I’m kind of surprised that this week’s Spotlight isn’t bigger than it is! Usually, January is a huge month for new releases. Last week’s list was quite long, and I thought this week’s would be even longer. But nope! There are many new book releases this week, but most of them do not meet my criteria for inclusion on the Spotlight.
YA books look best to me this week. Here are my top picks:
- We Are So Good At Smiling by Amber McBride (YA)
- What Happened to Rachel Riley? by Claire Swinarski (middle grades)
- Yoshi, Sea Turtle Genius: A True Story About an Amazing Swimmer by Lynne Cox (picture book)
This week’s Spotlight titles are #2977 – #2992 on The Ginormous book list.
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*We Are All So Good At Smiling by Amber McBride
Whimsy is back in the hospital for treatment of clinical depression. When she meets a boy named Faerry, she recognizes they both have magic in the marrow of their bones. And when Faerry and his family move to the same street, the two start to realize that their lifelines may have twined and untwined many times before.
They are both terrified of the forest at the end of Marsh Creek Lane.
The Forest whispers to Whimsy. The Forest might hold the answers to the part of Faerry he feels is missing. They discover the Forest holds monsters, fairy tales, and pain that they have both been running from for 11 years.
FOUR STARRED REVIEWS!
- Genre(s): realistic fiction, novel in verse, magical realism
- Recommended for: Grades 7-12
- Themes: mental illness, suicide, suicide ideation, self-harm, depression, magic, fae, folklore creatures, Hoodoo, generational trauma, racism, survivor’s guilt, missing sibling, classic fairytale and folklore creatures (Baba Yaga, Anansi, Snow White)
- Protagonist description: female, Black
*Unraveller by Frances Hardinge
In a world where anyone can create a life-destroying curse, only one person has the power to unravel them.
Kellen does not fully understand his talent, but helps those transformed maliciously–including Nettle. Recovered from entrapment in bird form, she is now his constant companion and closest ally.
But Kellen has also been cursed, and unless he and Nettle can remove his curse, Kellen is in danger of unravelling everything–and everyone–around him…
THREE STARRED REVIEWS!
- Genre(s): dark fantasy
- Setting: fictional capital city of Mizzleport
- Recommended for: Grades 7-12
- Themes: curses, magic, powers, revenge, spite, worldbuilding, character driven
- Protagonist description: all characters cue as white
The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be: A Speculative Memoir of Transracial Adoption by Shannon Gibney
Dream Country author Shannon Gibney returns with a new book woven from her true story of growing up as the adopted Black daughter of white parents and the fictional story of Erin Powers, the name Shannon was given at birth by the white woman who gave her up for adoption.
At its core, the novel is a tale of two girls on two different timelines occasionally bridged by a mysterious portal and their shared search for a complete picture of their origins. Gibney surrounds that story with reproductions of her own adoption documents, letters, family photographs, interviews, medical records, and brief essays on the surreal absurdities of the adoptee experience.
Kirkus starred. I’ve included this title not because I think it will just fly off the shelves, but because this may be exactly the perfect book for certain readers. I’d personally booktalk this title before purchasing to gauge interest.
- Genre(s): realistic fiction, speculative nonfiction
- Setting: US (Michigan?), 1975-present
- Recommended for: Grades 9-12
- Themes: adoption, based on a true story, diverse families, poet Audre Lorde
- Protagonist description: biracial African American woman
City of Nightmares by Rebecca Schaeffer
Ever since her sister became a man-eating spider and slaughtered her way through town, nineteen-year-old Ness has been terrified–terrified of some other Nightmare murdering her, and terrified of ending up like her sister. Because in Newham, the city that never sleeps, dreaming means waking up as your worst fear.
Whether that means becoming a Nightmare that’s monstrous only in appearance, to transforming into a twisted, unrecognizable creature that terrorizes the city, no one is safe. Ness will do anything to avoid becoming another victim, even if that means lying low among the Friends of the Restful Soul, a questionable organization that may or may not be a cult.
But being a member of maybe-cult has a price. In order to prove herself, Ness cons her way into what’s supposed to be a simple job for the organization–only for it to blow up in her face. Literally. Tangled up in the aftermath of an explosive assassination, now Ness and the only other survivor–a Nightmare boy who Ness suspects is planning to eat her–must find their way back to Newham and uncover the sinister truth behind the attack, even as the horrors of her past loom ominously near.
Kirkus starred. I’m definitely intrigued by that publisher’s summary! On the TBR!
- Genre(s): supernatural, horror, dystopia
- Setting: fictional and corrupt city of Newham
- Recommended for: Grades 8+
- Themes: nightmares, cults, monsters, fear, unique worldbuilding
- Protagonist description: female, age 19, not racially descript
Friday I’m in Love by Camryn Garrett
She wants a big Sweet Sixteen like her best friend, Naomi.
She wants the super-cute new girl Siobhan to like her back.
She wants a break from worrying–about money, snide remarks from white classmates, pitying looks from church ladies…all of it.
Then inspiration strikes: It’s too late for a Sweet Sixteen, but what if she had a coming-out party? A singing, dancing, rainbow-cake-eating celebration of queerness on her own terms.
The idea lights a fire beneath her, and soon Mahalia is scrimping and saving, taking on extra hours at her afterschool job, trying on dresses, and awkwardly flirting with Siobhan, all in preparation for the coming out of her dreams. But it’s not long before she’s buried in a mountain of bills, unfinished schoolwork, and enough drama to make her English lit teacher blush. With all the responsibility on her shoulders, will Mahalia’s party be over before it’s even begun?
Publishers Weekly starred.
- Genre(s): rom-com, romance
- Setting: San Diego, California
- Recommended for: Grades 7-12
- Themes: financial worries, poverty, LGBT+, homophobia, social class, coming out, teens with jobs, party planning, parental job loss, sexual identity, racial identity, music, racism
- Protagonist description: female, age 16, African American, queer; best friend Siobahn is Black-Irish
For Lamb by Lesa Cline-Ransome
For Lamb follows a family striving to better their lives in the late 1930s Jackson, Mississippi. Lamb’s mother is a hard-working, creative seamstress who cannot reveal she is a lesbian. Lamb’s brother has a brilliant mind and has even earned a college scholarship for a black college up north– if only he could curb his impulsiveness and rebellious nature.
Lamb herself is a quiet and studious girl. She is also naive. As she tentatively accepts the friendly overtures of a white girl who loans her a book she loves, she sets a off a calamitous series of events that pulls in her mother, charming hustler uncle, estranged father, and brother, and ends in a lynching.
Told with nuance and subtlety, avoiding sensationalism and unnecessary brutality, this young adult novel from celebrated author Lesa Cline-Ransome pays homage to the female victims of white supremacy.
- Genre(s): historical fiction
- Setting: Jackson, Mississippi; 1940
- Recommended for: Grades 9-12
- Themes: racism, prejudice, Jim Crow laws, lynching, multiple alternating perspectives, US history
- Protagonist description: multiple African American and white narrators
The Wicked Ones by Robin Benway
Dark Ascension, book 1. Drizella and Anastasia only know one thing for certain: they will never end up like their mother, Lady Tremaine. When their father left them as young girls, he took what was left of their family’s fortune and their mother’s dignity with him. A few years and one deceased stepfather later, the only version of Lady Tremaine that Drizella and Anastasia know is a bitter and cruel head of house. Anastasia and Drizella have promised themselves―and each other―that they’ll be different. They’ll find love, see the world, and never let their hearts go cold.
But both sisters are all too aware of what it can mean when cast into disfavor with their mother, and fueled by Lady Tremaine’s tendencies to pit the daughters against one another, Drizella and Anastasia are locked into a complicated waltz of tenuous sisterhood. On the cusp of the royal debut party―their one chance to impress the Prince and live up to their mother’s expectations―the sisters at last get a glimpse of what life could be like outside of Lady Tremaine’s intentions: Drizella discovering a love of science and Anastasia sparking a secret romance. But never underestimate the power a mother whose greatest talents lie in manipulation, and the sisters may learn that even the cruelest of hearts can spill blood.
- Genre(s): retelling, fairytales
- Setting: typical Cinderella setting (France? in the 16th Century?)
- Recommended for: Grades 7-12
- Themes: Cinderella, sisters, abuse, wicked stepsisters, Disney villains, stepfamilies, alternating perspectives
- Protagonist description: two sisters, ages 16 and 17, both white; Cinderella is also 16
Cool. Awkward. Black. by Karen Strong
A girl who believes in UFOs; a boy who might have finally found his Prince Charming; a hopeful performer who dreams of being cast in her school’s production of The Sound of Music; a misunderstood magician of sorts with a power she doesn’t quite understand.
These plotlines and many more compose the eclectic stories found within the pages of this dynamic, exciting, and expansive collection featuring exclusively Black characters. From contemporary to historical, fantasy to sci-fi, magical to realistic, and with contributions from a powerhouse list of self-proclaimed geeks and bestselling, award-winning authors, this life-affirming anthology celebrates and redefines the many facets of Blackness and geekiness–both in the real world and those imagined.
Features 18 stories from Black authors in multiple genres.
- Genre(s): anthology, short stories
- Recommended for: Grades 7+
- Themes: family, friendship, racism, homophobia, transphobia
- Protagonist description: all characters in the stories are Black
We Are Your Children Too: Black Students, White Supremacists, and the Battle for America’s Schools in Prince Edward County, Virginia by P. O’Connell Pearson
In 1954, after the passing of Brown v. the Board of Education, the all-White school board of one county in south central Virginia made the decision to close its public schools rather than integrate. Those schools stayed closed for five years.
While the affluent White population of Prince Edward County built a private school–for White children only–Black children and their families had to find other ways to learn. Some Black children were home schooled by unemployed Black teachers. Some traveled thousands of miles away to live with relatives, friends, or even strangers. Some didn’t go to school at all.
But many stood up and became young activists, fighting for one of the rights America claims belongs to all: the right to learn.
- Genre(s): nonfiction
- Setting: Prince Edward County, Virginia; 1950s
- Recommended for: Grades 5+
- Themes: Brown v. the Board of Education, school desegregation, racism, equality, social class privilege, discrimination, activism, civil rights, social issues, education, US history, Virginia history
- Protagonist description: female, age 16, African American (Barbara Johns, 1935-1991) + multiple African Americans
*The Superteacher Project by Gordon Korman
Oliver Zahn, spitball champion and self-declared rule-wrecker of Brightling Middle School, is not a fan of his new homeroom teacher, Mr. Aidact. The guy is sort of stiff, never cracks a smile, and refers to them as “pupils.” The worst part is he catches Oliver before he can pull any of his signature pranks! It’s time for Oliver and his best friend, Nathan, to show the new teacher who’s boss.
But as the weeks go by, they start to realize that Mr. Aidact is not what they expected. He has an uncanny ability to remember song lyrics or trivia. When the girls’ field hockey team needs a new coach, he suddenly turns out to be an expert. He never complains when other teachers unload work on him–even when it’s lunchroom duty and overseeing detention. Against all odds, Mr. Aidact starts to become the most popular teacher at Brightling.
Still, Oliver and Nathan know that something is fishy. They’re determined to get to the bottom of the mystery: What’s the deal with Mr. Aidact?
Booklist and SLJ starred.
- Genre(s): mystery, humor
- Setting: middle school
- Recommended for: Grades 3-7
- Themes: school stories, pranks, teachers and students, robots, artificial intelligence, secret government programs, multiple narrators
- Protagonist description: most characters default to white
What Happened to Rachel Riley? by Claire Swinarski
Anna Hunt may be the new girl at East Middle School, but she can already tell there’s something off about her eighth-grade class. Rachel Riley, who just last year was one of the most popular girls in school, has become a social outcast. But no one, including Rachel Riley herself, will tell Anna why.
As a die-hard podcast enthusiast, Anna knows there’s always more to a story than meets the eye. So she decides to put her fact-seeking skills to the test and create her own podcast around the question that won’t stop running through her head: What happened to Rachel Riley?
With the entire eighth grade working against her, Anna dives headfirst into the evidence. Clue after clue, the mystery widens, painting an even more complex story than Anna could have anticipated. But there’s one thing she’s certain of: If you’re going to ask a complicated question, you better be prepared for the fallout that may come with the answer.
Told in emails, text threads, personal narratives, articles, and voice recordings.
- Genre(s): realistic fiction, mystery, epistolary
- Setting: Madison, Wisconsin
- Recommended for: Grades 3-8
- Themes: popularity at school, podcasting, investigative journalism, middle school, social media, sexual harassment at school, new kid at school, emails and texts
- Protagonist description: female, age 12, 8th grader, Polish American, white
The Lost Galumpus by Joseph Helgerson (Author) and Udayana Lugo (Illustrator)
When a furry, four-legged beast from the distant past appears in their park, the local animals are concerned about unwanted attention from humans. Gilly the Possum, assistant to raccoon Mayor Crawdaddy, is tasked with figuring out where the lost galumpus came from…and how to get him home again.
While Gilly and the Mayor don’t agree on much, they can agree on one thing: with a huge blizzard rolling in, the galumpus needs their help, no matter where he came from.
This laugh-out-loud illustrated adventure has the whole woodland community in Theodore Wirth Park considering the best way to welcome a newcomer–and what generosity in the face of unthinkable circumstances can mean.
With short chapters and black-and-white illustrations, this book will appeal to reluctant or struggling readers.
- Genre(s): animal fantasy, animal stories, humor
- Setting: woodland park in Minnesota
- Recommended for: Grades 3-8
- Themes: woodland animals, blizzard, winter weather, time travel, mammoths, helping others
- Protagonist description: a human girl + personified animal characters – woolly mammoth, possum, raccoon, red squirrel
*Very Good Hats by Emma Straub (Author) and Blanca Gomez (Illustrator)
Some people think hats are fancy things you can buy at a dressy store, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
In this book, acorns and raspberries are snug hats for your fingers, and an empty pudding cup is a good hat for a stuffed bear. Pajama pants make dangly hats, books can be dramatic hats, and bubbles make very fine hats as well (if temporary). Readers will be delighted to discover that anything can be a hat if you believe it is. Hats are everywhere you look!
Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.
- Genre(s): picture book
- Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
- Themes: hats, clothing, fashion accessories, seeing ordinary objects in new ways, imagination, creativity, crafts
- Protagonist description: multiple characters of different ages with diverse skin tones
You Are My Pride: A Love Letter from Your Motherland by Carole Boston Weatherford (Author) and E.B. Lewis (Illustrator)
Written in the voice of Mother Africa, who speaks to her children–human beings–this picture book thrums with the love between mother and child as it celebrates humanity’s common roots.
Before words or tools or fire, Mother Africa’s caves sheltered us and her forests fed us. She could not protect us from all dangers, but, like mothers everywhere, she gave her children all she could and sent us into the world with confidence and love. Told in the ringing, singing language of a creation story, this book is a love letter from mother to child that honors our shared history.
Includes back matter with nonfiction information about human evolution and about the migration of Homo sapiens from Africa around the globe.
- Genre(s): picture book
- Setting: North Africa
- Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
- Themes: mothers, Africa, creation, early humans, human evolution, human migration, second person narration, unique narrators
- Protagonist description: narrated by the African continent, speaking to her human “children”
Yoshi, Sea Turtle Genius: A True Story About an Amazing Swimmer by Lynne Cox (Author) and Richard Jones (Illustrator)
Inside every loggerhead turtle is genius: the ability to find their first home, no matter how far away. Follow one, from her birth on a beach in Australia…to her trip across an ocean filled with sharks and seahorses and much more…to her rescue from a net by a fisherman, who names her Yoshi…to her rehabilitation at an aquarium…to her record-breaking swim across the Indian Ocean to the beach on which she hatched, to lay her eggs.
Written by Lynne Cox, also a record-breaking swimmer, here is the true story of a sea turtle who swam the longest distance of any animal in recorded history.
- Genre(s): informational picture book, nonfiction
- Setting: ocean journey from Australia to Japan to South Africa and back to Australia
- Recommended for: Grades 1-3
- Themes: loggerhead turtles, endangered animals, distance swimming, animal instincts, world records, turtle rescue, rehabilitation
- Protagonist description: loggerhead sea turtle; human characters are diverse
The Green Piano: How Little Me Found Music by Roberta Flack (Author), Tonya Bolden (Author), and Hayden Goodman (Illustrator)
Growing up in a Blue Ridge mountain town, little Roberta didn’t have fancy clothes or expensive toys…but she did have music. And she dreamed of having her own piano.
When her daddy spies an old, beat-up upright piano in a junkyard, he knows he can make his daughter’s dream come true. He brings it home, cleans and tunes it, and paints it a grassy green. And soon the little girl has an instrument to practice on, and a new dream to reach for–one that will make her become a legend in the music industry.
Here is a lyrical picture book–perfect for aspiring piano players and singers–that shares an intimate look at Roberta Flack’s family and her special connection to music.
- Genre(s): picture book biography
- Setting: North Carolina mountains, 1940s
- Recommended for: Grades 1-3
- Themes: music, musicians, piano, poverty, trash to treasure, singers
- Protagonist description: African American girl (singer Roberta Flack) and her family
THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (YA):
THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (MIDDLE GRADES):
THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS & FAVORITE CHARACTERS (ELEMENTARY):
ABOUT THE SPOTLIGHT
The New Release Spotlight began in May 2016 as a way to help librarians keep up with the many new children’s and YA books that are released each week. Every Tuesday, school librarian Leigh Collazo compiles the New Release Spotlight using a combination of Follett’s Titlewave, Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes and Noble. Titles with a * by them received two or more starred professional reviews. Recommended grade levels represent the range of grade levels recommended by professional book reviewers.