New Release Spotlight: September 6, 2022

Whoa! This is a WHOPPER week for new book releases! I know I’ve left several great books off the list–I just can’t make a list that is 50 books long. I selected these titles based on my usual criteria, but I had to be a bit ruthless in what made the list.

We have some major authors in this week’s Spotlight. If I listed them all, I’d be listing nearly every author on this list. For me, YA looks best (I already preordered three of these YA titles on Audible), but MG and picture books look pretty awesome, too.

No “Top Picks” this week. How could I possibly choose? The books that made this week’s list are already “top picks.”

As I’ve been doing for the past few weeks, I’ve created a scrolling presentation for you to show your students if you like. When you “make a copy” in your Google Drive, your edits do not affect the original slideshow. Feel free to edit/add/delete titles as needed! To make a copy for your Drive, click the link below the presentation.

This week’s Spotlight titles are #2719-#2744 on The Ginormous book list.

Click here to “make a copy” for your Google Drive. You can then edit as needed!

*The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D Jackson

When Springville residents–at least the ones still alive–are questioned about what happened on prom night, they all have the same explanation…Maddy did it.

An outcast at her small-town Georgia high school, Madison Washington has always been a teasing target for bullies. And she’s dealt with it because she has more pressing problems to manage. Until the morning a surprise rainstorm reveals her most closely kept secret: Maddy is biracial. She has been passing for white her entire life at the behest of her fanatical white father, Thomas Washington.

After a viral bullying video pulls back the curtain on Springville High’s racist roots, student leaders come up with a plan to change their image: host the school’s first integrated prom as a show of unity. The popular white class president convinces her Black superstar quarterback boyfriend to ask Maddy to be his date, leaving Maddy wondering if it’s possible to have a normal life.

But some of her classmates aren’t done with her just yet. And what they don’t know is that Maddy still has another secret…one that will cost them all their lives.

THREE starred reviews! This is a retelling of Stephen King’s Carrie. Inspired by a real school whose first integrated Prom only just happened in 2014. Tiffany Jackson is one of my favorite YA authors, and I’ve been an avid King reader since I devoured Pet Sematary at age 11. I will absolutely be reading this.

  • Genre(s): horror, retelling
  • Setting: Springfield, Georgia
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: bullying, segregated Prom, going viral, racism, Carrie by Stephen King, passing as white, revenge, child abuse, telekinesis, colorism, police brutality
  • Protagonist description: female, biracial, HS senior

Abuela, Don’t Forget Me by Rex Ogle

Companion to: Free Lunch and Punching Bag.

In his award-winning memoir Free Lunch, Rex Ogle’s abuela features as a source of love and support. In this companion-in-verse, Rex captures and celebrates the powerful presence a woman he could always count on–to give him warm hugs and ear kisses, to teach him precious words in Spanish, to bring him to the library where he could take out as many books as he wanted, and to offer safety when darkness closed in.

Throughout a coming of age marked by violence and dysfunction, Abuela’s red-brick house in Abilene, Texas, offered Rex the possibility of home, and Abuela herself the possibility for a better life.

Publishers Weekly starred. OMG, so excited about this! I loved Free Lunch and Punching Bag (audiobooks of both are fab!). I’ve already pre-ordered the Audible book–can’t wait!

  • Genre(s): memoir, free verse
  • Setting: Abilene, Texas
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: abuse, family problems, alcoholism, grandmothers, dementia, poverty, financial problems, food insecurity, racism, brothers
  • Protagonist description: male, Mexican American, age 4-college

Coven by Jennifer Dugan

Emsy has always lived in sunny California, and she’d much rather spend her days surfing with her friends or hanging out with her girlfriend than honing her powers as a fire elemental.

But when members of her family’s coven back east are murdered under mysterious circumstances that can only be the result of powerful witchcraft, her family must suddenly return to dreary upstate New York. There, Emsy will have to master her neglected craft in order to find the killer…before her family becomes their next target.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): supernatural, graphic novel
  • Setting: starts in California, but most of book is in upstate New York
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: witches, elemental powers, murder, witchcraft, family, LGBTQIA+, Homecoming, learning to use powers, magic
  • Protagonist description: female, witch, age 16, white, queer

*Destination Unknown by Bill Konigsberg

The first thing I noticed about C.J. Gorman was his plexiglass bra.

So begins Destination Unknown–it’s 1987 in New York City, and Micah is at a dance club, trying to pretend he’s more out and outgoing than he really is. C.J. isn’t just out–he’s complete out there, and Micah can’t help but be both attracted to and afraid of someone who travels so loudly and proudly through the night.

A connection occurs. Is it friendship? Romance? Is C.J. the one with all the answers…or does Micah bring more to the relationship that it first seems? As their lives become more and more entangled in the AIDS epidemic that’s laying waste to their community, and the AIDS activism that will ultimately bring a strong voice to their demands, whatever Micah and C.J. have between them will be tested, strained, pushed, and pulled–but it will also be a lifeline in a time of death, a bond that will determine the course of their futures.

In Destination Unknown, Bill Konigsberg returns to a time he knew well as a teenager to tell a story of identity, connection, community, and survival.

Kirkus and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Setting: 1987, New York City
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: LGBTQIA+, Pride, coming out, AIDS epidemic, activism, community, resilience
  • Protagonist description: male, white, age 17, gay

The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas

As each new decade begins, the Sun’s power must be replenished so that Sol can keep traveling along the sky and keep the chaotic Obsidian gods at bay. Sol selects ten of the most worthy semidioses to compete in the Sunbearer Trials. The winner carries light and life to all the temples of Reino del Sol, but the loser has the greatest honor of all–they will be sacrificed to Sol, their body melted down to refuel the Sun Stones, protecting the world for another ten years.

Teo, a seventeen-year-old Jade semidiós and the trans son of the goddess of birds, isn’t worried about the Trials…at least, not for himself. His best friend, Niya is a Gold semidiós and a shoo-in for the Trials, and while he trusts her abilities, the odds of becoming the sacrifice is one-in-ten.

But then, for the first time in over a century, the impossible happens. Sol chooses not one, but two Jade competitors. Teo, and Xio, the thirteen-year-old child of the god of bad luck. Now they must compete in five trials against Gold opponents who are more powerful and better trained. Worst of all, Teo’s annoyingly handsome ex-best friend and famous semidiós Hero, Aurelio is favored to win. Teo is determined to get himself and his friends through the trials unscathed–for fame, glory, and their own survival.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Setting: fantasy world of gods, demigods, and mortals
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: sun, gods, light and darkness, competitions, sacrifice, heroes, LGBTQIA+, bad luck, worldbuilding
  • Protagonist description: transgender male, demigod, age 17, brown skin

Improve: How I Discovered Improv and Conquered Social Anxiety by Alex Graudins

Alex has crippling social anxiety. All day long, she is trapped in a web of negative thoughts and paralyzing fear. To pull herself free of this endless cycle, Alex does something truly terrifying: she signs up for an improv comedy class.

By forcing herself to play silly games and act out ridiculous scenes, Alex confronts the unbearable weight of embarrassment, makes new friends, rediscovers parts of herself that she’d hidden away, and ultimately faces her greatest fear by performing onstage for all to see.

  • Genre(s): memoir, graphic novel
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: stand up comedy, social anxiety, negative thoughts, facing fears, embarrassment, improv
  • Protagonist description: female, white, spans years from childhood to young adult years

Meet Me in Mumbai by Sabina Khan

Ayesha is a world away from home when she meets the boy of her dreams. Like her, Suresh is from India but going to high school in Illinois. Once they get together, they are inseparable…until a twist of fate takes Suresh back to India right when Ayesha discovers she’s pregnant. Suddenly she feels she’s on her own, navigating the biggest decision she’ll ever make.

Seventeen years later, Ayesha’s daughter Mira finds an old box with letters addressed to her from her birth mother. Although Mira loves the moms who adopted her, she’s intrigued to discover something more about her history. In one letter, Ayesha writes that if Mira can forgive her for what she had to do, she should find a way to travel to India for her eighteenth birthday and meet her.

Mira knows she’ll always regret it if she doesn’t go. But is she actually ready for what she will learn?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: Illinois, Texas, and India
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: teen pregnancy, mothers and daughters, adoption, family history, alternating perspectives, lesbian mothers
  • Protagonist description: told from mother and daughter perspectives; both Indian, both age 17-18

Monsters Born and Made by Tanvi Berwah

Sixteen-year-old Koral and her older brother Emrik risk their lives each day to capture the monstrous maristags that live in the black seas around their island. They have to, or else their family will starve.

In an oceanic world swarming with vicious beasts, the Landers–the ruling elite, have indentured Koral’s family to provide the maristags for the Glory Race, a deadly chariot tournament reserved for the upper class. The winning contender receives gold and glory. The others–if they’re lucky–survive.

When the last maristag of the year escapes and Koral has no new maristag to sell, her family’s financial situation takes a turn for the worse and they can’t afford medicine for her chronically ill little sister. Koral’s only choice is to do what no one in the world has ever dared: cheat her way into the Glory Race.

But every step of the way is unpredictable as Koral races against competitors–including her ex-boyfriend–who have trained for this their whole lives and who have no intention of letting a low-caste girl steal their glory. As a rebellion rises and rogues attack Koral to try and force her to drop out, she must choose–her life or her sister’s–before the whole island burns.

  • Genre(s): dystopia, fantasy, adventure
  • Setting: fantasy world called Sollonia
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: sea monsters, siblings, ocean, indentured servants, tournaments, competitions, financial problems, cheating, caste systems, rebellion, races
  • Protagonist description: female, age 16

Shades of Rust and Ruin by A. G. Howard

Phoenix “Nix” Loring knows her family is under a Halloween curse. When she was three, her parents tragically died on October 31st. Eleven years later, her twin sister Lark suffered a similar fate.

Ever since, Nix has battled survivor guilt. She can’t even find comfort in Clarey, Lark’s boyfriend and the one person who understands her pain, because Nix’s hidden feelings for him go far beyond friendship.

All that remains are her sketches, where she finds solace among the goblins and faeries in her imaginary world of Mystiquel. When her depression starts affecting her ability to see color, Nix all but gives up on her art, until her uncle goes missing on Halloween day. Hot on his trail, Nix and Clarey step through a portal, becoming trapped inside a decaying version of their town filled with Nix’s own sketches come to life.

As Nix and Clarey search for her uncle within the sinister and dangerous world of Mystiquel, Nix discovers there’s more to her family curse and otherworldly artwork than she ever imagined–and unless she can solve the Goblin King’s maze before the clock strikes midnight, her life won’t be the only one the curse claims next.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, steampunk
  • Setting: around Halloween, fantasy world of fae and goblins
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: Halloween, curses, twins, sisters, depression, art, missing persons, survivor guilt, goblins, faeries, mazes, labyrinths, fairy tales, “Goblin Market” by Christina Rossetti
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, white with partial albinism

Raising the Horseman by Serena Valentino

Kat Van Tassel wants nothing to do with Sleepy Hollow’s ghostly history. But when her mother gives her the original Katrina van Tassel’s diary on the two-hundredth anniversary of the Headless Horseman’s haunting, a new legend begins to take shape, weaving together the past and the present in eerie ways.

When a new girl in town opens Kat’s eyes to the possibility that ghosts are real, it makes her question who she truly wants to be…and be with. Can Kat uncover a two-hundred-year-old secret, and trace its shocking reverberations in her own life, in time to protect what she truly loves?

  • Genre(s): retelling, horror, fantasy
  • Setting: Sleepy Hollow; present day
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” Headless Horseman, diaries, ghosts, secrets, alternating timelines, LGBTQIA+
  • Protagonist description: female, age 18, bisexual, white

Our Shadows Have Claws: 15 Latin American Monster Stories by Yamile Saied Méndez (Author), Amparo Ortiz (Author), and Ricardo López Ortiz (Illustrator)

From zombies to cannibals to death incarnate, this cross-genre anthology offers something for every monster lover. In Our Shadows Have Claws, bloodthirsty vampires are hunted by a quick-witted slayer; children are stolen from their beds by “el viejo de la bolsa” while a military dictatorship steals their parents; and anyone you love, absolutely anyone, might be a shapeshifter waiting to hunt.

The worlds of these stories are dark but also magical ones, where a ghost-witch can make your cheating boyfriend pay, bullies are brought to their knees by vicious wolf-gods, a jar of fireflies can protect you from the reality-warping magic of a bruja–and maybe you’ll even live long enough to tell the tale. Set across Latin America and its diaspora, this collection offers bold, imaginative stories of oppression, grief, sisterhood, first love, and empowerment.

Full contributor list: Chantel Acevedo, Courtney Alameda, Julia Alvarez, Ann Dávila Cardinal, M. García Peña, Racquel Marie, Gabriela Martins, Yamile Saied Méndez, Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite, Claribel A. Ortega, Amparo Ortiz, Lilliam Rivera, Jenny Torres Sanchez, Ari Tison, and Alexandra Villasante.

Kirkus starred. Includes 15 stories.

  • Genre(s): anthology, short stories, horror
  • Setting: various locations in Latin America
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: Halloween, scary stories, witches, ghosts, oppression, fear, folklore, legends, colorism, racism, Hispanic Heritage Month
  • Protagonist description: variety of Latin American characters

*We Were the Fire: Birmingham 1963 by Shelia P. Moses

Rufus Jackson Jones is from Birmingham, the place Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called the most segregated place in the country. A place that in 1963 is full of civil rights activists including Dr. King.

The adults are trying to get more attention to their cause–to show that separate is not equal. Rufus’s dad works at the local steel factory, and his mom is a cook at the mill. If they participate in marches, their bosses will fire them.

So that’s where the kids decide they will come in. Nobody can fire them. So on a bright May morning in 1963, Rufus and his buddies join thousands of other students to peacefully protest in a local park. There they are met with policemen and firemen who turn their powerful hoses on them, and that’s where Rufus realizes that they are the fire. And they will not be put out.

Shelia Moses gives readers a deeply personal account of one boy’s heroism during what came to be known as the Children’s Crusade in this important novel that highlights a key turning point in the civil rights movement.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Setting: Birmingham, Alabama, USA; 1963
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: civil rights, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., segregation, prejudice, racism, equality, separate but equal, school desegregation, child activism, Children’s Crusade, protesting, police brutality, community
  • Protagonist description: male, age 10, African American

They Call Her Fregona: A Border Kid’s Poems by David Bowles

Companion to: They Call Me Güero.

“You can be my boyfriend.” It only takes five words to change Güero’s life at the end of seventh grade. The summer becomes extra busy as he learns to balance new band practice with his old crew, Los Bobbys, and being Joanna Padilla’s boyfriend.

They call her “fregona” because she’s tough, always sticking up for her family and keeping the school bully in check. But Güero sees her softness. Together they cook dollar-store spaghetti and hold hands in the orange grove, learning more about themselves and each other than they could have imagined. But when they start eighth grade, Joanna faces a tragedy that requires Güero to reconsider what it means to show up for someone you love.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): poetry, realistic fiction
  • Setting: summer
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: first love, dating in middle school, bands, tough girls, bullying, immigration enforcement, deportation, protests
  • Protagonist description: male, 7th-8th grader

*Attack of the Black Rectangles by A. S. King

When Mac first opens his classroom copy of Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic and finds some words blacked out, he thinks it must be a mistake. But then when he and his friends discover what the missing words are, he’s outraged.

Someone in his school is trying to prevent kids from reading the full story.

But who?

Even though his unreliable dad tells him to not get so emotional about a book (or anything else), Mac has been raised by his mom and grandad to call out things that are wrong. He and his friends head to the principal’s office to protest the censorship…but her response doesn’t take them seriously.

So many adults want Mac to keep his words to himself.

Mac’s about to see the power of letting them out.

THREE starred reviews! I haven’t read this one yet, but it sounds like it would make a great read-aloud for middle school, possibly for Banned Books Week coming up in September. The issues are timely, and there are plenty of events in the news to compare to the novel’s events.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: Pennsylvania
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: censorship, reading, bookish, activism, middle school, Pride, conservative towns, dress code, given names (Asian) instead of Anglicized names, intellectual freedom, patriarchy, sexism, Vietnam War veterans, grandfathers, white-washed history, Banned Books Week
  • Protagonist description: male, 6th grade, white

*Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting by Roseanne Brown

For most kids, catching fireflies is a fun summer activity. For twelve-year-old Serwa Boateng, it’s a matter of life and death.

That’s because Serwa knows that some fireflies are really adze, shapeshifting vampires from the forests of Southeastern Ghana. Adze prey on the blood of innocents, possessing their minds and turning them into hulking monsters, and for generations, slayers like Serwa and her parents have protected an unknowing public from their threats.

Serwa is the best adze slayer her age, and she knew how to use a crossbow before she could even ride a bike. But when an obayifo (witch) destroys her childhood home while searching for a drum, do Serwa’s parents take her with them on their quest to defeat her? No. Instead, they dump Serwa with her hippie aunt and cryptic-obsessed cousin in the middle of Nowheresville, Maryland “for her own safety.”

Now, instead of crossbows and battle armor, she’s dealing with mean girls and algebra, and for the first time in her life she doesn’t have to carry a staff everywhere she goes, which is…kind of nice, actually.

Just as Serwa starts to get the hang of this whole normal girl who doesn’t punch vampires every day thing, an adze infiltrates her school. It’s up to her to whip some of her classmates into monster-fighting shape before all of them become firefly food. And when she uncovers a secret that upends everything she thought she knew about her family’s role in the slayer vs. adze war, Serwa will have to decide which side of herself–normal girl or slayer–is the right one.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Setting: small town in Maryland
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-9
  • Themes: vampires, shapeshifters, witches, cousins, starting in a new school, monsters, Ghanaian folklore, black magic
  • Protagonist description: female, age 12, Black (Ghanaian ancestry)

The Bluest Sky by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

There are two versions of Héctor: the public and the private. It’s the only way to survive in communist Cuba–especially when your father was exiled to the U.S. and labeled an enemy of the people. Héctor must always be seen as a fierce supporter of the regime, even if that means loudly rejecting the father he still loves.

But in the summer of 1980, those two versions are hard to keep separate. No longer able to suppress a public uprising, the Cuban government says it will open the port of Mariel to all who wish to leave the country–if they can find a boat. But choosing to leave comes with a price. Those who want to flee are denounced as traitors by family and friends. There are violent acts of repudiation, and no one knows if they will truly be allowed to leave the country or not.

So when Héctor’s mother announces that she wants the family to risk everything to go to the United States, he is torn. He misses his father, but Cuba is the only home he has ever known. All his dreams and plans require him to stay. Can he leave everything behind for an unknown future?

In a summer of heat and upheaval, danger and deadly consequences, Héctor’s two worlds are on a collision course. Will the impact destroy him and everything he loves?

Christina Diaz Gonzalez’s great-grandmother, great-uncle, and extended family came to the U.S. through the Mariel boatlift. She vividly remembers meeting them all for the first time in the summer of 1980 and is proud to share this part of her family’s history.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Setting: Cuba, 1980
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: Communism, 1980s, government oppression, refugees, violence, Mariel boatlift, family history, Spanish language, Fidel Castro, freedom, grandmothers, separated families
  • Protagonist description: male, Cuban, age 11

Ravenfall by Kalyn Josephson

Thirteen-year-old Annabella Ballinkay has never been normal, even by her psychic family’s standards. Every generation uses their abilities to help run the Ravenfall Inn, a sprawling, magical B&B at the crossroads of the human world and the Otherworld. But it’s hard to contribute when your only power is foreseeing death.

So when fourteen-year-old Colin Pierce arrives at Ravenfall searching for his missing older brother and the supernatural creature who killed their parents, Anna jumps at the chance to help. But the mysteries tied to Colin go much deeper than either of them expects…

As the two team up to find answers, they unearth Colin’s family’s secret past and discover that Colin has powers beyond his imagination. And now the supernatural creature, one with eerie origins in Celtic mythology, is coming after him. If Anna and Colin can’t stop the creature by Halloween night, the veil to the Otherworld could be ripped open–which would spell destruction for their world as they know it.

  • Genre(s): mystery, fantasy
  • Setting: magical town of Wick, Oregon
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: psychics, magic, inns, parallel worlds, missing persons, powers, Celtic mythology, Halloween, Samhain, fae, murder, alternating pwerpectives
  • Protagonist description: female, age 13, Jewish, Irish American, olive skin; male, age 14, Irish American, fae ancestry

Moonflower by Kacen Callender

Moon’s depression is overwhelming. Therapy doesn’t help, and Moon is afraid that their mom hates them because they’re sad. Moon’s only escape is traveling to the spirit realms every night, where they hope they’ll never return to the world of the living again.

The spirit realm is where they have their one and only friend, Wolf, and where they’re excited to experience an infinite number of adventures. But when the realm is threatened, it’s up to Moon to save the spirit world.

With the help of celestial beings and guard­ians, Moon battles monsters and shadows, and through their journey, they begin to learn that a magical adventure of love and acceptance awaits them in the world of the living, too.

This story of hope shows readers that our souls blossom when we realize that we are as worthy and powerful as the universe itself.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): magical realism
  • Setting: real world and a spirit realm
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: mental health, depression, therapy, LGBTQIA+, spirit realm, monsters, acceptance, inclusion, reincarnation
  • Protagonist description: nonbinary 12-year old, Black

Two-Headed Chicken by Tom Angleberger

Anything is possible in the multiverse, including a madcap adventure starring a plucky two-headed chicken. But look out–there’s a chicken-hungry moose in pursuit!

In this fourth wall–breaking graphic novel, our double-headed hero is chased through dozens of bizarre universes, from an ocean planet with a disturbing mermoose (that you can never unsee) to a world where chickens drive cars, and even to a land covered with…pizza sauce? With each BZOOP! of the universe-hopping Astrocap, the only thing to expect is the unexpected.

Packed with jokes, quizzes, and games, the two-headed chicken’s wacky escapades will remind readers of such favorites as Dog Man and CatStronauts. Absurdist superstar Tom Angleberger makes his original graphic novel debut with this lightning-fast caper that will have readers laughing out loud and eager for each new page.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, humor
  • Setting: multiple universes
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-5
  • Themes: chickens, two heads, fourth wall, absurdity, other worlds
  • Protagonist description: two-headed chicken

Always, Clementine by Carlie Sorosiak

Clementine is different from other mice: she can calculate the speed of light and she dreams in Latin. The scientists say she’s a genius and put her through test after test.

Clementine is proud of being a good lab mouse, but she’s lonely. Her only snatches of friendship occur during her late-night visits with a chimpanzee named Rosie. When a compassionate lab technician frees Clementine, the mouse discovers an outside world full of wonders: Brussels sprouts, games of speed chess, television fame, and a chance for a real home.

But for Clementine, it’s not enough to be free when she knows that Rosie and the other mice are not. This tender, lively adventure story, narrated in letters from a mouse to a chimpanzee, shows us that goodness is something we have to define for ourselves–and that courage and wisdom aren’t proportionate to size.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): adventure, animal stories
  • Setting: animal experimentation lab, then freedom to outside world
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: mice, intelligence, animal rights, animal experimentation, animal cruelty, loneliness, chimpanzees, friendship, epistolary stories, ethics in science
  • Protagonist description: super-intelligent mouse; humans cue white

*No! Said Custard the Squirrel by Sergio Ruzzier

Custard the Squirrel, aren’t you a duck?
Will you please quack?
Will you do anything you don’t want to do?
“NO!” said Custard the Squirrel.

From author-illustrator Sergio Ruzzier comes this delightfully wacky story about rejecting others’ expectations of who you should be and being unapologetically, authentically you. Simple, universal, and hilarious, this rollicking read-aloud is an ode to free spirits everywhere.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, humor
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 1
  • Themes: being oneself, peer pressure, saying no, standing up for yourself, ducks, squirrels, rodents, accepting others for who they are
  • Protagonist description: a duck-like creature that identifies as a squirrel and a gray rodent

*Playtime for Restless Rascals by Nikki Grimes (Author) and Elizabeth Zunon (Illustrator)

Mom needs to wake up her child whose job is to play. From dancing in puddles to jumping in leaves, and swinging high enough to almost reach the sun, there’s so much to do in a fun-filled day.

For those seeking children’s books about diversity, this loving depiction of everyday shenanigans is sure to become a story time favorite. Playtime for Restless Rascals is an African American children’s book that celebrates imagination, playful moments, and the love between parents and child.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: indoors and outdoors in various weather and seasons
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: play, waking up, fun, action verbs, imagination, weather, seasons, loving families, work
  • Protagonist description: mother and young child, both Black

Varenka by Bernadette Watts

Varenka lives contently in her cottage in the woods, until passersby warn her that war has broken out. Pack up a bundle and come along with us. But Varenka can’t leave.

Who will care for the children who wander and get lost in the forest? Who will shelter the animals and feed the birds when winter comes?

Soon, Varenka shelters a young artist, an old farmer and his goat, and a lost child. And each night she prays for a wall to be built around her house to protect her from the soldiers who draw nearer with each passing day. Things seem dire until Varenka notices a gentle sound all around the house. Snow. Could it be enough to save them?

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, folklore
  • Setting: cabin in the woods in Russia
  • Recommended for: Grades K-3
  • Themes: war, giving shelter, community, helping others, snow, prayer, faith, protection, displacement, refugees, uncertainty, courage, steadfastness
  • Protagonist description: old Russian widow; all characters are white

I Am Ruby Bridges by Ruby Bridges (Author) and Nikkolas Smith (Illustrator)

When Ruby Bridges was six years old, she became the first Black child to integrate the all-white William Frantz Elementary in Louisiana. Based on the pivotal events that happened in 1960 and told from her point of view, this is a poetic reflection on her experience that changed the face of history and the trajectory of the Civil Rights movement.

I Am Ruby Bridges offers hope and confidence to all children. It is the perfect learning tool for schools and libraries to teach the story of Ruby Bridges and introduce this landmark story to young readers in a powerful new way. Embracing the meaning of her name, Bridges reflects with poignancy and heart on the way one brave little girl stood proud to help build a bridge between all people and pave the path for future generations.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography, poetry
  • Setting: 1960s, Louisiana
  • Recommended for: Grades K-3
  • Themes: historical events, civil rights, school desegregation, US history, US Supreme Court, Ruby Bridges, 1960s, Black History Month, civil rights
  • Protagonist description: female, age 6, African American

*Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement by Angela Joy (Author) and Janelle Washington (Illustrator)

Mamie Till-Mobley is the mother of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old boy who was brutally murdered while visiting the South in 1955. His death became a rallying point for the civil rights movement, but few know that it was his mother who was the catalyst for bringing his name to the forefront of history.

In Choosing Brave, Angela Joy and Janelle Washington offer a testament to the power of love, the bond of motherhood, and one woman’s unwavering advocacy for justice. It is a poised, moving work about a woman who refocused her unimaginable grief into action for the greater good. Mamie fearlessly refused to allow America to turn away from what happened to her only child. She turned pain into change that ensured her son’s life mattered.

Kirkus and Horn Book starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography; picture book for older readers
  • Setting: Chicago and Mississippi, 1955-now
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: Emmett Till, civil rights, racism, mothers and sons, grief, social issues, US history, murder, justice, courage, Black History Month, true crime
  • Protagonist description: Mamie Till-Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till

*Magnolia Flower by Zora Neale Hurston (Author), Ibram X. Kendi (Author), and Loveis Wise (Illustrator)

Born to parents who fled slavery and the Trail of Tears, Magnolia Flower is a girl with a vibrant spirit. Not to be deterred by rigid ways of the world, she longs to connect with others, who too long for freedom. She finds this in a young man of letters who her father disapproves of. In her quest to be free, Magnolia must make a choice and set off on a journey that will prove just how brave one can be when leading with one’s heart.

The acclaimed writer of several American classics, Zora Neale Hurston wrote this stirring folktale brimming with poetic prose, culture, and history. It was first published as a short story in The Spokesman in 1925 and later in her collection Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick (2020).

Tenderly retold by #1 New York Times bestselling and National Book Award-winning author Ibram X. Kendi, Magnolia Flower is a story of a transformative and radical devotion between generations of Indigenous and Black people in America. With breathtaking illustrations by Loveis Wise, this picture book reminds us that there is no force strong enough to stop love.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, retelling of a Zora Neale Hurston short story, picture book for older readers
  • Setting: 1800s, USA
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: slavery, Native Americans, freedom, love, folklore, Trail of Tears, US Civil War, US history
  • Protagonist description: female, African American and Cherokee






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.

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