New Release Spotlight: October 18, 2022

Huge apologies for not posting a Spotlight last week! I have had an insane couple of weeks, and just when I think it’s dying down, we have another unexpected surprise. All is well, it’s just a lot to take in at one time. I definitely didn’t want to pass up this week’s incredible new books, but please bear with me in case I happen to post a shorter Spotlight or skip a week or two altogether. Hopefully, we are through the mess and things will start to calm down for my family.

As I mentioned, this week’s Spotlight is FANTASTIC! Of the 18 titles featured this week, SEVEN received at least three starred reviews. Major authors include: Alice Oseman, S.K. Ali, Randi Pink, Ellen Potter, Alicia D. Williams, and Mac Barnett.

Middle grades and picture books look best to me this week. It’s a tall order for me to choose just three favorites, but here goes…

This week’s top picks:

  • Road of the Lost by Nafiza Azad (YA)
  • Frizzy by Claribel Ortega (middle grades)
  • The Talk by Alicia D. Williams (picture books)
  • Favorite cover: Frizzy by Claribel Ortega (middle grades)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #2835-#2852 on The Ginormous book list.

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I Was Born for This by Alice Oseman

For Angel Rahimi life is about one thing: The Ark–a boy band that’s taking the world by storm. Being part of The Ark’s fandom has given her everything she loves–her friend Juliet, her dreams, her place in the world. Her Muslim family doesn’t understand the band’s allure–but Angel feels there are things about her they’ll never understand.

Jimmy Kaga-Ricci owes everything to The Ark. He’s their frontman–and playing in a band with his mates is all he ever dreamed of doing, even it only amplifies his anxiety. The fans are very accepting that he’s trans–but they also keep shipping with him with his longtime friend and bandmate, Rowan. But Jimmy and Rowan are just friend–and Rowan has a secret girlfriend the fans can never know about. Dreams don’t always turn out the way you think and when Jimmy and Angel are unexpectedly thrust together, they find out how strange and surprising facing up to reality can be.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, romance
  • Setting: London, England
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: boy bands, celebrity, fame, musicians, LGBTQIA+, mental health, difficulty in keeping private life private, sexual identity
  • Protagonist description: female, age 18, Persian British hijabi; and transgender boy, age 19, Christian, Indian and Italian descent

*Love from Mecca to Medina by S. K. Ali

Sequel to: Love from A to Z.

Adam and Zayneb. Perfectly matched. Painfully apart.

Adam is in Doha, Qatar, making a map of the Hijra, a historic migration from Mecca to Medina, and worried about where his next paycheck will come from. Zayneb is in Chicago, where school and extracurricular stresses are piling on top of a terrible frenemy situation, making her miserable.

Then a marvel occurs: Adam and Zayneb get the chance to spend Thanksgiving week on the Umrah, a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, in Saudi Arabia. Adam is thrilled; it’s the reboot he needs and an opportunity to pray for a hijra in real life: to migrate to Zayneb in Chicago. Zayneb balks at the trip at first, having envisioned another kind of vacation, but then decides a spiritual reset is calling her name too. And they can’t wait to see each other–surely, this is just what they both need.

But the trip is nothing like what they expect, from the appearance of Adam’s former love interest in their traveling group to the anxiety gripping Zayneb when she’s supposed to be “spiritual.” As one wedge after another drives them apart while they make their way through rites in the holy city, Adam and Zayneb start to wonder: was their meeting just an oddity after all? Or can their love transcend everything else like the greatest marvels of the world?

Kirkus and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: Thanksgiving; Doha, Qatar; Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia; and Chicago, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: Hijra, poverty, anxiety, school stress, friend drama, frenemies, Thanksgiving, pilgrimages, housing insecurity, law school, Muslims, Islamic history, multiple sclerosis
  • Protagonist description: male and female Muslim couple are Islamically married but living apart; both are young adults; female is in law school; male has multiple sclerosis (in remission)

*When the Angels Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb

Debut author! Uriel the angel and Little Ash (short for Ashmedai) are the only two supernatural creatures in their shtetl (which is so tiny, it doesn’t have a name other than Shtetl). The angel and the demon have been studying together for centuries, but pogroms and the search for a new life have drawn all the young people from their village to America. When one of those young emigrants goes missing, Uriel and Little Ash set off to find her.

Along the way the angel and demon encounter humans in need of their help, including Rose Cohen, whose best friend (and the love of her life) has abandoned her to marry a man, and Malke Shulman, whose father died mysteriously on his way to America. But there are obstacles ahead of them as difficult as what they’ve left behind. Medical exams (and demons) at Ellis Island. Corrupt officials, cruel mob bosses, murderers, poverty. The streets are far from paved with gold.

Kirkus and Booklist starred. This sounds unique and interesting, but I’m not sure how many high school students will pick this up on their own (without booktalking).

  • Genre(s): supernatural
  • Setting: Poland and USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: angels, demons, Talmud, sweatshops, Ashkenazi folklore, gender fluidity, immigration, Ellis Island
  • Protagonist description: an angel, a demon, and a 16-year old American female

Road of the Lost by Nafiza Azad

Croi is a brownie, glamoured to be invisible to humans. Her life in the Wilde Forest is ordinary and her magic is weak–until the day that her guardian gives Croi a book about magick from the Otherworld, the world of the Higher Fae. Croi wakes the next morning with something pulling at her core, summoning her to the Otherworld. It’s a spell she cannot control or break.

Forced to leave her home, Croi begins a journey full of surprises…and dangers. For Croi is not a brownie at all but another creature entirely, enchanted to forget her true heritage. As Croi ventures beyond the forest, her brownie glamour begins to shift and change. Who is she really, who is summoning her, and what do they want? Croi will need every ounce of her newfound magic and her courage as she travels a treacherous path to find her true self and the place in the Otherworld where she belongs.

Kirkus starred. I can name exactly the students I would recommend this to, and I bet you can, too! Give this to fans of Holly Black or Sarah Maas.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Setting: magical forest
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: fae, power, magic, glamours, spells, journeys, identity, hags
  • Protagonist description: female, magical creature who believes she is a brownie but is something else (revealed in story)

We Are the Scribes by Randi Pink

Ruth Fitz is surrounded by activism. Her mother is a senator who frequently appears on CNN as a powerful Black voice fighting for legislative social change within the Black community. Her father, a professor of African American history, is a walking encyclopedia, spouting off random dates and events. And her beloved older sister, Virginia, is a natural activist, steadily gaining notoriety within the community and on social media. Ruth, on the other hand, would rather sit quietly reading or writing in her journal.

When her family is rocked by tragedy, Ruth stops writing. As life goes on, Ruth’s mother is presented with a political opportunity she can’t refuse. Just as Senator Fitz is more absent, Ruth begins receiving parchment letters with a seal reading WE ARE THE SCRIBES, sent by Harriet Jacobs, the author of the autobiography and 1861 American classic, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

Is Ruth dreaming? How has she been chosen as a “scribe” when she can barely put a sentence together? In a narrative that blends present with past, Randi Pink explores two extraordinary characters who channel their hopelessness and find their voices to make history.

I recently read Randi Pink’s Girls Like Us, and I loved the quiet power in Pink’s prose. Give this to fans of Angie Thomas and Jason Reynolds.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, supernatural, magical realism
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: activism v. staying quiet, political family, civil rights, social change, Black Lives Matter, sisters, death, grief, murder, writing, ghosts, slavery, American history, racism, power of words
  • Protagonist description: female, age 16, African American

*Frizzy by Claribel A. Ortega (Author) and Rose Bousamra (Illustrator)

Marlene loves three things: books, her cool Tía Ruby and hanging out with her best friend Camila. But according to her mother, Paola, the only thing she needs to focus on is school and “growing up.” That means straightening her hair every weekend so she could have “presentable”, “good hair”.

But Marlene hates being in the salon and doesn’t understand why her curls are not considered pretty by those around her. With a few hiccups, a dash of embarrassment, and the much-needed help of Camila and Tia Ruby–she slowly starts a journey to learn to appreciate and proudly wear her curly hair.

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, realistic fiction
  • Setting: salon, middle school
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: curly hair, bookish, harmful beauty standards, aunts, family, self-love, cousins, quinceañeras, colorism, generational trauma
  • Protagonist description: female, Dominican American, middle schooler

Honey and Me by Meira Drazin

Milla and Honey have been best friends since forever.

Milla envies Honey’s confidence, her charisma, and her big, chaotic family–especially when they provide a welcome escape from Milla’s own small family and quiet house. In their close-knit Jewish community, the two girls do everything together, from delivering meals to an ill-tempered elderly neighbor, to shopping at a local thrift store, celebrating the holidays, and going to their first bat mitzvahs while studying for their own.

So when Honey joins Milla’s school for sixth grade, why is it not as great as Milla expected? Can their friendship survive all the ups and downs the year has in store for them? And will Milla ever find the courage to step out of Honey’s shadow and into her own spotlight?

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: middle school
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: best friends, jealousy, Jewish families, Jewish holidays and festivals, Jewish calendar, one friend overshadowing the other, bat mitzvah, choices, need for approval from others, autistic sibling
  • Protagonist description: two female friends, both 6th graders, both white, one is Modern Orthodox Jewish

Outside Nowhere by Adam Borba

Charming and funny, Parker Kelbrook can wriggle out of anything he doesn’t want to do. So when he’s forced to take a job at the local pool–a threat to his beach-filled summer plans–he comes up with the perfect prank to get himself fired.

Once Parker’s father catches wind of his latest scheme, he decides enough is enough, and Parker is sent halfway across the country to work on a farm alongside five other kids who aren’t his biggest fans. As Parker learns to roll up his sleeves and keep his head down, strange things start happening. And after he awakens one morning to find a seventeen-hundred-pound dairy cow on the roof of a barn, he suspects that something magical and mysterious is growing in the farm’s fields.

Adam Borba presents a whimsical new story about a boy’s discovery that mistakes and miracles can have serious consequences.

Kirkus starred. Includes full-page and spot illustrations.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, mystery, supernatural
  • Setting: Midwestern farm, summer
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: kids with jobs, trying to get fired, working on a farm, hard work, magic
  • Protagonist description: male, white

*Unlawful Orders A Portrait of Dr. James B. Williams, Tuskegee Airman, Surgeon, and Activist by Barbara Binns

The Tuskegee Airmen heroically fought for the right to be officers of the US military so that they might participate in World War II by flying overseas to help defeat fascism. However, after winning that battle, they faced their next great challenge at Freeman Field, Iowa, where racist white officers barred them from entering the prestigious Officers’ Club that their rank promised them.

The Freeman Field Mutiny, as it became known, would eventually lead to the desegregation of the US armed forces, forever changing the course of American history and race relations.

One Black officer who refused to give in to the bigotry at Freeman Field was James Buchanan “JB” Williams. JB grew up the son of sharecroppers, but his loving family and insuppressible intellect drove him to push boundaries placed on Black Americans in the early twentieth century.

JB’s devotion to the betterment of others took him from the classroom where he learned to be a doctor, to serving as a medic in the US military and eventually joining the elite Tuskegee Airmen, where he fought to change the minds of all who believed Black men couldn’t make good soldiers. But JB’s greatest contribution came in his role as doctor and Civil Rights activist after the war, where he continued to push past injustices placed on Black Americans.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): biography, narrative nonfiction
  • Setting: Indiana, 1907 through 1960s
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: Tuskegee Airmen, US history, WWII, world history, racism, military, desegregation of US armed forces, The Freeman Field Mutiny, bigotry, doctors, civil rights, activism, nonviolent resistance, social justice
  • Protagonist description: African American man

*Freestyle by Gale Galligan

Cory’s dance crew is getting ready for a major competition. It’s the last one before they graduate eighth grade and go their separate ways to high schools all over New York City, so they have to make it count!

The group starts to have problems as their crew captain gets increasingly intense about nailing the routine, and things go from bad to worse when Cory’s parents ground him for not taking his grades seriously.

He gets stuck with a new tutor, Sunna, who he dismisses as a boring nerd…until he catches her secretly practicing cool yo-yo tricks. Cory wants to learn the art of yo-yo, and as his friendship with Sunna grows, he ends up missing practice and bailing on his crew–and they are not happy about it. With mounting pressure coming from all sides, how is Cory supposed to balance the expectations of his parents, school, dance, and his new friend?

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, realistic fiction
  • Setting: New York City
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: dance competitions, tutors, yo-yo tricks, friendship, balancing social expectations and obligations, hijabis
  • Protagonist description: male, 8th grader, Filipino; female, 8th grader, hijabi; secondary cast is diverse

*My Nest of Silence by Matt Faulkner

Manzanar is nothing like home. Yet the relocation center is where Mari and her family have to live, now that the government has decided that Japanese Americans aren’t American enough. Determined to prove them wrong, Mari’s brother Mak has joined the army and is heading off to war. In protest, Mari has stopped talking for the duration of the war. Or at least until Mak comes home safe.

Still, Mari has no trouble expressing herself through her drawings. Mak, too, expresses himself in his letters home, first from training camp and later from the front lines of World War II, where he is fighting with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. But while his letters are reassuring, reality is not: Mak is facing danger at every turn, from racism within the army to violence on the battlefield.

THREE starred reviews! Dual voices alternate between graphic novel and prose formats. Grade level recommendations are all over the place for this title, ranging from Grades 4-10. Middle school and high school readers are a sure bet; I’m not sure about elementary.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, graphic novel
  • Setting: 1944, split between WWII battlefront in Europe and Manzanar, a Japanese internment camp in California
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-10
  • Themes: Japanese internment camps, US history, WWII, prejudice, racism, Manzanar, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, war
  • Protagonist description: Japanese siblings, one male and one female, male is 18, female is younger

*Hazel Hill Is Gonna Win This One by Maggie Horne

Debut author! Seventh grader Hazel Hill is too busy for friends. No, really. She needs to focus on winning the school-wide speech competition and beating her nemesis, the popular and smart Ella Quinn, after last year’s embarrassing hyperbole/hyperbowl mishap that cost her first place.

But when Hazel discovers Ella is being harassed by golden boy Tyler Harris, she has to choose between winning and doing the right thing. No one would believe that a nice boy like Tyler would harass and intimidate a nice girl like Ella, but Hazel knows the truth–and she’s determined to prove it, even if it means risking everything.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: middle school
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: determination, middle school, speech competitions, cyberbullying, sexual harassment, speaking up, defending what’s right, LGBT+, not being believed
  • Protagonist description: female, 7th grader, white

Hither & Nigh by Ellen Potter

Nell Batista has been in trouble one too many times. Now she’s down to her last chance–literally. Join the Last Chance Club or be expelled from school.

The kids in the club are an odd group, but when their teacher starts giving lessons in magic, things quickly go completely off the weird scale. Nell doesn’t believe in it at first; after all, she’s a smart city kid, and there has been nothing magical in her life since her brother, River, disappeared three years ago.

But this magic is real–and powerful. As their skills grow, Nell and her new friends discover a parallel New York City called the Nigh. It’s a place as delightful as it is scary, sizzling with magical energy, where statues can talk, magicians ride on giant dogs, and monsters roam Central Park. And it is all controlled by the terrifying Minister, who might hold the key to finding Nell’s missing brother. Just how far will Nell go to find him, and who can she trust in a world topsy turvy with enchantment?

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Setting: Nigh, a parallel New York City
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: school, magic, getting into trouble at school, siblings, disappearance of brother, monsters, magical creatures
  • Protagonist description: three middle schoolers; 2 in 8th grade, 1 in 7th grade; 2 female, one male; all three read as white

*The Talk by Alicia D. Williams (Author) and Briana Mukodiri Uchendu (Illustrator)

Jay’s most favorite things are hanging out with his pals, getting kisses from Grandma, riding in his dad’s cool car, and getting measured by his mom with pencil marks on the wall. But as those height marks inch upward, Grandpa warns Jay about being in too big a group with his friends, Grandma worries others won’t see him as quite so cute now that he’s older, and Dad has to tell Jay how to act if the police ever pull them over.

And Jay just wants to be a kid.

All Black and Brown kids get The Talk–the talk that could mean the difference between life and death in a racist world. Told in an age-appropriate fashion, with a perfect pause for parents to insert their own discussions with their children to accompany prompting illustrations, The Talk is a gently honest and sensitive starting point for this far-too-necessary conversation, for Black children, Brown children, and for ALL children. Because you can’t make change without knowing what needs changing.

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: K-Grade 5
  • Themes: racism, police violence, prejudice, family, warnings, African Americans, fear, compassion, social change, safety
  • Protagonist description: young boy, African American

*The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Mac Barnett (Author) and Jon Klassen (Illustrator)

Once there was a bridge and a terrible and VERY hungry troll lived underneath it. When the three Billy Goats Gruff decide to clip-clop across the bridge to get to the grassy ridge, the troll is already imagining all the way to prepare a delicious goat dinner.

But the troll underestimates those seemingly sweet but oh-so-savvy goats! This is the first in a groundbreaking new collection of fractured fairy tales crafted by two major names in children’s literature: Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen.

Booklist and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, humor
  • Setting: bridge with a troll living under it
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: goats, trolls, fractured fairy tales, folklore, rhyming books
  • Protagonist description: three goats of varying sizes; a rat-like troll

*Twelve Dinging Doorbells by Tameka Fryer Brown (Author) and Ebony Glenn (Illustrator)

Every holiday, aunties, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and neighbors come over to eat, sing, and celebrate life. But all our main character can think about is the sweet potato pie Granny makes just for her.

As tables fill with baked macaroni and cheese, chitlins, and other sides a-steaming, she and Granny move the pie to keep it intact. The task becomes tricker as the room grows with dancing and card games and pie cravings. Just when all seems lost and there’s no more pie, Granny pulls out a sweet surprise.

THREE starred reviews! Written to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

  • Genre(s): picture book, holidays
  • Setting: Christmas holiday dinner, a home filled with family and food
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: families, holidays, pie, food traditions, Christmas, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” cumulative stories, songs
  • Protagonist description: large African American family

Me and Muhammad Ali by Jabari Asim (Author) and AG Ford (Illustrator)

Like most of the kids he knows, Langston is a huge fan of boxing champ Muhammad Ali. After all, Ali is the greatest for so many reasons–his speed, his strength, his confidence–and his poetry. Langston loves that Ali can float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, and Ali’s words give him confidence to spin his own poems.

When Langston hears the champ is coming to the local high school, he’s ecstatic–this will be a day that will go down in history for him. When the big day arrives, Langston gets a special haircut, and floats like a butterfly to meet his hero–so imagine his disappointment when a guard tries to stop him at the door, saying the event is just for students.

Fortunately, Langston has learned a thing or two about fearlessness from the champ and is quick about not taking “no” for an answer. And just like that, a dream comes true for Langston that leaves him feeling wrapped in a warm glow and chanting I’m quick and I’m strong. I’m Black and I’m free. I’m brave and I’m bold, like Muhammad Ali!

  • Genre(s): picture book, historical fiction
  • Setting: African American community, 1975
  • Recommended for: Grades K-4
  • Themes: boxing, Muhammad Ali, poetry, writing, fearlessness, not taking no for an answer, access denied, Black History
  • Protagonist description: young African American boy, his mother, and Muhammad Ali

*Only the Best: The Exceptional Life and Fashion of Ann Lowe by Kate Messner (Author), Margaret E. Powell (Author), and Erin Robinson (Illustrator)

Award-winning author Kate Messner, costume historian Margaret E. Powell, and fashion designer and illustrator Erin Robinson tell the powerful story of the ground-breaking Ann Lowe, who grew up in a small Alabama dress shop and became the first nationally-known African American fashion designer. Sought after by millionaires and movie stars, her designs walked the red carpet and graced the wedding of Senator John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier.

At a time when the world around her thought African Americans deserved no more than second-class treatment, Ann expected no less than very best for herself.

Although she faced many hardships, Ann’s spirit, talent, and belief in herself always shone through. This story provides an empowering, real-life role model for young girls–and especially Black girls–to relate to and see themselves in, at an age when building self-confidence is more important than ever.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Setting: various US states, starting in Alabama; early 20th Century
  • Recommended for: Grades K-5
  • Themes: fashion designers, Black history, trailblazers of industry, creativity, discrimination, racism, prejudice, perseverance, resilience, self-confidence
  • Protagonist description: young African American female





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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