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New Release Spotlight: February 1, 2022

A massive Spotlight this week! YA, MG, and Picture Books are all strong lists.

This week’s top picks:

  • I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys (YA)
  • Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson (MG)
  • Kat Hats by Daniel Pinkwater (PB)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #2254-#2277 on The Ginormous book list.

*I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys

Romania, 1989. Communist regimes are crumbling across Europe. Seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu dreams of becoming a writer, but Romanians aren’t free to dream; they are bound by rules and force.

Amidst the tyrannical dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu in a country governed by isolation and fear, Cristian is blackmailed by the secret police to become an informer. He’s left with only two choices: betray everyone and everything he loves–or use his position to creatively undermine the most notoriously evil dictator in Eastern Europe.

Cristian risks everything to unmask the truth behind the regime, give voice to fellow Romanians, and expose to the world what is happening in his country. He eagerly joins the revolution to fight for change when the time arrives. But what is the cost of freedom?

FOUR starred reviews! Really, is that any surprise considering the author? I will definitely be reading this!

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: 1980s, Cold War, communism, European history, dictators, informants, secrets, lies, surveillance, Bucharest, Romania
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 17, Romanian

This Woven Kingdom by Tahereh Mafi

This Woven Kingdom, book 1. To all the world, Alizeh is a disposable servant, not the long-lost heir to an ancient Jinn kingdom forced to hide in plain sight.

The crown prince, Kamran, has heard the prophecies foretelling the death of his king. But he could never have imagined that the servant girl with the strange eyes, the girl he can’t put out of his mind, would one day soon uproot his kingdom–and the world.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: servants, heirs, jinn, princes, prophecies, magic, folklore, Islam
  • Protagonist description: female jinn, age 18, olive skin

And We Rise by Erica Martin

In stunning verse and vivid use of white space, Erica Martin’s debut poetry collection walks readers through the Civil Rights Movement—from the well-documented events that shaped the nation’s treatment of Black people, beginning with the “Separate but Equal” ruling—and introduces lesser-known figures and moments that were just as crucial to the Movement and our nation’s centuries-long fight for justice and equality.

A poignant, powerful, all-too-timely collection that is both a vital history lesson and much-needed conversation starter in our modern world. Complete with historical photographs, author’s note, chronology of events, research, and sources.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): poetry
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: civil rights, segregation, Brown v. Board of Education, US history, social issues, Claudette Colvin, Emmett Till, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Black history
  • Protagonist description: poems are about various Black civil rights leaders and activists from the 1950s and 1960s

Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshman by Kristen R. Lee

Debut author! Savannah Howard sacrificed her high school social life to make sure she got into a top college. Her sights were set on an HBCU, but when she is accepted to the ivy-covered walls of Wooddale University on a full ride, how can she say no?

Wooddale is far from the perfectly manicured community it sells on its brochures, though. Savannah has barely unpacked before she comes face to face with microagressions stemming from racism and elitism. Then Clive Wilmington’s statue is vandalized with blackface. The prime suspect? Lucas Cunningham, Wooddale’s most popular student and son of a local prominent family. Soon Savannah is unearthing secrets of Wooddale’s racist history. But what’s the price for standing up for what is right? And will telling the truth about Wooddale’s past cost Savannah her own future?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: college life, racism, elitism, social class, hate crimes
  • Protagonist description: female college student, age 18, African American

Castles in Their Bones by Laura Sebastian

Empress Margaraux has had plans for her daughters since the day they were born. Princesses Sophronia, Daphne, and Beatriz will be queens. And now, age sixteen, they each must leave their homeland and marry their princes.

Beautiful, smart, and demure, the triplets appear to be the perfect brides–because Margaraux knows there is one common truth: everyone underestimates a girl. Which is a grave mistake. Sophronia, Daphne, and Beatriz are no innocents. They have been trained since birth in the arts of deception, seduction, and violence with a singular goal–to bring down monarchies–and their marriages are merely the first stage of their mother’s grand vision: to one day reign over the entire continent of Vesteria.

The princesses have spent their lives preparing, and now they are ready, each with her own secret skill, and each with a single wish, pulled from the stars. Only, the stars have their own plans—and their mother hasn’t told them all of hers.

Life abroad is a test. Will their loyalties stay true? Or will they learn that they can’t trust anyone–not even each other?

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: princesses, royalty, arranged marriages, triplets, social class, mothers and daughters, magic
  • Protagonist description: female triplets, white, age 16, princesses

Fire Becomes Her by Rosiee Thor

With only a drop of flare, one can light the night sky with fireworks…or burn a building to the ground–and seventeen-year-old Ingrid Ellis wants her fair share.

Ingrid doesn’t have a family fortune, monetary or magical, but at least she has a plan: Rise to the top on the arm of Linden Holt, heir to a hefty political legacy and the largest fortune of flare in all of Candesce. Her only obstacle is Linden’s father who refuses to acknowledge her.

So when Senator Holt announces his run for president, Ingrid uses the situation to her advantage. She strikes a deal to spy on the senator’s opposition in exchange for his approval and the status she so desperately craves. But the longer Ingrid wears two masks, the more she questions where her true allegiances lie.

Will she stand with the Holts, or will she forge her own path?

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: fire, magic, politics, government, spies, LGBTQIA+, power, poverty, parent in prison (father)
  • Protagonist description: female, white, age 17

These Deadly Games by Diana Urban

Let’s play a game. You have 24 hours to win. If you break my rules, she dies. If you call the police, she dies. If you tell your parents or anyone else, she dies.

Are you ready?

When Crystal Donavan gets a message on a mysterious app with a video of her little sister gagged and bound, she agrees to play the kidnapper’s game. At first, they make her complete bizarre tasks: steal a test and stuff it in a locker, bake brownies, make a prank call.

But then Crystal realizes each task is meant to hurt–and kill–her friends, one by one. But if she refuses to play, the kidnapper will kill her sister. Is someone trying to take her team out of the running for a gaming tournament? Or have they uncovered a secret from their past, and wants them to pay for what they did…

As Crystal makes the impossible choices between her friends and her sister, she must uncover the truth and find a way to outplay the kidnapper… before it’s too late.

  • Genre(s): thriller, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: siblings, kidnapping, crime, missing girl, secrets, revenge, gaming, hacking, treasure hunts, alcoholic parent (father)
  • Protagonist description: teen female, white

*Omar Rising by Aisha Saeed

Companion to: Amal Unbound. Omar knows his scholarship to Ghalib Academy Boarding School is a game changer, providing him–the son of a servant–with an opportunity to improve his station in life.

He can’t wait to experience all the school has to offer, especially science club and hopefully the soccer team; but when he arrives, his hopes are dashed. First-year scholarship students aren’t allowed to join clubs or teams–and not only that, they have to earn their keep doing menial chores.

At first Omar is dejected–but then he gets angry when he learns something even worse–the school deliberately “weeds out” kids like him by requiring them to get significantly higher grades than kids who can pay tuition, making it nearly impossible for scholarship students to graduate. It’s a good thing that in his favorite class, he’s learned the importance of being stubbornly optimistic. So with the help of his tightknit new group of friends–and with the threat of expulsion looming over him–he sets out to do what seems impossible: change a rigged system.

Kirkus and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: private schools, boarding schools, scholarship students, poverty, social class, Pakistan, class prejudice, rigged systems
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 12, Pakistani

Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee

Maizy has never been to Last Chance, Minnesota…until now. Her mom’s plan is just to stay for a couple weeks, until her grandfather gets better.

But plans change, and as Maizy spends more time in Last Chance (where she and her family are the only Asian Americans) and at the Golden Palace–the restaurant that’s been in her family for generations–she makes some discoveries. For instance:
• You can tell a LOT about someone by the way they order food.
• And people can surprise you. Sometimes in good ways, sometimes in disappointing ways.
• And the Golden Palace has secrets.

But the more Maizy discovers, the more questions she has. Like, why are her mom and her grandmother always fighting? Who are the people in the photographs on the office wall? And when she discovers that a beloved family treasure has gone missing–and someone has left a racist note–Maizy decides it’s time to find the answers.

Horn Book starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: family businesses, restaurants, Asian Americans, Minnesota, grandparents, Chinese food, racism, prejudice, discrimination, family problems, secrets
  • Protagonist description: female, age 11, Chinese American

*Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson

Under the cover of night, twelve-year-old Homer flees Southerland Plantation with his little sister Ada, unwillingly leaving their beloved mother behind. Much as he adores her and fears for her life, Homer knows there’s no turning back, not with the overseer on their trail. Through tangled vines, secret doorways, and over a sky bridge, the two find a secret community called Freewater, deep in the swamp.

In this society created by formerly enslaved people and some freeborn children, Homer finds new friends, almost forgetting where he came from. But when he learns of a threat that could destroy Freewater, he crafts a plan to find his mother and help his new home.

Deeply inspiring and loosely based on the history of maroon communities in the South, this is a striking tale of survival, adventure, friendship, and courage.

Kirkus and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: slavery, running for one’s life, escaped slaves, siblings, communities of former slaves, 19th Century, US history
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 12, African American slave

The Visitors by Greg Howard

A lonely twelve-year-old boy spends his days “stuck” at the deserted Hollow Pines Plantation in Georgetown, South Carolina with no recollection of his name, how long he’s been there, and no idea how to leave.

Things never change much for the lost souls at Hollow Pines and time is strange when you’re dead. But when visitors from the living world arrive for the first time in a long while, the boy feels a spark of hope. These visitors are around his age, and they seem to understand more than others that the plantation is not just spooky or eerie…it’s a sad place where the unspeakable happened again and again.

And if these kids could understand the truth about Hollow Pines, maybe they could help him uncover the dark secrets of his past and help him find a way to finally move on. But Hollow Pines doesn’t like visitors. And with a malevolent spirit lurking in the shadows and painful memories buried deep, and for good reason, the boy wonders if he’ll ever find his way home or be stuck at Hollow Pines forever.

  • Genre(s): supernatural, horror
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: ghosts, spirits, plantations, bullying, LGBTQIA+, slavery, transgender, South Carolina
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 12, ghost

Wishing Upon the Same Stars by Jacquetta Nammar Feldman

When twelve-year-old Yasmeen Khoury moves with her family to San Antonio, all she wants to do is fit in. But her classmates in Texas are nothing like her friends in the predominantly Arab neighborhood back in Detroit where she grew up. Almost immediately, Yasmeen feels like the odd girl out, and as she faces middle school mean girls and tries to make new friends, she feels more alone than ever before.

Then Yasmeen meets her neighbor, Ayelet Cohen, a first-generation Israeli American. As the two girls grow closer, Yasmeen is grateful to know someone who understands what it feels like when your parents’ idea of home is half a world away.

But when Yasmeen’s grandmother moves in after her home in Jerusalem is destroyed, Yasmeen and Ayelet must grapple with how much closer the events of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are than they’d realized. As Yasmeen begins to develop her own understandings of home, heritage, and most importantly, herself, can the two girls learn there’s more that brings them together than might tear them apart…and that peace begins with them?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: Arab families, bullying, mean girls, racism, Israel, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, San Antonio, Texas
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 12, 7th Grade, Palestinian Lebanese

When the World Turned Upside Down by K. Ibura

Debut author! Nobody expected a tiny little virus to change the whole world in such a big way, especially not Shayla, Liam, Ai, and Ben. But when school closes to keep everyone safe, their lives turn upside down. It is one thing to learn that the outside world isn’t safe, but why does it seem that the virus is causing trouble inside their homes too?

As they each struggle to adjust to life in quarantine, they discover they are not alone: their apartment building is full of people who need their help. Working together, they begin to see that there is power in numbers. When they cooperate, they can ease each other’s challenges and help their neighbors through tough times. It’s a lesson they’ll need when protests explode in the streets. Soon, each friend has to decide what it means to be part of a community―and how much they’re willing to do to make this world safer for everyone.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: Covid-19, pandemics, apartment living, quarantine, online schooling, friendship, protests, racism, murder of George Floyd, family problems, community, New York City
  • Protagonist description: four protagonists, racially-diverse, 2 boys, 2 girls

The Supernatural Society by Rex Ogle

The Supernatural Society, book 1. Will Hunter thought his life couldn’t get any worse:
–His parents just got divorced
–His best (and only) friend now is his dog, Fitz
–And his mom moved them from New York City to the middle-of-nowhere town called East Emerson.

But Will was wrong–things are about to get way worse. Because East Emerson is filled with a whole lot of monsters, and he’s the only person who can see them.

When all the town pets (including Fitz) go missing, Will suspects there’s something sinister going on. So he joins forces with outcast Ivy and super-smart Linus to uncover the ancient secrets of East Emerson. Besides, nothing bad could happen when three sixth graders team up against monsters, magic, myths, and mad science…right?

  • Genre(s): humor, scary stories, horror
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: pets, dogs, puzzles, monsters, new kid in town, moving from city to a small town
  • Protagonist description: boy, 6th Grader, biracial (white/Latinx); diverse secondary characters

*Just Harriet by Elana K. Arnold

There are a few things you should know about Harriet Wermer:

–She just finished third grade.
–She has a perfect cat named Matzo Ball.
–She doesn’t always tell the truth.
–She is very happy to be spending summer vacation away from home and her mom and dad and all the wonderful things she had been planning all year.
–Okay, maybe that last one isn’t entirely the truth.

Of course, there’s nothing Harriet doesn’t like about Marble Island, the small island off the coast of California where her nanu runs a cozy little bed and breakfast. And nobody doesn’t love Moneypenny, Nanu’s old basset hound. But Harriet doesn’t like the fact that Dad made this decision without even asking her.

When Harriet arrives on Marble Island, however, she discovers that it’s full of surprises, and even a mystery. One that seems to involve her Dad, back when he was a young boy living on Marble Island. One that Harriet is absolutely going to solve. And that’s the truth.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): chapter book, realistic fiction, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-5
  • Themes: islands, bed and breakfasts, pets, family secrets, pregnant parent, grandparents
  • Protagonist description: girl, rising 4th grader, white

Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms by Jamar J. Perry

Debut author! Cameron Battle grew up reading The Book of Chidani, cherishing stories about the fabled kingdom that cut itself off from the world to save the Igbo people from danger. Passed down over generations, the Book is Cameron’s only connection to his parents who disappeared one fateful night, two years ago.

Ever since, his grandmother has kept the Book locked away, but it calls to Cameron. When he and his best friends Zion and Aliyah decide to open it again, they are magically transported to Chidani. Instead of a land of beauty and wonder, they find a kingdom in extreme danger, as the Queen’s sister seeks to destroy the barrier between worlds. The people of Chidani have been waiting for the last Descendant to return and save them…is Cameron ready to be the hero they need?

  • Genre(s): adventure, fantasy, mythology
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: West African mythology, Igbo mythology, kingdoms, heroes, forbidden books
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 12, African American

The Boy Who Met a Whale by Farook Nizrana

Razi, a local fisherboy, is watching turtle eggs hatch when he sees a boat bobbing into view. With a chill, he notices a small, still hand hanging over the side.

Inside is Zheng, who’s escaped a shipwreck and is full of tales of sea monsters and missing treasure. But the villains who are after Zheng are soon after Razi and his sister, Shifa, too. And so begins an exhilarating escapade in the shadow of the biggest sea monster of them all.

  • Genre(s): adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: fishing villages, shipwrecks, sea monsters, Sri Lanka, twins, treasure hunts
  • Protagonist description: 2 boys, 1 girl, all age 12, boy and girl are twins

*Because Claudette by Tracey Baptiste (Author) and Tonya Engel (Illustrator)

When fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin boarded a segregated bus on March 2, 1955, she had no idea she was about to make history. At school she was learning about abolitionists like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, which helped inspire her decision to refuse to give up her seat to a white woman, which led to her arrest, which began a crucial chain of events: Rosa Park’s sit-in nine months later, the organization of the Montgomery bus boycott by activists like Professor Jo Ann Robinson and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the Supreme Court decision that Alabama’s bus segregation was unconstitutional—a major triumph for the civil rights movement.

Because of Claudette’s brave stand against injustice, history was transformed. Now it’s time for young readers to learn about this living legend, her pivotal role in the civil rights movement, and the power of one person reaching out to another in the fight for change.

Publishers Weekly and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-5
  • Themes: Claudette Colvin, civil rights, 1950s, prejudice, racism, segregation, Rosa Parks, Montgomery bus boycott, activists, social justice
  • Protagonist description: female, African American

*I Am Golden by Eva Chen (Author) and Sophie Diao (Illustrator)

What do you see when you look in the mirror, Mei? Do you see beauty?

We see eyes that point toward the sun, that give us the warmth and joy of a thousand rays when you smile. We see hair as inky black and smooth as a peaceful night sky. We see skin brushed with gold.

This moving ode to the immigrant experience, as well as a manifesto of self-love for Chinese American children, is a jubilant celebration of accepting who you are.

Booklist and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 1
  • Themes: self-love, inner beauty, joy, identity, immigrants, New York City
  • Protagonist description: young Chinese girl immigrating to the US with her parents

Kat Hats by Daniel Pinkwater (Author) and Aaron Renier (Illustrator)

Thermal Herman 6-7/8 is the top Kat Hat in Matt Katz’s company. A trained cat who is able to form himself into specialty hats, Thermal Herman is world-renowned for his warmth and agility.

When a friend wanders off with a brain freeze and finds themself in peril, Thermal Herman must rush in to save the day in this zany and cleverly illustrated picture book, sure to make young readers giggle with every page.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, humor
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: cats, hats, brain freeze, heroes, absurdity, nonsense, detailed illustrations, storytime
  • Protagonist description: cats, wacky humans

Smile with African Style by Mylo Freeman

It’s a special day in Macy’s classroom as all the children come in dressed up in their most stylish African clothing! Zahra’s Ethiopian dress is covered in beads, while Malika’s Namibian outfit is bursting with colours. And who is hiding behind that elephant mask from Cameroon? No two outfits are the same, in this beautiful and varied parade of clothing from across Africa!

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: celebrating Heritage, traditional clothing, Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Angola, Ethiopia, Namibia, Rwanda, Cameroon, Nigeria
  • Protagonist description: class of children, mostly brown-skinned or Black

Why?: A Conversation about Race by Taye Diggs (Author) and Shane W. Evans (Illustrator)

“Daddy?”
“Yes, my sweet boy.”
“Why are those people shouting?”
“Our people are shouting because we need to be heard. We need to be heard.”

Why? is a question asked by children daily, and in this stirking and timely story, it begins a straight-forward and challenging conversation between children of color and the adults in their lives.

Why are the buildings burning? Why are people marching? Why are they crying? Taye Diggs has written a beautiful, powerful, and poignant story that peers through the eyes of a child as they struggle to understand why these events are happening.

Why? distills the conversations many children and adults are having about race, injustice, and anger in communities throughout our country, and gives them context that young readers can connect with. Heartfelt and deeply piercing illustrations from Shane W. Evans will leave a lasting impact on readers of any age. One that will hopefully lead to more conversations, change, and peace within our own communities and the world.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: racism, prejudice, social issues, Black Lives Matter
  • Protagonist description: multiple Black children and adults

Raquela’s Seder by Joel Edward Stein (Author) and Sara Ugolotti (Illustrator)

Raquela yearns to celebrate a Passover seder, but Inquisition-era Spain is a time when Jews must hide their religion. Under the rising moon, her clever papa, the best fisherman in town, creates a unique celebration for his family. In his fishing boat on the sea, far from prying eyes, they celebrate Raquela’s first seder with matzah and the Passover story.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades K-4
  • Themes: Passover, Easter, Spain, Spanish Inquisition, Jews, worshipping in secret, European history, anti-Semitism, Jewish history
  • Protagonist description: young girl and her father, both Jewish

Revolutionary Prudence Wright: Leading the Minute Women in the Fight for Independence by Beth Anderson (Author) and Susan Reagan (Illustrator)

Prudence Wright had a spark of independence.

Annoyed when the British king held back freedoms in colonial Massachusetts, feisty and fearless Prudence had enough. She said no! to British goods, determined to rely on her resourcefulness and ingenuity to get by. And when British troops continued to threaten the lives of her family and community, she assembled and led the “minute women” of Pepperell to break free of tradition.

This untold story of a courageous and brave woman from the Revolutionary War continues to inspire today.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography, picture book for older readers
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-5
  • Themes: American Revolution, US history, traditional gender roles, Massachusetts, US colonies, rebellion, soldiers, courage, fighting for freedom
  • Protagonist description: white woman; most characters are white

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (YA):

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (MIDDLE GRADES):

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS & FAVORITE CHARACTERS (ELEMENTARY):

ABOUT THE SPOTLIGHT

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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