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New Release Spotlight: November 23, 2021

Middle grades and picture books both look great this week! Thanksgiving week isn’t generally a great Spotlight week, but it’s not too bad this time. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

This week’s top picks:

  • A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger
  • The Sister Who Ate Her Brothers and Other Gruesome Tales by Jen Campbell
  • I Am an American by Martha Brockenbrough and Grace Lin

This week’s Spotlight titles are #2122-#2136 on The Ginormous book list.

*A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger

Nina is a Lipan girl in our world. She’s always felt there was something more out there. She still believes in the old stories.

Oli is a cottonmouth kid, from the land of spirits and monsters. Like all cottonmouths, he’s been cast from home. He’s found a new one on the banks of the bottomless lake.

Nina and Oli have no idea the other exists. But a catastrophic event on Earth, and a strange sickness that befalls Oli’s best friend, will drive their worlds together in ways they haven’t been in centuries. And there are some who will kill to keep them apart.

THREE starred reviews! Author is Lipan Apache.

  • Genre(s): mythology, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: spirit world, indigenous people, Native Americans, Texas, snakes, shapeshifters, storytelling tradition, magic
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 16, Lipan Apache

The Ballad of Dinah Caldwell by Kate Brauning

Set in the late-21st Century. Dinah Caldwell has been filling her father’s role since he abandoned their family four years ago. She and her grief-stricken mom run their subsistence farm deep in the Ozarks, making sure her younger brother never has to worry. Until the day Gabriel Gates, who owns everyone in Charlotte County, kills her mother to steal her family’s well.

Homeless, heartbroken, and alone, Dinah only has a single razor-sharp goal: revenge. And now that Gates has put a ten-thousand-dollar bounty on her head, she can’t trust anyone, but she also can’t take down the most powerful man in the mountains
by herself.

Her only allies are Kara, Dinah’s best friend and secret crush, and Johnny, a young bootlegger who has as much reason to hate Gates as Dinah does. With their help and resources, and maybe even love, she can spark a revolution and set the whole county free–if their combined secrets don’t get them all killed first.

  • Genre(s): science fiction, dystopia, action-adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: Ozarks, subsistence farming, siblings, orphans, homelessness, revenge, revolution, bootlegging, World War 3, survival, future world, corporate power
  • Protagonist description: teen girl, white, bisexual, homeless, orphan

Lifetime Passes by Terry Blas (Author) and Claudia Aguirre (Illustrator)

Sixteen-year-old Jackie Chavez loves her local amusement park, Kingdom Adventure, maybe more than anything else in the world. The park is all she and her friends Nikki, Daniel, and Berke–although they aren’t always the greatest friends–talk about. Kingdom Adventure is where all Jackie’s best memories are, and it’s where she feels safe and happy.

This carries even more weight now that Jackie’s parents have been deported and forced to go back to Mexico, leaving Jackie in the United States with her Tía Gina, who she works with at the Valley Care Living seniors’ home. When Gina tells Jackie that they can’t afford a season pass for next summer, Jackie is crushed. But on her next trip to Kingdom Adventure, she discovers a strictly protected secret: If a member of their party dies at the park, the rest of their group gets free lifetime passes.

Jackie and her friends hatch a plot to bring seniors from Valley Care Living to the park using a fake volunteer program, with the hopes that one of the residents will croak during their visit. The ruse quickly gets its first volunteer–a feisty resident named Phyllis.

What starts off as a macabre plan turns into a revelation for Jackie as Phyllis and the other seniors reveal their own complex histories and connections to Kingdom Adventure, as well as some tough-to-swallow truths about Jackie, her friends, and their future.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: amusement parks, friends, deportation, Mexico, elderly people, assisted living, volunteer programs, schemes
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 16, Mexican American

Huda F Are You? by Huda Fahmy

Huda and her family just moved to Dearborn, Michigan, a small town with a big Muslim population. In her old town, Huda knew exactly who she was: She was the hijabi girl. But in Dearborn, everyone is the hijabi girl.

Huda is lost in a sea of hijabis, and she can’t rely on her hijab to define her anymore. She has to define herself. So she tries on a bunch of cliques, but she isn’t a hijabi fashionista or a hijabi athlete or a hijabi gamer. She’s not the one who knows everything about her religion or the one all the guys like. She’s miscellaneous, which makes her feel like no one at all. Until she realizes that it’ll take finding out who she isn’t to figure out who she is.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, fictional memoir, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: Muslims, Dearborn, Michigan, identity, finding oneself, wearing hijab, high school
  • Protagonist description: girl, high school student, Egyptian American, Muslim

*Picturing a Nation: The Great Depression’s Finest Photographers Introduce America to Itself by Martin W. Sandler

In a curated volume of 140 full-color and black-and-white photographs, Martin W. Sandler unpacks the United States Farm Security Administration’s sweeping visual record of the Great Depression.

In 1935, with the nation bent under unprecedented unemployment and economic hardship, the FSA sent ten photographers, including Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Gordon Parks, on the road trip of a lifetime. The images they logged revealed the daily lives of Southern sharecroppers, Dust Bowl farmers in the Midwest, Western migrant workers, and families scraping by in Northeast cities. Using their cameras as weapons against poverty and racism–and in service of hope, courage, and human dignity–these talented photographers created not only a collective work of art, but a national treasure.

Grouped into four geographical regions and locked in focus by rich historical commentary, these images–many now iconic–are history at its most powerful and immediate. Extensive back matter includes photographer profiles and a bibliography.

FIVE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): nonfiction, photography
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-AD
  • Themes: Great Depression, US history, Dust Bowl, sharecropping, 1930s, 20th Century
  • Protagonist description: photographers are white except for one African American (Gordon Parks)

*The Golden Hour by Niki Smith

Struggling with anxiety after witnessing a harrowing instance of gun violence, Manuel Soto copes through photography, using his cell-phone camera to find anchors that keep him grounded. His days are a lonely, latchkey monotony until he’s teamed with his classmates, Sebastian and Caysha, for a group project.

Sebastian lives on a grass-fed cattle farm outside of town, and Manuel finds solace in the open fields and in the antics of the newborn calf Sebastian is hand-raising. As Manuel aides his new friends in their preparations for the local county fair, he learns to open up, confronts his deepest fears, and even finds first love.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: PTSD, anxiety, gun violence, group projects, farming, raising cattle
  • Protagonist description: boy, Latinx

Black Artists Shaping the World by Sharna Jackson (Author)

Written by award-winning Black children’s author Sharna Jackson, this book introduces young readers to twenty-six contemporary artists from Africa and of the African diaspora, working in everything from painting, sculpture, and drawing to ceramics, installation art, and sound art.

These include prominent American artists Kerry James Marshall, Faith Ringgold, portraitist to Michelle Obama Amy Sherald, and Kehinde Wiley; British Turner Prize–winning painters Lubaina Himid and Chris Ofili; renowned South African visual activist and photographer Zanele Muholi; Nigerian sound artist Emeka Ogboh; Sudanese painter Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq; Kenyan-British ceramicist Magdalene Odundo; Afrofuturist-inspired performance artist Harold Offeh; and moving image artist Larry Achiampong, among others.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction, art
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-AD
  • Themes: Africa, African artists, art, photos, world history
  • Protagonist description: all artists depicted are Black

The Sister Who Ate Her Brothers: And Other Gruesome Tales by Jen Campbell (Author) and Adam de Souza (Illustrator)

Do you dare read this collection of terrifyingly gruesome tales? In this gripping volume, author Jen Campbell offers young readers an edgy, contemporary, and inclusive take on classic fairy tales, taking them back to their gory beginnings while updating them for a modern audience with queer and disabled characters and positive representation of disfigurement.

Featuring fourteen short stories from China, India, Ireland, and across the globe, The Sister Who Ate Her Brothers is an international collection of the creepiest folk tales. Illustrated with Adam de Souza’s brooding art, this book’s style is a totally original blend of nineteenth-century Gothic engravings meets moody film noir graphic novels. Headlined by the Korean tale of a carnivorous child, The Sister Who Ate Her Brothers is a truly thrilling gift for brave young readers.

Illustrated in color throughout. Some stories are quite gruesome and not for sensitive readers.

  • Genre(s): short stories, horror, fairy tales
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: scary stories, international, LGBTQIA+, gruesome
  • Protagonist description: characters are racially diverse and some have physical disabilities

*Sato the Rabbit, The Moon by Yuki Ainoya (Author) and Michael Blaskowsky (Translator)

Sato the Rabbit, book 2. Pastoral and surreal, the seven short tales in this collection are a celebration of the senses, and of the harmony that can exist between a gentle creature such as Sato the Rabbit and the natural world.

Whether it’s a pillow of cool, fresh water offered to him for a nap by the spring on a blisteringly hot day, a fragrant floral air float to carry him and his dreams, a hole in his hat, through which he discovers a midsummer forest full of singing cicadas, or a moon basket, nature’s offerings are a bounty to be marveled at and enjoyed.

The second book in a trilogy from Japan, this collection of stories invites readers to embrace the wonders of nature, the transportive power of the senses, and the transformation of the imagination. Because, as Sato shows us, the beauty that we see in the world is actively created by the eyes which perceive it and the imagination that conceives it.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): short stories
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: Japan, nature, rabbits, exploring nature, play, wonder, imagination
  • Protagonist description: young Japanese boy dressed as a rabbit

*Song for Jimi: The Story of Guitar Legend Jimi Hendrix by Charles R. Smith Jr. (Author) and Edel Rodriguez (Illustrator)

Let me tell you a story,
a story ’bout a boy,
who became a man,
a git-tar man,
named Jimi.

From his turbulent childhood through his epical appearance at the Monterey and Woodstock festivals, Charles R. Smith Jr. covers it all in this rich and rhythmic account of a singular life, accompanied by the psychedelic splendor of Edel Rodriguez’s acid-tinged artwork.

Written as a series of verses beginning with intro and ending with outro, this unique mix of rhythm and rhyme captures the essence of rock icon Jimi Hendrix and his struggle to live life on his own terms.

Kirkus and School Library Connection starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-9
  • Themes: musicians, rock stars, Jimi Hendrix, guitars, living life your own way, rhythm, rhyme, African Americans, music history, rock and roll history
  • Protagonist description: black male rock star

I Am an American: The Wong Kim Ark Story by Martha Brockenbrough (Author), Grace Lin (Author), and Julia Kuo (Illustrator)

When American-born Wong Kim Ark returns home to San Francisco after a visit to China, he’s stopped and told he cannot enter: he isn’t American. What happens next would forever change the national conversation on who is and isn’t American. After being imprisoned on a ship for months, Wong Kim Ark takes his case to the Supreme Court and argues any person born in America is an American citizen.

School Library Connection starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: late 1800s, Chinese Exclusion Act, 19th Century, American citizenship, Chinese Americans, false imprisonment, Supreme Court, San Francisco, California, Asian Americans, immigration law, US history, discrimination
  • Protagonist description: man, Chinese American

Little Loon Finds His Voice by Yvonne Pearson (Author) and Regina Shklovsky (Illustrator)

Ooo aaa woo woo! Papa Loon’s voice calls out long and strong across the water. He warns of danger. He defends his family’s home. He even wards off predators. But Peep! Eep! Squeak! Little Loon’s voice is nothing like his Papa’s. When an eagle attacks, will Little Loon find his voice in time?

A water bird found throughout much of North America, loons are famous for their echoing calls. Little Loon Finds His Voice is the endearing, coming-of-age tale of one little loon finding his voice, and with it, his place in the world.

Breathtaking illustrations transport readers to misty lakes and towering pines, and informative loon facts at the end detail the life and habits of these enchanting birds.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: animals, birds, loons, onomatopoeia, bird calls
  • Protagonist description: father and son loons (birds)

¡Mambo Mucho Mambo!: The Dance That Crossed Color Lines by Dean Robbins (Author) and Eric Velasquez (Illustrator)

Millie danced to jazz in her Italian neighborhood. Pedro danced to Latin songs in his Puerto Rican neighborhood. It was the 1940s in New York City, and they were forbidden to dance together…until first a band and then a ballroom broke the rules.

Machito and His Afro-Cubans hit the scene with a brand-new sound, blending jazz trumpets and saxophones with Latin maracas and congas creating Latin jazz, music for the head, the heart, and the hips. Then the Palladium Ballroom issued a bold challenge to segregation and threw open its doors to all.

Illustrated with verve and told through real-life characters who feature in an afterword, ¡Mambo Mucho Mambo! portrays the power of music and dance to transcend racial, religious, and ethnic boundaries.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biodgraphy
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-5
  • Themes: Puerto Ricans, Italians, dancing, jazz, 1940s, New York City, segregation, music history, Millie Donay, Pedro Aguilar
  • Protagonist description: girl, Italian and boy, Puerto Rican; both New Yorkers

Birds on Wishbone Street by Suzanne Del Rizzo

Moe’s neighbors on Wishbone Street come from all over the world, and she’s excited to meet the new boy who just arrived from Syria. Sami isn’t quite ready to talk about his past, but he loves birds just as much as Moe does. And who wouldn’t have fun in a parkette full of packing snow? When the children discover a female cardinal stunned by the cold, Sami uses his experience taking care of pigeons in Syria to help rescue the bird–an incident that helps Sami to feel more at home.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades K-3
  • Themes: neighbors, immigration, Syria, birds, kindness, snow, helping wild animals
  • Protagonist description: girl, light-skinned, Irish Canadian; boy, Syrian refugee; diverse secondary characters

New Year by Mei Zihan (Author) and Qin Leng (Illustrator)

It’s Lunar New Year, a time when families come together for a wonderful feast, and a father longs to be with his daughter—but she lives in another country. As he imagines how his daughter is spending the festivities, he recalls fond memories of time spent with her, feeling a sense of loss and dislocation. While he misses her deeply, he also recognizes her need to move away, grow up, and become herself. New Year is a stunning portrait of leaving home, finding independence, and loving those who are many miles away.

At a time when so many families are unable to gather together, readers will relate to the universal message of missing our loved ones and dreaming of being together again.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades K-AD
  • Themes: Lunar New Year, Chinese New Year, family separation, holidays, letters, missing someone
  • Protagonist description: Chinese father (in Beijing) writing to his Chinese daughter (who lives in Paris)





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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