The Songkeeper Chronicles series / by Gillian Bronte Adam. 3.15.2019

Songkeeper / by Gillian Bronte Adam. (The Songkeeper Chronicles, 2)

Enclave ISBN 9781621840695

Song of Leira / by Gillian Bronte Adam. (The Songkeeper Chronicles, 3)

Enclave ISBN 9781683700869

YA Grades 6-8 Rating: 5

Gilliam Bronte Adams continues her young adult fantasy series featuring the requisite orphan heroine, grouchy adult figure, mythical creatures, and allegorical references to Christianity.

In Songkeeper, young Songkeeper Birdie and former street thief Ky are captives on a slave ship, and Amos manages to eventually rescue them. Ky leads his Underground friends to safety while Birdie goes on a journey to a mysterious spring that only the Songkeeper can unleash to defeat the final darkness. But Birdie faces doubts about her abilities and her role. Her capture by the Takhran causes her to face her greatest fear: she is powerless and the Song is silent. Will her friends–her protectors–be casualties in the battle with Takhran? What awaits them all?

In Song of Leira, Birdie retreats into the mountainside after her journey into the Pit and the battle that ensued. The casualty count was high, and she sang many to their final rest. This strengthens her resolve to fight evil, despite the cost, rebuilding hope in many. Ky enlists Birdie’s aid to free the captives from the slave camps, but Takhran has singers of his own leading his army. When all looks darkest, Birdie answers the final call.

Adams’ well-developed world includes colorful characters and incredible creatures. Her second book has several plot twists and ends on a cliffhanger. Unlike some trilogies, this middle book doesn’t suffer from being just a bridge between the first and third book–it is strongly written and darker than the first book, with appropriate violence. The third book is also tightly written, complete with a final battle. Birdie has grown tremendously since the first book, as has Adams’ writing. Birdie recognizes that the Master Singer has everything in control, even when things don’t make sense. Birdie and Ky respond by putting one foot in front of the other, continuing to do what they have been called to do–to “fight the good fight.”

Recommended for high school libraries, young adults, and fantasy fans. Songkeeper won the Gold Medal, The Illumination Awards in 2017.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJOrphan’s Song (Jul/Aug/Sep 2017).

Just Sayin’ / by Dandi Daley Mackall. 3.13.2019

Tyndale ISBN 9781496423160

INT Grades 4-7 Rating: 5

Cassie Callahan loves big words, making witty remarks, writing letters, and avoiding her mom’s phone calls in Just Sayin’. With the way her mom and almost step-dad broke up, and worse, left town–one to California and the other to Chicago–Cassie has a lot to write about, and she doesn’t mince words. Cassie’s pen-pals include her pastor, her almost step-brother Nick, her almost step-sister Julie, her mom, Jesus, and Johnathan Kirby the star of Cassie’s favorite show, The King of Insults. The letters Cassie reads give her insight into the lives of her loved ones, but with her pastor’s guidance, Cassie starts to read the best “letter” of all–the Bible. The only problem with reading the Bible is she starts to wonder if her insults are wholesome speech. Since Cassie has a plan to reunite her mom and Travis, and that plan relies on her well-honed ability to insult others, God’s timing is just not good at all.

Through letters, Dandi Daley Mackall reveals the idiosyncrasies, deepest thoughts, and growth of her characters. Accessible writing for young readers doesn’t stop Mackall from including new vocabulary words and most of their definitions within the letters. The plot quickly develops as Cassie and Nick commiserate with each other about their disappointment in their respective parent’s decision to break up, and then move on to determining what they can do to change their situation–including entering an insult contest.

The first half of the book is filled with somewhat insulting and mildly disrespectful letters. While Cassie and Nick’s insults aren’t necessarily hurtful to each other, many parents may discourage this kind of speech in their children. Mackall handles the situation neatly as Cassie learns what the Bible has to say about speech. The theme comes sparkling through Cassie’s letter to Jesus, “Thanks for your letters and the other stuff in the Bible. I will never forget that one in Colossians, about letting my conversation be gracious so that I will have the right response for everyone.” (p. 178)

Kristina Wolcott, CLJ

Book Scavenger series / by Jennifer Chamblis Bertman. 3.8.2019

Book Scavenger / by Jennifer Chamblis Bertman. (Book Scavenger, 1)

Henry Holt ISBN 9781250079800

The Unbreakable Code / by Jennifer Chamblis Bertman. (Book Scavenger, 2)

Henry Holt ISBN 9781627791168

The Alcatraz Escape / by Jennifer Chamblis Bertman. (Book Scavenger, 3)

Henry Holt ISBN 9781627799638

YA Grades 5-8 Rating: 5

Jennifer Chamblis Bertman pens a middle grade series that will appeal to older elementary and middle school readers.

In Book Scavenger, Emily moves to San Francisco where Garrison Griswold, creator of the Book Scavenger game, lives. Unfortunately, Mr. Griswold lies in a coma after an attack just before his new game is announced. Emily and her friend James race against time to solve the new game before whoever attacked Griswold comes after them. Will Mr. Griswold recover from his injuries and launch his new game?

In The Unbreakable Code, Emily and James try to find out who is behind the recent arsons around the city, especially when clues appear to be placed in books hidden through the Book Scavenger game. As they dig deeper, they discover their teacher Mr. Quisling’s hunt for the Unbreakable Code and possible links to the arsons. Is he the arsonist? What role does a book by Mark Twain play?

In The Alcatraz Escape, Emily and James work on a challenging mystery set on Alcatraz Island. Will they be able to “Unlock the Rock”–the latest game from Garrison Griswold? Not only has literary game master Griswold created an escape room challenge at Alcatraz, but mystery writer Errol Roy has written the story behind the puzzle. Threatening notes make the pair wonder if someone is trying to prevent them from solving the escape room challenge. What is the secret behind Roy’s story?

Bertman excels at creating puzzles that will delight the reader, especially those who love a good mystery. While the literary allusions are reminiscent of the Mr. Lemoncello series (by Chris Grabenstein) and The Westing Game (by Ellen Raskin), the Book Scavenger series is not a copy of these books. “Book Scavenger” an actual game–a cross between geocaching and treasure hunting, making it a literary adventure for the reader. Readers will find the actual game being played on the author’s website (http://bookscavenger.com), and enjoy the adventure of solving the puzzles in each book.

Recommended for public libraries, classroom reads, youth book clubs, and book-loving mystery lovers.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

The Moonman Cometh: A Christmas Story / written and illustration by Casey Frisch. 12.31.2018

Patrol ISBN 9780999083550

INT Grades 3-6 Rating: 4

The Moonman Cometh is a beautiful Christmas book with a unique illustration style that teaches an important message for all ages: while God grieves with us, he will not always fix everything in precisely the way that we would want—but he will ultimately meet our real needs through Christ’s ultimate gift of Himself. The story focuses on a fatherless child who wants his dad to come back, but the feelings it evokes—of longing and of lack and of frustration—are universal. This is a broken world. The other feeling it evokes at the end, namely that of hope, could be universal if people would accept Christ’s offer.

The Moonman Cometh wraps all these feelings, negative and positive, into a magical story with strong Christian echoes. The Moonman quotes the Bible, specifically incarnation passages; he brings hope from God to that fatherless boy; and he brings snow to a parched Christmas tree farm.

The feelings of the book are, perhaps, a bit clearer than the message. (Who is the Moonman? What exactly did his words mean—“I, the divine being…am your divine becoming”? Why was the absentee father crying as he drove away from his house?) But the introduction by the author makes the message clearer, and discussion questions at the end fill in pieces of authorial intent that are not present in the narrative. Taken together, and with the help of a wise adult reader (a Christian single mother, a grandparent?), this book could be a help and a comfort to many, especially fatherless children at a vulnerable time of year.

Mark L. Ward, Jr.

The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match / by Elizabeth Eulberg. 12.7.2018

Bloomsbury USA Children’s ISBN 9781681190549

MS Grades 3-7     Rating: 4

Shelby Holmes is back with her best friend, John Watson, in the sequel to The Great Shelby Holmes, the middle school adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Young readers who love mysteries and mayhem will love Shelby’s story as she races into a new adventure that could change her life—and possibly end John’s.

When the caseload runs low in New York City, this pair of amateur sleuths is itching for a case to crack. Shelby, suspicious of the new teacher, is certain something is wrong—but John isn’t convinced. If Shelby’s hunch is right, though, Mr. Crosby could be in some serious trouble.

As a new case unfolds, Shelby seems to have a new nemesis who is always one step ahead. This anti-sleuth will do anything to beat Shelby, even create an unsolvable mystery. Can NYC’s greatest detective catch her nemesis at the scene of the crime?

While Shelby and John’s first adventure in The Great Shelby Holmes felt like a duplicate of the well-known Sherlock Holmes stories, Elizabeth Eulberg’s The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match feels like a unique story. Eulberg further develops Shelby and John’s personalities separate from Doyle’s original Holmes characters. Eulberg’s school setting allows John to explore middle school issues, like friendship, while listening to what his new classmates say about Shelby. John’s diary-style monologues allow readers to better connect with his character. Younger readers will also appreciate the variety of illustrations throughout the book that help tell the story.

The beginning pace of this second book is slower than the first book’s, which may deter some action-seeking readers. However, readers who can read until the new case surfaces will find all the action and mystery they could want.

Rebecca Schriner, CLJ

Earlier Title Reviewed by CLJThe Great Shelby Holmes (Jan/Feb/Mar/Apr 2017).

Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education / by Raphaële Frier; illustrated by Aurélia Fronty. 11.5.2018

Charlesbridge Publishing ISBN 9781580897853

INT Grades 3-9 Rating: 5

Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education by Raphaële Frier details the true story of Malala Yousafzai, youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Growing up in Pakistan, Malala joins her father in speaking out when the Taliban impose restrictions on education for girls. By age 13 she has become a noted activist for children’s rights in her country and in 2012 she survives an apparent assassination attempt by the Taliban. After recovering at a hospital in England, Malala continues to be a voice and advocate for girls all over the world.

This compelling picture book is absorbing and inspirational. Many young readers will likely have heard of Malala without fully realizing the extent of her courage and leadership. Author Raphaële Frier narrates the dramatic events of Malala’s childhood in the present tense, conveying the sense that her story is very much ongoing. Extensive end notes include photos, speech excerpts, a timeline, map, and historical information that greatly expand the reading level and audience.

Vivid illustrations by Aurélia Fronty show Malala’s world from a variety of perspectives, including both peaceful times and times of violence.

A Batchelder Award Honor Book, Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education is an eye-opening and though-provoking biographical picture book. Though violent acts are presented carefully, parents may wish to preview the material before sharing with younger readers.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets / by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth; illustrated by Ekua Holmes. 11.1.2018

Candlewick Press ISBN 9780763680947

INT Grades 3-7 Rating: 5

It has been said imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In Out of Wonder, Kwame Alexander, along with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, take this concept to heart. With a collection of their own inspiring poems, the authors celebrate 20 of their favorite poets by incorporating some of the poets’ styles, voices, and techniques into their own poetry.

This collection is sectioned into three parts, each beginning with a short introduction on how the following poems celebrate its specific poet. Under each poem’s title, the name of the poet being honored is listed. At the end of the book is a short biography for each poet. It is recommended that one begin with the biographies before reading the poems, as the biographies explain many of the references in the poems about each poet.

It is easy to see why this beautiful collection of poems has won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for 2018. The mixed media illustrations are a gorgeous collage of color, geometric shapes, and bold and subtle images of nature, people, and places. Each illustration brings visual life to its accompanying poem, reinforcing the lessons, truths, and themes shared within.

Overall, this book is an excellent addition to any child’s library, as well as the classroom. It would make a great springboard for a poetry unit. Students will learn about some of the world’s greatest poets, ranging from Rumi to Robert Frost to Maya Angelou. They will be exposed to a variety of different forms of poetry, such as the guided structure of haiku and the creative liberty of free verse. Along the way, they are sure to be inspired to create their own poems following the methods highlighted in each unit.

Justina McBride, CLJ

Imagine series / by Matt Koceich. 10.29.2018

Imagine: The Great Flood / by Matt Koceich.

Barbour ISBN 9781683221296

Imagine: The Ten Plagues / by Matt Koceich.

Barbour ISBN 9781683223801

INT Grades 3-6 Rating: 4

Matt Koceich creates a new adventure series for readers that will capture their imagination as they experience the biblical events in these books.

In The Great Flood, Corey Max’s family is planning a move across the country, but 10-year-old Corey is not looking forward to it. While chasing his dog into the woods, Corey falls. Suddenly, life as he knows it–disappears. When he awakes, Corey is back in ancient Mesopotamia, just before the flood takes place. Corey experiences the story of Noah’s ark firsthand, including opposition to Noah’s venture.

In The Ten Plagues, 11-year-old Kai Wells faces a school bully. When the confrontation turns into a fight that knocks her out, everything changes. Kai wakes up in a field in ancient Egypt where the Israelites are enslaved. Moses goes to Pharaoh to ask for their freedom, and Kai experiences the story of the ten plagues that God sends to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go.

Koceich creates a world where a significant event is experienced through the eyes of an 8- to 12-year old. Like the I Survived series by Lauren Tarshish, this biblical historical fiction series allows the reader to experience history through the eyes of a young person. Historical details, engaging narrative, and a thrilling adventure await in each book. A third book, The Fall of Jericho, is expected in fall 2018.

Recommended for school and public libraries, especially fans of the I Survived series by Lauren Tarshish. Hopefully these are the first of many books in this series for young readers.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved An Ecosystem / by Patricia Newman. 10.1.2018

Millbrook Press ISBN 9781512426311

YA Grades 4 to 9 Rating: 4

Thoughtfully organized with enticing photos of fluffy-faced otters, Sea Otter Heroes presents an interesting story of the relationship between sea grasses and sea otters in a California bay inlet. Utilizing the work of marine biologist Brent Hughes, students come to understand the role of sea otters in maintaining ecosystems. Studying the nutrient-polluted estuary fed by fertilizers and pesticides used in nearby farming, Hughes discovered that sea otters, the top predators in the food chain, help keep the sea grass algae-free through their feeding habits, which allows the fish population to grow and expand and, in the long term, preserves a natural barrier to storms.

Source notes, glossary, bibliography, suggested resources, and index add to the quality of this title. Sidebars called “Otterisms” both demonstrate and brighten the text. Clear, full-color photographs and illustrations offering scientific diagrams make it easy to see how Hughes’ theory was confirmed. The layout, done much like a picture book, may deter older readers. But since the story is presented as a mystery, clues unfold as the researcher discovers them. Why are the sea grasses in Elkhorn Slough flourishing when the waterway is one of the most polluted waterways in the country? This will help keep readers stay engaged. The final chapter on conservation includes relevant experiments and ways in which young people can help the environment on a daily basis.

Leroy Hommerding, CLJ

Lucky Broken Girl / by Ruth Behar. 9.28.2018

Puffin Books ISBN 9780399546457

INT Grades 4-7 Rating: *5

A car injury binds 10-year-old Ruthie in a body cast and confines her to bed. Anger against those who caused the accident sits in heart like a stone, and having to depend upon her mother for EVERYTHING, because she cannot move, frustrates her and her mother. Fear becomes a new companion when Ruthie’s prolonged immobility indicates that she many never walk again.

Based on her own real-life experience as a child, Ruth Behar’s Lucky Broken Girl portrays a young girl’s struggle with a physical injury, assimilation in a new country, mastering a foreign language, and opening her heart to forgiveness and friendship.

The many months in bed make Ruthie complacent, and a new fear takes hold of her that is more paralyzing than the injury itself: the thought of getting out of bed, learning how to walk again, and participating in this new world in which she now lives. She is helped by a host of characters that pass through her room, each one giving her a gift through which she learns life lessons.

Her home school teacher introduces her to the world of books and reading that free her mind. An artist neighbor helps her find joy in painting through which Ruthie learns about perspective and its power to change how one sees the world. A nurse encourages her to stop entertaining fear in order to prevent it from settling inside her like an unwelcome guest. And from a school friend, she learns that little dreams are easy to lose, so she must dream big.

Lucky Broken Girl is a warm and delightful book providing insight and inspiration into the world of tragedy, loneliness, newness, and fear. But Ruthie learns to put away her anger against the driver who broke her and discovers how lucky she really is. Forgiveness becomes her first step toward healing, from the inside out.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ