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New Release Spotlight: January 18, 2022

This third week of 2022 brings us 17 featured titles and several sequels. I’m honestly a little disappointed because usually, mid-January is fantastic for new books. It’s nothing to do with the books on this week’s list; I just expected more. Middle grades are the standouts this week!

This week’s top picks:

  • Coming Back: A Graphic Novel by Jessi Zabarsky (YA)
  • Operation Do-Over by Gordon Korman (MG)
  • A History of Me by Adrea Theodore (PB)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #2221-#2237 on The Ginormous book list.

Coming Back: A Graphic Novel by Jessi Zabarsky

Preet is magic. Valissa is not.

Everyone in their village has magic in their bones, and Preet is the strongest of them all. Without any power of her own, how can Valissa ever be worthy of Preet’s love? When their home is attacked, Valissa has a chance to prove herself, but that means leaving Preet behind. On her own for the first time, Preet breaks the village’s most sacred laws and is rejected from the only home she’s ever known and sent into a new world.

Divided by different paths, insecurities, and distance, will Valissa and Preet be able to find their way back to each other?

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: magic, powers, librarians, perseverance, shapeshifting, body positivity, quests, journeys, nontraditional families
  • Protagonist description: two females, both are fat, both queer, both with brown skin

Freedom! The Story of the Black Panther Party by Jetta Grace Martin, Joshua Bloom, and Waldo E. Martin Jr.

Debut author! There is a saying: knowledge is power. The secret is this. Knowledge, applied at the right time and place, is more than power. It’s magic.

That’s what the Black Panther Party did. They called up this magic and launched a revolution.

In the beginning, it was a story like any other. It could have been yours and it could have been mine. But once it got going, it became more than any one person could have imagined.

This is the story of Huey and Bobby. Eldridge and Kathleen. Elaine and Fred and Ericka.

The committed party members. Their supporters and allies. The Free Breakfast Program and the Ten Point Program. It’s about Black nationalism, Black radicalism, about Black people in America.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: civil rights, African Americans, Black Panther Party, revolution, resistance, pride, Black nationalism, Black Power, US history, activism, politics, Vietnam War
  • Protagonist description: various Black civil rights activists, male and female

Icebreaker by A. L. Graziadei

Debut author! Seventeen-year-old Mickey James III is a college freshman, a brother to five sisters, and a hockey legacy. With a father and a grandfather who have gone down in NHL history, Mickey is almost guaranteed the league’s top draft spot.

The only person standing in his way is Jaysen Caulfield, a contender for the #1 spot and Mickey’s infuriating (and infuriatingly attractive) teammate. When rivalry turns to something more, Mickey will have to decide what he really wants, and what he’s willing to risk for it.

  • Genre(s): romance, sports
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: ice hockey, competition, teammates, LGBTQIA+, depression, anxiety, fathers and sons, mental health, being Black in a mostly-white sport, New York, professional sports
  • Protagonist description: two males–one is a college freshmen, age 17, white, bisexual; other is gay, Black

Game On: 15 Stories of Wins, Losses, and Everything in Between by various authors

From the slightly fantastical to the utterly real, light and sweet romance to tales tinged with horror and thrills, Game On is an anthology that spans genre and style. But beneath each story is a loving ode to competition and games perfect for anyone who has ever played a sport or a board game, picked up a video game controller, or rolled a twenty-sided die.

A manhunt game is interrupted by a town disappearing beneath the players’ eyes. A puzzle-filled scavenger hunt emboldens one college freshman to be brave with the boy she’s crushing on. A series of summer nights full of card games leads a boy to fall for a boy who he knows is taken. And a spin the bottle game could end a life-long friendship.

Fifteen stories, and fifteen unforgettable experiences that may inspire readers to start up that Settlers of Catan game again.

  • Genre(s): anthology, short stories, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: sports, competition, games, videogames, board games, card games, scavenger hunts, puzzles, spin the bottle
  • Protagonist description: diverse races and sexual identities; narrators include both males and females

*The Lock-Eater by Zack Loran Clark

Melanie Gate is a foundling with a peculiar talent for opening the unopenable–any lock releases at the touch of her hand. One night, her orphanage is visited by Traveler, a gearling automaton there on behalf of his magical mistress, who needs an apprentice pronto. When Melanie is selected because of her gift, her life changes in a flash, and in more ways than she knows—because Traveler is not at all what he seems. But then, neither is Melanie Gate.

So begins an epic adventure sparkling with magic, wit, secret identities, stinky cats, fierce orphan girls, impostor boys, and a foundling and gearling hotly pursued by the most powerful and dangerous wizard in the land.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: locks, powers, orphans, automata, witches, wizards
  • Protagonist description: female, white

Wayward Creatures by Dayna Lorentz

Twelve-year-old Gabe doesn’t know where he belongs anymore. His family is caught up in their own lives and his friends barely have time for him now that they’re stars on the soccer team. In a desperate plea for attention to impress his friends after school, Gabe sets off fireworks in the woods near his house and causes a small forest fire that destroys several acres of land.

In the chaos of the destruction, a coyote named Rill–tired of her family and longing for adventure–finds herself far from home. Already on animal control’s watch for wandering into a backyard and snapping at a child, Rill crawls into a cave, where she nurses her wounds alone.

Gabe and Rill’s paths irrevocably cross when Gabe is tasked with cleaning up the forest through the court’s restorative justice program. The damage to the land and both their lives is beyond what the two can imagine. But together, they discover that sometimes it only takes one friend to find the place where you belong.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): animal fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: accidental arson, wildfires, restorative justice, animals, human-animal friendships, anger, alternating viewpoints, parallel stories
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 12, 7th grade, white; alternating chapters told from the perspective of a coyote harmed by the boy’s actions, community

Hardcourt: Stories from 75 Years of the National Basketball Association by Fred Bowen (Author) and James E. Ransome (Illustrator)

The National Basketball Association is the biggest league for one of the nation’s most beloved sports. Played in massive stadiums by athletes who are now household names, with millions of fans around the world, basketball has truly become a global phenomenon. But it didn’t always exist the way we know it now.

Follow basketball from its humble beginnings as a casual indoor pastime played in gyms and colleges through its evolution for seventy-five years of hardcourt history. The NBA gained legions of fans thanks to the introduction of rules like the three-point line and the twenty-four second clock, and teams such as the Harlem Globetrotters, who paved the way for desegregated teams. Discover the story of the legendary Olympic Dream Team of 1992 and beloved players like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James, along with the early game-changers who made basketball what it is today.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: basketball, NBA, sports history, Harlem Globetrotters, segregation, Olympics, African Americans, discrimination
  • Protagonist description: numerous basketball players throughout the history of the game

The Way I Say It by Nancy Tandon

Rory still can’t say his r’s, but that’s just the beginning of his troubles. First Rory’s ex-best-friend Brent started hanging out with the mean lacrosse kids. But then, a terrible accident takes Brent out of school, and Rory struggles with how to feel.

Rory and his new speech teacher put their heads together on Rory’s r’s (as well as a serious love of hard rock and boxing legend Muhammad Ali), but nobody seems to be able to solve the problem of Rory’s complicated feelings about Brent. Brent’s accident left him with a brain injury and he’s struggling. Should Rory stand up for his old friend at school–even after Brent failed to do the same for him?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: speech difficulties, speech therapy, former best friends, brain injuries, bullying, empathy
  • Protagonist description: boy, 6th grade, white, has speech difficulties

Sneaks by Catherine Egan

When Ben Harp sees his teacher’s watch crawling across the hallway, he thinks he must be dreaming. But no, he’s just seen his first Sneak–an interdimensional mischief-maker that can borrow the form of any ordinary object.

He figured this school year would be bad–his best friend moved away, the class bully is circling, and he’s stuck doing a group project with two similarly friendless girls, Charlotte and Akemi. Still, he wasn’t expecting aliens!

And he certainly wasn’t expecting that the woman he and Charlotte and Akemi are assigned to interview for their “living local history” project would be a Sneak expert. Or that she’d foist an old book on them to keep safe…and then disappear.

Now Ben, Charlotte, and Akemi are trying to understand a book that seems to contain a coded map while being pursued by violent clothes hangers, fire-spitting squirrels, and more. The Sneaks want that book! And they want something else, too: to pull a vastly more dangerous creature into the world with them.

  • Genre(s): adventure, science fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: school stories, aliens, local history, puzzles
  • Protagonist description: three sixth graders–boy, age 11, white + girl, white + girl, cued as Japanese

Operation Do-Over by Gordon Korman

Mason and Ty were once the very best of friends, like two nerdy sides of the same coin…until seventh grade, when Ava Petrakis came along. Now Mason can trace everything bad in his life to that terrible fight they had over the new girl. The one thing he’d give anything for is a do-over. But that can’t happen in real life–can it?

As a science kid, Mason knows do-overs are impossible, so he can’t believe it when he wakes up from a freak accident and finds himself magically transported back to seventh grade. His parents aren’t yet divorced and his beloved sheepdog is still alive. Best of all, he and Ty haven’t had their falling-out yet.

It makes no logical sense, but Mason is determined to use this second chance to not only save his friendship (and his dog!) but do other things differently–like trying out for the football team and giving new friends a chance. There’s just one person he’ll be avoiding at all costs: Ava. But despite his best efforts, will he be able to stop the chain of events that made his previous life implode?

  • Genre(s): humor, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-9
  • Themes: former best friends, remorse, regret, divorce, second chances
  • Protagonist description: boy, white, starts as high school senior but is transported back to 7th grade early on

Hidden Powers: Lise Meitner’s Call to Science by Jeannine Atkins

At the turn of the 20th century, Lise Meitner dreamed of becoming a scientist. In her time, girls were not supposed to want careers, much less ones in science. But Lise was smart–and determined. She earned a PhD in physics, then became the first woman physics professor at the University of Berlin. The work was thrilling, but Nazi Germany was a dangerous place for a Jewish woman. When the risks grew too great, Lise escaped to Sweden, where she continued the experiments that she and her laboratory partner had worked on for years. Her efforts led to the discovery of nuclear fission and altered the course of history.

Only Lise’s partner, a man, received the Nobel Prize for their findings, but this moving and accessible biography shows how Lise’s legacy endures.

  • Genre(s): fictionalized biography
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: STEM, female scientists, Nazi Germany, WWII, Jewish women, Sweden, European history, nuclear fission, traditional gender roles, sexism, gender discrimination, based on a real person
  • Protagonist description: adult female, white, Jewish

Alice Waters Cooks Up a Food Revolution by Diane Stanley (Author) and Jessie Hartland (Illustrator)

Whenever young Alice Waters tasted something delicious, like the sun-warmed berries from her family’s garden or a crisp, ripe apple picked straight from the tree, she would remember it for the rest of her life. Later, as she tasted many more wonderful foods, she realized what made them so good—they were fresh and ripe, grown or made the old-fashioned way.

When Alice grew up, she opened a restaurant called Chez Panisse. As part of her quest to make delicious food, Alice sought out small, local farmers to provide the meat, dairy, and produce. The restaurant made her famous, but it did much more than that–it started a food revolution. Today, home cooks and chefs alike are all discovering the simple secret to the Best! Food! Ever! This book is a celebration of food, cooking, and the woman whose curiosity and devotion to flavor kickstarted America’s interest in buying local, organic food.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: food, cooking, restaurant business, chefs, buying local food, California, French food, farm-to-table, fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Protagonist description: white female restauranteur, American, studied in France

Still Mine by Jayne Pillemer (Author) and Sheryl Murray (Illustrator)

Our hands around a cup of hot chocolate, sweet and warm. Our boots splashing in puddles. The song you sing to me when the sun comes up. This is how we say “I love you” every day.

But what happens when the person you love is gone? Your heart hurts and you miss them, but even though your eyes can’t see them anymore and your arms can’t hug them, they are still there, still yours to love…just in a different way.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: grief, death of a loved one, comfort, sadness, family, love, healing
  • Protagonist description: several diverse families

Mitzi and the Big Bad Nosy Wolf: A Digital Citizenship Story by Teresa Bateman (Author) and Jannie Ho (Illustrator)

Mitzi knows to keep personal information private. When a furry stranger named Rolf starts asking Mitzi questions about her name, where she lives, where her mom and dad work, and more, the clever Mitzi quickly devises a strategy to dispatch the nosy wolf using her dance skills!

A refrain of “That’s Private!” teaches kids the importance of privacy when it comes to sharing personal information while hilarious visual gags keep the reading experience light. Perfect for teaching children how to use the internet in a safe, respectful manner, Mitzi and the Big Bad Nosy Wolf is just the book for today’s young digital citizens.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: internet safety, privacy, wolves, stranger danger, sharing personal information online, personification
  • Protagonist description: white female lamb and gray male wolf, both personified

A History of Me by Adrea Theodore (Author) and Erin Robinson (Illustrator)

Debut author! Life can be hard for the only brown girl in a classroom full of white students. When the teacher talks about slavery, she can feel all of her classmates staring at her. When they talk about civil rights, she is the one that other kids whisper about on the playground. In those moments, she wants to slip away or seep into the ground; and she wonders, is that all you see when you look at me?

What really matters is what she sees when she looks at herself. She is a reflection of the courage, strength, intelligence and creativity that’s been passed down from generation to generation through her ancestors.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: persons of color, all-white classroom, othering, social awareness, identity, poetry, US history, discrimination, civil rights, racism
  • Protagonist description: girl and her mother, both Black

For Laika: The Dog Who Learned the Names of the Stars by Kai Cheng Thom (Author) and Kai Yun Ching (Illustrator)

Laika is an orphaned stray dog who lives in the streets of Moscow in the then Soviet Union. Although she is loved by her pack, Laika longs one day to learn the names of the stars, since she knows that all dogs become stars when they die–including her parents. One day, a Russian scientist named Vlad offers Laika the chance to travel to the stars by helping him with an important experiment, an event that will change the entire world.

Part fable, part dog story, part history lesson, young and older readers alike will find themselves captivated by Laika’s brave and loving heart, and by her story, which holds important lessons about world peace, science, and the deep bonds between humans and every other creature with whom we share the planet.

A word of caution on this title–From the Publishers Weekly review: “The romantic portrayal of Laika’s act as a choice of which she is proud combine to make her death in space particularly upsetting, especially set off by a straightforward ending (“As it fell, it burst into flames”) and an image of an exploding Sputnik 2.” I would personally use this with middle school students as a discussion of animal rights, ethics in science, or to show how nuances in writing and perspective can make something terribly sad sound noble.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: stray dogs, Moscow, Soviet Union, stars, outer space, personification, space exploration, Space Race, animal rights, animal experimentation, STEM
  • Protagonist description: personified stray dog

Big Ship Rescue! by Chris Gall

Oh no! The Goliath has wrecked in a storm.

First the crew has to be rescued, then the ship has to be made safe, refloated, and winched off the rocks.

It’s a good thing Salvage Master Miley is on the scene with her tugboat, the Mighty Mackerel. It’s a tough job, but with the tug’s powerful engines, propellers, towlines, and winches, Miley and her salvage team have what it takes to bring Goliath back to port.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: things that go, tugboats, ships, pulleys, “David and Goliath,” rescues, ocean
  • Protagonist description: tugboat captain is female





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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