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New Release Spotlight: August 31, 2021

After two weeks of no middle grade titles, I’ve got a bunch of good ones this week, especially if you are looking for fun Halloween books!

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1867-#1881 on The Ginormous book list.

Take Me With You When You Go by David Levithan and Jennifer Niven

Subject: You. Missing.

Ezra Ahern wakes up one day to find his older sister, Bea, gone. No note, no sign, nothing but an email address hidden somewhere only he would find it. Ezra never expected to be left behind with their abusive stepfather and their neglectful mother–how is he supposed to navigate life without Bea?

Bea Ahern already knew she needed to get as far away from home as possible But a message in her inbox changes everything, and she finds herself alone in a new city–without Ez, without a real plan–chasing someone who might not even want to be found.

As things unravel at home for Ezra, Bea will confront secrets about their past that will forever change the way they think about their family. Together and apart, broken by abuse but connected by love, this brother and sister must learn to trust themselves before they can find a way back to each other.

SLJ Express starred. Entire novel is told via alternating emails between Bea and Ezra. On my TBR because I love David Levithan!

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: siblings, brothers and sisters, missing persons, child abuse, neglect, secrets, alternating voices, homelessness, runaways, epistolary novels
  • Protagonist description: Ezra–boy, white, age 15. Bea–girl, white, age 18. Ezra’s boyfriend Terrence is Black.

Poison for Breakfast by Lemony Snicket

In the years since this publishing house was founded, we have worked with an array of wondrous authors who have brought illuminating clarity to our bewildering world. Now, instead, we bring you Lemony Snicket.

Over the course of his long and suspicious career, Mr. Snicket has investigated many things, including villainy, treachery, conspiracy, ennui, and various suspicious fires. In this book, he is investigating his own death.

Poison for Breakfast is a different sort of book than others we have published, and from others you may have read. It is different from other books Mr. Snicket has written. It could be said to be a book of philosophy, something almost no one likes, but it is also a mystery, and many people claim to like those. Certainly Mr. Snicket didn’t relish the dreadful task of solving it, but he had no choice. It was put in front of him, right there, on his plate. 18 illustrations.

Sound ambiguous? I think that’s the point. I see that Follett assigned this title as YA, but the SLJ review recommends Grades 4+. I thought this might be a picture book for older readers, but it has 168 pages and only 18 illustrations. As a huge Seinfeld fan, I have to mention that Patrick Warburton narrates the audiobook. Yeah, I know he’s been in loads of other stuff (including playing Lemony Snicket in the SoUE series on Netflix), but for me, he’ll always be David Puddy.

  • Genre(s): mystery, maybe?
  • Recommended for: 4+
  • Themes: poison, memory, community businesses, vocabulary, wit, bewilderment

The Witch Haven by Sasha Peyton Smith

Debut author! In 1911 New York City, seventeen-year-old Frances Hallowell spends her days as a seamstress, mourning the mysterious death of her brother months prior. Everything changes when she’s attacked and a man ends up dead at her feet–her scissors in his neck, and she can’t explain how they got there.

Before she can be condemned as a murderess, two cape-wearing nurses arrive to inform her she is deathly ill and ordered to report to Haxahaven Sanitarium. But Frances finds Haxahaven isn’t a sanitarium at all: it’s a school for witches. Within Haxahaven’s glittering walls, Frances finds the sisterhood she craves, but the headmistress warns Frances that magic is dangerous. Frances has no interest in the small, safe magic of her school, and is instead enchanted by Finn, a boy with magic himself who appears in her dreams and tells her he can teach her all she’s been craving to learn, lessons that may bring her closer to discovering what truly happened to her brother.

Frances’s newfound power attracts the attention of the leader of an ancient order who yearns for magical control of Manhattan. And who will stop at nothing to have Frances by his side. Frances must ultimately choose what matters more, justice for her murdered brother and her growing feelings for Finn, or the safety of her city and fellow witches. What price would she pay for power, and what if the truth is more terrible than she ever imagined?

  • Genre(s): supernatural, historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: New York City, 20th Century, murder, witches, witchcraft, sisterhood, magic, brothers and sisters, siblings, justice
  • Protagonist description: girl, presumed white, age 17

The Woods Are Always Watching by Stephanie Perkins

Bears aren’t the only predators in these woods.

Best friends Neena and Josie spent high school as outsiders, but at least they had each other. Now, with college and a two-thousand-mile separation looming on the horizon, they have one last chance to be together–a three-day hike deep into the woods of the Pisgah National Forest.

Simmering tensions lead to a detour off the trail and straight into a waking nightmare…and then into something far worse. Something that will test them in horrifying ways.

Backpacking and serial killers? SOLD! Added to my TBR!

  • Genre(s): thriller, horror
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: best friends, national forests, camping, hiking, survival, Pisgah National Forest, backpacking, North Carolina, serial killers
  • Protagonist description: 2 females, one Indian American and one white, recent high school graduates (age 17-18)

Forestborn by Elayne Audrey Becker

Forestborn, book 1. Debut author! Rora is a shifter, as magical as all those born in the wilderness–and as feared. She uses her abilities to spy for the king, traveling under different guises and listening for signs of trouble.

When a magical illness surfaces across the kingdom, Rora uncovers a devastating truth: Finley, the young prince and her best friend, has caught it, too. His only hope is stardust, the rarest of magical elements, found deep in the wilderness where Rora grew up–and to which she swore never to return.

But for her only friend, Rora will face her past and brave the dark, magical wood, journeying with her brother and the obstinate, older prince who insists on coming. Together, they must survive sentient forests and creatures unknown, battling an ever-changing landscape while escaping human pursuers who want them dead. With illness gripping the kingdom and war on the horizon, Finley’s is not the only life that hangs in the balance.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: powers, magic, shapeshifters, illness, brothers and sisters, princes, cures, orphans, journeys, quests
  • Protagonist description: female shapeshifter, orphan, described as having olive skin tone

*Fast Pitch by Nic Stone

Shenice Lockwood, captain of the Fulton Firebirds, is hyper-focused when she steps up to the plate. Nothing can stop her from leading her team to the U12 fast-pitch softball regional championship. But life has thrown some curveballs her way.

Strike one: As the sole team of all-brown faces, Shenice and the Firebirds have to work twice as hard to prove that Black girls belong at bat.

Strike two: Shenice’s focus gets shaken when her great-uncle Jack reveals that a career-ending–and family-name-ruining–crime may have been a setup.

Strike three: Broken focus means mistakes on the field. And Shenice’s teammates are beginning to wonder if she’s captain-qualified.

It’s up to Shenice to discover the truth about her family’s past–and fast–before secrets take the Firebirds out of the game forever.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): sports fiction, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: sports, softball, competition, discrimination, racism, team captains, family secrets, sports, Georgia
  • Protagonist description: African-American girl, age 12. Shenice and the all the players on her softball team are Black.

One Kid’s Trash by Jamie Sumner

Hugo is not happy about being dragged halfway across the state of Colorado just because his dad had a midlife crisis and decided to become a ski instructor. It’d be different if Hugo weren’t so tiny, if girls didn’t think he was adorable like a puppy in a purse and guys didn’t call him “leprechaun” and rub his head for luck. But here he is, the tiny new kid on his first day of middle school.

When his fellow students discover his remarkable talent for garbology, the science of studying trash to tell you anything you could ever want to know about a person, Hugo becomes the cool kid for the first time in his life. But what happens when it all goes to his head?

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: skiing, Colorado, being short, trash, popularity, bullying, school stories, new kid in town, second chances
  • Protagonist description: Irish American boy, sixth grader

Stolen Science by Ella Schwartz (Author) and Gaby D’Alessandro (Illustrator)

Over the centuries, women, people from underrepresented communities, and immigrants overcame prejudices and social obstacles to make remarkable discoveries in science–but they weren’t the ones to receive credit in history books.

People with more power, money, and prestige were remembered as the inventor of the telephone, the scientists who decoded the structure of DNA, and the doctor who discovered the cause of yellow fever. This book aims to set the record straight and celebrate the nearly forgotten inventors and scientists who shaped our world today.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-7
  • Themes: female scientists, misogyny, gender roles, gender discrimination, racial discrimination, slavery, sexism, STEAM, inventors, science history
  • Protagonist description: marginalized scientists and inventors throughout history

Only If You Dare: 13 Stories of Darkness and Doom by Josh Allen (Author) and Sarah J. Coleman (Illustrator)

You never know what’s out to get you. Though you might think you’re safe from monsters and menaces, everyday objects can turn against you, too. A mysterious microwave. A threatening board game. A snowman that refuses to melt. Even your own heartbeat has its secrets. Thu-thump. Thu-thump. When you stop to listen, each beat sounds more menacing than the last.

Storyteller Josh Allen brings thirteen nightmare scenarios to life in this page-turning collection that’s perfect for budding horror junkies. In his wondrous world, danger waits behind every doorway…even in the most ordinary places.

SLJ starred. Includes 13 stories. Illustrated in black and white. According to the Kirkus review, “This book will fly off the shelves.” Indeed!

  • Genre(s): scary stories, horror, short stories
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: everyday horrors
  • Protagonist description: most characters default to white

The Dollhouse: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter

Alice’s world is falling apart. Her parents are getting a divorce, and they’ve cancelled their yearly cottage trip–the one thing that gets Alice through the school year. Instead, Alice and her mom are heading to some small town where Alice’s mom will be a live-in nurse to a rich elderly lady.

The house is huge, imposing and spooky, and everything inside is meticulously kept and perfect–not a fun place to spend the summer. Things start to get weird when Alice finds a dollhouse in the attic that’s an exact replica of the house she’s living in. Then she wakes up to find a girl asleep next to her in her bed–a girl who looks a lot like one of the dolls from the dollhouse…

When the dollhouse starts to change when Alice isn’t looking, she knows she has to solve the mystery. Who are the girls in the dollhouse? What happened to them? And what is their connection to the mean and mysterious woman who owns the house?

  • Genre(s): horror, scary stories, thriller, mystery/li>
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: parental divorce, new kid in town, haunted houses, dollhouses, creepy dolls
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 12, defaults to white; two characters are developmentally-delayed

The Haunted Mustache by Joe McGee (Author) and Teo Skaffa (Illustrator)

Night Frights, book 1. Wolver Hollow is not a normal town. The adults are too busy shuffling off to work at the old coffin factory to notice or care, but the kids know all about monsters, ghosts, and strange lights in the sky. Strange things happen in Wolver Hollow. Creepy things.

But fifth graders Parker and Lucas are determined to debunk one of Wolver Hollow’s legends: Over a hundred years ago, Bockius Beauregard was vaporized in an unfortunate accident and all that remained was his magnificent mustache. People say it returns every year, on the anniversary of Bockius’s death, seeking a lip to claim as its own! When the boys try to prove the story is fake, the find more than they bargained for.

SLJ starred. Includes grayscale illustrations.

  • Genre(s): scary stories, horror, thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 5+
  • Themes: coffins, factories, monsters, ghosts, mustaches
  • Protagonist description: 2 boys (one light-skinned and one dark-skinned) and one light-skinned goth girl, all three are fifth graders

*Survivor Tree by Marcie Colleen (Author) and Aaron Becker (Illustrator)

One September day, the perfect blue sky exploded. Dust billowed. Buildings crumbled. And underneath it all, a tree sprouted green leaves in its distress. Pulled from the wreckage, the tree saw many seasons pass as it slowly recovered far away from home. Until one day, forever scarred and forever stronger, it was replanted at the 9/11 Memorial.

This story of the real Survivor Tree uses nature’s cycle of colors to reflect on the hope and healing that come after a tragedy–and assures readers of their own remarkable resilience.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: 9/11, September 11, 2001, terrorism, New York City, trees, survivors, nature, hope, resilience, US history
  • Protagonist description: n/a

Black and White by Debora Vogrig (Author) and Pia Valentinis (Illustrator)

Black and White are so different–how can they ever get along? White wants to explore the world, but Black would rather stay under the bed. Black is playful and creative; White wants everything neat and tidy. But when Black and White work together, they can go on the most amazing adventures…

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 1
  • Themes: diversity, opposites, colors, art, cooperation
  • Protagonist description: n/a

Brains! Not Just a Zombie Snack by Stacy McAnulty (Author) and Matthew Rivera (Illustrator)

Brains. 78% water, 100% delicious. A zombie chef who has sworn off eating brains salivates over this super powerful organ in this funny and fact-filled picture book. From learning about how the brain processes messages from our five senses, to learning why wrinkly human brains are so much more powerful than smooth mouse brains, this is a hilarious introduction to the organ that does it all.

  • Genre(s): informational picture book, fact book, humor
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: zombies, brains, human body, central nervous system, Halloween
  • Protagonist description: green-skinned zombie chef

Mr. Walker Steps Out by Lisa Graff (Author) and Christophe Jacques (Illustrator)

Mr. Walker works hard. Every day, he stands in the window of his boxy little house on the corner of Broadway and Main, letting people know when it’s safe to cross the street. Usually that is enough. But after a while, watching the world go by without him makes him feel small and unimportant.

So he decides to jump down from his box and experience for himself all the wonderful things he’s seen from his post. With each new adventure, he feels bigger and more important. But after enjoying all the wonderful things that the city has to offer, he starts to wonder how his little corner is getting on without him. Then something happens…something big. And Mr. Walker wonders if it might be time to go home, to where he’s needed most.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: street signs, city, experiencing life, home, personal fulfillment
  • Protagonist description: Mr. Walker is the little man on the electronic “WALK” sign at an intersection





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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