New Release Spotlight: March 21, 2023

I’ve got a somewhat shorter Spotlight this week! I had originally planned to skip this week’s Spotlight for spring break, but there were several titles I didn’t want you to miss! So I just decided to make it a little shorter. Middle grade titles are my favorites this week.

Want to share these titles with your students? I’ve got all 13 of this week’s titles in this YouTube video or in the Google Slideshow below.

This week’s top picks:

  • Free Radicals by Lila Riesen
  • Bea Wolf by Zach Weinersmith
  • Remember by Joy Harjo

This week’s Spotlight titles are #3172-#3184 on The Ginormous book list.

Click here to make a copy of this presentation in your Google Drive.
You can then edit as needed to suit your school.

Belle of the Ball by Mari Costa

High-school senior and notorious wallflower Hawkins finally works up the courage to remove her mascot mask and ask out her longtime crush: Regina Moreno, head cheerleader, academic overachiever, and all-around popular girl.

There’s only one teensy little problem: Regina is already dating Chloe Kitagawa, athletic all-star…and middling English student. Regina sees a perfectly self-serving opportunity here, and asks the smitten Hawkins to tutor Chloe free of charge, knowing Hawkins will do anything to get closer to her.

And while Regina’s plan works at first, she doesn’t realize that Hawkins and Chloe knew each other as kids, when Hawkins went by Belle and wore princess dresses to school every single day. Before long, romance does start to blossom…but not between who you might expect.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, rom-com, romance
  • Setting: high school
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: love triangles, tutoring, school mascots, LGBT+
  • Protagonist description: female, HS senior, queer, white, Jewish; secondary characters are diverse

*Free Radicals by Lila Riesen

Debut author! Sixteen-year-old Mafi Shahin is well-aware that life is not always fair. If it was fair, her parents might allow her to hang out with a member of the male species, other than her cat Mr. Meowgi. If it was fair, her crush and basketball hottie Jalen Thomas might see her as more than just her brother’s kid sister. And if it was fair, her baba’s brother and wife would be able to leave Afghanistan and come to America.

Life might not be fair–but she can make it a bit more even. Working as the Ghost of Santa Margarita High, Mafi serves dollops of justice on her classmates’ behalf as the school’s secret avenger. They leave a note declaring the crime and Mafi ensures the offender receives an anonymous karmic-sized dose of payback. Keeping her identity as the Ghost a secret sometimes means Mafi has to lie. But as those lies begin to snowball both at school and at home, even compromising their family’s secret past and putting their relatives back in Afghanistan at risk, Mafi is forced to decide how she wants to live her life–trying to make the world more fair from the shadows or loudly and publicly standing up for what’s right.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): adventure, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: vigilante justice, revenge, secret identities, superheroes, racism, injustice, discrimination, sexism, family problems, pranks, imperialism, xenophobia, consequences of war
  • Protagonist description: female, age 16, Afghan American, biracial (Afghan and white)

Three Drops of Blood by Gretchen McNeil

Being an actress, Kate is no stranger to drama. And when her chance at a leading role gets cancelled, she is willing to do whatever it takes to get her acting career back on track even if that means getting a boring office job at her best friend’s father’s law firm so she can prove to her parents she can to support herself rather than go back to high school.

Now, rather than living life on the big screen, she is stuck filing mundane contracts and watching the people in the office across from hers live their equally boring lives.

But when Kate sees things heat up between a woman and her assistant, her new source of entertainment take a turn for the worse when she witnesses a double murder. Now, she must get anyone to believe her and find out who this mystery woman is to get answers. But as she learns more and more about the circumstances leading to the gruesome act, she begins to realize there is a bigger mystery under the surface…

  • Genre(s): mystery, thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: murder, teens with jobs, witness to murder, actors, law firms
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, white, plus-sized

While You Were Dreaming by Alisha Rai

Debut author! It’s a classic story: girl meets boy, girl falls for boy, boy finally notices girl when he sees her in a homemade costume. At least, that’s what Sonia Patil is hoping for when she plans to meet her crush at the local comic-con in cosplay.

But instead of winning her crush over, Sonia rescues him after he faints into a canal and, suddenly, everything changes. Since she was in disguise, no one knows who the masked do-gooder was…but everyone is trying to find out. Sonia can’t let that happen–her sister is undocumented, and the girls have been flying under the radar since their mother was deported back to Mumbai.

Sonia finds herself hiding from social media detectives and trying to connect with her crush and his family. But juggling crushes and a secret identity might just take superpowers. Can Sonia hide in plain sight forever?

  • Genre(s): romance, rom-com
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: comic-con, cosplay, saving someone’s life, undocumented immigrants, social media, secret identity, superheroes, stress over health care, While You Were Sleeping (1990s film), American citizenship
  • Protagonist description: female, Indian American, HS junior; love interest male is Black and Indian

*The Monkey Trial: John Scopes and the Battle over Teaching Evolution by Anita Sanchez

Arrested? For teaching? John Scopes’s crime riveted the world, and crowds flocked to the trial of the man who dared to tell students about a forbidden topic–evolution.

The year was 1925, and discussing Darwin’s theory of evolution was illegal in Tennessee classrooms. Lawyers wanted to challenge the law, and businessmen smelled opportunity. But no one imagined the firestorm the Scopes Trial would ignite–or the media circus that would follow.

As reporters, souvenir-hawking vendors, angry protestors, and even real monkeys mobbed the courthouse, a breathless public followed the action live on national radio broadcasts. All were fascinated by the bitter duel between science and religion, an argument that boiled down to the question of who controls what students can learn–an issue that resonates to this day.

Through contemporary visuals and evocative prose, Anita Sanchez vividly captures the passion, personalities, and pageantry of the infamous “Monkey Trial,” highlighting the quiet dignity of the teacher who stood up for his students’ right to learn.

THREE starred reviews! Grade level recommendations widely vary, ranging from Grades 3-7 (PW) to Grades 8-12 (SLJ). I personally would not add this to elementary, but I would likely add it to middle school and definitely to high school. I remember studying the Scopes Monkey Trial in my 10th Grade Biology class, way back in 1991.

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction
  • Setting: Tennessee, 1925
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-12
  • Themes: Charles Darwin, evolution, controversy, teaching, famous court cases, law, Supreme Court, news media, protests, radio, US history, science vs. religion, schools, right to learn, 1920s, Clarence Darrow
  • Protagonist description: real-life people from the trial – John Scopes, Clarence Darrow, William Jennings Bryan

*Bea Wolf by Zach Weinersmith (Author) and Boulet (Illustrator)

Listen! Hear a tale of mallow-munchers and warriors who answer candy’s clarion call!

Somewhere in a generic suburb stands Treeheart, a kid-forged sanctuary where generations of tireless tykes have spent their youths making merry, spilling soda, and staving off the shadow of adulthood. One day, these brave warriors find their fun cut short by their nefarious neighbor Grindle, who can no longer tolerate the sounds of mirth seeping into his joyless adult life.

As the guardian of gloom lays siege to Treeheart, scores of kids suddenly find themselves transformed into pimply teenagers and sullen adults! The survivors of the onslaught cry out for a savior–a warrior whose will is unbreakable and whose appetite for mischief is unbounded.

They call for Bea Wolf.

FIVE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): retelling, graphic novel
  • Setting: Treeheart, a magnificent treehouse in an unnamed suburb
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: Beowulf, childhood vs. adulthood, adults vs. kids
  • Protagonist description: diverse group of children

Dear Mothman by Robin Gow

Halfway through sixth grade, Noah’s best friend and the only other trans boy in his school, Lewis, passed away in a car accident. Lewis was adventurous and curious, always bringing a new paranormal story to share with Noah. Together they daydreamed about cryptids and shared discovering their genders and names. After his death, lonely and yearning for someone who could understand him like Lewis once did, Noah starts writing letters to Mothman, wondering if he would understand how Noah feels and also looking for evidence of Mothman’s existence in the vast woods surrounding his small Poconos town. Noah becomes determined to make his science fair project about Mothman, despite his teachers and parents urging him to make a project about something “real.”

Meanwhile, as Noah tries to find Mothman, Noah also starts to make friends with a group of girls in his grade, Hanna, Molly, and Alice, with whom he’d been friendly, but never close to. Now, they welcome him, and he starts to open up to each of them, especially Hanna, who Noah has a crush on. But as strange things start to happen and Noah becomes sure of Mothman’s existence, his parents and teachers don’t believe him. Noah decides it’s up to him to risk everything, trek into the woods, and find Mothman himself.

SLJ starred. Includes occasional pencil sketch illustrations.

  • Genre(s): novel in verse, realistic fiction, magical realism
  • Setting: former coal-mining town in Poconos, Pennsylvania, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: cryptids, The Mothman, legends, monsters, science fair, grief, death of best friend, fatal car accidents, journaling, gender identity, autism, coming of age
  • Protagonist description: autistic transgender boy, 6th grader; Irish and Italian descent

Mirror to Mirror by Rajani LaRocca

Maya is the pragmatic twin, but her secret anxiety threatens to overwhelm her.

Chaya is the outgoing twin. When she sees her beloved sister suffering, she wants to tell their parents–which makes Maya feel completely betrayed. With Maya shutting her out, Chaya makes a dramatic change to give her twin the space she seems to need. But that’s the last thing Maya wants, and the girls just drift further apart.

The once-close sisters can’t seem to find their rhythm, so they make a bet: they’ll switch places at their summer camp, and whoever can keep the ruse going longer will get to decide where they both attend high school–the source of frequent arguments. But stepping into each other’s shoes comes with its own difficulties, and the girls don’t know how they’re going to make it.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, novel in verse
  • Setting: summer camp
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: twins, anxiety, sisters, twins switching places, sibling rivalry, summer camp, alternating perspectives, family problems, mental health
  • Protagonist description: twin sisters, age 12, Indian American

Wild Bird by Diane Zahler

Rype was hiding in the hollow of a tree trunk when they found her. She was hungry, small, cold, alone. She did not speak their language, or understand their mannerisms. But she knew this: To survive, she would have to go with them.

In fourteenth-century Norway, the plague has destroyed the entire village of Skeviga. To stay alive, Rype, the only one left, must embark on a sweeping adventure across Europe with the son of an English ship captain and a band of troubadours in search of a brighter future and a new home.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, adventure
  • Setting: Skeviga, a village in Norway, 14th Century
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: witches, bubonic plague, amnesia, found family, grief, prejudice, orphans, Hundred Years’ War, abuse of power (church)
  • Protagonist description: female, around age 12, Norwegian, white

Henry, Like Always by Jenn Bailey (Author) and Mika Song (Illustrator)

Henry likes Classroom Ten. He likes how it is always the same. But this week, Henry’s class will have a parade, and a parade means having Share Time on the wrong day. A parade means playing instruments that are too loud. A parade means this week is not like always.

Join Henry as he navigates the ups and downs of marker missiles, stomach volcanoes, and days that feel a little too orange. From the creators of the Schneider Family Honor-winning picture book A Friend for Henry, this warmly funny book starring a child on the autism spectrum is a reassuring read for school-bound kids of all stripes.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): early chapter book
  • Setting: 1st grade classroom
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-4
  • Themes: hypersensitivity, autism, anxiety, difficulty adjusting to changes in schedule, school events, parades
  • Protagonist description: male, 1st grader, East Asian, autistic; secondary characters are diverse

*Remember by Joy Harjo (Author) and Michaela Goade (Illustrator)

This is the picture book adaptation of a renowned poem that encourages young readers to reflect on family, nature, and their heritage.

In simple and direct language, Harjo, a member of the Mvskoke Nation, urges readers to pay close attention to who they are, the world they were born into, and how all inhabitants on earth are connected. Michaela Goade, drawing from her Tlingit culture, has created vivid illustrations that make the words come alive in an engaging and accessible way.

This timeless poem paired with magnificent paintings makes for a picture book that is a true celebration of life and our human role within it.

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book, poetry
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: indigenous peoples, Mvskoke Nation, US Poet Laureates, interconnectedness of living things, nature, the universe, family stories, #ownvoices
  • Protagonist description: Native American girl

*My Powerful Hair by Carole Lindstrom (Author) and Steph Littlebird (Illustrator)

Mom never had long hair–she was told it was too wild. Grandma couldn’t have long hair–hers was taken from her. But one young girl can’t wait to grow her hair long: for herself, for her family, for her connection to her culture and the Earth, and to honor the strength and resilience of those who came before her.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: hair, long hair, culture, strength, resilience, ancestors, Indigenous cultures, Turtle Mountain Ojibwe, importance of hair to Indigenous cultures, Indian residential schools, #ownvoices
  • Protagonist description: young female, Native American

*The Hospital Book by Lisa Brown

When a little girl develops a bad stomach ache, it’s time to go to the hospital. We follow her experience from arrival through diagnosis, anesthesia, and recovery.

Lisa Brown is a graphic novelist as well as a picture book creator whose talents inform the design of this book chock full of speech bubbles that will delight kids and parents alike. This is a funny, accessible, and above all comforting tale of a very scary experience in the life of any child.

With illustrations brimming with action reminiscent of Richard Scarry, Lisa Brown once again creates a story full of humor and empathy that will delight and comfort most any kid fearful about a hospital visit. Fans of her hugely successful The Airport Book will instantly recognize the girl and her family.

Kirkus and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: hospital
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: being in the hospital, illness, scary experiences, surgery, detailed illustrations
  • Protagonist description: young girl, biracial (Black and white)






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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