New Release Spotlight – Middle Grade Books – Week of January 23, 2024

Welcome to this week’s Middle Grade Spotlight! This week’s Spotlight is a lot better than last week’s Middle Spotlight, which only had two new titles. I’ve got six fabulous new middle grade books for you this week.

Remember that I generally define “middle grades” as Grades 3-7.

My top pick this week is Amil and the After, the companion to Hiranandani’s Newbery Honor book, The Night Diary (2018). I have not read The Night Diary, but this book is on my TBR. If I like Amil, I’m sure I will also want to read Nisha’s story, too.

Also on my TBR for this week is Barracoon by the late Zora Neale Hurston and Ibram X. Kendi. This is a young reader’s adaptation of an adult book of the same title, published in 2018. It is based on Hurston’s 1927 interviews with Cudjo Lewis, the last known surviving person shipped from Africa to the US as part of the Atlantic slave trade.

The Racc Pack will be an in-demand graphic novel for upper-elementary!

Looking for a sweet middle school romance ahead of Valentine’s Day? Try Maybe It’s A Sign or Emma and the Love Spell.

Links to the Google Slides presentation, printable list, the Ginormous Book List, and the YA and picture book Spotlights for this week are at the bottom of this post.


Historical Fiction
Amil and the After

Author: Veera Hiranandani

Publication date: January 23, 2024

Genre: historical fiction

Setting: post-Partition Bombay; India and Pakistan; 1948

Recommended for: Grades 3-7

Themes: colonialism, grief, death of a parent (mother), PTSD, refugees, Hindu-Muslim tensions, dyslexia, school struggles, twins

Protagonist: male, age 12, Indian, Hindu and Muslim

Starred reviews: Kirkus and Booklist

Pages: 272

Notes: standalone companion to The Night Diary (2018, a Newbery Honor); includes pencil sketches from Amil’s art journal

See it on Amazon


At the turn of the new year in 1948, Amil and his family are trying to make a home in India, now independent of British rule.

Both Muslim and Hindu, twelve-year-old Amil is not sure what home means anymore. The memory of the long and difficult journey from their hometown in what is now Pakistan lives with him. And despite having an apartment in Bombay to live in and a school to attend, life in India feels uncertain.

Nisha, his twin sister, suggests that Amil begin to tell his story through drawings meant for their mother, who died when they were just babies. Through Amil, readers witness the unwavering spirit of a young boy trying to make sense of a chaotic world, and find hope for himself and a newly reborn nation.

Realistic Fiction
Between Two Brothers

Author: Crystal Allen

Publication Date: January 23, 2024

Genre: realistic fiction

Recommended for: Grades 3-7

Themes: brothers, grief, guilt, close siblings, accidents, trauma

Protagonist: male, age 13, African American

Starred reviews: Kirkus

Pages: 352

See it on Amazon


Isaiah “Ice” Abernathy has always worshiped his older brother, Seth. 

For years they’ve been not just brothers but best friends—and as Seth starts his senior year, Ice is eager to spend as much time with his brother as he can, making memories before Seth goes to college.

But when Seth announces he’s leaving much earlier than expected, and then he misses an important event—one he’d promised to attend—it causes a major fight.

Filled with regret, Ice plans to apologize to Seth later the next day, but later never comes, as he finds out Seth was in an accident—one that leaves him in the hospital. And the doctors say he may never recover.

Racked by fear and guilt, Ice chooses to step up, defy the experts, and help Seth recover in a way only he can—by trusting in their bond and the undying love between two brothers.

Magical Realism
Emma and the Love Spell

Author: Meredith Ireland

Publication date: January 23, 2024

Genre: magical realism

Setting: summer between 6th and 7th grade

Recommended for: Grades 4-8

Themes: best friend moving away, parental divorce, witches, magical powers, secrets, love spells, crush on best friend, LGBT+

Protagonist: female, age 12, Korean American, adoptee

Starred reviews: SLJ

Pages: 288

See it on Amazon


Twelve-year-old, Korean American adoptee Emma Davidson has a problem. Two problems. Okay, three:

  1. She has a crush on her best friend, Avangeline, that she hasn’t been able to share
  2. Avangeline now has to move out of their town because her parents are getting a divorce
  3. Oh, and Emma is a secret witch who can’t really control her powers

It’s a complicated summer between sixth and seventh grade. Emma’s parents made her promise that she’d keep her powers a secret and never, ever use them. But if Avangeline’s parents fell back in love, it would fix everything. And how hard could one little love spell be?

Memoir Through Interview
Barracoon: Adapted for Young Readers

Author: Zora Neale Hurston and Ibram X. Kendi

Illustrator: Jazzmen Lee-Johnson

Publication Date: January 23, 2024

Genre: memoir through interview

Setting: begins in Africa in 1859 until 1865 freedom in Africatown in Alabama

Recommended for: Grades 5-8

Themes: US history, African slavery, Atlantic slave trade, slave ships, Middle Passage, manuscripts, interviews, African American Vernacular English (AAVE or Ebonics) 

Protagonist: Cudjo Lewis, the last known surviving person transported from Africa to the USA for slavery

Starred reviews: Booklist and BCCB

Pages: 208

Notes: Adapted for young readers; includes black-and-white drawings

See it on Amazon


Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America to be enslaved, eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis was then the only person alive to tell the story of his capture and bondage—fifty years after the Atlantic human trade was outlawed in the United States.

Cudjo shared his firsthand account with legendary folklorist, anthropologist, and writer Zora Neale Hurston.

Adapted with care and delivered with age-appropriate historical context by award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi, Cudjo’s incredible story is now available for young readers and emerging scholars.

With powerful illustrations by Jazzmen Lee-Johnson, this poignant work is an invaluable contribution to our shared history and culture.

Graphic Novel
The Racc Pack (1)

Author: Stephanie Cooke

Illustrator: Whitney Gardner

Publication date: January 23, 2024

Genre: graphic novel, humor, animal stories

Setting: streets of Kensington Market, Toronto, Canada

Recommended for: Grades 2-5

Themes: raccoons, scavenging animals, heists, opossums, waste, garbage, megacorporations, corruption, gentrification

Protagonist: two anthropomorphic raccoons and one opossum

Starred reviews: no starred reviews

Pages: 184

See it on Amazon


Meet the Bin family, a trio of raccoons in the risky business of dumpster diving for all their needs.

With Dusty’s brains, ReRe’s muscle, and Scraps’s gadgets (please don’t tell him he’s almost definitely an opossum), the Binses are determined to leave no garbage bin unturned in their pursuit of the tastiest, most delicious trash they can find.

When the family discovers a new upscale grocery store that’s throwing away their perfectly good food at the end of each day, the Binses hatch a heist so daring it’ll have them rolling in garbage all winter long.

But a critter-despising CEO, Jeff Beans, and the high-tech defense system he’s installed means liberating that trash is going to take all the skills the Racc Pack have…and maybe some help from a cat burglar with a mysterious past.

Middle School Romance
Maybe It’s a Sign

Author: E.L. Shen

Publication Date: January 23, 2024

Genre: realistic fiction, romance

Recommended for: Grades 4-8

Themes: grief, death of a parent (father), superstitions and signs, birds, baking, middle school, project partners at school, home economics class

Protagonist: female, age 13, 7th Grader, Chinese American; male lab partner is Korean American

Starred reviews: no starred reviews

Pages: 240

Notes: Includes recipes.

See it on Amazon


Seventh grader Freya June Sun has always believed in the Chinese superstitions spoon-fed to her since birth—but ever since her dad’s death a year ago, she’s become obsessed, believing that her father is sending her messages through signs from the beyond.

Like how, on her way to an orchestra concert where she’s dreading her viola solo, a pair of lucky red birds appear, a sure indication that Dad wants Freya to stick with the instrument and make him proud.

Then Freya is partnered with Gus Choi, a goofy and super annoying classmate, for a home-economics project. To her surprise, as they experiment with recipes and get to know each other, Freya finds that she loves baking much more than music.

It may be time for a big change in her life, even though her dad hasn’t sent a single sign that it’s something he approves of.

But with the help of her family, Gus (who might not be so annoying after all), and two maybe-magical birds, Freya learns that to be her own person, she might just have to make her own luck.






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.

Each week, school librarian Leigh Collazo compiles the New Release Spotlight using a combination of Follett’s Titlewave, Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes and Noble. Recommended grade levels represent the range of grade levels recommended by professional book reviewers. See the full selection criteria here.

Inevitably, there are far more books that meet my criteria than can make it on the Spotlight. When I have to make the tough decisions on what to include, I just use my “librarian judgment.” Would I buy this book for my own library? Would my students want to read this book? Is the cover appealing? Does it fill a need?

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