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New Release Spotlight: August 10, 2021

Considering last week’s huge list, I did not expect this week to be so small. There are only four YA titles this week, but WOW, are they strong! There are 11 starred reviews amongst the four YA titles! Middle grades and picture books have some good titles–it’s just not a very long list. The MG and PB titles that really jump out at me are Hope Springs by Jaime Berry and Pumpkin Heads by Wendell Minor.

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1833-#1845 on The Ginormous book list.

*How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

When her twin sister reaches social media stardom, Moon Fuentez accepts her fate as the ugly, unwanted sister hidden in the background, destined to be nothing more than her sister’s camerawoman. But this summer, Moon also takes a job as the “merch girl” on a tour bus full of beautiful influencers and her fate begins to shift in the best way possible.

Most notable is her bunkmate and new nemesis, Santiago Phillips, who is grumpy, combative, and also the hottest guy Moon has ever seen.

Moon is certain she hates Santiago and that he hates her back. But as chance and destiny (and maybe, probably, close proximity) bring the two of them in each other’s perpetual paths, Moon starts to wonder if that’s really true. She even starts to question her destiny as the unnoticed, unloved wallflower she always thought she was.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): magical realism, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: twins, sisters, social media influencers, jealousy, family problems, mothers and daughters, fat shaming, homophobia, abuse, coming of age, photography, fate, destiny
  • Protagonist description: girl, Mexican American, age 17, fat

*In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers: The Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, Months, and Years after the 9/11 Attacks by Don Brown

A graphic novel chronicling the immediate aftermath and rippling effects of one of the most impactful days in modern history: September 11, 2001. From the Sibert Honor and YALSA Award–winning creator behind The Unwanted and Drowned City.

The consequences of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, both political and personal, were vast, and continue to reverberate today. Don Brown brings his journalistic eye and attention to moving individual stories to help teens contextualize what they already know about the day, as well as broaden their understanding of the chain of events that occurred in the attack’s wake.

SLJ and Hornbook starred.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: September 11, 2001, 9/11, terrorism, US History, New York City, war, interrogation tactics

*In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

Life in a small Appalachian town is not easy. Cash lost his mother to an opioid addiction and his Papaw is dying slowly from emphysema. Dodging drug dealers and watching out for his best friend, Delaney, is second nature. He’s been spending his summer mowing lawns while she works at Dairy Queen.

But when Delaney manages to secure both of them full rides to an elite prep school in Connecticut, Cash will have to grapple with his need to protect and love Delaney, and his love for the grandparents who saved him and the town he would have to leave behind.

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: opioid addiction, grief, Tennessee, death of a parent (mother), chronic illness, emphysema, teens with jobs, grandparents, moving on, growing up, poetry, scholarship students, private school
  • Protagonist description: boy and girl, both white, both teens

*Rainbow in the Dark by Sean McGinty

High school senior Rainbow is trapped with three other teens in a game-like world that may or may not be real. Together, they must complete quests and gain experience in order to access their own forgotten memories, decode what has happened to them, and find a portal home.

As Rainbow’s memories slowly return, the story of a lonely teen facing senior year as the new kid in a small town emerges. Surreal, absurdist humor balances sensitively handled themes of suicide, depression, and the search for identity in an unpredictable and ultimately hopeful page-turner that’s perfect for fans of Shaun David Hutchinson, Adam Silvera, and Libba Bray’s Going Bovine.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): science fiction, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: virtual reality, memories, puzzles, going home, suicide, depression, mental health
  • Protagonist description: protagonist identity is ambiguous–no race, gender, ethnicity given

Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko

Debut author! Zee Puckett loves ghost stories. She just never expected to be living one.

It all starts with a dark and stormy night. When the skies clear, everything is different. People are missing. There’s a creepy new principal who seems to know everyone’s darkest dreams. And Zee is seeing frightening things: large, scary dogs that talk and maybe even…a ghost.

When she tells her classmates, only her best friend Elijah believes her. Worse, mean girl Nellie gives Zee a cruel nickname: Ghost Girl.

But whatever the storm washed up isn’t going away. Everyone’s most selfish wishes start coming true in creepy ways.

To fight for what’s right, Zee will have to embrace what makes her different and what makes her Ghost Girl. And all three of them–Zee, Elijah, and Nellie–will have to work together if they want to give their ghost story a happy ending.

  • Genre(s): mystery, supernatural, horror
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: ghosts, talking dogs, Frankenstein, bullying
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 11, presumed white

Space Explorers: 25 Extraordinary Stories of Space Exploration and Adventure by Libby Jackson (Author) and Léonard Dupond (Illustrator)

The universe has always fascinated humans, but only a few have been daring enough to travel beyond the surface of the Earth. From the first man and woman in space to the moon landings to building the International Space Station in orbit, the history of space exploration is filled with peril, bravery, and strokes of genius.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction, biography
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: space exploration, moon landings, International Space Station, world history, outer space, science, astronauts, commercial space flight, Mars, NASA, Sputnik, Space Race
  • Protagonist description: multiple biographical people of various races and ethnicities

The Other Side of Luck by Ginger Johnson

Ever since her mother’s death, Princess Una has suffered through years of loneliness in the royal palace, where girls are treated as an afterthought. She yearns for a different life but is unsure how to make anyone notice her. Then her father announces a special contest: Whoever finds the rare Silva Flower can present it to Una for her twelfth birthday and receive a reward. Frustrated by her father’s grand but empty gesture, Una decides to take her fate into her own hands.

Julien, a young pauper, has tried his whole life to make something of nothing, alongside his hardworking Baba. When Baba is arrested by terrifying debt collectors, Julien’s only hope to save his father is to win the palace contest–to find the elusive Silva Flower. Little does he know that Una has decided to embark on a journey to find the prize, as well. As Una and Julien search for the flower, their destinies intertwine and offer a reward greater than anything either could ever hope for: the feeling of belonging.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: princesses, royalty, grief, death of a parent (mother), gender roles, debt, poverty, social class, quests, journeys, friendship
  • Protagonist description: girl, princess, age 12, Black; boy, pauper, age 12, no race or skin tone specified

Elfie Unperfect by Kristin Mahoney

Elfie Oster was sure that Hampshire Academy was going to be the perfect school for her. She was sure about it right up to the minute she got expelled. On her first day.

It was all a terrible misunderstanding, but until she can find a way to fix things, Elfie has to go back to Cottonwood Elementary for fifth grade. Where she’s never really fit in. Or had friends. It is not a perfect situation. And then it gets worse. Her babysitter gets really sick. Her aunt and uncle aren’t speaking. She’s forced to do a group project involving an egg…

But sometimes when everything goes spectacularly wrong, you figure out what truly matters–and what doesn’t. So really, this terrible, horrible, surprisingly hilarious year may just be the best thing that’s ever happened to Elfie.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: school, fifth grade, not fitting in, being expelled from school, cousins, social-emotional skills
  • Protagonist description: girl, 5th grader, white

Hope Springs by Jaime Berry

Eleven-year-old Jubilee Johnson is an expert at three things: crafting, moving, and avoiding goodbyes. On the search for the “perfect place,” she and her Nan live by their Number One Relocation Rule–just the two of them is all they need. But Jubilee’s starting to feel like just two is a little too close to alone.

Desperate to settle down, Jubilee plans their next move, Hope Springs, Texas–home of her TV crafting idol, Arletta Paisley. Here she meets a girl set on winning the local fishing tournament and a boy who says exactly the right thing by hardly speaking at all. Soon, Jubilee wonders if Hope Springs might just be the place to call home.

But when the town is threatened by a mega-chain superstore fronted by Arletta Paisley, Jubilee is faced with skipping town yet again or standing up to her biggest bully yet. With the help of her new friends and the one person she never thought she’d need–her Momma–will Jubilee find a way to save the town she’s come to love and convince Nan that it’s finally time to settle down?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: grandparents, grandmothers, community, friendship, Texas, home, TV idols, bullies, mothers and daughters
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 11, white

*Anteaters, Bats & Boas: The Amazon Rainforest from the Forest Floor to the Treetops by Roxie Munro

Bright, realistic illustrations of a busy Amazon rain forest depict a plethora of creatures, all drawn to size, going about their daily lives, from a family of three-toed sloths to a foldout of an anteater. Accompanying the rich artwork are descriptions of the animals that reveal their habits and relationship to this vital habitat. All the spreads fit together into a panorama of all four layers of an Amazonian rainforest. A key that shows how the pages smartly fit together so that readers can retrace their journey is also included.

Over half the world’s plant and animal species live in tropical rain forests such as the Amazon. Protecting rain forests from the devastating effects of logging, mining, and climate change is essential to ensure the survival of so many fascinating creatures. A description of the four layers of the rainforest, an index, a map of rainforests worldwide, and a section on protecting rain forests are included. Budding conservationists will love immersing themselves in one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.

Booklist and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-5
  • Themes: Amazon rainforest, animals, nature, sloth, anteater, habitats, layers of forest, conservation, climate change, biodiversity

Pumpkin Heads by Wendell Minor

Award-winning author and artist Wendell Minor uses simple language and striking autumn settings to celebrate jack-o’-lanterns in this reissue of a Halloween classic. The perfect holiday read aloud, Pumpkin Heads takes readers and trick-or-treaters from the pumpkin patch for picking, all the way home for carving, and gets everyone in the Halloween spirit.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: Halloween, jack-o’-lanterns, pumpkins, autumn, fall, holiday stories, detailed illustrations, October, trick-or-treating
  • Protagonist description: young trick-or-treaters wearing costumes

The First Blade of Sweetgrass by Suzanne Greenlaw (Author), Gabriel Frey (Author), and Nancy Baker (Illustrator)

Musquon must overcome her impatience while learning to distinguish sweetgrass from other salt marsh grasses, but slowly the spirit and peace of her surroundings speak to her, and she gathers sweetgrass as her ancestors have done for centuries, leaving the first blade she sees to grow for future generations.

This sweet, authentic story from a Maliseet mother and her Passamaquoddy husband includes backmatter about traditional basket making and a Wabanaki glossary.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: salt marshes, peace, ancestors, Wabanaki, Native Americans, indigenous peoples, patience, grandmothers, tradition, conservation
  • Protagonist description: Native American girl and her grandmother

I Can Help by Reem Faruqi (Author) and Mikela Prevost (Illustrator)

When Ms. Underwood asks if anyone wants to help Kyle, Zahra always volunteers. She loves spending time with Kyle–he’s creative and generous, and he makes the funniest jokes at lunch. But when Zahra’s other classmates start teasing her for helping him, she starts making choices she regrets.

I Can Help is a gentle, sensitive portrayal of reaching out, facing peer pressure, and learning from past mistakes. With thoughtful storytelling and poignant illustrations, this book will open discussions about choosing kindness in the classroom and beyond.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: peer pressure, helpfulness, kindness, bullying, remorse, learning from past mistakes, school stories
  • Protagonist description: brown-skinned girl with black hair; other students in classroom are diverse






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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