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New Release Spotlight: July 11, 2023

Last week, I skipped the Spotlight because Tuesday – book release day – was the July 4th holiday. Because of the holiday, the new book releases were sparse and mostly books that did not qualify for my list.

This week looks so much better! I did add a couple of books from last week, but WOW, what a list we have this week!

Picture books look especially fab–I had a hard time deciding which picture books to add and which ones to cut from the list. You can be assured that the picture books that made this week’s list are the cream of the crop!

My top picks:

  • Stars, Hide Your Fires by Jessica Best (YA space opera)
  • The Demon Sword Asperides by Sarah Jean Horwitz (MG fantasy)
  • The Skull: a Tyrolean Folktale by Jon Klassen (scary early chapter book)
  • Like Lava in My Veins by Derrick Barnes (superhero picture book)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #3404-#3423 on The Ginormous book list.


*Those Who Saw the Sun: African American Oral Histories from the Jim Crow South by Jaha Nailah Avery

Debut author! The past is not past. We may think something ancient history, or something that doesn’t affect our present day, but we would be wrong.

Those Who Saw the Sun is a collection of oral histories told by Black people who grew up in the South during the time of Jim Crow. Jaha Nailah Avery is a lawyer, scholar, and reporter whose family has roots in North Carolina stretching back over 300 years. These interviews have been a personal passion project for years as she’s traveled across the South meeting with elders and hearing their stories.

One of the most important things a culture can do is preserve history, truthfully. In Those Who Saw the Sun we have the special experience of hearing this history as it was experienced by those who were really there. The opportunity to read their stories, their similarities and differences, where they agree and disagree, and where they overcame obstacles and found joy–feels truly like a gift.

THREE starred reviews! Includes black and white historical photographs throughout.

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction
  • Setting: Jim Crow South (US)
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-AD
  • Themes: prejudice, racism, Jim Crow laws, American South, US history, oral histories, systemic racism, interviews, segregation, journalism
  • Protagonist description: voices of 10 African American elders

*I’d Rather Burn Than Bloom by Shannon C. F. Rogers

Debut author! Some girls call their mother their best friend. Marisol Martin? She could never relate. She and her mom were forever locked in an argument with no beginning and no end. Clothes, church, boys, no matter the topic, Marisol always felt like there was an unbridgeable gap between them that they were perpetually shouting across, one that she longed to close.

But when her mother dies suddenly, Marisol is left with no one to fight against, haunted by all the things that she both said and didn’t say. Her dad seems completely lost, and worse, baffled by Marisol’s attempts to connect with her mother’s memory through her Filipino culture. Her brother Bernie is retreating further and further into himself. And when Marisol sleeps with her best friend’s boyfriend–and then punches said best friend in the face–she’s left alone, with nothing but a burning anger, and nowhere for it to go.

And Marisol is determined to stay angry, after all, there’s a lot to be angry about–her father, her mother, the world. But as a new friendship begins to develop with someone who just might understand, Marisol reluctantly starts to open up to her, and to the possibility there’s something else on the other side of that anger–something more to who she is, and who she could be.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: sudden death of a parent (mother), grief, fatal car accidents, fighting with parent, family problems, Filipino culture, fighting with best friend, anger, siblings, school suspension, teen drinking, juvenile detention, dual timelines
  • Protagonist description: female, HS sophomore, biracial (Filipina and white)

Stars, Hide Your Fires by Jessica Best

As an expert thief from a minor moon, Cass knows a good mark when she sees one. The emperor’s ball is her chance to steal a fortune for herself, her ailing father, and her scrappy crew of thieves and market vendors.

Her plan is simple:
1. Hitch a ride to the planet of Ouris, the dazzling heart of the empire.
2. Sneak onto the imperial palace station to attend the emperor’s ball.
3. Steal from the rich, the royal, and the insufferable.

But on the station, things quickly go awry. When the emperor is found dead, everyone in the palace is a suspect–and someone is setting Cass up to take the fall. To clear her name, Cass must work with an unlikely ally: a gorgeous and mysterious rebel with her own reasons for being on the station. Together, they unravel a secret that could change the fate of the empire.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): mystery, science fiction, thriller
  • Setting: fictional planet of Ouris
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: outlaws, LGBT+, space opera, criminals, thieves, framed for murder, rebels, emperors
  • Protagonist description: female, age 18, white, thief

My Week with Him by Joya Goffney

Nikki can’t wait to leave Texas and follow her dreams of a music career…After a painful betrayal by her sister and a heated argument with their mother, Nikki is kicked out and finds herself homeless.

She decides to go to California to pursue her singing career. When her best friend, Malachai, discovers her plan to flee Texas, he begs her to spend the remainder of spring break with him. He believes that over the course of a week, he can convince her to stay in Texas, or to at least graduate high school. But their plans are interrupted when Nikki’s little sister Vae goes missing.

Nikki is forced to work alongside her difficult mother as they set off in search of Vae, with Malachai’s support. Will Nikki find a reason to stay in Texas, or will this spring break be the last time she sees them? Through her emotional journey, Nikki ultimately finds the love she’s always been missing and discovers the power of her own voice.

  • Genre(s): romance, realistic fiction
  • Setting: small town of Cactus, Texas (a real town); over spring break
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: homeless teens, musicians, family problems, missing persons (sister), runaways
  • Protagonist description: female, age 18, African American

All the Yellow Suns by Malavika Kannan

Sixteen-year-old Maya Krishnan is fiercely protective of her friends, immigrant community, and single mother, but she knows better than to rock the boat in her conservative Florida suburb. Her classmate Juneau Zale is the polar opposite: she’s a wealthy white heartbreaker who won’t think twice before capsizing that boat.

When Juneau invites Maya to join the Pugilists–a secret society of artists, vandals, and mischief-makers who fight for justice at their school–Maya descends into the world of change-making and resistance. Soon, she and Juneau forge a friendship that inspires Maya to confront the challenges in her own life.

But as their relationship grows romantic, painful, and twisted, Maya begins to suspect that there’s a whole different person beneath Juneau’s painted-on facade. Now Maya must learn to speak her truth in this mysterious, mixed-up world–even if it results in heartbreak.

  • Genre(s): romance, realistic fiction
  • Setting: conservative suburb near Orlando, Florida, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: social justice, prejudice, racism, friendship to romance, LGBT+, dating, coming of age, artists
  • Protagonist description: female, Indian American, Asian American, age 16

*The Demon Sword Asperides by Sarah Jean Horwitz

For the past two hundred years, the demon sword Asperides has led a quiet life. While his physical form has been tasked with guarding the body of an evil sorcerer, the rest of his consciousness has taken a well-earned vacation. That constant need to trick humans into wielding him (at the price of their very souls, of course) was rather draining.

Nack Furnival, on the other hand, is far from satisfied with his existence. Nack has trained since birth to be a brave and noble knight–but, unfortunately, he isn’t especially good at it. Determined to prove his worth, Nack needs a quest. And to complete that quest, he’ll need the one thing no knight can do without: a sword.

When an attempt to resurrect the evil sorcerer throws Asperides into Nack’s path, the demon sword can’t help but trick the boy into making a contract to become his new owner. And with the newly undead (and very, very angry) sorcerer on their trail, Asperides and Nack find themselves swept up in a bigger adventure than either of them bargained for: saving the world.

Kirkus and Booklist starred. This looks like a lot of fun!

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure, humor
  • Setting: Medieval Europe-type setting, but this world has multiple moons and is not on Earth
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: demons, quests, knights, swords, sorcerers, tricking humans, good versus evil, magic, undead, necromancers, saving the world, sentient objects (sword)
  • Protagonist description: male, age 13, white

*Hope in the Valley by Mitali Perkins

Twelve-year-old Indian-American Pandita Paul doesn’t like change. She’s not ready to start middle school and leave the comforts of childhood behind.

Most of all, Pandita doesn’t want to feel like she’s leaving her mother, who died a few years ago, behind. After a falling out with her best friend, Pandita is planning to spend most of her summer break reading and writing in her favorite secret space: the abandoned but majestic mansion across the street.

But then the unthinkable happens. The town announces that the old home will be bulldozed in favor of new–maybe affordable–housing. With her family on opposing sides of the issue, Pandita must find her voice–and the strength to move on–in order to give her community hope.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, realistic fiction
  • Setting: 1980s Silicon Valley, California, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: grief, death of a parent (mother), middle school, fighting with best friend, mansions, gentrification, community, father dating, drama camp, culinary heritage, food
  • Protagonist description: female, age 12-13, Indian American, middle schooler

*The Fire, the Water, and Maudie McGinn by Sally J. Pla

Maudie always looks forward to the summers she spends in California with her dad. But this year, she must keep a troubling secret about her home life–one that her mom warned her never to tell. Maudie wants to confide in her dad about her stepdad’s anger, but she’s scared.

When a wildfire strikes, Maudie and her dad are forced to evacuate to the beach town where he grew up. It’s another turbulent wave of change. But now, every morning, from their camper, Maudie can see surfers bobbing in the water. She desperately wants to learn, but could she ever be brave enough?

As Maudie navigates unfamiliar waters, she makes friends–and her autism no longer feels like the big deal her mom makes it out to be. But her secret is still threatening to sink her. Will Maudie find the strength to reveal the awful truth–and maybe even find some way to stay with Dad–before summer is over?

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: Southern California beach town on Mexico border; summer
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: stepfamilies, abuse, anger, fear, family secrets, wildfires, surfing, autism, influencer parents that exploit their children online, ableism
  • Protagonist description: female, age 13, white and Venezuelan, autistic

Once in a Blue Moon by Sharon G. Flake

James Henry hasn’t been the same since that fateful night at the lighthouse when his momma went into the sea. Now months later, he is barely able to leave the house without having a panic attack, and talking to people, well, that’s just too hard. His feisty twin sister Hattie intervenes on his behalf again and again–protecting him from neighborhood bullies and an uncle who just wants him to snap out of it.

But it’s 1939, and without a local doctor to help, there’s only so much rallying Hattie can do. Finding a way back into his own life will mean confronting the truth about what happened at the lighthouse–a step James Henry isn’t sure he can take. Until a blue moon is forecast, and as Gran has said, everything is possible under a rare blue moon…

Told in verse, this is a beautiful and uplifting story of family, healing, and redemption.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): novel in verse, historical fiction
  • Setting: 1939, North Carolina, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: fear, panic attacks, anxiety, twins, bullying, near-death experiences, near-drowning, guilt, living with grandmother, Jim Crow laws, fear of going outside, trauma
  • Protagonist description: male, age 11, African American, has a twin sister

Light Comes to Shadow Mountain by Toni Buzzeo

It’s 1937 and the government is pushing to bring electricity to the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. It’s all Cora can think of; radios with news from around the world, machines that keep food cold, lightbulbs by which to read at night! Cora figures she can help spread the word by starting a school newspaper and convincing her neighbors to support the Rural Electrification Act.

But resistance to change isn’t easy to overcome, especially when it starts at home. Cora’s mother is a fierce opponent of electrification. She argues that protecting the landscape of the holler–the trees, the streams, the land that provides for their way of life=–is their responsibility. But Cora just can’t let go of wanting more.

Lyrical, literary, and deeply heartfelt, this debut novel from an award-winning author-librarian speaks to family, friendship, and loss through the spirited perspective of a girl eager for an electrified existence, but most of all, the light of her mother’s love and acceptance.

Back matter includes an Author’s Note; further information on the Rural Electrification Act, the herbs and plants of Appalachia, the Pack Horse Library Project, and more; and a “Quick Questions” historical trivia section for readers. Pair this novel with the recently-released picture book, The Horseback Librarians by Jane Yolen.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Setting: rural southeast Kentucky, Appalachian mountains, 1937
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: electricity, Appalachia, resistance to change, protecting nature, immigrant communities
  • Protagonist description: female, age 11

Clouds over California by Karyn Parsons

Stevie’s life is fluctuating rapidly. She’s starting over in a brand new middle school. Quiet and observant, it’s hard for her to make friends. Plus, her mind is too occupied. The tension in her home is building as her parents’ arguments are becoming more frequent. To top it all off, Stevie’s older cousin Naomi is coming to live with the family in an attempt to keep her from a “bad” crowd–The Black Panthers.

Stevie agrees to keep Naomi’s secrets. She’s the cool big cousin, after all, and Stevie can’t help but notice the happy, positive effect the Black Panthers are having on Naomi’s confidence and identity–just like how Mom is making decisions for herself, even when Dad disapproves.

Stevie feels herself beginning to change as well. But one thing remains the same: she loves both of her parents, and she loves them together. Can her family stay in one piece despite the world shifting around them?

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Setting: Santa Monica, Los Angeles, California, 1970s
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: introverts, the Black Panthers, cousins, parents fighting, family problems, confidence, natural African American hair texture, racist microaggressions, police profiling, feminism, divorce, Black Power movement
  • Protagonist description: female, age 11-12, biracial (Black and white)

*In the Night Garden by Carin Berger

In the night garden fireflies look like fallen stars.
Moonflowers unfurl and release their intoxicating perfume.

In the night garden you can lie
on the cool grass and look up to the
millions and trillions of stars…

In the night garden, nothing is as it seems and everything is made new. Blinking stars and pale moonlight might reveal a lone cat tiptoeing across a roof, luminous flowers unfurling in the cool air, a mama fox escorting her sleepy cubs home. Listen closely and you might hear the wind blowing through the trees, the murmur of a slow stream, or the gentle song of crickets and bullfrogs, lulling you to sleep.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: garden at night
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 1
  • Themes: bedtime stories, nighttime, nature, stillness, observation, wonder, senses
  • Protagonist description: young child with brown skin

*The Skull: a Tyrolean Folktale by Jon Klassen

In a big abandoned house, on a barren hill, lives a skull.

A brave girl named Otilla has escaped from terrible danger and run away, and when she finds herself lost in the dark forest, the lonely house beckons.

Her host, the skull, is afraid of something too, something that comes every night.

Can brave Otilla save them both? Steeped in shadows and threaded with subtle wit–with rich, monochromatic artwork and an illuminating author’s note–The Skull is as empowering as it is mysterious and foreboding.

Booklist and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): folktale, early chapter book
  • Setting: Tyrol historical region in Alps between Austria and Italy, European folktale setting
  • Recommended for: Grades K-4
  • Themes: creepy books, Halloween reads, skulls, danger, fear, dark forests, skeletons
  • Protagonist description: young girl with pale skin

*The Red Jacket by Bob Holt

Bob loves his red jacket.

The red jacket makes him feel swanky cool.

The red jacket makes other seagulls notice him and even speak to him.

But when a wave washes it away, will Bob lose his cool and his newfound friends, too?

Bob Holt’s spare text and humorous artwork come together perfectly in this charmingly humorous tale about a seagull who learns a lesson or two about style, “fitting in,” and confidence.

Booklist and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, humor
  • Setting: seashore
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: being cool, making friends, confidence, fitting in, friendship
  • Protagonist description: male seagull; all characters are animals

*The Truth About Max by Alice Provensen (Creator), Martin Provensen (Creator)

In this picture book from the Provensens’ archives, the unforgettable Max, who appears in many of the Provensens’ picture books, takes center stage. Wherever Max goes, mischief is sure to follow! He spends his days teasing, playing hide-and-seek, and prowling the barnyard.

He’s also keenly intelligent and independent, with his own private life that begins at night. An affectionate portrait of a pet who’s both friend and hunter, from a luminary author-illustrator pair of American children’s literature.

Taking inspiration from their own life at Maple Hill Farm in Dutchess County, New York, great American illustrators Alice and Martin Provensen shared the changing seasons that give rhythm to life in the country in A Year at Maple Hill Farm and the lovable antics of their barnyard animals in Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm. This picture book will include backmatter from Karen Provensen, with more information of Max, the real-life cat who lived on Maple Hill Farm, and her parents’ lasting legacy.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred. This is a previously unpublished, posthumous picture book.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: Maple Hill Farm in Dutchess County, New York, USA
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: family farms, cats, barnyard animals, secret lives, farm life
  • Protagonist description: real-life cat

Sometimes, a Tiger by Z.B. Asterplume

Dario’s day starts like many others: There’s not much to eat. But today, the pantry has a surprise as a tiger emerges and accompanies Dario through his day.

A tiger? Dario’s friends can’t believe their eyes! Soon, they too see the wonders around them, as they share their day with creatures large and small. Is it imagination? Whatever it is, the result is joy and kindness.

In a world where imagination and generosity can be as scarce as food in some pantries, here is a reminder for readers of all ages that kindness nourishes all of us.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: boy’s school, home, community
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: food insecurity, poverty, tigers, kindness, joy, school, community, animals, optimism, imagination
  • Protagonist description: young boy, pale-skinned; diverse children and community; one character uses a wheelchair

Rivka’s Presents by Laurie Wallmark (Author) and Adelina Lirius (Illustrator)

It’s 1918 on the Lower East Side of New York City, and Rivka is excited to start school. But when her papa gets sick with the flu, her mama has to go to work at the shirtwaist factory and Rivka needs to stay home and take care of her little sister.

But Rivka figures out a way to learn anyway: she trades chores with the grocer, the tailor, and an elderly neighbor for lessons. As the seasons change, Rivka finds she can count pennies for the iceman and read the labels on jars of preserve.

And one day, Papa is no longer sick, and Rivka can finally start school! Full kindness and love for your neighbors, here is a story that introduces life on the Lower East Side for a Jewish family during the flu pandemic of 1918.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, picture book for older readers
  • Setting: immigrant community in New York City, USA, 1918
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: starting school, factory work, immigrants, power of learning, community, neighbors, Jewish families, Spanish Flu of 1918, sick parent (father), world history, US history, pandemics
  • Protagonist description: young girl, Jewish, possibly an immigrant

Like Lava in My Veins by Derrick Barnes (Author) and Shawn Martinbrough (Illustrator)

Bobby Beacon’s got fire flowing through his veins. And now he’s psyched to attend a new school that’ll help him get a better grip on his powers.

But right off the bat, his new teacher is not too welcoming. That causes Bobby’s hot temper to land him in the principal’s office. It ain’t easy to stay calm when people don’t seem to understand you and are always pushing you to the edge.

Good thing Bobby gets moved to a class with an understanding teacher who clues him in on ways to calm himself and shows him that caring for others is its own kind of superpower. With her help–and some cool new friends–he just might be on his way to becoming the best version of himself possible.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: Academy of Kids With Awesome Abilities, a school for young superheroes
  • Recommended for: K-Grade 3
  • Themes: superheroes, anger, excitement, new kid at school, calming strategies, making new friends, racism, microaggressions, prejudiced school discipline, extended metaphor
  • Protagonist description: young boy, Black, superhero with fire in his veins

Hidden Gem by Linda Liu

When a small pebble sees others gathering on the steps of the Museum of Rocks, he grows curious. Once inside the esteemed halls, he is shocked by what he discovers. The only rocks on display are glittering gemstones, geodes, and crystals!

These beautiful stones make him wonder: Can he be special, too? Perhaps he’ll find an answer in the World’s Most Beautiful Gem exhibition…or maybe, just maybe, he will find the answer inside himself.

Kirkus starred. Gorgeous cover!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: Museum of Rocks
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: rocks, gems, uniqueness museums, personification, art, famous artwork, identity, wonder, imagination
  • Protagonist description: a small pebble

Are We There Yet by Sven Völker

Bear wakes up after his long winter’s sleep and joins his friend, Butterfly, on a journey.

“Where are we going?” asks bear.

“All journeys have secret destinations”, says Butterfly.

As they travel through forest, over hill and across a great river, Butterfly offers her wisdom about hardships, facing one’s fears and living in the moment. Bear’s natural impatience gradually softens into acceptance of the world around him.

As the seasons change, the friends find themselves once more in front of Bear’s cave. Landscapes look different with different eyes and the end of one journey is the beginning of another.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: different seasons in the life of a bear
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: wisdom, hibernation, change, nature, personification, facing fears, living in the moment, acceptance, bears, butterflies, journeys, aphorisms, transformations, philosophy, circle of life
  • Protagonist description: a black bear and a colorful butterfly

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (MIDDLE GRADES):

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS & FAVORITE CHARACTERS (ELEMENTARY):

ABOUT THE SPOTLIGHT

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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