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This article is 10 essential tips for new school librarians. These are the 10 things you should do FIRST in your new school library.

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This is a collection of fun ideas for middle school library orientation. Even if you don't use the ideas, the videos are a lot of fun to watch!

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New Release Spotlight: May 3 and May 10, 2022

Welcome to May! This month is historically quite good for new book releases, and with a collective total of 40 starred reviews, today’s list is no exception.

I think YA looks the best for the next two weeks of releases, with new titles from Elizabeth Acevedo, E. Lockhart, Maggie Stiefvater, and Samira Ahmed. For middle grades, we have new titles from Lindsay Eagar, Ali Standish, and Staci McAnulty. New picture books include titles from Kelly Yang, Lane Smith, and Jacqueline Woodson.

My top picks:

  • Hollow Fires by Samira Ahmed (YA)
  • Yonder by Ali Standish (MG)
  • The World Belonged to Us by Jacqueline Woodson (PB)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #2455-#2476 on The Ginormous book list.

*Inheritance: A Visual Poem by Elizabeth Acevedo (Author), Andrea Pippins (Illustrator)

In her most famous spoken-word poem, author of the Pura Belpré-winning novel-in-verse The Poet X Elizabeth Acevedo embraces all the complexities of Black hair and Afro-Latinidad–the history, pain, pride, and powerful love of that inheritance.

Paired with full-color illustrations by artist Andrea Pippins in a format that will appeal to fans of Mahogany L. Browne’s Black Girl Magic or Jason Reynolds’s For Everyone, this poem can now be read in a vibrant package, making it the ideal gift, treasure, or inspiration for readers of any age.

FOUR starred reviews! Illustrated. Celebrates Black history, prejudice, and hair.

  • Genre(s): poetry
  • Recommended for: Grades 6+
  • Themes: Black history, Black hair, Caribbean, Dominican Republic, beauty, pride, colonialism, cultural oppression

Ballad & Dagger by Daniel José Older

Outlaw Saints, book 1. Almost sixteen years ago, Mateo Matisse’s island homeland disappeared into the sea. Weary and hopeless, the survivors of San Madrigal’s sinking escaped to New York.

While the rest of his tight-knit Brooklyn diaspora community dreams of someday finding a way back home, Mateo–now a high school junior and piano prodigy living with his two aunts (one who’s alive, the other not so much)–is focused on one thing: getting the attention of locally-grown musical legend Gerval. Mateo finally gets his chance on the night of the Grand Fete, an annual party celebrating the blended culture of pirates, Cuban Santeros, and Sephardic Jews that created San Madrigal all those centuries ago.

But the evil that sank their island has finally caught up with them, and on the night of the celebration, Mateo’s life is forever changed when he witnesses a brutal murder by a person he thought he knew.

Suddenly Mateo is thrust into an ancient battle that spans years and oceans. Deadly secrets are unraveled and Mateo awakens a power within himself–a power that not only links him to the killer but could also hold the key to unlocking the dark mystery behind his lost homeland.

Publishers Weekly starred. This is the first YA novel for Rick Riordan Presents! This is book one of a planned duology.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: Brooklyn, New York, music, piano, pirates, murder, powers, Caribbean islands, folklore
  • Protagonist description: male, age 16, born on a mysterious Caribbean island that disappeared into the sea

*Family of Liars by E. Lockhart

Prequel to: We Were Liars. I would normally put this book in the sequels area of the Spotlight, but We Were Liars was a huge hit, plus this one received two starred reviews. Set in 1987, this is the story of Claire’s mother and her friends. There are lots of spoilers for We Were Liars in this one, so don’t give it to students who have not read We Were Liars first.

A windswept private island off the coast of Massachusetts.
A hungry ocean, churning with secrets and sorrow.
A fiery, addicted heiress. An irresistible, unpredictable boy.
A summer of unforgivable betrayal and terrible mistakes.

Welcome back to the Sinclair family.
They were always liars.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): thriller, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: mothers, privilege, wealth, facades, sisters, 1980s, summer
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, white, wealthy family

Bravely by Maggie Stiefvater

ONE PRINCESS. Merida of DunBroch needs a change. She loves her family–jovial King Fergus, proper Queen Elinor, the mischievous triplets–and her peaceful kingdom. But she’s frustrated by its sluggishness; each day, the same. Merida longs for adventure, purpose, challenge–maybe even, someday, love.

TWO GODS. But the fiery Princess never expects her disquiet to manifest by way of Feradach, an uncanny supernatural being tasked with rooting out rot and stagnation, who appears in DunBroch on Christmas Eve with the intent to demolish the realm–and everyone within. Only the intervention of the Cailleach, an ancient entity of creation, gives Merida a shred of hope: convince her family to change within the year–or suffer the eternal consequences.

THREE VOYAGES. Under the watchful eyes of the gods, Merida leads a series of epic journeys to kingdoms near and far in an attempt to inspire revolution within her family. But in her efforts to save those she loves from ruin, has Merida lost sight of the Clan member grown most stagnant of all–herself?

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: Disney adaptation, Brave, Scotland, family, royalty, boredom, stagnation, gods
  • Protagonist description: female, age 19, white, Scottish

*The Ghosts of Rose Hill by R. M. Romero

Magic will burn you up.

Sent to stay with her aunt in Prague and witness the humble life of an artist, Ilana Lopez–a biracial Jewish girl–finds herself torn between her dream of becoming a violinist and her immigrant parents’ desire for her to pursue a more stable career.

When she discovers a forgotten Jewish cemetery behind her aunt’s cottage, she meets the ghost of a kindhearted boy named Benjamin, who died over a century ago. As Ilana restores Benjamin’s grave, he introduces her to the enchanted side of Prague, where ghosts walk the streets and their kisses have warmth.

But Benjamin isn’t the only one interested in Ilana. Rudolph Wassermann, a man with no shadow, has become fascinated with her and the music she plays. He offers to share his magic, so Ilana can be with Benjamin and pursue her passion for violin. But after Ilana discovers the truth about Wassermann and how Benjamin became bound to the city, she resolves to save the boy she loves, even if it means losing him–forever.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): paranormal, supernatural, magical realism, romance, novel in verse
  • Recommended for: 7+
  • Themes: ghosts, cemeteries, death, magic, Prague, Czech Republic, immigrants, monsters, lost souls, violinists, musicians, Czech folklore
  • Protagonist description: female, age 16, biracial (Cuban/Czech), Jewish

*Unequal: A Story of America by Michael Eric Dyson and Marc Favreau

The true story of racial inequality–and resistance to it–is the prologue to our present. You can see it in where we live, where we go to school, where we work, in our laws, and in our leadership.

Unequal presents a gripping account of the struggles that shaped America and the insidiousness of racism, and demonstrates how inequality persists. As readers meet some of the many African American people who dared to fight for a more equal future, they will also discover a framework for addressing racial injustice in their own lives.

THREE starred reviews! Paired with Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. This is another one I plan to read soon.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: racism, prejudice, segregation, slavery, inequality, justice, civil rights, social issues, US race relations, US history, Black History Month
  • Protagonist description: multiple historical and contemporary figures in Black history

*The Summer of Bitter and Sweet by Jen Ferguson

Lou has enough confusion in front of her this summer. She’ll be working in her family’s ice-cream shack with her newly ex-boyfriend–whose kisses never made her feel desire, only discomfort–and her former best friend, King, who is back in their Canadian prairie town after disappearing three years ago without a word.

But when she gets a letter from her biological father–a man she hoped would stay behind bars for the rest of his life–Lou immediately knows that she cannot meet him, no matter how much he insists.

While King’s friendship makes Lou feel safer and warmer than she would have thought possible, when her family’s business comes under threat, she soon realizes that she can’t ignore her father forever.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred. Lou identifies as demisexual, a term I had not heard before. According to this WebMD article, “Demisexual people only feel sexually attracted to someone when they have an emotional bond with the person. They can be gay, straight, bisexual, or pansexual, and may have any gender identity. The prefix “demi” means half–which can refer to being halfway between sexual and asexual.”

  • Genre(s): romance, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: summer, teens with jobs, Canada, Native Americans, indigenous peoples, sexual abuse, teen alcohol use, parent in prison (father), rape, bullying, racism, harassment, sexual confusion, sexual identity, demisexuality
  • Protagonist description: female, age 18, indigenous/Aboriginal Canadian (Métis), demisexual

*Some Mistakes Were Made by Kristin Dwyer

Debut author! Ellis and Easton have been inseparable since childhood. But when a rash decision throws Ellis’s life–and her relationship with Easton–into chaos, she’s forced to move halfway across the country, far from everything she’s ever known.

Now Ellis hasn’t spoken to Easton in a year, and maybe it’s better that way; maybe eventually the Easton-shaped hole in her heart will heal.

But when Easton’s mom invites her home for a visit, Ellis finds herself tangled up in the web of heartache, betrayal, and anger she left behind…and with the boy she never stopped loving.

Kirkus and School Library Journal starred. Reviewers call this a “swoon-worthy” and “slow-building” romance. I can see this book being very popular with YA romance readers.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: childhood best friends, boy and girl best friends, moving away, coming home, broken hearts, family obligation vs. personal happiness, coming-of-age
  • Protagonist description: teen male and teen female, both white, ages 11-17 (lots of flashbacks)

*Hollow Fires by Samira Ahmed

Safiya Mirza dreams of becoming a journalist. And one thing she’s learned as editor of her school newspaper is that a journalist’s job is to find the facts and not let personal biases affect the story. But all that changes the day she finds the body of a murdered boy.

Jawad Ali was fourteen years old when he built a cosplay jetpack that a teacher mistook for a bomb. A jetpack that got him arrested, labeled a terrorist—and eventually killed. But he’s more than a dead body, and more than “Bomb Boy.” He was a person with a life worth remembering.

Driven by Jawad’s haunting voice guiding her throughout her investigation, Safiya seeks to tell the whole truth about the murdered boy and those who killed him because of their hate-based beliefs.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred. Perspectives alternate between Safiya and Jawad. Includes media clippings (some from real world sources) throughout the text. I’ve just gotten this one today on audiobook, so look for my “Librarian’s Perspective” review soon!

  • Genre(s): thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: journalism, school newspaper, murder, prejudice, racism, terrorism, false accusations, Islamophobia, truth, complicity, alternative facts, Chicago, Illinois, Iraqi refugees, Muslims, alternating perspectives, media clippings, social justice, white supremacy
  • Protagonist description: Safiya is female, age 17, Indian American, Asian American; Jawad is the son of an Iraqi refugee, age 14, Muslim

Trapped in Terror Bay: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Franklin Expedition by Sigmund Brouwer

In 1845, Sir John Franklin’s expedition set sail for the Arctic from England in search of the Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Not only did they not succeed, his two ships–HMS Erebus and HMS Terror–and their entire party of 129 men vanished, their fate a mystery that remained unsolved for decades.

In 10 suspenseful episodes, the thrilling tale of that doomed polar mission is told from the points of view of the commander of the Terror and of those back home and the search parties who attempted to find them.

Each episode also describes some of the modern-day searches, including the discovery of the lost ships, allowing readers to examine the evidence and consider the theories about what happened. It’s a thorough and thoroughly captivating read about an intriguing story from the past.

Award-winning author Sigmund Brouwer packs loads of information, including the most up-to-date findings, into this original and engaging narrative. The highly graphic design includes historic photos, maps, a timeline and illustrations plus modern photos. The book highlights the importance of Inuit oral history and knowledge in solving the mystery. It was reviewed by an Inuit interpreter and elder. Sidebars throughout contain fascinating information about how technology and inventions at the time of the expedition brought about social changes, and mini-mysteries from history that ask readers to solve them using forensic science. There are strong curriculum links here to history, geography, Inuit studies, engineering, technology and applied science.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: Arctic Circle, Northwest Passage, history’s mysteries, world history, European history, explorers, missing crew, doomed missions, sunken ships, Inuit, forensic science

*The Patron Thief of Bread by Lindsay Eagar

Fished from the river as an infant and raised by a roving band of street urchins who call themselves the Crowns, eight-year-old Duck keeps her head down and her mouth shut.

It’s a rollicking life, always thieving, always on the run–until the ragtag Crowns infiltrate an abandoned cathedral in the city of Odierne and decide to set down roots. It’s all part of the bold new plan hatched by the Crowns’ fearless leader, Gnat: one of their very own will pose as an apprentice to the local baker, relieving Master Griselde of bread and coin to fill the bellies and line the pockets of all the Crowns.

But no sooner is Duck apprenticed to the kindly Griselde than Duck’s allegiances start to blur. Who is she really–a Crown or an apprentice baker? And who does she want to be? Meanwhile, high above the streets of Odierne, on the roof of the unfinished cathedral, an old and ugly gargoyle grows weary of waiting to fulfill his own destiny–to watch and protect.

FOUR starred reviews! Told in alternating viewpoints.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: orphans, gargoyles, living on the streets, gangs, thieves, middle ages, con artists, schemes, baking, apprentices, France, cathedrals, community
  • Protagonist description: female, age 8, white, orphan

*Unfadeable by Maurice Broaddus

Bella “Unfadeable” Fades is determined to stay out of trouble. A wiser-than-her-years graffiti artist known for tagging walls and bridges in her Indianapolis neighborhood, the Land, Bella plans to spend her summer break laying low and steering clear of anyone who might tip off to social services that she’s living on her own.

But keeping a low profile is all but impossible when Bella discovers people in high places are trying to defund the Land. She has to find a way to fight back.

Getting involved will mean putting herself out there–making connections with unlikely friends and attracting potential enemies. But if Bella doesn’t put her trust in her neighbors and learn how to bring her community together, her home–and her future–will never be the same.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: artists, graffiti, Indianapolis, Illinois, summer, homelessness, social services, community, neighbors, gentrification, getting involved in community
  • Protagonist description: female, age 13, 8th grader, biracial (Black and white), supporting cast is mostly Black

*Yonder by Ali Standish

Set in 1943. Danny Timmons has looked up to Jack Bailey ever since Jack saved two small children from drowning during the Great Flood of 1940. Now, with his father away fighting in World War II and his mother about to have a new baby, Danny relies on Jack’s friendship and guidance more than ever.

So when Jack goes missing without a trace from their small Appalachian town, Danny is determined to find him. He wonders if Jack’s abusive father could be behind his disappearance, or if it has anything to do with Yonder–a hidden magical town Jack once spoke of, where flocks of rainbow birds fly through the sky and they’ve never heard of war. As answers elude him, Danny begins to fear that he didn’t know Jack as well as he thought.

Ultimately, Danny’s investigation forces him to reckon with even larger questions: What is America fighting for in this war? What role do each of us play in stopping injustices, big and small? And is there such thing as a true hero?

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred. Grade level recommendations vary widely for this title, with Kirkus recommending Grades 5-11 and Publishers Weekly recommending Grades 3-7.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3+
  • Themes: WWII, parent away at war, missing persons, Appalachia, parental abuse, heroes, bullying, flashbacks, North Carolina, racism, prejudice, war
  • Protagonist description: male, age 13, white, American (North Carolina)

Save the People!: Halting Human Extinction by Stacy McAnulty (Author), Nicole Miles (Illustrator)

Scientists estimate that 99% of all species that have ever existed are now extinct. Whoa. So, it’s not unreasonable to predict humans are doomed to become fossil records as well. But what could lead to our demise? Supervolcanos? Asteroids? The sun going dark? Climate change? All the above?!

Humans–with our big brains, opposable thumbs, and speedy Wi-Fi–may be capable of avoiding most of these nightmares. (The T. rex would be super jealous of our satellites.) But we’re also capable of triggering world-ending events. Learning from past catastrophes may be the best way to avoid future disasters.

Packed with science, jokes, and black and white illustrations, Save the People! examines the worst-case scenarios that could (but hopefully won’t) cause the greatest mass extinction–our own!

Kirkus starred. Contains lots of graphics, graphs, a timeline, and extensive chapter notes.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-12
  • Themes: biology, life science, conservation, endangered species, Earth Day, climate change, mass extinction, end of human life, science, catastrophic events

Growing Pangs by Kathryn Ormsbee (Author), Molly Brooks (Illustrator)

Katie knows there’s stuff that makes her different. She’s homeschooled, she has freckles, and her teeth are really crooked.

But none of these things matter to Kacey. They’re best friends forever–just like their necklaces say.

But when they go to summer camp, Kacey starts acting weird. What happened to the “forever”? And when Katie gets home, she can’t stop worrying. About getting braces. About 6th grade. About friends.

She knows tapping three times or opening and closing a drawer won’t make everything better . . . but sometimes it helps stop the worrying. Is something wrong with her? And will anyone want to be friends with her if they find out?

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, memoir
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: growing up, best friends, summer camp, OCD, anxiety, secrets, mental health, homeschool
  • Protagonist description: female, rising 6th grader, age 11, white with red hair and freckles; supporting cast is diverse

*A Day for Sandcastles by Jonarno Lawson (Author), Qin Leng (Illustrator)

A busload of beachgoers spills out onto the sand for a day of fun and frolic.

Three siblings begin work on a castle, patting and shaping the sand as the sun arcs over the sky. Time and again, their progress is halted: a windswept hat topples their creation; a toddler ambles through it; the tide creeps close, and then too close.

Meeting each demolition with fresh determination, the builders outdo themselves time and again, until the moment arrives to pile back into the bus for home. An authentic portrait of sibling cooperation–and glorious inspiration for creative people of all ages–A Day for Sandcastles channels the thrill of surrendering expectations on the path to infinite possibility.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): wordless picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: summer, beach, siblings, sandcastles, play, ocean, determination, perseverance, cooperation
  • Protagonist description: white family–mother, father, and three kids

*The World Belonged to Us by Jacqueline Woodson (Author), Leo Espinosa (Illustrator)

It’s getting hot outside, hot enough to turn on the hydrants and run through the water–and that means it’s finally summer in the city!

Released from school and reveling in their freedom, the kids on one Brooklyn block take advantage of everything summertime has to offer.

Freedom from morning till night to go out to meet their friends and make the streets their playground–jumping double Dutch, playing tag and hide-and-seek, building forts, chasing ice cream trucks, and best of all, believing anything is possible.

That is, till their moms call them home for dinner. But not to worry–they know there is always tomorrow to do it all over again–because the block belongs to them and they rule their world.

THREE starred reviews.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: summer, having fun, playing outside, childhood autonomy, multiple languages, Brooklyn, New York, 1970s
  • Protagonist description: female, Black

A Gift for Nana by Lane Smith

A thoughtful little Rabbit sets out to find the perfect gift for his Nana. He knows she will love anything he brings her but Rabbit wants this gift to be extra special.

As he travels on his quest, Rabbit encounters an assortment of creatures–a crow, a smiling full moon, a stickler (whatever that is), a big fish, and a volcano. Each is certain they offer the best advice but nothing they suggest seems right for his Nana. It’s not until Rabbit reaches the highest peak, that he finds exactly what he’s been searching for.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: grandparents, grandmothers, gifts, love, family
  • Protagonist description: young rabbit

Alone Like Me by Rebecca Evans

Liling and her family have moved from their rural farm to an overwhelming urban city. Because of Chinese law, Liling can’t go to school and spends her days with Mama or Baba at work. At the playground, the other children throw sand at her and tease her old red coat and dirty shoes.

But after she shares a smile with a girl in a bright yellow jacket who lives in an apartment beneath hers, Liling has a big idea! She draws a picture and lowers it down to the girl–Qiqi–who returns it with a drawing of her own. When the new friends meet face to face, Liling takes Qiqi’s hand, and they walk bravely into the park–together.

With luscious watercolor illustrations and lovely poetic text, this achingly beautiful story is about our universal desire for connection, and the comfort we feel when we find a true friend.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: moving from rural area to large city, China, school, poverty, making new friends, friendship, belonging, loneliness
  • Protagonist description: girl, Chinese

*Yes We Will Asian Americans Who Shaped This Country by Kelly Yang

From creating beautiful music like Yo-Yo Ma to flying to outer space like Franklin Chang-Díaz; from standing up to injustice like Fred Korematsu to becoming the first Asian American, Black and female vice president of the United States like Kamala Harris, this book illuminates the power of Asian Americans all over the country, in all sorts of fields.

Each spread is illustrated by a different renowned Asian American or Asian artist. Alongside the poetic main text, Yes We Will includes one-line biographies of the person or historical moment featured on the page, with extended biographies at the end. Readers of different ages and needs can use the book in different ways, from classroom discussions to bedtime read-alouds and more.

Yes We Will answers the question, can we accomplish whatever we dream? With love, courage, determination, and lots of imagination, we can—and we will!

Kirkus and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): collective biography
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: artists, astronauts, musicians, politicians, activists, STEM
  • Protagonist description: various Asian Americans throughout history

Time to Shine Celebrating the World’s Iridescent Animals by Karen Jameson (Author), Dave Murray (Illustrator)

Have you ever noticed the rainbow-like shimmer on certain bird feathers, insect bodies and animal scales?

This effect, called iridescence, changes depending on the angle from which its viewed, and animals across the globe use the effect to both blend in and stand out.

  • Genre(s): picture book, nonfiction
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: nature, birds, insects, animals, iridescence, science, animal adaptations, rhyming couplets

Uncle John’s City Garden by Bernette Ford (Author), Frank Morrison (Illustrator)

Visiting the city from her home in the suburbs, an African American girl sees how a few packets of seeds, some helping hands, and hard work transform an empty lot in a housing project into a magical place where vegetables grow and family gathers. It’s the magic of nature in the heart of the city!

Bernette Ford’s autobiographical story is a loving glimpse at a girl, her siblings, and her uncle, and their shared passion for farming. L’l Sissy’s fascination with measurement, comparison, and estimation introduces children to STEM concepts. And the progress of Uncle John’s garden introduces readers to the life cycle of plants.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, memoir
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: gardening, seeds, plant life cycle, science, city life, vegetables, STEM, math, nature, uncles, family, siblings, succotash
  • Protagonist description: three siblings and their uncle, all Black, one boy and two girls

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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