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New Release Spotlight: August 24, 2021

Another short list for August! Get ready though–September is a huge month for new book releases! This list is too short for me to pick any favorites. Topics and themes this week include: transgender teens, vampires, witches, war, and forest fires. I preordered Witch for Hire for my 14-year old son, who loves graphic novels.

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1856-#1866 on The Ginormous book list.

*Bad Witch Burning by Jessica Lewis

Katrell can talk to the dead. And she wishes it made more money. She’s been able to support her unemployed mother–and Mom’s deadbeat-boyfriend-of-the-week–so far, but it isn’t enough. Money’s still tight, and to complicate things, Katrell has started to draw attention. Not from this world–from beyond. And it comes with a warning: STOP or there will be consequences.

Katrell is willing to call the ghosts on their bluff; she has no choice. What do ghosts know of having sleep for dinner? But when her next summoning accidentally raises someone from the dead, Katrell realizes that a live body is worth a lot more than a dead apparition. And, warning or not, she has no intention of letting this lucrative new business go.

Only magic isn’t free, and dark forces are coming to collect. Now Katrell faces a choice: resign herself to poverty, or confront the darkness before it’s too late.

Publishers Weekly and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): supernatural, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: supernatural abilities, poverty, ghosts, witches, psychological abuse, homelessness, teens with jobs, magic, evil
  • Protagonist description: female witch, Black, age 16; all primary characters are Black

Beyond the Mapped Stars by Rosalyn Eves

Utah, 1878. Seventeen-year-old Elizabeth Bertelsen dreams of becoming an astronomer, but she knows such dreams are as unreachable as the stars she so deeply adores. As a Mormon girl, her duty is to her family and, in a not too far away future, to the man who’ll choose to marry her.

When she unexpectedly finds herself in Colorado, she’s tempted by the total eclipse of the sun that’s about to happen–and maybe even meeting up with the female scientists she’s long admired. Elizabeth must learn to navigate this new world of possibility: with her familial duties and faith tugging at her heartstrings, a new romance on the horizon, and the study of the night sky calling to her, she can’t possibly have it all…can she?

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: Mormons, traditional gender roles, astronomy, Colorado, science, religion, eclipses, 19th Century, sexism, racism
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, white, Mormon

*Both Sides Now by Peyton Thomas

There’s only one thing standing between Finch Kelly and a full-blown case of high school senioritis: the National Speech & Debate Tournament. Taking home the gold would not only be the pinnacle of Finch’s debating career, but the perfect way to launch himself into his next chapter: college in Washington, DC, and a history-making career as the first trans congressman. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, for starters, Finch could develop a teeny tiny crush on his very attractive, very taken, and very gay debate partner, Jonah. Never mind that Finch has never considered whether he’s interested in more than just girls. And that dream of college in DC? Finch hasn’t exactly been accepted anywhere yet, let alone received the full-ride scholarship he’ll need to make this dream a reality.

Worst of all, though, is this year’s topic for Nationals: transgender rights. If he wants to cinch the gold, and get into college, Finch might have to argue against his own humanity.

People say there are two sides to every argument. But, as Finch is about to discover, some things–like who you are and who you love–are not up for debate.

Booklist and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: LGBTQIA+, transgender teens, speech, debate, politics, coming of age, bathroom access for transgender students, anti-Asian racism
  • Protagonist description: transgender boy, white, age 17; love interest Jonah is Filipino American

Vampires, Hearts & Other Dead Things by Margie Fuston

Victoria and her dad have shared a love of the undead since the first vampire revealed his existence on live TV. Public fear soon drove the vampires back into hiding, yet Victoria and her father still dream about finding a vampire together. But when her dad is diagnosed with terminal cancer, it’s clear that’s not going to happen. Instead, Victoria vows to find a vampire herself–so that she can become one and then save her father.

Armed with research, speculations, and desperation–and helped by her estranged best friend, Henry–Victoria travels to New Orleans in search of a miracle. There she meets Nicholas, a mysterious young man who might give her what she desires. But first, he needs Victoria to prove she loves life enough to live forever.

She agrees to complete a series of challenges, from scarfing sugar-drenched beignets to singing with a jazz band, all to show she has what it takes to be immortal. But truly living while her father is dying feels like a betrayal. Victoria must figure out how to experience joy and grief at once, trusting all the while that Nicholas will hold up his end of the bargain…because the alternative is too impossible to imagine.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): supernatural
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: vampires, mortality, immortality, death, terminal illness, cancer, fathers and daughters, New Orleans, Louisiana, love triangle
  • Protagonist description: girl, recent HS graduate, white

Eyes of the Forest by April Henry

Bridget is RM Haldon’s biggest fan. She and her mom sought refuge in Haldron’s epic fantasy series Swords and Shadows while her mom was losing her battle with cancer.

When Bridget met Haldon at one of his rare book signings, she impressed the author with her encyclopedic knowledge of the fantasy world he’d created. Bridget has been working for him ever since as he attempts to write the final book in his blockbuster sword and sorcery series.

But Haldon has gone missing, and Bridget is the only person who seems concerned. Can Bridget piece together Haldon’s cryptic clues and save him before it’s too late?

No starred reviews, but April Henry’s books are always easy to booktalk with MS and HS students. Many students will already know this mystery author for her previous books.

  • Genre(s): mystery, thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: mothers and daughters, grief, cancer, authors, Portland, Oregon, kidnapping
  • Protagonist description: girl, white, age 17; love interest Ajay is Indian American

Witch For Hire by Ted Naifeh

Faye Faulker isn’t popular, and that’s just fine by her. She spends her lunches at the Loser Table with the other social rejects, aka her best friends, and brushes off the uninspired taunts from the cool kids. But when lonely freshman Cody finds her way to Faye’s corner of the cafeteria, it sets off a peculiar chain of events…To Cody’s surprise, these kids aren’t so bad; an overdramatic theater nerd, a handicapable girl in a wheelchair, an overweight boy, and Faye, who comes to school every day dressed like a witch. But it’s no costume, Faye really is a witch!

While high school can be hell for many reasons, this year the ante has been raised when a series of pranks swiftly go from mischievous to downright dangerous. From the lowliest debate team nerds to the prom queen, no one is safe, not even the teachers! When things start to really get out of hand, Cody owns up to Faye: in a moment of desperation, she signed up for an online challenge that promises to grant popularity to those who follow the website’s twisted demands.

Now Faye is faced with a choice: Reveal her witchy nature to Cody and help her or stand aside and keep her secret identity safe. Despite her misgivings, Faye takes on the case, but will her powers be strong enough to solve this mystery? And will people ever stop asking her if she puts newts’ eyes in her homemade baked goods? Witch for Hire is a gothic whodunnit about resilience, magic, and the power of friendship.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, supernatural, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: witches, popularity, friendship, pranks
  • Protagonist description: two HS females, both light-skinned

War by Jose Jorge Letria (Author) and André Letria (Illustrator)

A recipient of the prestigious Nami Concours prize, this remarkable book of striking, often surreal illustrations and sparse prose reveals the many sides of war: where it comes from, how it creeps up on us, and how it destroys everything in its wake.

This evocative and bold work is an excellent resource for educators in facilitating difficult yet necessary discussions about wars that continue to be fought around the world.

As Deborah Ellis, author of the Breadwinner series, says: “If children are tough enough to be bombed and starved, they’re tough enough to read about it.”

Kirkus starred. Originally published in Portugal.

  • Genre(s): picture book for older readers
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 6
  • Themes: war, minimal text, personification of war, fear, hate, metaphors

Where Three Oceans Meet by Rajani LaRocca (Author) and Archana Sreenivasan (Illustrator)

Sejal, Mommy, and Pati travel together to the southern tip of India. Along the way, they share meals, visit markets, and catch up with old friends.

For Pati, the trip retraces spaces she knows well. For Mommy, it’s a return to the place she grew up. For Sejal, it’s a discovery of new sights and sounds. The family finds their way to Kanyakumari, where three oceans meet, and delight in making it to the end of the earth together.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: India, family, community, #ownvoices, Asian Americans, international travel, grandparents, grandmothers, transportation (car, train, boat), generations, mothers and daughters
  • Protagonist description: Indian American mother and daughter; Indian grandmother

Bear With Me by Noemi Vola

What do you do with a bear who won’t leave? When a bear comes to stay, no one expects him to stay too long! But his arrival changes everything, from sleeping to shopping to hanging out with friends. If even dinosaurs and math problems can’t drive him away, what are you supposed to do?

Featuring quirky, energetic illustrations, this amusing tale suggests we can learn to live with even the most unbearable company.

  • Genre(s): picture books
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: burdens, emotions, depression, anxiety, bears, metaphor
  • Protagonist description: all humans in the story are white

Big Bear Was Not the Same by Joanna Rowland (Author) and John Ledda (Illustrator)

One scary day can change everything…

Little Bear loves the woods, his home, and going on adventures with his best friend, Big Bear. Big Bear is so big and strong and brave. He always protects Little Bear and helps him feel safe.

Then something scary happens to Big Bear. He’s caught in a forest fire. Even after he escapes and is safe, Little Bear can tell that Big Bear is not the same. He runs, roars, or freezes in fear when ordinary things happen in the woods that remind him of that traumatic day.

How can Little Bear’s big, strong, brave friend be so scared now? And how can Little Bear be a good friend?

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: bears, forest fires, wildfires, PTSD, fear, anxiety, depression, trauma, compassion, empathy
  • Protagonist description: both characters are bears

The Fox and the Forest Fire by Danny Popovici

After moving from the city, one boy discovers his new home in the woods isn’t so bad–there is friendship in the midst of the forest. But when he spots a fire on the horizon that soon engulfs everything he’s come to know–the bugs, the plants, the fox who keeps him company–he is forced to flee. When his newfound comfort goes up in smoke, how can he ever feel at home again?

In a forest fire, so much can change in an instant. But both fox and boy learn that there are some things fire cannot burn. With time, the forest will regrow, the animals will return to their home, and so will the boy and his mom.

As we all search for tools for understanding the destruction of forest fires, this touching story shows that hope, friendship, and resilience shine the brightest.

TIMELY: As fires rage over a wider swath of the United States and internationally, and as fire season lengthens year after year, and sets new records year after year, these are themes communities are engaging with daily during fire season.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades K-5
  • Themes: moving to a new home, forest fires, wildfires, animals, plants, foxes, healing, regrowth, hope for a better future
  • Protagonist description: boy, white; all characters are white except one Black female firefighter




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.


  • Leigh,
    How do I access the updated versions that you have created from the previous ones that I have purchased (ie K-5 Genre Literature evaluator, etc)? Thank you.
    Julie Barile 📚

    • Hi, Julie,
      If you bought them from the blog store, just re-download them (login and go to “My Downloads”). If you bought from TPT, just go to “My Purchases” and re-download the file.


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