New Release Spotlight: March 7, 2023

Phew, this Spotlight was fraught with issues!

For starters, it’s the longest Spotlight I’ve done so far in 2023. My original list this week was 97 titles, not counting the sequels. In a normal week, I may start with 50 titles or so. The majority won’t meet my criteria on any week, but when I start with 97 titles, that’s going to be a huge week.

I was up to that challenge though; I had a plan! There were just too many awesome books this week to leave any off!

Then, this weekend, Titlewave was down both Saturday AND Sunday. Noooooo! I cannot do the Spotlight without Titlewave! I checked throughout the day on Sunday, and it finally came back online late Sunday afternoon.

So today (Monday), I only did the Spotlight. I normally do 3-4 Spotlight entries/day in the week before it comes out. If I’m focused (a huge IF), those 3-4 entries/day usually take me about an hour to put together. I normally work on the Spotlight every day for 1-2 hours so I don’t get too far behind.

Today, I did 13 entries–by far my most Spotlight entries in one day. I worked on it for about 6 hours, with plenty of coffee breaks in the middle.

Anyway, as I mentioned, this week’s Spotlight is FABULOUS. Young Adult books look okay–nothing blowing me away there. But middle grade titles and picture books are not to be missed!

I started to do “Top picks” this week, but I really cannot do it for middle grades and picture books. Trust me, the middle grade and picture books that made this week’s list are ALL top picks.

This week’s Spotlight titles are #3126 – #3148 on The Ginormous book list.

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The Half-Life of Love by Brianna Bourne

Flint Larsen has 41 days, 9 hours, and 42 minutes to live. He’s known exactly when he’s going to die since he was eight years old and half-lifed, a small twinge that tells a person when they’ve lived half their life.

From that moment, Flint’s done everything he can to make his death more bearable. Cutting off all his friends, refusing to eat his favorite foods, reading only the most depressing literature by long-dead writers. He plans to spend his final days back in his hometown with his parents, quietly waiting to die.

But then he meets September Harrington, an utter explosion of brilliance and fun, and all his plans fly out the window. September has dedicated herself to curing the half-life, landing a coveted internship at the world-renowned Half-Life Institute. She has her own past that she’s refusing to deal with, choosing instead to spend her nights living it up with her friends and her days deep in the lab, where she’s working to find a cure.

When their worlds collide, it feels like the start of an epic, once-in-a-lifetime love. Only Flint can’t bring himself to tell September he’s dying, and September’s keeping secrets too. The closer they get, the less time they have together and the more their secrets threaten to destroy everything. Can September and Flint save each other, or are their days numbered from the start?

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Setting: a town called Carbon Junction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: death, knowing one is dying soon, finding a cure, first love, tear-jerkers, teen scientists
  • Protagonist description: male, age 16, white

Royal Blood by Aimée Carter

As the King of England’s illegitimate daughter, 17-year-old Evan Bright knows a thing or two about keeping secrets.

But when she’s forced to spend the summer in London with her father and the royal family, who aren’t exactly thrilled she exists, her identity is mysteriously revealed, and suddenly the world is dying to know every juicy lie the press prints about her.

After a fun night turns deadly and Evan becomes the primary suspect in a murder investigation, the escalating rumors and fallout threaten to tear her life apart. As she fights to uncover the truth about what happened, she discovers royal secrets that are even more scandalous than she imagined – secrets that could change the monarchy forever.

And her own may be next.

  • Genre(s): mystery, rom-com
  • Setting: St. Edith’s Academy for Girls; Vermont, USA + Windsor Castle, London, England, UK
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: boarding schools, frequent school expulsions, getting into trouble at school, murder, fathers and daughters, royalty, illegitimate daughters, half-sisters, tabloids, paparazzi
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, illegitimate American daughter of a British king

Rosewood: A Midsummer Meet Cute by Sayantani DasGupta

Eila Das is used to following her head, rather than her heart. When she meets Rahul at Rosewood, a summer camp where campers are being scouted for the hit Bridgerton-like TV show, she experiences…feelings.

Between the drama of the show and the drama of the camp, Eila will have to keep her wits about her to make it through the summer. But when she has to choose between her head and her heart, what will she do?

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): romance, retelling
  • Setting: summer camp for teen actors
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: acting, summer camp, talent scouts, performance arts, fans of Bridgerton, Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, TV casting norms, South Asian pop culture, Asian Americans
  • Protagonist description: two females; both Bengali American; one is bisexual

The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent by Ann Jacobus

Eighteen-year-old Del is in a healthier place than she was a year and a half ago: She’s sober, getting treatment for her depression and anxiety, and volunteering at a suicide-prevention hotline. Her own suicide attempt is in the past, and living in San Francisco with her beloved aunt has helped her see a future for herself.

But when Aunt Fran is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Del’s equilibrium is shattered. She’s dedicated herself to saving every life she can, but she can’t save Fran. All she can do is help care for her aunt and try to prepare herself for the inevitable–while also dealing with a crush, her looming first semester at college, and her shifts at the crisis line.

After Aunt Fran asks for her help with a mind-boggling final request, Del must confront her own demons and rethink everything she thought she knew about life and death.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: San Francisco, California, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: depression, mental health, anxiety, sobriety, rehab, suicide, hotlines, aunts, cancer, terminal illness, death, grief, right to die, vision disorders (retinitis pigmentosa), hospice
  • Protagonist description: female, age 18, white

Chloe and the Kaishao Boys by Mae Coyiuto

Debut author! Chloe knows what it takes to be the perfect Liang daughter–stay in Manila, study business management, and join the family company. But when she unexpectedly gets off the wait list for USC, her dream of becoming an animator in the United States is suddenly within reach.

Before she goes, her auntie insists on planning a traditional debut for Chloe’s eighteenth birthday. And while a party with all her friends and family sounds like the perfect send-off, the huge production her auntie wants–complete with ball gowns and a choreographed dance number–makes Chloe want to pass out from stage fright.

To make matters worse, her father, intent on finding Chloe the perfect escort for the party, keeps setting her up on one awkward kaishao–or arranged date–after another. Why does her dad suddenly care so much about her love life? And what happens when she actually starts to fall for one of the guys, only to have to leave at the end of the summer?

At home in the Philippines, Chloe has her future all planned out for her. In America, nothing is certain. With a career in animation far from guaranteed, Chloe must decide if following her dreams is worth everything–and everyone–she’ll be leaving behind.

Give this to fans of 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston.

  • Genre(s): romance rom-com
  • Setting: Manila, Philippines
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: leaving for college, parties, celebrations, parent-arranged dating, saying goodbye, moving to a different country, family, first love, blind dates, matchmaking
  • Protagonist description: female, age 18, Chinese and Filipino, college student

The Jump by Brittney Morris

Influence is power. Power creates change. And change is exactly what Team Jericho needs.

Jax, Yas, Spider, and Han are the four cornerstones of Team Jericho, the best scavenger hunting team in all of Seattle. Each has their own specialty: Jax, the puzzler; Yas, the parkourist; Spider, the hacker; and Han, the cartographer. But now with an oil refinery being built right in their backyard, each also has their own problems. Their families are at risk of losing their jobs, their communities, and their homes.

So when The Order, a mysterious vigilante organization, hijacks the scavenger hunting forum and concocts a puzzle of its own, promising a reward of influence, Team Jericho sees it as the chance of a lifetime. If they win this game, they could change their families’ fates and save the city they love so much. But with an opposing team hot on their heels, it’s going to take more than street smarts to outwit their rivals.

  • Genre(s): adventure, ecofiction, thriller
  • Setting: Seattle, Washington, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: scavenger hunts, puzzles, teamwork, evil corporations, environmental destruction, friendship, loyalty, parkour, hacking
  • Protagonist description: four teens, all diverse – Black; mute with auditory overstimulation; Black and Pakistani; and Korean American trans boy

There Goes the Neighborhood by Jade Adia

The gang is fake, but the fear is real.

Rhea’s neighborhood is fading away–the mom-and-pop shops of her childhood forced out to make space for an artisanal kombucha brewery here, a hot yoga studio there. And everywhere, the feeling that this place is no longer meant for her. Because while their little corner of South L.A. isn’t perfect, to Rhea and her two best friends, it’s something even more important–it’s home. And it’s worth protecting.

But as more white people flock to their latest edgy, urban paradise for its cheap rent and sparkling new Whole Foods, more of Rhea’s friends and family are pushed out. Until Rhea decides it’s time to push back. Armed with their cellphones and a bag of firecrackers, the friends manipulate social media to create the illusion of gang violence in their neighborhood. All Rhea wanted to do was protect her community. Her friends. Herself. No one was supposed to get hurt. No one was supposed to die.

But is anyone ever really safe when you’re fighting power with fear?

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: South Los Angeles, California, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: genrtification, gang violence, illusion of violence, fear, fighting change, politics, social media, youth activism, problems with capitalism, displacement
  • Protagonist description: three reens, all age 15, two African American and one Salvadorian

The Ojja-Wojja by Magdalene Visaggio (Author) and Jenn St-Onge (Illustrator)

Welcome to Bolingbroke. It’s a small town just like any other…or so eighth graders Val and Lanie think. They’re the best of best friends–they love the same comics, they watch the same shows, and they’re always there for each other. Which is important when you’re queer, like Lanie, or on the spectrum, like Val, and just don’t seem to fit in anywhere.

When a school project about their hometown’s supernatural history leads to a for-real ghost sighting, Val and Lanie realize Bolingbroke might not be as boring as they’d always thought. But after a run-in with the resident middle school queen bee (who also happens to be Lanie’s former friend), they decide to take things to the next level…and accidentally summon the Ojja-Wojja, a demonic presence connected to a slew of mysterious tragedies throughout Bolingbroke’s sordid history.

Now all heck has broken loose. With the whole town acting weird and nowhere left to turn, it’s going to be up to Val, Lanie, and their small group of friends to return things to normal–if “normal” is even something they want to return to.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, paranormal, supernatural
  • Setting: small town called Bolingbroke
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: friendship, LGBT+, autism, ghosts, demons, bullying, transgender teens, occult, witchcraft, fan fiction, multiple narrative styles
  • Protagonist description: two friends; one is transgender girl and the other is autistic; characters have varying skin tones

Total Garbage: A Messy Dive into Trash, Waste, and Our World by Rebecca Donnelly (Author) and John Hendrix (Illustrator)

Trash has been part of human societies since the beginning. It seems like the inevitable end to the process of making and using things–but why?

In this fascinating account of the waste we make, we’ll wade into the muck of history and explore present-day STEM innovations to answer these important questions:

What is garbage?
Where does our garbage come from?
Why do we make so much garbage?
Where does our garbage go?
What can we learn from our garbage?
How bad is our garbage problem?
How can we do better?

Rebecca Donnelly tackles the extraordinary, the icky, and the everyday, helping us see how our choices, personal and societal, impact our world and our planet–and encouraging us make a change.

Back matter includes a timeline of the history of waste management, selected bibliography, and index.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction
  • Setting: worldwide, but with focus on the USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: Earth Day, conservation, garbage, recycling, history of trash, STEM, inventions, problem solving, societal problems

*You Are Here: Connecting Flights by Ellen Oh

An incident at a TSA security check point sows chaos and rumors, creating a chain of events that impacts twelve young Asian Americans in a crowded and restless airport. As their disrupted journeys crisscross and collide, they encounter fellow travelers–some helpful, some hostile–as they discover the challenges of friendship, the power of courage, the importance of the right word at the right time, and the unexpected significance of a blue Stratocaster electric guitar.

Twelve powerhouse Asian American authors explore themes of identity and belonging in the entwined experiences of young people whose family roots may extend to East and Southeast Asia, but who are themselves distinctly American.

THREE starred reviews! Authors include: Linda Sue Park, Erin Entrada Kelly, Grace Lin, Traci Chee, Mike Chen, Meredith Ireland, Mike Jung, Minh Lê, Ellen Oh, Randy Ribay, Christina Soontornvat, and Susan Tan, and edited by Ellen Oh.

  • Genre(s): short stories, anthology
  • Setting: Gateway International Airport, Chicago, Illinois, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: airports, travel, flying, rumors, fear, discrimination, connected short stories, stereotypes, racism, TSA, airport security
  • Protagonist description: 12 Asian American teens

*The Moth Keeper by K. O’Neill

Anya is finally a Moth Keeper, the protector of the lunar moths that allow the Night-Lily flower to bloom once a year. Her village needs the flower to continue thriving and Anya is excited to prove her worth and show her thanks to her friends with her actions, but what happens when being a Moth Keeper isn’t exactly what Anya thought it would be?

Night after night, it is lonely in the desert, with only one lantern for light. Still, Anya is eager to prove her worth, to show her thanks to her friends and her village. But is it worth the cost? And yet something isn’t right. When Anya glimpses the one thing that could destroy what she’s meant to protect, her village and the lunar moths are left to deal with the consequences.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): fantasy, graphic novel
  • Setting: nocturnal community village, desert setting
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: moths, flowers, nature, protectors, proving one’s worth, insects, magic, guardians, coming-of-age
  • Protagonist description: female, golden skin, mane of golden fur and foxlike ears

*The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams by Daniel Nayeri (Author) and Daniel Miyares (Illustrator)

This is the tale of an exciting journey along the Silk Road with a young Monk and his newfound guardian, Samir, a larger than life character and the so-called “Seller of Dreams”.

The man is a scammer; his biggest skill being the ability to talk his way into getting what he wants. While that talking did save Monkey’s life, it has left a lot of people furious with Samir–furious enough to hire assassins. Monkey decides to try and save Samir from the attempts on his life–as a way to pay off his debt! If he can save Samir six times, he’ll be a free man…but will they all survive that long?

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): adventure, historical fiction
  • Setting: 11th Century; Taklamakan Desert, present-day Tajikistan, Middle East
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: Silk Road, travel, orphans, slavery, servants, Middle East, assassins, caravans, scam artists, con-men
  • Protagonist description: male, age 12, orphan, Middle Eastern

Iceberg by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Hazel Rothbury is traveling all alone from her home in England aboard the celebrated ship Titanic. Following the untimely death of her father, Hazel’s mother is sending her to the US to work in a factory, so that she might send money back home to help her family make ends meet.

But Hazel harbors a secret dream: She wants to be a journalist, and she just knows that if she can write and sell a story about the Titanic‘s maiden voyage, she could earn enough money to support her family and not have to go to a sweatshop. When Hazel discovers that mother didn’t send her with enough money for a ticket, she decides she must stow away onboard the storied ship.

With the help of a porter named Charlie and a sweet first-class passenger named Sylvia, Hazel explores the opulent ship in secret, but a haunting mystery quickly finds her. The danger only intensifies when calamity strikes, and readers will be caught up in the terror and suspense alongside Hazel as she fights to save her friends and herself.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, adventure, survival
  • Setting: onboard the RMS Titanic, April 1912
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: immigrants, journalism, Titanic, maritime disasters, shipwrecks, sweatshops, poverty, stowaways, social class
  • Protagonist description: female, age 12, white, British

The Guardian Test by Christina Soontornvat (Author) and Kevin Hong (Illustrator)

Legends of Lotus Island, Book 1. Young Plum is shocked to discover that she’s been accepted to the Guardian Academy on Lotus Island, an elite school where kids learn how to transform into Guardians, magical creatures who are sworn to protect the natural world.

The Guardian masters teach Plum and her friends how to communicate with animals and how to use meditation to strengthen their minds and bodies. All the kids also learn to fight, so they can protect the defenseless if needed.

To her dismay, Plum struggles at school. While her classmates begin to transform into amazing creatures, Plum can’t even seem to magic up a single feather! If she can’t embrace her inner animal form soon, she’ll have to leave school–and lose the first group of real friends she’s ever known.

Contains grayscale illustrations.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Setting: elite school for magical creatures; Lotus Island, a Thailand-inspired world
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-7
  • Themes: magic, magical creatures, guardians, training, meditation, shapeshifters, orphans, friendship, environmentalism
  • Protagonist description: female, orphan, cues Thai

Squished by Megan Wagner Lloyd (Author) and Michelle Mee Nutter (Illustrator)

Eleven-year-old Avery Lee loves living in Hickory Valley, Maryland. She loves her neighborhood, school, and the end-of-summer fair she always goes to with her two best friends.

But she’s tired of feeling squished by her six siblings! They’re noisy and chaotic and the younger kids love her a little too much. All Avery wants is her own room–her own space to be alone and make art.

So she’s furious when Theo, her grumpy older brother, gets his own room instead, and her wild baby brother, Max, moves into the room she already shares with her clinging sister Pearl! Avery hatches a plan to finally get her own room, all while trying to get Max to sleep at night, navigating changes in her friendships, and working on an art entry for the fair. And when Avery finds out that her family might move across the country, things get even more complicated.

Kirkus starred. This author/illustrator combo also wrote Allergic, so if that’s popular in your library (and I’m sure it is!), you don’t want to miss this one!

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, humor, realistic fiction
  • Setting: small town called Hickory Valley, Maryland, USA; summertime
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: large families, siblings, having one’s own space, art, sharing a bedroom with siblings, moving away, family, friendship
  • Protagonist description: female, age 11, rising 6th grader, Korean American

Skyriders by Polly Holyoke

Thirteen-year-old Kiesandra’s best friend isn’t human, but that doesn’t stop her from sharing jokes and secrets with her winged horse, N’Rah. She, like every other person with a skysteed, can communicate with N’Rah through her mind. Their bond is critical when one day, monsters from long ago reemerge to ravage a nearby village. No one knows how to fight the fearsome chimerae except Kie’s uncle…and now Kie.

Injured in the battle, Uncle Dug makes her promise to bring his attack plan and weapons to the capital. Kie reluctantly agrees. At the palace, she and N’Rah attempt to gain the trust of the royals and train the army in Dug’s lessons. But how can a young girl and her skysteed convince anyone that only they know how to defeat the deadly monsters?

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Setting: fantasy empire in the mountains
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: winged horses, human-animal friendships, chimerae, monsters, magic, inequality, social class, racism
  • Protagonist description: female, age 13

Leeva at Last by Sara Pennypacker (Author) and Matthew Cordell (Illustrator)

What are people for?

That’s the burning question on the mind of Leeva Spayce Thornblossom.

Fame! says Leeva’s mom, the mayor of Nutsmore.

Money! says her dad, the town treasurer.

With the help of an orphaned badger, a risk-averse boy in a hazmat suit, and the town’s librarians, Leeva sets off to discover her own answer–setting off a chain of events that will change Nutsmore forever.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, humor
  • Setting: small town called Nutsmore
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: public libraries, animals, purpose, runaways, eccentric characters, kindness, satire, fairness, trust, responsibility
  • Protagonist description: female, white

*Ancient Night by David Bowles (Author) and David Alvarez (Illustrator)

David Álvarez is one of the most extraordinary artists working today. His black-and-white illustrations have gained fame in his home country of Mexico and around the world.

Here, in Ancient Night (Noche Antigua), David displays his immense talent with full-color illustrations for the first time.

Ancient Night is a twist on two Nahuatl traditions: the rabbit which the Feathered Serpent placed on the moon, and Yaushu, the Lord Opossum who ruled the earth before humans came, and who stole fire from the gods to create the sun.

THREE starred reviews! Published simultaneously in English and Spanish.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: Mexico and Central America
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: Nahuatl traditions, animals, folklore, the moon, Spanish language, Mesoamerican creation stories
  • Protagonist description: Rabbit and Opossum

*How Old Is a Whale? by Lily Murray (Author) and Jesse Hodgson (Illustrator)

Beautifully written by best-selling children’s author Lily Murray, this book explores life spans across the animal kingdom, beginning with the very shortest and ending with the longest. Learn about the lives of the incredible monarch butterfly, the mysterious axolotl, the grand Galápagos tortoise, and many more in this uplifting and eye-opening book.

Discover creatures who are born within a day of their mothers and others who stay infantile for almost one hundred years.

Kirkus and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): informational picture book; picture book for older readers
  • Setting: worldwide
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-4
  • Themes: animals, life spans, life cycles, migration, zoology, biology, science
  • Protagonist description: 27 animal species (does not include humans)

*Jovita Wore Pants: The Story of a Mexican Freedom Fighter by Aida Salazar (Author) and Molly Mendoza (Illustrator)

Jovita dreamed of wearing pants! She hated the big skirts Abuela made her wear. She wanted to scale the tallest mesquite tree on her rancho, ride her horse, and feel the wind curl her face into a smile.

When her father and brothers joined the Cristero War to fight for religious freedom, Jovita wanted to go, too. Forbidden, she defied her father’s rules – and society’s – and found a clever way to become a trailblazing revolutionary, wearing pants!

This remarkable true story about a little-known maverick Mexican heroine is brought vividly to life by her great-niece and Américas Award–winner Aida Salazar, and Eisner Award–honoree Molly Mendoza.

Kirkus and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography; picture book for older readers
  • Setting: early 20th Century, Mexico
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-5
  • Themes: traditional gender roles, women wearing pants, women’s clothing, religious freedom, Women’s History Month, Cristero Revolution, women fighting in a war as men, courage, heroism, gender equality
  • Protagonist description: female, Mexican, starts at age 14

*My Baba’s Garden by Jordan Scott (Author) and Sydney Smith (Illustrator)

Inspired by memories of his childhood, Jordan Scott’s My Baba’s Garden explores the sights, sounds, and smells experienced by a child spending time with their beloved grandmother (Baba), with special attention to the time they spent helping her tend her garden, searching for worms to keep it healthy. He visits her every day and finds her hidden in the steam of boiling potatoes, a hand holding a beet, a leg opening a cupboard, an elbow closing the fridge, humming like a night full of bugs when she cooks.

Poet Jordan Scott and illustrator Sydney Smith’s previous collaboration, I Talk Like a River, which received a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award expored a cherished memory shared between a father and son. In their new book, they turn that same wistful appreciation to the bond between a boy and his grandmother. Sydney Smith’s illustrations capture the sensational impressions of a child’s memory with iconic effect.

THREE starred reviews! Some parts are wordless, which could make this a great choice for inferencing lessons.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: kitchen, garden
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: grandmothers, similes, family, love
  • Protagonist description: young boy and his Polish grandmother, both tan-skinned

The Night Before Eid: A Muslim Family Story by Aya Khalil (Author) and Rashin Kheiriyeh (Illustrator)

On the night before Eid, it’s finally time to make special sweet treats: Teita’s famous ka’ak.

Zain eagerly unpacks the ingredients from his grandmother’s bulky suitcase: ghee from Khalo Karim, dates from Amo Girgis, and honey from Tant Tayseer–precious flavors all the way from Egypt. Together with Mama and Teita, Zain follows his family’s recipe and brings to life Eid songs and prayers, pharaonic history, and the melodies and tastes of his Egyptian heritage.

This Muslim holiday story, featuring a delicious ka’ak recipe, is a satisfying addition to a joyful and expansive Eid.

Kirkus starred. Look for the black and white cat in the illustrations!

  • Genre(s): picture book, holiday stories
  • Setting: neighborhood
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: Ramadan, Muslim holidays, Eid, cooking, Muslim foods, Egypt, family recipes, holidays and celebrations, family, traditions, community, baking
  • Protagonist description: a Muslim boy and his grandmother, both Egyptian

*Never Give Up: Dr. Kati Karikó and the Race for the Future of Vaccines by Debbie Dadey (Author) and Juliana Oakley (Illustrator)

Growing up in a small Hungarian town, Kati Karikó was curious about everything.

As an adult, she channeled her curiosity into her work as a scientist. An mRNA vaccine had never been made before, and she faced frequent criticism and was told by other scientists she would never succeed. After many years of hard work and dedication, she figured out how to use mRNA to make a vaccine–and when a deadly virus called COVID-19 started infecting millions of people, Kati’s invention turned out to be exactly what the world needed.

Never Give Up is the inspiring true story of a determined scientist who proved that a little bit of curiosity and a lot of hard work can save lives.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Setting: small town in Hungary
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-6
  • Themes: scientists, Women’s History Month, mRNA vaccines, COVID-19, persistence, perseverance, Anthony Fauci, doctors, STEM
  • Protagonist description: female, white; background characters are diverse





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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