The Girl Who Drank the Moon / by Kelly Barnhill. 9.26.2017

Workman Publishing ISBN 9781616205676

YA Grades 6-8 Rating: 5

The Forest is cursed—that’s what the citizens of the Protectorate think. Once a year, the parents of the youngest baby in the village are asked to give up their child to keep the city safe. And they always have, until the “madwoman.” As the first to fight the tradition, she is locked away in the Tower.

The Elders leave the madwoman’s daughter in the Forest. Just like with every child before, forest witch Xan saves the baby and begins traveling across the Forest to give the child a new home. But the madwoman’s child is different from the others. Distracted by the girl’s unusual beauty, Xan accidentally feeds the child moonlight, enmagicking her.

Though in Xan’s care, Luna doesn’t understand how her magic affects the world. She even turns a swamp monster into a rabbit! Xan, at a loss for how to control the Luna’s magic, decides to lock the new magic away until Luna’s 13th birthday. But there are greater dangers lurking in the Forest than an enmagicked girl. With Xan’s forgotten past and an unforeseeable future, could she have made a huge mistake?

Dive into a world of magic and madness with the 2017 Newbery Medal-winning book, The Girl Who Drank the Moon. The novel tangles multiple third-person perspectives together—Xan’s, Luna’s, the madwoman’s, and more—to show that things are not always as they seem. The smooth transitions between the perspectives are impressive, leaving no gaps in the story and leaving readers on edge about what will happen next.

While this novel uses some dark themes, such as kidnapping, madness, and death, Kelly Barnhill does a wonderful job showing the seriousness in a child-friendly manner. For example, the madwoman is locked alone in the Tower, but she can create paper birds that can fly and inflict injury. Bizarre descriptions, sing-song narration, and playful repetition make this a fun, can’t-put-down read for middle schoolers to young adults.

Rebecca Schriner, CLJ

As Brave As You / by Jason Reynolds. 9.22.2017

Atheneum Books For Young Readers ISBN 9781481415903

YA Grades 5-8 Rating: 5

Jason Reynolds has written a thoughtful and engaging story that incorporates not only humorous moments, but also addresses real issues, such as broken relationships, visual impairment, mental illness, long-term grief, fear, guilt, courage, forgiveness, and the value of hard work.

As Brave As You features 11-year-old African American Genie Harris, who tends to be a worrywart. He greatly admires his 13-year-old brother, Ernie, who always appears confident and not scared of anything. The two boys go to their paternal grandparents’ house in rural Virginia for a month in the summer so that their parents can spend some time by themselves to work on their marriage. Country life is a new experience for the two Brooklynite boys. There is no internet access or cell phone reception, singing crickets and frogs fill the night with music, and Grandma has assigned them chores, like scooping dog waste and picking peas.

Genie is full of curiosity about everything and loves to ask questions of family members, along with writing down amusing and intriguing questions in his notebook. He likes to use Google for research. How will he do that with no internet? When Genie find out his grandfather is blind, he is both shocked and amazed. Genie has many questions for his grandfather–for instance, how he can do things like cook, pour tea without spilling a drop, or wear matching clothes. Most importantly, he wonders why his grandfather owns a gun.

As the summer days go by, Genie’s escapades, misadventures, and intergenerational family bonding time contributes to his learning some valuable life lessons that have a profound impact on him. He learns about the importance of admitting mistakes, the negative effects of animosity, and the power of forgiveness. He also sees firsthand how pressuring people to make decisions against their better judgement can lead to serious unintended consequences. By the end of the story, Genie has come to understand what it really means to be brave.

Dianne Woodman, CLJ

Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience During World War II / by Albert Marrin. 9.19.2017

Alfred A. Knopf ISBN 9780553509366

YA (Adult) Grade 7 and up Rating: *5

Mastery of the subject matter and thorough research make Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience During World War II a must-read for everyone.

Albert Marrin skillfully balances facts, first-hand narratives, news clips, photos, and illustrations to present a comprehensive and insightful account of the uprooting and internment of Americans of Japanese descent after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. His writing is clear and concise as he explores the foundations, historical events and racial attitudes of both America and Japan that culminated in war between the two nations. In addition, Marrin details the role that the news media played in stirring panic that encouraged animosity toward the Japanese-Americans.

The author also references similar experiences of other groups throughout history–for example, the forced removal of Native Americans, the Chinese Exclusion Laws of the 1880s, and the racism against African-Americans that led to the Civil Rights Movement. Lovers of history, moreover, will recall the English Only Movements that have surfaced at various times in the United States in order to protect and secure the country from foreigners, as well as the expulsion of Mexican-Americans in 1929-1936, who were blamed for taking American jobs.

Uprooted challenges readers to grapple with thought-provoking questions. How do we ensure the liberty of each citizen during wartime? Should race and religion exist as factors when determining a nation’s security? Should the media be held to a higher standard of accountability in its news coverage? These questions are all the more relevant today as the nation continues its war against terrorism and as the world becomes an increasingly multi-cultural environment.

Albert Marrin reminds the reader of the importance of studying history. It not only informs us about the past, but also helps us decide about the future. We can learn from our collective knowledge and experience.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat / written and illustrated by Javoka Steptoe. 9.15.2017

Little, Brown and Company ISBN 9780316213882

PRI Grades 2-6 Rating: 4

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javoka Steptoe is a picture book introduction to the life and work of the noted modern artist.

The child of Puerto Rican and Haitian parents, Basquiat grows up in New York with early dreams of becoming a famous artist. He is inspired by the world around him and sees art in everyday objects and scenes. His drawings “are sloppy, ugly, and sometimes weird, but somehow still BEAUTIFUL.” Basquiat’s work is influenced by his surroundings as well as his mother’s mental illness.

Javoka Steptoe illustrates Radiant Child using techniques that honor the late artist’s work. His paintings on found wood feature bright and bold colors and vibrant scenes of Basquiat’s life.

Endnotes include more details about Basquiat, including his drug addiction and death at age 27. Steptoe also includes a description of motifs and symbolism found in Basquiat’s work and information about the artwork the author/illustrator created for this book.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat has won numerous recognitions including the Caldecott Medal and the Coretta Scott Key Award. Whether or not readers admire or understand Basquiat’s artistry, the book offers an informative look at the well-known 1980s figure.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist / by Susan Wood; illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh 9.14.2017

Charlesbridge ISBN 9781580896733

PRI Grades 2-6 Rating: 5

Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist by Susan Wood introduces Juan Garcia Esquivel, a self-taught musician from Mexico whose innovative use of sound revolutionized “lounge music” in the 1950s and 60s.

From a young age Juan developed a style of incorporating unique sounds, tempos, and dynamics into his performances. When he came to America in the 1950s, he was exposed to new and unusual instruments, along with the advancing technology of stereo recording. Juan’s long career in the United States included writing music for television and movies.

Author Susan Wood captures Esquivel’s creativity and focus, early influences, and determination in a way that will engross young readers. By putting words to sounds–such as the “bowm-bowm” of a kettle drum–she portrays the excitement and novelty of the musician’s work. Wood provides colorful details about Esquivel’s childhood, personality, and the originality that would earn him the “!” after his name.

Varied fonts suggest the wide array of sounds that Esquival captured in his music. Artist Duncan Tonatiuh flavors the book with varied scenes from Esquival’s life and culture, from the busy streets of Mexico City to a recording studio in New York City to the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas. Tonatiuh uses a bold and colorful uni-dimensional style of perspective that complements the creative freedom of Esquivel himself.

Notes by the author and illustrator provide further compelling material about Juan Garcia Esquivel and about the artwork in the book. A list of resources and a full-page black and white photograph of Esquivel are excellent additions.

Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist is a Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book, ALA Notable Children’s Book, and Junior Library Guild Selection. It is available in both English and Spanish and would enhance any book collection, classroom discussion, or family reading time.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

This Land Is Our Land: A History of American Immigration / by Linda Barrett Osborne. 9.11.2017

Abrams Books For Young Readers ISBN 9781419716607

YA Grades 7-10 Rating: 5

This Land Is Our Land will help readers gain a thorough understanding of the history of immigration in the United States. The information is presented chronologically beginning with the European colonization of the Americas and continuing through contemporary times. The book covers the origin of anti-immigrant behavior, the changing immigration policies of the United States government throughout history, and the reasons immigrants came to America. Also included are the accomplishments of immigrants who successfully integrated into American society, along with the challenges immigrants faced upon their arrival.

The deeply researched and thought-provoking subject matter is enhanced not only by the numerous illustrations that are accompanied by short, explanatory captions, but also by the excerpts from immigrants and a variety of other notable sources. There is an excellent amount of supporting material in the back matter, including an appendix that explains the difference between visas and green cards and a detailed timeline of immigration history. Under the Notes section are sources for all of the excerpts, and the Selected Bibliography lists books for students who are interested in learning more about the history of immigration. Credits for the sources of the illustrations are listed, and this is followed by an index.

Linda Barrett Osborne has written an insightful and eye-opening book that sheds light on why immigration is a controversial issue. Osborne addresses opposing viewpoints on the immigration policy in the United States and provides explanations for questions, such as these: Should immigrants be welcomed into our country? Should they be recognized as viable members of our society? Osborne also goes into detail as to why the United States has a diversified population, the political issues surrounding the diversity, and why there are conflicting attitudes in this country towards immigrants. The book is extremely well-organized and user-friendly for students. It is an excellent edition to a school library and a valuable resource for students to use in a research paper or project.

Dianne Woodman, CLJ

Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune / by Pamela S. Turner. 9.5.2017

Charlesbridge Publishing ISBN 9781580895842

YA Grades 5-8 Rating: 4

Much of the life of Minamoto Yoshitsune sounds like an epic movie. He spends much of his early life attempting to avoid the enemies of his family. He studies to become a Buddhist monk until he returns to take part in the struggle for control of Japan. He shows himself to be a brilliant military leader and one whom men willingly choose to follow. However, his elder half-brother is jealous of Yoshitsune and finally they begin a struggle for supremacy. Those who look for adventure and excitement in the books they read will find much to admire in Samurai Rising. There are also elements of the samurai culture and its Buddhist background that are illustrated and explained. Those who appreciate the look and feel of a graphic novel will also enjoy the artwork of Gareth Hinds that graces the book.

Though some of the book’s design elements (similar to a graphic novel or even a comic book) seem directed toward a younger audience, its thematic material suggests that a more mature audience might be more appropriate. There are descriptions of major battles, sexual content including a child born out of wedlock, and a description of the samurai practice of seppuku (a form of ritual suicide). However, other themes of the book make it worth reading: courage, loyalty, sacrifice, and bravery. This book would be a welcome addition in public libraries.

Michael Wilhelm, CLJ

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth / by Cathy Camper; illustrated by Raul the Third. (Lowriders, 2) 8.29.2017

Chronicle Books ISBN 9781452123431

YA Grades 4-9 Rating: 4

It seemed like an ordinary day at the car garage until the earthquake hit and the cat disappeared. Searching frantically, Lupe Impala and her partners, El Chavo Flapjack and Elirio Malaria, follow a trail of paw prints that lead into a giant corn maze where the trickster Coyote informs them that their pet, Genie, is being held prisoner in the underworld. Can they trust Coyote?

Determined to rescue Genie at all costs, the fearless trio power up their earth/space vehicle and plunge full-speed into a volcano and down through the earth’s rocky layers until they reach the center. If they find their cat, returning home in their hi-tech car will be a cinch. They just have to wrestle and defeat the god of the underworld who holds Genie prisoner. No, not the Greek god Hades–the giant Aztec god, Mictlantecuhtli!

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, second in Cathy Camper’s Lowriders series, has a suspense-filled rescue plot that engages readers with humorous word plays and puns while teaching earth science. The Spanish vocabulary spread throughout the story (defined in a glossary) and the depiction of diverse protagonists give voice to other cultures and validate characters that Hispanic children can relate to. Raul the Third’s graphic illustrations of skulls, skeletons, bones, and gods introduce Aztec world views.

This is a highly entertaining read, with Lupe Impala like a Latina version of Miss Frizz (of the Magic School Bus series, by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen), teaching important concepts and creatively overcoming obstacles.

From a Christian perspective, Lowriders to the Center of the Earth could engender discussion of the God of the Bible and His care for all creation, in contrast to the capricious and antagonistic natures of other deities. The story invites readers to explore ideas of love and sacrifice, and challenges them to reflect on how much they would be willing to risk for someone they love.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life / by Ashley Bryan. 8.28.2017

Atheneum Books for Young Readers ISBN 9781481456906

INT Grades 3-6 Rating: 4

Ashley Bryan wrote and illustrated this award-winning picture book about eleven slaves, based on a real document of sale.

In Freedom Over Me, Bryan gives life to the slaves listed in the bill of sale for the Fairchild’s estate by giving them an age and work assignment. After the passing of Mr. Cado Fairchild, Mrs. Mary Fairchilds hires an appraiser prior to selling the estate and its properties (including the slaves) and moving back to England. The book starts off with a group illustration of the eleven slaves, with their ages and estimated value, followed by the poems for each slave. The slaves are introduced by their roles on the estate, then later by their lives in Africa. The book ends with a print appraisal of the Fairchild estate of the ten slaves. (Bryan added an eleventh fictional slave to his collection to round out the ages.)

He writes free verse to create two poems each, one about their life and one about their dreams. Inspired by the actual 1828 will of Mr. Fairchild, Bryan creates poetry with illustrations to interpret each person’s life and dreams. The illustrations for each slave’s life are muted, while the ones for their dreams are colorful. According to the author’s note, the title of the book comes from a spiritual, “Oh Freedom,” which plays a role in the civil rights movement.

Freedom Over Me was the 2016 Newbery Honor Book, 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book, and 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book. Bryan ‘s book is a tribute to the “strength of their human spirit and power of hope” (front cover flap), as well as a recognition that the slaves were individuals who had a dream.

Recommended for school and public libraries.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

The Returning / by Rachelle Dekker. (A Seer Novel, 3) 8.7.2017

Tyndale ISBN 9781496402295

YA Grades 8-12 Rating: 5

Carrington and Remko are back for the third and final chapter of the Seer series. It has been 20 years since baby Elise was taken, and her mother still hasn’t forgiven herself. While watching her second daughter mature, Carrington blames herself for letting Elise’s kidnapper get away. To cope, she writes letters to her firstborn. Carrington’s heart breaks again as her second child, Kennedy, is chosen as one of the Seven, a group prophesized to risk their lives to retake Authority City. How could the “loving” Father take two children from her?

Kennedy never knew Elise, but now she’s on a mission to find her older sister. If it wasn’t for a friend’s gift of dreams, Kennedy wouldn’t even believe her sister could be alive. Hopefully, the dream is also right that Elise is the key to overcoming brainwashing.

Elise believes she’s always lived in Authority City. Abandoned by her parents and immune to the brainwashing serum, Elise has lived in the care of the President and the Scientist. Dreams of darkness haunt her as the Scientist grows agitated by her presence, but Aaron is always there to show her the light within herself. Can the Seven find Elise before the darkness overtakes her?

Follow the next generation of Seers on their search for Elise and for a way to return the Father’s people home. Each of the Seven will have readers laughing at how closely he resembles his parents.

As with the first two books, elements of torture and evil conspiracy continue. This finale also plays heavily on the idea of demon possession. Because there is more darkness compared to the beginning books in the series, The Returning is also more overtly Christian.

Rachelle Dekker completes this series elegantly. Her writing style and characters have matured, forcing readers to feel a wide range of emotions. This idea, along with twists in the story, makes this novel the perfect conclusion to the Seer series.

Rebecca Schriner, CLJ

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJThe Choosing (Jul/Aug/Sep 2016); The Calling (Jul/Aug/Sep 2016).