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

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora / by Pablo Cartaya. 9.25.2018

Penguin ISBN 9781101997253

YA Grades 5-8 Rating: 5

Pablo Cartaya writes a delightful book about a seventh-grade boy, his grandmother, and his Cuban-American family in Miami. Sprinkled with Spanish words, the reader is able to understand the words in the context of the story, and is introduced to the Cuban-American culture.

In The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, 13-year-old Arturo Zamora loves playing basketball and working as a junior dishwasher in his grandmother’s restaurant. He also wants to win the heart of Carmen, a girl he likes and his mother’s goddaughter. Arturo wants to make his abuela proud, especially when his grandmother gets sick. Her family rallies around her to keep the restaurant running and to fight Wilfrido Pipo, the greedy developer who wants to take over the neighborhood where her restaurant is located. Wilfrido makes a lot of promises to the community but are his designs just empty words? As his abuela get sicker, Arturo discovers family stories and the poetry of José Marti, Cuban writer. At his abuela’s funeral, the entire community turns out to honor her. Will the Zamora family and their neighbors win the fight against Pipo?

Cartaya writes a touching narrative where characters naturally use Spanish but the reader doesn’t need all the words translated in order to follow the story. Family bonds and community ties are central to this story. In fact, at a protest, one of the signs read: “Community is Family, Family is Community.” Cartaya includes family recipes and an author’s note.

Recommended for school and public libraries, especially fans of Rita Williams-Garcia. The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora was a 2018 Pura Belpre Honor book, and an E. B. White Read-Aloud Middle Reader Award finalist, among other honors.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked & Found / by Martin W. Sandler. 9.21.2018

Candlewick Press ISBN 9780763680336

INT Grades 5-6 Rating: 5

Written for a young adult reader, this true story of the captaincy, wreck, and discovery of the only pirate ship ever found, The Whydah, makes for an enticing story. A 2018 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults finalist, this title is by Martin W. Sandler, a prolific author of books for adults and children, who weaves history and archaeology to offer insights on pirate captain Black Sam Bellamy, his flagship Whyday, and the culture of early 18th-century piracy. Adding to this story, Sandler includes the recovery of the wreck and interpretation of the artifacts.

The factual information presented highlights the golden age of piracy, from the 1650s to the 1730s, when pirates ruled the waves. The Whydah sank in 1717 but was not found until 1984 by marine archaeologists with the artifacts being priceless, both in their value and in the picture they offer of life in this much-mythologized pirate era. The narrative includes detailed maps and period illustrations that enable youth to be involved in the search for the only shipwreck authenticated to be an actual ship used by pirates.

Closing pages offer details about coin artifacts and what they teach us. Five pages of source notes and a bibliography give testimony to the careful research and scholarship achieved. An index is also included. The care with which this story is conveyed makes it easy to understand why The Whydah was chosen as A Junior Library Guild Selection.

Leroy Hommerding, CLJ

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess / by Shari Green. 9.18.2018

Pajama Press ISBN 9781772780338

INT Grades 4-7 Rating: 5

Macy admits it: change is not her specialty. Yet soon she’ll have another dad and twin step-sisters, move into a new home, and attend a different school. Why, she complains, can’t things remain the same?

Macy refuses to pack; that way they won’t be able to move. So she thinks. But her mother plans otherwise. Macy has to box her things plus help Iris, the extravagant neighbor next door, to get ready for a move of her own–Iris who insists that she was named after the goddess, not the flower, and who always wears something orange. To top it off, Macy is hearing-impaired and Iris doesn’t know how to sign. Macy stresses over how they will understand each other.

While Macy grumbles and secretly plots to derail the approaching wedding, and Iris prepares herself to transition into an assisted living facility, an unexpected friendship blossoms between them. Communicating via notes, finger writing and Iris’ magic cookies, together they share their love of books, lessons learned, and marvel at the power of words.

Macy starts to consider that maybe change might lead to a wonderful new beginning.

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess is a delightful, humorous, and tender story about a young girl’s challenge to cope with and accept change. Told in first-person verse, Shari Green allows Macy’s voice to come through via her internal dialogue and emotions. Green also uniquely uses bold lettering to indicate when conversations take place in sign language. A Schneider Family Book Award recipient, Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess is a great read with inspiring lessons for all ages.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

Mama Africa! How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope With Her Song / by Kathryn Erskine; illustrated by Charly Palmer. 7.17.2018

Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers ISBN 9780734303013

INT Grades 4-8 Rating: 4

Mama Africa! How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song by Kathryn Erskine is a picture book introduction to the South African singer who used her voice to fight apartheid.

Growing up near Johannesburg in the 1930s, Miriam loves to sing despite the oppression of harsh restrictions on black people in South Africa. Inspired by the work of Nelson Mandela, she is determined to use her voice to tell the world about the injustice of apartheid. Where this leads her and what she accomplishes are revealed in the story.

This striking book is powerfully written in the present, which creates a tone of tension and suspense befitting the subject matter. With generous use of vocabulary from numerous African languages, the book transports young readers to a time and place of great inequality–but also a time of bravery, activism, and hope.

Bold illustrations by Charly Palmer feature broad shapes and dark colors that highlight the dramatic storyline. Brighter colors in the final scenes celebrate freedom and the homecoming of “Mama Africa.”

Mama Africa! How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope With Her Song is suggested for middle grade readers owing to the sensitive content and difficult vocabulary. In a detailed author’s note, Kathryn Erskine shares reflections and photos from her own childhood years in South Africa. Other materials include a bibliography, suggestions for further reading, and a glossary of 23 foreign words used in the book.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Refugee / by Alan Gratz. 7.4.2018

Scholastic Press ISBN 9780545880831

YA Grades 7-10 Rating: 5

Three continents. Three different time periods. Three children fleeing their countries.

Alan Gratz joins the past and the present to weave a gripping tale of the harrowing experiences of three children forced from their homes due to war and political unrest.

Josef yearns to celebrate his upcoming bar mitzvah and finally become a man. He just never expected it to be on a ship bound for Cuba, which he and his family board to escape out of Nazi Germany. When the ship is forced to return to Europe, and perhaps certain death, Josef finds himself thrust into adulthood and must make a decision that will determine the survival of his family.

Fast forward to 1994 when Cuba is teeming with food shortages and riots. Teenage Isabel finds herself on a questionable homemade raft. Together with her family and the neighbors next door, they depart for the United States. They just need the raft to hold up, avoid the Coast Guard, pray the sharks don’t get them, and hope that her mother, heavy with child, can survive the journey.

On the other side of the world, in 2015, war tears Syria apart forcing Mahmoud’s father to seek a safe haven for his family. Amidst gunfire, danger, and the ever-present threat of death, they travel through Turkey and Serbia, enduring hunger, thieves, and prison. Mahmoud and his family continue onward through Austria and finally Germany, where the lives of the three children find a binding tie.

Refugee is a fast-paced, heart-rending story of the strength and courage of children and their valiant efforts, despite all obstacles, to forge a life filled with meaning and purpose.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ