This December Holidays Library Lesson covers winter holidays from all over the world! Features Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Las Posadas, Pancha Ganapati, Boxing Day, and La Befana. Includes whole-group library lesson, scrolling slideshow, Recommended Reads, Scavenger Hunt activity, and lesson plan template.

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New Release Spotlight: May 31, 2022

Starting this week, I am back to weekly New Release Spotlights! I will post them weekly on Mondays and send an email link out on Tuesday mornings.

The YA titles are the standouts this week, with lots of new titles, several of which received two starred reviews. I had to really dig deep to find picture books I was excited about this week. New titles this week from Isabel Ibañez, Phil Stamper, Kelly Yang, Margarita Engle, and Chris Raschka.

This week’s top picks:

  • Together We Burn by Isabel Ibañez (YA)
  • ReThink the Internet: How to Make the Digital World a Lot Less Sucky by Trisha Prabhu (MG)
  • Meow by Chris Raschka (picture book)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #2509-#2526 on The Ginormous book list.

*Together We Burn by Isabel Ibañez

Eighteen-year-old Zarela Zalvidar is a talented flamenco dancer and daughter of the most famous Dragonador in Hispalia. People come for miles to see him fight in their arena, which will one day be hers. But disaster strikes during one celebratory show, and in the carnage, Zarela’s life changes in an instant.

With the Dragon Guild trying to wrest control of her inheritance from her, Zarela has no choice but to train to become a Dragonador. But when the most talented dragon hunter left in the land–the infuriatingly handsome Arturo Díaz de Montserrat–withholds his help, Zarela cannot take no for an answer. Without him, her world will burn.

Booklist and Kirkus starred. This book is a standalone.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, romance
  • Setting: Hispalia, a fantasy world inspired by medieval Spain
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: dragons, fathers and daughters, training as a dragon fighter, enemies-to-lovers, magic
  • Protagonist description: female, age 18, olive-skinned, speaks Spanish

*Love Radio by Ebony LaDelle

Debut author! Prince Jones is the guy with all the answers–or so it seems. After all, at seventeen, he has his own segment on Detroit’s popular hip-hop show, Love Radio, where he dishes out advice to the brokenhearted.

Prince has always dreamed of becoming a DJ and falling in love. But being the main caretaker for his mother, who has multiple sclerosis, and his little brother means his dreams will stay just that and the only romances in his life are the ones he hears about from his listeners.

Until he meets Dani Ford.

Dani isn’t checking for anybody. She’s focused on her plan: ace senior year, score a scholarship, and move to New York City to become a famous author. But her college essay keeps tripping her up and acknowledging what’s blocking her means dealing with what happened at that party a few months ago. And that’s one thing Dani can’t do.

Publishers Weekly and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, romance
  • Setting: Detroit, Michigan; modern-day
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: dating, radio programs, DJs, rape, sexual assault, secrets, caretaker of sibling and parent, multiple sclerosis
  • Protagonist description: male and female, both age 17, both African American

*Man O’War by Cory McCarthy

River McIntyre has grown up down the street from Sea Planet, an infamous marine life theme park slowly going out of business in small-town Ohio.

When a chance encounter with a happy, healthy queer person on the annual field trip lands River literally in the shark tank, they must admit the truth: they don’t know who they are–only what they’ve been told to be. This sets off a wrenching journey of self-discovery, from internalized homophobia and gender dysphoria, through layers of coming out, affirmation surgery, and true freakin’ love.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Setting: small Ohio town; modern day
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: LGBTQIA+, affirmation surgery, homophobia, racism, dysphoria, marine biology
  • Protagonist description: trans, nonbinary Irish and Lebanese American, HS sophomore into adulthood

Kings of B’more by R. Eric Thomas

With junior year starting in the fall, Harrison feels like he’s on the precipice of, well, everything. Standardized testing, college, and the terrifying unknowns and looming pressures of adulthood after that–it’s like the future wants to eat him alive.

Which is why Harrison is grateful that he and his best friend, Linus, will face these things together. But at the end of a shift at their summer job, Linus invites Harrison to their special spot overlooking the city to deliver devastating news: He’s moving out of state at the end of the week.

To keep from completely losing it–and partially inspired by a cheesy movie-night pick by his dad–Harrison plans a send-off à la Ferris Bueller’s Day Off that’s worthy of his favorite person. If they won’t be having all the life-expanding experiences they thought they would, Harrison will squeeze them all into their last day together.

They end up on a mini road trip, their first Pride, and a rooftop dance party, all while keeping their respective parents, who track them on a family location app, off their trail. Harrison and Linus make a pact to do all the things–big and small–they’ve been too scared to do. But nothing feels scarier than saying goodbye to someone you love.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: Baltimore and Washington, DC; modern day
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: road trips, best friends, friendship, growing up, anxiety about future, friend moving away, summer, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, National Museum of African American History and Culture, parental restrictions, family problems, saying goodbye
  • Protagonist description: two males, age 16, both queer, African American, rising HS juniors

*Improbable Magic for Cynical Witches by Kate Scelsa

Seventeen-year-old Eleanor is the last person in Salem to believe in witchcraft–or think that her life could be transformed by mysterious forces. After losing her best friend and first love, Chloe, Eleanor has spent the past year in a haze, vowing to stay away from anything resembling romance.

But when a handwritten guide to tarot arrives in the mail at the witchy souvenir store where Eleanor works, it seems to bring with it the message that magic is about to enter her life. Cynical Eleanor is quick to dismiss this promise, until real-life witch Pix shows up with an unusual invitation. Inspired by the magic and mystery of the tarot, Eleanor decides to open herself up to Pix and her coven of witches, and even to the possibility of a new romance.

But Eleanor’s complicated history continues to haunt her. She will have to reckon with the old ghosts that threaten to destroy everything, even her chance at new love.

Publishers Weekly and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): supernatural, romance
  • Setting: Salem, Massachusetts; modern day
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: witchcraft, tarot, magic, witches, Lyme Disease (mother), marijuana use, teens with jobs
  • Protagonist description: female, witch, age 17, white, gay

Private Label by Kelly Yang

Serene dreams of making couture dresses even more stunning than her mom’s, but for now she’s an intern at her mom’s fashion label. When her mom receives a sudden diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, all that changes. Serene has to take over her mother’s business overnight while trying to figure out what happened with her dad in Beijing. He left before she was born, and Serene wants to find him, even if it means going against her mom’s one request–never look back.

Lian Chen moved from China to Serene’s mostly white Southern California beach town a year ago. He doesn’t fit in at school, where kids mispronounce his name. His parents don’t care about what he wants to do–comedy–and push him toward going to MIT engineering early. Lian thinks there’s nothing to stick around for until one day he starts a Chinese Club after school…and Serene walks in.

Worlds apart in the high school hierarchy, Serene and Lian soon find refuge in each other, falling in love as they navigate life-changing storms.

  • Genre(s): romance, realistic fiction
  • Setting: Southern California, modern day
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: fashion design, teens with jobs, internship, pancreatic cancer diagnosis (mother), estranged parent (father), Asian Americans, moving to a new school, parental expectations, microaggressions, school clubs, complex parent-teen relationships, bullying
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, Chinese American

Finding Jupiter by Kelis Rowe

Debut author! Ray: Just once I’d like my birthday to be about me, and not the day my father died. I want to be Ray Jr., the tall girl from Memphis with the poetry beats and the braids that stay poppin’. And when I meet Orion at the skating rink, that’s exactly who I am. He pulls my hand, and instead of being defined by my past, he races me toward my future.

Orion: When I dive into the pool, it’s just me and my heartbeat. There’s no dad, no dead sister, and no distracting noises. But I can’t hold my breath forever. And since I met Ray, I don’t want to. The closer we get, though, the more I see I’m not the only one caught in her wake.

  • Genre(s): novel in verse, romance
  • Setting: Memphis, Tennessee; modern day
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: grief, death of parent (father), death of sibling (sister), swimming, first love, family secrets
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 17, African American; boy, African American, sensory processing disorder

The Counselors by Jessica Goodman

Camp Alpine Lake is the only place where Goldie Easton feels safe.

She’s always had a special connection to the place, even before she was old enough to attend. The camp is the lifeline of Roxwood, the small town she lives in. Alpine Lake provides jobs, money and prestige to the region. Few Roxwood locals, though, get to reap the rewards of living so close to the glam summer that camp, with its five-figure tuition and rich kids who have been dumped there for eight weeks by their powerful parents. Goldie’s one of them.

Even with her “townie” background, Goldie has never felt more at home at camp and now she’s back as a counselor, desperate for summer to start and her best friends, Ava and Imogen, to arrive. Because Goldie has a terrible dark secret she’s been keeping and she is more in need of the comfort than ever.

But Goldie’s not the only person at camp who has been lying. When a teen turns up dead in the lake late one night, she knows that the death couldn’t have been an accident. She also knows that Ava was at the lake that same night.

What did Ava see and what does she know? Why hasn’t she said anything to Goldie about the death? Worse–what did Ava do?

But asking questions offers no answers, only broken bonds of lifelong friendship, with hidden danger and betrayals deeper than Goldie ever imagined.

  • Genre(s): mystery, thriller
  • Setting: summer camp at a lake in New England; modern day
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: summer camp, teens with jobs, secrets, lies, murder, lifelong friends
  • Protagonist description: female, age 18, white; majority of characters are wealthy white Americans

*Singing with Elephants by Margarita Engle

Cuban-born eleven-year-old Oriol lives in Santa Barbara, California, where she struggles to belong. But most of the time that’s okay, because she enjoys helping her parents care for the many injured animals at their veterinary clinic.

Then Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature, moves to town, and aspiring writer Oriol finds herself opening up. As she begins to create a world of words for herself, Oriol learns it will take courage to stay true to herself and do what she thinks is right–attempting to rescue a baby elephant in need–even if it means keeping secrets from those she loves.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, novel in verse
  • Setting: Santa Barbara, California; 1947
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: animal rights, veterinary care, writers, elephants, 1940s, grandmothers, diabetes, grief, summer, animal cruelty
  • Protagonist description: female, age 11, Cuban American

Small Town Pride by Phil Stamper

Jake is just starting to enjoy life as his school’s first openly gay kid. While his family and friends are accepting and supportive, the same can’t be said about everyone in their small town of Barton Springs, Ohio.

When Jake’s dad hangs a comically large pride flag in their front yard in an overblown show of love, the mayor begins to receive complaints. A few people are even concerned the flag will lead to something truly outlandish: a pride parade.

Except Jake doesn’t think that’s a ridiculous idea. Why can’t they hold a pride festival in Barton Springs? The problem is, Jake knows he’ll have to get approval from the town council, and the mayor won’t be on his side. And as Jake and his friends try to find a way to bring Pride to Barton Springs, it seems suspicious that the mayor’s son, Brett, suddenly wants to spend time with Jake.

But someone that cute couldn’t possibly be in league with his mayoral mother, could he?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: small Ohio town, modern day
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: LGBTQIA+, Pride, community, small town politics, coming out, acceptance, inclusion
  • Protagonist description: male, age 13, gay, white

The Summer of June by Jamie Sumner

Twelve-year-old June Delancey is kicking summer off with a bang. She shaves her head and sets two goals: she will beat her anxiety and be the lion she knows she can be, instead of the mouse everyone sees. And she and her single mama will own their power as fierce, independent females.

With the help of Homer Juarez, the poetry-citing soccer star who believes in June even when she doesn’t believe in herself, she starts a secret library garden and hatches a plan to make her dreams come true. But when her anxiety becomes too much, everything begins to fall apart. It’s going to take more than a haircut and some flowers to set things right. It’s going to take courage and friends and watermelon pie. Forget second chances. This is the summer of new beginnings.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: summer
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: anxiety, friendship, mental health, libraries, acceptance, Trichotillomania, gardening
  • Protagonist description: female, white, age 12

ReThink the Internet: How to Make the Digital World a Lot Less Sucky by Trisha Prabhu

Do you have to ask someone’s permission before posting their photo?
How can you tell if something on the internet is true?
What should you do if you see someone bullying a friend online (or #IRL)?

In a series of fun stories, innovator, inventor, social entrepreneur and upstanding digital citizen, Trisha Prabhu, goes through the hows, the whats, an the whys of digital citizenship, showing readers how to lead with kindness and stop internet hate.

For people who are just getting their first phone to others who have been scrolling, swiping, clicking and posting for years, this book makes us all think what our role is in the digital world and how, together, we can make it a force for good.

This book has pages-long stories of middle school online activity to demonstrate the problems social media can cause. Even innocent posts can be harmful (such as posting photos of someone without their permission), while others are intentional acts that can cause serious psychological harm (such as cyberbullying). Young people often don’t know the etiquette of online activity (how would they, if no one ever tells them?). If I were still teaching 7th grade English, I would pull some “story” passages from this book as read-alouds. I think many adults could benefit from this book as well. On the TBR for me!

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: social media, digital literacy, cyberbullying, online etiquette, social behavior
  • Protagonist description: Author is a 21-year old female who was the victim of cyberbullying. She speaks directly to the reader in the book.

The Impossible Destiny of Cutie Grackle by Shawn K. Stout

Cutie Grackle is used to being different–she lives alone on a mountain with her feeble-minded uncle, and when she’s not sucking pebbles to trick her stomach into feeling full, she’s chatting with a weathered garden gnome for company.

But having a flock of ravens follow you is more than just different. Cutie worries the birds are connected to the curse Uncle Horace tends to mutter about. And she’s right.

The ravens present her with a fortune from a cookie, and when she touches it she’s pulled into a vision from her family’s past. It involves the curse and her long-lost mother. The birds offer up a series of objects, each imbued with memories that eventually reveal Cutie must do what her mother could not: break the curse.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Setting: West Virginia mountains, modern day
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: curses, birds, poverty, lost parent (mother), Appalachia, magic, survival, uncles
  • Protagonist description: female, age 10, white

*The Rainbow Parade by Emily Neilson

One day in June, Mommy, Mama, and Emily take the train into the city to watch the Rainbow Parade. The three of them love how all the people in the street are so loud, proud, and colorful, but when Mama suggests they join the parade, Emily feels nervous. Standing on the sidewalk is one thing, but walking in the parade? Surely that takes something special.

This joyful and affirming picture book about a family’s first Pride parade, reminds all readers that sometimes pride takes practice and there’s no “one way” to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Kirkus and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: San Francisco; modern day
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: Pride, parades, LGBTQIA+, community, family
  • Protagonist description: young white girl with two white moms

Pineapple Princess by Sabina Hahn

This misunderstood little girl is certain she’s a princess–despite the protests of her family. One afternoon she’s struck by a brilliant idea. Princesses wear crowns and she knows exactly where to get one.

She gets to work–decimating her midday snack until she has a pineapple headpiece fit for royalty. Is she sticky? Yes. Does her tummy feel funny? Yes. Is she very important? Absolutely.

What follows is a power rush of epic proportions and a horde of eager subjects in the form of flies. Unfortunately, her new subjects take direction…poorly. As this princess’s kingdom slowly devolves into chaos, both her rule and her pineapple crown begin to fall apart.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, humor
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: princesses, pineapple, imagination, feeling misunderstood, fruit, tummy aches, pretend play
  • Protagonist description: young girl, white, curly brown hair

*Honeybee Rescue: A Backyard Drama by Loree Burns (Author) and Ellen Harasimowicz (Photographer)

Follow honeybee rescuer Mr. Nelson as he expertly removes a colony of bees from Mr. Connery’s barn (with a vacuum!) and helps it relocate back to a hive. Photographs of Mr.Nelson’s relocation of the colony help bring the honeybee rescue to life.

Nature lovers and scientists-to-be will be abuzz as they learn all the ways to keep honeybees (and our ecosystem) safe.

Kirkus and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-5
  • Themes: animals, insects, honeybees, biomes, ecosystems, beekeeping
  • Protagonist description: male, white

Baby Squeaks by Anne Hunter

Baby mouse has learned to squeak. And now it’s squeak, squeak, squeak all day long.

Baby chats with new friends and old friends, big friends and little friends, and sometimes just chats with no one at all. Poor Mama needs a break…but when Baby wanders off, Mama knows what to do: follow the squeaks!

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: babies, talking, language acquisition, mothers, mice, getting lost, animals
  • Protagonist description: anthropomorphic mother and baby mouse

Meow by Chris Raschka

A girl and her cat, Marigold, are best friends. When the girl accidently steps on Marigold’s tail, the surprised and hurt cat runs for cover. But after some time apart and an apology, all is forgiven, and Marigold and the girl are friends again.

Two-time Caldecott Medal winner Chris Raschka introduces various renditions of the word “meow” throughout, each offering a collaborative, educational, and innovative way to interpret the story.

With two compelling main characters, an entire rainbow of emotions, a playful text composed almost exclusively using only four letters (M E O W), and lively illustrations, Meow is ideal for visual literacy, beginning readers, very young children, social and emotional development, and for classroom story hours.

  • Genre(s): almost wordless picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: causing unintentional pain, apologies, cats, pets, animal sounds, friendship
  • Protagonist description: young girl with brown skin





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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