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New Release Spotlight: September 7, 2021

This is the longest list I’ve put together since May! I’ve done the New Release Spotlight for six Septembers now, and September is always a huge month for new books! This is not a full list of all the greatness coming out this week; there are titles that got starred reviews that I don’t have time to get to. The books that made this week’s list are what I would personally buy for my library and recommend you consider for yours. There is loads of diversity in authors, genres, and themes here!

This week’s top picks:

  • Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown by Steve Sheinkin (YA–nonfiction)
  • Borders by Thomas King (MG–graphic novel, based on a true story)
  • Bright Star by Yuyi Morales and New in Town by Kevin Cornell (picture books)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1882-#1908 on The Ginormous book list.

*Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown by Steve Sheinkin

As World War II comes to a close, the United States and the Soviet Union emerge as the two greatest world powers on extreme opposites of the political spectrum. After the United States showed its hand with the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, the Soviets refuse to be left behind. With communism sweeping the globe, the two nations begin a neck-and-neck competition to build even more destructive bombs and conquer the Space Race. In their battle for dominance, spy planes fly above, armed submarines swim deep below, and undercover agents meet in the dead of night.

The Cold War game grows more precarious as weapons are pointed towards each other, with fingers literally on the trigger. The decades-long showdown culminates in the Cuban Missile Crisis, the world’s close call with the third–and final–world war.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: WWII, Soviet Union, Cold War, atomic bomb, communism, democracy, bombs, Space Race, Cuban Missile Crisis, world history, espionage, 20th Century
  • Protagonist description: n/a

*We Are Not Broken by George M Johnson

This is the vibrant story of George, Garrett, Rall, and Rasul–four children raised by Nanny, their fiercely devoted grandmother. The boys hold one another close through early brushes with racism, memorable experiences at the family barbershop, and first loves and losses. And with Nanny at their center, they are never broken.

Booklist and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): biography, memoir
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: grandmothers, siblings, cousins, brothers, Black boys, racism, prejudice, strong women, African Americans, New Jersey, grief
  • Protagonist description: several boys, all Black

We Can Be Heroes by Kyrie McCauley

Beck and Vivian never could stand each other, but they always tried their best for their mutual friend, Cassie. After the town moves on from Cassie’s murder too fast, Beck and Vivian finally find common ground: vengeance.

They memorialize Cassie by secretly painting murals of her around town, a message to the world that Cassie won’t be forgotten. But Beck and Vivian are keeping secrets, like the third passenger riding in Beck’s VW bus with them–Cassie’s ghost.

When their murals catch the attention of a podcaster covering Cassie’s case, they become the catalyst for a debate that Bell Firearms can no longer ignore. With law enforcement closing in on them, Beck and Vivian hurry to give Cassie the closure she needs–by delivering justice to those responsible for her death.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, supernatural
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: friendship, revenge, ghosts, podcasting, gun violence, domestic violence, murder-suicide, Greek mythology, justice
  • Protagonist description: three female friends, all white, one is a ghost

Code Name Badass: The True Story of Virginia Hall by Heather Demetrios

When James Bond was still in diapers, Virginia Hall was behind enemy lines, playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Hitler’s henchmen. Did this shero have second thoughts after a terrible accident left her needing a wooden leg? Please. Virginia Hall was the baddest broad in any room she walked into. When the State Department proved to be a sexist boys’ club that wouldn’t allow her in, she gave the finger to society’s expectations of women and became a spy for the British. This boss lady helped arm and train the French Resistance and organized sabotage missions. There was just one problem: The Butcher of Lyon, a notorious Gestapo commander, was after her. But, hey–Virginia’s classmates didn’t call her the Fighting Blade for nothing.

So how does a girl who was a pirate in the school play, spent her childhood summers milking goats, and rocked it on the hockey field end up becoming the Gestapo’s most wanted spy? Audacious, irreverent, and fiercely feminist, Code Name Badass is for anyone who doesn’t take no for an answer.

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction, biography
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: WWII, female spies, amputees, sexism, Nazis, feminism, girl power, snarky narrative tone, Europe, France, England
  • Protagonist description: British woman, white, amputee (leg)

Hello (From Here) by Chandler Baker and Wesley King

Maxine and Jonah meet in the canned goods aisle just as California is going into lockdown. Max’s part-time job as a personal grocery shopper is about to transform into a hellish gauntlet. Jonah’s preexisting anxiety is about to become an epic daily struggle. As Max and Jonah get to know each other through FaceTime dates, socially distanced playground hangs, and the escalating heartbreaks of the pandemic, they’re pushed apart by what they don’t share and pulled closer by what they do.

As thoughtful, probing, and informed as it is buoyant, romantic, and funny, Hello (From Here) cuts across differences in class, privilege, and mental health, all thrown into stark relief by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s a novel that looks at the first two months of the quarantine, and adds falling in love to the mess.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: California, pandemic lockdown, teens at work, anxiety, social distancing, coronavirus, Covid-19, mental health
  • Protagonist description: teen boy and girl, both white

*Battle of the Bands by Lauren Gibaldi and Eric Smith (Editors)

A daughter of rock ’n’ roll royalty has a secret crush. A lonely ticket taker worries about his sister. An almost-famous songwriter nurses old wounds. A stage manager tires of being behind the scenes. A singer-songwriter struggles to untangle her feelings for her best friend and his girlfriend.

In this live-out-loud anthology, the disparate protagonists of sixteen stories are thrown together for one unforgettable event: their high school’s battle of the bands. Told in a harmonic blend of first- and third-person narrative voices, roughly chronological short stories offer a kaleidoscopic view of the same transformative night. Featuring an entry from Justin Courtney Pierre, lead vocalist of Motion City Soundtrack, Battle of the Bands is a celebration of youth, music, and meeting the challenges of life head-on.

With stories by Brittany Cavallaro, Preeti Chhibber, Jay Coles, Katie Cotugno, Lauren Gibaldi, Shaun David Hutchinson, Ashley Poston, Jenny Torres Sanchez, Sarah Nicole Smetana, Eric Smith, Jenn Marie Thorne, Sarvenaz Taghavian, Jasmine Warga, Ashley Woodfolk, and Jeff Zentner, and featuring Motion City Soundtrack’s Justin Courtney Pierre.

Publishers Weekly and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): short stories, anthology
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: music, bands, competitions, interconnected stories
  • Protagonist description: variety of ethnicities, skin tones, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic classes

Dark and Shallow Lies by Ginny Myers Sain

Debut author! La Cachette, Louisiana, is the worst place to be if you have something to hide.

This tiny town, where seventeen-year-old Grey spends her summers, is the self-proclaimed Psychic Capital of the World–and the place where Elora Pellerin, Grey’s best friend, disappeared six months earlier.

Grey can’t believe that Elora vanished into thin air any more than she can believe that nobody in a town full of psychics knows what happened. But as she digs into the night that Elora went missing, she begins to realize that everybody in town is hiding something–her grandmother Honey; her childhood crush Hart; and even her late mother, whose secrets continue to call to Grey from beyond the grave.

When a mysterious stranger emerges from the bayou–a stormy-eyed boy with links to Elora and the town’s bloody history–Grey realizes that La Cachette’s past is far more present and dangerous than she’d ever understood. Suddenly, she doesn’t know who she can trust. In a town where secrets lurk just below the surface, and where a murderer is on the loose, nobody can be presumed innocent–and La Cachette’s dark and shallow lies may just rip the town apart.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): mystery, thriller, supernatural
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: Louisiana, bayou, small towns, missing persons, psychics, secrets, hidden past, murder, southern gothic
  • Protagonist description: girl, white, age 17; main characters are white

Where I Belong by Marcia Argueta Mickelson

In the spring of 2018, Guatemalan American high school senior Milagros “Millie” Vargas knows her life is about to change. She’s lived in Corpus Christi, Texas, ever since her parents sought asylum there when she was a baby. Now a citizen, Millie devotes herself to school and caring for her younger siblings while her mom works as a housekeeper for the wealthy Wheeler family. With college on the horizon, Millie is torn between attending her dream school and staying close to home, where she knows she’s needed. She’s disturbed by what’s happening to asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, but she doesn’t see herself as an activist or a change-maker. She’s just trying to take care of her own family.

Then Mr. Wheeler, a U.S. Senate candidate, mentions Millie’s achievements in a campaign speech about “deserving” immigrants. It doesn’t take long for people to identify Millie’s family and place them at the center of a statewide immigration debate. Faced with journalists, trolls, anonymous threats, and the Wheelers’ good intentions–especially those of Mr. Wheeler’s son, Charlie–Millie must confront the complexity of her past, the uncertainty of her future, and her place in the country that she believed was home.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: Corpus Christi, Texas, American citizenship, DACA, social class, immigration, activism, asylum-seekers, negative media attention, politics
  • Protagonist description: Guatamalan American female, age 17

The Problem with the Other Side by Kwame Ivery

Debut author! Uly would rather watch old Westerns with his new girlfriend, Sallie, than get involved in his school’s politics–why focus on the “bad” and “ugly” when his days with Sallie are so good? His older sister Regina feels differently. She is fed up with the way white school-body presidential candidate Leona Walls talks about Black students. Regina decides to run against Leona…and convinces Uly to be her campaign manager.

Sallie has no interest in managing her sister’s campaign, but how could she say no? After their parents’ death, Leona is practically her only family. Even after Leona is accused of running a racist campaign that targets the school’s students of color–including Sallie’s boyfriend, Uly–Sallie wants to give her sister the benefit of the doubt. But how long can she ignore the ugly truth behind Leona’s actions?

Together and apart, Uly and Sallie must navigate sibling loyalty and romantic love as the campaign spirals toward a devastating conclusion.

  • Genre(s): romance, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: New Jersey, student government, elections, siblings, racism, prejudice, gun violence, school violence, orphans, white supremacy, family loyalty, interracial romance, alternating voices
  • Protagonist description: white girl and Black boy, both live in New Jersey

Traitors Among Us by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

Set in 1945, early post-war Europe. Sisters Krystia and Maria have been through the worst–or so they think. World War II ravaged their native Ukraine, but they both survived, and are now reunited in a displaced persons camp.

Then another girl accuses the sisters of being Hitler Girls–people who collaborated with the Nazis. Nothing could be further from the truth; during the horrors of the war, both sisters resisted the Nazis and everything they stood for. But the Soviets, who are now in charge, don’t listen to the sisters’ protests. Krystia and Maria are taken away and interrogated for crimes they never committed.

Caught in a dangerous trap, the sisters must look to each other for strength and perseverance. Can they convince their captors that they’re innocent–or escape to safety before it’s too late?

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: sisters, WWII, Adolf Hitler, war, Soviets, guilt and innocence, refugees
  • Protagonist description: two sisters, Ukranian, ages 14 and 16

Act Cool by Tobly McSmith

Aspiring actor August Greene just landed a coveted spot at the prestigious School of Performing Arts in New York. There’s only one problem: His conservative parents won’t accept that he’s transgender. And to stay with his aunt in the city, August must promise them he won’t transition.

August is convinced he can play the part his parents want while acting cool and confident in the company of his talented new friends.

But who is August when the lights go down? And where will he turn when the roles start hitting a little too close to home?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: drama, theater, acting, performance arts, transgender, being at-odds with parents, transitioning, LGBTQIA+, New York City, suicidal ideation
  • Protagonist description: transgender boy, age 16, white

Lies Like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

In Gap Mountain, California, everyone knows about fire season. And no one is more vigilant than 18-year-old Hannah Warner, the sheriff’s daughter and aspiring FBI agent. That is until this summer. When Hannah and her best friends accidentally spark an enormous and deadly wildfire, their instinct is to lie to the police and the fire investigators.

But as the blaze roars through their rural town and towards Yosemite National Park, Hannah’s friends begin to crack and she finds herself going to extreme lengths to protect their secret. Because sometimes good people do bad things. And if there’s one thing people hate, it’s liars.

  • Genre(s): thriller, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: wildfires, California, law enforcement, summer, accidents, lies, arson investigations, Yosemite National Park, missing persons
  • Protagonist description: 5 teens, males and females, age 18 (summer post-high school); one is Latinx and the others are presumed white

Mary, Will I Die? by Shawn Sarles

It starts innocently enough. Four kids–three girls, one boy–are at one of their houses, playing games. One of them has read about “Bloody Mary” and the idea that if you look into a mirror and say her name thirteen times, she will show you the future. Some legends say she’ll show you your one true love or a skull to mark your death within five years. Others say that conjuring Bloody Mary will bring her into your world.

Both sets of legends are true. The kids go through with the act, saying her name thirteen times. One girl looks in the mirror and sees her longtime crush. One girl looks in the mirror and sees the boy in the group. But she pretends to see something else. One girl looks in the mirror and sees a girl she’s never seen before but can’t get out of her mind.

And the boy…he sees a skull. But he pretends to see something else. They try to laugh it off. And mostly they forget about it. Or at least they don’t talk about it. Yes, over the next few years, whenever they look into a mirror, it’s like there’s always another figure standing in the background, getting closer.

Just short of five years later, the four of them are no longer friends, having gone on separate paths. The girl whose house it was has always tried to avoid the mirror they used–because she always sensed someone in the background. One morning as she’s passing by, she sees much more than her own reflection–it’s a scary figure taunting her. She startles and breaks the mirror. When the pieces are put back together (barely), the figure is gone.

That day in school, a new girl arrives. Her name is Mary…

  • Genre(s): thriller, horror
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-10
  • Themes: Bloody Mary game, urban legends, alternating perspectives
  • Protagonist description: three girls, one boy; all presumed white. They start at age 9 and then flash-forward to age 14.

*Borders by Thomas King (Author) and Natasha Donovan (Illustrator)

Borders is a story of a boy and his mother whose road trip is thwarted at the border when they identify their citizenship as Blackfoot. Refusing to identify as either American or Canadian first bars their entry into the US, and then their return into Canada. In the limbo between countries, they find power in their connection to their identity and to each other.

Borders explores nationhood from an Indigenous perspective and resonates deeply with themes of identity, justice, and belonging.

THREE starred reviews! This is a sparsely-worded graphic novel about an actual event.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-AD
  • Themes: US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Canada Immigration, border (US and Canada), Blackfoot, indigenous peoples, Native Americans, being stuck in the middle, absurdity, citizenship
  • Protagonist description: mother and son; both Blackfoot

Pahua and the Soul Stealer by Lori Lee

Pahua Moua has a bit of a reputation for being a weirdo. A lonely eleven-year-old Hmong girl with the unique ability to see spirits, she spends her summer days babysitting her little brother and playing with her best friend, a cat spirit no one else can see.

One day Pahua accidentally untethers an angry spirit from the haunted bridge in her neighborhood–whoops. When her brother suddenly falls sick and can’t be awoken, Pahua fears that the bridge spirit has stolen his soul. She returns to the scene of the crime with her aunt’s old shaman tools, hoping to confront the spirit and demand her brother’s return. Instead, she summons a demon.

Thankfully, a warrior shaman with a bit of an attitude problem shows up at the last minute and saves her butt. With the help of this guide, Pahua will have to find her way through the spirit worlds and rescue her brother’s soul before it’s too late. Little does she know she’ll have her own discoveries to make along the way…

SLJ starred. This is part of the Rick Riordan Presents series of books that focus on mythology and legends around the world.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, mythology
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: Hmong, southeast Asia, cats, spirits, illness, souls, demons
  • Protagonist description: Hmong American girl, age 11

*Born Behind Bars by Padma Venkatraman

Kabir has been in jail since the day he was born, because his mom is serving time for a crime she didn’t commit. He’s never met his dad, so the only family he’s got are their cellmates, and the only place he feels the least bit free is in the classroom, where his kind teacher regales him with stories of the wonders of the outside world.

Then one day a new warden arrives and announces Kabir is too old to stay. He gets handed over to a long-lost “uncle” who unfortunately turns out to be a fraud, and intends to sell Kabir. So Kabir does the only thing he can–run away as fast as his legs will take him. How does a boy with nowhere to go and no connections make his way?

Fortunately, he befriends Rani, another street kid, and she takes him under her wing. But plotting their next move is hard–and fraught with danger–in a world that cares little for homeless, low caste children. This is not the world Kabir dreamed of–but he’s discovered he’s not the type to give up. Kabir is ready to show the world that he–and his mother–deserve a place in it.

Kirkus and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): survival, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: prison, crime, selling children, runaways, homelessness, caste system, Asia, Chennai, India, water shortages
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 9, Indian

*Willodeen by Katherine Applegate

Eleven-year-old Willodeen adores creatures of all kinds, but her favorites are the most unlovable beasts in the land: strange beasts known as “screechers.” The villagers of Perchance call them pests, even monsters, but Willodeen believes the animals serve a vital role in the complicated web of nature.

Lately, though, nature has seemed angry indeed. Perchance has been cursed with fires and mudslides, droughts and fevers, and even the annual migration of hummingbears, a source of local pride and income, has dwindled. For as long as anyone can remember, the tiny animals have overwintered in shimmering bubble nests perched atop blue willow trees, drawing tourists from far and wide. This year, however, not a single hummingbear has returned to Perchance, and no one knows why.

When a handmade birthday gift brings unexpected magic to Willodeen and her new friend, Connor, she’s determined to speak up for the animals she loves, and perhaps even uncover the answer to the mystery of the missing hummingbears.

Booklist and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: beasts, nature, extreme weather, environmentalism, conservation, magic, climate change, ecofiction
  • Protagonist description: girl, white, age 11

Partly Cloudy by Tanita S. Davis

Lightning couldn’t strike twice, could it? After a terrible year, Madalyn needs clear skies desperately. Moving in with her great-uncle, Papa Lobo, and switching to a new school is just the first step.

It’s not all rainbows and sunshine, though. Madalyn discovers she’s the only Black girl in her class, and while most of her classmates are friendly, assumptions lead to some serious storms.

Papa Lobo’s long-running feud with neighbor Mrs. Baylor brings wild weather of its own, and Madalyn wonders just how far things will go. But when fire threatens the community, Madalyn discovers that truly being neighborly means more than just staying on your side of the street–it means weathering tough conversations–and finding that together a family can pull through anything.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: new kid in school, being the only Black girl in and all-white school, wildfire, neighbors, community, California
  • Protagonist description: girl, African American, 6th grader

Once Upon a Camel by Kathi Appelt (Author) and Eric Rohmann (Illustrator)

Set in 1910. Zada is a camel with a treasure trove of stories to tell. She’s won camel races for the royal Pasha of Smyrna, crossed treacherous oceans to new land, led army missions with her best camel friend by her side, and outsmarted a far too pompous mountain lion.

But those stories were from before. Now, Zada wanders the desert as the last camel in Texas. But she’s not alone. Two tiny kestrel chicks are nestled in the fluff of fur between her ears–kee-killy-keeing for their missing parents–and a dust storm the size of a mountain is taking Zada on one more grand adventure. And it could lead to this achy old camel’s most brilliant story yet.

Booklist starred. Illustrated in grayscale.

  • Genre(s): animal stories, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: animals, camels, kestrels, storytelling, best friends, Texas, Turkey, orphans, dust storms, found families
  • Protagonist description: major characters are animals (camel, kestrel chicks)

*Make Meatballs Sing: The Life and Art of Corita Kent by Matthew Burgess (Author) and Kara Kramer (Illustrator)

Corita Kent (1918–1986) lived a remarkable life as an artist, educator, nun, and activist. Unapologetically holding true to herself and her beliefs, Corita spread a powerful message of love, hope, and justice with her work, as it evolved from figurative and religious art, to serigraphs incorporating the sacred and the ordinary, to a sparser, more introspective style.

This timely story will draw readers into the life of a singular woman whose work and commitment invite us all to seek joy in the everyday, to observe the world with open eyes, and to question and see beyond the existing frameworks of society.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book biography, picture book for older readers
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-7
  • Themes: nuns, artists, activists, joy, California, screen-printing, Roman Catholics
  • Protagonist description: white female, nun, American

*Bright Star by Yuyi Morales

Child, you are awake!
You are alive!
You are a bright star,
Inside our hearts.

This is the story of a fawn making her way through a border landscape teaming with flora and fauna native to the region. A gentle but empowering voice encourages her to face her fears when she comes across an obstacle in the form of an insurmountable barrier.

FIVE starred reviews! An all-Spanish translation publishes simultaneously.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: US-Mexico border, border wall, facing fear, deer, fawns, baby animals, encouragement, overcoming obstacles, immigration, nature, hope
  • Protagonist description: characters are animals and brown-skinned children

Pura’s Cuentos: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories by Annette Bay Pimentel (Author) and Magaly Morales (Illustrator)

Pura’s abuela always has a cuento to share. She crows ¡Qui-qui-ri-quí! for Señor Gallo, booms Borom, Borom for Señor Zapo, and tells of a beautiful cockroach who loves a mouse. Pura clings to these stories like coquíes cling to green leaves.

When Pura grows up and moves from Puerto Rico to Harlem, she gets a job at the library, where she is surrounded by stories—but they’re only in English. Where is Señor Gallo? Where is Pérez the mouse? Where is Puerto Rico on these shelves? She decides to tell children the tales of her homeland in English and in Spanish.

Lyrically written, with lively illustrations, Pura’s Cuentos captures the exuberant spirit and passion of Pura Belpré: celebrated storyteller, author, folklorist, and the first Latina librarian in New York City. A pioneer of bilingual storytimes, she welcomed countless new families to the library, formed cultural bridges in her community, and broke the rules by telling stories that weren’t printed in books–at least, not yet.

Kirkus starred. Text mainly in English with some Spanish words and phrases mixed in. Share this when you want to talk about the Pura Belpre Award, which is announced in January.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: Grades K-3
  • Themes: librarians, storytelling, Spanish language, Puerto Ricans, grandmothers, New York Public Library
  • Protagonist description: Latina woman

When Langston Dances by Kaija Langley (Author) and Keith Mallett (Illustrator)

Langston likes basketball okay, but what he loves is to dance–ever since he saw the Alvin Ailey Dance Company perform. He longs to twirl into a pirouette, whirl into a piqué. He wants to arabesque and attitude, grand battement and grand jeté. When he walks, the whole street is his stage.

With his neighborhood cheering him on, will Langston achieve his dream?

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: dancing, ballet, basketball, dreams, performance arts, self-acceptance, gender stereotypes, African Americans
  • Protagonist description: young Black boy

We Give Thanks by Cynthia Rylant (Author) and Sergio Ruzzier (Illustrator)

We give thanks for apple trees
and bushes filled with roses.
We give thanks for nice warm soup
and fires to warm our toeses.

Follow two sweet friends as they zip around town talking to all their pals about the things they love. The pair may even have a plan cooking to show everyone their gratitude! With its themes of thankfulness and inclusion, this playfully illustrated story is the perfect read for Thanksgiving—or for any day of the year.

SLJ starred. Clearly, this is a great choice for Thanksgiving read-alouds.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 1
  • Themes: giving thanks, gratefulness, Thanksgiving, rabbits, frogs, family, community
  • Protagonist description: animal characters

Ada and the Galaxies by Alan Lightman (Author), Olga Pastuchiv (Author), and Susanna Chapman (Illustrator)

Layering photographs taken from the Hubble telescope into charming and expressive art, illustrator Susanna Chapman zooms in on one child’s experiences: Ada knows that the best place for star-gazing is on the island in Maine where she vacations with her grandparents. By day, she tracks osprey in the trees, paddles a kayak, and hunts for shells. But she’s most in her element when the sun goes down and the stars blink to life.

Will the fog this year foil her plans, or will her grandfather find a way to shine a spotlight on the vast puzzle of the universe… until the weather turns?

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: astronomy, space, Hubble telescope, osprey, fog, Maine, night sky, kayaking, nature, interconnectedness, universe, grandfathers, multigenerational
  • Protagonist description: young girl and her grandfather; both have brown skin and curly dark hair

Jazz for Lunch! by Jarrett Dapier (Author) and Eugenia Mello (Illustrator)

Struttin’ with Auntie Nina down to a club,
We’re gonna hear some music and then eat some grub.
Wanna get up close, but we’re stuck in the back,
We can’t see the drums and we can’t get a snack!
But Auntie Nina’s got a plan, don’t you fret,
She’s taking us to her place where we can get

Come on in, sit right down! Cuz Auntie Nina and her nephew are cooking up a symphony of food and sounds. The lip-smacking smells and be-bopping tunes might just get the whole neighborhood shimmying over to join in. From Nat King Cole Slaw to Art Tatum Tots to Billie Hollandaise Sauce, get ready for some foot-stomping, finger-licking, booty-shaking, mouth-watering fun!

Kirkus starred. A great read-aloud for Mardi Gras!

  • Genre(s): picture books
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: rhythm, rhyme, jazz, music, food, cooking, restaurants, cafes
  • Protagonist description: young boy and his aunt, both Black. Other people at the cafe represent a variety of skin tones.

New in Town by Kevin Cornell

One fine morning, the people of Puddletrunk wake up to find their bridge has collapsed. They are not surprised. After all, termites have destroyed the last 200 or so bridges. Luckily, the people of Puddletrunk have a bridge-building expert in their town: the fabulous Mortimer Gulch, who will gladly rebuild their bridge for a pretty penny. But when a newcomer to Puddletrunk does not want to pay for the repairs, Mortimer is displeased. To make matters worse, this unusual foreigner has some innovative ideas that threaten to upend Mortimer Gulch’s entire business…

Here is a whimsical yet timely picture book allegory about what new people with new ideas can bring to communities.

Kirkus starred. This is exactly the kind of story I love reading to older students! Business classes could use this allegory to teach the importance of competition in a healthy economy. It can also be used to teach why monopolies are counter-intuitive to capitalism and diversity of ideas.

  • Genre(s): picture book, picture book for older readers, allegory
  • Recommended for: PreS-3 (but so great for MS and HS students, too!)
  • Themes: business, bridges, repairs, termites, the importance of competition, monopolies, trolls, greed, sabotage, diversity, being new in town
  • Protagonist description: the “newcomer” has brown skin; Mortimer Gulch is a green-skinned troll







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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