I think we can all agree, there’s nothing like a new book. That subtle resistance you encounter when you open the cover for the first time. The feel of the soft, untouched pages. The allure of an unread story—a new adventure, a welcome escape. Sheesh, even the smell is powerful.
For me, that feeling is even more pronounced when, not only is the book brand new—but the voice behind it is brand new as well. Ahhh, the joy of discovering a debut that reads as great as it feels.
Discovering the debut
JLG’s editorial team is kind of lucky, if I may be so bold. Not only is their job, literally, to READ. ALL. DAY., but they get to be among the first sets of eyes across the entire publishing industry to be introduced to the newest talent. In fact, they seek it out.
Because our goal at JLG is to provide school and public librarians with the best in preK-YA literature, we do some digging. Our editors keep their ears to the ground and listen for the whispers gradually building about new authors on the horizon—and then, they pursue their manuscripts to see if these new works are cut out to wear the Junior Library Guild “Gold Standard Selection” seal of approval.
The debut selections below earned that seal—and then some.
If I were you, I’d keep my eyes on these upcoming JLG releases. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion you’ll be hearing a lot about them as the buzz starts to build. And, if you subscribe to JLG's monthly book-box service, debut gems like these will be on your shelves before you know it. With 80+ genre/reading-level subscription categories to choose from, you can design the perfect book box for your readers and your budget.
JLG Elementary Debut Selections
Jennifer Frank discovered her penchant for storytelling when she became a mom. When two of her three daughters were diagnosed with Celiac Disease and, as a result, began to feel uneasy in social settings and “different” from others, she focused her storytelling on tales designed to help them handle those tough emotions. That’s how The Worm Family book was born. This hilarious and heart-warming picture book follows worm-daughter Emma as she tries to come up with costumes and wigs to make her worm-family picture more interesting and “normal”—only to discover that it’s when the family just poses as themselves that they capture the perfect picture.
Azadeh Westergaard’s lyrical picture-book biography of Nikola Tesla came about through a three-part stroke of serendipity: 1. After naming a character in a middle-grade draft Nikola, she started researching Tesla and discovered his passion for pigeons. 2. A colleague in her MFA program asked if she had any children’s biography ideas related to animals and Nikola and his pigeons leapt to mind. 3. A pigeon dropping landed square on her shoe. With that final odd sign of a good idea, Iranian American Westergaard knew she had to pursue A Life Electric and tell the life story of Tesla—who was once named “The Pigeon Charmer of New York” because he adored these “original wireless messengers.”
Journey Beyond the Burrow
Debut novelist Rina Heisel came into the publishing world after 11 years producing educational science-based television programs in South Dakota. Drawn to segments about animals—and feeling like she was getting a “sneak peek into their secret worlds” throughout production—turning that passion into an upper-elementary tale was a natural progression. Rina’s Journey Beyond the Burrow follows the adventures of a little mouse named Tobin on his desperate quest to save his baby brother who’s been kidnapped by massive Arakni spiders. The story unfolds through the precisely written perspective of a tiny field mouse determined to save his brother, even if it means breaking the rules of the forest.
JLG Middle School Debut Selections
Brita Sandstrom says writing Hollow Chest began as a way to work through her own fears and anxieties. But as she dove deeper into her “sweeping, unforgettable historic ghost story” set in London at the end of WWII, the book morphed into more of a love letter to her family—particularly her grandfather Perry, a WWII veteran who rarely spoke about his wartime experiences. In this powerful debut, Brita’s young protagonist Charlie takes on a brave mission to help his brother Theo when he returns home from the WWII battlefield cold, distant, and clearly shaken. Charlie learns that Theo’s heart has been stolen by terrifying ancient “war wolves” who prey on those broken by grief, and to save his brother he must track down the wolves and get Theo’s heart back.
Culture, family, mystical adventure, and Navajo tradition, folklore, and language converge in Brian Young’s debut novel Healer of the Water Monster. With a background in film studies and script-writing, Brian deftly tells the story of a young Navajo boy Nathan who encounters a Holy Being from the Navajo Creation Story (a Water Monster) who needs help. Nathan’s own troubled uncle Jet needs help too, so together with other Navajo Holy Beings, Nathan sets out to save both the Water Monster and Jet. An enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, Brian Young recently contributed to Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids (also a JLG selection) but Water Monster is his first novel—and a second installment is already in the works.
If you ask debut novelist Cliff Burke about his professional past, he’s probably more likely to tell you he was once a sign-twirling dancing banana than that he currently teaches middle-grade writing and humanities in San Fran. It’s that same kind of humor Cliff brings to An Occasionally Happy Family—a mishap-laden camping adventure that delivers both laughs and love. When Theo embarks on a road trip to Big Bend with his science-teacher dad and sister Laura, he’s not thrilled. But it’s when dad reveals that the reason for their "The Great Outdoors"-style getaway is actually to introduce his new wife-material girlfriend, Theo has to face his grief from losing his mother to cancer a few years ago and figure out how to embrace his family’s new reality. Bonus: Cliff’s website offers a download of the Official Ripley Family Road Trip Playlist.
JLG High School Debut Selections
In the early days of her 20s, and still pursuing her degree in English/History of Religion at the University of Washington in Seattle, Korean American writer Zoe Hana Mikuta has always had an “infatuation for fictional worlds... inhabited by characters with bad tempers, skewed morals, and big hearts.” Enter her YA sci-fi debut, Gearbreakers, the story of a young rebel fighting a tyrannical regime who lands in prison with a girl she considers her mortal enemy. But it doesn’t take long to see that her prison-mate is actually fighting against the tyrannical rule as well, and the two can work together to cause the fall of their enemy—while falling for one another in the process. Part 2 of Gearbreakers is slated for summer 2022.
For debut novelist Lily Sparks, it’s all about stories: listening to them, seeing them, living them, and telling them. As a scriptwriter for TV pilots for MTV, FX, and Amazon—as well as episodes for CW’s "Reign" and Paramount’s "Heathers", Lily knows a thing or two about storytelling. That makes her engrossing, dark, and twisty new Teen Killers Club an unputtdownable read. With snappy dialogue and intense character development, Lily tells the story of 17-year-old Signal who’s convicted of her best friend’s murder and, to avoid prison, signs up for a secret program where murderous teens are trained as assassins. But Signal has an ulterior motive for joining: she’s not Rose’s killer, but she’s determined to track the real baddie down.
Raised in Trinidad and Tobago, newly minted author Sarah Dass graduated from the University of the West Indies and University College London and says she "works as an Office Administrator by day and writes stories about growing up in the Caribbean by night.” And, we’re glad she does. Her debut, Where the Rhythm Takes You, is an imaginative YA retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion set in Sarah’s native country. It follows the story of Reyna, a young woman still grieving the death of her mother, and her first love Aiden, who left Trinidad & Tobago around the time of her mother’s passing and has since returned—but now as an international pop star. Sarah’s vibrant descriptions and authentic dialogue whisk readers away to the Caribbean—and they won’t be disappointed by the trip.
Life is Debut-tiful!
Anyone else just squeal a little in anticipation of these selections hitting JLG subscribers’ library shelves? We can’t wait for these them to land in young readers’ hands this fall and look forward to seeing where these talented new writers take their careers. I have a hunch it will be somewhere beautiful.
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About Junior Library Guild
Junior Library Guild is the subscription box solution for the modern librarian: A completely customizable collection-development service based 100% on your preferences, your readers’ interests, and your library’s budget. Offering 80+ genre and reading-level subscription categories, JLG titles are curated by our renowned editorial team who select only the top 3% of new releases for our collection, so you can trust JLG to bring top-quality books to your library that will engage and appeal to your readers.