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New Release Spotlight: December 14, 2021

It’s the last New Release Spotlight of 2021! The second half of December is usually not great for new book releases, so I have combined all the best new releases from Dec. 14-31 into one Spotlight.

Picture books are by far the best group this week, with some cute new books for Valentine’s Day.

The next New Release Spotlight will be January 4, 2022. January tends to be a big month for new books, so stay tuned!

This week’s Spotlight titles are #2164-#2175 on The Ginormous book list.

How Not to Fall in Love by Jacqueline Firkins

Harper works in her mom’s wedding shop, altering dresses for petulant and picky brides who are more focused on hemlines than love. After years of watching squabbles break out over wedding plans, Harper thinks romance is a marketing tool. Nothing more. Her best friend Theo is her opposite. One date and he’s already dreaming of happily-ever-afters. He also plays the accordion, makes chain mail for Ren Festers, hangs out in a windmill-shaped tree house, cries over rom-coms, and takes his word-of-the-day calendar very seriously.

When Theo’s shocked to find himself nursing his umpteenth heartbreak, Harper offers to teach him how not to fall in love. Theo agrees to the lessons, as long as Harper proves she can date without falling in love. As the lessons progress and Theo takes them to heart, Harper has a harder time upholding her end of the bargain. She’s also checking out her window to see if Theo’s home from his latest date yet. She’s even watching rom-coms. If she confesses her feelings, she’ll undermine everything she’s taught him. Or was he the one teaching her?

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: family businesses, bridal shops, dating, relationships, falling too hard, friends-to-lovers, male-female best friends, rom-coms
  • Protagonist description: female, white, age 17; male love interest is Puerto Rican, Greek, and Swedish and also has two moms

Birdie’s Billions by Edith Cohn

For as long as eleven-year-old Birdie can remember, it’s always been just her and her mom, which means there’s not a lot of extra money to spend on things like new clothes and batons from the fancy gymnastics store. Still, they always find a way to make ends meet. Then Birdie makes one silly mistake that has a big consequence: Mom loses her job. Now things are more dire than ever, and Birdie knows it’s up to her to fix it.

When Birdie discovers a huge stash of cash in an abandoned house, she just knows it must be the answer to their problems. But the people who left that money behind aren’t willing to give it up so easily. Does “finders, keepers” count when it’s half a million dollars?

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: found money, new kid at school, moving to a new town, lies, secrets, poor families, judging people unfairly, prejudice, friendships
  • Protagonist description: girl, 6th grader, age 11, white

Orphans of the Tide by Struan Murray

Orphans of the Tide, book 1. The City is the only home that Ellie has ever known. She’s always been told that there is nothing to see beyond the shores of her small, salty island.

That is, until a mysterious boy washes in with the tide, trapped inside the belly of a whale.

The citizens of the City believe he’s ruled by the Enemy–the legendary god who drowned the whole world–come again to cause untold chaos. Only Ellie believes that the boy is innocent.

To save him, Ellie must prove that he’s not who they think he is–even if that means revealing her own dangerous secret.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: island life, mysterious person, superstition, false accusations, secrets, elemental powers, orphans
  • Protagonist description: girl, white, blonde hair, age 12; one secondary character has a prosthetic limb and brown skin

Escape from Atlantis by Kate O’Hearn

Escape from Atlantis, book 1. The last way that Riley Evans wanted to spend spring break was studying whales on the family sailboat in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. With only her dad, aunt, and annoying cousin Alfie for company, she is so bored staring at the waves that she’s starting to see mermaids between them. But when their boat is capsized during a sudden storm, Riley finds more excitement than she bargained for as she and Alfie are washed ashore with neither of their parents in sight. Where they’ve been shipwrecked is no deserted island, though.

Atlantis is a place beyond imagination, inhabited by both people and incredible creatures ranging from unicorns and gargoyles to talking animals. But not everyone welcomes the cousins’ arrival, and beneath the wonder of this mythical land lurk dangerous secrets–something strange is happening to the inhabitants. What Riley wants more than anything is to find her father and go home. But the closer she gets to this goal, the more the islanders seem determined to keep her from reaching it.

As Riley and Alfie unravel the mystery of Atlantis and its most terrifying part, the Forbidden Zone, they realize that the clock is ticking. If they can’t learn what happened to their parents and find a way off the island soon, it may be too late to leave.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, mythology
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: whales, sailing, Bermuda Triangle, mermaids, cousins, shipwrecked, City of Atlantis, magical creatures, unicorns, secrets, finding one’s way home, Greek mythology
  • Protagonist description: girl, white, age 13; boy, white, age 12 (boy and girl are cousins)

Just Roll with It by Lee Durfey-Lavoie and Veronica Agarwal

As long as Maggie rolls the right number, nothing can go wrong…right?

Maggie just wants to get through her first year of middle school. But between finding the best after-school clubs, trying to make friends, and avoiding the rumored monster on school grounds, she’s having a tough time…so she might need a little help from her twenty-sided dice. But what happens if Maggie rolls the wrong number?

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: middle school, making friends, dice, numbers, anxiety, OCD
  • Protagonist description: female, 6th grader, South Asian, brown skin; secondary characters are diverse

How War Changed Rondo by Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv

Translated from Ukranian. Danko, Zirka, and Fabian live peacefully in the small town of Rondo, a magical and joyful place where even the flowers sing! Everything is perfect…until the fateful day that War arrives. Having never experienced War, the inhabitants don’t know what to do. They try to talk to it and fight it, but nothing seems to stop the spread of War’s destruction and darkness. Harnessing the power of light, community, and song, Danko, Zirka, and Fabian, along with all their neighbors, must rally together to lead Rondo to victory.

How War Changed Rondo reflects the darkness and pain that conflict bring and the wounds that linger long after it’s over. This picture book serves as a tribute to peace, resistance, and hope, and was written and illustrated by Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv, a husband-and-wife duo from Ukraine.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book for older readers
  • Recommended for: Grades K-7
  • Themes: war, confusion, peaceful resistance, PTSD, effects of war, allegory, Ukraine
  • Protagonist description: characters are objects like a pink balloon dog, and origami bird, and a light bulb

Group Hug by Jean Reidy (Author) and Joey Chou (Illustrator)

When Slug happens upon a lonely beetle, he knows just what to do. He gives him a big hug–and then the two friends decide to pass it along. They meet Mouse, who’s down in the dumps, Skunk, who’s a bit smelly, and more and more animals, until their group hug stretches wide and tall. But when Bear comes along, will there be enough hug to share?

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: hugging, friendship, loneliness, animals, bears, skunks, mice, slugs, affection, rhyming book, repetition, personification
  • Protagonist description: various personified animal characters

Viking in Love by Doug Cenko

Stig is your quintessential Viking guy. He loves fresh air, stew, and adorable kittens…but he hates the sea. Ingrid is your quintessential Viking gal. She loves all of the above and the sea. What happens when Stig sees Ingrid? Of course, he falls head over heels. But there is one significant problem that stands in their way: the sea.

Will Stig find a way to overcome his fears and woo the bold and beautiful Ingrid? Only if he uses his Viking ingenuity…and a few kittens.

BCCB starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: Vikings, likes and dislikes, falling in love, sea, overcoming fears, Valentine’s Day
  • Protagonist description: male and female Vikings, both white

Milk and Juice: A Recycling Romance by Meredith Crandall Brown

Debut author! Once upon a time, in a refrigerator not too far away, a jug of milk and a bottle of juice fell in love. All was bliss until Juice was taken away from its one true love and…recycled.

Thus begins Milk and Juice’s humorous journey through many incarnations around the world. Will they ever be reunited? Or will they stay star-crossed lovers for all eternity?

BCCB starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, humor
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: star-crossed love, food and drink, recycling, personified objects, other languages, journeys, Earth Day, persistence
  • Protagonist description: rotund milk jug and a slim juice bottle

*When I Wake Up by Seth Fishman (Author) and Jessixa Bagley (Illustrator)

When an imaginative young child wakes up before their parents, they know that they’re supposed to stay in bed until the clock says 7:00. But that’s no fun–so what should they do instead? Make breakfast? Build a city? Ride a scooter? Dig in the garden?

Each choice leads to a different path for the day. And in the end, the child makes the best decision of all–to curl up, safe and loved, between Mom and Dad.

When I Wake Up begins in black-and-white, and then each of the child’s four choices is rendered in a different color. Every spread includes all four choices, so readers can enjoy this book traditionally, reading all four colors at once, or they can choose one color to follow from beginning to end.

Booklist and Hornbook starred. How cool! This is a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style picture book!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, morning, waking up, family, imagination, independence
  • Protagonist description: little boy with brown skin and dark hair

Love Is Here by Mike Malbrough

Listen. Do you hear it?
Hidden up in the storm clouds, stored up and waiting. It’s time for a celebration.
Love is here.

Told through poetic and lyrical text and accompanied by lush watercolor illustrations, a child takes a magical journey in search of love, only to find that it lived everywhere, in everything, even in one’s own backyard. A celebration of the interconnectedness of our lives and proof that love is all around you–if you look closely enough for it. Even when the world feels darkest, love is here. Perfect for those looking to teach kindness and empathy to little ones.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: love, kindness, empathy
  • Protagonist description: young girl with brown skin and curly hair

The Goldilocks Zone: Real Facts About Outer Space by Drew Sheneman

For as long as people have stared up to the stars, we’ve wondered if there could be life on other planets. But the truth is that life can’t survive anywhere else in our solar system. Venus is way too hot. Neptune is w-a-a-a-ay too cold. And don’t even get us started on Uranus.

But there’s more to Earth than just having the perfect temperature that makes it the best place in the known universe to live. What makes Earth so special? Join Goldilocks and her best friend, Baby Bear, on an interstellar adventure to learn all about our solar system in this informative, hilarious, and 100 percent factual nonfiction picture book by award-winning author, illustrator, and cartoonist Drew Sheneman.

  • Genre(s): picture book, nonfiction
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: life on other planets, extra-terrestrial life, aliens, outer space, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, solar system, science, weather, climate
  • Protagonist description: Goldilocks (white, blonde hair) and Baby Bear (in a space suit)





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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