Brother Giovanni’s Little Reward: How the Pretzel Was Born / by Anna Egan Smucker; illustrated by Amanda Hall. 3.29.2016

Eerdmans Books ISBN 97809396530

PRI K-Grade 3 Rating: 5

The upbeat nature of Anna Egan Smucker’s story of how the pretzel came to be lends a heartwarming atmosphere and endearing reaction to Brother Giovanni and the children.

The children are having a hard time learning their prayers, and the Abbot seeks help from the young and energetic monks. Though the first efforts are not successful, Brother Giovanni comes up with a solution in the presence of his orange tabby cat, arriving at a special treat: bread rolled and twisted into the shape of praying arms. The combination of baking and learning prayers in Brother Giovanni’s Little Reward soon has the children folding their arms over their chests in the shape of the “pretiolas” and praying.

The warm illustrations by Hall reinforce the cheery nature of how the story progresses, with even the endpapers showing Brother Giovanni riding from the monastery to the hilltop village. The pastel watercolor inks and gouache reflect the exuberance generated by the kind baker. In the style of illuminated manuscripts, many of the illustrations are framed with decorative and interesting borders. A reader’s note explains the historical background of the invention of the pretzel as well as a recipe for soft pretzels.

This story goes well with Eric Carle’s Walter the Baker.

Leroy Hommerding, CLJ

Edgar Wants to Be Alone / written and illustrated by Jean-Francois Dumont. 3.28.2016

Eerdmans Books ISBN 9780802854575

PRI K-Grade 2 Rating: 5

French author and illustrator Jean-Francois Dumont provides a story in Edgar Wants to Be Alone that says something insightful about individuality and community life. Edgar is a crabby rat who prefers to be alone and, because of his bad temper, the other animals avoid him. One worm, however, doesn’t want to leave him alone, though Edgar cannot seem to outrun or outswim the worm.

The dark, earth-toned illustrations depict worms in their underground tunnels so that children will find it believable that there is a worm following Edgar. The reddish-orange backgrounds reflect Edgar’s temper. Edgar gradually comes to the realization that he is his own worst enemy, and the animals he has treated so horribly come out in the end to be much happier and content than he. The moral is one that can be pondered by children with ages from 5 to 8 as Edgar receives advice from each of the animals that he consults on how to get rid of the worm. The imaginative, appealing pictures capture the essence of the different settings of the worms and animals as well as the emotional climate.

Dumont’s earlier A Blue So Blue won the Prix Saint-Exupery, an award given yearly to the best illustrated picture book in France.

Leroy Hommerding, CLJ

Pieces and Players / by Blue Balliett; illustrated by Brett Helquist. 3.25.2016

Scholastic Press ISBN: 9780545299909

INT Grades 4-8 Rating: 4

In Blue Balliett’s Pieces and Players, five teenaged sleuths are brought together to help solve a Chicago art heist.

School friends Tommy, Petra, and Calder, known to readers from Baillett’s previous mysteries (Chasing Vermeer, the Wright 3, and The Calder Game), join forces with Early and Zoomy, the author’s later characters from The Danger Box and Hold Fast. Thirteen pieces of art have been stolen from the Farmer Museum, and the young sleuths are summoned to help solve the crime.

The characters’ backstories and distinct personalities contribute to their unique abilities and enhance the development of the fairly complex layers of this tale. This is a fun but challenging book for middle grade readers, who must sift through many clues (some of which are mere distractions), number games, puzzles, plot twists, and a few supernatural elements including a Ouija board.

Blue Balliett’s fantastically descriptive writing style is the highlight of Pieces and Players, with such spot-on phrases as, “eyes darting around as if she’d landed in a crowded fishbowl” (pg. 16). Cover art and a single interior illustration by Brett Helquist give the characters even more life, while a detailed map helps to add realism and context.

Though the Farmer Museum is fictitious, an intriguing author’s note informs that the mystery is based on a true art theft that took place in Boston in 1990 and remains unsolved.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Who Was…? series / by Patricia Brennan Demuth; illustrated by John O’Brien 3.24.2016

Who Was Galileo? / by Patricia Brennan Demuth; illustrated by John O’Brien (Who Was…? series)

Grosset & Dunlap ISBN 9780448479859

Who Was Laura Ingalls Wilder? / by Patricia Brennan Demuth; illustrated by Tim Foley O’Brien (Who Was…? series)

Grosset & Dunlap ISBN 9780448467061

Who Is Bill Gates? / by Patricia Brennan Demuth; illustrated by Ted Hammond O’Brien (Who Was…? series)

Grosset & Dunlap ISBN 9780448463322

INT Grades 3-6 Rating 4

In Who Was Galileo?, readers travel back to the 1500s to meet Galileo, the man known today as the father of modern science. With ten concise chapters, this biography covers Galileo’s life from early childhood to final years, exploring his love for science, mathematics, invention, and the heavenly bodies, as well as his radical thinking about the universe that often led him into trouble.

In Who Was Laura Ingalls Wilder?, the author helps separate fact from fiction concerning Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author and main character of the Little House on the Prairie series, one of the most beloved historical fiction series of all time. From birth to pioneer life to teaching to old age, this mini-biography explores it all, including some little known facts about Laura’s life and her writing career.

Most people living in the twenty-first century have heard of Bill Gates, the cofounder of Microsoft and once the richest man in the world. Few, however, may know who Bill Gates was before he became famous. In Who Is Bill Gates?, readers will be inspired as they follow the journey of a young boy with a brilliant mind and love for computers who grew to become the richest man in the world and also one of the most generous. A description of Bill’s modern home is an additional feature that is sure to delight.

In these three biographies, a part of the “Who Was…?”series, Patricia Brennan Demuth brings history to life through the stories of two brilliant men and one innovative woman who have left their mark on the world. Written for elementary school-age children, the author uses a narrative style and short chapters, which are broken up with black and white sketches that bring visual life and appeal to the text. World events relevant to the time and person are sprinkled throughout each title in one- to two-page sidebars, depicting the settings and times of the respective eras and adding a broader world scope to the historical events recounted. This fun, inspiring series is a recommended addition to any personal or school library.

Justina McBride, CLJ

God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies / by Justin S. Holcomb & Lindsey A. Holcomb; illustrated by Trish Mahoney. 3.23.2016

New Growth Press ISBN 9781942572305

Adult Rating: 4

God Made All of Me by Justin S. and Lindsey A. Holcomb presents a biblical context for helping children understand and protect the private parts of their bodies.

A mother and father have a conversation with their young son and daughter to explain that our bodies, created by God, are wonderful and good; but some parts are private. The parents gently describe examples of situations in which touch is OK (a parent helping with a bath, a doctor giving a check-up) and when it is not. The children are encouraged to tell their parents if they are ever touched in any way that is uncomfortable, frightening, confusing, part of a game, or secretive. The parents refer to “parts covered by your underwear or bathing suit” and also use the terms penis, vagina, bottom, and breasts.

With youthful illustrations by Trish Mahoney and eye-catching colorful fonts, God Made All of Me has the appearance of a children’s picture book; however, the subject matter calls for parental guidance in presenting the story. The book is intended for use by parents in opening a dialogue with their children ages 3 to 8 that will educate as well as invite questions, reassurance, and trust.

A note to caregivers presents abuse statistics and describes the authors’ intent to help protect children from sexual predators. The book concludes with an expanded summary and offers a few references for further information.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Ms. Rapscott’s Girls / by Elise Primavera. 3.22.2016

Dial Books ISBN 9780803738225

INT Grades 3–6 Rating: 4

Author and illustrator Elise Primavera pens an illustrated story for young readers about girls at an unusual boarding school who learn to find their way and enjoy adventure.

In Ms. Rapscott’s Girls, the headmistress of Great Rapscott School for Girls of Busy Parents teaches her students using silly lessons and adventures. It all starts when five flying boxes arrive at the lighthouse where the school is located–inside are her new students: Bea, Mildred, Fay, and Annabelle. After the girls arrive, they discover that one box is empty–Dahlia is missing!

Ms. Rapscott brooks no nonsense from the girls who are too independent because their parents are too busy to teach them valuable lessons about life. They also never learned to obey someone in authority. But while searching for their lost classmate, they learn important lessons about bravery, teamwork, personal strength, and the importance of birthday cake. Finding Dahlia becomes their biggest adventure.

Elise Primavera, author and illustrator of the “Auntie Claus” series, provides delightful black-and-white illustrations (similar to Brian Selznick’s illustrations in The Invention of Hugo Cabret) at the beginning of the story, the end of the story, and scattered throughout the text. They enhance the plot as it unfolds. Readers will enjoy Ms. Rapscott as she fills the lives of girls who never learned to write thank-you notes, celebrate their birthdays, or even follow directions, with lessons about friendship.

Recommended for school and public libraries. Fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society (Trenton Stewart), Mary Poppins (P. L. Travers), and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (Betsy MacDonald) will enjoy this book. The sequel, Making Mistakes on Purpose, will be available in fall 2016.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

Animal Supermarket / by Giovanna Zoboli; illustrated by Simona Mulazzani. 3.21.2016

Eerdmans Books ISBN 9780802854483

PRI K-Grade 2 Rating: 5

Translated from Italian, Animal Supermarket centers around animals who are shopping at their supermarket for natural foods: birds and ants are picking up crumbs, cats are checking out milk, bears are eating berries, polar bears load up on cod, cuttlefish, and squid, and lemurs go for grubs and insects.

The colorful illustrations by Mulazzani present in cartoon, whimsical folk-art format the animals and their food choices. Of particular merit is that each animal shows a different facial expression. Even the shrubs around the market appear to be animated shoppers. She has won the Society of Illustrators Silver Medal for earlier children’s titles The Big Book of Slumber and I Wish I Had. The editoral skills of author Giovanna Zoboli, who worked with Mulazzani on the earlier works, contribute to making this story both entertaining and a springboard to discussing healthy eating habits.

Leroy Hommerding, CLJ

Cottonmouth series / by C. S. Fritz. 3.18.2016

Cottonmouth and the River / by C. S. Fritz. (Cottonmount, 1)

David C. Cook ISBN 9780781410335

Cottonmouth and the Great Gift / by C. S. Fritz. (Cottonmount, 2)

David C. Cook ISBN 9781434706904

Cottonmouth and the End / by C. S. Fritz. (Cottonmount, 3)

David C. Cook ISBN 978143470691

INT Grades 3-7 Rating: 4

C. S. Fritz writes and illustrates a children’s trilogy that is a fantasy adventure for young readers.

In Cottonmouth and the River, the reader meets Frederick Cottonmouth, a boy who loves the river and adventure. His new friend Tug is a furry beast who will take him on any adventure in exchange for a promise to never eat the mysterious egg Freddie found in the river. But after two weeks of adventures, Freddie asks Tug to grant him something he really wants. When Tug doesn’t do that, Freddie gives into temptation offered by the rat Menson, breaks his promise, and discovers the cost of his action.

In Cottonmouth and the Great Gift, Tug asks Freddie to go on a dangerous mission: he is to deliver the black egg to a girl with different-colored eyes. Frederick must deliver it on his own without Tug’s help. But Tug is sending his friend Yellowthroat in his place to help Frederick on his mission. A different sort of adventure awaits!

In Cottonmouth and the End, Frederick continues on his mission and faces his greatest challenge: true darkness. Accompanied by Yellowthroat, Frederick goes through the door into the darkness where he is led. Menson the rat is back to tempt him to give into his fear of the darkness, but has Frederick learned his lesson?

Fritz creates an endearing trilogy with the whimsy of Where the Wild Things Are (M. Sendak) and dark and light illustrations that rival The Invention of Hugo Cabret (B. Selznick) in their storytelling ability. Each volume is just over 100 pages, each with a full-page illustration or text filling about one-third of the page. They introduce the Gospel to children through highly-imaginative, beautifully illustrated stories that will have them clamoring to read over and over again. Because each volume builds on the previous, the books should be read in order.

Recommended for families, church libraries, and young readers everywhere.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

The Advocate / by Randy Singer. 3.17.2016

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. ISBN 9781414348605

Adult Rating: 5

The Advocate is a gripping legal thriller with historical and fictional characters interwoven into the plotline. The story revolves around a Roman named Theophilus, who lived during the reign of the Julian Emperors Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. Theophilus is also the name of the person to whom Luke addresses the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts.

Theophilus is 14 years old and attending a school of rhetoric in Rome when the fallout from an altercation with a classmate compels him to finish his training in Greece. At the age of 20, Theophilus returns to Rome to establish his own law practice. However, due to the political climate, he travels to Judea to serve as legal advisor to Pontius Pilot. During his time in Judea, Theophilus witnesses the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, which have a deep and lasting influence on his life. Theophilus goes back to Rome and works as a public defender, becoming embroiled in the political intolerances and inequities of the legal system. When he is asked to defend the Apostle Paul before Emperor Nero, will Theophilus take on the case?

Randy Singer provides a fascinating look not only into ancient Rome and the cruelty and bloodshed that were an inherent part of the culture but also into the beginnings of Christianity and the persecution and suffering experienced by the early followers of Jesus. The book has been thoroughly researched to maintain historical accuracy about the culture, political climate, legal system, and vast disparities in the treatment of citizens of the Roman Empire in the first century. The majority of the story is told from the viewpoint of Theophilus. A list of historical and fictional characters upon which the story is based is included at the beginning of the book.

Dianne Woodman, CLJ

The Legend of the Easter Robin: An Easter Story of Compassion and Faith / by Dandi Daley Mackall; illustrated by Richard Cowdrey. 3.16.2016

 

Zonderkidz ISBN 9780310749646

 

PRI K-Grade 2 Rating: 3

 

In The Legend of the Easter Robin: An Easter Story of Compassion and Faith, author Dandi Daley Mackall introduces a Pennsylvania Dutch tale that ties Easter symbols and traditions to the story of the crucifixion. The book is a newly-illustrated release of the author’s earlier The Story of the Easter Robin.

 

When young Tressa worries about a robin’s nest outside her window, Gran assures her that the Creator will keep the eggs safe. They prepare for Easter by making oschter-foggel (hollowed eggs dyed and decorated to look like birds) while Gran tells the story of the Easter robin.

 

In this legend, a plain robin tried to help Jesus on the cross by tugging a thorn from His forehead. The bloody thorn stained the robin’s breast, which continues to be red as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice. Additional details suggest the bird’s nest as symbolic of Christ’s crown of thorns and the robin as a sign of new life and His resurrection.

 

The Legend of the Easter Robin is a picture book best viewed by children and parents together, owing to the challenging vocabulary, legend-within-a-story format, and subject matter. Richard Cowdrey’s moving gray-tone images of Christ carrying the cross and being struck with a knotted whip are sandwiched between happy kitchen and nature scenes—a juxtaposition that may be jarring for young readers. The illustrator’s bird drawings are impressively detailed and worthy of note.

 

Nina Ditmar, CLJ