Another short Spotlight this week! It’s so short, I’m not picking any “top picks” this time.
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Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Martin Luther King Jr., and Barack Obama, chronicles the diverse ways each fought racism and shows how much–and how little–has changed for Black Americans since our country’s founding.
Full of daring escapes, deep emotion, and subtle lessons on how racism operates, A Long Time Coming reveals the universal importance of its subjects’ struggles for justice.
From freedom seeker Ona Judge, who fled her enslavement by America’s first president, to Barack Obama, the first Black president, all of Shepard’s protagonists fight valiantly for justice for themselves and all Black Americans in any way that they can.
But it is also a highly personal book, as Shepard–whose maternal grandfather was enslaved–shows how the grand sweep of history has touched his life, reflecting on how much progress has been made against racism, while also exhorting readers to complete the vast work that remains to be done.
THREE starred reviews!
- Genre(s): collected biography, nonfiction, poetry, biography-in-verse
- Setting: USA
- Recommended for: Grades 7+
- Themes: slavery, US history, African Americans, Jim Crow laws, Harriet Tubman, The Underground Railroad, Barack Obama, US presidents, Ida B. Wells, Martin Luther King, Jr., Oona Judge, civil rights, racism, discrimination
- Protagonist description: six African Americans in US history
Eighteen-year-old Brooke is the kind of friend who not only remembers everyone’s birthdays, but also organizes the group present, pays for it, and politely chases others for their share. She’s the helper, the doer, the maker-of spreadsheets. She’s the responsible one who always follows the rules–and she plans to keep it that way during her first year of college.
Her student housing only has one rule: “no unnecessary drama.” Which means no fights, tension, or romance between roommates. When one of them turns out to be Jesse, her high-school nemesis, Brooke is determined she can handle it. They’ll simply silently endure living together and stay out of each other’s way. But it turns out Jesse isn’t so easy to ignore.
With Unnecessary Drama, Nina Kenwood perfectly captures the experience of leaving home for the first time, dealing with the unexpected complications of life, and somehow finding exactly what you need.
Kirkus and SLJ starred.
- Genre(s): romance, realistic fiction, rom-com
- Setting: Melbourne, Australia
- Recommended for: Grades 8+
- Themes: being responsible, college roommates, university life, enemies to lovers, fake dating
- Protagonist description: female, age 18, white, Australian, college freshman
Pirate and the Porcelain Girl by Emily Riesbeck (Author, Creator), NJ Barna (Creator, Illustrator), and Lucas Gattoni (Letterer)
That was Ferra Brickminder’s prayer to win back the love of her life. And the gods answer–just not in the way she expected. After hoping for a miracle, Ferra instead watches her skin turn into delicate and dangerously breakable porcelain.
Elsewhere, Brigantine de la Girona, a disgraced orc pirate captain, has her own problems. Penniless and banished from her home, Brig struggles to make ends meet with her crew as her only support. So, when a desperate Ferra enlists Brig to sail her across the Great Sea to her ex-girlfriend’s home for a very handsome fee, Brig is happy to strike a deal.
Pampered Ferra and tough-as-nails Brig quickly butt heads, bickering their way across the high seas, but as they encounter increasingly perilous obstacles–including the gods themselves–the two become reluctant allies…and maybe more.
- Genre(s): adventure, romance, graphic novel
- Setting: high seas
- Recommended for: Grades 7+
- Themes: pirates, magic, gods, banishment, swashbuckling, high-seas, LGBT+
- Protagonist description: green-skinned female pirate and a girl made of porcelain; characters are diverse
Seventeen-year-old Hylee Williams didn’t ask to disappear. But she did disappear, and not only that, but when she vanished from our world, she materialized in a dark, twisted version of the night that changed her life forever: the night her older brother went missing.
Just as Hylee realizes this moment could be the key to unraveling the truth about her brother, she’s yanked away from the dark place back to our world. Craving a sense of normalcy, she goes to a party with her best friend–where she meets Eilam Roads. Tall, handsome, and undeniably, inexplicably familiar, Hylee can’t help the pull she feels towards him. It’s a classic teen girl-meets-boy situation, until it happens again. She disappears, right in front of him.
Together, Hylee and Eilam investigate the truth about time, space, and reality, with Hylee increasingly convinced her time travel holds the key to saving her brother. But the more they learn, the more Hylee begins to see darkness lurking in her world–and in herself.
- Genre(s): horror, mystery, supernatural
- Setting: Missouri and Kansas; an alternate world (sounds a little like The Upside Down on Stranger Things)
- Recommended for: Grades 7+
- Themes: grief, death of sibling, strange occurrences, the unexplained, time travel, new kid at school
- Protagonist description: female, age 17, Black, high school senior
Penny Hope used to be brave, but that was before she met the Fear Maker. Years later, he still haunts her nightmares–a tall, thin man with red eyes, in a haunted house in the woods, who devours human souls and leaves their eyes hollow and empty. Penny’s beloved grandma tells her to write down these nightmares as poems in her notebook. But then Penny starts seeing blank-eyed people in the waking world, too. She’s the only one who notices.
As more people around her fall prey to the Fear Maker, Penny must gather her courage once and for all to save the souls of those she loves. With the help of a magic garden and a new friend, she ventures to the Fear Maker’s house.
But the house is a labyrinth of shadows and tricks–and the Fear Maker’s fun is just beginning. Can a pocketful of sunflower seeds and a notebook filled with poems be enough to defeat a master of nightmares? And if Penny sets foot in the Fear Maker’s house, will she ever leave?
Booklist starred. The Kirkus review is a bit lukewarm for this title. I’ve included this book here anyway because middle grade “scary books” are always a hot request. There are still two other positive reviews (BCCB and Publishers Weekly), in addition to the Booklist starred review. Kirkus reviews tend to be the sourface of all the reviews, so I always take them with a grain of salt.
- Genre(s): horror, scary stories
- Recommended for: Grades 5-7
- Themes: fear, ghosts, haunted houses, souls, magic, funhouses, nightmares, Halloween reads, poetry, mental health, anxiety
- Protagonist description: female, age 11, white
Learning to become a witch is hella difficult! Luckily, Gwen can always count on her two best friends in the whole world for help. Except Sloane and Miles aren’t exactly from this world. They’re from the Hallowlands, a monstrous realm, which they can only leave as the year creeps toward Halloween. This year, Gwen is determined to flex her magical skills. Armed with her first-ever grimoire, she’s hoping her friends will finally see that she has what it takes to leave boring suburbia behind and join them in the Hallowlands.
Except Gwen hadn’t counted on Hiro, a local kid obsessed with hunting the supernatural. When he and his reluctant sidekick start making trouble for them, the monster squad will have to fight to avoid having their secrets exposed—or worse. But when Gwen’s quest to prove herself leads to a string of unintended consequences, the five of them may just have to band together to take on something even more nightmarish than being a teen.
- Genre(s): horror, graphic novel, supernatural
- Setting: sleepy suburban town in California
- Recommended for: Grades 5-9
- Themes: Halloween, witches, vampires, werewolves, friendship, belonging
- Protagonist description: female witch, male vampire, female werewolf (all are teens and friends)
With no one else to rely on, inseparable siblings Con and Sofie must decide who they can trust, and whether or not it’s safe to share their hearts with family members who have the power to hurt them. Sofie has always turned to Con–and to books–during times of upheaval in their unstable lives. But as their mother is arrested and their guardianship becomes uncertain, Sofie will have to find hope in the most important story of all: her own.
Moranville’s captivating and vulnerable prose explores the ways in which addiction’s ripple effects pass through generations and how familial bonds can remain unbreakable through the most difficult circumstances. Expertly grappling with difficult topics at an age-appropriate level, this novel is a sensitive, nuanced exploration of children’s enduring resilience and optimism.
Publishers Weekly starred.
- Genre(s): realistic fiction
- Setting: Des Moines, Iowa
- Recommended for: Grades 3-8
- Themes: close sibling relationships, neglect, abandonment, instability at home, parent arrested, addiction (parent), unreliable parent, domestic abuse, poverty, family problems
- Protagonist description: female, age 10, white, 5th grader
When the creators start shipping slimes off to who-knows-where, the slimes left at the shop start to worry that they’re next. Even as Polly tries to convince her friends that everything is fine, Boris, a grumpy green slime, starts taking things into his own hands. Then slimes start disappearing and suddenly the shop is full of zombie slimes.
With half the shop zombified and the other half scared silly, Polly has no choice but to go on a quest, along with her friends Max and Karma, to discover the truth about the slimes being shipped off and a way to save her friends before it’s too late.
Will they be able to turn everyone back into themselves? Or will the slime shop get shut down for good?
This is a debut graphic novel from YouTube “Slime Queen” Karina Garcia. Includes slime recipes. Another title that will be very easy to booktalk!
- Genre(s): humor, action-adventure, graphic novel
- Setting: a slime shop
- Recommended for: Grades 3-7
- Themes: entrepreneurship, kids with jobs, kid businesses, anthropomorphic slime, personification, zombie slime, friendship, creativity
- Protagonist description: human characters are brown-skinned or Black
Paul Bunyan: The Invention of an American Legend by Noah Van Sciver (Author, Illustrator) and Marlena Myles (Author)
Few people realize that Paul Bunyan, the legendary lumberjack, and his blue ox are the product of corporate marketing by a highly industrialized commercial enterprise.
Cartoonist Noah Van Sciver shows us the myth creation as real life marketing man extraordinaire W.B. Laughead spins ever more wondrous tall tales. Van Sciver’s story is bracketed by rich contributions from contemporary Native artists and storytellers with a very different connection to the land that the Bunyan myths often conceal.
Readers will see how a lumberjack hero, a quintessential American fantasy, captures the imagination but also serves to paper over the seizure of homeland from First Peoples and the laying bare of America’s northern forests. It’s a tall tale with deep roots…in profit-making!
Kirkus starred. I am so excited about this title! I LOVE American tall tales so much that I have a whole series on them in my shop. Paul Bunyan is an especial favorite of mine ever since I wrote a similar, Paul Bunyan-inspired “giant man” story in 3rd grade. I’m excited to read this one!
- Genre(s): informational picture book, picture book for older readers
- Setting: Minnesota, USA, 1914
- Recommended for: Grades 2-7
- Themes: American tall tales, advertising, Paul Bunyan, Native Americans, taking of native lands, colonization, myths and legends, traditional literature, story behind the story, propaganda
- Protagonist description: Paul Bunyan is a giant white man with bushy black hair and a beard, wears lumberjack-style clothing
Finder the tree frog absolutely loves solving mysteries. So when all the animals in Belly Acre Bog mysteriously disappear overnight, Finder and her friends Chopper and Keeper are toad-ally on the case.
But when Seymour Warts, the world’s greatest detective and Finder’s hero, arrives on the scene and begins his own investigation, the young creature finders soon realize that this mystery could be even bigger than their little bog!
This book is the first in a series. It got no starred reviews, but since when do children care about that? I think this is going to be a huge hit. The eye-catching front cover and brightly-colored illustrations will help the book sell itself. I also love that it includes color-coded speech bubbles to make it easy to see who is speaking.
- Genre(s): humor, mystery, graphic novel
- Setting: a swamp
- Recommended for: Grades 1-5
- Themes: puns, wordplay, missing animals, bogs, detectives, anthropomorphic animals
- Protagonist description: anthropomorphic frog, turtle, and beaver
Riley has plenty of ways to play; like lining up dolls and stuffies by size and shape. Tearing up newspapers and making piles into mountains, using sharp crayons to draw big swirly patterns. But bossy cousin Emma thinks those ways are wrong, wrong, and wrong. And she makes no bones about letting Riley know exactly what her opinion is.
Fortunately, Charlie the dog is on hand to help with a breakthrough demonstration that there are MANY ways to play; and all of them are right.
Based on experiences that Lyn Miller Lachman had growing up as an Autistic child and illustrated with the humor, tenderness and understanding that perhaps only an artist like Gabriel Alborozo, himself an Autistic creator, could bring, here is an empowering validation of the value of individual expression. And a whole lot of fun.
Kirkus and SLJ starred.
- Genre(s): picture book
- Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
- Themes: playing, arguing during play, dogs, autism, cousins, getting along
- Protagonist description: young (undiagnosed?) autistic child, light-skinned
Securing headlamps, Sova and her mother head into the woods to capture, measure, and release saw-whet owls. Through the quiet night, Sova learns about the patience, persistence, and excitement that comes with conservation efforts and scientific research.
This heartwarming mother-daughter story is the perfect primer to conservation, science, and amazing owls!
- Genre(s): informational picture book
- Setting: woods at night
- Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
- Themes: birds, orinthology, owls, scientific research, STEM, conservation, mothers and daughters
- Protagonist description: mother and daughter
THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (Middle Grades):
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.