New Release Spotlight: June 6, 2023

Whoa, this list was surprisingly long! We have an unusually strong early-June New Release Spotlight this week. Every book on the list received at least one starred review, and many received 2 or 3 starred reviews.

It’s been a busy week, so I didn’t do a Spotlight video for this list.

This week’s top picks:

  • Secret of the Moon Conch by David Bowles and Guadalupe García McCall (YA)
  • Will on the Inside by Andrew Eliopulos
  • Champion Chompers, Super Stinkers and Other Poems by Extraordinary Animals by Linda Ashman

This week’s Spotlight titles are #3349-#3368 on The Ginormous book list.

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*Pedro & Daniel by Federico Erebia (Author) and Julie Kwon (Illustrator)

Debut author! Pedro and Daniel are Mexican American brothers growing up in 1970s Ohio. Their mother resents that Pedro is a spitting image of their darker-skinned father, that Daniel likes dolls, that neither boy plays sports.

Life at home is rough, but the boys have an unbreakable bond that will last their entire lives.

Together, the brothers manage an abusive home life, coming out, first loves, first jobs, and the AIDS pandemic, in a coming-of-age story unlike any other.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Setting: Ohio, 1970s
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: family problems, brothers, homophobia, colorism, racism, abusive parent, AIDS epidemic, coming out, neurodivergence, alternating viewpoints, suicidal ideation
  • Protagonist description: perspectives alternate between two brothers, Mexian American, both are gay

*Gay Club! by Simon James Green

Barney’s a shoo-in for his school’s LGBTQ+ Society President at the club’s next election. But when the vote is opened up to the entire student body, the whole school starts paying attention. How low will the candidates go to win? Buckle up for some serious shade, scandals and sleazy shenanigans. It isn’t long before it’s National Coming Out Day–for everyone’s secrets!

But when the group faces an unexpected threat–and a big opportunity–can the club members put politics aside and stand united?

Kirkus and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, humor
  • Setting: high school, possibly set in England?
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: school elections, coming out, LGBT+, school stories, school pranks
  • Protagonist description: male, age 16, white, British, gay

*The Moonlit Vine by Elizabeth Santiago (Author) and Mckenzie Mayle (Illustrator)

Despite her name, Taína Perez doesn’t know anything about her Taíno heritage, nor has she ever tried to learn. After all, how would ancient Puerto Rican history help with everything going on?

There’s constant trouble at school and in her neighborhood, her older brother was kicked out of the house, and with her mom at work, she’s left alone to care for her little brother and aging grandmother. It’s a lot for a 14-year-old to manage.

But life takes a wild turn when her abuela tells her she is a direct descendant of Anacaona, the beloved Taíno leader, warrior, and poet, who was murdered by the Spanish in 1503. Abuela also gives her an amulet and a zemi and says that it’s time for her to step into her power like the women who came before her. But is that even possible? People like her hardly make it out of their circumstances, and the problems in her home and community are way bigger than Taína can manage. Or are they?

A modern tale with interstitial historical chapters, The Moonlit Vine brings readers a powerful story of the collective struggle, hope, and liberation of Puerto Rican and Taíno peoples.

Kirkus and Booklist starred. This one actually released last week, but I missed it!

  • Genre(s): magical realism
  • Setting: Puerto Rico
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: bullying, family problems, Puerto Rican history, grandmothers, special powers, ancestors, Taíno peoples, colonialism
  • Protagonist description: female, age 14, Puerto Rican

At the Speed of Lies by Cindy L. Otis

Quinn Calvet was supposed to be having an epic year. She had all kinds of plans with her best friend, Ximena, and sister, Ava, and to grow her following as an influencer on The Whine.

Instead, Quinn finds herself third wheel to Ximena and her new boyfriend or getting ditched by Ava, who has turned into an overachiever, obsessed with studying and joining every school club. It brings up Quinn’s old feelings that her disability has her left behind. She tries to talk to Ava about it, but she’s too busy with the newest club at school, Defend Kids, which is working frantically to help find two kids who were recently kidnapped from a nearby town.

Suddenly, Defend Kids is all anyone is talking about, and whenever Quinn posts about them on The Whine, she gains tons of new followers and her posts go viral. As the club works to get the message out, more kids in the surrounding area go missing, but it seems like the police and the media aren’t doing much about it. When two of Quinn’s classmates are kidnapped, the dangers that Defend Kids is trying to fight become all too real.

As Quinn and her friends search for the missing kids, tensions escalate at school, there’s an uptick in bullying, and conspiracy theories abound. Before she knows it, Quinn and The Whine are at the center of it all, trying to find out what’s really happening. Only the truth might be more deadly than anyone knows…

Publishers Weekly starred. Author Cindy Otis is a former CIA officer.

  • Genre(s): thriller
  • Setting: Canandaigua, New York, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: friendship, disabilities, wheelchair-bound protagonist, missing children, child trafficking, rheumatoid arthritis young teens, social media, media literacy, going viral, crime, bullying, conspiracy theories, ableism
  • Protagonist description: female, HS junior, white, uses a wheelchair

The Chaperone by M Hendrix

Like every young woman in New America, Stella knows the rules:

Deflect attention.

Abstain from sin.

Navigate the world with care.

Give obedience.

Embrace purity.

Respect your chaperone.

Girls in New America must have a chaperone with them at all times . Because of this, Stella is never alone. She can’t go out by herself or learn about the world. She can’t even spend time with boys except at formal Visitations. Still, Stella feels lucky that her chaperone, Sister Helen, is like a friend to her.

And then the unthinkable happens. Sister Helen dies suddenly, and Stella feels lost. Especially when she’s assigned a new chaperone just days later.

Sister Laura is…different. She has radical ideas about what Stella should be doing. She leaves Stella alone in public and even knows how to get into the “Hush Hush” parties where all kinds of forbidden things happen. As Stella spends more time with Sister Laura, she begins to question everything she’s been taught. What if the Constables’ rules don’t actually protect girls? What if they were never meant to keep them safe?

Once Stella glimpses both real freedom and the dark truths behind New America, she has no choice but to fight back against the world she knows, risking everything to set out on a dangerous journey across what used to be the United States.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): thriller, dystopia
  • Setting: dystopian future in New America
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: oppression, gender roles, forced marriage, missing women and girls, women’s rights, class privilege
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, HS senior, white, wealthy family

Good As Gold by Candace Buford

Casey’s life in Langston has been charmed. She’s the queen bee of her prep school, a shoe-in for prom queen, and on her way to the Ivy League come fall. She can’t wait to leave the whole town of Langston behind her. That is until her father loses his job and she finds herself on the brink of losing her ticket out of town.

The town of Langston is known for its picturesque lake and robust summer tourism. Everyone who lives in town has heard the rumors at some point–there is a treasure buried deep below the surface that no one has ever been able to find. Few people actually believe in the treasure, and even fewer have searched for it. But some have tried…

Suddenly an outcast from her popular squad, Casey falls in with a new group of friends who are exactly the opposite of her usual crowd, but are more accepting. Together they devise a plan to find the elusive treasure, in a quest to get the money and save Casey’s family and her future. But what they find is much more complicated than just a pile of gold. With thrilling twists and turns and high stakes adventure, fans of Outer Banks will devour this summer adventure.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): adventure, mystery
  • Setting: Langston, Georgia, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: buried treasure, treasure hunts, popularity, prep school, job loss, decline in social status
  • Protagonist description: female, HS senior, Black

The Grimoire of Grave Fates by Hanna Alkaf (Creator) and Margaret Owen (Creator)

A prestigious school for young magicians, the Galileo Academy has recently undergone a comprehensive overhaul, reinventing itself as a roaming academy in which students of all cultures and identities are celebrated. In this new Galileo, every pupil is welcome–but there are some who aren’t so happy with the recent changes.

That includes everyone’s least favorite professor, Septimius Dropwort, a stodgy old man known for his harsh rules and harsher punishments. But when the professor’s body is discovered on school grounds with a mysterious note clenched in his lifeless hand, the Academy’s students must solve the murder themselves, because everyone’s a suspect.

Told from more than a dozen alternating and diverse perspectives, The Grimoire of Grave Fates follows Galileo’s best and brightest young magicians as they race to discover the truth behind Dropwort’s mysterious death. Each one of them is confident that only they have the skills needed to unravel the web of secrets hidden within Galileo’s halls. But they’re about to discover that even for straight-A students, magic doesn’t always play by the rules…

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, mystery
  • Setting: Galileo Academy for the Extraordinary, a prep school for magicians
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: murder, magic, magicians, boarding schools, multiple perspectives, LGBT+, wizards, racism, classism, transphobia
  • Protagonist description: 18 different perspectives; all diverse

Secret of the Moon Conch by David Bowles and Guadalupe García McCall

In modern-day Mexico, Sitlali is all alone after the death of her beloved abuela. Targeted by a dangerous gang member, she flees to the United States to find her father. The night before her journey, she finds an ancient conch shell on the beach and takes it with her as a memento of home.

In 1521, Calizto is trapped in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, which is besieged by Spanish invaders. He has fought valiantly, but hope for his people is running out. Desperate to escape, he takes up his mother’s sacred conch and sounds a plea to the gods.

The conch holds magic neither Sitlali nor Calizto understand, magic that allows them to communicate across centuries–and find comfort in each other as they fight to survive. With each conversation, they fall deeper in love, and as the moon waxes, they become more present to each other. But as danger threatens at every turn, will they ever find a way to truly be together?

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, romance
  • Setting: ancient city of Tenochtitlan, Mexico; timelines alternate between 2019 and 1521
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: Aztecs, Spanish colonization of Mexico, Hispanic Heritage Month, border crossing, magical objects, alternating timelines, Mexican drug mafia, Hernán Cortés, orphans
  • Protagonist description: male and female, both age 17, both Mexican

Take by Jennifer Bradbury

Cara is on the cusp of adventure. Unlike her best friends, she doesn’t want to go to college, she wants different kinds of challenges. And anyway, home just doesn’t fit anymore. She is growing distant from her friends and hasn’t spoken to her father in eons. To make matters worse, her ex-boyfriend and fellow climber, Nat, has popped back into town after breaking up with her over text. So it’s the perfect time to leave, and she has big plans for a gap year to rock-climb in Patagonia.

But when Cara hears that her father is actually missing, things change. While trying to track him down, she discovers a trail of clues centering around the history and life of the legendary mountaineer, outdoorsman, author, and all around dirtbag, Beckett Friedrichs. And unfortunately, the only person who knows enough about Friedrichs to make sense of any of this is Nat.

Their search for Cara’s father will lead into the Cascade Mountains, up a harrowing rock face, and navigating through time as Nat and Cara explore the history of World War II with the impact of Pearl Harbor and its Japanese Incarceration Camps, Cara’s family, and each other.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): adventure, mystery
  • Setting: summer after graduation, Cascade Mountains, Pacific Northwest, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: rock climbing, sports, mentally ill parent, diary entries, racism, Japanese internment, missing persons (father), fathers and daughters
  • Protagonist description: female, recent HS graduate, white with Japanese ancestry

*Half Moon Summer by Elaine Vickers

Drew was never much of a runner. Until his dad’s unexpected diagnosis.

Mia has nothing better to do. Until she realizes entering Half Moon Bay’s half-marathon could solve her family’s housing problems.

And just like that they decide to spend their entire summer training to run 13.1 miles. Drew and Mia have very different reasons for running, but these two twelve year olds have one crucial thing in common (besides sharing a birthday): Hope. For the future. For their families. And for each other.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: summer, Half Moon Bay, California, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: sports, running, track, training to run a half-marathon, financial problems, friendship, illness of parent (father)
  • Protagonist description: male and female, both age 12, both white

*The Order of Things by Kaija Langley

Eleven-year-old April Jackson loves playing the drums, almost as much as she loves her best friend, Zee, a violin prodigy. They both dream of becoming professional musicians one day.

When Zee starts attending a new school that will nurture his talent, April decides it’s time for her to pursue her dreams, too, and finally take drum lessons. She knows she isn’t very good to start, but with Zee’s support, she also knows someday she can be just as good as her hero, Sheila E., and travel all around the world with a pair of drumsticks in her hand.

When the unthinkable happens and Zee suddenly passes away, April is crushed by grief. Without Zee, nothing is the way it’s supposed to be. Zee’s Dad isn’t delivering the mail for his postal route like he should. April’s Mom is suddenly dating someone new who is occupying too much space in their lives. And every time April tries to play the drums, all she can think about is Zee.

April isn’t sure how to move on from the awful feeling of being without Zee. Desperate to help Papa Zee, she decides to secretly deliver the mail he’s been neglecting. But when on her route she discovers a classmate in trouble, she doesn’t second guess what she knows is the right thing to do.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, novel in verse
  • Setting: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: musicians, death of best friend, parent (mother, queer) dating, drums, delivering mail, empathy, kindness, charter schools, sudden cardiac arrest
  • Protagonist description: female, age 11, 6th grader, African American

*Will on the Inside by Andrew Eliopulos

Will loves playing center midfield on his middle school soccer team. This year, though, Will hasn’t felt like himself; his stomach has been bothering him, and he has no energy at all. When his new doctor diagnoses him with Crohn’s disease, Will hopes that means he’ll start feeling better soon and he can get back to playing with his team before the season ends.

But Will’s new medicines come with all kinds of side effects, Forced to sit out afternoon practice, Will finds himself hanging out with a kid at school, Griffin. This could be a real problem, seeing as Griffin just asked Will’s best friend to the spring dance. As in, guy friend. What would Will’s teammates say if they knew the whole story? Not to mention Will’s friends at church.

With all these changes happening faster than he can process them, Will knows that he has a lot to figure out about who he really is on the inside.

SLJ and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: religious small town in Georgia, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: Crohn’s disease, soccer, medicine, side effects, LGBT+, homophobia, bullying, church bigotry
  • Protagonist description: male, age 12, 7th grader, white, soccer player

*Starboard by Nicola Skinner

Kirsten Bramble is too famous to have friends. That’s what she tells herself, anyway–but with the end of her hit reality TV show barreling toward her, Kirsten’s not sure she’s ready to say goodbye to her lonely life of fame.

Luckily–or unluckily–Kirsten can’t help being plunged headfirst into a new adventure when she’s dragged on a class trip to visit the SS Great Britain. Because somehow, the ancient ship can speak to her–and she wants Kirsten to be her new captain.

The ship pulls out of the harbor with no sails and no working engine, and try as Kirsten might, she can’t convince the ship to turn back until they find a way to help her finish her final quest.

Kirsten doesn’t feel like a captain–but along the way, she may just realize that the ending of an adventure, while scary, can be just as special as the beginning.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): adventure, fantasy
  • Setting: England
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: reality TV, fame, celebrities, ancient ships, former friends, magical ships, school field trips, sentient objects, telepathy, ghosts
  • Protagonist description: female, age 11, white, British, reality TV star, adopted

*Garvey’s Choice: The Graphic Novel by Nikki Grimes (Author) and Theodore Taylor III (Illustrator)

Garvey’s father has always wanted Garvey to be athletic, but Garvey is interested in astronomy, science fiction, reading–anything but sports.

Feeling like a failure, he comforts himself with food. Garvey is kind, funny, smart, a loyal friend, and he is also overweight, teased by bullies, and lonely.

When his only friend encourages him to join the school chorus, Garvey’s life changes. The chorus finds a new soloist in Garvey, and through chorus, Garvey finds a way to accept himself and a way to finally reach his distant father–by speaking the language of music instead of the language of sports.

Horn Book and SLJ starred. I was able to get an ARC of this book via Netgalley. You can read my full review of Garvey’s Choice: The Graphic Novel here.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, realistic fiction
  • Setting: Garvey’s home, middle school, and neighborhood
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: parental disapproval, being oneself, self-confidence, music, singing, school choir, fathers and sons, Luther Vandross, being overweight, running, friendship, tanka poetry (similar to haiku), bullying
  • Protagonist description: male, age 11, 6th grader, African American, overweight

Lei and the Fire Goddess by Malia Maunakea

Curses aren’t real.

At least, that’s what twelve-year-old, part-Hawaiian Anna Leilani Kamaʻehu thinks when she listens to her grandmother’s folktales about sacred flowers and family guardians. Anna’s friends back home in Colorado don’t believe in legends, either. They’re more interested in science and sports–real, tangible things that stand in total contrast to Anna’s family’s embarrassing stories.

So when Anna goes back to Hawaiʻi to visit her Tūtū, she has no interest in becoming the heir to her family’s history; she’s set on having a touristy, fun vacation. But when Anna accidentally insults Pele the fire goddess by destroying her lehua blossom, a giant hawk swoops in and kidnaps her best friend, and she quickly learns just how real these moʻolelo are. In order to save her friends and family, Anna must now battle mythical creatures, team up with demigods and talking bats, and evade the traps Pele hurls her way.

For if Anna hopes to undo the curse, she will have to dig deep into her Hawaiian roots and learn to embrace all of who she is.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, mythology
  • Setting: Hawaiʻi
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: Hawaiian mythology, family stories, kidnapping, demigods
  • Protagonist description: female, age 12, biracial (Hawaiian and Polish American)

*Papá’s Magical Water-Jug Clock by Jesús Trejo (Author) and Eliza Kinkz (Illustrator)

Debut author! Little Jesús is excited to spend a Saturday with his landscaper Papá at the “family business.” He loves Papá’s cool truck and all the tools he gets to use. Papá even puts him in charge of the magical water jug, which is also a clock!

When it’s empty, Papá explains, the workday will be done. It’s a big job, and Jesús wants to do it right. But he just can’t help giving water to an array of thirsty animals–a dog in a sweater, some very old cats, and a flock of peacocks. Before he knows it, the magical water jug is empty–but the workday’s not over yet!

Will Jesús be fired?! Or is the jug not really magical after all? This mischievous tale of a very young comedian’s life lesson will warm hearts and have class clowns, practical jokers, and all high-spirited kids nodding in sympathy.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: various people’s yards on a Satuday
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: working, fathers and sons, family businesses, water, helping others, Spanish language, working class families, yardwork
  • Protagonist description: father and son, both Latino

*Salat in Secret by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (Author) and Hatem Aly (Illustrator)

In this beautiful story of community, family, and acceptance, a boy named Muhammad receives a special salat rug on his seventh birthday.

Seven is the age when Muslim children are encouraged to pray, and Muhammad is determined to do all five daily prayers on time. But one salat occurs during the school day–and he’s worried about being seen praying at school. His father parks his truck to worship in public places, and people stare at and mock him. Will the same thing happen to Muhammad?

In the end, with help from his teacher, he finds the perfect place to pray. Salat in Secret, by two highly acclaimed Muslim creators, is a poignant and empowering look at an important facet of Islam that many observant children cherish but might be scared to share.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: elementary school
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: Muslim families, prayer rugs, salats, praying at school
  • Protagonist description: young boy, age 7, Black, Muslim

*Champion Chompers, Super Stinkers and Other Poems by Extraordinary Animals by Linda Ashman (Author) and Aparna Varma (Illustrator)

Who’s tops in the animal world? Readers get to find out, as they play a guessing game that uses delightful persona poems to introduce 19 animals who are the best in some way.

Each poem offers hints about the identity of an animal and what makes it so amazing. Included are popular categories, such as Biggest Animal Ever (blue whale) and Fastest Short-Distance Runner (cheetah), as well as more unexpected ones, such as Best Engineer (North American beaver) and Longest Tongue (giant anteater). Poems full of personality combined with intriguing science–what a lively and fun way to learn!

Kirkus and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): poetry, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-5
  • Themes: guessing games, animals, personification, superlatives (biggest, strongest, fastest), facts
  • Protagonist description: 19 animals

The Search for the Giant Arctic Jellyfish by Chloe Savage

Dr. Morley absolutely loves jellyfish. Her entire life, she has been fascinated by one specific species, a legendary creature that no one has ever seen.

Does the giant Arctic jellyfish even exist? After years of research, Dr. Morley and her crew don their red parkas and set off to icy northern waters in hopes of finding the mysterious creature.

The Arctic Circle is filled with wonders: playful orcas, the glowing aurora borealis, and formidable ice shelves–but will Dr. Morley find what she is searching for? Or, perhaps, will it find her?

Bringing the stark and breathtaking beauty of the Arctic to life, author-illustrator Chloe Savage’s whimsical and charming adventure into the unknown is sure to capture the imaginations of young explorers.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): informational picture book
  • Setting: Arctic Ocean
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: jellyfish, Arctic Ocean, animals, marine biology, research, living on a research vessel, narwhals, beluga whales, orca
  • Protagonist description: female, marine biologist, light-skinned

Moving the Millers’ Minnie Moore Mine Mansion: A True Story by Dave Eggers (Author) and Júlia Sardà (Illustrator)

Make way for history as only Dave Eggers could stage it. It all started when John “Minnie” Moore built a mine in Idaho and sold it to Englishman Henry Miller.

Then Henry married a local lass named Annie and built her a mansion, hence the “Millers’ Minnie Moore Mine Mansion.”

After Henry died and Annie was hoodwinked–losing all but the mansion–she and her son took to raising pigs in the yard, as some are wont to do. But the town wanted those pigs out. Who could have guessed that Annie and her crew would remove the whole mansion instead–rolling it away slowly on logs–while she and her son were still living in it?

Narrated with metafictional flair, this delightfully illustrated picture book is proof positive that nonfiction can be as lively and artful as any storybook.

BCCB starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Setting: Idaho, 1870s
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: mansions, ingenuity, swindles, moving, pigs, alliteration
  • Protagonist description: all characters are white





The New Release Spotlight began in May 2016 as a way to help librarians keep up with the many new children’s and YA books that are released each week. Every Tuesday, school librarian Leigh Collazo compiles the New Release Spotlight using a combination of Follett’s Titlewave, Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes and Noble. Titles with a * by them received two or more starred professional reviews. Recommended grade levels represent the range of grade levels recommended by professional book reviewers.

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