Today’s New Release Spotlight list is YA-heavy, but I’m actually most excited about the picture books again this week! For two of them, I’ve included some lesson ideas.
This week’s top picks:
- Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen (YA)
- What is Math? by Kai Dotlich (picture book)
- The World’s Longest Licorice Rope (picture book)
This week’s Spotlight titles are #2629-#2640 on The Ginormous book list.
High school junior Michie is struggling to define who she is for her scholarship essays, her big shot at making it into Brown as a first-generation college student. The prompts would be hard for anyone, but Michie’s been estranged from her mother since she was seven and her concept of family has long felt murky.
Enter new kid and basketball superstar Derek de la Rosa. He is very cute, very talented, and very much has his eye on Michie, no matter how invisible she believes herself to be.
When Michie’s mother unexpectedly reaches out to make amends, and with her scholarship deadlines looming, Michie must choose whether to reopen old wounds or close the door on her past. And as she spends more time with Derek, she’ll have to decide how much of her heart she is willing to share. Because while Michie may not know who she is, she’s starting to realize who she wants to become, if only she can take a chance on Derek, on herself, and on her future.
SLJ and Publishers Weekly starred.
- Genre(s): romance, realistic fiction
- Setting: Richmond, Virginia, present-day
- Recommended for: Grades 7-12
- Themes: first-generation college students, high school, academic pressure, problems with parents, scholarships, born of sexual assault, anxiety, dating
- Protagonist description: female, age 17, HS junior, Black
Growing up homeschooled in Berkeley, California, Beatrice Quinn has always dreamed of discovering new mathematical challenges at Oxford University. She always thought the hardest part would be getting in, not convincing her parents to let her go.
But while math has always made sense to Beatrice, making friends is a problem she hasn’t been able to solve. Before her parents will send her halfway across the world, she has to prove she won’t spend the next four years hiding in the library. The compromise: the Connecticut Shakespearean Summer Academy and a detailed list of teenage milestones to check off. If Beatrice wants to live out her Oxford dream, she has to survive six weeks in the role of “normal teenager” first.
Unfortunately, hearts and hormones don’t follow any equations. When she’s adopted by a group of eclectic theater kids, and immediately makes an enemy of the popular–and annoyingly gorgeous–British son of the camp’s founders, Beatrice quickly learns that relationships are trickier than calculus. With her future on the line, this girl genius stumbles through illicit parties, double dog dares, and more than her fair share of Shakespeare. But before the final curtain falls, will Beatrice realize there’s more to life than what she can find in the pages of a book?
- Genre(s): realistic fiction
- Setting: California and Connecticut, present day
- Recommended for: Grades 7-12
- Themes: homeschooling, math, making friends, Shakespeare, theater, introverts, social awkwardness
- Protagonist description: female, age 16, white
As a semi-famous internet creator, Josh Sundquist knows what it’s like to chase fame, but he also knows that more fame usually means more stress. So he set out on a pseudo-scientific investigation to find out if there is any way for fame and happiness to overlap.
He attempts to define the word “fame”–hint: it’s harder than you’d think. He turns back time to identify the first facially-recognizable celebrity (you might know his former BFF Brutus). He digs into the numbers to debunk urban legends associated with stardom (ever heard of the 27 Club?). He talks to other semi-famous people (from K-pop sensations to former child stars) and asks them: Is this fame thing making you happy? If not, why are you doing it? If so, what’s your secret? All while recounting funny stories about his own cringy fame-seeking (like his many attempts, and failures, to get onto MTV).
- Genre(s): humor, nonfiction, biography, memoir
- Recommended for: Grades 8-12
- Themes: social media, internet celebrities, fame, happiness, Ewing’s sarcoma, disabilities
- Protagonist description: male, white, disabled
When the cops arrive, only a few things are clear:
– Four girls entered a dangerous cave.
– Three of them came out alive.
– Two of them were rushed to the hospital.
– And one is soaked in blood and ready to talk.
Amelie Desmarais’ story begins believably enough: Four girls from a now-defunct thrill-seeking group planned an epic adventure to find a lake that Colorado locals call “The Sublime.” Legend has it that the lake has the power to change things for those who risk–and survive–its cavernous depths. They each had their reasons for going. For Amelie, it was a promise kept to her beloved cousin, who recently suffered a tragic accident during one of the group’s dares.
But as her account unwinds, and the girls’ personalities and motives are drawn, things get complicated. Amelie is hardly the thrill-seeking type, and it appears she’s not the only one with the ability to deceive. Worse yet, Amelie is covered in someone’s blood, but whose exactly? And where’s the fourth girl?
Is Amelie spinning a tale to cover her guilt? Or was something inexplicable waiting for the girls down there? Amelie’s the only one with answers, and she’s insisting on an explanation that is more horror-fantasy than reality. Maybe the truth lies somewhere in between?
After all, strange things inhabit dark places. And sometimes we bring the dark with us.
- Genre(s): thriller, mystery
- Setting: Colorado lake,
- Recommended for: Grades 9-12
- Themes: caving, dares, guilt, missing persons, facing fears, risky behavior, unreliable narrators
- Protagonist description: four teen females; two white, one Korean, one Latinx
Debut author! June Chu is the “just good enough” girl. Good enough to line the shelves with a slew of third-place trophies and steal secret kisses from her AP Bio partner, Rhys. But not good enough to meet literally any of her Taiwanese mother’s unrelenting expectations or to get Rhys to commit to anything beyond a well-timed joke.
While June’s mother insists she follow in her (perfect) sister’s footsteps and get a (full-ride) violin scholarship to Northwestern (to study pre-med), June doesn’t see the point in trying too hard if she’s destined to fall short anyway. Instead, she focuses her efforts on making her relationship with Rhys “official.” But after her methodically planned, tipsily executed scheme explodes on the level of a nuclear disaster, she flings herself into a new relationship with a guy who’s not allergic to the word girlfriend.
But as the line between sex and love blurs, and pressure to map out her entire future threatens to burst, June will have to decide on whose terms she’s going to live her life–even if it means fraying her relationship with her mother beyond repair.
Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.
- Genre(s): realistic fiction, romance
- Setting: Midwest USA, present day
- Recommended for: Grades 9-12
- Themes: parental expectations, sisters, dating, senior year, comparing sibling success, defining oneself, mothers and daughters
- Protagonist description: female, Taiwanese American
*Beating Heart Baby by Lio Min
Santi has only had his heart broken one time, and it was all his fault. When he accidentally leaked his internet best friend Memo’s song, and it became an overnight hit, Memo disappeared–leaving their song’s cult fame, and Santi, behind.
Three years later, Santi arrives in Los Angeles with a mission: get over the ghost of Memo. Thankfully, his new school and its wildly-talented Sunshower marching band welcome him with open arms. All except for his section leader, the prickly, proud, musical prodigy Suwa. But when Santi realizes Suwa is trans, then Suwa realizes Santi takes his identity in stride, both boys begin to let their guards down. Santi learns Suwa’s surliness masks a painful, still raw history of his own, and as they open up to each other, their friendship quickly takes on the red-hot blush of a mutual crush.
Just as Santi is feeling settled in this new life, with a growing found family and a head-over-heels relationship with Suwa, he begins to put together the pieces of an impossible truth–that he knows both more and less of Suwa’s story than he’s been told. Their fragile fresh start threatens to rip apart at the seams again when Suwa is offered the chance to step into the spotlight he’s owed but has always denied himself. Now, Santi and Suwa must finally reckon with their dreams, their pasts–and their futures, together or apart.
Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred. My thoughts on the cover: It doesn’t sound like this book has any teen pregnancy in it, but that’s what I expected when I saw this cover and read the title. And the cover is pink and blue, colors also associated with babies. I asked my 17-year old son what he thought was happening in the image, and we both agree it looks like a boy is kissing a girl’s stomach. I’ve done YA booktalks featuring books that do not match their covers–this would be a great candidate for that booktalk.
- Genre(s): romance
- Setting: Los Angeles, California
- Recommended for: Grades 8-12
- Themes: musicians, marching band, LGBTQIA+, transgender, Asian Americans, dating
- Protagonist description: male, age 17, mixed Filipino; trans male, Korean and Japanese
Violet Made of Thorns, Book 1 of a planned duology. Violet is a prophet and a liar, influencing the royal court with her cleverly phrased–and not always true–divinations. Honesty is for suckers, like the oh-so-not charming Prince Cyrus, who plans to strip Violet of her official role once he’s crowned at the end of the summer–unless Violet does something about it.
But when the king asks her to falsely prophesy Cyrus’s love story for an upcoming ball, Violet awakens a dreaded curse, one that will end in either damnation or salvation for the kingdom–all depending on the prince’s choice of future bride. Violet faces her own choice: Seize an opportunity to gain control of her own destiny, no matter the cost, or give in to the ill-fated attraction that’s growing between her and Cyrus.
Violet’s wits may protect her in the cutthroat court, but they can’t change her fate. And as the boundary between hatred and love grows ever thinner with the prince, Violet must untangle a wicked web of deceit in order to save herself and the kingdom–or doom them all.
- Genre(s): fantasy
- Setting: medieval Europe-esque kingdom
- Recommended for: Grades 9-12
- Themes: scheming, liars, seers, curses, royalty, fairy tale motifs, enemies-to-lovers, snarky narration
- Protagonist description: female, age 18, seer, cued Asian
Thirteen-year-old Jack knows what cured his baby sister when his family thought she might never get well–Dr. Kingsbury’s “Miraculous Tonic.” Guaranteed to relieve maladies known to man or beast, Dr. Kingsbury’s potion can cure everything from pimples to hearing loss to a broken heart, and Jack himself is a witness to the miraculous results and the doctor’s kindness. When he had no money, the doctor didn’t turn him away but gave him the tonic for free along with a job–to travel with him from city to city selling his cure-all elixir.
When Dr. Kingsbury and Jack arrive in Oakdale, the town at first feels like any other they’ve been to. But it’s clear Oakdale is a town with secrets, and its citizens are slow to trust strangers.
Then Jack meets Cora, and a friendship neither expected starts to bloom. Together they uncover something else they didn’t expect–not only secrets about the town but also Dr. Kingsbury. As they race to discover the truth, they’ll have to decide who and what to believe before it’s too late.
Note that the book uses the term “colored people.” There is a note to explain the author’s choice to use historical language to refer to Black characters.
- Genre(s): historical fiction, mystery
- Setting: Ohio, small town, 1880s
- Recommended for: Grades 3-7
- Themes: miracle cures, charlatans, friendship, secrets, illnesses
- Protagonist description: male, age 13, white
Mal and his friends are just your regular average kids from hell. The suburbs that is, not the fiery pit part. But when Hell’s Bells ring out–signaling that a soul has escaped from one of the eternal circles, Mal and his friends can’t help but take the opportunity for a little adventure.
Before they know it, they’ve somehow slipped through the veil and found themselves in the middle of Salem, Massachusetts, on Halloween night. And what’s even worse, they’ve managed to bring the escaped soul with them! As the essence of one of history’s greatest manipulators gains power by shifting the balance on Earth, Mal and his squad-mates–along with some new friends that they meet along the way–work desperately to trap the escapee, save the people of Earth from the forces of evil, and find the portal back to their own dimension.
If they can’t manage it before their parents realize they’re gone, they’ll be grounded for an eternity. And an eternity in hell is a very, very long time.
- Genre(s): dark fantasy, humor
- Setting: Salem, Massachusetts
- Recommended for: Grades 4-7
- Themes: hell, witch trials, Halloween, evil, souls, fate, fallen angels, Puritans
- Protagonist description: male, white
When Bellen Woodard’s classmates referred to “the skin-color” crayon, in a school and classroom she had always loved, she knew just how important it was that everyone understood that “skin can be any number of beautiful colors.”
This moving book includes back matter about becoming a leader and improving your community just like Bellen. Her wisdom and self-confidence are sure to encourage any young reader looking to use their voice to make even great spaces better!
SLJ and starred.
- Genre(s): picture books
- Setting: classroom
- Recommended for: Grades 1-5
- Themes: crayons, coloring, different skin tones, inclusivity, diversity, speaking up, the color peach
- Protagonist description: young girl, Black
What is math? So many things! Counting and calendars, weights and fractions, shapes and distances, charting and graphing. Math is the way we measure and code our world, from seasons to clocks, recipes, classrooms, and beyond. Math is all around us!
My thoughts: Teaching math to little ones this year? This book is perfect for the first day of math class! This could also be a springboard for upper-elementary or even middle school teachers looking to list the many ways we use math in everyday life. I would not necessarily read the book with older readers, but it can give teachers ideas for prompting students to think of daily uses of math.
- Genre(s): picture book
- Setting: various scenes in schools, neighborhoods, and homes
- Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
- Themes: STEM, math in everyday life, telling time, school, rhyming book, measurement, fractions, counting, earning money, weight, calendars, shapes, introduction to math
- Protagonist description: children depicted are diverse in race and ability
When Ben buys a bag of licorice for just one nickel, he gets more than just a sweet treat. His search for the end of this long, long licorice rope takes him around the world. Ben is trailed by the enterprising candy seller who always shows up just in time to offer Ben help in overcoming the latest obstacle.
For a mere nickel, Ben can have a hot air balloon to cross the ocean, snowshoes to plod through a snowstorm, a camel to scale a pyramid, or anything else he might need. But when Ben meets a friend at the other end of the rope, the two remind their sly prankster that friends are always free.
My thoughts: This would be so great in a discussion of capitalism and entrepreneurship! As the boy travels around the world eating his long licorice rope, the little girl is always (inexplicably) right there to help him –for a small fee– when he needs it. Ask students to brainstorm what other items might be for sale right when you need them. For example, ice cream vendors sell lots of ice cream at parks on hot summer days. Popcorn is for sale at movie theaters. Outdoor water parks sell sunscreen and sunglasses, which would not sell well in say, the middle of the night or at an indoor water park. Could be fun to brainstorm what kinds of items would sell well (and not-so-well) at venues like baseball games, dog parks, an ice skating rink, etc.
- Genre(s): picture book, humor
- Setting: worldwide places
- Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
- Themes: entrepreneurship, candy, sweets, journeys, around the world, distance, travel, adventure, journeys, nickels, friendship, prices, money, multiples of 5, capitalism
- Protagonist description: boy, light skin, dark hair; little girl entrepreneur has pink skin
THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (YA):
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. 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.