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New Release Spotlight: July 27, 2021

Another short list to round out July! This whole month has been pretty small for new releases, but just wait until next week! I did a quick look at the middle grade titles for August 3, and it’s lengthy! Middle grades have been especially lacking this month, and this week is no exception. Similar to last week, this week’s Spotlight features only YA and picture books.

I haven’t picked any “Top Picks” the past few weeks because there isn’t as much to choose from. But this week, I wanted to point out Walls by L.M. Elliott. It reminds me of Ribay’s Patron Saints of Nothing in that it’s about two male cousins separated by political problems and division. I loved Patron Saints, and Walls looks interesting, too!

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1803-#1812 on The Ginormous book list.

They’ll Never Catch Us by Jessica Goodman

Stella and Ellie Steckler are only a year apart, but their different personalities make their relationship complicated. Stella is single-minded, driven, and she keeps to herself. Cross-country running is her life and she won’t let anything get in the way of being the best. Her sister Ellie is a talented runner too, but she also lets herself have fun. She has friends. She goes to parties. She has a life off the course.

The sisters do have one thing in common, though: the new girl, Mila Keene. Both Stecklers’ lives are upended when Mila comes to town. At first, Ellie and Stella view the new star athlete as a threat. But soon Ellie can’t help but be drawn to her warm, charming personality. After her best friend moved away and her first boyfriend betrayed her, Ellie’s been looking for a friend to share her secrets. Stella finds herself noticing the ways she and Mila are similar. Mila is smart and strong–she’s someone Stella can finally connect with. As the two get closer, Stella becomes something she vowed she’d never be: distracted.

With regionals approaching and college scouts taking notice, the pressure is on. Each girl has their future on the line and they won’t let friendships get in their way. But then, suddenly, Mila goes out on a training run and never returns. No one knows what happened, but all eyes are on the Steckler sisters.

  • Genre(s): thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: sisters, cross country running, athletes, friendship, missing persons, murder, secrets, competition, misogyny
  • Protagonist description: two teen sisters, high school age, white, Jewish, one sister is queer

Walls by L.M. Elliott

Drew is an army brat, a hotshot athlete poised to be his high school’s star pitcher, when he has to move for the sixth time in fifteen years–this time to West Berlin, where American soldiers like his dad hold an outpost of democracy against communist Russia in Hitler’s former capital. Meanwhile, in East Berlin, his cousin Matthias has grown up in the wreckage left by Allied bombing during World War II, on streets ruled by the Communist Party’s secret police.

From the opposing sides of the Cold War, Drew and Matthias begin to overcome the many ideological walls between them to become wary friends. They argue over the space race, capitalism, socialism, and even the American civil rights movement, and bond over rock ’n’ roll—music outlawed in Matthias’s part of the city. If Matthias is caught by the Stasi’s neighborhood spies with the records or books Drew has given him, he will be sent to a work camp for “re-education.” At the same time, Drew’s friendship with the East Berlin Jugend–who ardently spout communist dogma–raises suspicions about his family’s loyalty to America. As the political situation around them gets all the more dire, Drew and Matthias’s loyalty–to their sector, their countries, their families, and each other–will be tested in ways that will change their lives forever.

Set in the tumultuous year leading up to the surprise overnight raising of the Berlin Wall in August 1961, and punctuated with real-life photographs, headlines, and personalities of the time, Walls brings to vivid life the heroic and tragic choices of the Cold War.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-11
  • Themes: Germany, WWII, communism, capitalism, world history, European history, space race, civil rights, cousins, opposite idealogies, dangerous politics, 1960s, Berlin Wall, Cold War, 1960s pop culture
  • Protagonist description: two boys, both white, one is American and one is East German

When We Were Strangers by Alex Richards

Seventeen-year-old Evie Parker is devastated in the wake of her father’s sudden death. But she knows something her mother doesn’t: the day of his heart attack, her dad was planning to move out. After finding his packed bags, an impulsive Evie puts everything away to spare her mom more heartache.

To make matters worse, Evie soon learns the reason her father was going to leave: he had been dating his twenty-two-year-old receptionist, Bree, who is now six months pregnant. Desperate to distract herself, Evie signs up for a summer photography class, where she meets a motley crew of students, including quirky and adorable Declan. Still, Evie can’t stop thinking about her father’s mistress. Armed with a telephoto lens, she caves in to her curiosity, and what starts as a little bit of spying on Bree quickly becomes full-blown stalking. And when an emergency forces Evie to help Bree, she learns there’s more to the story than she ever knew…

Alex Richards crafts a riveting new story about betrayal, complicated family secrets, and getting to the heart of what matters–ultimately asking readers how far they’d be willing to go to unravel the truth.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: parental separation, grief, death of a parent (father), parental affair, stalking, photography, family problems, alcoholism, Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • Protagonist description: American girl, age 17, white; secondary characters are diverse

The River Has Teeth by Erica Waters

Girls have been going missing in the woods…

When Natasha’s sister disappears, Natasha desperately turns to Della, a local girl rumored to be a witch, in the hopes that magic will bring her sister home.

But Della has her own secrets to hide. She thinks the beast who’s responsible for the disappearances is her own mother–who was turned into a terrible monster by magic gone wrong.

Natasha is angry. Della has little to lose. Both are each other’s only hope.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): horror, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: sisters, missing persons, witches, secrets, monsters, LGBTQIA+, feminism, toxic masculinity, revenge
  • Protagonist description: both main female characters are white and age 16-17

Red Wolf by Rachel Vincent

For as long as sixteen-year-old Adele can remember, the village of Oakvale has been surrounded by the dark wood–a forest filled with terrible monsters. A forest that light itself cannot penetrate.

Unlike her fellow villagers, Adele cannot avoid the dark wood. Adele is one of a long line of guardians: women who secretly take on the form of a wolf, in order to protect their village.

But when accepting her fate means giving up the boy she loves, abandoning the future she imagined for herself, and breaking her own moral code, she must decide how far she is willing to go to keep her neighbors safe.

  • Genre(s): retelling, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: monsters, wolves, shapeshifters, darkness, Little Red Riding Hood, feminism, misogyny
  • Protagonist description: white teen girl

Small Favors by Erin A. Craig

Ellerie Downing is waiting for something to happen. Life in isolated Amity Falls, surrounded by an impenetrable forest, has a predictable sameness. Her days are filled with tending to her family’s beehives, chasing after her sisters, and dreaming of bigger things while her twin, Samuel, is free to roam as he wishes.

Early town settlers fought off monstrous creatures in the woods, and whispers that the creatures still exist keep the Downings and their neighbors from venturing too far. When some townsfolk go missing on a trip to fetch supplies, a heavy unease settles over the Falls.

Strange activities begin to plague the town, and as the seasons change, it’s clear that something is terribly wrong. The creatures are real, and they’re offering to fulfill the residents’ deepest desires, however grand, for just a small favor. These seemingly trifling demands, however, hide sinister intentions. Soon Ellerie finds herself in a race against time to stop Amity Falls, her family, and the boy she loves from going up in flames.

  • Genre(s): horror, retelling
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: bees, sisters, twins, traditional gender roles, monsters, Rumpelstiltskin
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 18, white (most characters default to white)

*I Can Make a Train Noise by Michael Emberley (Author) and Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick (Author)

When a girl shouts “I can make a train noise, now!” her imagination transforms a coffee shop into a zooming train, and her words clickity-clack across the tracks and blare like a train horn.

In a flash, salt shakers and ketchup bottles become skyscrapers, and the girl’s voice rattles along the tracks with “I can make a train noise I can make a train noise.” Her voice whistles “Nowowwwwww!” The propulsive, rhythmic text that mimics train sounds is sure to captivate all kids, pair it with gorgeously detailed artwork and you have a read-aloud like no other.

Hornbook and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 1
  • Themes: trains, transportation, imagination, railroads
  • Protagonist description: children and family are white

If You Were an Elephant by Leslie Staub (Author) and Richard Jones (Illustrator)

If you were an elephant, you’d be the biggest animal who lives on the land. You’d have ears big as tent flaps, skin thick as blankets. You’d turn the next page with your trunk, not your hand.

Chock-full of amazing facts, this joyful read aloud invites readers to follow in the (enormous) footsteps of one of the world’s most remarkable creatures–from munching on bushes and branches all day, to splashing around in water holes and mud baths, to finally curling up with the herd in a pool of moonlight. Kids will love every moment of this playful introduction to the daily sights, sounds, and activities of a young elephant in the wild.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture books
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: animals, elephants, fact book, nature
  • Protagonist description: elephants

A Life Electric by Azadeh Westergaard (Author) and Júlia Sardà (Illustrator)

Born at the stroke of midnight during a lightning storm, Nikola Tesla grew up to become one of the most important electrical inventors in the world. But before working with electricity, he was a child who loved playing with the animals on his family’s farm in Serbia.

An inventor since childhood, Tesla’s patents encompassed everything from radar and remote-control technology to wireless communications. But his greatest invention was the AC induction motor, which used alternating currents ( AC) to distribute electricity and which remains the standard for electric distribution today. Tesla’s love of animals also remained constant throughout his life and led to his anointment as the Pigeon Charmer of New York for his devotion to nature’s original wireless messengers.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-5
  • Themes: STEAM, Nikola Tesla, inventors, electricity, Serbia, 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, science
  • Protagonist description: boy/man, white, all people in illustrations are white

*When Grandfather Flew by Patricia Maclachlan (Author) and Chris Sheban (Illustrator)

Milo’s grandfather is fascinated with birds. He admires their freedom and never loses an opportunity to point out the things that make them special. He can’t see like he used to, so Milo helps him spot and take care of some of his favorites: hovering Kestrels, fragile Chickadees, and the soaring Bald Eagle. One day when Milo comes home, Grandpa isn’t there, but when he sees a Bald Eagle swoop through the sky above, he knows Grandpa got his wish of being reborn in the skies.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: grandfathers, birds, grief, death of a loved one, reincarnation, family, animals
  • Protagonist description: pale-skinned boy and his family

 

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (YA):

ABOUT THE SPOTLIGHT

The New Release Spotlight began in May 2016 as a way to help librarians keep up with the many new children’s and YA books that are released each week. Every Tuesday, school librarian Leigh Collazo compiles the New Release Spotlight using a combination of Follett’s Titlewave, Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes and Noble. As always, titles with a * by them received two or more starred professional reviews. Recommended grade levels represent the range of grade levels recommended by professional book reviewers.

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