through the air, with new extraordinary friends of his own creation. In his magical hideaway, Nathan is safe from the anxieties of his life–but can he bring himself to face the real world?

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, magical realism
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: brothers, illness, bullying, family problems, lighthouses, imagination, magic, summer, escapism
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 9, white

Chunky by Yehudi Mercado

Hudi needs to lose weight, according to his doctors. Concerned about the serious medical issue Hudi had when he was younger, his parents push him to try out for sports. Hudi would rather do anything else, but then he meets Chunky, his imaginary friend and mascot. Together, they decide to give baseball a shot.

As the only Mexican and Jewish kid in his neighborhood, Hudi has found the cheerleader he never had. Baseball doesn’t go well (unless getting hit by the ball counts), but the two friends have a great time drawing and making jokes. While Hudi’s parents keep trying to find the right sport for Hudi, Chunky encourages him to pursue his true love–comedy.

But when Hudi’s dad loses his job, it gets harder for Hudi to chart his own course, even with Chunky’s guidance. Can Chunky help Hudi stay true to himself or will this friendship strike out?

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, humor, memoir
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: weight problems, imaginary friends, baseball, sports, comedy, parental job loss, fitting in
  • Protagonist description: boy, Mexican, Jewish, middle school age

Kyle’s Little Sister by BonHyung Jeong

Having a good-looking, friendly, outgoing older brother sucks–especially when you’re the total opposite, someone who likes staying home and playing video games. Your parents like him better (even if they deny it!), and everyone calls you “Kyle’s little sister” while looking disappointed that you’re not more like him.

I was really hoping I’d get to go to a different middle school, but no such luck. At least I have my friends…until he finds a way to ruin that, too…! Argh! What do I have to do to get out of his shadow?!

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: sibling rivalry, jealousy, middle school, popularity, feeling in the shadow of a sibling, fighting with best friends, depression, gamers
  • Protagonist description: girl, white, sixth grader

Jukebox by Nidhi Chanani

A mysterious jukebox, old vinyl records, and cryptic notes on music history, are Shaheen’s only clues to her father’s abrupt disappearance. She looks to her cousin, Tannaz, who seems just as perplexed, before they both turn to the jukebox which starts…glowing?

Suddenly, the girls are pulled from their era and transported to another time! Keyed to the music on the record, the jukebox sends them through decade after decade of music history, from political marches, to landmark concerts. But can they find Shaheen’s dad before the music stops?

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: music history, missing parent (father), cousins, jukeboxes, civil rights, concerts, time travel
  • Protagonist description: girl, Italian Bangladeshi, age 12; secondary characters are diverse

All We Need by Kathy Wolff (Author) and Margaux Meganck (Illustrator)

Each bustling day in our busy world, we can take a moment to appreciate the little things. From the simplest essentials like air and water to the wonderful warmth of family, friends, and neighbors, there is so much in life to be thankful for.

Kathy Wolff’s melodic verse and Margaux Meganck’s lush and cozy city scenes follow three families through moments of daily discovery and joy, culminating in a celebration of community and giving.

When we have all we need, plus a little to spare, the only need left…is to share.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: life’s simple things, nature, water, community, being thankful, joy, sharing
  • Protagonist description: families are diverse

Indelible Ann: The Larger-Than-Life Story of Governor Ann Richards by Meghan P. Browne (Author) and Carlynn Whitt (Illustrator)

Debut author! Dorothy Ann Willis hailed from a small Texas town, but early on she found her voice and the guts to use it.

During her childhood in San Diego and her high school years back in Texas (when she dropped the “Dorothy”), Ann discovered a spark and passion for civic duty. It led her all the way to Washington, DC, where she, along with other girls from around the country, learned about the business of politics.

Fast forward to Ann taking on the political boys’ club: she became county commissioner, then state treasurer, and finally governor of Texas. In this stunning picture book biography, full of vim, vigor, and folksy charm, two Texan creators take us through the life of the legendary “big mouth, big hair” governor of Texas, a woman who was inspired by Eleanor Roosevelt, and in turn became an inspiration to Hillary Clinton and countless others.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: governors, Texas, Ann Richards, politicians, feminism
  • Protagonist description: American woman, white

My Monster Moofy by Annie Watson (Author) and Eric Zelz (Illustrator)

“There’s a monster under my bed who changes like a chameleon. He can be motionless like a rock with a tail, or he can strike with blinding speed, like a lightning bolt with claws. My monster’s name is Moofy. His ears are as pointy as tortilla chips. His tongue is as pink as bubblegum, and his teeth are as sharp as swords. By day, Moofy is a fur rug in the sunshine. By night, he’s a pair of glowing headlights in the darkness.”

With those opening lines, we’ve already encountered similes using like, similes using as, and metaphors.

Personifications, idioms, hyperboles, allusions, and much more lie ahead. But this isn’t a writing guide, it’s a picture book story about a little monster who oozes personality. The first pages leave us guessing, but kids will soon figure out, to their delight, that Moofy’s a cat. And what else could this furball of mischief be?

Kirkus starred. Speaking as a secondary English teacher, and this book sounds like a dream for teaching figurative language!

  • Genre(s): picture book for older readers
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3; I would use this in a secondary English class to teach figurative language.
  • Themes: figurative language, metaphors, similes, alliteration, rhyme, allusion, hyperbole, personification, monsters, writing, cats
  • Protagonist description: young girl with beige skin and dark hair






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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