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New Release Spotlight: September 21, 2021

September continues to bring HUGE lists of new books! Are there great books releasing this week that I didn’t include? Yes. I wish I could include every great book each week, but some weeks are just really long. This list represents what I would buy for my libraries. If you’re curious about my criteria for selection, I wrote a list of what I look for in last week’s New Release Spotlight.

No “Top Picks” this week again. I just can’t do it–there are too many good titles to pick just three! The picture books are especially awesome–of the seven books featured, six titles received at least two starred reviews.

October marks the 2-year anniversary of The Ginormous book list! By mid-October, we should surpass 2000 titles on The Ginormous. This week’s Spotlight titles are #1932-#1955.

*The Other Talk: Reckoning with Our White Privilege by Brendan Kiely

Talking about racism can be hard, but…

Most kids of color grow up talking about racism. They have “The Talk” with their families–the honest talk about survival in a racist world.

But white kids don’t. They’re barely spoken to about race at all–and that needs to change. Because not talking about racism doesn’t make it go away. Not talking about white privilege doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

The Other Talk begins this much-needed conversation for white kids. In an instantly relatable and deeply honest account of his own life, Brendan Kiely offers young readers a way to understand one’s own white privilege and why allyship is so vital, so that we can all start doing our part–today.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): nonfiction, memoir
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: racism, prejudice, white privilege
  • Protagonist description: white male (grows up from boy to man in the book)

*Kaleidoscope by Brian Selznick

A ship. A garden. A library. A key. This is the story of two people bound to each other through time and space, memory and dreams. At the center of their relationship is a mystery about the nature of grief and love which will look different to each reader. Kaleidoscope illuminates how even the wildest tales can help us in the hardest times.

Booklist and Kirkus starred. Illustrated.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, mystery, short stories
  • Recommended for: Grade 5-AD
  • Themes: dreams, friendship, space and time, grief, loss of a friend, mythology references, biblical references
  • Protagonist description: boy narrator, age 13, defaults to white

The Other Merlin by Robyn Schneider

Welcome to the great kingdom of Camelot! Prince Arthur’s a depressed botanist who would rather marry a library than a princess, Lancelot’s been demoted to castle guard after a terrible lie, and Emry Merlin has arrived at the castle disguised as her twin brother since girls can’t practice magic.

Life at court is full of scandals, lies, and backstabbing courtiers, so what’s a casually bisexual teen wizard masquerading as a boy to do? Other than fall for the handsome prince, stir up trouble with the foppish Lord Gawain, and offend the prissy Princess Guinevere.

When the truth comes out with disastrous consequences, Emry has to decide whether she’ll risk everything for the boy she loves, or give up her potential to become the greatest wizard Camelot has ever known.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, classic retelling
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: King Arthur, Camelot, classic prequels, retelling, misogyny, wizards, twins, London, England, 17th Century
  • Protagonist description: girl, bisexual, white, age 18

Things We Couldn’t Say by Jay Coles

There’s always been a hole in Gio’s life. Not because he’s into both guys and girls. Not because his father has some drinking issues. Not because his friends are always bringing him their drama. No, the hole in Gio’s life takes the shape of his birth mom, who left Gio, his brother, and his father when Gio was nine years old. For eight years, he never heard a word from her…and now, just as he’s started to get his life together, she’s back.

It’s hard for Gio to know what to do. Can he forgive her like she wants to be forgiven? Or should he tell her she lost her chance to be in his life? Complicating things further, Gio’s started to hang out with David, a new guy on the basketball team. Are they friends? More than friends? At first, Gio’s not sure…especially because he’s not sure what he wants from anyone right now.

There are no easy answers to love–whether it’s family love or friend love or romantic love. In Things We Couldn’t Say, Jay Coles, acclaimed author of Tyler Johnson Was Here, shows us a guy trying to navigate love in all its ambiguity–hoping at the other end he’ll be able to figure out who is and who he should be.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: parental addiction (father, to alcohol), abandonment, absent parent (mother), forgiveness, love, homophobia, self-acceptance, flawed family members, Indiana, basketball
  • Protagonist description: boy, African American, bisexual, age 17

It Doesn’t Have to Be Awkward: Dealing with Relationships, Consent, and Other Hard-to-Talk-About Stuff by Dr. Drew Pinsky and Paulina Pinsky

When it comes to sex, relationships, and consent, establishing boundaries and figuring out who you are and what you want is never simple–especially as a teenager. What’s the line between a friendship and a romantic partner? How can you learn to trust your body’s signals? And what if you’re not quite sure what your sexuality is?

In this book, renowned celebrity M.D. Dr. Drew and his daughter Paulina Pinsky take on those awkward, and incredibly important questions teens today are asking themselves and parents wish they had a better grasp on. Filled with tangible and accessible resources, and featuring humorous and raw personal anecdotes, this is the perfect guide for teens, parents, and educators to go beyond “the talk” and dive into honest and meaningful conversations about sex, relationships, and consent.

Booklist starred. The SLJ review is also positive, but Kirkus calls this a “lukewarm addition to a crowded field.” I would personally buy it for the library, especially if I didn’t have many updated nonfiction titles about sex and consent for teens.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: consent, dating, rape, sex, sexual ethics, boundaries, quizzes, lists
  • Protagonist description: father and daughter narrators, both are white

When We Make It by Elisabet Velasquez

Sarai is a first-generation Puerto Rican eighth grader who can see with clarity the truth, pain, and beauty of the world both inside and outside her Bushwick apartment. Together with her older sister Estrella, she navigates the strain of family traumas and the systemic pressures of toxic masculinity and housing insecurity in a rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn.

Sarai questions the society around her, her Boricua identity, and the life she lives with determination and an open heart, learning to celebrate herself in a way that she has been denied.

When We Make It is a love letter to anyone who was taught to believe that they would not make it. To those who feel their emotions before they can name them. To those who still may not have all the language but they have their story. Velasquez’ debut novel is sure to leave an indelible mark on all who read it.

Kirkus starred. If in doubt on this title, please read the glowing Kirkus review on Titlewave! Based on that review alone, I’ve added this to my TBR.

  • Genre(s): novel in verse, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-AD
  • Themes: pain, trauma, toxic masculinity, Brooklyn, New York, poverty, emotional intelligence, coming of age, challenges, poetry, Hispanic Heritage Month
  • Protagonist description: girl, first-generation Puerto Rican, 8th grade, age 14

All These Bodies by Kendare Blake

Summer 1958. A gruesome killer plagues the Midwest, leaving behind a trail of bodies completely drained of blood.

Michael Jensen, an aspiring journalist whose father happens to be the town sheriff, never imagined that the Bloodless Murders would come to his backyard. Not until the night the Carlson family was found murdered in their home. Marie Catherine Hale, a diminutive fifteen-year-old, was discovered at the scene—covered in blood. She is the sole suspect in custody.

Michael didn’t think that he would be part of the investigation, but he is pulled in when Marie decides that he is the only one she will confess to. As Marie recounts her version of the story, it falls to Michael to find the truth: What really happened the night that the Carlsons were killed? And how did one girl wind up in the middle of all these bodies?

  • Genre(s): horror, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: serial killers, murder, 1950s, summer, journalism, Minnesota, crime, poverty, domestic abuse
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 17, white

Maybe We’re Electric by Val Emmich

Tegan Everly is quiet. Known around school simply as the girl with the hand, she’s usually only her most outspoken self with her friend Neel, and right now they’re not exactly talking. When Tegan is ambushed by her mom with a truth she can’t face, she flees home in a snowstorm, finding refuge at a forgotten local attraction–the tiny Thomas Edison museum.

She’s not alone for long. In walks Mac Durant. Striking, magnetic, a gifted athlete, Mac Durant is the classmate adored by all. Tegan can’t stand him. Even his name sounds fake. Except the Mac Durant she thinks she knows isn’t the one before her now–this Mac is rattled and asking her for help.

Over one unforgettable night spent consuming antique records and corner-shop provisions, Tegan and Mac cast aside their public personas and family pressures long enough to forge an unexpectedly charged bond and–in the very spot in New Jersey that inspired Edison’s boldest creations–totally reinvent themselves. But could Tegan’s most shameful secret destroy what they’ve built?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: limb differences, unique settings, Thomas Edison, snowstorms, secrets, coming of age, museums, self-consciousness, family problems, New Jersey
  • Protagonist description: teen girl, white, born with only two fingers on one hand

This Is Why We Lie by Gabriella Lepore

When Jenna Dallas and Adam Cole find Colleen O’Dell’s body floating off the shore of their coastal town, the community of Gardiners Bay is shaken. But even more shocking is the fact that her drowning was no accident.

Once Jenna’s best friend becomes a key suspect, Jenna starts to look for answers on her own. As she uncovers scandals inside Preston Prep School leading back to Rookwood reform school, she knows she needs Adam on her side.

As a student at Rookwood, Adam is used to getting judgmental looks, but now his friends are being investigated by the police. Adam will do whatever he can to keep them safe, even if that means trusting Jenna.

As lies unravel, the truth starts to blur. Only one thing is certain: somebody must take the fall.

  • Genre(s): thriller, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: murder, prep school, reform school, detectives, flashbacks, transcripts, text messages, lies
  • Protagonist description: two main characters (Jenna and Adam) are white teens

The Samosa Rebellion by Shanthi Sekaran

Before his grandmother moved from India to the island of Mariposa, Muki Krishnan’s life was good. But now? He has to share his bedroom with Paati, his grandmother, who snores like a bulldozer and wakes him up at dawn to do yoga.

Paati’s arrival coincides with even bigger changes in Mariposa. The president divides citizens into Butterflies–families who have lived in Mariposa for three generations–and Moths, who, like Muki’s family, are more recent immigrants. The changes are small at first. But then Muki and his friends find a camp being built to imprison Moths before sending them away. Soon after, his Paati is captured and taken there.

While devising Paati’s escape, Muki discovers that a secret rebellion is underway, and as he digs deeper, he realizes that rescuing Paati will be the fight of his life.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): speculative fiction, dystopia
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: grandmothers, India, family, rebellion, dividing people into groups, xenophobia, immigration, discrimination, dystopian worlds, Indian independence
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 12, Indian

The Monsters of Rookhaven by Pádraig Kenny

Mirabelle has always known she is a monster. When the glamour protecting her unusual family from the human world is torn and an orphaned brother and sister stumble upon Rookhaven, Mirabelle soon discovers that friendship can be found in the outside world.

But as something far more sinister comes to threaten them all, it quickly becomes clear that the true monsters aren’t necessarily the ones you can see.

Booklist starred. Illustrated.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: monsters, glamours, orphans, friendship, empathy, siblings, gothic
  • Protagonist description: monster girl disguised as a human, about age 12

The Insiders by Mark Oshiro

San Francisco and Orangevale may be in the same state, but for Héctor Muñoz, they might as well be a million miles apart. Back home, being gay didn’t mean feeling different. At Héctor’s new school, he couldn’t feel more alone.

Most days, Héctor just wishes he could disappear. And he does. Right into the janitor’s closet. (Yes, he sees the irony.) But one day, when the door closes behind him, Héctor discovers he’s stumbled into a room that shouldn’t be possible. A room that connects him with two new friends from different corners of the country–and opens the door to a life–changing year full of friendship, adventure, and just a little bit of magic.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): magical realism, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: California, LGBTQIA+, secret rooms, magic, new kid in school, belonging, rooms of requirement, school
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 12, gay, Mexican American

A Man Called Horse: John Horse and the Black Seminole Underground Railroad by Glennette Tilley Turner

John Horse (c. 1812–1882, also known as Juan Caballo) was a famed chief, warrior, tactician, and diplomat who played a dominant role in Black Seminole affairs for half a century. His story is central to that of the Black Seminoles–descendants of Seminole Indians, free Blacks, and escaped slaves who formed an alliance in Spanish Florida. A political and military leader of mixed Seminole and African heritage, Horse defended his people from the US government, other tribes, and slave hunters.

A Man Called Horse focuses on the little-known life of Horse while also putting into historical perspective the larger story of Native Americans and especially Black Seminoles, helping to connect the missing “dots” in this period. After fighting during the Second Seminole War (1835–1842), one of the longest and most costly Native American conflicts in US history, Horse negotiated terms with the federal government and later became a guide and interpreter. Forced to relocate, he led a group of Black Seminoles to find a new home, first heading westward to Texas and later to Mexico.

Turner worked with descendants of Horse, who provided oral histories as well as many photographs and other artifacts. Her expertly researched and vetted biography depicts Horse as a complex, fascinating figure who served in many varied roles, including as a counselor of fellow Seminole leaders, an agent of the US government, and a captain in the Mexican army. But no matter the part he played, one thing remained constant: whether in battle or at the negotiating table, Horse fought tirelessly to help his people survive. The story of John Horse is a tale of daring, intrigue, and the lifelong quest for freedom.

The book includes black-and-white archival photos throughout (though the book is designed in full color), as well as a map, timeline, author’s note, endnotes, and select bibliography.

  • Genre(s): biography, nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: Native Americans, Black Seminoles, slavery, indigenous peoples, US history, Florida, Mexico, Texas, Underground Railroad
  • Protagonist description: Black Seminole man living in 1800s US and Mexico

*Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds by Samira Ahmed

On the day of a rare super blue blood moon eclipse, twelve-year-old Amira and her little brother, Hamza, can’t stop their bickering while attending a special exhibit on medieval Islamic astronomy. While stargazer Amira is wowed by the amazing gadgets, a bored Hamza wanders off, stumbling across the mesmerizing and forbidden Box of the Moon. Amira can only watch in horror as Hamza grabs the defunct box and it springs to life, setting off a series of events that could shatter their world, literally.

Suddenly, day turns to night, everyone around Amira and Hamza falls under a sleep spell, and a chunk of the moon breaks off, hurtling toward them at lightning speed, as they come face-to-face with two otherworldly creatures: jinn.

The jinn reveal that the siblings have a role to play in an ancient prophecy. Together, they must journey to the mystical land of Qaf, battle a great evil, and end a civil war to prevent the moon–the stopper between realms–from breaking apart and unleashing terrifying jinn, devs, and ghuls onto earth. Or they might have to say goodbye to their parents and life as they know it, forever.

Kirkus and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: eclipses, astronomy, magic, Islamic legends, prophecies, jinn, siblings, journeys, moon, apocalypse, Chicago, Illinois, fate
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 12, Indian American, Muslim

*Cuba in My Pocket by Adrianna Cuevas

When the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 solidifies Castro’s power in Cuba, twelve-year-old Cumba’s family makes the difficult decision to send him to Florida alone. Faced with the prospect of living in another country by himself, Cumba tries to remember the sound of his father’s clarinet, the smell of his mother’s lavender perfume.

Life in the United States presents a whole new set of challenges. Lost in a sea of English speakers, Cumba has to navigate a new city, a new school, and new freedom all on his own. With each day, Cumba feels more confident in his new surroundings, but he continues to wonder: Will his family ever be whole again? Or will they remain just out of reach, ninety miles across the sea?

THREE starred reviews! This story was based on the author’s father’s childhood. I won’t be surprised to see this one nominated for the 2021 Pura Belpre Award. Pair with Refugee by Alan Gratz.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: Cuba, immigration, refugees, 1960s, Bay of Pigs, learning to speak English, new kid in school, family separation, Miami, Florida, Hispanic Heritage, Fidel Castro, communism, based on a true story
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 12, Cuban

The Ghost of Midnight Lake by Lucy Strange

It’s 1899. The Earl of Gosswater has died, and twelve-year-old Agatha has been cast out of her ancestral home–the only home she has ever known–by her cruel cousin, Clarence. In a tiny tumbledown cottage, she struggles to adjust to her new life and the stranger who claims to be her real father. While adjusting to her new fate, she learns that the shores of Gosswater lake are haunted, and soon comes face to face with the spirit of another young girl who’s soul will not rest. Could the ghost of Gosswater hold the key to Aggie’s true identity?

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): supernatural, mystery, scary stories
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: turn of the century (20th Century), cousins, fathers and daughters, ghosts, haunted lake, grief, death of a parent (father), England
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 12, English, white

The Leopard Behind the Moon by Mayonn Paasewe-Valchev

There are three important laws in Ezomo’s village: Do not go to The Valley, do not go out at night, and never, ever, ever open the magical door that protects them all. But when Ezomo encounters the leopard believed to have killed his father, he and his two best friends embark on a journey that leads them past the boundaries set by their elders.

With his friends by his side, Ezomo chases after the leopard, certain that it has the power to cure all. But in the process, he discovers the truth about his village. And that cautionary tales exist for a reason.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: magic, leopards, journeys, villages, best friends, forbidden doors, outcasts, West Africa, secrets
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 10

*Time for Bed, Old House by Janet Costa Bates (Author) and A.G. Ford (Illustrator)

Isaac is excited about having a sleepover at Grandpop’s house, but he’s a little nervous about being away from home for the first time.

Luckily, his knowing Grandpop tells him it’s not quite time to go to bed yet–first, he needs Isaac’s help in putting the house to bed.

Quietly and slowly, they move from room to room, turning out lights and pulling down shades, as Grandpop gently explains the nighttime sounds that Isaac finds unfamiliar. Now it’s time to read the house a bedtime story (Isaac is good at reading the pictures). By the time the house is settled in for the night, Isaac and Grandpop are ready for bed, too.

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: grandparents, grandfathers, sleepovers, bedtime rituals
  • Protagonist description: grandfather and grandson are both Black

*Time is a Flower by Julie Morstad

What is time? Is it the tick tick tock of a clock, numbers and words on a calendar? It’s that, but so much more. Time is a seed waiting to grow, a flower blooming, a sunbeam moving across a room. Time is slow like a spider spinning her web or fast like a wave at the beach. Time is a wiggly tooth, or waiting for the school bell to ring, or reading a story…or three! But time is also morning for some and night for others, a fading sunset and a memory captured in a photo taken long ago.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: time, clocks, onomatopoeia, life and death, metaphors
  • Protagonist description: no protagonist; diverse ages and skin tones throughout

*Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem by Amanda Gorman (Author) and Loren Long (Illustrator)

I can hear change humming
In its loudest, proudest song.
I don’t fear change coming,
And so I sing along.

In this stirring, much-anticipated picture book by presidential inaugural poet and activist Amanda Gorman, anything is possible when our voices join together. As a young girl leads a cast of characters on a musical journey, they learn that they have the power to make changes–big or small–in the world, in their communities, and in most importantly, in themselves.

With lyrical text and rhythmic illustrations that build to a dazzling crescendo by #1 New York Times bestselling illustrator Loren Long, Change Sings is a triumphant call to action for everyone to use their abilities to make a difference.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, poetry
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: presidential inauguration, activism, community, music, social change, volunteer work, musical instruments
  • Protagonist description: Black girl

*Chez Bob by Bob Shea

Welcome to Chez Bob, which seems like a real restaurant…until you realize…it’s on an alligator’s NOSE! Bob’s got a hidden plan for his customers: “Birds will come to eat, but I will eat the birds!” As they fly in from all over the world to dine on Bob’s face, something starts to happen that takes the lazy, hungry reptile by surprise–the birds stay. “More yummy birds!” he rejoices–he’ll want for nothing! But when the time is right, will Bob make the right choice?

Comic genius Bob Shea cooks up a tasty tale that proves anyone, even hungry alligators, can have a change of heart and learn to be a good friend.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: alligators, birds, reformed villains, changes of heart, restaurants, animal stories, community
  • Protagonist description: alligator and birds

*Ten Spooky Pumpkins by Gris Grimly

10 little pumpkins,
sitting in a line,
looking for a cat
and they found nine.

The wind said SWOOSH
and the gate went CREAK.
The owl cried WHOOOO,
we all screamed EEK!

Join goblins, ghosts, witches, and more in this rhythmic countdown, traveling through the countryside and discovering more Halloween creatures along the way. Finally, the story culminates with them all joining together in a joyful celebration under the full harvest moon, dancing until it’s time for bed.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, holidays
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: Halloween, pumpkins, onomatopoeia, rhyme, rhythm, celebrations, cumulative stories, counting backward, autumn
  • Protagonist description: little girl dressed as a clown (blue-eyes and peach skin)

Yours in Books by Julie Falatko (Author) and Gabriel Alborozo (Illustrator)

Owl just wants some peace and quiet to read his books–alone. But when the forest youngsters ruffle his feathers, he enlists the local bookshop owner to send him handpicked books to help cope with the chaos and the mess. It’s not long before Owl discovers Squirrel and learns that just as important as solitude are companionship and community. Told entirely in letters, this charming picture book celebrates books and bookshops, letter writing, and love.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: bookish, reading, owls, generation gap, letters, squirrels, friendship, epistolary, mail
  • Protagonist description: owl and squirrel

*Looking for a Jumbie by Tracey Baptiste (Author) and Amber Ren (Illustrator)

I’m looking for a jumbie, I’m going to find a scary one.

But Mama says jumbies exist only in stories. So Naya sets out on a nighttime adventure to find out for herself.

No such thing, say the friends she makes along the way.

But Naya is sure that jumbies are real. Some have big mouths. Or thick fur. Or glowing skin. Or sharp teeth. Kind of like her new friends…

Looking for a Jumbie is a gentle, bouncy, and creepily fun read-aloud inspired by traditional Caribbean tales.

Kirkus and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: spirits, Caribbean, adventures, night, monsters, forests, tropics, making new friends, helping others, bedtime
  • Protagonist description: young Black girl







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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