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

Building Faith Block by Block: An Unofficial Minecraft Guide 60 A – Z (Kids Only) Survival Secrets 6.4.2018

Harvest House Publishers ISBN 9780736970853

YA Grades 4-9 Rating: 4

Building Faith Block by Block: Unofficial Minecraft Guide 60 A-to-Z (Kids Only) Survival Secrets by Michael Ross and Christopher Ross provides wonderful detail and interest to the reader. The book is a perfect combination of Minecraft elements and spiritual inspiration, and would be a useful tool for devotions whether at home with the kids or at church camp as a teacher or counselor.

Minecraft is a virtual game world and in Building Faith Block by Block readers enter the Minecraft world of Dragee90, a gamer who shares devotions. Even if the reader does not play Minecraft, the approach in this well-written book is very interesting, making it worth reading to see spiritual messages in another way and helping the reader relate to youth, many of whom are Minecraft fans. Each chapter presents two elements to help relate the game to life. First is “Gameplay”, including tips for Minecraft beginners and intermediate players on how to survive in this virtual world. Then follows “Real Life”, where readers learn about a daily struggle, with Bible verses to help.

When building in Minecraft, gamers have the option of starting over if things are not going as they wish. But, in reality decisions have real consequences. That’s why we have the Bible to help us make wise decisions and build a strong life’s foundation. Win the game of life with the Bible and enjoy the Minecraft world with a gamer’s guide that also provides devotional ideas.

One of the most amazing aspects of this book is that It is not only a great book to help with family devotions, but it was also written by a family. Michael Ross is an award-winning writer and Christopher is his teenage son. Their wife and mother, Tiffany Ross, helped with biblical accuracy.

Building Faith Block by Block is easy to read as well as understand, making it a perfect book that the reader can turn to for both gaming tips and use during devotional time.

Charity R. Bartley Howard, CLJ

The Divide / by Jolina Petersheim. 4.23.2018

Tyndale ISBN 9781496402226

YA (Adult) Grades 7-10 Rating: 3

The Divide, the sequel to Petersheim’s, The Alliance, continues the story of a Montana Mennonite community fighting to hold on to their beliefs after an EMP–an electromagnetic pulse–disrupts their lives. Leora, a Mennonite teenage girl and Moses, an Englischer outsider, struggle with their differences and their feelings for each other.

In The Divide, Leora stands mired in a quandary: should she marry within her group, or should she change her whole way of life and marry for love, which means choosing Moses, the outsider?

Forced to flee to the mountains for safety and refuge from roving bands of looters, Leora and the Mennonites strive to remain true to their teachings and traditions while laboring to keep starvation and invaders at bay. One day Leora–already overwhelmed by her responsibilities as the sole care-giver and protector for her family, her emotions for Moses, and making adult decisions–finds herself holding a weapon. Forced to choose between the Mennonite values of sanctity of life and peace, and protecting her own, Leora must decide if it is ever right to kill.

Aptly titled The Divide, Petersheim reveals the separation and divisions that occur within each character and within individuals: conflicts with moral values, the chasm between reason and faith, and the great divide between what one believes and the realities of life.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race / by Chris Grabenstein. 4.18.2018

Random House Books for Young Readers     ISBN 9780553536065

INT     Grades 3-7     Rating: 5

Award winning author Chris Grabenstein pens another humorous middle-grade novel combining the elements of an adventure, a mystery, and a race, set in a research/fact-finding environment.

 In Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race, Mr. Lemoncello calls on Kyle, his friends, as well as Kyle’s nemesis, Charles Chiltington, to test his new game (Fabulous Fact-Finding Frenzy), a game that involves an old-time bicycle, a bookmobile, and Mr. Lemoncello’s jet. The first team to bring the correct facts about historical figures back to the library wins the grand prize. When some disturbing “facts” begin to circulate about Mr. Lemoncello, it causes Kyle to question everything he knows about Mr. Lemoncello and to work hard to uncover the truth.

Grabenstein is back with another whimsical and clever story about solving puzzles and uncovering facts. The action takes part in Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, as well as his home and Imagination Factory in New York City. Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race celebrates readers, libraries, authors, and librarians. Grabenstein continues to develop characters that readers will enjoy getting to know. His storytelling and settings and delightful sense of humor will engage the most reluctant of readers. A number of books are given the nod in this book, and the author lists them in the back (C. S. Lewis, Wonder, Seuss, and more).

The Lemoncello series is filled with adventure, suspense, humor, and puzzles for the reader to solve. Fans of the earlier books will devour this book, with its hidden bonus puzzle. Readers will be delighted to know Grabenstein has been signed to write another Lemoncello book!

Recommended for school and public libraries.

 Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

If You’re Gone / by Brittany Goodwin. 1.22.2018

Edge of 22 Publishing ISBN 9780997579000

YA Grades 7-10 Rating: 3

Lillian never dreamed she’d ever go out with Brad, the boy who had always frightened and tormented her when they were younger. Yet she’s been his steady girlfriend for five months now and very much in love…until the day he disappears. She is terrified that something awful has happened to him, but given his shady past, the police are convinced he’s missing “by choice.”

Instead of spending her summer relaxing, preparing for her senior year of high school, and filling out college applications, Lillian embarks on an intense physical and emotional search for Brad. The town rallies to canvas the area. Lillian worries that if he’s hurt she has to find him quickly. But, she wonders, what if, like the cop said, he left because he wanted to? And if so, why didn’t he tell her?

If You’re Gone is a novel that reveals the capacity of young adults to love deeply despite their tender age, and to act with determination in times of deep emotional and spiritual crises. Brittany Goodwin uses the story of the missing teen to explore ideas of love, forgiveness, peer relationships, and community support (both religious and secular).

Lillian’s search for Brad, and the self-knowledge she develops, makes If You’re Gone an excellent choice for a classroom, youth group, or teen book club because it provides a point of engagement for profitable discussions. What are the actions of a true friend? Is there a difference between loving and being in love? Why is forgiveness important? How do you handle pain and/or loss so that you can go on living?

Lillian’s discovery is not what she expected, and the reader must decide whether or not Lillian makes the right choice.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer / written by Stephen McCaskell and Aaron Armstrong, Illustrated by Rommel Ruiz. 1.10.2018

Patrol ISBN 9780999083512

YA Grades 7-12 Rating: 5

Luther is a beautifully and uniquely illustrated book containing edifying biographical teaching about the premier figure of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther. This is a useful book for parents to read to kids, but it is not a kid’s book per se. It is what may only be called a serious kid’s book.

Several factors contribute to the serious character of the book. First, there is a lot of text in this book. The amount on each page is limited, but it is a big book and it adds up. In this reviewer’s judgment, a child would have to be at least eight and a strong reader to listen patiently, let alone read on his or her own. Second, all of the illustrations are done in grayscale. The look is very striking and memorable—and it lends an overall gravity to the book’s contents. This is not a hagiography or a light treatment. Third, the book is divided into multiple parts, making it suitable for nightly reading in successive evenings. Finally, the book ends with something like an altar call, a homiletical application.

This reviewer has a serious desire to use the 500th anniversary of the Reformation to impress upon his children the importance of the Christian doctrines retrieved in that time period. The Luther book is a valuable tool for this weighty and joyful task.

The book is something of a companion to a documentary on Luther which is also worth viewing; the illustrations in the book derive from those used in the film.

Mark L. Ward, CLJ