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New Release Spotlight: September 28, 2021

Four lists in a row have been unbelievably amazing this month! Everything looks great this week, but the picture books just blow it away!

Check out new titles from Kekla Magoon, Shaun David Hutchinson, Rick Riordan, K.A. Holt, Ibi Zoboi, Kevin Henkes, the Fan Brothers, and so, so many more. Twelve titles on this list received at least two starred professional reviews, including all eight picture books.

Once again, I will not pick my “Top Picks” this week. How could I possibly?

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1956-#1979 on The Ginormous book list.

*Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon

In this comprehensive, inspiring, and all-too-relevant history of the Black Panther Party, Kekla Magoon introduces readers to the Panthers’ community activism, grounded in the concept of self-defense, which taught Black Americans how to protect and support themselves in a country that treated them like second-class citizens.

For too long the Panthers’ story has been a footnote to the civil rights movement rather than what it was: a revolutionary socialist movement that drew thousands of members–mostly women–and became the target of one of the most sustained repression efforts ever made by the U.S. government against its own citizens.

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: Black Panther Party, activism, prejudice, racism, civil rights, US history, oppression, slavery
  • Protagonist description: various Black and white people throughout history

Before We Disappear by Shaun David Hutchinson

Jack Nevin’s clever trickery and moral flexibility make him the perfect assistant to the Enchantress, one of the most well-known stage magicians in turn-of-the-nineteenth-century Europe. Without Jack’s steady supply of stolen tricks, the Enchantress’s fame would have burned out long ago.

But when Jack’s thievery catches up to them, they’re forced to flee to America to find their fortune. Luckily, the Enchantress is able to arrange a set of sold-out shows at Seattle’s Alaska–Yukon–Pacific World’s Fair Exposition. She’s convinced they’re going to be rich and famous until a new magician arrives on the scene. Performing tricks that defy the imagination, Laszlo’s show overshadows the Enchantress, leaving Jack no choice but to hunt for the secrets to his otherworldly illusions. But what Jack uncovers isn’t at all what he expected.

Behind Laszlo’s tricks is Wilhelm–a boy that can seemingly perform real magic. Jack and Wilhelm have an instant connection, and as the rivalry between the Enchantress and Laszlo grows, so too does Jack and Wilhelm’s affection. But can Jack choose between the woman who gave him a life and the boy who is offering him everything?

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: magic, 19th Century, Europe, magicians, thieves, con artists, fraud, World’s Fair, Seattle, Washington, LGBTQIA+
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 16, white, queer; most characters are white, a few are queer

*You’d Be Home Now by Kathleen Glasgow

For all of Emory’s life she’s been told who she is. In town she’s the rich one–the great-great-granddaughter of the mill’s founder. At school she’s hot Maddie Ward’s younger sister. And at home, she’s the good one, her stoner older brother Joey’s babysitter. Everything was turned on its head, though, when she and Joey were in the car accident that killed Candy MontClaire. The car accident that revealed just how bad Joey’s drug habit was.

Four months later, Emmy’s junior year is starting, Joey is home from rehab, and the entire town of Mill Haven is still reeling from the accident. Everyone’s telling Emmy who she is, but so much has changed, how can she be the same person? Or was she ever that person at all?

Mill Haven wants everyone to live one story, but Emmy’s beginning to see that people are more than they appear. Her brother, who might not be “cured,” the popular guy who lives next door, and most of all, many “ghostie” addicts who haunt the edges of the town. People spend so much time telling her who she is–it might be time to decide for herself.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: identity, car accidents, drug addiction, opioid crisis, siblings, rehabilitation, DUI accidents, substance abuse, homelessness
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 16, white, wealthy family

Time Will Tell by Barry Lyga

Four teens have dug up the time capsule that their parents buried in 1986 and never bothered to recover. But in addition to the expected ephemera of mixtapes, Walkmans, photographs, letters, toys, and assorted junk, Elayah, Liam, Marcie, and Jorja discover something sinister: a hunting knife stained with blood and wrapped with a note. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to kill anyone.”

As the action dramatically alternates between the present day and 1986, the mystery unfolds and the sins of the past echo into today. The teens haven’t just unearthed a time capsule: they’ve also dug up pain and secrets that someone–maybe one of their own parents–is willing to kill for.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): mystery, thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: time capsules, 1980s, murder, alternating timelines, crime, alternating voices, discrimination, racism, prejudice
  • Protagonist description: one teen is Black; other three are white

*Beasts of Prey by Ayana Gray

Debut author! Fate binds two Black teenagers together as they journey into a magical jungle to hunt down the vicious monster who is threatening their home. But as they begin to uncover ancient deadly secrets, it quickly becomes unclear whether they are the hunters…or the hunted.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: magical creatures, zoos, indentured servitude, debt, magic, quests, hunting, tracking
  • Protagonist description: teen boy and teen girl, Black, ages 16 and 17

Tell It True by Tim Lockette

Lisa Rives had higher expectations for sophomore year. Her beauty queen mom wonders why she can’t be more like other 15-year-old girls in their small Alabama town. Lisa’s Dad, well, she suspects he’s having an affair with a colleague at his top-secret job.

Her friend Preethy seems to be drifting away, and Lisa spends her schooldays dodging creepy boys and waiting to graduate. Then she finds herself in charge of her high school newspaper, which is the last thing she wanted–school newspapers are for popular kids and club-joiners, not outcasts like her, and besides, the stories are never about anything you actually want to know.

But after accidentally tipping the scales in the school election, then deciding to cover a “real” story–the upcoming execution of a local man charged with murder–and becoming a surprise news story herself, Lisa learns some hard lessons about friendship and truth-telling. As Lisa navigates the dilemmas, challenges, and unintended consequences of journalism, she finds her life–and her convictions–changing in ways she couldn’t have imagined.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 6+
  • Themes: family problems, mothers and daughters, school newspaper, journalism, fake news, coming of age, school elections, death penalty, Alabama, introverts, sexual harassment, social media
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 15, white, upper-middle class family, lives in Alabama

Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber

Once Upon a Broken Heart, book 1. For as long as she can remember, Evangeline Fox has believed in true love and happy endings…until she learns that the love of her life will marry another.

Desperate to stop the wedding and to heal her wounded heart, Evangeline strikes a deal with the charismatic, but wicked, Prince of Hearts. In exchange for his help, he asks for three kisses, to be given at the time and place of his choosing.

But after Evangeline’s first promised kiss, she learns that bargaining with an immortal is a dangerous game–and that the Prince of Hearts wants far more from her than she’d pledged. He has plans for Evangeline, plans that will either end in the greatest happily ever after, or the most exquisite tragedy…

No starred reviews on this one, but it’s Stephanie Garber, author of Caraval! It also sounds a bit like Hodge’s Cruel Beauty, which I loved. This one will be super-easy to booktalk with high school students. On the TBR!

  • Genre(s): fantasy, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: magic, bargaining with evil, fates, stepfamilies, grief, death of a parent (father), kissing, heartbreak
  • Protagonist description: teen girl, likely white (she has “rose-gold hair”); several supporting characters have brown or olive skin

The Splendor by Breeana Shields

The Splendor isn’t just a glamorous hotel, it’s a magical experience that gives its guests the fantasy fulfillment of their dreams. But The Splendor didn’t make Juliette’s dreams come true. It ruined her life.

After a weeklong stay, Juliette’s sister, Clare, returns from the hotel changed. Her connection to Juliette–the special bond they once shared–has vanished. In a moment of hurt and frustration, Juliette steals their meager savings and visits The Splendor herself.

When she arrives, she’s taken in by the lush and sumptuous hotel. But as she delves more deeply into the mystery of the place, and how they make their illusions work, she grows more and more uneasy. The Splendor has a seedy underbelly, but every time she gets close to discovering something real, she seems to hit a wall.

Meanwhile, Juliette meets Henri, an illusionist who lives and works at the hotel. Henri’s job is to provide Juliette with the same Signature Experience he gives all the guests–one tailored fantasy that will make her stay unforgettable. As he gets to know her, he realizes that not only is he ill-equipped to make her dreams come true, he’s the cause of her heartache.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, mystery, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: hotels, magic, dreams, sisters, illusionists, heartbreak, orphans
  • Protagonist description: girl, white

For All Time by Shanna Miles

Tamar is a musician, a warrior, a survivor. Fayard? He’s a pioneer, a hustler, a hopeless romantic.

Together, Tamar and Fayard have lived a thousand lives, seen the world build itself up from nothing only to tear itself down again in civil war. They’ve even watched humanity take to the stars. But in each life one thing remains the same: their love and their fight to be together. One love story after another. Their only concern is they never get to see how their story ends. Until now.

When they finally discover what it will take to break the cycle, will they be able to make the sacrifice?

BCCB starred.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: reincarnation, alternating perspectives, soul mates, multiple settings and time periods
  • Protagonist description: all primary characters are Black

Other Boys by Damian Alexander

Debut author! Damian is the new kid at school, and he has a foolproof plan to avoid the bullying that’s plagued him his whole childhood: he’s going to stop talking. Starting on the first day seventh grade, he won’t utter a word. If he keeps his mouth shut, the bullies will have nothing to tease him about–right?

But Damian’s vow of silence doesn’t work–his classmates can tell there’s something different about him. His family doesn’t look like the kind on TV: his mother is dead, his father is gone, and he’s being raised by his grandparents in a low-income household. And Damian does things that boys aren’t supposed do, like play with Barbies instead of GI Joe. Kids have teased him about this his whole life, especially other boys. But if boys can be so cruel, why does Damian have a crush on one?

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, memoir
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-10
  • Themes: bullying, new kid in school, not talking, seventh grade, vow of silence, living with grandmother, poverty, LGBTQIA+, school stories, self-acceptance, grief, loss, death of a parent (mother)
  • Protagonist description: boy, white, age 12, gay; school and classrooms are diverse

*Garlic and the Vampire by Bree Paulsen

Debut author! Garlic feels as though she’s always doing something wrong. At least with her friend Carrot by her side and the kindly Witch Agnes encouraging her, Garlic is happy to just tend her garden, where it’s nice and safe.

But when her village of vegetable folk learns that a bloodthirsty vampire has moved into the nearby castle, they all agree that, in spite of her fear and self-doubt, Garlic is the obvious choice to confront him. And with everyone counting on her, Garlic reluctantly agrees to face the mysterious vampire, hoping she has what it takes.

After all, garlic drives away vampires…right?

School Library Connection and BCCB starred.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: witches, vegetables, gardening, vampires, garlic, bravery, Halloween
  • Protagonist description: Witch Agnes is white; vampire has gray skin; all other characters are vegetables

The Cursed Carnival and Other Calamities: New Stories About Mythic Heroes by Rick Riordan, editor

A cave monster…an abandoned demon…a ghost who wants to erase history…a killer commandant…These are just some of the challenges confronting the young heroes in this highly entertaining anthology.

All but one of the heroes previously starred in a popular book from Rick Riordan Presents. You’ll be reunited with Aru Shah, Zane Obispo, Min the fox spirit, Sal and Gabi, Gum Baby, Nizhoni Begay, Paola Santiago, Sikander Aziz, and Riley Oh. Who is the new hero? Read Rick Riordan’s short story to find out!

Ten bestselling and award-winning middle grade authors contributed to this collection: Roshani Chokshi, J.C. Cervantes, Yoon Ha Lee, Carlos Hernandez, Kwame Mbalia, Rebecca Roanhorse, Tehlor Kay Mejia, Sarwat Chadda, Graci Kim, and Rick Riordan, who also served as the editor.

The cultures represented by these own-voices stories are: Indian, Mesoamerican, Korean, Cuban, Black American, African, Navajo, Mexican, Mesopotamian, and Celtic.

Publishers Weekly starred. This collection includes one story written by Rick Riordan. The other nine stories are written by the original authors from Rick Riordan Presents titles.

  • Genre(s): anthology, short stories, mythology, folklore
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: mythology, heroes, diverse cultures, #ownvoices
  • Protagonist description: multiple diverse characters from previous RRP novels

Barb the Last Berzerker by Dan Abdo and Jason Patterson

Barb is a Berzerker, one of a group of warriors sworn to protect the land of Bailiwick from the scourge of monsters that plagues it. But the fearsome crew seem to have met their match in the nefarious Witch Head. Using power from his magical sword, he tricked the Zerks and took them captive. Only Barb was able to escape–and she took Witch Head’s Shadow Blade with her.

Now it’s up to Barb to free her fellow warriors so they can stop Witch Head from taking over Bailiwick. On the way, she’ll battle vampire goat fiends, snot goblins, and a giant with serious foot odor issues (but don’t mention that to him–he’s very sensitive about it). Luckily, she’s got her best friend, Porkchop the yeti, to help her.

But the power of the Shadow Blade has a mind of its own, and the deeper Barb gets into her quest, the harder it is to keep the blade’s awesome power under control.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure, graphic novel
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: monsters, warriors, witches, epic journeys
  • Protagonist description: two main characters are white; several secondary characters are characters of color

BenBee and the Teacher Griefer: The Kids Under the Stairs by K.A. Holt

This is a novel-in-verse series about Ben Bellows–who failed the Language Arts section of the Florida State test–and three classmates who get stuck in a summer school class.

But these kids aren’t dumb–they’re divergent thinkers, as Ms. J tells them: they simply approach things in a different way than traditional school demands.

Soon, the kids win over Ms. J with their passion for Sandbox, a Minecraft-type game. The kids make a deal with Ms. J: every minute they spend reading aloud equals one minute they get to play Sandbox in class. But when the administration finds about this unorthodox method of teaching, Ben B. and his buds have to band together to save their teacher’s job–and their own academic future.

Each chapter is told through the perspective of one of the four students, who each write in a different style (art, verse, stream of consciousness). I love that this book celebrates different types of intelligence, especially when it comes to failing state tests.

  • Genre(s): free verse, realistic fiction, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: Florida, state tests, summer school, school stories, teachers, gaming, reading, poetry, novels in verse
  • Protagonist description: four rising seventh graders (three boys and one girl); two have Latinx names but no physical descriptions are given

Welcome to Dweeb Club by Betsy Uhrig

In the second week of seventh grade, Jason Sloan signs up for the brand-new HAIR Club. He and his friends have no idea what it’s about, but since they’re the first to sign up they figure they’ll be in charge in no time. The club turns out to be super weird: using fancy new equipment donated by a mysterious benefactor, the members are supposed to monitor school security footage. Their first assignment: find out what is stealing the cafeteria’s croutons.

Instead of the expected dark cafeteria, the computers show the club members something else entirely: actual footage of themselves as high school seniors, five years in the future! What on earth could be happening? Is it some kind of time warp, or alternate reality? Or is it just an un-funny prank? As they scramble to solve the mystery, they can’t help but notice something else–none of them like what they see five years from now. Is there any way to change the future–and their fates?

  • Genre(s): humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: 7th grade, beginning of school year, clubs, glimpse of future, changing the future, surveillance equipment
  • Protagonist description: club is white and Asian students

The Hungry Ghosts by Miguel Flores

Witches have been banned from Arrett for years. Which is why Milly has tried to ignore the tingling light that appears in her palm anytime she conjures up a wish. She has too many responsibilities as the oldest girl at St. George’s Orphanage to get caught up in magicks.

Sweet, quirky Cilla, though, has always longed for that power, even if it could be dangerous for her. Milly has always kept an eye out for her, but then, in a case of mistaken identity, Cilla is kidnapped by an angry, exiled witch who believes she’s the one with magicks—not Milly.

Desperate to bring Cilla back to St. George’s, Milly sets out to find her with a sarcastic young Wind stuck in the form of a cat as her companion. Along the way, they meet an independent young broomstick and gentle giant–and a whole world Milly has never seen before. As she searches high and low for Cilla, one thing becomes clear: she’ll have to face the stirrings of forbidden magicks inside herself in order to rescue a friend who has become more like a sister.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: witches, magic, wishes, orphans, cats, omniscient narrator, sisters, kidnapping
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 12, curly hair and freckled brown skin

*The People Remember by Ibi Zoboi (Author) and Loveis Wise (Illustrator)

The People Remember tells the journey of African descendants in America by connecting their history to the seven principles of Kwanzaa. It begins in Africa, where people were taken from their homes and families. They spoke different languages and had different customs.

Yet they were bound and chained together and forced onto ships sailing into an unknown future. Ultimately, all these people had to learn one common language and create a culture that combined their memories of home with new traditions that enabled them to thrive in this new land.

This book can help young readers deepen their understanding of African American history in relation to their own lives and current social justice movements. By turns powerful and revealing, this is a lyrical narrative that tells the story of survival, as well as the many moments of joy, celebration, and innovation of Black people in America.

Publishers Weekly and Kirkus starred. A rare Kwanzaa book recommended for all ages–don’t miss this one.

  • Genre(s): picture book for older readers
  • Recommended for: PreS-AD
  • Themes: Seven Principles of Kwanzaa, Africa, slavery, ships, community, African Americans, social justice, US history, Black history
  • Protagonist description: all characters are African slaves on a ship to the Americas

*A House by Kevin Henkes

Where is the door to the house? Do you see any clouds? What does the house look like when it is sunny outside? When it is raining? And what will the house turn into when its family returns? A home.

Caldecott Medal–winner Kevin Henkes employs interactive questions, declarative sentences, basic shapes, and a limited color palette in this picture book. A House introduces young readers to shapes, numbers, the weather, and the parts of a house, with a rhythmic, repetitive text and remarkable illustrations.

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: questions, basic shapes, weather, parts of a house, repetitive text
  • Protagonist description: n/a

*Hurricane by John Rocco

That night the wind roars and rumbles,
like the sound of a thousand waves
pounding the shoreline.

A young boy’s favorite place in the world is the old, splintery neighborhood dock. At this dock the boy can swim, fish, or watch minnows dart between the rocks. But a hurricane is coming…and its violent winds and rain carry with it anything that can float.

Booklist and Hornbook starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: weather, natural disasters, hurricanes, docks, ocean, neighbors, taking initiative, helping out, overcoming adversity
  • Protagonist description: boy, white; his dad is also white, but neighbors are diverse

*Have You Seen Gordon? by Adam Jay Epstein (Author) and Ruth Chan (Illustrator)

Have you seen Gordon? Oh. There he is. Gordon isn’t very good at hiding, is he?

The narrator wants to play hide and seek with Gordon and the reader, but Gordon just wants to stand out. This madcap, fourth wall–breaking picture book is packed with humor and full, zany spreads with details kids will return to again and again.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, humor
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: play, hiding, seek and find, games, standing out, visual jokes, tapirs, consent
  • Protagonist description: Gordon is a purple tapir.

*It Fell from the Sky by Terry Fan and Eric Fan

It fell from the sky on a Thursday.

None of the insects know where it came from, or what it is. Some say it’s an egg. Others, a gumdrop. But whatever it is, it fell near Spider’s house, so he’s convinced it belongs to him.

Spider builds a wonderous display so that insects from far and wide can come look at the marvel. Spider has their best interests at heart. So what if he has to charge a small fee? So what if the lines are long? So what if no one can even see the wonder anymore?

But what will Spider do after everyone stops showing up?

SLJ and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: insects, spiders, entrepreneurship, wonders, spectacles, oddities, black and white illustrations, personification, found objects, marbles
  • Protagonist description: all characters are insects and a spider

*Nina: A Story of Nina Simone by Traci N. Todd (Author) and Christian Robinson (Illustrator)

Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in small town North Carolina, Nina Simone was a musical child. She sang before she talked and learned to play piano at a very young age. With the support of her family and community, she received music lessons that introduced her to classical composers like Bach who remained with her and influenced her music throughout her life. She loved the way his music began softly and then tumbled to thunder, like her mother’s preaching, and in much the same way as her career.

During her first performances under the name of Nina Simone her voice was rich and sweet but as the Civil Rights Movement gained steam, Nina’s voice soon became a thunderous roar as she raised her voice in powerful protest in the fight against racial inequality and discrimination.

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: musical prodigies, North Carolina, Civil Rights Movement, protest songs, discrimination, prejudice, racism, Black history
  • Protagonist description: African American singer from North Carolina

*Your Legacy: A Bold Reclaiming of Our Enslaved History by Schele Williams (Author) and Tonya Engel (Illustrator)

Your story begins in Africa.
Your African ancestors defied the odds and survived 400 years of slavery in America and passed down an extraordinary legacy to you.

Beginning in Africa before 1619, Your Legacy presents an unprecedentedly accessible, empowering, and proud introduction to African American history for children. While your ancestors’ freedom was taken from them, their spirit was not; this book celebrates their accomplishments, acknowledges their sacrifices, and defines how they are remembered–and how their stories should be taught.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book, picture book for older readers
  • Recommended for: Grades PreS-AD
  • Themes: slavery, Black history, Africa, American history, freedom, sacrifice, perseverance, pride, reclamation of Black history stories

*Thank You, Neighbor! by Ruth Chan

Join our narrator and her dog on their daily walk as they greet the people in their neighborhood–from the mail carrier and bus driver to the sanitation workers and grocery clerks and more.

Whether listening, asking, helping, or just saying hello and thank you–it is our patience and kindness that make a neighborhood feel like home. This charming story gently reminds us to slow down and be grateful for all the people, places, and things around us.

Publishers Weekly and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: dogs, neighborhood, community helpers, slowing down, essential workers
  • Protagonist description: young girl of Chinese descent and her dog






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.

One Comment

  • I think BenBee and the Teacher Griefer by K. A. Holt was released last year. The sequel, Ben Y and the Ghost in the Machine is the new release.


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