New Release Spotlight: March 28, 2023

Finally a great week for YA books! I can’t remember the last time YA wasn’t dominated by amazing middle grade and picture books.

As I’ve done the last two weeks, I’ve created a video version of the New Release Spotlight. Use this if you want to show the books to your students but do not want to deal with copying the presentation into your Google Drive or setting up timings.

This week’s top picks:

  • Into the Light by Mark Oshiro (YA)
  • Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (middle grades)
  • Big Tune Rise of the Dancehall Prince by Alliah L. Agostini (picture books)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #3185-#3202 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.

*Into the Light by Mark Oshiro

It’s been one year since Manny was cast out of his family and driven into the wilderness of the American Southwest. Since then, Manny lives by self-taught rules that keep him moving―and keep him alive. Now, he’s taking a chance on a traveling situation with the Varela family, whose attractive but surly son, Carlos, seems to promise a new future.

Eli abides by the rules of his family, living in a secluded community that raised him to believe his obedience will be rewarded. But an unsettling question slowly eats away at Eli’s once unwavering faith in Reconciliation: Why can’t he remember his past?

But the reported discovery of an unidentified body in the hills of Idyllwild, California, will draw both of these young men into facing their biggest fears and confronting their own identity–and who they are allowed to be.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): mystery, thriller
  • Setting: near Idyllwild, California
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: adoption, homelessness, foster homes, adoption, manipulative church leaders, siblings, religious camps, nomadic families
  • Protagonist description: male, age 17, Mexican American, queer

*Saints of the Household by Ari Tison

Debut author! Max and Jay have always depended on one another for their survival. Growing up with a physically abusive father, the two Bribri American brothers have learned that the only way to protect themselves and their mother is to stick to a schedule and keep their heads down.

But when they hear a classmate in trouble in the woods, instinct takes over and they intervene, breaking up a fight and beating their high school’s star soccer player to a pulp. This act of violence threatens the brothers’ dreams for the future and their beliefs about who they are.

As the true details of that fateful afternoon unfold over the course of the novel, Max and Jay grapple with the weight of their actions, their shifting relationship as brothers, and the realization that they may be more like their father than they thought. They’ll have to reach back to their Bribri roots to find their way forward.

Kirkus and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: Minnesota
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: brothers, abusive parents, physical child abuse, domestic violence, Indigenous Bribri (Costa Rican and Panama), assaulting another student, school suspension, alcoholic father, counseling, #ownvoices
  • Protagonist description: two brothers; BriBri (indigenous group in Costa Rica and Panama), both high school seniors (11 months apart; not twins)

*Spin by Rebecca Caprara

Sixteen-year-old Arachne is ostracized by all but her family and closest friend, Celandine. Turning to her loom for solace, Arachne learns to weave, finding her voice and her strength through the craft.

After the tragic loss of her family, Arachne and Celandine flee to the city of Colophon, where Arachne’s skills are put to the test. Word of her talent spreads quickly, leading to a confrontation with the goddess Athena, who demands that Arachne repent.

But Arachne will not be silenced. She challenges Athena, and a fateful weaving contest ensues, resulting in an exposé of divine misdeeds, a shocking transformation, and unexpected redemption.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): mythology, retelling, novel in verse
  • Setting: Ancient Greece
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: Greek mythology, Arachne, Athena, goddesses, artisans, grief, weaving, feminism, gender inequality, sexual assault, storytelling, LGBT+
  • Protagonist description: female, age 16, Arachne from Greek mythology

Strictly No Heroics by B. L. Radley

A Normie’s guide to staying alive in Sunnylake City:

1. Keep your head down.
2. Don’t make enemies.
3. Strictly no heroics.

The world is run by those with the Super gene, and Riley Jones doesn’t have it. She’s just a Normie, ducking her way around the hero vs. villain battles that constantly demolish Sunnylake City, working at a crappy diner to save up money for therapy, and trying to figure out how to tell her family that she’s queer. But when Riley retaliates against a handsy superhero at work, she finds herself in desperate need of employment, and the only place that will hire her is HENCH.

Yes, HENCH, as in henchmen: masked cronies who take villains’ coffee orders, vacuum their secret lairs, and posture in the background while they fight. Riley’s plan is to mind her own business and get paid…but that quickly devolves when she witnesses a horrible murder on the job.

Caught in the thick of a gentrification plot, a unionization effort, and a developing crush on her prickly fellow henchwoman, Riley must face the possibility that even a powerless Normie can take a stand against injustice.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): science fiction, adventure
  • Setting: Sunnylake City, a futuristic city run by people with superpowers
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: superheroes, supervillains, superpowers, teens with jobs, murder, witnessing a crime, gentrification, injustice
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, queer; entire cast is diverse

*Door in the Dark by Scott Reintgen

Book 1 of a planned duology. Ren Monroe has spent four years proving she’s one of the best wizards in her generation. But top marks at Balmerick University will mean nothing if she fails to get recruited into one of the major houses.

Enter Theo Brood. If being rich were a sin, he’d already be halfway to hell. After a failed and disastrous party trick, fate has the two of them crossing paths at the public waxway portal the day before holidays–Theo’s punishment is to travel home with the scholarship kids. Which doesn’t sit well with any of them.

A fight breaks out. In the chaos, the portal spell malfunctions. All six students are snatched from the safety of the school’s campus and set down in the middle of nowhere. And one of them is dead on arrival.

If anyone can get them through the punishing wilderness with limited magical reserves it’s Ren. She’s been in survival mode her entire life. But no magic could prepare her for the tangled secrets the rest of the group is harboring, or for what’s following them through the dark woods…

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): dark fantasy
  • Setting: wizarding school and a dark and scary forest
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: wealth, privilege, poverty, wizards, magic, portals, wilderness survival, secrets
  • Protagonist description: female, teen wizard

Girl Forgotten by April Henry

Seventeen years ago, Layla Trello was murdered and her killer was never found.

Enter true-crime fan Piper Gray, who is determined to reopen Layla’s case and get some answers. With the help of Jonas–who has a secret of his own–Piper starts a podcast investigating Layla’s murder.

But as she digs deeper into the mysteries of the past, Piper begins receiving anonymous threats telling her to back off the investigation, or else. The killer is still out there, and Piper must uncover their identity before they silence her forever.

  • Genre(s): mystery, thriller
  • Setting: small town in Oregon, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: true crime, cold case murders, podcasts, detectives, secrets, unsolved mysteries, ethics of true crime as entertainment, transcripts, news clippings
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, white

Greymist Fair by Francesca Zappia

Two roads lead into a dark forest. They meet at Greymist Fair, the village hidden in the trees, a place kept alive by the families that never leave. The people of Greymist Fair know the woods are a dangerous and magical place, and to set foot off the road is to invite trouble.

When Heike, the village’s young tailor, discovers a body on the road, she goes looking for who is responsible. But her quest only leads to more strange happenings around Greymist Fair.

Inspired by the original, bloody, lesser-known fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, acclaimed author Francesca Zappia crafts an enthralling murder-mystery that will keep readers turning the pages. Told from multiple points of view, with each narrative building on the crime discovered by Heike, Greymist Fair examines the themes of childhood fears, growing into adult responsibilities, and finding a place to call home amid the trials of life and death.

I love this cover! This is a series of interconnected stories, based on lesser-known Grimm’s fairy tales. Includes black and white illustrations and a map.

  • Genre(s): retelling, dark fairy tales
  • Setting: fantasy village of Greymist Fair, which is surrounded by a dark, dangerous forest
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: Grimm’s fairy tales, enchanted forests, monsters, witches, Christmas
  • Protagonist description: various magical human characters, mostly white, some are LGBT+

Stars and Smoke by Marie Lu

Meet Winter Young–International pop sensation, with a voice like velvet and looks that could kill. His star power has smashed records, selling out stadiums from LA to London. His rabid fans would move heaven and earth for even a glimpse of him–just imagine what they’d do to become his latest fling.

Meet Sydney Cossette–Part of an elite covert ops group, Sydney joined their ranks as their youngest spy with plans to become the best agent they’ve ever had. An ice queen with moves as dangerous as her comebacks, Sydney picks up languages just as quickly as she breaks hearts. She’s fiery, no-nonsense, and has zero time for romance–especially with a shameless flirt more used to serving sass than taking orders.

When a major crime boss gifts his daughter a private concert with Winter for her birthday, Sydney and Winter’s lives suddenly collide. Tasked with infiltrating the crime organization’s inner circle, Sydney is assigned as Winter’s bodyguard with Winter tapped to join her on the mission of a lifetime as a new spy recruit. Sydney may be the only person alive impervious to Winter’s charms, but as their mission brings them closer, she’s forced to admit that there’s more to Winter Young than just a handsome face…

  • Genre(s): thriller, romance, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: celebrities, musicians, fame, spies, secrets, criminal masterminds
  • Protagonist description: male, age 19, Chinese American pop star; female, white, age 19, spy

*Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (Author) and Tom de Freston (Illustrator)

Ten-year-old Julia loves the mysteries of the ocean and marine biology, just like her scientist mother. Her family is spending the summer on a remote island where her mom is searching for the elusive Greenland shark, a creature that might be older than the trees, and so rare that it’s only been seen a few times.

But the ocean is reluctant to give up its secrets, and Julia tries not to worry as her mother returns disappointed at the end of each day.

Determined to prove that the shark is real, Julia sets off on a quest to find it herself, armed with a set of coordinates, a compass, and her trusty rain jacket.

She soon realizes that there are some journeys you shouldn’t go on alone. As Julia comes face to face with the dark and wondrous truths of the sea, she finds the strength to leave the shark in the depths and kick up towards the light.

THREE starred reviews! Includes grayscale drawings with yellow accents.

  • Genre(s): adventure
  • Setting: Unst lighthouse, Shetland island, United Kingdom
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: marine biology, sharks, endangered animals, journeys, grief, mental health, obsession with success, bipolar disorder, suicide, living in a lighthouse, bullying
  • Protagonist description: female, age 10, British, white

*Calling the Moon: 16 Period Stories from BIPOC by Aida Salazar (Editor) and Yamile Saied Mendez (Editor)

For Angela, it came on the basketball court–while playing on the boys’ team. For Penny, it came on a lakeside field trip, inspiring some cringeworthy moments of humor. And to Layla’s disappointment, it came at the start of her first fasting Ramadan, mandating that she take a “holiday.”

Whether their period’s coming spurs silence or celebration, whether they are well prepared for it or totally in the dark, the young people in these sixteen stories find that getting a period brings not only changes to their bodies, but also joy, sorrow, and self-discovery.

Featuring BIPOC contributors who are some of today’s most talented authors in middle-grade fiction, Calling the Moon offers coming-of-age stories and poetry as varied as the phases of the moon, from funny to heartbreaking to powerful, all of them reassuring readers that they are not alone in their period journey.

FOUR starred reviews! Told in both prose and verse.

  • Genre(s): anthology, short stories
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: menstruation, bullying, health and wellness, puberty, sexism, racism, microaggressions, immigration, religion
  • Protagonist description: multiple female BIPOC narrators

Bea and the New Deal Horse by L. M. Elliott

Bea wakes to Daddy’s note in a hayloft, where he abandoned her with her little sister after the stock market crash took everything: Daddy’s job at the bank, their home, Mama’s health and life.

How is Bea supposed to convince the imposing Mrs. Scott to take in two stray children? Mrs. Scott’s money and Virginia farm are drying up in a drought and the Great Depression, too. She might have to sell her beautiful horses, starting with a dangerous chestnut that has caused tragedy in the past and injures her stableman shortly after Bea arrives.

But wrestling with her own hurts and fears, Bea understands the chestnut’s skittish distrust. She sees hope in the powerful jumper–if he can compete at horse shows, they might save the farm, and maybe Bea can even win a place in Mrs. Scott’s heart.

Publishers Weekly starred. Give this to fans of The War That Saved My Life.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, animal stories
  • Setting: farm in Virginia, 1930s
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: horses, equestrians, Great Depression, New Deal, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, US history, sisters, abandonment, poverty, racism, maltreatment of war veterans, overcoming adversity, resilience
  • Protagonist description: female, age 13, white

Shining a Light: Celebrating 40 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Who Changed the World by Veeda Bybee (Author) and Victo Ngai (Illustrator)

Meet forty people who helped change the world in countless ways in this illustrated collective biography.

From scientists to sports stars, aerospace engineers to artists, every person shines in this collection. Dynamic portraits portray each person with bold colors and clever, precise details. Each biography celebrates the determination and courage of people who were on the forefront of changing society.

Using their specific talents, each individual fought for the space for people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent to be seen and treated with dignity and respect. Their important legacy lives on today.

Kirkus starred. Illustrated.

  • Genre(s): collective biography
  • Setting: various times in US history
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: Asian Americans, AAPI Month (May), artists, inventors, sports stars, engineers, writers, actors, notable Americans, US history
  • Protagonist description: various Asian American and Pacific Islanders, males and females

Miracle by Karen S. Chow

Debut author! Amie has spent her life perfectly in tune with Ba-ba, her father–she plays the violin, his favorite instrument; she loves all his favorite foods, even if he can’t eat them during his cancer treatments; and they talk about books, including Amie’s favorite series, Harry Potter.

But after Ba-ba dies, Amie feels distanced from everyone close to her, like her mother and her best friends, Rio and Bella. More devastating still, she loses her ability to play the violin–the notes that used to flow freely are now stilted and sharp. Will Amie ever find her way back to the music she once loved?

With hope and harmony lighting the way–and with help from the people who care about her most—Amie must find the strength to carry on. In the end, she’ll learn that healing, while painful, can be its own miraculous song.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: fathers and daughters, death of a parent (father), grief, musicians, violin, parent with cancer, Harry Potter references
  • Protagonist description: female, sixth grader, Chinese American

Batcat by Meggie Ramm

Batcat loves being all alone in their home on Spooky Island. Up in their tree house, they pass the time playing video games and watching TV. But when Batcat suddenly finds themself haunted by an annoying, ice cream–stealing ghost, they visit the local Island Witch for a spell to remove their ghastly guest permanently!

With their Ghost-B-Gone spell in hand, Batcat travels across Spooky Island to gather ingredients–to the Cavernous Caves where the bats tell them they’re too round to be a bat, and to the Whispering Cemetery where the cats will help only if they commit to being a true cat. But Batcat is neither and that’s what makes them special, right?

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): early chapter book, animal stories, humor
  • Setting: Spooky Isle, a fictional, eerie place with dead trees
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-4
  • Themes: annoying ghosts, magic, witches, spells, identity, not fitting into one category, self-acceptance
  • Protagonist description: a solitary pink creature that is not quite a bat and not quite a cat; nonbinary

*Soon, Your Hands by Jonathan Stutzman (Author) and Elizabeth Lilly (Illustrator)

Tonight, each small hand fits inside their parent’s hand. But soon, this hand will grow–to dig deep in the dirt, make masterpieces and mistakes, and tell stories only it can tell.

With text that captures the potential in every child and glowing art that exudes warmth, this book braids three children’s stories into one of family love.
From award-winning author Jonathan Stutzman and rising illustrator Elizabeth Lilly comes this tender book, perfect for cuddling together at bedtime.

Booklist and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, bedtime story
  • Setting: three neighboring homes in a community
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: growing up, families, love, diverse families, adopting a stray animal
  • Protagonist description: three neighboring families, diverse in skin tone and who is the caretaker (in one family, the grandparent is the caretaker while parent works)

The Story of the Saxophone by Lesa Cline-Ransome (Author) and James E. Ransome (Illustrator)

You may think that the story of the saxophone begins with Dexter Gordon or Charlie Parker, or on a street corner in New Orleans. It really began in 1840 in Belgium with a young daydreamer named Joseph-Antoine Adolphe Sax–a boy with bad luck but great ideas.

Coretta Scott King Honoree Lesa Cline-Ransome unravels the fascinating history of how Adolphe’s once reviled instrument was transported across Europe and Mexico to New Orleans. Follow the saxophone’s journey from Adolphe’s imagination to the pawn shop window where it caught the eye of musician Sidney Bechet and became the iconic symbol of jazz music it is today.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography, picture book for older readers
  • Setting: small town of Dinant, Belgium and New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; 1800s
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: music history, saxophones, jazz music, New Orleans
  • Protagonist description: Joseph-Antoine Adolphe Sax (1814-1894), a Belgian male

Galápagos: Islands of Change by Leslie Bulion (Author) and Becca Stadtlander (Illustrator)

Using the same poetry/science note format as Serengeti, Galápagos tells the complex story of a young volcanic ecosystem influenced by seasonal ocean currents, where food energy moves through integrated land and sea communities, each in its own season of growth and renewal.

Millions of years ago, undersea volcanos in the eastern Pacific Ocean erupted, spewing up lava, rocks, and ash that eventually formed a cluster of islands: the archipelago known as the Galápagos Islands. Over time, castaway plants and animals from hundreds of miles away arrived on the rocky shores and adapted to each island’s changing volcanic landscape and seasonal weather variations.

In these isolated locations constantly affected by shifting winds and swift ocean currents, much of the wildlife evolved into species found nowhere else on Earth. Some of the many distinctive organisms featured include giant daisy trees, Galápagos penguins, marine iguanas, blue footed boobies, and Galápagos giant tortoises.

The well-researched back matter includes poetry notes, a glossary, resources, and a list of the species from this remarkable ecosystem that are highlighted in the book.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction picture book
  • Setting: Galápagos islands
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-6
  • Themes: Galápagos islands, volcanoes, nature, ecosystems, evolution, wildlife, Charles Darwin, animals

*Big Tune Rise of the Dancehall Prince by Alliah L. Agostini (Author) and Shamar Knight-Justice (Illustrator)

It’s the weekend, first in June; speaker’s blasting out big tune!
Cousins, aunties, uncles, friends pack the house, and fun begins.

Shane is shy but loves to dance–and all year long, he’s picked up cans
to earn some money toward his goal: high-tops with a pump-up sole.

But then the speaker blows–it’s done! Will this stop his family’s fun?
Can Shane come through to save the day and bring back Big Tune Saturday?

Set within a vibrant Caribbean American neighborhood and told to a rhythmic beat, Big Tune is a story of Black boy joy that touches on determination, confidence to express who you are, selflessness, and community gratitude.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: Jamaican American community
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: Black boy joy, rhythm, community, music, neighborhoods, gratitude, entrepreneurship, collecting cans, sacrifice, dancing, parties, Jamaican culture
  • Protagonist description: young male, Black, community is Jamaican American




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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