Prayers that Changed History / by Tricia Goyer. 10.18.2016

Zonderkidz ISBN 9780310748014

INT Grades 3-7 Rating: 5

In Prayers that Changed History, Tricia Goyer introduces 25 historical figures and the significant role of prayer in their lives.

Each concise chapter presents a notable individual whose prayers for strength and guidance had far-reaching consequences. Arranged chronologically, the characters span a wide swath of history from the first century (Polycarp) to the twentieth (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) and include the familiar (Christopher Columbus, Florence Nightingale, Helen Keller) as well as the lesser-known (Robert Raikes, George Müller, Billy Sunday). The British people of WWII are recognized collectively.

Author Tricia Goyer employs a narrative style with imagined dialogue that is likely to hold the interest and attention of independent readers. Her intent to show “prayer-at-work” is achieved through these compelling biographic profiles, biblical parallels, and referenced sources. “Something to Think About” and “Your Life” headings direct readers to reflect, discuss, and relate personally to the power of prayer.

Though suggested for a grade and middle school audience, Prayers that Changed History would be a compelling and enjoyable book for all ages, particularly history enthusiasts. Some of the chapters include more mature themes such as the suicide of Adolf Hitler, Nazi death camps, the “red light” district of Chicago, and the enslavement of young girls in India.

Small photos, graphics, and text boxes, use of varied font, and an easy-to-follow table of contents adds to the pleasant readability of this enlightening book.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Adventure Bible / by Zonderkidz, with features written by Lawrence O. Richards. 10.12.2016

Adventure Bible NIV / by Zonderkidz, with features written by Lawrence O. Richards.

Zonderkidz ISBN 9780310739272

INT Grades 4-7 Rating: 4

Adventure Bible for Early Readers NIrV / by Zonderkidz, with features written by Lawrence O. Richards.

Zonderkidz ISBN 9780310727422

PRI Grades 1-5 Rating: 4

The Adventure Bible NIV and Adventure Bible for Early Readers NIrV are complete Bibles from Zonderkidz, with numerous educational features and illustrations for children.

Both books offer the full text of the Bible (New International Version) along with teaching sidebars such as: “Words to Treasure”, “Did You Know?”, “Life in Bible Times”, “People in Bible Times”, and “Live It!”. A Subject Index, Dictionary/Concordance, and Maps offer added useful tools.

The Adventure Bible NIV is suggested for 9-12 year olds. Indented thumb tabs and a “How to Use This Bible” introduction will help young readers get started on their exploration of God’s word. The Adventure Bible for Early Readers NIrV is the New International Reader’s Version with slight modifications in the reading level to accommodate the intended audience of 6-10 year olds.

These handsome hardcover books are brightly illustrated with eye-catching drawings and graphics, and there are so many features to keep children engaged that either book is likely to be thoroughly perused and revisited. However, the pages are quite thin and will require careful handling by eager fingers.

As with any full Bible, in the context of Scripture there is frank mention of drunkenness, nudity, and sex that parents may not expect to see in a children’s edition, particularly the NIrV.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation / by Peggy Thomas; illustrated by Stacy Innerst. 10.10.2016

Calkins Creek ISBN 9781620916285

MS Grades 3-6 Rating: 5

This picture book for grades 3 to 6 has more text than usual, but the careful storyline helps students to delve into the diverse person that was Jefferson. The text in Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation is thoroughly researched with solid source notes for each quotation. Historical details and illustrations blend well together. Middle schoolers will learn vocabulary since many words are defined within the context of the sentences.

Author Peggy Thomas provides an introduction, chapters with full-page sidebars, historical photos, place to visit (Monticello), a bibliography, and timelines. Illustrator Stacy Innerst used a quill to hand letter the quotes that appear throughout the book and added a touch of Jefferson’s distinctive red hair color in the shades on most pages.

In addition to gaining an appreciation for the accomplishments of Jefferson, the reader will come to see that in his heart, Jefferson was a farmer, a fact not often available in the usual stories about him. Many of the phrases used throughout the story are ones from agriculture–growth, weeds, planting, nurture, uprooted–and confirm Jefferson was more than a president and a patriot.

Leroy Hommerding, CLJ

Freedom’s Price / by Michaela MacColl and Rosemary Nichols. (Hidden Histories) 10.6.2016

Calkins Creek ISBN 9781620916247

MS Grades 5-8 Rating: 4

Freedom’s Price brings history to the fore in this imagining of the life of Eliza Scott, one of the daughters of Dred Scott, the slave at the heart of the landmark case in American history. This story finds the Scott family suing for their freedom. While not much is known of the real-life Eliza, middle-schoolers will find it easy to understand her situation for MackColl and Nichols create an Eliza who is brave, intelligent, and ready for challenges. The authors have Eliza making decisions that–in real life–would jeopardize her, her family, and her community, but serve to heighten drama in the context of this fictionalized account.

This is the second book in the Hidden Histories series, which looks at lesser known moments in American history. Based on actual people and events, the authors have done meticulous research. An author’s note and bibliography makes it easy to understand the context and setting of the story. As historical fiction, this eye-opening perspective enables youth to grasp what it was like to be young, black, and on the road to freedom in the 1840s.

Leroy Hommerding, CLJ

Earlier Series Title Reviewed by CLJ: Rory’s Promise (September/October 2015).

A Plague of Unicorns / by Jane Yolen. 9.20.2016

Zonderkidz ISBN 9780310746485

INT Grades 3-7 Rating: 5

Because golden apple cider gives the abbey their only source of income, the peaceful monks are forced into war when unicorns invade the orchard. Monks avoid violence, so they decide to capture the animals. Too bad only a girl can capture a unicorn, and females are not allowed in the abbey. After trying to capture the unicorns themselves, the injured monks invite “heroes” to chase off the creatures. But soon, they all fail, too.

An intelligent and curious duke’s son, James, is sent to the abbey as a student. He is considered an outsider until he saves his horse from a unicorn stampede and becomes a hero. James writes home to summon a “hero” that he believes could be the solution to the unicorn problem. The “hero” comes, saves the abbey’s apples, and leads the unicorns far away. It is only later that the nature of James’s little deception is revealed.

A new “once upon a time” begins with this faith-filled fairytale—bringing unicorns and monks together. A Plague of Unicorns would be wonderful to read aloud as a family and learn details about Bible stories from a child’s perspective.

This book explores deep loneliness as James believes that his family sent him away because they thought he was annoying and that he caused his father’s disappearance. These ideas are combatted in the end with the truth of his father’s disappearance and his mother’s love. When the abbot discovers James’s deception, he does not seem unduly upset, perhaps conveying a message that sometimes it is acceptable to break rules for a greater good.

A famous writer of fantasy and science fiction and winner of multiple awards (including the Caldecott Medal and two Nebula awards), Jane Yolen presents in A Plague of Unicorns a great story with jokes for all ages. The fun and mythical language paints a comedic picture of a rag-tag group of men chasing unicorns. James’s character is hilariously accurate for a child: his questions never end and will leave readers giggling.

Rebecca A. Schriner, CLJ

The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden / by Kevin DeYoung; illustrated by Don Clark. 8.25.2016

Crossway ISBN 9781433542442

INT Grades 3-6 Rating:5

Kevin DeYoung is a gifted popularizer: he takes the world of academic biblical studies and pastoral ministry and makes it understandable and engaging for people. In The Biggest Story, DeYoung applies his gifts to the most important truth there is—the story of the Bible—and makes it accessible to intermediate readers.

There is a movement in Western, English-speaking evangelical theology over the last 15 years or so which has sought to acquaint readers with the one big story the Bible tells, the overarching “metanarrative” that makes sense not just of Jonah and Noah and Jesus but of Napoleon and Trump and you. In this view, the Bible is a radically God-centered book in which God creates his image-bearers and then, after they disobey, works to rescue them and the creation he gave them.

The lynchpin of that story is the snake-crusher, Jesus. The ultimate end of that story is restoration of the creation to the way God intended it to be: a trip back to the area on the globe where life began. That area will be a place into which “the glory and honor of the nations” is brought. It will actually be a city, the New Jerusalem. It will represent the end goal of mankind’s call to subdue the earth and have dominion over it. (This represents the lone way in which DeYoung’s otherwise excellent book may be viewed as falling short: the trajectory of the Bible is from garden to city, not garden to garden.)

DeYoung’s prose shines: it’s elegant and playful but deeply substantive. There are depths everywhere that only parents will grasp, but children will not feel left out.

Don Clark’s illustrations are colorfully gorgeous. They evoke a 1960s style but still feel very fresh. They are at turns clever and iconic and symbol-laden and geometrical and maybe a bit whimsical. Their lavishness befits the biggest story there is.

DeYoung and Clark have produced a relatable, brilliant summary of the story of the Bible for children, one that is readable in several sittings or even just one.

Mark L. Ward, CLJ

Blue Birds / by Caroline Starr Rose. 8.24.2016

G. P. Putnam’s Sons ISBN 9780399168109

MS Grades 4-7 Rating: 4

In July of 1587, 12-year-old Alis arrives on the island of Roanoke with her family, instantly falling in love with the untouched beauty of this new land. The only thing missing is a friend. Being the lone girl her age in the English settlement, Alis is often called upon to watch the younger children and finds her solace by slipping off to explore the surrounding forest. There in the mysterious woods of Roanoke she meets Kimi, a girl from the local tribe who is full of hatred towards the English, those she views responsible for the death of her father and beloved sister. These two girls, from two very different worlds, form an unlikely friendship, overcoming language barriers as well as the superstition and mutual hatred existing between the English and Roanoke people. However, as their friendship grows, the unrest and distrust between their peoples continue to mount. When violence and cries of war break out, Alis is forced to make a choice that will alter her life forever.

In Blue Birds, Caroline Starr Rose weaves a fictional tale with her own unique spin of what might have happened to the people of the Lost Colony of Roanoke, rekindling a historical mystery that has fascinated people for centuries. The author acknowledges the liberties she takes with the historical facts in the Author’s Note, which helps separate fact from fiction while also explaining how she came to develop the main character and plot. The story is told in stirring free verse from the alternating voices of the two main characters, Alis and Kimi. When the girls are together, their thoughts and words appear side by side, cleverly and artistically allowing the reader to experience both worlds at the same time and showing universal similarities that transcend cultural barriers and differences.

This novel is a beautiful story of friendship, sisterly love, and human emotions. The resolution stretches beyond the likeliness of a real-life outcome, yet it reasonably develops from the plot. The underlying message is a powerful one of love, self-sacrifice, and trust triumphing over fear and hate.

Justina McBride, CLJ

My Tata’s Remedies: Los remedios de mi Tata / by Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford; illustrated by Antonio Castro. 7.25.2016

Cinco Puntos Press ISBN 9781935955917

INT Grades 3-6 Rating: 5

A Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor book for 2016, Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford’s My Tata’s Remedies depicts a day in the life of Aaron, a young Latino boy, and his grandfather or “Tata,” who is valued in the neighborhood for his knowledge of herbal remedies and willingness to treat all who show up needing his help.

While Aaron spends the day with his Tata, neighbors drop by and ask for assistance with various complaints—a bee sting, diaper rash, a burn, an eye infection. Tata treats each one with a remedy involving herbs or common household items. Aaron is charged with finding the appropriate items on his grandfather’s shelves. The “patients” are grateful and stay for empanadas and hot chocolate, and the story beautifully demonstrates how Tata’s willingness to help brings his community together. It is also a reminder of the value of extended family.

A glossary provides definitions and illustrations of the plants mentioned in the story (with a disclaimer noting that readers should not take the text as medical advice). Antonio Castro’s award-winning watercolor illustrations are cheerful and realistically depict the characters and evoke their culture.

The bilingual text makes this book of interest to those learning either English or Spanish. Comparing the renditions in both languages, however, one finds that the English and Spanish texts both reflect the spirit of the narrative but do not always correspond in an absolutely literal fashion (for example, “santo remedio,” which literally translates as “holy remedy,” is rendered as “magical cure,” and an English reference to a “high five” is not reflected in the Spanish text).

Angela L. Walsh, CLJ

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March / by Lynda Blackmon Lowery as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley; illustrated by PJ Loughran. 7.19.2016

Dial Books ISBN 9780803741232

HS Grades 7-12 Rating: 4

Told in a straightforward, first-person manner, Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom is a memoir that describes 15 year-old Lynda Blackmon Lowery’s participation in civil rights activities in 1965. The primary source text with primary source photographs and cartoon-like illustrations aid to explain why and how she got involved–first as a helper for older children and then, with the wary permission of her parents, as an active walker in the marches.

The book includes many intricate details, such as what the marchers ate and where they slept, that will keep youth reading. Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom’s wide margins, large font, and visuals for comprehension make this an ideal title for developing readers. From the first sentence (“By the time I was fifteen years old, I had been in jail nine times”) to the last one (“Who has the right to vote is still being decided today”), the appealing narrative is compelling.

Leroy Hommerding, CLJ

Blue Ribbon Trail Ride / by Miralee Ferrell. (Horse and Friends, 4) 7.13.2016

David C. Cook ISBN 9781434707369

INT (MS) Grades 3-7 Rating: 4

Miralee Ferrell, adult historical fiction author, presents the fourth book in her series especially for horse-loving preteens.

In Blue Ribbon Trail Ride, 13-year-old Kate wants to help her brother and others attend a summer camp. Her fundraising idea is to hold a scavenger hunt using horseback riders and their property. Katie and her friends ask local businesses to donate and sponsor prizes. It seems her efforts to help her autistic brother are paying off.

Then her mother’s antique jewelry box disappears–the one that held the entry fees for the hunt. They try their hand at solving the mystery of the missing money, but will they find it before the Blue Ribbon Trail Ride?

Miralee Ferrell’s love for horses is evident in her stories. More character-driven than plot-driven, Ferrell’s books focus on Kate and the challenges she faces every day. Kate is a normal teen who struggles with her attitude and prays for God to help her. The spiritual tone of the books is light, not preachy.

Told from Kate’s perspective but mostly in the third-person, the story will appeal to parents looking for a positive role model for their tween reader. Kate’s friends include a homeschooled boy who is just a friend and a Latina girl who is her best friend. Ferrell’s book has Kate’s reflections to help the reader learn from her experiences.

Recommended for school and public libraries, especially for fans of Dandi Daley Mackall.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ