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New Release Spotlight – Week of March 12, 2024

Phew! Just when I think I’m taking a little break from the Spotlight, we get a second week in a row with lots of incredible titles. Once again, middle grades are the true stars this week. I’ve added NINE middle grade titles. A couple of them were holdovers that were published last week.

My top picks:

  • 49 Days by Agnes Lee (YA) – graphic novel about death and Buddhism
  • Spying on Spies: How Elizebeth Smith Friedman Broke the Nazis’ Secret Codes by Marissa Moss (MG) – Great for puzzle lovers and code crackers! Also an awesome choice for Women’s History Month.
  • The Book That Can Read Your Mind by Marianna Coppo (picture book) – A “magic trick” storytime read-aloud that is sure to please and inspire multiple readings.

This week’s Spotlight titles are #3908 – #3926 on The Ginormous Booklist.

 

Novel in Verse
Ariel Crashes a Train

Author: Olivia A. Cole

Publication date: March 12, 2024

Genre: realistic fiction, novel in verse

Recommended for: Grades 9-12

Themes: LGBT+, mental health, mental illness, friendship, identity, mental illness, OCD, teens with jobs, carnivals, violent thoughts, gender identity, racial identity

Protagonist: female, age 17, white, queer, suffers from OCD

Starred reviews: SLJ, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus

Pages: 449


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PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY

Ariel is afraid of her own mind. She already feels like she is too big, too queer, too rough to live up to her parents’ exacting expectations, or to fit into what the world expects of a “good girl.”

And as violent fantasies she can’t control take over every aspect of her life, she is convinced something much deeper is wrong with her. Ever since her older sister escaped to college, Ariel isn’t sure if her careful rituals and practiced distance will be enough to keep those around her safe anymore.

Then a summer job at a carnival brings new friends into Ariel’s fractured world , and she finds herself questioning her desire to keep everyone out—of her head and her heart. But if they knew what she was really thinking, they would run in the other direction—right?

Instead, with help and support, Ariel discovers a future where she can be at home in her mind and body, and for the first time learns there’s a name for what she struggles with—Obsessive Compulsive Disorder—and that she’s not broken, and not alone.

Realistic Fiction
Six Truths and a Lie

Author: Ream Shukairy

Publication date: March 12, 2024

Genre: realistic fiction, thriller

Setting: Los Angeles, California, USA; summertime

Recommended for: Grades 7+

Themes: alternating perspectives, Muslims, terrorism, false accusations, court trials, secrets, 9/11, fear, Islamophobia, innocence, freedom, justice, law

Protagonist: alternates among 6 Muslim high school students

Starred reviews: Publishers Weekly

Pages: 400


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PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY

As fireworks pop off at a rowdy Fourth of July bonfire party, an explosion off the California coast levels an oil rig—resulting in chaos and worse, murder.

At the center are six Muslim teens – six patriots, six strangers, and six suspects.

An old soul caught in the wrong place. An aspiring doctor. An influencer with a reputation to protect. A perfect daughter with secrets to hide. A soccer star headed for Stanford. An immigrant in love. Each with something to hide and everything to lose.

Faced with accusations of terrorism, The Six are caught in a political game that will pit them against each other in exchange for exoneration. They must choose: frame each other to guarantee their own independence or expose their secrets to earn back freedom for them all.

Romantasy
The Hedgewitch of Foxhall

Author: Anna Bright

Publication date: March 12, 2024

Genre: romantasy, supernatural

Setting: medieval Wales

Recommended for: Grades 9-12

Themes: magic, witches, royalty, princes, poverty, power, privilege, Welsh history, Welsh mythology, love triangles

Protagonist: female, Welsh hedgewitch

Starred reviews: Kirkus

Pages: 400


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PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY

Magic is fading from Wales—choked off by King Offa’s Dyke, the enemy earthworks that spans the entire border. Even the dragons have disappeared. And now an attack is imminent.

Prince Taliesin would love to watch magic die. Prince Dafydd fears it, and the throne. But when their father promises the crown to whichever son can destroy the dyke and restore magic to Wales, the brothers are forced into an uneasy rivalry.

Ffion works hedgewitch magic for poor folk, not princes. Unlike the power-hungry Foxhall coven, she uses only what nature can spare. But when the coven’s greed costs Ffion everything, she will need power beyond her wildest dreams to get back what she’s lost.

So when Prince Taliesin arrives, begrudgingly seeking a witch’s aid, Ffion agrees to help him—even if it means walking from one end of Wales to the other with the most use-less peacock she’s ever clapped eyes on.

Even if it means striking a bargain with Dafydd behind Tal’s back. The fate of Wales depends on their quest . . . and so might the fate of Ffion’s heart.

Graphic Fiction
49 Days

Author: Agnes Lee

Illustrator: Agnes Lee

Publication date: March 5, 2024

Genre: graphic fiction

Recommended for: Grades 7+

Themes: Buddhism, death, grief, mourning, mortality, life and death

Protagonist: female, Korean American

Starred reviews: Booklist and Kirkus

Pages: 352


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PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY

Day 1

Gotta get up. Gotta keep moving. This map – it says I have to cross over here. Wait, what’s that…?

And so begins a graphic novel story unlike any other: 49 Days. In Buddhist tradition, a person must travel for forty-nine days after they die, before they can fully cross over. Here in this book, readers travel with one Korean American girl, Kit, on her journey, while also spending time with her family and friends left behind.

Agnes Lee has captivated readers across the world for years with her illustrations for the New York Times Metropolitan Diary. Her debut graphic novel is an unforgettable story of death, grief, love, and how we keep moving forward.

Romance
Just Another Epic Love Poem

Author: Parisa Akhbari

Publication date: March 12, 2024

Genre: romance, humor, rom-com

Setting: Catholic school in Bellevue, Washington, USA

Recommended for: Grades 8+

Themes: LGBT+, Catholic schools, poetry, parental drug addiction, Iranian culture, Iranian food, parental separation

Protagonist: female, Iranian American, Muslim Zoroastrian, HS senior

Starred reviews: Booklist

Pages: 394

Notes: told partly through chat logs, passed notes, poetry excerpts, and other ephemera


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PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY

Over the past five years, Mitra Esfahani has known two constants: her best friend Bea Ortega and The Book—a dogeared moleskin she and Bea have been filling with the stanzas of an epic, never-ending poem since they were 13.

For introverted Mitra, The Book is one of the few places she can open herself completely and where she gets to see all sides of brilliant and ebullient Bea. There, they can share everything—Mitra’s complicated feelings about her absent mother, Bea’s heartache over her most recent breakup—nothing too messy or complicated for The Book.

Nothing except the one thing with the power to change their entire friendship: the fact that Mitra is helplessly in love with Bea.

Told in lyrical, confessional prose and snippets of poetry Just Another Epic Love Poem takes readers on a journey that is equal parts joyful, heartbreaking, and funny as Mitra and Bea navigate the changing nature of I love you.

Fantasy
Sona and the Golden Beasts

Author: Rajani LaRocca

Publication date: March 5, 2024

Genre: fantasy

Setting: land of Devia, where music is outlawed

Recommended for: Grades 3-7

Themes: magic, wolves, puppies, music, illness of a loved one, journeys, colonialism, singing, South Asian worldbuilding

Protagonist: female, age 13, cues South Asian, Malech (a member of the ruling class that conquered the Devians years ago)

Starred reviews: Booklist and Kirkus

Pages: 400

Notes: Told partly through advertisements, personal letters, song lyrics, and historical documents


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PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY

Though music is outlawed in the land of Devia, Sona hears it everywhere.

Sona is a Malech, a member of the ruling class that conquered Devia centuries ago. Malechs forbade music to prevent the native Devans from using their magic, and Sona hides her abilities lest they put her in danger.

Then Sona discovers an orphaned wolf pup.

She believes the pup, with its golden ears, might be related to one of the five sacred beasts of Devia, and she vows to keep it safe.

That means bringing the pup in tow when Sona embarks on a perilous quest, along with a Devan boy, to secure the nectar of life for a loved one who has fallen gravely ill.

On the journey, as Sona uncovers secrets about the Malechian empire and her own identity, she realizes that the fate of the sacred beasts, and the future of Devia, just might come down to her.

Realistic Fiction
Mani Semilla Finds Her Quetzal Voice

Author: Anna Lapera

Publication date: March 5, 2024

Genre: realistic fiction

Setting: American middle school

Recommended for: Grades 5-8

Themes: family secrets, letters, bullying, coming of age, menstruation, social justice, speaking up, sexual harassment, #metoo, feminism, grandmothers

Protagonist: female, age 12, Chinese Filipino American Guatemalan, 7th grader

Starred reviews: Booklist and SLJ

Pages: 336


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PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY

Manuela “Mani” Semilla wants two things: To get her period, and to thwart her mom’s plan of taking her to Guatemala on her thirteenth birthday.

If her mom’s always going on about how dangerous it is in Guatemala, and how much she sacrificed to come to this country, then why should Mani even want to visit?

But one day, up in the attic, she finds secret letters between her mom and her Tía Beatriz, who, according to family lore, died in a bus crash before Mani was born.

But the letters reveal a different story. Why did her family really leave Guatemala? What will Mani learn about herself along the way? And how can the letters help her to stand up against the culture of harassment at her own school?

Poetry
In and Out the Window

Author: Jane Yolen

Illustrator: Catherin Peterslund

Publication date: March 12, 2024

Genre: poetry

Recommended for: Grades 5-9

Themes: passage of time, best friends, sadness, school, sports, homework

Starred reviews: SLJ

Pages: 208

Notes: Includes over 100 poems from author Jane Yolen's past publications and new material


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PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY

Our Kitchen
Smells of mornings,
blueberry muffins,
hot chocolate, tea.
It smells of bacon
and of eggs.
It smells of family.

For the first time, legendary author Jane Yolen gathers the largest single anthology of her poetry celebrating childhood.

At home or at school, playing sports or practicing music, enjoying the holidays or delighting in each season, Jane Yolen’s masterful collection shows just how lively it is to be a kid. With whimsical artwork by Cathrin Peterslund, this collection of more than one hundred poems is a classic that children are sure to return to again and again.

Narrative Nonfiction
Spying on Spies: How Elizebeth Smith Friedman Broke the Nazis' Secret Codes

Author: Marissa Moss

Illustrator: Marissa Moss

Publication date: March 12, 2024

Genre: narrative nonfiction

Setting: WWI and WWII; 20th Century

Recommended for: Grades 5-8

Themes: world history, WWI, WWII, codebreaking, Women's History Month, prohibition, spies, law enforcement, misogyny, sexism, FBI, justice department, organized crime, classified documents, war, Al Capone

Protagonist: Elizebeth Smith Friedman (1892-1980), female, America's first cryptanalyst

Starred reviews: Kirkus

Pages: 224

Notes: Includes graphic novel inserts at the beginning of each chapter, codes to solve, puzzles, glossary, timeline, bibliography, author's note, end notes, and index


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PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY

One of the founders of US cryptology who would eventually become one of the world’s greatest code breakers, Elizebeth Smith Friedman (1892–1980) was a brilliant mind behind many important battles throughout the 20th century, saving many lives through her intelligence and heroism.

Whip-smart and determined, Elizebeth displayed a remarkable aptitude for language and recognizing patterns from a young age. After getting her start by looking for linguistic clues to the true authorship of Shakespeare’s writings, she and her husband, William Friedman, were tasked with heading up the first government code-breaking unit in America, training teams and building their own sophisticated code systems during the lead-up to World War I.

Elizebeth’s solo career was even more impressive. She became the Treasury Department’s and Coast Guard’s first female codebreaker and created her own top-notch codebreaking unit, where she trained and led many male colleagues.

During Prohibition in the 1920s, her work solving and intercepting coded messages from mobsters and criminal gangs lead to hundreds of high-profile criminal prosecutions, including members of Al Capone’s gang. Her crowning achievement came during World War II, when Elizebeth uncovered an intricate network of Nazi spies operating in South America, a feat that neither law enforcement nor intelligence agencies had been able to accomplish.

Despite her unparalleled accomplishments, Elizebeth was largely written out of history books and overshadowed by her husband. Only in very recent years has her name begun to receive the attention it deserves, including the US Coast Guard naming a ship in her honor and the US Senate passing a 2019 resolution to honor her life and legacy.

Realistic Fiction
The Underdogs of Upson Downs

Author: Craig Silvey

Publication date: March 12, 2024

Genre: realistic fiction

Setting: family farm in the rural town of Upson Downs, Australia and London, England

Recommended for: Grades 3-7

Themes: rural life, stray dogs, animal adoption, dog agility competitions, dog training, family financial problems, mean neighbors, drought, water shortages, family farms, pets, animal stories

Protagonist: female, age 11, white, Australian

Starred reviews: Kirkus

Pages: 320


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PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY

Annie Shearer lives in the country town of Upson Downs with her best friend, an adopted stray dog called Runt. The two share a very special bond.

After years evading capture, Runt is remarkably fast and agile, perfect for herding runaway sheep. But when a greedy local landowner puts her family’s home at risk, Annie directs Runt’s extraordinary talents toward a different pursuit–winning the Agility Course Grand Championship at the lucrative Krumpets Dog Show in London.

However, there is a curious catch: Runt will only obey Annie’s commands if nobody else is watching.

With all eyes on them, Annie and Runt must beat the odds–and the fastest dogs in the world–to save her farm.

Graphic Fiction
Unicorn Boy

Author: Dave Roman

Illustrator: Dave Roman

Publication date: March 12, 2024

Genre: fantasy, graphic fiction, adventure

Recommended for: Grades 3-8

Themes: unicorns, friendship, unexplained events, mythical creatures, talking cats, kidnappings, rescues, wordplay, puns, superheroes

Protagonist: male, olive-skinned, cues Latine

Starred reviews: Publishers Weekly and SLJ

Pages: 208

Notes: Book 1 of the Unicorn Boy series


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PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY

The first few years of Brian Reyes’ life were unremarkable―nothing weird about this kid, no sir. Then, one day, a bump appeared on his head, and it grew…and grew…and grew until it was a full-blown, sparkling, SINGING unicorn horn.

That’s absolutely the last thing a shy kid like Brian wants, but destiny waits for no unicorn boy.

Luckily, Brian has his reassuring pal Avery to keep him grounded as weird occurrences start stacking up, like Brian’s breakfast muffin talking to him, or a bizarre black cat offering him a business card. But when shadowy creatures from another realm kidnap Avery, Brian has to embrace his fate to rescue his best friend.

Humor
Walkin' the Dog

Author: Chris Lynch

Publication date: March 12, 2024

Genre: humor, realistic fiction

Setting: small, coastal town in New England

Recommended for: Grades 3-8

Themes: homeschooler going to public school for the first time, teens with jobs, dog walking businesses, dogs, pets, independence, entrepreneurship, brothers, making new friends, community, parent in a psychiatric hospital (mother)

Protagonist: male, 8th grader, white, homeschooled

Starred reviews: Booklist

Pages: 240


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PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY

In a family of strong personalities with very strong points of view, Louis is what his mother lovingly calls “the inactivist,” someone who’d rather kick back than stand out. He only hopes he can stay under the radar when he starts high school in the fall, his first experience with public school after years of homeschooling.

But when a favor for a neighbor and his stinky canine companion unexpectedly turns into a bustling dog-walking business, Louis finds himself meeting an unprecedented number of new friends—both human and canine.

Agatha, a quippy and cagey girl his age always seems to be telling two truths and a lie. Cyrus, a few years his senior, promises he’s going to show Louis how to be a better person, whether Louis wants him to or not.

And then there are the dogs: misbehaving border terriers, the four (possible stolen) sausage dogs, the rest of Louis’s charges, and a mysterious white beast who appears at a certain spot at the edge of the woods.

Dogs and human alike all seem to have something they want to teach Louis, including his menacing older brother who keeps turning up everywhere. But is Louis ready to learn the lesson he needs most: how to stop being a lone wolf and be part of a pack?

Narrative Nonfiction
The Wild River and the Great Dam

Author: Simon Boughton

Publication date: March 12, 2024

Genre: narrative nonfiction

Setting: Hoover Dam, Arizona-Nevada border, USA

Recommended for: Grades 4-11

Themes: engineering, ingenuity, dams, STEM, labor exploitation, Great Depression, exploitation of indigenous lands, climate change, water shortages, US history

Starred reviews: Publishers Weekly

Pages: 256

Notes: Reviewer grade levels are all over the place, but range from Grade 4-11; Includes maps, B&W photographs, archival advertisements, construction diagrams, timeline, and source notes


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PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY

At the time of its completion in 1936, Hoover Dam was the biggest dam in the world and the largest feat of architecture and engineering in the country—a statement of national ambition and technical achievement.

It turned the wild Colorado River into a tame and securely managed water source, transforming millions of acres of desert into farmland while also providing water and power to the fast-growing population of the Southwest.

The concrete monolith quickly became a symbol of American ingenuity; however, its history is laden with contradiction.

It provided work for thousands, but it was a dangerous project that exploited desperate workers during the Depression.

It helped secure the settlement and economies of the Southwest, but at the expense of Indigenous peoples and the environment; and it created a dependency on the Colorado River’s water, which is under threat from overuse and climate change.

Weaving together elements of engineering, geography, and political and socioeconomic history, and drawing heavily from unpublished oral histories taken from dam workers and their families, Simon Boughton’s thoughtful and compelling debut—featuring historical photographs throughout—follows the construction and impact of Hoover Dam, and how its promise of abundance ultimately created a river in crisis today.

Graphic fiction
The Vice Principal Problem

Author: Kekla Magoon and Cynthia Leitich Smith

Illustrator: Molly Murakami

Publication date: March 5, 2024

Genre: graphic fiction, adventure

Setting: middle school in the fictional city of Urbanopolis 

Recommended for: Grades 3-7

Themes: cousins, superheroes, middle school, school stories, starting at a new school, new kid in town, grandmothers, diabolical school administrators, school vice-principals

Protagonist: 2 female cousins, both 6th graders; one is Black and Indigenous (Muskogee); other is biracial (Black and white)

Starred reviews: Kirkus and Publishers Weekly

Pages: 176

Notes: Book 1 of the Blue Stars series


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PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY

When cousins Riley Halfmoon and Maya Dawn move to Urbanopolis to live with their activist grandma, they get off to a rocky start.

Outgoing Riley misses her Muscogee cousins but is sure that she and Maya will be instant BFFs.

Meanwhile, introvert Maya misses her parents, on active duty in Japan, and just wants some space to herself.

At school, Maya joins Robotics Club and Riley bonds with fellow gymnasts. Just when they start to feel at home, their school culture is threatened by an influential foe in disguise.

Joining student council feels like a way to help, so both cousins toss their hats in the ring for sixth-grade class president.

But when they realize what they’re up against—money, power, and lies—they quickly shift from competition to cooperation, joining forces as superheroes.

Riley is savvy with people; Maya is a whiz with gadgets. In no time, this dazzling duo is off to save the day!

Picture Book
All That Grows

Author: Jack Wong

Illustrator: Jack Wong

Publication date: March 12, 2024

Genre: picture book

Setting: walk through a neighborhood

Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3

Themes: siblings, going for a walk, nature, flowers, vegetables, botany, plants, weeds, gardening

Protagonist: a boy and his older sister, both have brown skin

Starred reviews: Kirkus and SLJ

Pages: 32


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PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY

On their neighborhood walks together, a boy learns from his older sister all about the plants they see ― magnolias that smell like lemon cake, creeping weeds that used to be planted for decoration, and even how dandelion greens can be eaten with spaghetti!

But what makes a plant a flower, vegetable or weed, anyway? How can his sister tell, and how does she know so much?

The boy’s head spins as he realizes how vast the universe is and how much there is to learn … until he resolves to let his knowledge grow in its own way and time, just like the mysterious plants he has decided to nurture in the garden.

Informational Picture Book
Something About the Sky

Author: Rachel Carson

Illustrator: NIkki McClure

Publication date: March 12, 2024

Genre: informational picture book

Recommended for: Grades K-4

Themes: conservation, environment, Silent Spring, clouds, nature, wonder, Earth's atmosphere

Starred reviews: Kirkus and Publishers Weekly

Pages: 56

Notes: Originally written as a script for a children’s television show in 1956; unpublished until 2021


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PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY

Rachel Carson once wrote, “It is not half so important to know as to feel.”

What do we know about clouds? There are three basic types: stratus, cumulus, and cirrus. Some are fleecy and fair-weathered while others portend storms.

But clouds are more than pretty or ominous backdrops. They’re the vehicle of water between sea and land, land and sea, in a cycle without end or beginning.

They are the writing of the wind on the sky, a language all their own.

An illustrator note explains the origins of Rachel Carson’s shimmering essay—previously unpublished in its entirety—and the process of adapting it to picture book format, as well as how the author of Silent Spring forever changed the way we think about science and progress.

Something on the Hill

Author: Jane Kohuth

Illustrator: Sonia Sanchez

Publication date: March 12, 2024

Genre: picture book

Setting: forest in early spring

Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3

Themes: spring, new plant growth, animal stories, changing seasons

Protagonist: various forest animals - field mouse, deer, squirrel, ducks, turtle, bears

Starred reviews: SLJ

Pages: 40


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PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY

When Field Mouse wakes from her nap, the air is no longer chilly, and she feels like there’s something has changed. Something is out there, calling to her… Something is on the Hill.

She spots her friend, Squirrel. “Help me find the Something,” Mouse tells him.

And so the two scamper through a clearing. Soon, they spot Doe.

“Where are you hurrying today?” Doe asks them.

“We’re going to the Hill,” says Mouse.

And so it goes, as Turtle, the Ducks, and the Bears join the group, all making their way to the Something on the Hill.

As they climb to the tippy-top, this parade of animals will discover just what that Something is: a leaf shoot, tiny and green.

Picture Book, Humor
You're Going to Love This Book!

Author: Jory John

Illustrator: Olivier Tallec

Publication date: March 12, 2024

Genre: picture book, humor

Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2

Themes: storytime read-alouds, reading, things kids hate

Protagonist: orange aardvark / kangaroo-like creature that talks directly to the reader

Starred reviews: SLJ

Pages: 32


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PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY

Attention, reader: You’re going to LOVE this book!

No, really, you are. It’s got everything you could ever want: comedy, drama, action, heart.

Plus―are you ready? It’s got homework! Ahh yeah! And a trip to the best place ever, the dentist! Ahhhh yeahhh!

Additionally―brace yourself―it’s got raisins! Nature’s candy.

AHH YEAHHH! This book is so great, you won’t be able to stop reading it. I DARE you not to have fun.

Picture Book, Humor
The Book That Can Read Your Mind

Author: Marianna Coppo

Illustrator: Marianna Coppo

Publication date: March 12, 2024

Genre: picture book, humor

Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3

Themes: storytime read-alouds, magic tricks, interactive stories, reading minds

Protagonist: anthropomorphic white rabbit, female, wears a tuxedo

Starred reviews: Booklist

Pages: 48


See it on Amazon

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY

This is not an ordinary book—it’s a magical one!

Lady Rabbit goes beyond pulling a rabbit out of a hat or making herself disappear. For her next act, she will READ YOUR MIND! That’s right: You pick a member from the magician’s adorable audience—don’t tell which one you’ve chosen—and this book will guess who it is!

Inspired by 17th‑century magic books, this interactive game in a book will enchant readers of all ages, compelling them to pick among many intriguing, illustrated characters and play over and over (and over) again. Now, without further ado . . . let the magic show begin!

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS

      

LAST WEEK’S NEW RELEASE SPOTLIGHT


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.

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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