New Release Spotlight: October 25, 2022

It’s the last Spotlight of October–how 2022 has flown by!

I filled up my TBR on Goodreads with several titles on this week’s list! Middle grades are the big stand-outs this week, but really, they all look fantastic. This list is a bit longer than normal because I added a few titles that were released on October 11. That was the New Release Spotlight I missed due to lots of busy family issues.

This week’s top picks:

  • Strike the Zither by Joan He (YA)
  • Sparrows in the Wind by Gail Carson Levine (MG)
  • Build a House by Rhiannon Giddens (picture book)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #2853-#2877 on The Ginormous book list.

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*Strike the Zither by Joan He

The year is 414 of the Xin Dynasty, and chaos abounds. A puppet empress is on the throne. The realm has fractured into three factions and three warlordesses hoping to claim the continent for themselves.

But Zephyr knows it’s no contest.

Orphaned at a young age, Zephyr took control of her fate by becoming the best strategist of the land and serving under Xin Ren, a warlordess whose loyalty to the empress is double-edged–while Ren’s honor draws Zephyr to her cause, it also jeopardizes their survival in a war where one must betray or be betrayed.

When Zephyr is forced to infiltrate an enemy camp to keep Ren’s followers from being slaughtered, she encounters the enigmatic Crow, an opposing strategist who is finally her match. But there are more enemies than one–and not all of them are human.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, adventure, fantasy
  • Setting: China, year 414
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: puppet government, Asia, Chinese history, orphans, survival, war, Xin Dynasty, classic Chinese literature, loyalty, friendship
  • Protagonist description: female, age 18, Chinese, orphan

I Miss You, I Hate This by Sara Saedi

The lives of high school seniors Parisa Naficy and Gabriela Gonzales couldn’t be more different.

Parisa, an earnest and privileged Iranian American, struggles to live up to her own impossible standards. Gabriela, a cynical Mexican American, has all the confidence Parisa lacks but none of the financial stability. She can’t help but envy Parisa’s posh lifestyle whenever she hears her two moms argue about money.

Despite their differences, as soon as they met on the first day of freshman year, they had an “us versus the world” mentality. Whatever the future had in store for them–the pressure to get good grades, the litany of family dramas, and the heartbreak of unrequited love–they faced it together.

Until a global pandemic forces everyone into lockdown. Suddenly senior year doesn’t look anything like they hoped it would. And as the whole world is tested during this time of crisis, their friendship will be, too.

With equal parts humor and heart, Parisa’s and Gabriela’s stories unfold in a mix of prose, text messages, and emails as they discover new dreams, face insecurities, and confront their greatest fears.

Kirkus starred. The virus in this is not Covid-19, but Adema-22, a fictional virus that affects young people and causes global lockdowns. Told partially via text message and email threads.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: Los Angeles, California, 2022
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: pressure to succeed, friendship, family problems, cultural expectations, Covid-19, pandemics, lockdowns, coming-of-age, best friends, anxiety, social isolation, alternating viewpoints, text messages, email threads, epistolary format
  • Protagonist description: perspective alternates between two females, both high school seniors; one is Iranian American, valedictorian, and wealthy; one is Mexican American, financially insecure, an artist, and has two moms

*We Are All We Have by Marina Budhos

Seventeen-year-old Rania is shaken awake in her family’s apartment in Brooklyn. ICE is at the door, taking her mother away. But Ammi has done everything right, hasn’t she? Their asylum case is fine.

This was supposed to be Rania’s greatest summer: hanging out with her best friend, Fatima, and getting ready for college in the fall.

But it’s 2019, and nothing is certain. Now, along with her younger brother, Kamal, and a new friend, Carlos, Rania must figure out how to survive. A road trip leads to searching for answers to questions she didn’t even think to ask.

In this vivid exploration of what happens when the country you have put your hopes into is fast shutting down, award-winning author Marina Budhos shows us how one girl bursting with dreams navigates secrets, love, and the lure of the open road.

Kirkus and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: 2019, Brooklyn, New York
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: road trips, immigration, deportation, asylum seekers, undocumented immigrants, murder of parent (father, a journalist in Pakistan), US immigration policies
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, undocumented Pakistani immigrant to US; male love interest is Mexican American and also undocumented

Eight Nights of Flirting by Hannah Reynolds

Shira Barbanel has a plan: this Hanukkah, she’s going to get a boyfriend. And she has the perfect candidate in mind–her great-uncle’s assistant, Isaac. He’s reliable, brilliant, and of course, super hot. The only problem? Shira’s an absolute disaster when it comes to flirting.

Enter Tyler Nelson, Shira’s nemesis-slash-former-crush. As much as she hates to admit it, Tyler is the most charming and popular guy she knows. Which means he’s the perfect person to teach her how to win Isaac over.

When Shira and Tyler get snowed in together at Golden Doors, they strike a deal–flirting lessons for Shira in exchange for career connections for Tyler. But as Shira starts to see the sweet, funny boy beneath Tyler’s playboy exterior, she realizes she actually likes hanging out with him. And that wasn’t part of the plan.

Amidst a whirl of snowy adventures, hot chocolate, and candlelight, Shira must learn to trust her heart to discover if the romance she planned is really the one that will make her happiest.

SLJ starred. Every year, I read YA and adult holiday books in December (such a fun tradition that many people do!). This is on the list for 2022–it sounds adorable!

  • Genre(s): romance, holiday stories, rom-com
  • Setting: Hanukkah and Christmas, Nantucket (island off coast of Massachusetts)
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: Hanukkah, dating, crushes, snowed in, socially awkward, lessons in flirting
  • Protagonist description: female, Jewish, Sephardic (Spanish and Jewish), high school junior; male love interest is white and Christian

Better Than We Found It: Conversations to Help Save the World by Frederick Joseph and Porsche Joseph

Every generation inherits the problems created by the ones before them, but no generation will inherit as many problems–as many crises–as the current generation of young people.

From the devastations of climate change to the horrors of gun violence, from rampant transphobia to the widening wealth gap, from the lack of health care to the lack of housing, the challenges facing the next generation can feel insurmountable.

But change, even revolution, is possible; you just have to know where to start. In Better Than We Found It, best-selling author Frederick Joseph and debut author Porsche Joseph make the case for addressing some of the biggest issues of our day. Featuring more than two dozen interviews with prominent activists, authors, actors, and politicians, this is the essential resource for those who want to make the world better than we found it.

Featuring interviews with: Chelsea Clinton, Amed Khan, Anna Paquin, Nic Stone, and many more.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: social problems, climate change, housing insecurity, gun violence, immigration, homophobia, transphobia, disinformation, water access, student debt, gender identity, disinformation, fake news, social media, social activism, Islamophobia, antisemitism, racism

The Edge of Being by James Brandon

Isaac Griffin has always felt something was missing from his life. And for good reason: he’s never met his dad. He’d started to believe he’d never belong in this world, that the scattered missing pieces of his life would never come together, when he discovers a box hidden deep in the attic with his father’s name on it.

When the first clue points him to San Francisco, he sets off with his boyfriend to find the answers, and the person he’s been waiting his whole life for. But when his vintage station wagon breaks down (and possibly his relationship too) they are forced to rely on an unusual girl who goes by Max–and has her own familial pain–to take them the rest of the way.

As his family history is revealed, Isaac finds himself drawing closer to Max. Using notes his dad had written decades ago, the two of them retrace his father’s steps during the weeks leading up to the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot in San Francisco, a precursor to the Stonewall Riots a few years later. Only to discover, as he learns about the past that perhaps the missing pieces of his life weren’t ever missing at all.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: Los Angeles, California
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: fathers and sons, belonging, family problems, cutting, self-mutilation, sexual assault, racism, LGBTQIA+, looking for absent parent, road trips, 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria riot (precursor to 1969 Stonewall Riots)
  • Protagonist description: male, age 17, white, pansexual, high school senior

Dark Room Etiquette by Robin Roe

Popularity, good looks, perfect grades–there’s nothing Sayers’ family money can’t buy.

Until he’s kidnapped by a man who tells him the privileged life he’s been living is based on a lie.

Trapped in a windowless room, without knowing why he’s been taken or how long the man plans to keep him shut away, Sayers faces a terrifying new reality. To survive, he must forget the world he once knew, and play the part his abductor has created for him.

But as time passes, the line between fact and fiction starts to blur, and Sayers begins to wonder if he can escape…before he loses himself.

Publishers Weekly starred. I found three positive professional reviews, one of which is starred, but the SLJ review says it moves slowly and lacks character development. I’m including it here because of the number of positive reviews, but the SLJ criticisms sound like my criticisms of Natasha Preston’s The Cellar. That was a popular book with my students, but I found it underdeveloped and cliched. But The Cellar is popular with students, and I’m betting this one will be, too. It will certainly be easy to booktalk!

  • Genre(s): thriller
  • Setting: a dingy room, where a 16-year old boy is tethered to a bed
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: kidnapping, survival, privilege, emotional abuse, physical abuse, PTSD, bullying
  • Protagonist description: male, age 16, white, Texan, from a wealthy family

Don’t Look Back: A Memoir of War, Survival, and My Journey from Sudan to America by Achut Deng (Author) and Keely Hutton (Author)

After a deadly attack in South Sudan left six-year-old Achut Deng without a family, she lived in refugee camps for ten years, until a refugee relocation program gave her the opportunity to move to the United States. When asked why she should be given a chance to leave the camp, Achut simply told the interviewer: I want life.

But the chance at starting a new life in a new country came with a different set of challenges. Some of them equally deadly. Taught by the strong women in her life not to look back, Achut kept moving forward, overcoming one obstacle after another, facing each day with hope and faith in her future. Yet, just as Achut began to think of the US as her home, a tie to her old life resurfaced, and for the first time, she had no choice but to remember her past.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): memoir, biography, nonfiction, survival
  • Setting: South Sudan, Kenya, and Texas; 1988-2010
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: civil war, African history, murder, family, long walks, refugees, sexual abuse, survival, grief
  • Protagonist description: female, Black, Southern Sudanese, starts at age 6 and goes through young adulthood

Berliners by Vesper Stamper

Berlin, 1961. Rudi Möser-Fleischmann is an aspiring photographer with dreams of greatness, but he can’t hold a candle to his talented, charismatic twin brother Peter, an ambitious actor.

With the sudden divorce of their parents, the brothers find themselves living in different sectors of a divided Berlin; the postwar partition strangely mirroring their broken family. But one night, as the city sleeps, the Berlin Wall is hurriedly built, dividing society further, and Rudi and Peter are forced to choose between playing by the rules and taking their dreams underground. That is, until the truth about their family history and the growing cracks in their relationship threaten to split them apart for good.

From National Book Award-nominated, critically acclaimed author-illustrator Vesper Stamper comes a stark look at how resentment and denial can strain the bonds of brotherhood to the breaking point.

Illustrated with black-and-white line drawings.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Setting: Berlin, Germany, Europe, 1961
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: brothers, twins, Cold War, Berlin Wall, postwar, family divided by Berlin Wall, photography, fascism, propaganda, antisemitism
  • Protagonist description: twin brothers, age 16, German

*Unbreakable: The Spies Who Cracked the Nazis’ Secret Code Rebecca E. F. Barone

As the Germans waged a brutal war across Europe, details of every Nazi plan, every attack, every troop movement were sent over radio. But to the Allied troops listening in–and they were always listening–the crucial messages sounded like gibberish. The communications were encoded with a powerful cipher, making all information utterly inaccessible…unless you could unlock the key to the secret code behind the German’s powerful Enigma machine.

Complete with more than sixty historical photos, Unbreakable tells the true story of one of the most dangerous war-time codebreaking efforts ever. While Hitler marched his troops across newly conquered lands and deadly “wolfpacks” of German U-Boats prowled the open seas, a team of codebreakers, spies, and navy men raced against the clock to uncover the secrets that hid German messages in plain sight. Victory―or defeat―in World War II would hinge on their desperate attempts to crack the code.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Setting: WWII, Europe, USA, Canada, 1930s-1940s
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-11
  • Themes: codebreakers, cryptographers, coding, WWII, Nazis, world history, European history, STEAM, math
  • Protagonist description: various male and female ciphers and military leaders

*Sparrows in the Wind by Gail Carson Levine

Cassandra, a princess of Troy and follower of Apollo, is delighted when the god himself appears to her. Apollo asks to love her in exchange for giving her future sight, and she agrees–but recoils when he kisses her. Enraged, the god transforms his gift into a curse: Cassandra’s visions will never be believed.

After horrifying images of coming war and death pour into her mind, and with no one to heed her warnings, Cassandra risks her safety again and again to avert the disaster awaiting Troy.

But it will take years–and the friendship of an Amazon warrior princess named Rin–for Cassandra to find hope of success in reversing the course of the war.

With heroines to cheer for and nail-biting adventures, Newbery Honor–winning author Gail Carson Levine once again transports her readers, this time to ancient Troy, where princesses (even cursed ones) will stop at nothing to shape their fate.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): mythology, fantasy
  • Setting: ancient city of Troy, before and during The Trojan War
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: Greek mythology, Trojan War, gods and goddesses, Cassandra, prophets, not being believed, war, Amazons, strong female protagonist, gifts, curses, Helen of Troy, princesses
  • Protagonist description: female, age 14, Trojan princess

Undercover Latina by Aya de León

Fourteen-year-old Andréa Hernández-Baldoquín hails from a family of spies working for the Factory, an international organization dedicated to protecting people of color.

For her first solo mission, Andréa straightens her hair and goes undercover as Andrea Burke, a white girl, to befriend the estranged son of a dangerous white supremacist. In addition to her Factory training, the assignment calls for a deep dive into the son’s interests–comic books and gaming–all while taking care not to speak Spanish and blow her family’s cover.

But it’s hard to hide who you really are, especially when you develop a crush on your target’s Latino best friend. Can Andréa keep her head, her geek cred, and her code-switching on track to trap a terrorist? Smart, entertaining, and politically astute, this is fast-paced upper-middle-grade fare from an established author of heist and espionage novels for adults.

Kirkus starred. Author Aya de León is the author of spy novels for adults; this is her first middle grade novel.

  • Genre(s): adventure, mystery
  • Setting: USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-9
  • Themes: spies, white supremacy, undercover missions, secret identity, Spanish language, terrorism, ageism, colorism, sexism, racism
  • Protagonist description: female, age 14, Latina (Puerto Rican and Mexican)

smART: Use Your Eyes to Boost Your Brain by Amy E. Herman and Heather Maclean

Young reader’s adaptation from Visual Intelligence (2016). What would you say if I told you that looking at art could give you the confidence you need to speak up in class? Or that learning the history of donuts could help you think like a super spy and train like the CIA?

smART teaches readers how to process information using paintings, sculptures, and photographs that instantly translates to real world situations and is also fun!

With three simple steps (1) How to SEE, (2) How to THINK about what you see, and (3) How to TALK about what you see, readers learn how to think critically and creatively, a skill that only requires you to open your eyes and actively engage your brain.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction, art, psychology
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: art interpretation, observation, paintings, photographs, critical thinking, creativity, STEAM

*Seen and Unseen: What Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adams’s Photographs Reveal About the Japanese American Incarceration by Elizabeth Partridge (Author) and Lauren Tamaki (Illustrator)

Three months after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the incarceration of all Japanese and Japanese Americans living on the West Coast of the United States. Families, teachers, farm workers–all were ordered to leave behind their homes, their businesses, and everything they owned. Japanese and Japanese Americans were forced to live under hostile conditions in incarceration camps, their futures uncertain.

Three photographers set out to document life at Manzanar, an incarceration camp in the California desert:

Dorothea Lange was a photographer from San Francisco best known for her haunting Depression-era images. Dorothea was hired by the US government to record the conditions of the camps. Deeply critical of the policy, she wanted her photos to shed light on the harsh reality of incarceration.

Toyo Miyatake was a Japanese-born, Los Angeles–based photographer who lent his artistic eye to portraying dancers, athletes, and events in the Japanese community. Imprisoned at Manzanar, he devised a way to smuggle in photographic equipment, determined to show what was really going on inside the barbed-wire confines of the camp.

Ansel Adams was an acclaimed landscape photographer and environmentalist. Hired by the director of Manzanar, Ansel hoped his carefully curated pictures would demonstrate to the rest of the United States the resilience of those in the camps.

In Seen and Unseen, Elizabeth Partridge and Lauren Tamaki weave together these photographers’ images, firsthand accounts, and stunning original art to examine the history, heartbreak, and injustice of the Japanese American incarceration.

Kirkus and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): photography, nonfiction
  • Setting: Manzanar, a Japanese internment camp in the California desert, 1940s
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-9
  • Themes: Japanese Internment, US history, WWII, Great Depression, Manzanar, imprisonment, racism, prejudice, world history, photography
  • Protagonist description: three photographers; one female, two males; two are white and one is Japanese man in Manzanar internment camp

The Rat Queen by Pete Hautman

For Annie’s tenth birthday, her papa gives her a pad of paper, some colored pencils, and the Klimas family secret.

It’s called the nuodeema burna, or eater of sins. Every time Annie misbehaves, she has to write down her transgression and stick the paper into a hidey-hole in the floor of their house. But Annie’s inheritance has a dark side: with each paper fed to the burna, she feels less guilty about the mean things she says and does.

As a plague of rats threatens her small suburban town and the mystery of her birthright grows, Annie–caught in a cycle of purging her misdeeds–begins to stop growing. It is only when she travels to her family’s home country of Litvania to learn more about the burna that Annie uncovers the magnitude of the truth.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): adventure, mystery, magical realism, fantasy
  • Setting: small suburban town, cues as Lithuania or other Baltic country
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: fairy tales, folktales, rats, magic, plagues, moral responsibility, regrets, family secrets, guilt
  • Protagonist description: female, age 10, white, homeschooled

Nikhil Out Loud by Maulik Pancholy

Thirteen-year-old Nikhil Shah is the beloved voice actor for Raj Reddy on the hit animated series Raj Reddy in Outer Space. But being a star on TV doesn’t mean you have everything figured out behind the scenes…

When his mom temporarily moves them to the small town in Ohio where she grew up to take care of Nikhil’s sick grandfather, Nikhil feels as out of orbit as his character.

Nikhil’s fame lands him the lead in the school musical, but he’s terrified that everyone will realize he’s a fraud once they find out he can’t sing. And when a group of conservative parents start to protest, making it clear they’re not happy with an openly gay TV star being in the starring role, Nikhil feels like his life would be easier if only he could be Raj Reddy full-time.

Then Nikhil wakes up one morning and hears a crack in his voice, which means his job playing Raj will have to come to an end. Life on earth is way more complicated than life on television. And some mysteries–like new friendships or a sick grandparent or finding the courage to speak out about what’s right–don’t wrap up neatly between commercial breaks.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: small Ohio town
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: voice acting, fame, celebrity, school musicals, theater, family, secrets, LGBTQIA+, homophobia, middle school, coming of age, standing up for what’s right, grandparents
  • Protagonist description: male, age 13, 8th grader, Indian American, voice actor, openly gay

*Playing Through the Turnaround by Mylisa Larsen

Debut author! Fifth period is hands down the best time of day in Connor U. Eubanks Middle School, because that’s when Mr. Lewis teaches Jazz Lab. So his students are devastated when their beloved teacher quits abruptly. Once they make a connection between budget cuts and Mr. Lewis’s disappearance, they hatch a plan: stop the cuts, save their class.

Soon, they become an unlikely band of crusaders, and their quest quickly snowballs into something much bigger–a movement involving the whole middle school. But the adults in charge seem determined to ignore their every protest. How can the kids make themselves heard?

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: upstate New York middle school
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: middle school, jazz, music, band, teachers, school budget cuts, protests, activism, alternating perspectives, independence, musicians
  • Protagonist description: alternates viewpoint among 5 eighth graders; 3 male and 2 female; all follow a white default

*My Aunt Is a Monster by Reimena Yee

Safia thought that being blind meant she would only get to go on adventures through her audiobooks. This all changes when she goes to live with a distant and mysterious aunt, Lady Whimsy, who takes Safia on the journey of a lifetime!

While the reclusive Lady Whimsy stops an old rival from uncovering the truth behind her disappearance, Safia experiences parts of the world she had only dreamed about. But when an unlikely group of chaotic agents comes after Whimsy, Safia is forced to confront the adventure head-on. For the first time in her life, Safia is the hero of her own story, and she must do what she can to save the day.

And maybe find some friends along the way.

Booklist and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): adventure, graphic novel
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: orphans, death of parents, devastating fire, blindness, bookish, aunts, making friends, monsters, curses, Hindu legend
  • Protagonist description: female, age 11, blind, brown sinned with relatives in India and Egypt

Spirit Week by Ira Marcks

Aspiring engineer Suzy Hess is invited to the famous Underlook Hotel, domain of the reclusive horror writer Jack Axworth, in the mountains above her hometown of Estes Park, Colorado. Suzy thinks she’s there to tutor Jack’s son, Danny, but instead she finds herself investigating a local curse that threatens the landmark hotel.

With the help of Elijah Jones, an amateur filmmaker who thought he’d been asked to make a film about the so-called King of Horror; Rena Hallorann, the hotel’s caretaker; and Danny, who knows more than he’s letting on, Suzy sets out to solve the mystery at the heart of the Underlook, one that holds the town of Estes Park in its grasp. With only a week to save the hotel–and the town–the friends find themselves racing against time to uncover the shadows of the past.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, horror, retelling, mystery
  • Setting: old hotel in a mountain town in Colorado
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: The Shining, Stephen King, Halloween, hotels, writers, documentarians, engineering, ghost hunting
  • Protagonist description: female (white, age 13, blonde hair) and male (Black, age 13)

Road Trip!: Camping with the Four Vagabonds: Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and John Burroughs by Claudia Friddell (Author) and Jeremy Holmes (Illustrator)

After years of inventing things that other people needed, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford realized there was something they needed–a vacation!

So, the famous inventors packed up Ford’s Model T and invited their good friends Harvey Firestone and John Burroughs to join them as “the Four Vagabonds” hit America’s back roads to enjoy the country’s natural beauty, fireside chats, and frolicking fun with friends–all while inspiring future generations to invent camping adventures of their own.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, adventure, nonfiction
  • Setting: various locations across the USA, starting in 1914
  • Recommended for: Grades K-6
  • Themes: Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, road trips, vacation, inventors, historical figures, camping, US history, USA national parks, travel
  • Protagonist description: four wealthy white males; figures in American history – Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone (tires), John Burroughs (nature writer)

*Symphony for a Broken Orchestra: How Philadelphia Collected Sounds to Save Music by Amy Ignatow (Author) and Gwen Millward (Illustrator)

The schools of Philadelphia were filling up with broken violins, drums, pianos, and more, making it difficult for students to learn to play. This sparked an idea for a symphony, played entirely with the broken instruments, that would raise funds to repair the instruments themselves.

Musicians young and old volunteered, and their captivating performance showed that even something broken can sing–and that great music is always possible with a bit of inventiveness and improvisation.

Based on real events, this inspiring story introduces young readers to a range of instruments as it celebrates a community coming together to make a joyful, meaningful noise. More information about the nonprofit organization Broken Orchestra can be found in the back matter, including a link to an audio recording of the symphony performance.

THREE starred reviews! Pair with Carmen Oliver’s Building an Orchestra of Hope (also new this week, see below).

  • Genre(s): picture books
  • Setting: inner-city school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: music, symphonies, musical instruments, based on a true story, community, creativity, resourcefulness, recycling, repurposing old objects, urban renewal
  • Protagonist description: multiple students of varying skin tones

*Digestion! The Musical by Adam Rex (Author) and Laura Park (Illustrator)

Candy’s made it. She’s finally here: the human body! This intrepid sweet treat meets each of the human body’s organs as she approaches her “big break”: being successfully digested!

Here is the scientific process of digestion as you’ve never seen it before–told through a musical, with Candy in the role of the small-town kid who wants to make it big, the baby carrots as the Greek chorus narrating all the action, and cameos from every body part that plays an important role in transforming food from ingredients to nutrition.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, humor
  • Setting: inside the human digestive system
  • Recommended for: K-Grade 4
  • Themes: candy, digestion, human body, anatomy, bodily systems, Halloween, musicals, nutrition
  • Protagonist description: pink piece of candy

Building an Orchestra of Hope: How Favio Chavez Taught Children to Make Music from Trash by Carmen Oliver (Author) and Luisa Uribe (Illustrator)

In Cateura, Paraguay, a town built on a landfill, music teacher Favio Chavez longed to help the families living and working amid the hills of trash. How could he help them find hope for the future? Favio started giving music lessons to Cateura’s children, but soon he encountered a serious problem. He had more students than instruments!

But Favio had a strange and wonderful idea: what if this recyclers’ town had its own recycled orchestra? Favio and Colá, a brilliant local carpenter, began to experiment with transforming garbage into wonder. Old glue canisters became violins; paint cans became violas; drainpipes became flutes and saxophones. With repurposed instruments in their hands, the children of Cateura could fill their community–and the world–with the sounds of a better tomorrow.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Setting: Cateura, Paraguay, South America, 2006
  • Recommended for: K-Grade 5
  • Themes: music, teachers, landfills, musical instruments, recycling, orchestra, trash into treasure, inspirational stories, STEAM, Earth Day, conservation, Hispanic Heritage Month
  • Protagonist description: male teacher, Argentinian

Go, Sled! Go! by James Yang

Go, sled, go!

What could be more exciting than a thrilling sled ride?

Maybe when a few unexpected creatures join the adventure?

Before long, there’s a bunny, a moose, a snowman, and even a baker with cakes on the sled, and more surprises are headed their way.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, humor
  • Setting: snowy mountain
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: winter, sledding, repetitive words, early readers, action verbs, winter animals
  • Protagonist description: tan-skinned child wearing a striped cap

Build a House by Rhiannon Giddens (Author) and Monica Mikai (Illustrator)

Debut author! As an acclaimed musician, singer, songwriter, and cofounder of the traditional African American string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Rhiannon Giddens has long used her art to mine America’s musical past and manifest its future, passionately recovering lost voices and reconstructing a nation’s musical heritage.

Written as a song to commemorate the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth–which was originally performed with famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma–and paired here with bold illustrations by painter Monica Mikai, Build a House tells the moving story of a people who would not be moved and the music that sustained them.

Steeped in sorrow and joy, resilience and resolve, turmoil and transcendence, this dramatic debut offers a proud view of history and a vital message for readers of all ages: honor your heritage, express your truth, and let your voice soar, even–or perhaps especially–when your heart is heaviest.

Kirkus starred. For storytime, scan the QR code at the back of the book and turn the pages as the song plays. Pay attention to the characters’ facial expressions.

  • Genre(s): picture book, music, picture book for older readers
  • Setting: American South during slavery
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5 (I also think this is great for students older than Grade 5)
  • Themes: Juneteenth, slavery, music, US history, songs, trees
  • Protagonist description: African American family (slaves in American South)





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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