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Book Review: A Roundup of New Releases

by Adriana White

As a librarian, I occasionally get the chance to preview advance review copies (ARCs) of upcoming books. Over the past few months, I've read some fantastic new children's books. Here are a few mini-reviews for some titles with connections to Social-Emotional Learning, Grief and Loss, and Body Image.

by Wendy Mass & Gabi Mendez

Random House Graphic

Release Date: 05/02/2023

Level: Middle Grade

Topic: Grief/Loss

Addie Brecker's life hasn't been the same since the loss of her mother. Her father Sid tries his best to comfort her, but Addie pushes him - and everyone else - away. Addie reluctantly packs for a summer trip to Spring Haven University, where her futurologist father plans to work on some virtual reality and augmented reality projects. Addie meets Mateo, Shay, and the rest of the students working with her dad, and one by one, they share their projects with her.

What follows is a journey from apathy to empathy that is at times both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Mass doesn't shy away from the heaviness of grief, nor does she talk down to her young readers. The end result is a wonderful tale of family and friendship, and the power of seeing the world from someone else's perspective. Beautiful artwork by Gabi Mendez, with colors by Cai Tse, help bring the magic of this story to life. (Readers are also invited to visit Mass's website, where they can use two pages from the book to try out VR/AR for themselves!)

by Julie Murphy

Balzer + Bray / HarperTeen

Release Date: 06/06/23

Level: Middle Grade

Topic: Self-Esteem / Body Image

Maggie Hagen is ready to spend the summer at Camp Rising Star with her best friend Nora, but then her parents pull the rug out from under her. She's not going to a performing arts camp -- instead, she's going to a "fat camp." Maggie is understandably furious, but her mother, who used to be overweight as a child, as well, encourages her to at least give Camp Sylvania a try. Maggie reluctantly agrees, but when she learns that Camp Sylvania is being run by vampires, her summer goes from a bummer to a battle for survival.

Murphy has written multiple young adult books about fat characters, but this is her first middle grade novel, and the choice to include a supernatural element is a great one. The threat of vampires pulls the focus away from weight loss, and allows Maggie to gain confidence and courage without focusing solely on body image issues. As she does in her other books, Murphy gives us a heroine who isn't afraid to say the word "fat," and also isn't afraid to be fat, either. The message of accepting yourself, even in the face of pressure from your own family, is warmly shared without being overly saccharine or unrealistic. The book is sure to be a hit with young readers.

Series by Tae Keller & Geraldine Rodríguez

Henry Holt & Co.

Release Date: 05/16/2023 (Book 2)

Level: Middle Grade

Topic: Social-Emotional Learning

The brightly colored covers and Rodríguez's adorable illustrations may give readers the impression that this is a chapter book, but make no mistake, this is definitely a middle grade series! The first book in the series, Mihi Ever After, begins with Mihi being dumped by her best friend Genevieve, who has grown tired of pretending to be princesses. Hurt by the suggestion that she's "not the princess type," Mihi makes a rash decision that puts her in the library for the rest of recess. There, she meets Savannah and Reese, and together, they accidentally travel through a magical portal in the librarian's refrigerator.

Keller is no stranger to difficult topics. Her other middle grade books portray grief, depression, bullying, and more, but Keller is a pro at exploring these ideas with a sensitive and careful hand. The Mihi series is definitely a fantasy, but the emotions that the young characters experience feel authentic and sincere. Mihi is torn between her dream of being a princess and her desire to be a good friend, and although she makes some bad judgment calls from time to time (as any kid would!), readers will still root for her to succeed. The second book in the series, A Giant Problem, puts Mihi and her new friends in the awkward position of having to rescue her former best friend from the Rainbow Realm.

by Susan Verde & Juliana Perdomo

Abrams Books for Young Readers

Release Date: 04/04/2023

Level: Picture Book

Topic: Social-Emotional Learning

In this vibrantly colored picture book, strikingly illustrated by Perdomo, Verde guides young readers in learning how to slow down and take in the beauty of the world around them. In the book's author note, Verde writes: "Seeing asks that we take time to notice not only the details, but also the information and the feelings we get from what is in front of us."

To this end, the book shows readers detailed (but not too busy) scenes across each spread. The text lists a few noticeable items, and asks readers to explore the rest of the page to discover something more. The illustrations provide hints of deeper stories that readers can explore and extend. For example, adults can ask young readers questions, like:

  • Who are the old men reading newspapers in the city?

  • What are the kids learning about at school?

  • Who are the people in the narrator's extended family?

The book ends with a beautiful call for readers to find the wonder and creativity deep within themselves.


These books were wonderful reads, and I wholeheartedly suggest considering them for your library collection. A huge thank you to all the publishers who shared these books with me!


Adriana L. White is an autistic school librarian, a former special education teacher, and the creator of our Educator Resource pages. She holds a Master’s degree in Education as well as an MLIS. For more of Adriana's writing on autism, neurodiversity, and education, visit her at


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