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New Release Spotlight: November 16, 2021

This week looks pretty “normal” for mid-November…except for the picture books. WOW! The picture books this week include 5 books with at least two starred reviews. Of those, three titles have a whopping 4 or 5 starred reviews. Books having 4 or 5 starred reviews is unusual, but three on the same New Release Spotlight? Unreal. That almost never happens.

This week’s top picks:

  • Graceling (graphic novel), illustrated by Gareth Hinds (YA)
  • Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann (MG)
  • Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson (PB)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #2102-#2121 on The Ginormous book list.

The Year I Stopped Trying by Katie Heaney

Mary is having an existential crisis. She’s a good student, she never gets in trouble, and she is searching for the meaning of life. She always thought she’d find it in a perfect score on the SATs. But by junior year, Mary isn’t so sure anymore.

The first time, it’s an accident. She forgets to do a history assignment. She even crosses “history essay” off in her pristine planner. And then: Nothing happens. She doesn’t burst into flames, the world doesn’t end, the teacher doesn’t even pull her aside after class.

So she asks herself: Why am I trying so hard? What if I stop?

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: meaning of life, overachievers, following rules, teens with jobs, relationships
  • Protagonist description: female, HS junior, age 16, Catholic; a new friend is Korean American girl who is gay

Graceling: The Graphic Novel by Kristin Cashore (Author) and Gareth Hinds (Illustrator)

Katsa is a Graceling, one of the rare people born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she lived a life of privilege until the day her ability to kill a man with her bare hands revealed itself during a royal banquet. Now she acts as her uncle’s enforcer, traveling the kingdom and threatening those who dare oppose him.

But everything changes when she meets Po, a foreign prince Graced with combat skills who is searching for the truth about his grandfather’s disappearance. When Katsa agrees to help him, she never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that could destroy them all.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, fantasy, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: kingdoms, corruption, tyranny, assassins, enforcers, princes, teens with special abilities
  • Protagonist description: teen girl, white

Starling by Isabel Strychacz

Debut author! Strange things have always happened in the small town of Darling…​Yet Delta Wilding and her sister Bee are familiar with the peculiar. Raised by an eccentric father always on the hunt for the spectacular, they’re used to following weather patterns that twirl onto strange paths, a car that refuses to play any artist but one, and living in a sentient house with whims of its own.

But when a mysterious boy falls from the stars into the woods behind the Wilding sisters’ farmhouse, nothing can prepare them for the extraordinary turn their lives are about to take. Extraordinary, and dangerous.

Starling Rust is not from this world and his presence in the Wilding home brings attention. As the terrified locals, Delta’s ex-boyfriend, and the unscrupulous mayor descend onto the Wilding’s home, both Delta and her sister go to incredible lengths to protect their mystical visitor—especially as Delta’s growing feelings for Starling could prove the greatest risk of all.

  • Genre(s): romance, supernatural
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: peculiar, strange, aliens, fear, sisters, small towns, prejudice, alternating viewpoints, California, love triangles
  • Protagonist description: two sisters, ages 16 and 18, both white

When We Were Them by Laura Taylor Namey

When they were fifteen, Willa, Luz, and Britton’s friendship was everything.
When they were sixteen, they stood by each other no matter what.
When they were seventeen, they went through the worst.
And when they were eighteen, Willa ruined it all.

Now, it’s the week of graduation, and Willa is left with only a memory box filled with symbols of the friendship she destroyed: A book of pranks. Corsages from a nightmarish homecoming. A greasy pizza menu. Greeting cards with words that mean the world… It’s enough to make Willa wonder how anything could tear her, Luz, and Britton apart. But as Willa revisits the moments when she and her friends leaned on each other, she can’t avoid the moments they leaned so hard their friendship began to crack.

As Willa tries to find a way back to Luz and Britton, she must confront the why of her betrayal, and answer a question she never saw coming: Who is she without them?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: female friendships, graduation, pranks gone wrong, growing up, San Diego, California, broken friendships, flashbacks, memories, memorabilia
  • Protagonist description: American girl, white, age 18

Briar Girls by Rebecca Kim Wells

Lena has a secret: the touch of her skin can kill. Cursed by a witch before she was born, Lena has always lived in fear and isolation. But after a devastating mistake, she and her father are forced to flee to a village near the Silence, a mysterious forest with a reputation for luring people into the trees, never to be seen again…​

Until the night an enigmatic girl stumbles out of the Silence and into Lena’s sheltered world. Miranda comes from the Gather, a city in the forest brimming with magic. She is on a quest to wake a sleeping princess believed to hold the key to liberating the Gather from its tyrannical ruler–and she offers Lena a bargain. If Lena assists her on her journey, Miranda will help her break the curse.

Mesmerized by Miranda and her promise of a new life, Lena jumps at the chance. But the deeper into the Silence she goes, the more she suspects she’s been lied to–about her family’s history, her curse, and her future. As the shadows close in, Lena must choose who to trust and decide whether it’s more important to have freedom…or power.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, classic retelling
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: curses, secrets, witches, enchanted forests, magic, Sleeping Beauty, LGBTQIA+
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, light brown skin, bisexual

The Diamond Keeper by Jeannie Mobley

Set in 1792. Eighteen-year-old Claudie Durand’s future is planned. She’ll take over the family inn, watch her much prettier younger sister, Mathilde, married off to the butcher’s son, and live out her days alone, without the hope of finding a love of her own. Her mother ran off to the cloister when she was young, and her gruff, abusive father has deemed her unmarriageable, a nuisance, and only good for hard labor.

But outside their small village in Brittany, a revolution is brewing. When the Army of the Republic seizes their town, and Claudie finds herself at the center of the conspiracy, she and Mathilde must flee their sheltered life and take up a cause that, up till now, had always seemed like a distant conflict. As the sisters carry out a dangerous mission for the resistance: delivering a precious item to the mysterious Rooster of Rennes–Claudie’s conscience is torn between the longing to return to her predictable, lonely existence and the desire to carve out a new future, reaching for the life–and love–she never dared dream of but knew deep down she truly deserved.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: sisters, Brittany, France, French Revolution, French history, European history, diamonds, journeys, loyalty, 18th Century, 1700s, King Louis XVI, French kings
  • Protagonist description: female, age 19, white, French

Rush of Wings by Laura E. Weymouth

Rowenna Winthrop has always known there’s magic within her. But though she hears voices on the wind and possesses unusual talents, her mother Mairead believes Rowenna lacks discipline, and refuses to teach her the craft that keeps their Scottish village safe. And when Mairead dies a sinister death, it seems Rowenna’s only chance to grow into her power has died with her. Then, on a fateful, storm-tossed night, Rowenna rescues a handsome stranger named Gawen from a shipwreck, and her mother miraculously returns from the dead. Or so it appears.

The resurrected Mairead is nothing like the old one. To hide her new monstrous nature, she turns Rowenna’s brothers and Gawen into swans and robs Rowenna of her voice. Forced to flee, Rowenna travels to the city of Inverness to find a way to break the curse. But monsters take many forms, and in Inverness, Rowenna is soon caught in a web of strangers who want to use her raw magic for their own gain. If she wishes to save herself and the people she loves most, Rowenna will have to take her fate into her own hands and unlock the power that has evaded her for so long.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, retelling
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: Scotland, curses, monsters, siblings, fuaths (malevolent spirits from Scottish folklore), retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Wild Swans”
  • Protagonist description: female, Scottish, white, age 18

*Killers of the Flower Moon: Adapted for Young Readers: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma, thanks to the oil that was discovered beneath their land. Then, one by one, the Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances, and anyone who tried to investigate met the same end.

As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage, the newly created Bureau of Investigation, which became the FBI, took up the case, one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations. An undercover team, including one of the only Native American agents in the bureau, infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest modern techniques of detection. Working with the Osage, they began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.

In this adaptation of the adult bestseller, David Grann revisits his gripping investigation into the shocking crimes against the Osage people. The book is a searing indictment of the callousness and prejudice toward Native Americans that allowed the murderers to occur for so long.

Booklist and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-9
  • Themes: US history, 1920s, 20th Century, Osage, Oklahoma, exploitation, indigenous peoples, Native Americans, FBI, conspiracy, civil rights, murder, true crime, sensationalism, journalism, headlines, newspapers, photographs
  • Protagonist description: FBI prime investigator is Native American man

Tidesong by Wendy Xu

Sophie is a young witch whose mother and grandmother pressure her to attend the Royal Magic Academy–the best magic school in the realm–even though her magic is shaky at best. To train for her entrance exams, Sophie is sent to relatives she’s never met.

Cousin Sage and Great-Aunt Lan seem more interested in giving Sophie chores than in teaching her magic. Frustrated, Sophie attempts magic on her own, but the spell goes wrong, and she accidentally entangles her magic with the magic of a young water dragon named Lir.

Lir is trapped on land and can’t remember where he came from. Even so, he’s everything Sophie isn’t–beloved by Sophie’s family and skilled at magic. With his help, Sophie might just ace her entrance exams, but that means standing in the way of Lir’s attempts to regain his memories. Sophie knows what she’s doing is wrong, but without Lir’s help, can she prove herself?

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: witches, private boarding schools, magic, water dragons, self-doubt, East Asian cultures
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 12, light skin tone and dark brown hair

The Ice House by Monica Sherwood

Spring has arrived, and yet an unyielding winter freeze has left Louisa snowed into her apartment building for months with parents coping with extreme stress, a little brother struggling with cabin fever, and–awkwardly–her neighbor and former close friend, Luke. The new realities of this climate disaster have not only affected Louisa’s family, but when Luke’s dad has an ice-related accident and it’s unclear if he’ll recover, both families’ lives are turned upside down.

Desperate to find an escape from the grief plaguing their homes, Louisa and Luke build a massive snow fort in their yard. But their creation opens up an otherworldly window to what could lie ahead, and sets them on a mission: to restore the universe to its rightful order, so the ice will melt and life will return to “normal”.

With a deft combination of heartfelt prose and a touch of magic, Monica Sherwood’s affecting debut novel is a relatable story of families grappling with–and emerging from–a different kind of quarantine.

  • Genre(s): ecofiction, dystopia
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: eternal winter, climate change, lockdowns, cabin fever, stress, snowed in, disasters
  • Protagonist description: girl, white, 6th grader

The Fly by Lewis Trondheim

From the fly’s birth to his inevitable end, we see everything this creature goes through simply to survive…from the fly’s perspective.

We guarantee you’ve never looked at your kitchen the way the fly does. While there’s plenty of humor, there’s thrills and chills as well, especially when the fly meets a spider. You may never have liked flies before, but once you meet this little guy, you may be surprised how much you can like a fly.

  • Genre(s): wordless picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades K-7
  • Themes: flies, insects, survival, different perspectives
  • Protagonist description: protagonist is a fly

*Dream Street by Tricia Elam Walker (Author) and Ekua Holmes (Illustrator)

Welcome to Dream Street–the best street in the world! On Dream Street, love between generations rules, everyone is special, and the warmth of the neighborhood shines.

Meet kids like Azaria, who loves to jump double-Dutch one leg at a time; Zion, whose dream is to become a librarian; and cousins Ede and Tari, who dream of creating a picture book together one day. Meet grown-ups like Mr. Sidney, a retired mail carrier who greets everyone with the words, “Don’t wait to have a great day. Create one!” and Ms. Sarah, whose voice is only a whisper but who has stories between the lines of her face that she’ll share when you come close.

FIVE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: communities, neighborhoods, African Americans, city life, Black joy
  • Protagonist description: various African Americans in a community

*The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones (Author), Renée Watson (Author), and Nikkolas Smith (Illustrator)

A young student receives a family tree assignment in school, but she can only trace back three generations.

Grandma gathers the whole family, and the student learns that 400 years ago, in 1619, their ancestors were stolen and brought to America by white slave traders. But before that, they had a home, a land, a language. She learns how the people said to be born on the water survived.

FOUR starred reviews! Grade levels here are 1-5, but this title would work well in middle school libraries also.

  • Genre(s): picture book for older readers
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-5
  • Themes: family, ancestry, slavery, grandparents, US history, colonialism, hope, resilience, West Africa
  • Protagonist description: young girl, African American; all family members are African American

*The Big Bath House by Kyo Maclear (Author) and Gracey Zhang (Illustrator)

You’ll walk down the street / Your aunties sounding like clip-clopping horses / geta-geta-geta / in their wooden sandals / Until you arrive… / At the bath house / The big bath house.

In this celebration of Japanese culture and family and naked bodies of all shapes and sizes, join a little girl–along with her aunties and grandmother–at a traditional bath house. Once there, the rituals leading up to the baths begin: hair washing, back scrubbing, and, finally, the wood barrel drumroll. Until, at last, it’s time, and they ease their bodies–their creased bodies, newly sprouting bodies, saggy, jiggly bodies–into the bath. Ahhhhhh!

FIVE starred reviews! What a great week for picture books!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: Japanese culture, family, bodies, body positivity, bath houses, baths, grandparents
  • Protagonist description: young girl, Japanese American

*Soul Food Sunday by Winsome Bingham (Author) and C. G. Esperanza (Illustrator)

At Granny’s, Sunday isn’t Sunday without a big family gathering over a lovingly prepared meal.

Old enough now, our narrator is finally invited to help cook the dishes for the first time: He joins Granny in grating the cheese, cleaning the greens, and priming the meat for Roscoe Ray’s grill.

But just when Granny says they’re finished, her grandson makes his own contribution, sweetening this Sunday gathering–and the many more to come.

Publishers Weekly and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: grandmothers, Sundays, family, eating, cooking, growing up, rites of passage, family traditions, soul food, extended family, African Americans
  • Protagonist description: young boy, African American

*Art Is Everywhere: A Book About Andy Warhol by Jeff Mack

This is the story of Andy Warhol–and how his pop art took the world by storm.

From drawing shoes for a shoe company to his Campbell’s Soup cans and Marilyn Monroe prints, Andy made art out of the everyday. People claimed Andy’s art wasn’t real art, but that didn’t stop him from making it, plus movies, a magazine, a TV show, and more!

Publishers Weekly and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: Grades K-5
  • Themes: Andy Warhol, artists, art
  • Protagonist description: Andy Warhol is protagonist (white male, American)

*The Barn by Leah H. Rogers (Author) and Barry Root (Illustrator)

One hundred years ago, many hands raised a red-cedar barn.

Now the barn stands tall, smelling of freshly cut hay and dusty horses. As the animals wake and wander through its weathered doors, the barn watches the day unfold. Chickens peck, cows shoo flies with swishing tails, swallows fly in and out, and a cat crouches in the grass to hunt for dinner.

When peepers start their evening song and the animals settle in their bedding again–the horses in their stalls, the cows in their pen, the swallows in their nests–the barn settles, too, until morning, when it gets to live the day all over again.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: daily routines, cycles, bedtime, barns, farms, farm animals, comfort
  • Protagonist description: several humans (all white) and various farm animals

I Am Odd, I Am New by Benjamin Giroux (Author) and Roz MacLean (Illustrator)

Through the eyes of 10-year-old Benjamin Giroux, being odd is different, and different is a good thing. This is what the then fifth-grader hoped to convey in his poem, beginning every few sentences with “I am,” about what it is like to live with autism.

Inspired by a school assignment, Benjamin’s raw and emotional words poured out onto the page, but when he feared they were not any good, his parents shared the poem with friends and family. Little did they know that it would go viral and end up inspiring thousands of strangers who identified with him to share their support.

Now for the first time, Benjamin’s iconic poem “I Am Odd, I Am New,” comes to life in this lovingly illustrated picture book with a foreword written by the National Autism Association. So whether you know the poem, or it is new to you, discover how Benjamin’s honesty will reassure children of all ages that it’s okay to be different.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades K-5
  • Themes: autism, school assignments, poems, being different, belonging, fitting in
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 10, autistic, white

Happy Diwali! by Sanyukta Mathur (Author) and Courtney Pippin-Mathur (Author, Illustrator)

This joyful family story follows a little girl from dawn to dusk as she draws rangolis to welcome guests, prepares food with her family including pani puri and chana masala, dresses up in colorful clothing, participates in the puja, and lights the diyas in honor of Diwali: the Hindu festival of lights. Excitement, history, and traditions abound in this vibrant celebration of Diwali, complete with a glossary, and delicious recipes for mango lassi, sukhe aloo, and puri.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 1
  • Themes: winter holidays, Diwali, Hindu, traditions, family, food, recipes
  • Protagonist description: two Hindu children and their family

My Pet Goldfish by Catherine Rayner

In his big tank in the kitchen, Richard the goldfish quickly bonds with–and even learns to recognize–his human companion, who tells him all about his day after school.

A visiting friend, Sandy, shares some cool fish facts: Did you know that goldfish nap with their eyes open–because they don’t have eyelids? Or that they can let you know they’re hungry by swimming up and blowing bubbles? Sandy has a backyard pond filled with goldfish of all shapes and jewel-like colors, some much bigger (and older) than his friend’s new pet. What might Richard’s own future hold?

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: pets, pet care, goldfish, fish facts
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 4, curly brown hair and tan skin






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.


  • I have been following you for years. I read your spotlight all the time and use your reviews to order my books. I have also bought your Halloween and Christmas trivia games. I try to play the games with the 4th and 5th graders at our school every year. I also tried your Blind date with a book and I have a bookmark contest every Christmas! I am at an elementary school so I’m so glad you include an elementary section in the spotlight. Thank you for all you do and for also giving me great ideas!

    • Wow, thanks, Pam! I’m actually working on the Nov. 23rd Spotlight as we speak!


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