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New Release Spotlight: January 11, 2022

This week’s top picks:

  • Vinyl Moon by Mahogany L. Browne (YA)
  • Riley’s Ghost by John David Anderson (MG)
  • The Faith of Elijah Cummings by Carole Boston Weatherford (PB)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #2202-#2220 on The Ginormous book list.

Vinyl Moon by Mahogany L. Browne

When Darius told Angel he loved her, she believed him. But five weeks after the incident, Angel finds herself in Brooklyn, far from her family, from him, and from the California life she has known.

Angel feels out of sync with her new neighborhood. At school, she can’t shake the feeling everyone knows what happened–and that it was her fault. The only place that makes sense is Ms. G’s class. There, Angel’s classmates share their own stories of pain, joy, and fortitude. And as Angel becomes immersed in her revolutionary literature course, the words from Black writers like Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and Zora Neale Hurston speak to her and begin to heal the wounds of her past.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): free verse, poetry, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: first love, tragedy, emotional pain, American literature, Black authors, healing through reading, African Americans, victim blaming, Brooklyn, New York, domestic abuse, abusive boyfriend, physical abuse, shame, oldest sibling raising younger siblings, healing
  • Protagonist description: female, 11th grader, African American

Nightrender by Jodi Meadows

In the middle of nothingness is the Island of Salvation. Reality bends easily here. Villages disappear. Forests burn forever. Pockets of inconsistent time are everywhere, their boundaries strung with yellow ribbon. And the three kingdoms of Salvation have been at war for a thousand years.

But the greatest threat is the Malice, an incursion from the demon plane slowly tearing its way through the world’s weakest seams. Seams that–once split–will lead to the total unraveling of night and day, light and dark, life and death.

Not that the human world takes much interest. Of more concern is the upcoming marriage of Rune Hightower, Prince of Caberwill, and Johanne Fortuin, Princess of Embria–the serpent bride, a girl of famous cunning–which offers a possible end to the ancient conflict. But Rune has noticed the growing darkness, and he is determined to summon mankind’s only defense: Nightrender, the hammer of the gods, an immortal warrior more weapon than girl.

There is only one problem. The last time she was summoned, she slaughtered every royal in Salvation, and no one knows why. Will she save humanity from the Malice…or plunge it deeper into the fires of eternal war?

BCCB starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy,
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: demons, war, gods, warriors, royalty, princesses, princes, alternating viewpoints
  • Protagonist description: four viewpoints; most characters cue as white

*My Fine Fellow by Jennieke Cohen

It’s 1830s England, and Culinarians–doyens who consult with society’s elite to create gorgeous food and confections–are the crème de la crème of high society.

Helena Higgins, top of her class at the Royal Academy, has a sharp demeanor and an even sharper palate–and knows stardom awaits her if she can produce greatness in her final year.

Penelope Pickering is going to prove the value of non-European cuisine to all of England. Her contemporaries may scorn her Filipina heritage and her dishes, but with her flawless social graces and culinary talents, Penelope is set to prove them wrong.

Elijah Little has nothing to his name but a truly excellent instinct for flavors. London merchants won’t allow a Jewish boy to own a shop, so he hawks his pasties for a shilling a piece to passersby–but he knows with training he can break into the highest echelon of society.

When Penelope and Helena meet Elijah, a golden opportunity arises: to pull off a project never seen before, and turn Elijah from a street vendor to a gentleman chef.

But Elijah’s transformation will have a greater impact on this trio than they originally realize–and mayhem, unseemly faux pas, and a little romance will all be a part of the delicious recipe.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, retelling (My Fair Lady)
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: food, chefs, cooking, London, England, 19th Century, 1830s, My Fair Lady, Jews, anti-Semitism, prejudice, discrimination, gender roles, makeovers, street vendors
  • Protagonist description: 3 main characters–2 females (one white, one Filipina and white), 1 male (Jewish, white)

The Bone Spindle by Leslie Vedder

Fi is a bookish treasure hunter with a knack for ruins and riddles, who definitely doesn’t believe in true love.

Shane is a tough-as-dirt girl warrior from the north who likes cracking skulls, pretty girls, and doing things her own way.

Briar Rose is a prince under a sleeping curse, who’s been waiting a hundred years for the kiss that will wake him.

Cursed princes are nothing but ancient history to Fi–until she pricks her finger on a bone spindle while exploring a long-lost ruin. Now she’s stuck with the spirit of Briar Rose until she and Shane can break the century-old curse on his kingdom.

Dark magic, Witch Hunters, and bad exes all stand in her way–not to mention a mysterious witch who might wind up stealing Shane’s heart, along with whatever else she’s after. But nothing scares Fi more than the possibility of falling in love with Briar Rose.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, retelling (Sleeping Beauty)
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: warriors, treasure hunters, princes, curses, magic, witches, fairy tales
  • Protagonist description: four protagonists–two are white, two are “tan skinned” with dark hair; three females, one male

Hopepunk by Preston Norton

Growing up in a conservative Christian household isn’t easy for rock-obsessed Hope Cassidy. She’s spent her whole life being told that the devil speaks through Led Zeppelin, but it’s even worse for her sister, Faith, who feels like she can’t be honest about dating the record shop cashier, Mavis. That is, until their youngest sister hears word of their “sinful” utopia and outs Faith to their parents. Now there’s nowhere for Faith to go but the Change Through Grace conversion center…or running away.

Following Faith’s disappearance, their family is suddenly broken. Hope feels a need to rebel. She gets a tattoo and tries singing through the hurt with her Janis Joplin-style voice. But when her long-time crush Danny comes out and is subsequently kicked out of his house, Hope can’t stand by and let history repeat itself. Now living in Faith’s room, Danny and Hope strike up a friendship…and a band. And their music just might be the answer to dethroning Alt-Rite, Danny’s twin brother’s new hate-fueled band.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: conservative Christian families, rock music, sisters, gay conversion programs, runaways, coming out, rock bands, music, LGBTQIA+
  • Protagonist description: teen female, white

Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves by Meg Long

On a frozen wasteland of a planet, a girl is on the run with a wolf who is born to be a killer but bound to be her guide. As they fight to escape ice goblins, giant bears, and a ruthless leader intent on trapping them both, one question drives them relentlessly forward: where do you turn when there is nowhere to hide?

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure, survival
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: life on other planets, wolves, running for one’s life, orphans, corporate greed, conservation, frozen worlds
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, white

When Winter Robeson Came by Brenda Woods

When Eden’s cousin Winter comes for a visit, it turns out he’s not just there to sightsee. He wants to figure out what happened to his dad, who disappeared ten years earlier from the Watts area of L.A.

So the cousins set out to investigate together, and what they discover brings them joy–and heartache. It also opens up a whole new understanding of their world, just as the area they’ve got their sights on explodes in a clash between the police and the Black residents.

For six days Watts is like a war zone, and Eden and Winter become heroes in their own part of the drama. Eden hopes to be a composer someday, and the only way she can describe that summer is a song with an unexpected ending, full of changes in tempo and mood–totally unforgettable.

BCCB starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: cousins, missing father, #BlackLivesMatter, police violence, prejudice, discrimination, civil rights, African Americans, Los Angeles, California, Watts Riots of 1965
  • Protagonist description: female, age 12, African American; male, age 14, African American

*Northwind by Gary Paulsen

When a deadly plague reaches the small fish camp where he lives, an orphan named Leif is forced to take to the water in a cedar canoe. He flees northward, following a wild, fjord-riven shore, navigating from one danger to the next, unsure of his destination.

Yet the deeper into his journey he paddles, the closer he comes to his truest self as he connects to “the heartbeat of the ocean…the pulse of the sea.” With hints of Nordic mythology and an irresistible narrative pull, Northwind is Gary Paulsen at his captivating, adventuresome best.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): adventure, historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: plagues, cholera, orphans, Scandinavia, nature, canoes, wilderness survival
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 12, Norwegian

Between the Lighthouse and You by Michelle Lee

Debut author! Alice Jones’s mother died in a boating accident. Well, that’s what everyone says. Alice doesn’t believe them–her mother’s body was never recovered off the coast of Aviles Island, and Alice has always thought she might still be out there somewhere. Then Alice discovers that the residents of Aviles know how to communicate with loved ones who have died. If Alice can go there and try to contact her mother, she might have all the answers she needs.

For generations, Leo Mercury’s family has been in charge of the Aviles Island lighthouse, and Leo himself is determined to take after his beloved grandfather and be a Lighthouse Keeper one day. When nosy Alice Jones shows up for the festival, asking questions about the tidings that outsiders shouldn’t, Leo knows it’s up to him to protect the island’s traditions. But he starts to realize that he and Alice may actually want the same things–and together, they can believe in the impossible, even if no one else will.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: missing mother, grief, lighthouses, island life, communicating with the dead, alternating viewpoints, mutism, afterlife
  • Protagonist description: chapters alternate between a boy who runs a lighthouse and a girl, age 12, selective mute

Evicted!: The Struggle for the Right to Vote by Alice Faye Duncan (Author) and Charly Palmer (Illustrator)

The late 1950s was a turbulent time in Fayette County, Tennessee. Black and White children went to different schools. Jim Crow signs hung high. And while Black hands in Fayette were free to work in the nearby fields as sharecroppers, the same Black hands were barred from casting ballots in public elections.

If they dared to vote, they faced threats of violence by the local Ku Klux Klan or White citizens. It wasn’t until Black landowners organized registration drives to help Black citizens vote did change begin–but not without White farmers’ attempts to prevent it. They violently evicted Black sharecroppers off their land, leaving families stranded and forced to live in tents. White shopkeepers blacklisted these families, refusing to sell them groceries, clothes, and other necessities.

But the voiceless did finally speak, culminating in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which legally ended voter discrimination.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: civil rights, activism, social justice, Jim Crow laws, 1950s, US history, prejudice, racism, school segregation, Tennessee, voting rights, Ku Klux Klan, sharecropping, Voting Rights Act of 1965, based on a true story, voter suppression
  • Protagonist description: voices of different African American residents of Fayette County, Tennessee

Riley’s Ghost by John David Anderson

Riley Flynn is alone. It feels like she’s been on her own since sixth grade, when her best friend, Emily, ditched her for the cool girls. Girls who don’t like Riley. Girls who decide one day to lock her in the science closet after hours, after everyone else has gone home.

When Riley is finally able to escape, however, she finds that her horror story is only just beginning. All the school doors are locked, the windows won’t budge, the phones are dead, and the lights aren’t working. Through halls lit only by the narrow beam of her flashlight, Riley roams the building, seeking a way out, an answer, an explanation. And as she does, she starts to suspect she isn’t alone after all.

While she’s always liked a good scary story, Riley knows there is no such thing as ghosts. But what else could explain the things happening in the school, the haunting force that seems to lurk in every shadow, around every corner? As she tries to find answers, she starts reliving moments that brought her to this night. Moments from her own life…and a life that is not her own.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): horror, scary stories
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: mean girls, bullying, locked in school overnight, ghosts, memories, middle school
  • Protagonist description: female, 7th grader, age 13, white, vegetarian

Dog Star by Megan Shepherd

Laika is a Cold Dog, a stray pup fighting for her life on the streets of Moscow. Then, one winter night, she is plucked from her alley to become a starflyer, a dog trained to travel into space. Distrustful of people, Laika tries to do everything she can to escape. That is, until she meets Nina.

Nina is a Cold Girl, lonely and full of questions. Her best friend has moved to America in a rush, leaving Nina to face the school bullies all by herself. Plus, her father’s work as a scientist in the Soviet Space Program grows more secretive by the day.

When the two meet in her father’s laboratory, their growing bond slowly warms the chill that has settled in each other’s hearts. As the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union grows fierce, Laika and Nina uncover shocking secrets and hard truths that will test their friendship. How will they find the courage to chase their dreams all the way to the stars?

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: stray dogs, Moscow, dogs in space, space travel, bullying, USSR, Soviet Union, Space Race, based on a true story, 1950s, Cold War, world history, alternating viewpoints, propaganda, animal rights
  • Protagonist description: female, Soviet, age 12 and stray dog both tell the story

*The Faith of Elijah Cummings: The North Star of Equal Justice by Carole Boston Weatherford (Author) and Laura Freeman (Illustrator)

When Elijah Cummings was a little boy, he struggled in school. His teachers thought he talked too much and asked too many questions. They said he’d never be able to read or write well.

Despite his difficulties, Elijah never gave up. He persevered, having faith that with hard work, he’d be able to achieve his goals.

Best known as a voice for people of color and an advocate for equal opportunity, Elijah Cummings was a man of faith and dignity, a beacon of justice, and an unrelenting warrior for equality and change.

Carole Boston Weatherford and Laura Freeman marry words and images beautifully in this picture book biography of politician and civil rights champion Elijah Cummings, detailing his inspiring journey–from his humble beginnings as the son of former sharecroppers to his unwavering faith as he became a lawyer, state legislator, and leading congressman. Best known as a voice for people of color and an advocate for equal opportunity, Elijah Cummings was a man of faith and dignity, a beacon of justice, and an unrelenting warrior for equality and change.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: Grades K-4
  • Themes: perseverance, curiosity, persistence, African Americans, racism, prejudice, US politicians, congressmen, civil rights, Black History Month
  • Protagonist description: male, African American

Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth by Alice Faye Duncan (Author) and Keturah A. Bobo (Illustrator)

Every year, Opal looked forward to the Juneteenth picnic–a drumming, dancing, delicious party. She knew from Granddaddy Zak’s stories that Juneteenth celebrated the day the freedom news of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation finally sailed into Texas in 1865–over two years after the president had declared it!

But Opal didn’t always see freedom in her Texas town. Then one Juneteenth day when Opal was twelve years old, an angry crowd burned down her brand-new home. This wasn’t freedom at all. She had to do something! Opal Lee spent the rest of her life speaking up for equality and unity. She became a teacher, a charity worker, and a community leader. At the age of 89, she walked from Fort Worth, Texas to Washington, D.C., in an effort to gain national recognition for Juneteenth.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: Texas, Juneteenth, Black History, freedom, racism, violence, community activists, storytelling
  • Protagonist description: African American woman

When the Schools Shut Down: A Young Girl’s Story of Virginia’s “Lost Generation” and the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Decision by Yolanda Gladden (Author), Dr. Tamara Pizzoli (Author), and Keisha Morris (Illustrator)

Most people think that the Brown vs. Board of Education decision of 1954 meant that schools were integrated with deliberate speed. But the children of Prince Edward County located in Farmville, Virginia, who were prohibited from attending formal schools for five years knew differently, including Yolanda.

When the Schools Shut Down is a true account of the unconstitutional effort by white lawmakers of this small Virginia town to circumvent racial justice by denying an entire generation of children an education.

Most importantly, it is a story of how one community triumphed together, despite the shutdown.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: Brown v. Board of Education, 1950s, Virginia, racism, school desegregation, US history, US law, Black history
  • Protagonist description: most characters are Black

Sweet Justice: Georgia Gilmore and the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Mara Rockliff (Author) and R. Gregory Christie (Illustrator)

Georgia Gilmore was cooking when she heard the news Mrs. Rosa Parks had been arrested–pulled off a city bus and thrown in jail all because she wouldn’t let a white man take her seat. To protest, the radio urged everyone to stay off city buses for one day: December 5, 1955.

Throughout the boycott–at Holt Street Baptist Church meetings led by a young minister named Martin Luther King, Jr.–and throughout the struggle for justice, Georgia served up her mouth-watering fried chicken, her spicy collard greens, and her sweet potato pie, eventually selling them to raise money to help the cause.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: Rosa Parks, Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1950s, Martin Luther King, Jr., Black history, cooking, civil rights, food
  • Protagonist description: African American woman; most characters are Black

Where Is Bina Bear? by Mike Curato

Tiny is having a party, but Bina Bear is nowhere to be found. Is that Bina hiding under a lampshade? It looks like Bina…but it must be a lamp. Is that Bina beneath the fruit bowl? It could be…but it’s probably just a table.

Searching for Bina, Tiny realizes something is wrong–and sets out to make it right. This is a humorous yet sincere picture book about friendship, understanding, and embracing our loved ones just as they are.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: friendship, shyness, introverts, parties, hiding
  • Protagonist description: large purple bear

Good Eating The Short Life of Krill by Matt Lilley

Just 2 inches long full-grown, this little guy is the foundation of the Southern Ocean food chain… “Hi. What are you? You appear to be an egg. You are an egg sinking. For many days, you sink. You sink a mile down, and you keep sinking down…down…until…”

The unidentified narrator follows one krill among billions as it pursues its brief existence, eating and eating while metamorphosing from one thing into another and trying to avoid being eaten. Questions and advice are hurled at the krill on every page, but the krill never responds–because, after all, krill can’t talk, and this is nonfiction.

Krill are the largest animals able to catch and eat phytoplankton, and they in turn are eaten by the largest animals ever to live on earth–blue whales–as well as by seals, penguins, and a host of others. In other words, krill are really good at eating, and they make really good eating. And that makes them the most important animals in the high-latitude oceans.

Our star krill is so good at gobbling up phytoplankton that he turns green, so we can pick him out from the crowd racing to escape a penguin’s beak or a blue whale’s gaping maw. The book has been reviewed and endorsed by global krill expert Dr. Stephen Nichol, and the manuscript earned an honorable mention in Minnesota’s McKnight Artist Fellowships for Writers. Helpful backmatter is included.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-6
  • Themes: krill, oceanography, marine life, food chain, environmental science, crustaceans
  • Protagonist description: one tiny krill

Playing with Lanterns by Wang Yage (Author), Zhu Chengliang (Illustrator), and Helen Wang (Translator)

Zhao Di and her friends are excited to go out at night with their paper lanterns and celebrate Chinese New Year. Each holding a unique colorful lantern with a lit candle inside, they admire the breathtaking colors while doing their best to avoid the wind and the sneaky boys in the village. Every night, until the fifteenth day of New Year, Zhao Di and her friends take part in this fun tradition, experiencing the thrill of nighttime in their village. And then–it’s time to smash the lanterns!

In this cheerful book first published in China, readers are invited along with Zhao Di and her friends as they experience all the joy and excitement of this folk Chinese custom. Details about the paper lantern tradition are also included in an author’s note at the end of the book.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: Chinese New Year, paper lanterns, Lunar New Year, Lantern Festival, China, customs, traditions, holidays, snow, winter
  • Protagonist description: girl, Chinese





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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