New Release Spotlight: May 16, 2023

Welcome to the May 16th Spotlight! Here’s what’s great about this week’s list:

  • new YA graphic nonfiction from two-time Sibert Award nominee Don Brown
  • a picture book about flamingoes in Tanzania
  • picture book great for teaching map skills in primary grades
  • several titles with gorgeous artwork! Don’t miss cover art for Venom & Vow, The Beautiful Something Else, Bibi, and Summer Is For Cousins!

My top picks:

  • 83 Days in Mariupol: A War Diary by Don Brown (YA)
  • The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow by Elaine Dimopoulos (MG)
  • From Here to There: A First Book of Maps by Vivian French (picture book)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #3300-#3318 on The Ginormous book list.

Don’t miss this week’s “Spotlight of the Spotlight” video on YouTube! I’ve only done four of these videos so far, but I’m enjoying sharing more about my favorite Spotlight books with you! This week’s video is 18 minutes long and features 10 titles.

Want your own editable copy of this presentation? Click this link, then click “Use Template”
in the top-right corner to make a copy for your Google Drive. You can then edit as needed to suit your school.

*83 Days in Mariupol: A War Diary by Don Brown

A city ruined. In once quiet residential streets, two armies battle, driving people into cellars and basements with little food or water. No lights or heat. Dwindling medical supplies. Shells and bullets deliver cruel, random death to the young and old, men, women, and children.

This is Mariupol, a Ukrainian city and early target of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Bordering Russian-occupied territory, the coastal city seemed doomed to a defeat that would come within days, if not hours. Could Mariupol, and Ukraine, survive? As Russian rockets threatened the city, Ukrainians resisted, and with a heroic combination of sacrifice and bravery, the besieged city endured…for months. But it all came at a steep cost.

With compassion and his keen journalist’s eye, Sibert Honor creator Don Brown illuminates the horrors of Mariupol and the depredations of its people not seen in the city since World War II. He also shows that outside of Mariupol, the city’s agonies were mirrored by similar events occurring in towns and cities across Ukraine.

83 Days in Mariupol reminds us that the bloody defiance shown at The Alamo, Dunkirk, Leningrad, and Thermopylae isn’t confined to the past but has a violent, modern presence. It is the story of senseless destruction, patriotism, and grit against long odds–a brutal battle whose consequences still reverberate across Ukraine and continue to reshape the global political landscape.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): nonfiction, graphic novel
  • Setting: Mariupol, Ukraine; 2022
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: war, Russia, Ukraine, modern warfare, patriotism, journalism, world history, horrors of war, mass graves, rape, lack of water, lack of food, survival
  • Protagonist description: Ukrainian citizens

*From Here by Luma Mufleh

With no word for “gay” in Arabic, Luma may not have known what to call the feelings she had growing up in Jordan during the 1980s, but she knew well enough to keep them secret.

It was clear that not only would her family have trouble accepting her, but trapped in a conservative religious society, she could’ve also been killed if anyone discovered her sexuality. Luma spent her teenage years increasingly desperate to find a way out, and finally found one when she was accepted into college in the United States. Once there, Luma begins the ago­nizing process of applying for political asylum, which ensures her safety–but causes her family to break ties with her.

Becoming a refugee in America is a rude awakening, and Luma must rely on the grace of friends and strangers alike as she builds a new life and finally embraces her full self. Slowly, she’s able to forge a new path forward with both her biological and chosen families, eventually founding Fugees Family, a nonprofit dedicated to the education and support of refu­gee children in the United States.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): memoir
  • Setting: Amman, Jordan and USA; 1980s-1990s
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: LGBT+, social issues, refugees, Muslims, activism, political asylum, family problems, suicide ideation, nonprofit organizations (Fugees Family)
  • Protagonist description: female, Jordanian American, Muslim, lesbian

*All the Dead Lie Down by Kyrie McCauley

Days after a tragedy leaves Marin Blythe alone in the world, she receives a surprising invitation from Alice Lovelace–an acclaimed horror writer and childhood friend of Marin’s mother. Alice offers her a nanny position at Lovelace House, the family’s coastal Maine estate.

Marin accepts and soon finds herself minding Alice’s peculiar girls. Thea buries her dolls one by one, hosting a series of funerals, while Wren does everything in her power to drive Marin away. Then Alice’s eldest daughter returns home unexpectedly. Evie Hallowell is every bit as strange as her younger sisters, and yet Marin is quickly drawn in by Evie’s compelling behavior and ethereal grace.

But as Marin settles in, she can’t escape the anxiety that follows her like a shadow. Dead birds appear in Marin’s room. The children’s pranks escalate. Something dangerous lurks in the woods, leaving mutilated animals in its wake. All is not well at Lovelace House, and Marin must unravel its secrets before they consume her.

Kirkus and Booklist starred. This could be a good choice for high school students asking for Colleen Hoover books – it sounds kind of similar to Verity.

  • Genre(s): horror, thriller, mystery
  • Setting: Lovelace House, a large estate in coastal Maine, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: grief, death of a parent (mother), nanny jobs, anxiety, macabre pranks, gothic horror
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, white

Court of the Undying Seasons by A.M. Strickland

When nineteen-year-old Fin volunteers to take her secret love’s place in their village’s Finding, she is terrified. Those who are chosen at the Finding are whisked away to Castle Courtsheart, a vampire school where human students either succeed and become vampires, fail and spend the rest of their lives as human thralls…or they don’t survive long enough to become either.

Fin is determined to forge a different path: learn how to kill the undead and get revenge for her mother, who was taken by the vampires years ago. But Courtsheart is as captivating as it is deadly, and Fin is quickly swept up in her new world and its inhabitants–particularly Gavron, her handsome and hostile vampire maker, whose blood is nothing short of intoxicating.

As Fin begins to discover new aspects of her own identity and test her newfound powers, she stumbles across a string of murders that may be connected to a larger ritual–one with potentially lethal consequences for vampires and humans alike. Fin must uncover the truth and find the killer before she loses her life…or betrays her own heart.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): supernatural, romance
  • Setting: Castle Courtsheart, a school for vampires
  • Recommended for: Grades 10-12
  • Themes: vampires, survival, revenge, vigilante justice, powers and abilities, murder
  • Protagonist description: female, age 19, white, bisexual

As Long As We’re Together by Brianna Peppins

Even though she has six siblings, sixteen-year-old Novah still knows what it’s like to feel lonely. Her friends never remember to invite her anywhere because they assume Novah will be too busy overseeing dinner, baths, and homework–tasks that fall to her when her parents are at work. She wouldn’t mind it so much if her “perfect” older sister, Ariana, wasn’t always excused from helping out. She’s the star of the volleyball team, and their parents don’t want anything to jeopardize the scholarships she’ll need to become the first member of their family to attend college.

Needless to say, Novah feels like she’s been given a raw deal, especially when she’s forced to cancel a maybe-date with her crush, Hailee.

Then one terrible night, their parents don’t make it back home. A car accident takes their lives and leaves seven heartbroken kids on their own. The Wilkinson siblings have no grandparents, no aunts or uncles. Since Ariana has just turned eighteen, she manages to convince the judge to give her temporary custody. If she can keep her family running smoothly, they’ll get to stay in their home. If not, they’ll be placed into foster care.

Novah will do whatever it takes to keep her family together but finds herself in a constant power struggle when Ariana refuses to take her advice, even once it becomes clear that they are all in way over their heads. Will Novah find her voice and summon the strength to do the impossible? Or will she be forced to say the hardest goodbyes of all?

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: large families, orphans, siblings, older sibling caretaking younger siblings, death of both parents at the same time, grief, sibling rivalry, family businesses, dogs
  • Protagonist description: female, age 16, African American

Venom & Vow by Anna-Marie McLemore and Elliott McLemore

Keep your enemy closer.

Cade McKenna is a transgender prince who’s doubling for his brother.
Valencia Palafox is a young dama attending the future queen of Eliana.
Gael Palma is the infamous boy assassin Cade has vowed to protect.
Patrick McKenna is the reluctant heir to a kingdom, and the prince Gael has vowed to destroy.

Cade doesn’t know that Gael and Valencia are the same person.
Valencia doesn’t know that every time she thinks she’s fighting Patrick, she’s fighting Cade.
And when Cade and Valencia blame each other for a devastating enchantment that takes both their families, neither of them realizes that they have far more dangerous enemies.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Setting: fictional nation of Eliana (inspired by Mexico)
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: princes, royalty, LGBT+, assassins, secret identities
  • Protagonist description: two transgender teens, both use canes (one has scoliosis; one has a knee injured in war)

Transmogrify!: 14 Fantastical Tales of Trans Magic by g. haron davis, ed.

Transness is as varied and colorful as magic can be.

In Transmogrify!, you’ll embark on fourteen different adventures alongside unforgettable characters who embody many different genders and expressions and experiences—because magic is for everyone, and that is cause for celebration.

BCCB starred.

  • Genre(s): anthology, short stories, fantasy
  • Setting: various fantasy settings
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: LGBT+, classic fantasy tropes, representation, identity
  • Protagonist description: all major characters are transgender or nonbinary

*The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow by Elaine Dimopoulos (Author) and Doug Salati (Illustrator)

Butternut lives in the burrows of Milkweed Meadow with her nine rabbit brothers and sisters. Together they practice strategies for survival and tell stories. With disastrous scenarios blooming in her mind, Butternut embraces the lesson of her families’ stories: stick to your own rabbit-kind. But after befriending an incorrigible robin and a wounded deer, Butternut begins to question what she has been taught.

When the three friends discover other animals in crisis, Butternut must decide whether she can help, rally her friends and family, and be as brave as the heroes in the stories she tells.

THREE starred reviews! Includes black and white illustrations. This would make a sweet read-aloud for the beginning of next school year

  • Genre(s): animal fantasy, adventure, animal stories
  • Setting: Milkweed Meadow
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-6
  • Themes: survival, siblings, rabbits, animals, anxiety, taking risks, helping others, friendship
  • Protagonist description: anthropomorphic animals; protagonist is a female rabbit

*Ruby Lost and Found by Christina Li

Thanks to her Ye-Ye’s epic scavenger hunts, thirteen-year-old Ruby Chu knows San Francisco like the back of her hand. But after his death, she feels lost, and it seems like everyone—from her best friends to her older sister—is abandoning her.

After Ruby gets in major trouble at school, her parents decide she has to spend the summer at a local senior center, with her grandmother, Nai-Nai, and Nai-Nai’s friends for company. When a new boy from Ruby’s grade, Liam Yeung, starts showing up too, Ruby’s humiliation is complete.

But Nai-Nai, her friends, and Liam all surprise Ruby. She finds herself working with Liam, who might not be as annoying as he seems, to help save a historic Chinatown bakery that’s being priced out of the neighborhood. And alongside Nai-Nai, who is keeping a secret that threatens to change everything, Ruby retraces Ye-Ye’s scavenger hunt maps in an attempt to find a way out of her grief–and maybe even find herself.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: Chinatown, San Francisco, California, USA; summertime
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: grandparents, grief, death of grandfather, best friend moving away, getting into trouble at school, scavenger hunts, senior care centers, making new friends, gentrification, friendship, family
  • Protagonist description: female, age 13, Chinese American, rising 8th grader

There Flies the Witch by Mayonn Paasewe-Valchev

Red doesn’t remember who she is or where she came from. In fact, her only memory is a terrifying, repeating dream of a threatening shadow and a foggy field. But after many years, she wonders if that’s just something she made up.

Red does know that she now belongs with Yakaka, the witch who rescued Red when she was a little girl. Full of power and magic, Yakaka travels the world, healing the planet when it calls for her help. Yakaka carries Red between the wings on her back during these journeys, teaching her the skills of witchcraft, storytelling, and healing—skills Red can never seem to master.

After a dangerous mission leads to Yakaka and Red’s falling from a great height and into the stormy ocean, Red wakes up alone on a seemingly deserted island. Days later, a young boy and his mother find Red and help her recover. For the first time, Red has a friend her own age to play with, and a chance to live a different kind of life. But what happened to Yakaka?

BCCB starred. An easy sell for fans of Barnhill’s The Girl That Drank the Moon.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, folklore
  • Setting: naturally beautiful, magical, and dangerous land
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: amnesia, good witches, magic, orphans, guardians, family, self-discovery, identity, recurring nightmares
  • Protagonist description: female, tweenage, brown skin

The Beautiful Something Else by Ash Van Otterloo

It’s exhausting trying to be the perfect daughter. Still, getting good grades without making any waves may be the only way to distract from the fact that Sparrow Malone’s mother is on the verge of falling apart. Which means no getting upset. No being weird. No standing out for the wrong reasons.

But when Mom’s attempts to cope spiral out of control, Sparrow is sent to live with Aunt Mags on a sprawling estate full of interesting, colorful new neighbors. And for the first time, trying to fit in doesn’t feel right anymore. Even Sparrow’s shadow has stopped following the rules.

As Shadow nudges Sparrow to try all the scary, exciting things Mom has always forbidden, Sparrow begins to realize something life-changing: They don’t feel like a girl. Or a boy. And while this discovery is exciting, now Sparrow must decide whether to tell everyone–their new family and friends, not-so-secret crush, and, most importantly, their mom–the truth, especially if it means things change forever.

BCCB starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: Rainbow House, a family estate and communal refuge for LGBT+ people
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: gender identity, fitting in vs. standing out, mentally ill parent (mother), addiction, anxiety, perfectionism, parent in rehab, parental drug overdose, family problems
  • Protagonist description: nonbinary tween, age 12, white

The Witch of Woodland by Laurel Snyder

Hi, whoever is reading this. I’m Zipporah Chava McConnell, but everyone calls me Zippy.

Things used to be simple–until a few weeks ago. Now my best friend, Bea, is acting funny; everyone at school thinks I’m weird; and my mom is making me start preparing for my bat mitzvah, even though we barely ever go to synagogue. In fact, the only thing that still seems to make sense is magic.

See, the thing is, I’m a witch. I’ve been casting spells since I was little. And even if no one else wants to believe in magic anymore, it’s always made sense to me, always felt true. But I was still shocked the day I found a strange red book at the library and somehow…I conjured something. A girl, actually. A beautiful girl with no memory, and wings like an angel. You probably don’t believe me, but I swear it’s the truth.

Miriam is like no one else I’ve ever met. She’s proof that magic is real. And, it’s hard to explain this part, but I just know that we’re connected. That means it’s up to me to help Miriam figure out what she is and where she came from. If I can do that, maybe everything else in my life will start to make sense too.

Anyway, it’s worth a try.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, supernatural
  • Setting: Atlanta, Georgia, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: magic, witches, witchcraft, conjuring, coming of age, fourth-wall narration
  • Protagonist description: female, witch, age 12-13, 7th grader, Jewish, white

The Cobra’s Song by Supriya Kelkar

Ten-year-old Geetanjali doesn’t mind singing, but she knows she’ll never be as good as her mother, Aai, or grandmother, Aaji, famous classical singers from India whose celebrity has followed the family all the way to their small town of Deadwood, Michigan, where Geetanjali lives with her aai, and father, Baba.

After freezing on stage during a concert performance, Geetanjali adds “fear of singing” to her list of fears, a list that seems to be multiplying daily. Aai tries to stress the importance of using one’s voice and continuing to sing; Geetanjali hopes that when her Aaji, comes to visit this summer, she’ll be able to help her.

But when they pick Aaji up at the airport, she’s not alone. Lata, an auntie Geetanjali has never met before is with Aaji and their neighbor, Heena Auntie, who is acting strange and mean, and not like the warm auntie she normally is.

Lata Auntie has heard all about Geetanjali’s family, growing up in India. She knows Aai and Aaji are the only ones who can sing raag Naagshakti. Aai plays it off, but Geetanjali thinks back to the raag in the binder that started with an N that had been torn out. She has never heard of Raag Naagshakti, which sounds like it is about the power of cobras.

Geetanjali is determined not to let her imagination get the best of her and add aunties to her list of fears, but she can’t help but wonder about the connection between the missing raag, Heena Auntie’s cold behavior, and their interesting summer visitor.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: small town of Deadwood, Michigan; summertime
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: performance arts, singing, fears, anxiety, cobras, Indian mythology, Indian music
  • Protagonist description: female, age 10, rising 6th grader, Indian American

The Museum of Lost and Found by Leila Sales (Author) and Jacqueline Li (Illustrator)

Vanessa isn’t sure which happened first: finding the abandoned museum or losing her best friend Bailey. She doesn’t know what to do with herself now that Bailey has left her behind–but when she stumbles upon an empty, forgotten museum, her purpose becomes clear. Vanessa starts filling the museum with her own artifacts and memories, hoping that perhaps, if she can find the right way to tell the story of her broken friendship, she can figure out how to make it whole again.

As Vanessa’s museum grows, it seems like the place might have the answers to other questions, too. Like why a mysterious work of art was left behind. Or how to deal with a military dad who’s trying to parent from thousands of miles away. Or why Vanessa’s bad habit is getting harder and harder to quit. Or even, maybe, how to set the past to rest and find a way to move forward.

Includes occasional black and white illustrations.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, mystery
  • Setting: small-town in Ohio, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: broken friendships, best friend abandonment, military deployed parent, museums, anxiety, excoriation disorder (skin picking)
  • Protagonist description: female, 6th grader, white, Jewish

*Summer Is for Cousins by Rajani LaRocca (Author) and Abhi Alwar (Illustrator)

Ravi can’t wait to spend summer vacation at the lake house with his family–especially his cousins! Summer vacation is for days at the beach, long hikes, paddleboarding, and–of course–ice cream. Ravi and his oldest cousin, Dhruv, had the same favorite flavor last year, but everything feels different now.

Dhruv’s much taller and his voice is deeper. Ravi’s worried that Dhruv won’t be interested in spending time with him, the little cousin. The ice cream shop doesn’t even have their favorite flavor this year. But on the last night of vacation, the cousins decide to make dinner, and Ravi’s in charge of dessert. He only has one special thing in mind!

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: summertime at a family lake house
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: summer, extended family, lakes, swimming, paddleboarding, hiking, cousins, growing up, change, summer activities
  • Protagonist description: male; entire family cues as South Asian

*From Here to There: A First Book of Maps by Vivian French (Author) and Ya-Ling Huang (Illustrator)

One day, Anna’s friend Zane sends her an invitation to come over to play, and inside the envelope is a map. But Anna is convinced the map can’t be right–why has Zane put his house in the middle and hers on the edge?

So Anna decides to draw a map of her own, and Dad joins in as well. With an inviting narrative, child-friendly illustrations, and running commentary about various aspects of maps, aspiring cartographers are introduced to everything from symbols to point of view, road maps to family trees–and even a special “cat map” of Anna’s pet’s favorite spots. A final spread spurs readers to try their own hand at mapmaking.

Kirkus and School Library Connection starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: inside the 6-story apartment home of a young girl and her father
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: cartography, mapmaking, map symbols, types of maps, point of view, perspective, scale, geography, cats, fathers and daughters
  • Protagonist description: female, pale-skinned; her dad, light-skinned; male, brown-skinned

*Bibi by Jo Weaver

Bibi the flamingo has been with her flock for longer than anyone can remember. When the lake dries up, the flamingos are forced to leave their babies behind and fly away to find water. Bibi bravely volunteers to guide the baby flamingos on foot across the barren salt flats to reunite them with their parents.

But when one little flamingo starts to fall behind, Bibi teaches everyone a valuable lesson about community and the importance of helping one another in times of need.

Kirkus and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: two lakes, one that has dried up, and the area in between; backmatter introduces Lake Natron in Tanzania, where flamingoes flock to breed
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: flamingoes, birds, older generation helping the younger generation, community, wisdom, grandmothers, flamingo behavior, kindness
  • Protagonist description: an older, wise flamingo, female

Stinkbird Has a Superpower by Jill Esbaum (Author) and Bob Shea (Illustrator)

Stinkbirds have a lot in common with other birds: they have feathers, wings, and a beak. But they also have…a hidden superpower!

This proud stinkbird papa would love to tell you more about it–if his adorable chick would quit interrupting him!

BCCB starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, humor
  • Setting: Amazon rainforest
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: birds, animals, nature, fathers, interrupting, Amazon rainforest, survival adaptations, bird facts, animal defenses
  • Protagonist description: father and son Amazonian hoatzin birds

Cinda Meets Ella by Wallace West

Cinda sure loves a good adventure…but her life’s been nothing but miserable since awful Aunt Hildy and her boys tromped in and took over.

So when a mysterious Rider calls a roping-and-riding contest at the Rancho Del Reina, she sure as heck’s gotta enter. That cash prize’ll buy back her freedom! Can she giddyap and grab the gold—and Ella Del Reina’s attention—before sundown?

Told in Wallace West’s distinctive, chuckle-inducing read-aloud style bursting with southwestern flair, here is a story that shows readers a different but equally satisfying kind of happily ever after.

  • Genre(s): picture book, fairytale retelling
  • Setting: Southwestern USA
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: Cinderella retellings, Western themes, LGBT+, rodeos
  • Protagonist description: female, Black, queer





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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