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New Release Spotlight: June 7, 2022

A great-looking list this week! YA and middle grade books look best to me. Picture books are slim-pickins once again this week. 🙁

This week’s top picks are:
  • Hell Followed with Us by Andrew Joseph White (YA)
  • Out of Range by Heidi Lang (middle grade)
  • Music is a Rainbow by Bryan Collier (picture book)


Here’s a little insight into how I select Spotlight titles each week and why picture books have been disappointing lately…

There are actually lots of picture books being published each week; I started this week’s Spotlight with over 30 picture books to consider. This does not count familiar characters (Pete the Cat, Fancy Nancy, Llama Llama, etc.), nor do I consider any commercialized picture books such as Disney, Barbie, Lego, etc.

So when I go through the 30 or so remaining titles, I’m increasingly finding that many picture books do not have any professional reviews at all. In most cases, I haven’t read the books on the Spotlight (they are not yet published when I’m putting the Spotlight together), so I rely heavily on professional reviews.

Books that have zero professional reviews are automatically off the consideration list. They may be the best books ever published, but if I have nothing to go on, they are not on the Spotlight.

Books with only one professional review are usually also off the list unless that one review was a starred review. And even then, it’s “iffy.” Those titles are the first to get bumped in favor of titles that do have more reviews. Many school librarians are required to have at least two positive professional reviews for books they buy for the library, so only one review won’t cut it for everyone anyway.

All this is to say that there is a huge selection process behind the books I include on my Spotlights. I don’t want you to think I’m just picking on picture books lately. I love picture books!

If you are interested in reviewing books for a professional publication, I recommend it highly! When I lived in the US, I reviewed for SLJ for several years. It’s voluntary, but it’s fun! It also helps authors get seen, and helps librarians make selection decisions.

*This Place Is Still Beautiful by XiXi Tian

Debut author! The Flanagan sisters are as different as they come. Seventeen-year-old Annalie is bubbly, sweet, and self-conscious, whereas nineteen-year-old Margaret is sharp and assertive. Margaret looks just like their mother, while Annalie passes for white and looks like the father who abandoned them years ago, leaving their Chinese immigrant mama to raise the girls alone in their small, predominantly white Midwestern town.

When their house is vandalized with a shocking racial slur, Margaret rushes home from her summer internship in New York City. She expects outrage. Instead, her sister and mother would rather move on. Especially once Margaret’s own investigation begins to make members of their community uncomfortable.

For Annalie, this was meant to be a summer of new possibilities, and she resents her sister’s sudden presence and insistence on drawing negative attention to their family. Meanwhile Margaret is infuriated with Annalie’s passive acceptance of what happened. For Margaret, the summer couldn’t possibly get worse, until she crosses paths with someone she swore she’d never see again: her first love, Rajiv Agarwal.

As the sisters navigate this unexpected summer, an explosive secret threatens to break apart their relationship, once and for all.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: small Illinois town; modern day
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: sisters, Chinese Americans, immigrant families, small towns, racism, racial slurs, vandalism, secrets, aspiring lawyers, alternating perspectives
  • Protagonist description: two sisters, ages 17 and 19, both Chinese American

Zyla & Kai by Kristina Forest

While on a school trip to the Poconos Mountains (in the middle of a storm) high school seniors, Zyla Matthews and Kai Johnson, run away together leaving their friends and family confused. As far as everyone knows, Zyla and Kai have been broken up for months. And honestly? Their break up hadn’t surprised anyone. Zyla and Kai met while working together at an amusement park the previous summer, and they couldn’t have been more different.

Zyla was a cynic about love. She’d witnessed the dissolution of her parents’ marriage early in life, and it left an indelible impression. Her only aim was graduating and going to fashion school abroad. Until she met Kai.

Kai was a serial dater and a hopeless romantic. He’d put a temporary pause on his dating life before senior year to focus on school and getting into his dream HBCU. Until he met Zyla.

Alternating between the past and present, we see the love story unfold from Zyla’s and Kai’s perspectives: how they first became the unlikeliest of friends over the summer, how they fell in love during the school year, and why they ultimately broke up…Or did they?

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Setting: Pocono Mountains (Pennsylvania); modern day
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: runaways, Poconos Mountains, exes, dating, breaking up, alternating timelines, alternating perspectives, grief, therapy, orphans, senior trips
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, Black; male, age 17, Black, orphan

*Hell Followed with Us by Andrew Joseph White

Debut author! Sixteen-year-old trans boy Benji is on the run from the cult that raised him–the fundamentalist sect that unleashed Armageddon and decimated the world’s population. Desperately, he searches for a place where the cult can’t get their hands on him, or more importantly, on the bioweapon they infected him with.

But when cornered by monsters born from the destruction, Benji is rescued by a group of teens from the local Acheson LGBTQ+ Center, affectionately known as the ALC. The ALC’s leader, Nick, is gorgeous, autistic, and a deadly shot, and he knows Benji’s darkest secret: the cult’s bioweapon is mutating him into a monster deadly enough to wipe humanity from the earth once and for all.

Still, Nick offers Benji shelter among his ragtag group of queer teens, as long as Benji can control the monster and use its power to defend the ALC. Eager to belong, Benji accepts Nick’s terms…until he discovers the ALC’s mysterious leader has a hidden agenda, and more than a few secrets of his own.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): dystopia, science fiction, horror
  • Setting: near future; US Northeast–possibly Pennsylvania?
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: religious cults, apocalypse, running for one’s life, bioweapons, monsters, LGBTQIA+, autism, mutations, worldbuilding, plagues, sharpshooters, white supremacy
  • Protagonist description: trans boy, age 16, white

Home Field Advantage by Dahlia Adler

Amber McCloud’s dream is to become cheer captain at the end of the year, but it’s an extra-tall order to be joyful and spirited when the quarterback of your team has been killed in a car accident. For both the team and the squad, watching Robbie get replaced by newcomer Jack Walsh is brutal. And when it turns out Jack is actually short for Jaclyn, all hell breaks loose.

The players refuse to be led by a girl, the cheerleaders are mad about the changes to their traditions, and the fact that Robbie’s been not only replaced but outshined by a QB who wears a sports bra has more than a few Atherton Alligators in a rage. Amber tries for some semblance of unity, but it quickly becomes clear that she’s only got a future on the squad and with her friends if she helps them take Jack down.

Just one problem: Amber and Jack are falling for each other, and if Amber can’t stand up for Jack and figure out how to get everyone to fall in line, her dream may come at the cost of her heart.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): romance, sports
  • Setting: Florida panhandle; modern day
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: cheerleaders, car accidents, drunk driving, gay relationships, traditions, LGBTQIA+, football, school stories, sports
  • Protagonist description: two females, both white, both age 16, both Americans

Before Takeoff by Adi Alsaid

James and Michelle find themselves in the Atlanta airport on a layover. They couldn’t be more different, but seemingly interminable delays draw them both to a mysterious flashing green light–and each other.

Where James is passive, Michelle is anything but. And she quickly discovers that the flashing green light is actually…a button. Which she presses. Which may or may not unwittingly break the rules of the universe–at least as those rules apply to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta.

Before they can figure up from down, strange, impossible things start happening: snowstorms form inside the B terminal; jungles sprout up in the C terminal; and earthquakes split the ground apart in between. And no matter how hard they try, it seems no one can find a way in or out of the airport. James and Michelle team up to find their families and either escape the airport, or put an end to its chaos–before it’s too late.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): magical realism, adventure
  • Setting: Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, Georgia; modern day
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: airports, layovers, escape, chaos, weird events, power outages, odd weather events
  • Protagonist description: male, age 16, Latinx; female, age 18, French-Thai

Days of Infamy: How a Century of Bigotry Led to Japanese American Internment by Lawrence Goldstone

On December 7, 1941 — “a date which will live in infamy” — the Japanese navy launched an attack on the American military bases at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The next day, President Franklin Roosevelt declared war on Japan, and the US Army officially entered the Second World War.

Three years later, on December 18, 1944, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which enabled the Secretary of War to enforce a mass deportation of more than 100,000 Americans to what government officials themselves called “concentration camps.” None of these citizens had been accused of a real crime. All of them were torn from their homes, jobs, schools, and communities, and deposited in tawdry, makeshift housing behind barbed wire, solely for the crime of being of Japanese descent.

Surprisingly, no starred reviews on this title, but professional reviews are positive. Lawrence Goldstone is the author of Stolen Justice and several other books about discrimination and racism in the USA. I was never taught about the Japanese internment in my public school, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one just hearing about this in my 20s. The more young people know about these past atrocities committed by our government, the more likely we are not to repeat it.

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction
  • Setting: California, 19th and 20th Centuries
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: prejudice, racism, discrimination, concentration camps, internment, imprisonment of innocent people, US history, WWII, Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans, Executive Order 9066, US presidents, FDR, Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Slip by Marika McCoola (Author) and Aatmaja Pandya (Illustrator)

Right before Jade is about to leave for a summer art intensive, her best friend, Phoebe, attempts suicide. How is Jade supposed to focus on herself right now?

But at the Art Farm, Jade has artistic opportunities she’s been waiting for her whole life. And as she gets to know her classmates, she begins to fall for whimsical, upbeat, comfortable-in-her-own-skin Mary.

Jade pours herself into making ceramic monsters that vent her stress and insecurities, but when she puts her creatures in the kiln, something unreal happens: they come to life. And they’re taking a stand: if Jade won’t confront her problems, her problems are going to confront her, including the scariest of them all–if Jade grows, prospers, and even falls in love this summer, is she leaving Phoebe behind?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, graphic novel
  • Setting: month-long residential summer art camp
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: suicide, best friends, artists, mental health, art camp, summer, guilt over one’s own success, pressure to succeed, extended metaphor (“slip” is a pottery term)
  • Protagonist description: female, high school student, brown skin, wavy dark hair; love interest is light-skinned female

*Batter Royale by Leisl Adams

Debut author! When seventeen-year-old small-town waitress Rose impresses a famous food critic, she and her best friend, Fred, find themselves thrust into the tough world of competitive baking.

The contest is an intense ten days of bizarre challenges, and the competition is cutthroat. Some competitors are willing to lie, cheat, and sabotage their way to the top. Rose may be in over her head, but she is determined to show that she can become a top chef.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, romance, humor, graphic novel
  • Recommended for: Grades 6+
  • Themes: food, cooking, competition, reality TV, cheating, male-female best friends, sabotage, challenging oneself, teens with jobs, recipes
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, high school senior, biracial (white-Black); male love interest is age 17 and has red hair and freckles

*The Secret Battle of Evan Pao by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

A fresh start. That’s all Evan Pao wants as he, along with his mother and sister, flee from California to Haddington, Virginia, hoping to keep his father’s notoriety a secret.

But Haddington is a southern town steeped in tradition, and moving to a town immersed in the past has its own price. Although Evan quickly makes friends, one boy, Brady Griggs, seems determined to make sure that as a Chinese American, Evan feels that he does not belong. When Evan finds a unique way to make himself part of the school’s annual Civil War celebration, the reaction is swift and violent. As all of his choices at home and at school collide, Evan must decide whether he will react with the same cruelty shown to him, or choose a different path.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: small Virginia town
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: new beginnings, US South, small towns, prejudice, Asian Americans, US Civil War, bullying, moving, secrets, middle school, family problems, single mothers, anxiety, new kid in town
  • Protagonist description: male, age 12, Chinese American

*The Civil War of Amos Abernathy by Michael Leali

Amos Abernathy lives for history. Literally. He’s been a historical reenactor nearly all his life. But when a cute new volunteer arrives at his Living History Park, Amos finds himself wondering if there’s something missing from history: someone like the two of them.

Amos is sure there must have been LGBTQ+ people in nineteenth-century Illinois. His search turns up Albert D. J. Cashier, a Civil War soldier who might have identified as a trans man if he’d lived today. Soon Amos starts confiding in his newfound friend by writing letters in his journal–and hatches a plan to share Albert’s story with his divided twenty-first century town. It may be an uphill battle, but it’s one that Amos is ready to fight.

Booklist and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: Illinois; 2021-2022
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: love for history, historical re-enaction, cosplay, transgender, research, LGBTQIA+, US Civil War
  • Protagonist description: male, age 13, white, red-haired, gay

*Alice Austen Lived Here by Alex Gino

Sam is very in touch with their own queer identity. They’re nonbinary, and their best friend, TJ, is nonbinary as well. Sam’s family is very cool with it… as long as Sam remembers that nonbinary kids are also required to clean their rooms, do their homework, and try not to antagonize their teachers too much.

The teacher-respect thing is hard when it comes to Sam’s history class, because their teacher seems to believe that only Dead Straight Cis White Men are responsible for history. When Sam’s home borough of Staten Island opens up a contest for a new statue, Sam finds the perfect non-DSCWM subject: photographer Alice Austen, whose house has been turned into a museum, and who lived with a female partner for decades.

Soon, Sam’s project isn’t just about winning the contest. It’s about discovering a rich queer history that Sam’s a part of–a queer history that no longer needs to be quiet, as long as there are kids like Sam and TJ to stand up for it.

Booklist and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: Staten Island, New York; modern day
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: LGBTQIA+, nonbinary, pronouns, US history, whitewashed history, contests, statues, queer history, Alice Austen, gender identity, community, best friends
  • Protagonist description: nonbinary 7th grader, white; best friend is also nonbinary and tan-skinned

*Spineless by Samantha San Miguel

When his asthma lands him at a health resort in the wilds of Gilded Age South Florida, twelve-year-old Algie Emsworth is over the moon. The scientific treasure trove of unexplored swamps may launch his dream career as a naturalist.

But even Algie is startled when he happens upon a brand-new species and her brood in the karst springs surrounding the resort. Algie quickly realizes he must keep his discovery a secret: a famous collector of exotic animals is also staying at the hotel, and the new species is threatened by his very presence.

An apparent curse has also descended upon the hotel, bringing with it a deadly red tide. But when the pool starts filling with ink and guests start getting mysterious, sucker-shaped wounds, Algie must pluck up his courage to find the truth about the goings-on at the Grand Hotel–and save the new species from destruction.

Booklist and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): adventure, mystery, historical fiction
  • Setting: south Florida, late 19th Century
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: animal rights, new animal species, animal protection, octopuses, conservation, Earth Day, severe asthma, red tide, curses, ecofiction, hotels, nature, Gilded Age
  • Protagonist description: male, age 12, white

Fibbed by Elizabeth Agyemang

Everyone says that the wild stories Nana tells are big fibs. But she always tells the truth, as ridiculous as it sounds to hear about the troupe of circus squirrels stealing her teacher’s toupee. When another outlandish explanation lands her in hot water again, her parents announce that Nana will be spending the summer with her grandmother in Ghana.

She isn’t happy to be missing the summer camp she’s looked forward to all year, or to be living with family that she barely knows, in a country where she can’t really speak the native language. But all her worries get a whole lot bigger–literally–when she comes face-to-face with Ananse, the trickster spider of legend.

Nana soon discovers that the forest around the village is a place of magic watched over by Ananse. But a group of greedy contractors are draining the magic from the land, intent on selling the wishes for their own gain. Nana must join forces with her cousin Tiwaa, new friend Akwesi, and Ananse himself to save the magic from those who are out to steal it before the magic–and the forest–are gone for good.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, mythology, graphic novel
  • Setting: Ghana
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: West African mythology, Ananse, storytelling, grandmothers, summer, tricksters, legends, magic, deforestation, exploitation of Africa, imperialism
  • Protagonist description: female, Black, of Ghanian descent

Leave It to Plum! by Matt Phelan

Young Plum is one of the peacock ambassadors for the Athensville Zoo. Every day the peacocks are allowed to wander freely among the zoo’s visitors, delighting and guiding kids and grown-ups alike. The peacocks are very proud of their responsibility; none so much as kind, curious Plum.

But Itch the ningbing–a type of very small marsupial–doesn’t understand why those birdbrains should get so much freedom while he’s all cooped up. So he plots and plots, sure that he will escape and become the zoo ambassador!

With short chapters and lots of black-and-white illustrations, this is a great choice for reluctant middle grade readers.

  • Genre(s): humor, animal stories
  • Setting: zoo
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: peacocks, zoos, curiosity, rivalry, marsupials, personification, anthropomorphization, reluctant readers, alliteration
  • Protagonist description: proud, outgoing peacock and other zoo animals

Out of Range by Heidi Lang

Sisters Abby, Emma, and Ollie have gone from being best friends forever to mortal enemies.

Thanks to their months-long feud, they are sent to Camp Unplugged, a girls’ camp deep in the heart of the Idaho mountains where they will go “back to nature”–which means no cell phones, no internet, and no communicating with the outside world. For two whole weeks. During that time, they had better learn to get along again, their parents tell them. Or else.

The sisters don’t see any way they can ever forgive each other for what they’ve done, no matter how many hikes and campfire songs they’re forced to participate in. But then disaster strikes, and they find themselves lost and alone in the wilderness. They will have to outrun a raging wildfire, make it through a turbulent river, escape bears and mountain lions and ticks. They don’t have training, or food, or enough supplies. All they have is each other.

And maybe, just maybe, it will be enough to survive.

  • Genre(s): adventure, realistic fiction
  • Setting: Idaho mountains; modern day
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: sisters, survival, family problems, family feuding, summer camp, nature, hiking, camping, forest fires, pranks
  • Protagonist description: three sisters; ages 14, 12, and 9; cued white

Because of You, John Lewis by Andrea Davis Pinkney (Author) and Keith Henry Brown (Illustrator)

When young Tybre Faw discovers John Lewis and his heroic march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the fight for voting rights, Tybre is determined to meet him.

Tybre’s two grandmothers take him on the seven-hour drive to Selma, Alabama, where Lewis invites Tybre to join him in the annual memorial walk across the Bridge. And so begins a most amazing friendship! ​​​​​​​

In rich, poetic language, Andrea Davis Pinkney weaves the true story of a boy with a dream―together with the story of a real-life hero (who himself had a life-altering friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was young!). Keith Henry Brown’s deeply affecting paintings bring this inspiring bond between a young activist and an elder congressman vividly to life. ​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​Who will be next to rise up and turn the page on history?

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography, poetry, picture book for older readers
  • Setting: Selma, Alabama; 1965
  • Recommended for: Grades K-5
  • Themes: civil rights, voting rights, John Lewis, Tybre Faw, US history, friendship, Black history, parallel timelines, civil rights leaders
  • Protagonist description: male, starts at age 10, African American

*Music Is a Rainbow by Bryan Collier

A young boy remembers quietly watching his father read the paper and sip a cup of coffee. He remembers his sweet momma, who lovingly pressed away the wrinkles on his clothes. Then one day, his father is gone and his momma falls ill. But through his love of music he feels his father’s warm hugs and his mother’s kisses. He learns to relax, shine, and dream as the music fills his soul.

From four-time Caldecott honoree Bryan Collier comes a moving and gorgeously illustrated exploration of healing the soul through music.

SLJ and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: young boy’s home after life-changing events
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: memories, family, music, grief, healing through music, rainbows, color
  • Protagonist description: young Black boy

I Want to Be a Vase by Julio Torres (Author) and Julian Glander (Illustrator)

Shapes. You’ve heard of them. You might have even interacted with a few. But do you really know them?

From plucky Plunger, who wishes to defy his shape and become a beautiful vase, to other household objects with dreams of a life beyond their predestined roles, I Want to Be a Vase takes readers on an essential and visually stunning journey through the lives and intimate dramas of often-overlooked household appliances.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, humor
  • Setting: a bathroom inside a home
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: shapes, everyday objects, identity, imagination, household objects, art, creativity, personification
  • Protagonist description: various household objects–plunger, hair dryer, vacuum, etc.






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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