As Brave As You / by Jason Reynolds. 9.22.2017

Atheneum Books For Young Readers ISBN 9781481415903

YA Grades 5-8 Rating: 5

Jason Reynolds has written a thoughtful and engaging story that incorporates not only humorous moments, but also addresses real issues, such as broken relationships, visual impairment, mental illness, long-term grief, fear, guilt, courage, forgiveness, and the value of hard work.

As Brave As You features 11-year-old African American Genie Harris, who tends to be a worrywart. He greatly admires his 13-year-old brother, Ernie, who always appears confident and not scared of anything. The two boys go to their paternal grandparents’ house in rural Virginia for a month in the summer so that their parents can spend some time by themselves to work on their marriage. Country life is a new experience for the two Brooklynite boys. There is no internet access or cell phone reception, singing crickets and frogs fill the night with music, and Grandma has assigned them chores, like scooping dog waste and picking peas.

Genie is full of curiosity about everything and loves to ask questions of family members, along with writing down amusing and intriguing questions in his notebook. He likes to use Google for research. How will he do that with no internet? When Genie find out his grandfather is blind, he is both shocked and amazed. Genie has many questions for his grandfather–for instance, how he can do things like cook, pour tea without spilling a drop, or wear matching clothes. Most importantly, he wonders why his grandfather owns a gun.

As the summer days go by, Genie’s escapades, misadventures, and intergenerational family bonding time contributes to his learning some valuable life lessons that have a profound impact on him. He learns about the importance of admitting mistakes, the negative effects of animosity, and the power of forgiveness. He also sees firsthand how pressuring people to make decisions against their better judgement can lead to serious unintended consequences. By the end of the story, Genie has come to understand what it really means to be brave.

Dianne Woodman, CLJ

The Second Half / by Lauraine Snelling. 9.21.2017

FaithWords ISBN 9781455586172

Adult Rating: 5

Life so often changes in just a moment. It could be a phone call informing of a love one’s death or that dreaded summons to the boss’s office or a bad report from the doctor. These startling changes happen to all.

The Sorensons are approaching retirement, hopefully the best years of their life. Then the call comes. Their son Steig is being deployed immediately as a special forces officer in the Army to destinations unknown. Since his wife walked out on him, Steig has had sole custody of their two children. Whom can he call on for help but his parents? Now those grandchildren they had looked forward to spending time with occasionally have become their total responsibility. They would be parenting again, this time grandchildren!

This is the story of their adventure as Ken and Mona care for their grandchildren in their son’s absence–the fears, the joys, what the Lord teaches them as they take on this charge. Although seniors may have a special interest in this subject, The Second Half will be enjoyable reading for any adult. Lauraine Snelling writes a wonderful tale with something for all!

Ceil Carey, CLJ

Land of Silence / by Tessa Afshar. 9.20.2017

Tyndale House Publishers ISBN 9781496406460

Adult Rating: 5

In Land of Silence, Tessa Afshar tells the biblical story of the woman with a long-standing issue of blood. Elianna is plagued by guilt all her life because of her young brother’s death while in her care and her life seems to unravel one thread at a time, becoming one exemplified by loss. She loses the affection of her beloved father who finds her at fault for Joseph’s demise, followed by the loss the family business. Finally, she loses Ethan, the only man she has ever loved. And with thirteen years of uncleanness, friends and family are few, leaving her a lonely woman.
Readers familiar with her scriptural encounter with Jesus will know of her miraculous healing, but author Afshar fleshes out the story in a beautiful way, giving life and personality to Elianna and her family. The heroine becomes a believer in Christ in a gradual way, beautifully illustrating how one may come to saving faith. And reminiscent of the story of Job, many of her former losses are restored to her. This is a wonderful, inspiring story, highly recommended!

Ceil Carey, CLJ

Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience During World War II / by Albert Marrin. 9.19.2017

Alfred A. Knopf ISBN 9780553509366

YA (Adult) Grade 7 and up Rating: *5

Mastery of the subject matter and thorough research make Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience During World War II a must-read for everyone.

Albert Marrin skillfully balances facts, first-hand narratives, news clips, photos, and illustrations to present a comprehensive and insightful account of the uprooting and internment of Americans of Japanese descent after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. His writing is clear and concise as he explores the foundations, historical events and racial attitudes of both America and Japan that culminated in war between the two nations. In addition, Marrin details the role that the news media played in stirring panic that encouraged animosity toward the Japanese-Americans.

The author also references similar experiences of other groups throughout history–for example, the forced removal of Native Americans, the Chinese Exclusion Laws of the 1880s, and the racism against African-Americans that led to the Civil Rights Movement. Lovers of history, moreover, will recall the English Only Movements that have surfaced at various times in the United States in order to protect and secure the country from foreigners, as well as the expulsion of Mexican-Americans in 1929-1936, who were blamed for taking American jobs.

Uprooted challenges readers to grapple with thought-provoking questions. How do we ensure the liberty of each citizen during wartime? Should race and religion exist as factors when determining a nation’s security? Should the media be held to a higher standard of accountability in its news coverage? These questions are all the more relevant today as the nation continues its war against terrorism and as the world becomes an increasingly multi-cultural environment.

Albert Marrin reminds the reader of the importance of studying history. It not only informs us about the past, but also helps us decide about the future. We can learn from our collective knowledge and experience.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

Plain and Simple Miracles series / by Vanetta Chapman. 9.18.2017

Anna’s Healing / by Vanetta Chapman. (Plain and Simple Miracles, 1)
Harvest House ISBN 9780736956031
Joshua’s Mission / by Vanetta Chapman. (Plain and Simple Miracles, 2)
Harvest House ISBN 9780736956055

Sarah’s Orphans / by Vanetta Chapman. (Plain and Simple Miracles, 3)
Harvest House ISBN 9780736956079

Adult Rating: 5

The three books in this series could all be stand-alone reads. There is overlap as far as mention of some of the characters but basically the stories are individual.

In Anna’s Healing, a tornado rips through Cody’s Creek, Oklahoma and changes Anna Schwartz’s life forever. She is left partially paralyzed in a wheelchair, but it seems that just as she has accepted her situation, Anna is inexplicably and totally healed. Just as she had questions when she was confined to her chair, Anna is now asking why? how? how long will it last? And the notoriety and attention she and her community are receiving are so unwanted, so counter to the teachings of her people, the Amish. Whether one believes in miraculous healings or not, Anna’s healing will cause the reader to consider their beliefs and reflect on this miracle. Was it truly from God or as some wonder, was Anna ever actually paralyzed?

Joshua’s Mission is also a story of miracles–but the spiritual ones of forgiveness and healing of relationships and God’s will being revealed. The setting is unusual for Amish fiction: an Englisch town on the Gulf of Texas after a horrific hurricane. Joshua Kline, along with several other Amish young people, go to offer aid to the distressed residents. He takes with him his brother Alton, a young man who does not need another brush with the law. Perhaps assisting those whose lives have been torn apart will change his heart and help him to grow up. Of course, Joshua doesn’t realize how his own heart will be changed, too.

And finally, in Sarah’s Orphans, Sarah Yoder is left in charge of her family after her father’s death and her mother’s desertion of her and her siblings. How could she just leave them? They all wonder this but really have little time to ponder as life continues and chores abound. Sarah is exhausted yet when she almost runs over a young Hispanic boy with her buggy, she finds herself in the position of taking into her care two young homeless children. Is this God’s will for her? And what of their new neighbor who seems like a part of the family already? Where does he fit in Sarah’s heart and her calling?

Three separate stories set among the Amish. Three separate arenas with needs and desires. And in each God works in amazing ways.

Ceil Carey, CLJ

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat / written and illustrated by Javoka Steptoe. 9.15.2017

Little, Brown and Company ISBN 9780316213882

PRI Grades 2-6 Rating: 4

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javoka Steptoe is a picture book introduction to the life and work of the noted modern artist.

The child of Puerto Rican and Haitian parents, Basquiat grows up in New York with early dreams of becoming a famous artist. He is inspired by the world around him and sees art in everyday objects and scenes. His drawings “are sloppy, ugly, and sometimes weird, but somehow still BEAUTIFUL.” Basquiat’s work is influenced by his surroundings as well as his mother’s mental illness.

Javoka Steptoe illustrates Radiant Child using techniques that honor the late artist’s work. His paintings on found wood feature bright and bold colors and vibrant scenes of Basquiat’s life.

Endnotes include more details about Basquiat, including his drug addiction and death at age 27. Steptoe also includes a description of motifs and symbolism found in Basquiat’s work and information about the artwork the author/illustrator created for this book.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat has won numerous recognitions including the Caldecott Medal and the Coretta Scott Key Award. Whether or not readers admire or understand Basquiat’s artistry, the book offers an informative look at the well-known 1980s figure.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist / by Susan Wood; illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh 9.14.2017

Charlesbridge ISBN 9781580896733

PRI Grades 2-6 Rating: 5

Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist by Susan Wood introduces Juan Garcia Esquivel, a self-taught musician from Mexico whose innovative use of sound revolutionized “lounge music” in the 1950s and 60s.

From a young age Juan developed a style of incorporating unique sounds, tempos, and dynamics into his performances. When he came to America in the 1950s, he was exposed to new and unusual instruments, along with the advancing technology of stereo recording. Juan’s long career in the United States included writing music for television and movies.

Author Susan Wood captures Esquivel’s creativity and focus, early influences, and determination in a way that will engross young readers. By putting words to sounds–such as the “bowm-bowm” of a kettle drum–she portrays the excitement and novelty of the musician’s work. Wood provides colorful details about Esquivel’s childhood, personality, and the originality that would earn him the “!” after his name.

Varied fonts suggest the wide array of sounds that Esquival captured in his music. Artist Duncan Tonatiuh flavors the book with varied scenes from Esquival’s life and culture, from the busy streets of Mexico City to a recording studio in New York City to the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas. Tonatiuh uses a bold and colorful uni-dimensional style of perspective that complements the creative freedom of Esquivel himself.

Notes by the author and illustrator provide further compelling material about Juan Garcia Esquivel and about the artwork in the book. A list of resources and a full-page black and white photograph of Esquivel are excellent additions.

Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist is a Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book, ALA Notable Children’s Book, and Junior Library Guild Selection. It is available in both English and Spanish and would enhance any book collection, classroom discussion, or family reading time.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

As Time Went By / translated by Audrey Hall; illustrated by José Sanabria. 9.13.2017

NorthSouth Books ISBN 9780735842489

PRI K-Grade 3 Rating: 4

As Time Went By tells a three-part story of a ship and a community as they both flourish, deteriorate, and rebuild.

Originally published in Switzerland as Wie die Zeit vergeht and translated into English by Audrey Hall, the tale shows how both the ship and a village go through periods of prosperity and decline, ultimately coming together for the good of both. Though parts one and two end on somber notes, part three is filled with hope and optimism.

The reading level is fairly simple and the story provides the opportunity to share with young children how difficulties can sometimes be overcome with cooperation and fortitude. As Time Went By also imparts the significance of caring for each other and for what we have.

Though somewhat dark and flat, the watercolor Illustrations by Colombian artist José Sanabria have a compelling energy that complements the tone of the book.

As Time Went By is a 2017 Batchelder Honor Book and ALA Notable Book that delivers an important message and inspires thoughtful reflection.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

The Infamous Ratsos / The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid / written by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Matt Myers. 9.12.2017

The Infamous Ratsos / written by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Matt Myers.

Candlewick Press ISBN 9780763676360

The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid / written by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Matt Myers.

Candlewick Press ISBN 9780763676377

PRI K-Grade 3 Rating: 5

Louie and Ralphie Ratsos want to be tough like their dad, Big Lou, in The Infamous Ratsos. Louie, the older brother who “considers himself the smart one” (p.7), devises several schemes intending to prove that he and his brother Ralphie are tough. The comical outcomes of his schemes have unexpected results. This short chapter book is most deserving of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book award it received.

Louie and Ralphie Ratsos continue to emulate their dad in The Infamous Ratsos are not Afraid. And Big Lou is not afraid of anything. So when Louie and Ralphie decide to start their very own carnival next to the local “Haunted House” inhabited by a “ghost,” they must be very brave. They enlist friends to help in their endeavor and work hard to clean up the empty lot. Unfortunately, they run into a few problems. At school, Ralphie gets teased for kissing “Stinky Stanko,” a girl in his class. At the carnival a bell flies off a game they created and through the window of the haunted house. Louie knows if he wants to get the bell back, he’ll have to face the ghost. Will they really be able to face their fears?

Kara LaReau’s animal characters are sweet and relatable in these entertaining stories. The plot moves quickly, the language is simple, and the great dialogue keep the story moving. Plentiful illustrations by Matt Myers add even more interest to these tales. Many wonderful lessons seamlessly weave their way through both books–no preaching needed. The importance of helping others and of admitting when you’ve done wrong are just two of those lessons. Big Lou offers wise advice in both books. “Life is tough enough,” says Big Lou. “We might as well make it easier for one another, whenever we can.” (The Infamous Ratsos, pg. 55) Also: “I just tell myself it’s OK to be afraid…and I try to be brave…I’m the boss of me, not my fears.” (The Infamous Ratsos are not Afraid, pp. 36-37)

Kristina Wolcott, CLJ

This Land Is Our Land: A History of American Immigration / by Linda Barrett Osborne. 9.11.2017

Abrams Books For Young Readers ISBN 9781419716607

YA Grades 7-10 Rating: 5

This Land Is Our Land will help readers gain a thorough understanding of the history of immigration in the United States. The information is presented chronologically beginning with the European colonization of the Americas and continuing through contemporary times. The book covers the origin of anti-immigrant behavior, the changing immigration policies of the United States government throughout history, and the reasons immigrants came to America. Also included are the accomplishments of immigrants who successfully integrated into American society, along with the challenges immigrants faced upon their arrival.

The deeply researched and thought-provoking subject matter is enhanced not only by the numerous illustrations that are accompanied by short, explanatory captions, but also by the excerpts from immigrants and a variety of other notable sources. There is an excellent amount of supporting material in the back matter, including an appendix that explains the difference between visas and green cards and a detailed timeline of immigration history. Under the Notes section are sources for all of the excerpts, and the Selected Bibliography lists books for students who are interested in learning more about the history of immigration. Credits for the sources of the illustrations are listed, and this is followed by an index.

Linda Barrett Osborne has written an insightful and eye-opening book that sheds light on why immigration is a controversial issue. Osborne addresses opposing viewpoints on the immigration policy in the United States and provides explanations for questions, such as these: Should immigrants be welcomed into our country? Should they be recognized as viable members of our society? Osborne also goes into detail as to why the United States has a diversified population, the political issues surrounding the diversity, and why there are conflicting attitudes in this country towards immigrants. The book is extremely well-organized and user-friendly for students. It is an excellent edition to a school library and a valuable resource for students to use in a research paper or project.

Dianne Woodman, CLJ