The Body Under the Bridge / by Paul McCusker. (A Father Gilbert Mystery) 6.29.2017

Lion Fiction ISBN 9781782641070

Adult Rating: 4 (Recommended with caution)

The Body under the Bridge finds former detective turned Anglican priest in a murder mystery that spans hundreds of years as well as natural and supernatural realms. A disturbing vision leads Father Gilbert to find a historic medallion of unknown worth and significance left behind on the belfry at St. Mark’s in Stonebridge, England. Following the vision and subsequent discovery, police investigate a well-preserved “bog-body” found under a historic bridge on land in the center of a development controversy. As Father Gilbert and Father Benson, the new, young curate at St. Mark’s, investigate further, more light is shed on dark matters until they fear for their own lives.

Father Gilbert’s personality is easy to love. Paul McCusker excels at creating sympathetic characters. Gilbert’s car is perpetually in the shop. He loves his church members and is dedicated to ministry and even prays occasionally for dead souls. Though he left Scotland Yard, the detective in him still can’t seem to resist solving a crime. The plot churns up dead bodies and adds an element of the supernatural–even of demonic influence–creating a mood of darkness and suspense.

An evil element oppresses certain characters making clear the difference between spiritual light and darkness. As Father Gilbert investigates further, he discovers that black masses have been held at St. Mark’s. There are non-explicit references to sexual temptation and orgies, and even Father Gilbert seems affected by some of the demonic activity and is shown to struggle with temptation. Gilbert and Benson witness a stabbing at a black mass that they stumble upon. Astral projections and near-death occurrences are mentioned. A couple of the secondary characters use mild expressions such as “Good Lord” and a “Good God.”

In spite of the darkness that shrouds this book, the redeeming element, besides a good who-dun-it, is the wisdom sprinkled throughout. “I know that coincidences, the pull of Truth, are all part of a providential conspiracy to get us to Him.” (p. 203) “Ironically it was death, his great nemesis, that pointed him to life.” (p. 72)

Kristina Wolcott, CLJ

Grover Cleveland, Again! / by Ken Burns; illustrated by Gerald Kelley 6.26.2017

Alfred A. Knopf ISBN 9780385392099

YA Grades 5 & up Rating: 4

Grover Cleveland, Again! by noted documentarian Ken Burns is an illustrated collection of facts and stories about the U.S. presidents, culminating with Barack Obama.

Each two-page spread features biographical details, brief anecdotes, and a description of significant aspects of that president’s term. Burns provides historic and political context to help middle grade readers begin to understand the pertinent issues. Multiple sidebars throughout supply additional information to help capture each leader’s personality and legacy. The end pages offer related sites to visit and a glossary of terms.

Handsomely and chronologically arranged, Grover Cleveland, Again! features large scale pencil and digital color illustrations by Gerald Kelley. Kelley captures the presidents in active and dynamic poses against dramatic backdrops that truly add a sense of realism. Rich red and blue highlights on each page create a patriotic feel. Each president’s official portrait is also included.

The author’s conversational tone at times blurs the line between fact and opinion on challenging topics such as slavery, Native Americans, war, and the economy. Children interested in history will enjoy this lively book, though parents may need to help them approach some of the content.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story / by Caren Stelson. 6.23.2017

Carolrhoda Books ISBN 9781467789035

YA Grades 5-12 Rating: 5

Sachiko shares a Nagasaki bomb survivor’s story of the devastation that changed her family’s lives in 1945, chronicled through extensive interviews with author Caren Stelson.

Sachiko was six when a U.S. military plane dropped a second atomic bomb on Japan just prior to the end of the Second World War in the Pacific. Thousands of adults and children died that horrific day, including several of Sachiko’s siblings. More people, including Sachiko’s extended family, died in the days, weeks, and years that followed. As she matured, she wrote of the influence Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi had on her growing conviction to embrace non-violence and teach others to do the same. As a result, Sachiko decided to publicly share her story of the bombing and radiation sickness in the hope that it never happens again to anyone. Extensive bibliographical references and an index aid additional study.

The author inserts in-depth historical summaries of events and facts in special sections between episodes of Sachiko’s story. The carefully researched historical information add a wider and deeper context for the intimate details of Sachiko’s personal experiences, allowing knowledge and empathy to grow in readers. Tight writing, strong verbs, and original metaphors join with compelling themes and facts–all these transform this shocking and tragic story, a Robert F. Sibert Honor book, into a compelling revelation. Sachiko rises above painful ashes and waves a bright banner of hope that future tragedies can be avoided if difficult truths are known.

Connie Brown, CLJ

God’s Good News: Devotions from Billy Graham / by Billy Graham; illustrated by Scott Wakefield. 6.22.2017

Tommy Nelson ISBN 9780718006303

INT Grades K-6 Rating: 5

God’s Good News by noted Christian evangelist Billy Graham offers 74 illustrated Bible stories for young readers. Graham opens with an inspiring note inviting parents and children to read about God’s love and good news; he closes with a heartfelt prayer for his readers.

The stories are evenly divided between the Old and New Testaments, using scripture quotations from The New King James Version of the Bible. Brief italicized segments provide contextual information when needed, and accompanying each story is a related sidebar from Billy Graham offering additional details, questions to ponder, and spiritual “takeaways.”

For the very young, God’s Good News Bible Storybook is a wonderful introduction to events from the Bible. This is a book that children can grow up with: first by having a parent describe the stories depicted in the illustrations, later as independent readers with a fuller grasp of the actual text, and eventually as “tweens” re-reading their favorite stories and considering some of the author’s devotional messages.

Bright illustrations by Scott Wakefield are bold and active, capturing the history, drama, and awe of the subject matter. The artist adds visual interest and stimulates the imagination by showing scenes from varying perspectives–from inside the pit with Daniel, eye-level with Noah and a giraffe, gazing up at Moses atop the mountain.

God’s Good News would be a treasured gift at any age. This attractive book with its padded hard cover, embossed lettering, and almost 200 heavy pages, is practically destined to find an enduring place on a child’s bookshelf or nightstand!

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

The Deity of Christ / by John MacArthur. (The John MacArthur Study Series) 6.20.2017

Moody Publishers ISBN 9780802495273

Adult Rating: 4

This book represents a compilation of sections of the MacArthur New Testament Commentary. The 10 chapters are divided into three parts titled: 1) The Divine Glory of Christ, 2) The Divine Authority of Christ, and 3) The Divine Claims of Christ.

The first section deals with both the eternal glory of Christ as well as his preeminence. This section primarily addresses the explicit claims by two New Testament writers. Christ is shown to be eternal and over all via the text of the New Testament.

The second section discusses the authority of Christ over various aspects of creation. Thus, the case for the deity of Christ in this section is often more implicit than explicit. Christ shows his authority over demons, sin and disease, the Sabbath, and Creation. The cumulative argument is that Christ is shown doing and saying things that only God can do. The demons cower in fear in the presence of Christ (p. 52). Christ forgives the sin of the paralytic borne of four (Mark 2:5). The Sabbath was established and ordained by God. So, by implication, Christ’s view of his preeminence over the Sabbath can only mean that this is an implicit claim to Deity (Mark 2:23-28). Christ’s ability to walk on the water during a storm shows his sovereignty over creation (Matt. 14:22-33).

In the third section, MacArthur deals with the explicit claims of Christ in the Gospels, with a heavy emphasis on the Gospel of John, where Jesus’ claims to Deity are quite a bit more vocal in comparison to the other Gospels.

John MacArthur stays true to his view of himself as a pastor/teacher dealing with the interpretation of the text. Though he may mention liberal challenges to the claims of the New Testament, for the most part he steers clear of these. This book is recommended for those who would appreciate a primer on the subject of the deity of Christ from a pastor’s perspective. It is recommended for private and public libraries.

Michael Wilhelm, CLJ

Finding Sanctuary series / by Nancy Mehl. 6.19.2017

Gathering Shadows / by Nancy Mehl. (Finding Sanctuary, 1)

Bethany House ISBN 9780764211577

Deadly Echoes / by Nancy Mehl. (Finding Sanctuary, 2)

Bethany House ISBN 9780764211584

Rising Darkness / by Nancy Mehl. (Finding Sanctuary, 3)

Bethany House ISBN 9780764211591

Adult Rating: 4

The series takes place in Sanctuary, Missouri, where the population is predominately Mennonite and the townspeople are extremely protective of their privacy. Each book features different main characters, who go on spiritual journeys while trying to overcome challenges in their lives. Nancy Mehl has combined mystery, suspense, and light romance, along with inspirational messages of faith and hope not only for people who are going through difficult times but also for people who no longer trust God.

In Gathering Shadows, 23-year-old Wynter Evans is a television news reporter assigned to put together a documentary on small towns in Missouri. She decides to go to Sanctuary because she suspects a teenager who lives in the town is her long-lost brother, who was abducted at the age of seven and has been presumed dead. The abduction tore her family apart and destroyed her faith in God. After a chance encounter in Sanctuary with the teenager, she is convinced more than ever that he is her brother and is determined to prove it no matter the cost. Will Wynter find her brother and welcome God back into her life?

In Deadly Echoes, 24-year-old Sarah Miller is the school teacher in Sanctuary. Sarah’s life is thrown into turmoil when her sister, Hannah, is murdered. Sarah becomes the legal guardian of her 10-year-old niece, and it is not an easy transition for either of them. To complicate matters, the circumstances surrounding Hannah’s death are eerily similar to how their parents were killed. Because Sarah is dissatisfied with the police’s ruling in both cases, she decides to do some investigating on her own and runs into dangerous roadblocks. Is there a connection between the two cases that someone does not want her to find? Sarah is a woman of faith who struggles with self-esteem throughout the story. Will she be able to overcome putting herself down?

In Rising Darkness, 21-year-old Sophie Wittenbauer has turned her back on God, left her traumatic past behind, and created a new life for herself. She now goes by the name of Sophie Bauer and writes obituaries for the St. Louis Times, but she has her heart set on becoming a crime reporter. When she finds out from an old acquaintance that a fugitive believed to be dead may be alive and hiding out in Sanctuary, she uses a false identity to go undercover in the town. While trying to track the man down, she not only puts her life in danger but also sets her past and present on a collision course. Will Sophie get the story she so desperately wants? Because of her horrid childhood, Sophie believes God does not answer prayers. Will she change her mind?

Dianne Woodman, CLJ

God Made the Sun/ God Made the Moon / by Mary Manz Simon; illustrated by Lizzie Walkley. 6.16.2017

God Made the Sun/ by Mary Manz Simon; illustrated by Lizzie Walkley.

Worthy Kids/Ideals ISBN 9780824919801

God Made the Moon / by Mary Manz Simon; illustrated by Lizzie Walkley.

Worthy Kids/Ideals ISBN 9780824919818

PRI PS-K Rating: 5

God Made the Sun and God Made the Moon are two preschool board books by the team of Mary Manz Simon and Lizzie Walkley.

Celebrating God’s creation of the moon and sun, the two books encourage children to see these natural wonders as gifts from God. Simon’s sweet rhyming quatrains are lilting and memorable, showing how the moon and sun light up our world both day and night.

In God Made the Sun, a young boy plays outdoors with his friends, swims, and enjoys a picnic with his family. In God Made the Moon, a young girl catches fireflies, listens to the crickets, and stargazes before her cozy bedtime bath and story.

Lizzie Walkley’s tender illustrations are brightly rendered, friendly, and heartwarming. The scenes are happy and loving, filled with charming details that toddlers will love to spot.

God Made the Sun and God Made the Moon are ideal first books for the very young. Sun and moon cut-outs on the cover and pages add visual and tactile interest for little ones. The small sturdy size (and wonderful rounded corners) of these companion books make them perfect for tucking into a stroller, diaper bag, or backpack.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Good Night Owl / written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli. 6.15.2017

Hyperion ISBN 9781484712757

PRI PS-Grade 2 Rating: 4

A noise in the house is keeping Owl up and he just can’t find the source, in Greg Pizzoli’s Good Night Owl, a 2017 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book.

It’s not someone at the door, the wind, a creaky cupboard, or anything under the floorboards. The humor and drama in each scene escalate as Owl tears his little house apart, but the tiny squeak persists.

The source of the sound is obvious to the reader, which adds to the comedy. Preschoolers will enjoy the increasingly outrageous storyline, which has Owl using some extreme methods to get some peace and quiet. Author/illustrator Greg Pizzoli’s muted colors evoke the feeling of nighttime in a cozy home. His wide-eyed Owl, snuggled under a patchwork quilt, is adorable.

Good Night Owl is a sweet picture book that will entertain children and amuse anyone who has ever been forced out of bed by a noise in the night.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

We Are Growing / by Laurie Keller. 6.14.2017

Hyperion ISBN 9781484726358

PRI PS-Grade 2 Rating: 4

Something exciting is happening! The grass is starting to grow and as a result, each blade of grass is discovering his or her unique characteristics. One blade is the tallest, while another is the curliest, and another still the silliest. Everyone finds they are the something-est–everyone, that is, except Walt. No one can seem to find anything special about Walt, especially Walt himself. It will take the minor catastrophe of a buzzing lawn mower for Walt to finally figure out what makes him special.

With simple sentences, patterned dialogue, and repetitive phrasing that will entice emergent readers, We Are Growing by Laurie Keller has rightfully earned its standing as the 2017 medal winner of the Geisel Award. The colorful speech bubbles and varying bolded font make reading a visual delight. The humorous illustrations add characterization, plot detail, and tone to the simple text. This book is a great tool for introducing superlative words and teaching dialogue, both of which could inspire some fun classroom activities. The underlying theme that everyone is special for their own unique characteristics and abilities adds depth to an otherwise silly, lighthearted read. Overall, this is an entertaining book that young readers will enjoy hearing or reading many times over.

Justina McBride, CLJ

Juana and Lucas / written and illustrated by Juana Medina. 6.13.2017

Candlewick Press ISBN 9780763672089

INT Grades 3-4 Rating: 5

Juana and Lucas introduces a vivacious little girl, Juana, who loves her life. She loves drawing. She loves her hometown, Bogatá, Columbia. She loves and admires her mother. She loves her grandparents, her friend Juli, and her Tia Cris. She especially loves Lucas, her dog. But a challenge has entered her happy world. She is expected to learn English. She has to pronounce “th” and figure out how to tell the difference between read and read, and so many other elements of the English language, and she simply doesn’t understand how English relates to her Spanish-speaking world. She asks various friends and family members who unsuccessfully attempt to help her understand how speaking and understanding English would be helpful. The best motivation to learn English comes when poor grades could possibly prevent Juana from taking a trip to Spaceland in the United States. Will she be able to cram all those words and sounds in the space between her pigtails, or is it too late to raise her grades?

In this chapter book, Juana Medina’s writing paints the picture of a fun-loving, interesting young girl, and Medina’s cartoonish illustrations also bring little Juana to life. Written in first person, Juana and Lucas reads like a conversation with a third grader. Juana’s character grows throughout the book as she expands her knowledge. Her loving family surrounds her with support and encouragement. Familiar Spanish words are lightly sprinkled throughout, giving English readers a small taste of what Juana experiences while learning a different language. Occasionally different size fonts and even unusual word direction are employed to illustrate the size of Juana’s thoughts or her feelings. The mostly cheerful Juana brightens any room she walks in–even the reader’s living room. Even though learning English presents a challenge, once she has, she wonders, “…if there will be enough espacio between my pigtails for French and Chinese and Italian and Farsi and Portuguese and all the other languages. Maybe it’s time to…ask Lucas what he thinks about that.” (p. 89)

Kristina Wolcott, CLJ