101 Bible Stories From Creation to Revelation / by Zondervan; illustrated by Dan Andreasen. 8.30.2016

Zonderkidz ISBN 9780310740643

PRI Grades 2-4 Rating: *5

101 Bible Stories from Creation to Revelation is a collection of New and Old Testament events presented by Zondervan in a short story format intended for independent readers.

Between the eye-catching hard covers, each story is concisely told in one page and accompanied by a rich full-page illustration by Dan Andreasen. The reading level is perfect for older children and enhanced by scriptural reference and a table of contents.

Wonderful artwork enlivens the settings, people, and emotions of familiar biblical accounts, each beautiful drawing so aptly capturing the characters and their stories. The lighting of the scenes is especially effective.

With its small format, inviting pictures, and smart readability, 101 Bible Stories from Creation to Revelation has the feel of a devotional and would be an ideal spiritual gift for a child.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

7 Days of Awesome / by Shawn Byous; illustrated by Colin Jack. 8.29.2016

Zonderkidz ISBN 9780310743491

PRI Grades K-3 Rating: 5

7 Days of Awesome by Shawn Byous is a picture book telling of God’s creation of the world.

A boy and a girl travel with a zany character–in all manner of air, land, and sea vehicles –who explains that God made the whole world and everything in it! 7 Days of Awesome is imaginatively presented with clever rhyming verse and bright cartoon illustrations.

It’s OUTTAA SIGHT!! God first made the light. And why would that be? ‘Cause there’s so much to see!” Shawn Byous’s well-crafted stanzas beg to be read aloud and are sure to delight young listeners. Artist Colin Jack delivers colorful sketches of the earth, sky, and sea as each day unfolds. Though the words and drawings are silly (think Dr. Seuss), the biblical message is filled with enthusiasm and sincerity.

7 Days of Awesome is a fun, albeit unconventional, telling of the creation story that keeps God and His world as the focus, and, as a bedtime book, it has the perfect conclusion: “On Day 7 God made what I like BEST! Do you know what He made…? That’s when God made REST!”

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

The Song of Seare series / by C. E. Laureano. 8.26.2016

Oath of the Brotherhood: a Novel / by C. E. Laureano. (The Song of Seare; 1)

NavPress ISBN 9781612915876

HS Grades 9-12 Rating: 4

Beneath the Forsaken City: a Novel / by C. E. Laureano. (The Song of Seare; 2)

NavPress ISBN 9781612916316

HS Grades 9-12 Rating: 4

The Sword and the Song: a Novel / by C. E. Laureano. (The Song of Seare; 3)

NavPress ISBN 9781612916323

HS Grades 9-12 Rating: 4

In Oath of the Brotherhood, 17-year-old Conor Mac Nir, son of King Galbraith and prince of Tigh, returns home from his fosterage a trained scholar, rather than a skilled warrior, much to the outrage of his father. No sooner than he returns, Conor is sent to the king of Faolán as a hostage in a political scheme to gain a much needed ally. There Conor returns to his studies and further develops his musical gift, while learning about the forgotten Balian magic and finding a deep connection with Aine, the king’s sister and a young woman with a powerful gift. His peaceful existence is short-lived and, to protect those he loves, Conor flees to the city of the Fíréin brotherhood. While there, Conor trains to be a Fíréin warrior and seeks to understand his role in an ancient prophesy. Will Conor learn Comdiu’s plan for his life and, if so, have the strength to follow it no matter the cost?

Conor and Aine, having barely reunited, are once again torn apart in Beneath the Forsaken City. As they struggle to defeat the Red Druid and his evil forces, will faith and love be enough to sustain them?

Tensions are high in The Sword and the Song, as conflict grows between Conor and Eoghan, rooted in the disputed claim to the throne, their love for Aine, and the Red Druid’s growing power. Will they discover the power they need to defeat their enemy before all of Seare is lost? Will the sacrifice prove too great a cost?

In “The Song of Seare” series, C. E. Laureano brings new life to the age-old tale of good versus evil in this Christian fantasy and teen romance set against the backdrop of a medieval kingdom reminiscent of Ireland or Scotland. The places and kingdoms mentioned throughout the series can be somewhat confusing; however, a map is included at the beginning of each book, which provides a clearer understanding of the world Laureano brings to life.

Though given different names, the Balian deities Comdiu and his son Balus clearly represent God and Jesus, and the strong principles of the faith such as humility, compassion, and holiness also reflect biblical truths. Conor, Aine, and Eoghan are characters full of depth and conflicting emotions, making them very human. Their devotion to Comdiu and their struggles to resist temptation and evil are wonderful examples for a Christian to follow. The love story woven throughout the adventure tale is tender, moving, and passionate. Physical attraction, implied desire, and some passionate kissing are included, but descriptions are kept to an appropriate level. Overall, this series is a page-turning adventure, with a powerful theme of surrender and ultimate sacrifice.

Justina McBride, CLJ

The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden / by Kevin DeYoung; illustrated by Don Clark. 8.25.2016

Crossway ISBN 9781433542442

INT Grades 3-6 Rating:5

Kevin DeYoung is a gifted popularizer: he takes the world of academic biblical studies and pastoral ministry and makes it understandable and engaging for people. In The Biggest Story, DeYoung applies his gifts to the most important truth there is—the story of the Bible—and makes it accessible to intermediate readers.

There is a movement in Western, English-speaking evangelical theology over the last 15 years or so which has sought to acquaint readers with the one big story the Bible tells, the overarching “metanarrative” that makes sense not just of Jonah and Noah and Jesus but of Napoleon and Trump and you. In this view, the Bible is a radically God-centered book in which God creates his image-bearers and then, after they disobey, works to rescue them and the creation he gave them.

The lynchpin of that story is the snake-crusher, Jesus. The ultimate end of that story is restoration of the creation to the way God intended it to be: a trip back to the area on the globe where life began. That area will be a place into which “the glory and honor of the nations” is brought. It will actually be a city, the New Jerusalem. It will represent the end goal of mankind’s call to subdue the earth and have dominion over it. (This represents the lone way in which DeYoung’s otherwise excellent book may be viewed as falling short: the trajectory of the Bible is from garden to city, not garden to garden.)

DeYoung’s prose shines: it’s elegant and playful but deeply substantive. There are depths everywhere that only parents will grasp, but children will not feel left out.

Don Clark’s illustrations are colorfully gorgeous. They evoke a 1960s style but still feel very fresh. They are at turns clever and iconic and symbol-laden and geometrical and maybe a bit whimsical. Their lavishness befits the biggest story there is.

DeYoung and Clark have produced a relatable, brilliant summary of the story of the Bible for children, one that is readable in several sittings or even just one.

Mark L. Ward, CLJ

Blue Birds / by Caroline Starr Rose. 8.24.2016

G. P. Putnam’s Sons ISBN 9780399168109

MS Grades 4-7 Rating: 4

In July of 1587, 12-year-old Alis arrives on the island of Roanoke with her family, instantly falling in love with the untouched beauty of this new land. The only thing missing is a friend. Being the lone girl her age in the English settlement, Alis is often called upon to watch the younger children and finds her solace by slipping off to explore the surrounding forest. There in the mysterious woods of Roanoke she meets Kimi, a girl from the local tribe who is full of hatred towards the English, those she views responsible for the death of her father and beloved sister. These two girls, from two very different worlds, form an unlikely friendship, overcoming language barriers as well as the superstition and mutual hatred existing between the English and Roanoke people. However, as their friendship grows, the unrest and distrust between their peoples continue to mount. When violence and cries of war break out, Alis is forced to make a choice that will alter her life forever.

In Blue Birds, Caroline Starr Rose weaves a fictional tale with her own unique spin of what might have happened to the people of the Lost Colony of Roanoke, rekindling a historical mystery that has fascinated people for centuries. The author acknowledges the liberties she takes with the historical facts in the Author’s Note, which helps separate fact from fiction while also explaining how she came to develop the main character and plot. The story is told in stirring free verse from the alternating voices of the two main characters, Alis and Kimi. When the girls are together, their thoughts and words appear side by side, cleverly and artistically allowing the reader to experience both worlds at the same time and showing universal similarities that transcend cultural barriers and differences.

This novel is a beautiful story of friendship, sisterly love, and human emotions. The resolution stretches beyond the likeliness of a real-life outcome, yet it reasonably develops from the plot. The underlying message is a powerful one of love, self-sacrifice, and trust triumphing over fear and hate.

Justina McBride, CLJ

A Daring Sacrifice / by Jody Hedlund. 8.2.2016

Zondervan ISBN 9780310749370

HS (Adult)     Grades 9-12     Rating: 5

Historical fiction author Jody Hedlund writes her second young adult novel about a fourteenth-century young woman living an unconventional life.

In A Daring Sacrifice, Juliana Wessex is the rightful ruler of Wessex. But the current Lord Wessex (her uncle) believes she died three years ago when her father lost his life. Juliana hides in the forest and steals to provide a livelihood for the peasants on her land, impoverished by her uncle’s harsh rule. It is a life filled with risks and danger, and she struggles with the justification of her actions.

When she is forced to flee Wessex after escaping capture, Juliana makes the mistake of trying to rob Colin Goodrich, who recognizes Juliana by her red hair. Colin takes her to his castle after she is injured and introduces her as a distant cousin. But her uncle discovers her presence. To what lengths will her uncle go to keep Wessex for himself? Who makes the daring sacrifice?

Different text fonts indicate Juliana’s and Colin’s points of view. The spiritual element is evident but not heavy-handed; Colin and Juliana ask for God’s leading and try to live godly lives, which is especially hard for Juliana since she steals from the nobility.

Filled with descriptive narrative and endearing characters, A Daring Sacrifice is an entertaining read–except for the necessary violence in the fighting scenes. Its believable plot has enough twists in the last third of the book to keep the reader up late!

Fans of Lisa Bergren’s River of Time series, Dina Sleiman’s Valiant Hearts series, and Melanie Dickerson’s medieval young adult books will also enjoy Hedlund’s medieval trilogy. Readers may want to read Hedlund’s An Uncertain Choice (reviewed in Christian Library Journal, Jan/Feb/Mar/Apr 2015). A third book is in the works.

Recommended for teen collections in public libraries and school libraries.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

My Tata’s Remedies: Los remedios de mi Tata / by Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford; illustrated by Antonio Castro. 7.25.2016

Cinco Puntos Press ISBN 9781935955917

INT Grades 3-6 Rating: 5

A Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor book for 2016, Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford’s My Tata’s Remedies depicts a day in the life of Aaron, a young Latino boy, and his grandfather or “Tata,” who is valued in the neighborhood for his knowledge of herbal remedies and willingness to treat all who show up needing his help.

While Aaron spends the day with his Tata, neighbors drop by and ask for assistance with various complaints—a bee sting, diaper rash, a burn, an eye infection. Tata treats each one with a remedy involving herbs or common household items. Aaron is charged with finding the appropriate items on his grandfather’s shelves. The “patients” are grateful and stay for empanadas and hot chocolate, and the story beautifully demonstrates how Tata’s willingness to help brings his community together. It is also a reminder of the value of extended family.

A glossary provides definitions and illustrations of the plants mentioned in the story (with a disclaimer noting that readers should not take the text as medical advice). Antonio Castro’s award-winning watercolor illustrations are cheerful and realistically depict the characters and evoke their culture.

The bilingual text makes this book of interest to those learning either English or Spanish. Comparing the renditions in both languages, however, one finds that the English and Spanish texts both reflect the spirit of the narrative but do not always correspond in an absolutely literal fashion (for example, “santo remedio,” which literally translates as “holy remedy,” is rendered as “magical cure,” and an English reference to a “high five” is not reflected in the Spanish text).

Angela L. Walsh, CLJ

The Smoking Mirror / by David Bowles. 7.22.2016

IFWG Publishing, Inc. ISBN 9781925148640

HS Grades 7-12 Rating: 3

A Pura Belpré Author Honor book for 2016, David Bowles’ The Smoking Mirror incorporates Aztec and Mayan mythology into a modern fantasy about 12-year-old twins, Johnny and Carol Garza.

Johnny and Carol Garza are trying to come to terms with the recent loss of their mother, whose abrupt disappearance remains a mystery, as well as their father who is becoming increasingly distant as he likewise struggles to cope with his loss. As a result of these issues, the twins are sent to live with their mother’s family in Mexico. There, they find out about the special powers that are their heritage, and ultimately embark on a quest into the Aztec underworld in search of their mother.

The story provides an informative glimpse into Mexican culture and its Mesoamerican mythology and folklore. The plot moves quickly–once in the Underworld, the twins are thrust from one danger into another. Through their adventures, Johnny and Carol learn about their own strengths and grow closer as they come to rely on each other. With a large caste of gods and monsters, the book has invited comparison to Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series and will likely appeal to a similar audience, although Bowles’ writing is less polished and character development is lacking.

There is mild violence, shape-shifting, and one scene involving human sacrifice. The characters believe in the Aztec and Mayan deities and mysticism, and seem to treat their Catholic religion on a par with these beliefs. Despite some darker themes, the story is handled with a light touch. The book’s ending sets the scene for more to come in the series.

Angela L. Walsh, CLJ

The Ghosts of Heaven / by Marcus Sedgwick. 7.21.2016

Roaring Brook Press ISBN 9781626721258

HS Grades 7-12 Rating: 5 (not recommended)

Printz Award winner Marcus Sedgwick offers an introduction to his The Ghosts of Heaven which sets forth a brief history of the universe, from its cosmological beginning 4,600 million years ago until the evolution of mankind 4,598 million years later. This is followed by four episodes that can be read in any order but are connected by the image of spirals. Each of the four stories–“Whispers in the Dark,” “The Witch in the Water,” “The Easiest Room in Hell,” and “The Song of Destiny”–has a character that embarks on a journey of discovery and survival. The first story (“Quarter One”) takes place in the era of cave people in prehistory. “Quarter Two” takes place in the 17th century where the reader meets Anna, whom people call a witch. “Quarter Three” is set in a Long Island hospital in the 1920s, where a mad poet watches the oceans and knows its horrors. Finally, “Quarter Four” takes the reader into the future where an astronaut is on a spaceship sent from earth to colonize another world.

Each science and historical fiction story is thought-provoking and provides imagery and writing that makes the reading a pleasure. By tying all four stories tougher with the symbol of the spiral–e.g. found in the shells of snails, the patterns of birds in flight, the seeds in a sunflower, or the strands of the double helix of DNA, the reader is invited to check out both order and mystery. At times it is a challenge to figure out which is which for the spiral means something different to each of the story protagonists. There are situations involving violence, death, and sex (nothing explicit), as well as mild language and an overall sense of darkness.

Leroy Hommerding, CLJ

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras / by Duncan Tonatiuh. 7.20.2016

Abrams Books for Young Readers ISBN 9781419716478

PRI Grades 1-5 Rating: 5

Funny Bones is an insightful and fascinating story about Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada, known as Don Lupe Posada, who popularized the use of calaveras in art. Calaveras–clothed skeleton figures performing various activities–are an important part of the Mexican Day of the Dead festival.

From the time Posada was a young child, he loved drawing. He learned the printing techniques of lithography, engraving, and etching, each of which is shown in four-panel layouts. Posada employed these processes to make thousands of drawings. Although only a small number of his drawings are of calaveras, these images are what make Posada famous. Posada used calaveras to reflect both his humorous and serious views on everyday life, politics, social issues, and the Mexican Revolution.

Duncan Tonatiuh is both the author and illustrator of Funny Bones. Tonatiuh’s digital collage and hand drawings are colorful and eye-catching. The skillful blending of Tonatiuh and Posada’s artistic works, along with clear and simple sentences, makes for an appealing book for readers to learn about Posada’s life and his impact on Mexican culture. Some of Posada’s calaveras are open to interpretation, and questions posed by Tonatiuh will encourage readers to draw their own conclusions.

A number of resources at the back of the book are helpful for enriching the reading experience. The author’s note gives in-depth details about the history and traditions surrounding the Day of the Dead celebration. There are also a glossary, bibliography, art credits, a list of places where Posada’s artwork can be seen in the United States, and an index.

Funny Bones is a good choice for school libraries, for reading aloud to early elementary age children, and for third through fifth grade students to read and discuss.

Dianne Woodman, CLJ