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New Release Spotlight: September 14, 2021

WHEW! This is the second week in a row of OUTSTANDING new book releases. We have several books for Hispanic Heritage Month (Sep 15-Oct 15), a few scary books, plus two excellent titles for Black Lives Matter. Authors include Tiffany Jackson, Brigid Kemmerer, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Lindsay Currie, Tim Green, Jenae Marks, Veera Hiranandani, and Charise Mericle Harper. WOW.

I can’t possibly pick a favorite title this week. Instead, I’ll give you a little insight into how I decide what titles makes the list.

Ever wonder why your favorite book isn’t on this list? Well, sometimes, I just missed it. In that case, I may add it to the next week’s list, as I did this week with When Can We Go Back to America? Other times, especially if the list is very long, I just don’t have enough time to include every awesome new book release. When the lists are very long like this, I give preference to books that have:

  • genre diversity (specifically, less-common genres like sports fiction, magical realism, and horror)
  • character diversity/representation
  • focus on a timely issue, problem, or trend
  • unique formats
  • international settings
  • starred professional reviews
  • popular authors and/or illustrators
  • previous awards for author and/or illustrator

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1909-#1931on The Ginormous book list.

*Kneel by Candace Buford

The system is rigged.

For guys like Russell Boudreaux, football is the only way out of their small town. As the team’s varsity tight end, Rus has a singular goal: to get a scholarship and play on the national stage. But when his best friend is unfairly arrested and kicked off the team, Rus faces an impossible choice: speak up or live in fear.

“Please rise for the national anthem.”

Desperate for change, Rus kneels during the national anthem. In one instant, he falls from local stardom and becomes a target for hatred. But he’s not alone. With the help of his best friend and an unlikely ally, Rus will fight for his dreams, and for justice.

Kirkus and Booklist starred. This will be easy to booktalk, is timely, and has a great cover. Taking a knee and #BLM are issues many students are passionate about. Order multiples!

  • Genre(s): sports fiction, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: #BlackLivesMatter, football, racism, prejudice, taking a knee, unfair arrest, police corruption, white supremacy, intolerance, justice, civil rights, Monroe, Louisiana
  • Protagonist description: boy, Black, high school senior

Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer

Apothecary apprentice Tessa Cade is tired of seeing her people die. King Harristan and his cruel brother, Prince Corrick, ignore the suffering of their people and react mercilessly to any sign of rebellion, even as a sickness ravages the land. That’s why she and her best friend Wes risk their lives each night to steal the petals of the delicate Moonflower, the only known cure. But it’s not enough to keep everyone she loves safe-or alive.

When Prince Corrick commits an act of unspeakable cruelty, Tessa becomes desperate enough to try the impossible: sneaking into the palace. But what she finds there makes her wonder if it’s even possible to fix their world without destroying it first.

Brigid Kemmerer’s captivating new series is about those with power and those without…and what happens when someone is brave enough to imagine a new future.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: royalty, magic, oppression, kings, princes, corruption, sickness, healing
  • Protagonist description: girl, white, age 18; many secondary characters have a range of skin tones

*White Smoke by Tiffany D Jackson

Marigold is running from ghosts. The phantoms of her old life keep haunting her, but a move with her newly blended family from their small California beach town to the embattled Midwestern city of Cedarville might be the fresh start she needs. Her mom has accepted a new job with the Sterling Foundation that comes with a free house, one that Mari now has to share with her bratty ten-year-old stepsister, Piper.

The renovated picture-perfect home on Maple Street, sitting between dilapidated houses, surrounded by wary neighbors has its…secrets. That’s only half the problem: household items vanish, doors open on their own, lights turn off, shadows walk past rooms, voices can be heard in the walls, and there’s a foul smell seeping through the vents only Mari seems to notice. Worse: Piper keeps talking about a friend who wants Mari gone.

But “running from ghosts” is just a metaphor, right?

As the house closes in, Mari learns that the danger isn’t limited to Maple Street. Cedarville has its secrets, too. And secrets always find their way through the cracks.

Kirkus and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): thriller, supernatural, horror
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: haunted past, ghosts, haunted houses, blended families, new kid in town, stepsisters, stepfamilies, urban legends, racism, drug addiction and recovery, anxiety
  • Protagonist description: Mari and her mother and brother are Black. Her new stepfather and stepsister are white.

*When Can We Go Back to America?: Voices of Japanese American Incarceration during WWII by Susan H. Kamei (Author)

It’s difficult to believe it happened here, in the Land of the Free: After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States government forcibly removed more than 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry from the Pacific Coast and imprisoned them in desolate detention camps until the end of World War II just because of their race.

In what Secretary Norman Y. Mineta describes as a “landmark book,” he and others who lived through this harrowing experience tell the story of their incarceration and the long-term impact of this dark period in American history. For the first time, why and how these tragic events took place are interwoven with more than 130 individual voices of those who were unconstitutionally incarcerated, many of them children and young adults.

Now more than ever, their words will resonate with readers who are confronting questions about racial identity, immigration, and citizenship, and what it means to be an American.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred. This book is over 700 pages, but it’s comprehensive and well-researched.

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-AD
  • Themes: Japanese internment, Pearl Harbor, WWII, racism, prejudice, 1940s, US history, world history, incarceration, immigration, citizenship
  • Protagonist description: Japanese people who were imprisoned in internment camps after Pearl Harbor.

Not Here to Be Liked by Michelle Quach

Eliza Quan is the perfect candidate for editor-in-chief of her school paper. That is, until ex-jock Len DiMartile decides on a whim to run against her. Suddenly her vast qualifications mean squat because inexperienced Len–who is tall, handsome, and male–just seems more like a leader.

When Eliza’s frustration spills out in a viral essay, she finds herself inspiring a feminist movement she never meant to start, caught between those who believe she’s a gender equality champion and others who think she’s simply crying misogyny.

Amid this growing tension, the school asks Eliza and Len to work side by side to demonstrate civility. But as they get to know one another, Eliza feels increasingly trapped by a horrifying realization–she just might be falling for the face of the patriarchy himself.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: journalism, school newspaper, feminism, misogyny, gender equality, cooperation, California
  • Protagonist description: girl, Asian American; love interest Len is biracial (white/Japanese); their school is predominantly Asian

It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz Rishi

After Kiran Noorani’s mom died, Kiran vowed to keep her dad and sister, Amira, close–to keep her family together. But when Amira announces that she’s dating someone, Kiran’s world is turned upside down.

Deen Malik is thrilled that his brother, Faisal, has found a great girlfriend. Maybe a new love will give Faisal a new lease on life, and Deen can stop feeling guilty for the reason that Faisal needs a do-over in the first place.

When the families meet, Deen and Kiran find themselves face to face. Again. Three years ago—before Amira and Faisal met—Kiran and Deen dated in secret. Until Deen ghosted Kiran.

And now, after discovering hints of Faisal’s shady past, Kiran will stop at nothing to find answers. Deen just wants his brother to be happy—and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep Kiran from reaching the truth. Though the chemistry between Kiran and Deen is undeniable, can either of them take down their walls?

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: family, grief, Pakistani Americans, Muslims, dating, weddings, alternating perspectives
  • Protagonist description: chapters alternate between Kiran (girl, Desi Muslim, age 18) and Deen (boy, age 18)

Idol Gossip by Alexandra Leigh Young

Debut author! Every Friday after school, seventeen-year-old Alice Choy and her little sister, Olivia, head to Myeongdong to sing karaoke.

Back in San Francisco, when she still had friends and earthly possessions, Alice took regular singing lessons. But since their diplomat mom moved them to Seoul, her only musical outlet is vamping it up in a private karaoke booth to an audience of one: her loyal sister.

Then a scout for Top10 Entertainment, one of the biggest K-pop companies, hears her and offers her a spot at their Star Academy. Can Alice navigate the culture clashes, egos, and extreme training practices of K-pop to lead her group onstage before a stadium of 50,000 chanting fans–and just maybe strike K-pop gold? Not if a certain influential blogger and the anti-fans get their way…

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: karaoke, K-Pop, singers, Seoul, Korea, Korean Americans, stardom, performance arts, new kid in town, blog posts, learning a new language (Korean)
  • Protagonist description: girl, Korean American, age 17

*The Robber Girl by Franny Billingsley

The Robber Girl has a good dagger. Its voice in her head is as sharp as its two edges that taper down to a point. Today, the Robber Girl and her dagger will ride with Gentleman Jack into the Indigo Heart to claim the gold that’s rightfully his.

But instead of gold, the Robber Girl finds a dollhouse cottage with doorknobs the size of apple seeds. She finds two dolls who give her three tasks, even though she knows that three is too many tasks. The right number of tasks is two, like Grandmother gave to Gentleman Jack: Fetch unto me the mountain’s gold, to build our city fair. Fetch unto me the wingless bird, and I shall make you my heir.

The Robber Girl finds what might be a home, but to fight is easier than to trust when you’re a mystery even to yourself and you’re torn between loyalty and love. The Robber Girl is at once achingly real–wise to the nuances of trauma–and loaded with magic, action, and intrigue. Every sentence shines, sharp as a blade, in a beautifully crafted novel about memory, identity, and the power of language to heal and reconstruct our lives.

THREE starred reviews! This one reminds me a bit of David Almond’s The Savage.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-9
  • Themes: unreliable narrators, dolls, magic, trauma, puzzles, riddles, imagination, abandonment
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 10, “ivory-skinned”

*List of Unspeakable Fears by J. Kasper Kramer

Set in 1910. Essie O’Neill is afraid of everything. She’s afraid of cats and electric lights. She’s afraid of the silver sick bell, a family heirloom that brings up frightening memories. Most of all, she’s afraid of the red door in her nightmares.

But soon Essie discovers so much more to fear. Her mother has remarried, and they must move from their dilapidated tenement in the Bronx to North Brother Island, a dreary place in the East River. That’s where Essie’s new stepfather runs a quarantine hospital for the incurable sick, including the infamous Typhoid Mary. Essie knows the island is plagued with tragedy. Years ago, she watched in horror as the ship General Slocum caught fire and sank near its shores, plummeting one thousand women and children to their deaths.

Now, something on the island is haunting Essie. And the red door from her dreams has become a reality, just down the hall from her bedroom in her terrifying new house. Convinced her stepfather is up to no good, Essie investigates. Yet to uncover the truth, she will have to face her own painful history–and what lies behind the red door.

Booklist and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): scary stories, horror, historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: fear, nightmares, poverty, New York City, stepfamilies, Typhoid Mary, anxiety, death of a parent (father), grief, immigration, ghosts, Halloween, early 20th Century
  • Protagonist description: girl, white, age 9

Paradise on Fire by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Addy is haunted by the tragic fire that killed her parents, leaving her to be raised by her grandmother. Now, years later, Addy’s grandmother has enrolled her in a summer wilderness program. There, Addy joins five other Black city kids–each with their own troubles–to spend a summer out west.

Deep in the forest the kids learn new (and to them) strange skills: camping, hiking, rock climbing, and how to start and safely put out campfires. Most important, they learn to depend upon each other for companionship and survival.

But then comes a devastating forest fire…

Addy is face-to-face with her destiny and haunting past. Developing her courage and resiliency against the raging fire, it’s up to Addy to lead her friends to safety. Not all are saved. But remembering her origins and grandmother’s teachings, she’s able to use street smarts, wilderness skills, and her spiritual intuition to survive.

This is Jewell Parker Rhodes, so I’m surprised to see no starred reviews for this title. Professional reviews are excellent though, so I absolutely recommend it for middle grade libraries. Give it to fans of Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling.

  • Genre(s): adventure, survival
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: grief, orphans, grandmothers, nature, summer camp, wildfires
  • Protagonist description: girl, Black, age 15


What Lives in the Woods by Lindsay Currie

All Ginny Anderson wants from her summer is to sleep in, attend a mystery writing workshop, and spend time with her best friend. But when Ginny’s father–a respected restoration expert in Chicago–surprises the family with a month-long trip to Michigan, everything changes. They aren’t staying in a hotel like most families would. No, they’re staying in a mansion. A twenty-six room, century-old building surrounded by dense forest. Woodmoor Manor.

But unfortunately, the mansion has more problems than a little peeling wallpaper. Locals claim the surrounding woods are inhabited by mutated creatures with glowing eyes. And some say campers routinely disappear in the woods, never to be seen again.

As terrifying as it sounds, Ginny can’t shake the feeling that there’s something darker…another story she hasn’t been told. When the creaky floors and shadowy corners of the mansion seem to take on a life of their own, Ginny uncovers the wildest mystery of all: There’s more than one legend roaming Saugatuck, Michigan, and they definitely aren’t after campers.

It’s after her.

  • Genre(s): mystery, thriller, horror
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-9
  • Themes: haunted houses, mansions, summer break, mutants, detectives
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 12, white

Final Season by Tim Green

With two all-star college football players for brothers and a former Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman for a father, it is only natural for sixth-grade quarterback Benjamin Redd to follow in their footsteps.

However, after his dad receives a heartbreaking ALS diagnosis–connected to all those hard hits and tackles he took on the field–Ben’s mom becomes more determined than ever to get Ben to quit football.

Ben isn’t playing just for himself though. This might be his dad’s last chance to coach. And his teammates need a quarterback that can lead them to the championships. But as Ben watches the heavy toll ALS takes on his dad’s body, he begins to question if this should be his final season after all.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): sport fiction, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: football, family, ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, chronic illness, brain injuries, fathers and sons
  • Protagonist description: boy, sixth grade, white

*Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna by Alda P. Dobbs

It is 1913, and twelve-year-old Petra Luna’s mama has died while the Revolution rages in Mexico. Before her papa is dragged away by soldiers, Petra vows to him that she will care for the family she has left–her abuelita, little sister Amelia, and baby brother Luisito–until they can be reunited. They flee north through the unforgiving desert as their town burns, searching for safe harbor in a world that offers none.

Each night when Petra closes her eyes, she holds her dreams close, especially her long-held desire to learn to read. Abuelita calls these barefoot dreams: “They’re like us barefoot peasants and indios–they’re not meant to go far.” But Petra refuses to listen. Through battlefields and deserts, hunger and fear, Petra will stop at nothing to keep her family safe and lead them to a better life across the U.S. border–a life where her barefoot dreams could finally become reality.

SLJ and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, survival
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: 1910s, death of a parent (mother), early 20th Century, Mexican Revolution, grandmothers, US-Mexico border, immigration, literacy, hope
  • Protagonist description: girl, Mexican, age 12

*A Soft Place to Land by Janae Marks

Joy Taylor has always believed home is the house she lived in her entire life. But then her dad lost his job, and suddenly, home becomes a tiny apartment with thin walls, shared bedrooms, and a place for tense arguments between Mom and Dad. Hardest of all, Joy doesn’t have her music to escape through anymore. Without enough funds, her dreams of becoming a great pianist–and one day, a film score composer–have been put on hold.

A friendly new neighbor her age lets Joy in on the complex’s best-kept secret: the Hideout, a cozy refuge that only the kids know about. And it’s in this little hideaway that Joy starts exchanging secret messages with another kid in the building who also seems to be struggling, until…abruptly, they stop writing back. What if they’re in trouble?

Joy is determined to find out who this mystery writer is, fast, but between trying to raise funds for her music lessons, keeping on a brave face for her little sister, and worrying about her parents’ marriage, Joy isn’t sure how to keep her own head above water.

Booklist and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: job loss, arguing parents, family, poverty, musicians, sisters, moving, perseverance
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 12, African American

*How to Find What You’re Not Looking For by Veera Hiranandani

Set in 1967. Twelve-year-old Ariel Goldberg’s life feels like the moment after the final guest leaves the party. Her family’s Jewish bakery runs into financial trouble, and her older sister has eloped with a young man from India following the Supreme Court decision that strikes down laws banning interracial marriage. As change becomes Ariel’s only constant, she’s left to hone something that will be with her always–her own voice.

SLJ and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: family business, financial problems, sisters, interracial marriage, Supreme Court decisions, Loving v. Virginia, antisemitism, 1960s
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 12, white, Jewish

*Saving Sorya: Chang and the Sun Bear by Trang Nguyen (Author) and Jeet Zdung (Illustrator)

When endlessly curious and tenacious Chang discovers a bear bile farm near her home in Vietnam, she decides to do everything she can to save wild animals–by becoming a conservationist! After teaching herself survival skills, documenting each rainforest plant and animal she sees in her field notebook, and disproving the critics who think she isn’t old enough or strong enough, Chang is finally accepted as a rescue center volunteer.

But her toughest challenge yet comes when she’s tasked with returning Sorya–the sun bear she raised from infancy–back into the wild. Because despite being a different species, Sorya is Chang’s best friend. And letting a friend go is never easy…even when it’s the right thing to do.

Kirkus and SLJ starred. This book is wider than usual (20cm X 27cm, slightly smaller than computer paper in landscape view), so you may need to be creative with shelving.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, ecofiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: sun bears, Vietnam, conservation, animal rights, survival, animal exploitation, volunteer work, perseverance, based on a true story
  • Protagonist description: girl, Vietnamese, approximately age 10-12

How to Win a Slime War by Mae Respicio

Alex Manalo and his dad have just moved back to Sacramento to help out with their extended family’s struggling Filipino market. While Alex likes helping in the store, his true passion is making slime! He comes up with his own recipes and plays with ingredients, colors, and different bumpy or sparkly bits, which make his slime truly special. A new friend encourages Alex to sell his creations at school, which leads to a sell-off battle with a girl who previously had a slime-opoly. Winner gets bragging rights and the right to be the only slime game in town.

But Alex’s dad thinks Alex should be focused more on “traditional” boy pastimes and less on slime. As the new soccer coach, Dad gets Alex to join the team. Even though he hates sports, Alex gives in.

Alex is battling on multiple fronts–with his new friends at school, and with his dad at home. It will be a sticky race to the finish to see who oozes out on top.

SLJ starred. Readers will enjoy that each chapter begins with a different slime recipe.

  • Genre(s): humor, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: Sacramento, California, family businesses, entrepreneurship, making slime, fathers and sons, sports, soccer, school stories, grandparents, new kid in town, moving, slime recipes
  • Protagonist description: boy, Filipino American, age 12

*Bad Sister by Charise Mericle Harper (Author) and Rory Lucey (Illustrator)

Meet Charise. She’s energetic, helpful, a model pet owner and full of inventions.

But she’s also a bad sister. When she goes too far and breaks little brother Daniel’s tooth, can she redeem herself? Is an accident really an accident if you could have stopped it?

But most importantly…What does it mean to be a good sister?

THREE starred reviews! This will pair well with Raina Telgemeier’s Sisters, also an autobiographical graphic novel about siblings.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, autobiography, memoir
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: brothers and sisters, siblings, based on a true story, undiagnosed prosopagnosia (face blindness–being able to recognize other people’s faces), family, self-awareness
  • Protagonist description: girl, white

*Sona Sharma, Very Best Big Sister? by Chitra Soundar (Author) and Jen Khatun (Illustrator)

Sona Sharma’s house is full of three generations of people who joke often and argue sometimes. Relatives come over unannounced, the phone rings frequently, and friends drop by all the time. Then one day Amma tells Sona that she is going to have a baby. Is that good? Sona isn’t so sure. She doesn’t want to share her room or her things with a new baby, not to mention the attention of Amma, Appa, Thatha, and Paatti. And despite Amma’s assurance that the sky always has room for new stars, Sona doesn’t feel stretchy or bighearted like the sky.

But when she learns there will be a baby-naming ceremony, she’s determined to find the best name for her new brother or sister–one as nice as her own, a Hindi word for “gold.” Perfectly pitched to young readers, this tale of warming up to change is followed by a glossary of words from India to explore in the story.

BCCB and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): early chapter book, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-3
  • Themes: multigenerational families, large boisterous families, sharing a room, babies, names, India, becoming a big sister, siblings
  • Protagonist description: girl, Hindi, Indian

Without Separation: Prejudice, Segregation, and the Case of Roberto Alvarez by Larry Dane Brimner (Author) and Maya Gonzalez (Illustrator)

This important yet little-known civil rights story focuses on Roberto Alvarez, a student whose 1931 court battle against racism and school segregation in Lemon Grove, California, is considered the first time an immigrant community used the courts to successfully fight injustice. A must-read for young activists, or for anyone interested in standing up for what’s right.

Roberto Alvarez’s world changed the day he could no longer attend Lemon Grove Grammar School in the small, rural community where he lived near San Diego, California. He and the other Mexican American students were told they had to go to a new, separate school–one where they would not hold back the other students. But Roberto and the other students and their families believed the new school’s real purpose was to segregate, to separate. They didn’t think that was right, or just, or legal.

Kirkus starred. Pair with Kathleen Krull’s Harvesting Hope or Yuyi Morales’ Dreamers.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography, picture book for older students
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-6
  • Themes: civil rights, school, right to education, Mexican Americans, San Diego, California, school segregation, immigration, activism, standing up for what’s right, justice, separate but equal, 1930s
  • Protagonist description: boy, Mexican American, age 12

*King of Ragtime: The Story of Scott Joplin by Stephen Costanza

A stunning, rhythmic picture book biography of African American composer Scott Joplin, whose ragtime music paved the way for jazz.

There was something special about Scott Joplin…
This quiet kid could make a piano laugh out loud.

Scott, the son of a man who had been enslaved,
became a king–the King of Ragtime.

This celebration of Scott Joplin, whose ragtime compositions paved the way for jazz, will captivate audiences and put a beat in their step, and the kaleidoscope-like illustrations will draw young readers in again and again.

THREE starred reviews! A must for music teachers and library lessons about jazz.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography, picture book for older readers
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: music, ragtime, Scott Joplin, jazz, Black history, slavery, US history, figurative language, onomatopoeia
  • Protagonist description: boy/man, African American

*My Two Border Towns by David Bowles (Author) and Erika Meza (Illustrator)

Early one Saturday morning, a boy prepares for a trip to The Other Side/El Otro Lado. It’s close–just down the street from his school–and it’s a twin of where he lives. To get there, his father drives their truck along the Rio Grande and over a bridge, where they’re greeted by a giant statue of an eagle. Their outings always include a meal at their favorite restaurant, a visit with Tío Mateo at his jewelry store, a cold treat from the paletero, and a pharmacy pickup. On their final and most important stop, they check in with friends seeking asylum and drop off much-needed supplies.

FOUR starred reviews! Includes some Spanish text.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: US-Mexico border, Hispanic Heritage Month, fathers and sons, community, people seeking asylum, helping others, kindness, refugees, Texas
  • Protagonist description: boy, Mexican American, brown-skinned

A Walk in the Words by Hudson Talbott

When Hudson Talbott was a little boy, he loved drawing, and it came naturally to him. But reading? No way! One at a time, words weren’t a problem, but long sentences were a struggle. As his friends moved on to thicker books, he kept his slow reading a secret. But that got harder every year. He felt alone, lost, and afraid in a world of too many words.

Fortunately, his love of stories wouldn’t let him give up. He started giving himself permission to read at his own pace, using the words he knew as stepping-stones to help draw him into a story. And he found he wasn’t so alone–in fact, lots of brilliant people were slow readers, too. Learning to accept the fact that everyone does things in their own unique way, and that was okay, freed him up and ultimately helped Hudson thrive and become the fabulous storyteller he is today.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: reading, drawing, struggling to read, storytellers, school struggles, dyslexia, self-empowerment, famous dyslexics
  • Protagonist description: boy, pale skin, brown hair

*When We Say Black Lives Matter by Maxine Beneba Clarke

Little one, when we say Black Lives Matter,
we’re saying Black people are wonderful-strong.
That we deserve to be treated with basic respect,
and that history’s done us wrong…

Darling, when we sing that Black Lives Matter,
and we’re dancing through the streets,
we’re saying: fear will not destroy our joy,
defiance in our feet.

In this joyful exploration of the Black Lives Matter motto, a loving narrator relays to a young Black child the strength and resonance behind the words. In family life, through school and beyond, the refrains echo and gain in power, among vignettes of protests and scenes of ancestors creating music on djembe drums.

Kirkus and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: #BLM, #BlackLivesMatter, social reform, justice, equality, racism, prejudice, music, empowerment, African Americans, unity, strength
  • Protagonist description: Black children






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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