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

Glimmer Girls series / by Natalie Grant. 12.20.2017

London Art Chase / by Natalie Grant. (Glimmer Girls, 1)

ZonderKidz ISBN 9780310752653

A Dolphin Wish / by Natalie Grant. (Glimmer Girls, 2)

ZonderKidz ISBN 9780310752530

Miracle in Music City / by Natalie Grant. (Glimmer Girls, 3)

ZonderKidz ISBN 9780310752509

Light Up New York / by Natalie Grant. (Glimmer Girls, 4)

ZonderKidz ISBN 9780310752745

INT Grades 3-6 Rating: 4

Musician Natalie Grant pens her Glimmer Girls series for young girls, featuring the adventures of twins Mia and Maddie and their little sister Lulu.

In London Art Chase, the Glimmer girls travel to London to watch their singer mom, Gloria Glimmer, perform at a concert. During their sightseeing at the National Gallery, they stumble upon a mystery–a stolen painting. Maddie and her sisters track the clues throughout London to recover the stolen artwork.

In A Dolphin Wish, the Glimmer family is in San Diego. When they visit a nearby water park, the girls overhear animal workers discussing the problem of animals not staying in their habitats. The girls revisit the sea park to look for clues. Mia leads the adventure to keep the animals safe.

In Miracle in Music City, singer Gloria Glimmer wants her daughters to think of othersneeds. She gets them involved in an annual benefit and auction. The girls are involved in more than just raising money–they have another mystery to solve!

In Light Up New York, the Glimmer family is sightseeing while in New York for a benefit concert. As usual, the girls stumble across another mystery, and deal with sibling rivalry and random acts of kindness.

Grant pens a delightful series for young readers with a family similar to her own (she has twins and a younger daughter). The faith element is very evident, yet it is not preachy. The family prays together and tries to treat one another with kindness. The family motto is: “Glimmer Girls, Sparkle & Shine, But most of all, Be kind.” In each book, the girls investigate a mystery they stumble across. Together they learn lessons about being good friends, telling the truth, and following their instincts. The characters are appealing, the dialogue is genuine, and the storytelling is lively.

Recommended for school and church libraries.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

The Alliance / by Jolina Petersheim. 12.19.2017

Tyndale ISBN 9781496402219

YA (Adult) Grades 7-10 Rating: 3

When an airplane crashes in the field near her house, Leora rushes out to help, hoping for survivors. Together with a few of the local men, they pull a lone pilot out of the wreckage and carry him into Leora’s house. When he comes to, Moses, the pilot, reveals that an EMP–an electromagnetic pulse–knocked his plane out of the sky. An EMP, he explains, is a special warhead that wipes out technology, taking out the power grid and everything that relies on a computer, such as supermarkets. Moses, an Englischer outsider, must persuade the peaceful community of Montana Mennonites to prepare to defend themselves from the looting and crime that a food shortage will surely bring.

Astounded by the scenario that Moses depicts, the elders stand frozen in unbelief and inactivity. They never carry weapons and would never harm anyone. If they have food, they must share it. But teenage Leora, the sole care-taker of her grandmother, younger brother, and mentally-challenged sister, quickly realizes that she must protect her family. But how far is she willing to go to accomplish that? And where, in a time of crisis, does falling in love fit in?

In The Alliance, a community’s standards and collective beliefs are put to the test, and hardship, hunger, and danger, unveil each person’s strengths and flaws. The story asks the reader to consider the consequences of our dependence on technology and to examine what the need for survival might bring out in each of us. Petersheim asks, ”How does one keep faith and kindness alive while trying to preserve one’s own life?”

The Alliance suggests that we can only face our greatest fears and achieve peace when we surrender our lives to God. To discover whether or not Leora succeeds, the story continues in Petersheim’s next novel, The Divide.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

Princess Academy series / by Shannon Hale 12.18.2017

Princess Academy / by Shannon Hale (Princess Academy, 1)

Bloomsbury ISBN 9781582349930

Princess Academy: Palace of Stone / by Shannon Hale (Princess Academy, 2)

Bloomsbury ISBN 9781599908731

Princess Academy: Forgotten Sisters / by Shannon Hale (Princess Academy, 3)

Bloomsbury ISBN 9781619634855

INT Grades 4-8 Rating: 4

Prolific author Shannon Hale pens a series about a teen girl who prepares for life in a palace–but this is not an ordinary fairy tale.

In The Princess Academy, Miri was selected from her mountain village to attend an academy that prepares girls for a life as the prince’s prospective bride. Girls from all over the country are sent to the academy, where they compete to be chosen as the next princess at the end of the year-long process. A harsh headmistress, combined with rigid rules and practices at the academy, push Mira into a leadership role among the girls. Will she be chosen as the next princess? Does she want to be if it means leaving her village behind?

In The Princess Academy: Palace of Stone, Miri returns to the capital for the prince’s wedding. While she is there, Miri attends the school at the Queen’s Castle where she meets new friends who are planning a revolution. She is torn between a new attraction and an old love, as well as her loyalty to the new princess and her belief in the ideas being promoted by her new friends. Miri is offered the choice to study at the university or return to the mountain, to be a lady to the princess or the betrothed of a stone carver. What will she decide?

In The Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters, Miri is ordered by the king to start a princess academy for three royal cousins in a faraway place. When she gets there, she finds her students aren’t interested in learning about etiquette, and they know almost nothing about their ancestry. The more time she spends with them, the more she realizes they are a well-guarded secret no one knows about and that those who do know will go to great lengths to keep it that way.

Hale is an excellent storyteller–her characters are well-developed and the plot moves along nicely. This isn’t your typical fairy tale; the happily-ever-after is not guaranteed. Mira grows and matures through the books.

Recommended for school and public libraries. Princess Academy (book 1) was a Newbery Honor nominee, and the sequels are noteworthy as well.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com