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New Release Spotlight: February 14, 2023

A small-ish Spotlight for this Valentine’s Day!

Here’s what’s great about this week’s list:

  • Three books with three starred professional reviews
  • New titles from Lois Lowry, Gloria Chao, Heather Fawcett, and Amy Hest

This week’s top picks:

  • And Other Mistakes by Erika Turner (YA)
  • The Grace of Wild Things by Heather Fawcett (MG)
  • One Tiny Treefrog: A Countdown to Survival by Tony Piedra (picture book)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #3070-#3086 on The Ginormous book list.


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*My Flawless Life by Yvonne Woon

At the most elite private school in Washington, DC, whenever anyone has a problem that they need to go away, they hire Hana Yang Lerner.

Hana is a fixer. She knows who to call, what to say, and how to make sure secrets stay where they belong–buried. She can fix anything. Except her own life, which was destroyed when her father, senator Skip Lerner, was arrested for an accident that left one woman nearly dead.

Now Hana’s reputation is ruined and her friends are gone. So when she gets a job from an anonymous client called “Three” to follow her former best friend, Luce Herrera, Hana realizes this might be her way of getting back her old life.

But the dangerous thing about digging is that you never know what you’ll unearth. As Hana uncovers a dark truth about her supposedly flawless classmates, she’s forced to face a secret of her own.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): mystery
  • Setting: Washington, DC prep school
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: prep schools, secrets, political parents, no friends, former friends, scandals, privilege, wealthy families
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, biracial (Chinese American and white)

*And Other Mistakes by Erika Turner

Aaliyah’s home life has never been great, but she thought she’d survive her last years of high school with at least her friendships and cross-country stardom intact. That is, until junior year struck: she got outed by a church elder and everything came undone–including Aaliyah.

Now, senior year is about to start and she is determined to come back faster and wiser. No more letting other people define her. No more losing herself to their expectations.

Except… well, with new friends, old flames, nosy school counselors, and teammates who don’t trust her yet, the route already feels rough. And what’s with the new girl, Tessa, who gives Aaliyah butterflies every time she looks at her? Regardless, everything is fine. She’ll be fine. Because this is the year to prove to everyone–and most of all, herself–that she’s more than her mistakes. After all, even Aaliyah can’t outrun everything.

BCCB and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: abusive parent (father), alcoholic parent (father), coming out in an unsupportive family and environment, LGBTQIA+, friendship, relationships and dating
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, Black, queer

Always the Almost by Edward Underhill

Sixteen-year-old trans boy Miles Jacobson has two New Year’s resolutions: 1) win back his ex-boyfriend (and star of the football team) Shane McIntyre, and 2) finally beat his slimy arch-nemesis at the Midwest’s biggest classical piano competition. But that’s not going to be so easy. For one thing, Shane broke up with Miles two weeks after Miles came out as trans, and now Shane’s stubbornly ignoring him, even when they literally bump into each other. Plus, Miles’ new, slightly terrifying piano teacher keeps telling him that he’s playing like he “doesn’t know who he is”–whatever that means.

Then Miles meets the new boy in town, Eric Mendez, a proudly queer cartoonist from Seattle who asks his pronouns, cares about art as much as he does–and makes his stomach flutter. Not what he needs to be focusing on right now. But after Eric and Miles pretend to date so they can score an invite to a couples-only Valentine’s party, the ruse turns real with a kiss, which is also definitely not in the plan. If only Miles could figure out why Eric likes him so much. After all, it’s not like he’s cool or confident or comfortable in his own skin. He’s not even good enough at piano to get his fellow competitors to respect him, especially now, as Miles. Nothing’s ever been as easy for him as for other people–other boys. He’s only ever been almost enough.

So why, when he’s with Eric, does it feel like the only person he’s ever really not been enough for…is himself?

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): romance, rom-com
  • Setting: small town in Wisconsin, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: musicians, classical piano players, transgender, identity, LGBTQIA+, fake dating, New Year’s Resolutions, Valentine’s Day, self-confidence
  • Protagonist description: trans boy, age 16, white

*When You Wish Upon a Lantern by Gloria Chao

Liya and Kai had been best friends since they were little kids, but all that changed when a humiliating incident sparked The Biggest Misunderstanding of All Time–and they haven’t spoken since.

Then Liya discovers her family’s wishing lantern store is struggling, and she decides to resume a tradition she had with her beloved late grandmother: secretly fulfilling the wishes people write on the lanterns they send into the sky. It may boost sales and save the store, but she can’t do it alone…and Kai is the only one who cares enough to help.

While working on their covert missions, Liya and Kai rekindle their friendship–and maybe more. But when their feuding families and changing futures threaten to tear them apart again, can they find a way to make their own wishes come true?

Publishers Weekly starred. What a pretty cover!

  • Genre(s): rom-com, romance
  • Setting: Chinatown, Chicago, Illinois, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: former friends, misunderstandings, family businesses, wishes, feuding families, Chinese culture, Chinese traditions, Chinese folklore
  • Protagonist description: male and female, teens, both Taiwanese American

Revelle by Lyssa Mia Smith

Debut author! Luxe Revelle, star of her family’s fantastical show, knows the splendor is just an illusion. With Prohibition threatening their livelihood, her family struggles to make a living, watering down champagne and patching holes in their sequined costumes. So when the son of Charmant’s wealthiest family makes her an offer–everything the Revelles need to stay in business, in exchange for posing as his girl and helping him become mayor–she can’t refuse.

The moment Jamison Port sets foot in Charmant, he can’t shake the feeling of familiarity. An orphan with as few memories as gemstones, he’s desperate to learn what happened to his parents. But as he delves into the island’s secrets, he risks angering the wrong person and discovering a truth that just might break his heart.

When Luxe and Jamison accidentally meet, the sparks that fly are more than her magical enchantments. But keeping secrets from powerful people is a dangerous game…one that could destroy them both.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, historical fiction
  • Setting: Charmant, a small island off the coast of New York City, during Prohibition (1920-1933)
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: performance arts, magic, illusions, Prohibition, fake relationships, wealth, privilege, orphans, Moulin Rouge
  • Protagonist description: female, age 18, white; male, age 19, white

Planning Perfect by Haley Neil

Felicity Becker loves watching an event come together. Whether it’s prom, graduation, or just the annual Arbor Day school dance, there’s something magical about crafting an experience that people will remember. So when her mom gets engaged, Felicity sees the wedding as the perfect opportunity to show off her skills.

After Felicity’s long-distance friend Nancy offers up her family’s apple orchard as a venue, wedding planning gets even better. But the more time Felicity and Nancy spend together dress shopping and hunting for just-right mismatched china, the more it starts to seem like there might be something besides friendship between them. Felicity isn’t sure how she feels. As someone on the asexual spectrum, what would dating even look like for her? And would Nancy be open to dating when Felicity doesn’t even know what she wants from a relationship?

Suddenly the summer is a lot more complicated. Especially when Felicity finds out that one of the wedding guests is an event planner with a prestigious internship available. Can Felicity wrangle her irresponsible mom, juggle her judgmental grandmother, figure out her feelings for Nancy, and plan the perfect wedding? Or will all of her plans come crashing down around her?

  • Genre(s): romance, rom-com
  • Setting: Boston, Massachusetts and Vermont, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: weddings, stepfamilies, event planning, LGBTQIA+, asexuality, being organized and precise, anxiety
  • Protagonist description: female, age 16, Jewish, asexual; love interest is female, Swedish and Korean American

*The Grace of Wild Things by Heather Fawcett

Grace has never been good at anything except magic–not that anyone believes her.

While other children are adopted from the orphanage, nobody wants Grace. So she decides to make a home for herself by running away and offering herself as an apprentice to the witch in the nearby woods. After all, who better to teach Grace to use her magic? Surely the witch can’t be that bad.

But the witch is that bad–she steals souls for spells and gobbles up hearts. So Grace offers a deal: If she can learn all 100½ spells in the witch’s grimoire, the witch will make Grace her apprentice. But if Grace fails, the witch can take her magic. The witch agrees, and soon an unexpected bond develops between them.

But the spells are much harder than Grace expected, and when a monster from the witch’s past threatens the home Grace has built, she may have to sacrifice more than her magic to save it.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred. Give this to fans of The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Setting: Prince Edward Island, Maritimes, Canada
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: magic, orphans, unwanted children, witches, stealing souls, monsters, bullying, loneliness, famous classic authors, foreshadowing of chapter with quotations from classic literature, Anne of Green Gables
  • Protagonist description: female, witch, age 12, white

Speculation by Nisi Shawl

Debut author! After Winna’s little sister breaks her glasses, her grandfather gives her an old-timey pair of spectacles that belonged to her great-aunt Estelle. The specs are silver and perfectly circular, with tiny stars on the bridge and earpieces that curl all the way around her ears.

Best of all, they’re magic.

Because when Winna makes a wish beginning with the words What if–that is, when she speculates–the spectacles grant it. Winna wishes she could see ghosts…and soon she meets not only the real Estelle, but Estelle’s mother, Winona. Nearly a century before, Winona escaped from slavery and ran north with her baby, Key. But Key was stolen from her under mysterious circumstances, and now Estelle and Winona have a mission for Winna: Find Key.

He’s still alive. He doesn’t know the whole truth. And unless Winna can solve the mystery and bring him home, a powerful curse called the Burden will smother out their family’s lives–and Winna’s mom could be its next victim.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, fantasy, mystery
  • Setting: Vandalia, a town that was historically on the Underground Railroad (Michigan, USA?)
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: magical objects, glasses, granting wishes, slavery, US history, kidnapped children, family history, ghosts, Underground Railroad, family curses
  • Protagonist description: female, age 10, Black

Juniper Harvey and the Vanishing Kingdom by Nina Varela

Debut author! When Juniper Harvey’s family moves to the middle of nowhere in Florida, her entire life is uprooted. As if that’s not bad enough, she keeps having dreams about an ancient-looking temple, a terrifying attack, and a mysterious girl who turns into an ivory statue.

One night after a disastrous school dance, Juniper draws a portrait of the girl from her dreams and thinks, I wish you were here. The next morning, she wakes up to find the girl in her room…pointing a sword at her throat!

The unexpected visitor reveals herself as Galatea, a princess from a magical other world. One problem–her crown is missing, and she needs it in order to return home. Now, it’s up to Juniper to help find the crown, all while navigating a helpless crush on her new companion. And things go from bad to worse when a sinister force starts chasing after the crown too.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): adventure, fantasy
  • Setting: small town in Florida, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: new kid in town, moving, dreams, princesses, other worlds, friendship, loneliness, anxiety, Greek mythology, Pygmalion, female-female crushes, worldbuilding
  • Protagonist description: female, age 11, white

The Windeby Puzzle: History and Story by Lois Lowry

Estrild is not like the other girls in her village; she wants to be a warrior. Varick, the orphan boy who helps her train in spite of his twisted back, also stands apart. In a world where differences are poorly tolerated, just how much danger are they in?

Inspired by the true discovery of the 2,000-year-old Windeby bog body in Northern Germany, Newbery Medalist and master storyteller Lois Lowry transports readers to an Iron age world as she breathes life back into the Windeby child, left in the bog to drown with a woolen blindfold over its eyes.

This suspenseful exploration of lives that might have been by a gifted, intellectually curious author is utterly one of a kind. Includes several arresting photos of archeological finds, including of the Windeby child.

This story is breathes life into a true story of a 2000-year old bog child mummy discovered in 1952. Include full-page artwork, a bibliography, and discussion questions. This book would make a great middle school book club read!

  • Genre(s): mystery, historical fiction
  • Setting: Windeby, Germany, 2000 years ago
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: ancient world, iron age, warriors, traditional gender roles, based on a true story of a 2000-year old bog child mummy discovered in 1952, worldbuilding, friendship, disabilities (twisted back)
  • Protagonist description: female, age 13, German

Super Pancake by Megan Wagner Lloyd (Author) and Abhi Alwar (Illustrator)

Life in Breakfast Town is pretty uneventful for Peggy Pancake. Her parents are always on her case, she’s stuck in her perfect brother’s shadow, and she just can’t seem to avoid the Bacon Bullies at school.

That is until one day, after an accidental mixup, Peggy finds herself with superhero abilities…Now Peggy can flip! She can fight! She can FLY!

With the help of her new friend, Luc Croissant, Peggy must master her newfound skills. But danger is lurking in the Maple Mountains, where the evil Dr. Breakfast Sandwich and his wicked Henchtoasts are plotting something sinister.

Can Peggy harness her powers and save all that is dear?

  • Genre(s): early chapter book, graphic novel, humor
  • Setting: Breakfast Town
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-5
  • Themes: pancakes, breakfast foods, bullying, superheros, special abilities, good vs. evil, personification
  • Protagonist description: female anthropomorphized pancake who attends elementary school

*We Go Way Back: A Book About Life on Earth and How it All Began by Idan Ben-Barak (Author) and Philip Bunting (Illustrator)

It’s not an easy question.
Life is more than just one thing.
Where did it start?
Peer back in time–way back in time–to the story of how life began…

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): informational picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: life on Earth, beginnings of life, science, family trees, plant life, animal life
  • Protagonist description: human is represented as a dark-skinned boy

*Rabbit, Duck, and Big Bear by Nadine Brun-Cosme (Author) and Olivier Tallec (Illustrator)

Rabbit, Duck, and Big Bear are best friends. They do everything together and go everywhere together except for one place. They never go down the long and winding path together.

But this winter, when Rabbit, Duck, and Big Bear go skating on the frozen pond, Rabbit loses control and barrels straight down the path. What she finds there is one of the most beautiful places she has ever seen, but to her surprise, Big Bear and Duck both admit they sometimes go there when they want to be alone. And while she sits in the quiet calm, Rabbit begins to understand why. In this story rich with social emotional learning, young readers will see the importance of balancing time with friends and time spent on their own.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: forest
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: best friends, solitude, alone time, quiet, balance, animals, friendship, seasons
  • Protagonist description: rabbit, duck, bear

One Tiny Treefrog: A Countdown to Survival by Tony Piedra (Author) and Mackenzie Joy (Author)

Deep in the tropical forest of Costa Rica, ten sticky frog eggs cling to a leaf.

Only nine eggs hatch. Only eight tadpoles wind up in the water below. What will it take to survive the countdown to adulthood and begin the cycle again?

This beautifully designed, color-drenched introduction to frog metamorphosis peeks at this animal’s habitats and predators as it illustrates competition and natural selection.

Cocreators Mackenzie Joy and Tony Piedra have crafted a dazzling spin on the life of one of nature’s darlings, the red-eyed treefrog. Back matter invites budding naturalists to discover even more treefrog facts, revisit the pages to spot other Costa Rican species, and check out a bibliography.

  • Genre(s): informational picture book
  • Setting: Costa Rica
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: red-eyed tree frogs, animals, rainforests, survival, counting down, natural selection, life cycles, onomatopoeia
  • Protagonist description: 10 baby red-eyed tree frogs

*Sometimes It’s Nice to Be Alone by Amy Hest (Author) and Philip C. Stead (Illustrator)

Sometimes it’s nice to be alone.
Just you, eating a cookie, alone.
But what if a friend drops in?

Anyone can become a potential friend–and that includes horses, whales, crocodiles, and even dinosaurs.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: one day in the life of a young child
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: solitude, friendship, toys, imagination, play
  • Protagonist description: tan-skinned child with black hair

 

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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.

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