New Release Spotlight: April 11, 2023

This week’s New Release Spotlight comes on my birthday! I’m officially 48 years young today. Of course, I like to treat myself to new books for my birthday, and this week’s list has a couple of books I’m excited to sink my teeth into. For once, I’m ahead on my Goodreads Reading Challenge, so I want to keep that going!

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

  • a YA memoir from a man born without legs and into the foster care system who manages to defy every odd put in his path! I plan to read the audiobook since memoir seems to be my favorite audiobook genre lately.
  • a YA book about a teen girl who time travels to the 1990s and encounters her own mother as a teen
  • a YA fantasy featuring a teen with cochlear implants
  • a middle grade graphic novel featuring a girl in sports (baseball) – This one is also on my reading list!
  • a middle grade book titled after a Beatles song
  • a middle grade book about Covid-19 lockdowns, set in India
  • a middle grade “pioneer” or “prairie” story featuring a Ukrainian immigrant family
  • a picture book about the history of cave paintings (great for art teachers)
  • a picture book homage to Make Way for Ducklings
  • Major authors include Eoin Colfer, Maureen Goo, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Neal Shusterman, M.T. Anderson, and Suzanne Slade

This week’s top picks:

  • Work with What You Got by Zion Clark and James S. Hirsch (YA)
  • Fox Point’s Own Gemma Hopper by Brie Spangler (MG)
  • Ancestory: The Mystery and Majesty of Ancient Cave Art by Hannah Salyer (picture book)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #3219-#3235 on The Ginormous book list.

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*An Appetite for Miracles by Laekan Zea Kemp

Danna Mendoza Villarreal’s grandfather is slowly losing himself as his memories fade, and Danna’s not sure her plan to help him remember through the foods he once reviewed will be enough to bring him back. Especially when her own love of food makes her complicated relationship with her mother even more difficult.

Raúl Santos has been lost ever since his mother was wrongly incarcerated two years ago. Playing guitar for the elderly has been his only escape, to help them remember and him forget. But when his mom unexpectedly comes back into his life, what is he supposed to do when she isn’t the same person who left?

When Danna and Raúl meet, sparks fly immediately and they embark on a mission to heal her grandfather…and themselves. Because healing is something best done together–even if it doesn’t always look the way we want it to.

Kirkus and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, novel in verse, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: food, grief, dementia, grandparents, parent in prison (mother), wrongful imprisonment, prison-industrial complex, anti-fat bias, generational trauma, eating disorders, alternating perspectives
  • Protagonist description: perspective alternates between a female, age 16, Mexican American and a Mexican American male

*Throwback by Maureen Goo

Being a first-generation Asian American immigrant is hard. You know what’s harder? Being the daughter of one.

Priscilla is first-generation Korean American, a former high school cheerleader who expects Sam to want the same all-American nightmare. Meanwhile, Sam is a girl of the times who has no energy for clichéd high school aspirations. After a huge blowup, Sam is desperate to get away from Priscilla, but instead, finds herself thrown back. Way back.

To her shock, Sam lands in the ’90s…alongside a 17-year-old Priscilla.

Now, Sam has to deal with outdated tech, regressive ’90s attitudes, and her growing feelings for sweet, mysterious football player Jamie, who just might be the right guy in the wrong era.

With the clock ticking, Sam must figure out how to fix things with Priscilla or risk being trapped in an analog world forever. Sam’s blast to the past has her questioning everything she thought she knew about her mom…and herself. One thing’s for sure: Time is a mother.

Brimming with heart and humor, Maurene Goo’s Throwback asks big questions about what exactly one inherits and loses in the immigrant experience.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): romance, rom-com
  • Setting: begins in present day but goes back into 1995 for most of book
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: mothers and daughters, time travel, immigrants, Asian Americans, 1990s, discrimination, microaggressions
  • Protagonist description: female, age 16, Korean American

*The Making of Yolanda la Bruja by Lorraine Avila

Yolanda Alvarez is having a good year. She’s starting to feel at home Julia De Burgos High, her school in the Bronx. She has her best friend Victory, and maybe something with José, a senior boy she’s getting to know. She’s confident her initiation into her family’s bruja tradition will happen soon.

But then a white boy, the son of a politician, appears at Julia De Burgos High, and his vibes are off. And Yolanda’s initiation begins with a series of troubling visions of the violence this boy threatens. How can Yolanda protect her community, in a world that doesn’t listen? Only with the wisdom and love of her family, friends, and community–and the Brujas Diosas, her ancestors and guides.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): supernatural
  • Setting: Bronx neighborhood of New York City, New York, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: witches, visions, spirituality, racism, privilege, community organizing, cochlear implants, deafness
  • Protagonist description: female, age 16, Black, Latine, queer, deaf

*Bianca Torre Is Afraid of Everything by Justine Pucella Winans

Sixteen-year-old Bianca Torre is an avid birder undergoing a gender identity crisis and grappling with an ever-growing list of fears. Some, like Fear #6: Initiating Conversation, keep them constrained, forcing them to watch birds from the telescope in their bedroom. And, occasionally, their neighbors.

When their gaze wanders to one particular window across the street, Bianca witnesses a creepy plague-masked murderer take their neighbor’s life. Worse, the death is ruled a suicide, forcing Bianca to make a choice–succumb to their long list of fears (including #3 Murder and #55 Breaking into a Dead Guy’s Apartment), or investigate what happened.

Bianca enlists the help of their friend Anderson Coleman, but the two have more knowledge of anime than true crime. As Bianca and Anderson dig deeper into the murder with a little help from Bianca’s crush and fellow birding aficionado, Elaine Yee (#13 Beautiful People, #11 Parents Discovering They’re a Raging Lesbian), the trio uncover a conspiracy much larger–and weirder–than imagined. And when the killer catches wind of the investigation, suddenly Bianca’s #1 fear of public speaking doesn’t sound so bad compared to the threat of being silenced for good.

Booklist and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): mystery, thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: gender identity, anxiety, voyeurism, murder, eyewitnesses, detectives, bird watching, conspiracy theorists
  • Protagonist description: female, age 16, white, lesbian; secondary characters are diverse

Harvest House by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Halloween is near, and Hughie Wolfe is volunteering at a new rural attraction: Harvest House. He’s excited to take part in the fun, spooky show–until he learns that an actor playing the vengeful spirit of an “Indian maiden,” a ghost inspired by local legend, will headline.

Folklore aside, unusual things have been happening at night at the crossroads near Harvest House. A creepy man is stalking teenage girls and young women, particularly Indigenous women; dogs are fretful and on edge; and wild animals are behaving strangely.

While Hughie weighs how and when to speak up about the bigoted legend, he and his friends begin to investigate the crossroads and whether it might be haunted after all. As Moon rises on All Hallow’s Eve, will they be able to protect themselves and their community?

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): mystery
  • Setting: town in Kansas
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: haunted houses, teens with jobs, Halloween, First Nations, racism, Native Americans, stalking, ghosts, urban legends, redface
  • Protagonist description: male, HS sophomore, a citizen of the Muscogee Nation

*Work with What You Got by Zion Clark and James S. Hirsch

When a baby named Zion was born in 1997 to an imprisoned, drug-addicted mother, his future seemed bleak. Born without legs due to a rare condition called caudal regression syndrome, Zion was abandoned and shunted to a foster-care system ill-equipped to care for him.

In this stirring memoir, readers will follow as he is bounced from home to home, subjected to abuse, neglect, and inconceivable hardship.

Somehow, Zion finds supportive angels along the way: his first two foster families, who offer a haven; the wrestling coach who senses his “warrior spirit” and nurtures it; the woman of fierce faith who adopts a seventeen-year-old and cheers his every match. From play-by-play narration of how Zion adapts wrestling moves to defeat able-bodied opponents, wielding phenomenal arm and hand strength, to accounts of his extraordinary work ethic, unflagging optimism, and motivational speaking, this is an inspirational story of courage that will appeal to any athlete who respects determination, any young person facing adversity, and any reader who wants to believe in the human spirit.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): memoir
  • Setting: Stark County, Ohio
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: overcoming adversity, foster care system, parent in prison (mother), abuse, neglect, wrestling, inspiratioinal stories, ADHD, professional athletes, faith, poverty
  • Protagonist description: male, African American, born without legs, elite wrestler and wheelchair racer

*Elf Dog and Owl Head by M.T. Anderson (Author) and Junyi Wu (Illustrator)

Clay has had his fill of home life. A global plague has brought the world to a screeching halt, and with little to look forward to but a summer of video-calling friends, vying with annoying sisters for the family computer, and tuning out his parents’ financial worries, he’s only too happy to retreat to the woods.

From the moment the elegant little dog with the ornate collar appears like an apparition among the trees, Clay sees something uncanny in her. With this mysterious Elphinore as guide, he’ll glimpse ancient secrets folded all but invisibly into the forest.

Each day the dog leads Clay down paths he never knew existed, deeper into the unknown. But they aren’t alone in their surreal adventures. There are traps and terrors in the woods, too, and if Clay isn’t careful, he might stray off the path and lose his way forever.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred. Illustrated in black and white.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Setting: rural New England
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: pandemics, home confinement, lockdowns, dogs, online school, financial problems, fairies
  • Protagonist description: male, white, middle school

I Am the Walrus by Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman

The N.O.A.H Files, book 1. When fourteen-year-old Noah falls from the trees on his classmate Sahara, he doesn’t understand how, or why, he would have been up there. It’s just one more in a string of strange things happening to Noah lately.

Like when he keels over and every muscle in his body freezes when confronted by bullies. And when he vanishes into the background at a moment he doesn’t want to be noticed. And when he unexpectedly blasts Sahara with a bird shriek while flapping his arms uncontrollably in the middle of a school dance. What does it all mean? And why do there suddenly seem to be so many mysterious people trying to kill him?

Noah’s friend Ogden has an idea…but like all of Ogden’s ideas, it’s out there. Way out there…

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): science fiction, humor
  • Setting: Oregon, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: strange occurrences, accidents, middle school, bullying, friendship, genetic engineering, The Beatles song, animal defenses
  • Protagonist description: male, age 14, white, middle school

Global by Eoin Colfer (Author), Andrew Donkin (Author), and Giovanni Rigano (Illustrator)

Time is running out for Sami and Yuki.

Sami and his grandfather live in a village along the Indian Ocean. They earn their living by fishing. But the ocean is rising and each day they bring back fewer and fewer fish.

Yuki lives in the far north of Canada where warming temperature are melting the ice. Polar bears have less food to hunt and are wandering into town looking for something to eat. Yuki is determined to do something to help the bears.

  • Genre(s): survival
  • Setting: fishing village on the Bay of Bengal and Northern Canada
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: climate change, alternating viewpoints, cyclones, rising sea levels, polar bears
  • Protagonist description: male, age 12, South Asian; female, age 14, Inuit

Fox Point’s Own Gemma Hopper by Brie Spangler

In their tiny corner of Fox Point, Rhode Island, Gemma Hopper’s older brother, Teddy, is a baseball god, destined to become a Major League star. Gemma loves playing baseball, but with her mom gone and her dad working endless overtime, it’s up to her to keep the house running. She’s too busy folding laundry, making lunches, getting her younger twin brothers to do their homework, and navigating the perils of middle-school friendships to take baseball seriously.

But every afternoon, Gemma picks up her baseball glove to pitch to Teddy during his batting practice–throwing sliders down and away, fastballs right over the middle (not too fast or he’ll get mad), and hanging curveballs high and tight.

Could baseball be Gemma’s ticket to the big leagues or will it mean the end of her family as she knows it?

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, sports fiction
  • Setting: Fox Point, Rhode Island
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: girls in sports, baseball, tall girls, older sibling caring for younger siblings, child who does all the housework, parental abandonment, family problems, going viral
  • Protagonist description: female, 7th grader, white

When Impossible Happens by Jane De Suza

When the pandemic hits and India goes into lockdown, high-spirited Swara keeps up her daily chats with her just-as-imaginative grandmother, Pitter Paati, through video calls. But soon Pitter Paati becomes too ill to even call, and then Swara’s parents say she has died of the virus.

Swara can’t believe it. Pitter Paati would not just leave! It’s impossible!

As Swara investigates the mystery of her grandmother’s disappearance, she stumbles upon a neighborhood mystery as well. With help from her friends, usually-annoying brother, and clues she’s certain came from Pitter Paati, Swara solves that very real mystery and, slowly, comes to terms with the truth about her grandmother.

She also realizes Pitter Paati will be with her, in many important ways, forever.

  • Genre(s): mystery
  • Setting: Bengaluru, India; 2020 Covid-19 lockdown
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-7
  • Themes: Covid-19, pandemics, quarantine, lockdowns, grandmothers, grief, death of grandparent
  • Protagonist description: female, age 8, Indian

A Sky Full of Song by Susan Lynn Meyer

After fleeing persecution in the Russian Empire, eleven-year-old Shoshana and her family, Jewish immigrants, start a new life on the prairie. Shoshana takes fierce joy in the wild beauty of the plains and the thrill of forging a new, American identity. But it’s not as simple for her older sister, Libke, who misses their Ukrainian village and doesn’t pick up English as quickly or make new friends as easily. Desperate to fit in, Shoshana finds herself hiding her Jewish identity in the face of prejudice, just as Libke insists they preserve it.

For the first time, Shoshana is at odds with her beloved sister, and has to look deep inside herself to realize that her family’s difference is their greatest strength. By listening to the music that’s lived in her heart all along, Shoshana finds new meaning in the Jewish expression all beginnings are difficult, as well as in the resilience and traditions her people have brought all the way to the North Dakota prairie.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Setting: begins in Ukraine, then goes to North Dakota, USA for rest of story; 1905
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: immigrants, refugees, survival, prejudice, sisters, resilience, prairie life, pioneers, Russian Empire treatment of Jews
  • Protagonist description: female, age 11, Ukrainian immigrant, Jewish

*Ancestory: The Mystery and Majesty of Ancient Cave Art by Hannah Salyer

Around the world, our ancient ancestors’ mysterious art is left behind on cave walls, in rain forests, and with ink made from charcoal and crushed clay. These people told their stories in magnificent drawings that still speak to us today, echoing across generations.

In her own stunning artwork that features the deserts of North America to the caves of Papua New Guinea, Hannah Salyer showcases ancient rock paintings, drawings, and etchings and invites us to add to the ongoing story–our ancestory.

Kirkus and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction picture book, picture book for older readers
  • Setting: multiple worldwide location
  • Recommended for: Grades K-6
  • Themes: cave paintings, ancient world, ancient history, art, storytelling, world history, world mysteries
  • Protagonist description: modern-day people are diverse; ancient people are silhouettes

*Make Way: The Story of Robert McCloskey, Nancy Schön, and Some Very Famous Ducklings by Angela Burke Kunkel (Author) and Claire Keane (Illustrator)

In the beginning, there was a boy named Robert McCloskey, growing up in Ohio, his hands always moving, always creating. Many years later, after attending art school in Boston, he would reflect on his days wandering through Boston Garden and write the classic picture book Make Way for Ducklings.

In the beginning, there was also a girl named Nancy Schön. She grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, working in her father’s greenhouse, twisting wire and boughs into wreaths. Many years later, Nancy would look at Robert’s drawings in Make Way for Ducklings and get the seed of an idea. That seed became the beloved bronze sculptures of Mrs. Mallard and her eight ducklings that stand in Boston Garden today.

This stunning and clever picture book biography intertwines the lives of two phenomenal artists–who were contemporaries and friends–and reveals the extraordinary impact they’ve had on generations of children.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Setting: Ohio and Massachussetts, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-6
  • Themes: authors, illustrators, writers, Caldecott Award winners, artists, sculptures, Boston Garden
  • Protagonist description: author/illustrator Robert McCloskey and sculptor Nancy Schön

Little Land by Diana Sudyka

Do you know a little bit of land? It could be smaller than you expect. But its importance is bigger than you know. From the prehistoric past to the dramatic environmental change of right here and now, the land has countless stories to tell. You, too, are a part of the land. Listen, and you will understand what it needs to stay in balance.

A breathtaking exploration of the connections between life and land central to the past, present, and future of our planet, Little Land invites young readers to think about ways in which they engage with the environment in their own lives.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: environment, climate change, storytelling, balance, pollution, human impact on the environment, natural disasters, nature
  • Protagonist description: humans are racially-diverse

Contenders: Two Native Baseball Players, One World Series by Traci Sorell (Author) and Arigon Starr (Illustrator)

Charles Bender grew up on the White Earth Reservation in Northwestern Minnesota. John Meyers was raised on the Cahuilla reservation in Southern California. Despite their mutual respect for each other’s talents and their shared dedication to Native representation in baseball, the media was determined to pit them against each other.

However, they never gave up on their dreams of being pro baseball players and didn’t let the supposed rivalry created by the media or the racism they faced within the stadium stop them. They continued to break barriers and went on to play a combined total of nine championships.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Setting: White Earth Reservation, Minnesota and Cahuilla Reservation, California; early 1900s
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-5
  • Themes: professional baseball, Native Americans, life on the reservation, racism, World Series, baseball history
  • Protagonist description: two males, both Native American

Behold the Octopus! by Suzanne Slade (Author) and Thomas Gonzalez (Illustrator)

Behold the octopus! This remarkable animal hides beneath the seas, so you may not realize that it is one of the most incredible, talented creatures on our planet.

Fortunately, this nonfiction picture book from an award-winning team reveals the fascinating features of the glorious octopus, such as lights that attract prey, legs that walk on land, and the ability to change color and shape to match their surroundings and even masquerade as other animals.

Sparse, lyrical text is perfect for curious picture book readers, while sidebars and back matter share additional interesting details.

Covers 12 types of octopus.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction picture book
  • Setting: worldwide oceans
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: ocean life, marine biology, octopuses, animals, animal adaptations, rhyming book




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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