New Release Spotlight : January 31, 2023

It’s New Release Spotlight time! Here’s what’s awesome about this week’s list:

  • The picture books–wow!!! So many with two or more starred professional reviews!
  • three YA titles featuring teen males of color as protagonists
  • a teen romance set during the Covid-19 lockdowns
  • a middle grade mystery set in a spooky old mansion
  • two picture books for older readers; one about the Ukraine War, and the other about the Confederate flag controversy

This week’s Spotlight titles are #3030-#3048 on The Ginormous book list.

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*Reggie and Delilah’s Year of Falling by Elise Bryant

Delilah always keeps her messy, gooey insides hidden behind a wall of shrugs and yeah, whatevers. She goes with the flow–which is how she ends up singing in her friends’ punk band as a favor, even though she’d prefer to hide at the merch table.

Reggie is a D&D Dungeon Master and self-declared Blerd. He spends his free time leading quests and writing essays critiquing the game under a pseudonym, keeping it all under wraps from his disapproving family.

These two, who have practically nothing in common, meet for the first time on New Year’s Eve. And then again on Valentine’s Day. And then again on St. Patrick’s Day. It’s almost like the universe is pushing them together for a reason.

Delilah wishes she were more like Reggie–open about what she likes and who she is, even if it’s not cool. Except…it’s all a front. Reggie is just role-playing someone confident. The kind of guy who could be with a girl like Delilah.

As their holiday meetings continue, the two begin to fall for each other. But what happens once they realize they’ve each fallen for a version of the other that doesn’t really exist?

BCCB and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): romance, rom-com
  • Setting: various holidays throughout the year
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: holidays, self-confidence, relationships, coming of age, punk rock bands, shyness, racism, nerd culture, new kid in town, dyslexia
  • Protagonist description: male, Black, age 17, dyslexic; female, biracial Black, age 16

*Promise Boys by Nick Brooks

The Urban Promise Prep School vows to turn boys into men. As students, J.B., Ramón, and Trey are forced to follow the prestigious “program’s” strict rules. Extreme discipline, they’ve been told, is what it takes to be college bound, to avoid the fates of many men in their neighborhoods. This, the Principal Moore Method, supposedly saves lives.

But when Moore ends up murdered and the cops come sniffing around, the trio emerges as the case’s prime suspects. With all three maintaining their innocence, they must band together to track down the real killer before they are arrested. But is the true culprit hiding among them?

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): mystery
  • Setting: Washington, D.C. prep school
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: extreme discipline, prep schools, crime, murder, detectives, false accusations, racism, prejudice, multiple viewpoints, flashbacks, systemic inequality
  • Protagonist description: three males, two Black and one Salvadoran

*The Davenports by Krystal Marquis

Debut author! The Davenports are one of the few Black families of immense wealth and status in a changing United States, their fortune made through the entrepreneurship of William Davenport, a formerly enslaved man who founded the Davenport Carriage Company years ago. Now it’s 1910, and the Davenports live surrounded by servants, crystal chandeliers, and endless parties, finding their way and finding love–even where they’re not supposed to.

There is Olivia, the beautiful elder Davenport daughter, ready to do her duty by getting married…until she meets the charismatic civil rights leader Washington DeWight and sparks fly. The younger daughter, Helen, is more interested in fixing cars than falling in love–unless it’s with her sister’s suitor. Amy-Rose, the childhood friend turned maid to the Davenport sisters, dreams of opening her own business–and marrying the one man she could never be with, Olivia and Helen’s brother, John.

But Olivia’s best friend, Ruby, also has her sights set on John Davenport, though she can’t seem to keep his interest…until family pressure has her scheming to win his heart, just as someone else wins hers.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred. Give this to fans of A Sitting in St. James by Rita Williams-Garcia.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, romance
  • Setting: Chicago, Illinois, USA; 1910
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: wealthy families, politics, family, dating
  • Protagonist description: three Black teen siblings, one male and two female; follows them from childhood into adulthood

*The Cartographers by Amy Zhang

Ocean Sun has always felt an enormous pressure to succeed.

After struggling with depression during her senior year of high school, Ocean moves to New York City, where she has been accepted at a prestigious university. But Ocean feels so emotionally raw and unmoored (and uncertain about what is real and what is not) that she decides to defer and live off her savings until she can get herself together.

She also decides not to tell her mother (whom she loves very much but doesn’t want to disappoint) that she is deferring–at least until she absolutely must.

In New York, Ocean moves into an apartment with Georgie and Tashya, two strangers who soon become friends, and gets a job tutoring. She also meets a boy–Constantine Brave (a name that makes her laugh)–late one night on the subway.

Constant is a fellow student and a graffiti artist, and Constant and Ocean soon start corresponding via Google Docs–they discuss physics, philosophy, art, literature, and love. But everything falls apart when Ocean goes home for Thanksgiving, Constant reveals his true character, Georgie and Tashya break up, and the police get involved.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: New York City
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: mental health, depression, pressure to succeed, university students, friendship, anxiety, suicidal ideation
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, Chinese American, high school graduate lying about attending university

Play the Game by Charlene Allen

In the game of life, sometimes other people hold all the controls. Or so it seems to VZ. Four months have passed since his best friend Ed was killed by a white man in a Brooklyn parking lot.

When Singer, the man who killed Ed, is found dead in the same spot where Ed was murdered, all signs point to Jack, VZ’s other best friend, as the prime suspect.

VZ’s determined to complete the video game Ed never finished and figure out who actually killed Singer. With help from Diamond, the girl he’s crushing on at work, VZ falls into Ed’s quirky gameiverse. As the police close in on Jack, the game starts to uncover details that could lead to the truth about the murder.

Can VZ honor Ed and help Jack before it’s too late?

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): mystery, thriller
  • Setting: Brooklyn, New York, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: detectives, murder, grief, friendship, video games, teens with jobs, justice
  • Protagonist description: male, age 17, Black

Then Everything Happens At Once by M-E Girard

Baylee has never been kissed but she wants to do way more than that. She’s had a huge crush on her gorgeous best friend and neighbor Freddie for years, but since she doesn’t look like his usual type, the judgmental voice in her head tells her he’ll never see her as more than a friend. It feels like she’ll spend the rest of high school fantasizing on the sidelines while everyone else dates and hooks up.

Then Baylee meets Alex online and she starts to fall for this sweet, funny barista who likes her just as she is. It’s new, electric, and all-consuming to be around Alex. But when Freddie makes a move on Baylee and a virus shuts the world down, Baylee finds herself torn.

Everything is happening at once, and she is left navigating the messy waters of love and desire. It helps that she’s observed her friends’ relationship drama, so she knows exactly what mistakes not to make…right?

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Setting: Toronto suburb
  • Recommended for: Grade 9-12
  • Themes: Covid-19, pandemics, lockdowns, self-esteem, weight issues, self-confidence, sexual relationships
  • Protagonist description: female, age 16, white, Canadian, overweight

*Simon Sort of Says by Erin Bow

Simon O’Keeffe’s biggest claim to fame should be the time his dad accidentally gave a squirrel a holy sacrament. Or maybe the alpaca disaster that went viral on YouTube. But the story the whole world wants to tell about Simon is the one he’d do anything to forget: the story in which he’s the only kid in his class who survived a school shooting.

Two years after the infamous event, twelve-year-old Simon and his family move to the National Quiet Zone–the only place in America where the internet is banned. Instead of talking about Simon, the astronomers who flock to the area are busy listening for signs of life in space. And when Simon makes a friend who’s determined to give the scientists what they’re looking for, he’ll finally have the chance to spin a new story for the world to tell.

Kirkus and BCCB starred.Though sad topics underlie the premise, this is classified and reviewed as humor.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, humor
  • Setting: Grin And Bear It, Nebraska
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: school shootings, survivor’s guilt, banning of information, internet, astronomy, gun violence, therapy, homeschooling, service dogs
  • Protagonist description: male, age 12, white

*The Carrefour Curse by Dianne K. Salerni

Twelve-year-old Garnet regrets that she doesn’t know her family. Her mother has done her best to keep it that way, living far from the rest of the magical Carrefour clan and their dark, dangerous mansion known as Crossroad House.

But when Garnet finally gets summoned to the estate, it isn’t quite what she hoped for. Her relatives are strange and quarrelsome, each room in Crossroad House is more dilapidated than the last, and she can’t keep straight which dusty hallways and cobwebbed corners are forbidden.

Then Garnet learns the family secret: their dying patriarch fights to retain his life by stealing power from others. Every accident that isn’t an accident, every unexpected illness and unexplained disappearance grants Jasper Carrefour a little more time. While the Carrefours squabbles over who will inherit his role when (if) he dies, Garnet encounters evidence of an even deeper curse. Was she brought to Crossroad House as part of the curse…or is she meant to break it?

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): mystery, supernatural, spooky stories
  • Setting: Crossroad House, a dangerous and sentient old mansion
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: family, magic, old mansions, family secrets, curses, sentient objects, generational trauma
  • Protagonist description: female, age 12, white

Rare Birds by Jeff Miller

Twelve-year-old Graham Dodds is no stranger to hospital waiting rooms. Sometimes, he feels like his entire life is one big waiting room.

Waiting for the next doctor to tell them what’s wrong with his mom. Waiting to find out what city they’re moving to next. Waiting to see if they will finally get their miracle–a heart transplant to save his mom’s life.

When Graham gets stuck in Florida for the summer, he meets a girl named Lou at the hospital, and he finds a friend who needs a distraction as much as he does. She tells him about a contest to find the endangered Snail Kite, which resides in the local gator-filled swamps. Together they embark on an adventure, searching for the rare bird…and along the way, Graham might just find something else–himself.

School Library Connection starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: Sugarland, Florida, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: chronic illness (parent), medical care, moving frequently, heart transplants, friendship, Florida wildlife, birds, endangered animals
  • Protagonist description: male, age 11, white

Where the Black Flowers Bloom by Ronald L. Smith

In the land of Alkebulan, twelve-year-old Asha is an orphan, raised by Madame S, the proprietor of a traveling carnival. When Madame S is attacked by ghoulish creatures, she manages to tell Asha before she dies, “Seek the Underground Kingdom, where the black flowers bloom.”

Asha doesn’t understand the mysterious words, but they launch her onto a page-turning quest to protect her people and stop an ancient evil.

Along the way, she uncovers shocking secrets about the family she never knew and begins to find her place in the world as she discovers her own untapped powers.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Setting: fictional continent of Alkebulan
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: good versus evil, magic, quests, orphans, carnivals, powers, African mythology, family, belonging
  • Protagonist description: female, age 12-13, Black, orphan

*Nell Plants a Tree by Anne Wynter (Author) and Daniel Miyares (Illustrator)

Before her grandchildren climbed the towering tree,

explored its secret nests,

raced to its sturdy trunk,

read in its cool shade,

or made pies with its pecans…

Nell buried a seed.

And just as Nell’s tree grows and thrives with her love and care, so do generations of her close-knit family.

Inspired by the pecan trees of the creators’ own childhoods, Anne Wynter’s lyrical picture book, brought to life with breathtaking illustrations by Daniel Miyares, brims with wonder and love.

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: two timelines (one past, one present) around the same pecan tree
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: family, community, generations, trees, dual timelines
  • Protagonist description: Black family over the generations

*You Gotta Meet Mr. Pierce! by Chiquita Mullins Lee (Author), Carmella Van Vleet (Author), and Jennifer Mack-Watkins (Illustrator)

“Creeeeak!” goes the screen door to self-taught artist Elijah Pierce’s barbershop art studio. A young boy walks in for an ordinary haircut and walks out having discovered a lifetime of art.

Mr. Pierce’s wood carvings are in every corner of the small studio. There are animals, scenes from his life, and those detailing the socio-political world around him. It’s this collection of work that will eventually win Elijah the National Heritage Fellowship in 1982 just two years before his death. But the young boy visiting the shop in the 1970s doesn’t know that yet. All he knows is: “You gotta meet Mr. Pierce!”

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): informational picture book
  • Setting: Columbus, Ohio, USA
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: barbers, artists, hair, wood carving, multi-talented people, Black history, based on a true story
  • Protagonist description: male, African American, artist

*The Gentle Genius of Trees by Philip Bunting

What could we clever humans ever learn from trees? Find out when you take a stroll through the woods and learn a few life lessons from our foliaged friends in this truly special book filled with graphic illustrations.

With humor and heart, readers will encounter a small forest of facts. They’ll explore the brilliance of trees in creating one interconnected wood-wide web that enables their community to collaborate with each other, share resources, warn of threats, and survive and thrive together.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): informational picture book
  • Setting: forest
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: the importance of trees, conservation, Earth Day, nature, survival, natural community, adaptations, interconnectedness of living things, forests, botany, environmental science

*Jump In! by Shadra Strickland

It’s a sunny spring day, and the tic tac tic tac sound of jump ropes hitting the ground floats through the wind.

“Jump in!”

Everyone lines up for a turn. The Delancy twins, double dutch divas. Leroy Jones with the hip-hop tricks. Even Ms. Mabel, showing the youngstas how it’s done. And after a day of fun, when the street lights start to flicker, it’s time to…jump out!

With a bold graphic style, read-aloud enhancing gatefolds, and an exuberance that leaps off the page, acclaimed artist Shadra Strickland’s author/illustrator debut will make readers of all ages get up on their feet!

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: playground in an African American community
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: play, community, jumping rope, playground games, rhyming books, mural art
  • Protagonist description: most characters are Black

*Yellow Butterfly: A Story From Ukraine by Oleksandr Shatokhin

A wordless picture book portrayal of war seen through the eyes of a young girl who finds hope in the symbolism of yellow butterflies against the background of a pure blue sky.

Using the colors of his national flag, Oleksandr Shatokhin has created a deeply emotional response to the conflict in Ukraine and provided a narrative full of powerful visual metaphors for readers to consider as they travel from the devastating effects of war to a place of hope for peace and the future.

A portion of the sale of this book will be donated to the Universal Reading Foundation who supply children’s books to Ukraine.
Back matter includes notes on sharing a wordless picture book and how to talk to children about war.

Kirkus and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): wordless picture book; picture book for older readers
  • Setting: Ukraine
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 7
  • Themes: war, Ukraine, Eastern Europe, butterflies, Ukraine flag, visual metaphor, peace, hope, resilience
  • Protagonist description: young girl, solid white with black outlines

Worm and Caterpillar Are Friends by Kaz Windness

Worm and Caterpillar are friends—best friends. Worm loves how they are just alike, but Caterpillar has a feeling there is a big change coming. Then Caterpillar disappears for a while and comes back as Butterfly. Will Butterfly and Worm still be friends?

Ready-to-Read Graphics books give readers the perfect introduction to the graphic novel format with easy-to-follow panels, speech bubbles with accessible vocabulary, and sequential storytelling that is spot-on for beginning readers. There’s even a how-to guide for reading graphic novels at the beginning of each book.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): early readers, graphic novel
  • Setting: nature, outdoors
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: animals, worms, caterpillars, books for spring, friendship, metamorphosis of a butterfly, acceptance, change
  • Protagonist description: a pink and purple worm and a brown and orange caterpillar

*Welcome to the World by Julia Donaldson (Author) and Helen Oxenbury (Illustrator)

From the comfort of home to the adventures of the great outdoors, from spending time with family to first encounters with nature, this lyrical rhyming picture book will be relatable for all caretakers introducing their babies to the world.

Booklist and SLJ starred. I’ve included this book because it’s a popular author, and it received two starred reviews. It would make a great book for a baby shower or gift for new parents, but it is not a must for the school library.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: newborn babies, parents and children, multigenerational families, happiness, joy, love, gift books for new parents or baby showers
  • Protagonist description: characters are diverse

That Flag by Tameka Fryer Brown (Author) and Nikkolas Smith (Illustrator)

Bianca is Keira’s best friend. At school, they are inseparable. But Keira questions their friendship when she learns more about the meaning of the Confederate flag hanging from Bianca’s front porch. Will the two friends be able to overlook their distinct understandings of the flag? Or will they reckon with the flag’s effect on yesterday and today?

In That Flag, Tameka Fryer Brown and Nikkolas Smith graciously tackle the issues of racism, the value of friendship, and the importance of understanding history so that we move forward together in a thought-provoking, stirring, yet ultimately tender tale.

A perfect conversation starter for the older and younger generations alike, this book includes back matter on the history of the Confederate flag and notes from the creators.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book for older readers
  • Setting: elementary school and neighborhood
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-5
  • Themes: interracial friendship, Confederate flag, racism, US history, contemporary issues in the news, discrimination, social issues, symbols of hate, civil rights, gun violence
  • Protagonist description: two elementary-age female friends; one white, one black

*All the Beating Hearts by Julie Fogliano (Author) and Cátia Chien (Illustrator)

At the start of a day brimming with possibilities, a gentle narrator whimsically explores everything the day might bring, from work to play, and all the sweet moments in between, like watching clouds and seeing something grow.

In the moment when day inevitably turns to night, we are reminded that “we are all just hearts beating in the darkness.” This quiet space serves as a reminder of our shared existence, the very core of what brings us together. As a new dawn continues the cycle, that truth is a strong and steady pulse beneath the rhythm of another busy morning.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: dawn
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: nature, dawn, hearts, quiet, cycle of the day, morning, meditation, existence, daily routines
  • Protagonist description: human characters have varying skin tones, from tan to darker brown




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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