The Only Road / by Alexandra Diaz. 10.4.2017

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers ISBN 9781481457507

YA Grades 5-9 Rating: 4

When you’re a kid, the most you should have to stress over is doing your homework, and the biggest fear should be a zit in the middle of your forehead just before your birthday party. Not so for 12-year-old Jaime and his 15-year-old cousin Angela.

The Alpha Gang has targeted them to become new members–an order, not a choice. The death of Jaime’s cousin and Angela’s brother Miguel remains engraved in their memories, fresh and tangible proof of what will happen to them too if they refuse to join.

Alexandra Diaz’s realistic and tense drama takes us into the heart of Guatemala and the depths of despair as one close-knit family makes the gut-wrenching decision to send the two children away–in order to save their lives.

The money for the “fees” to travel to El Norte, sewn into the waistband of Jaime’s pants, weighs heavily upon him, along with the realization that his family has plunged deeper into debt for his sake. Now their future–and his–depends upon his making it to the United States. Jaime and his cousin dodge rogue border guards and endure hunger, thirst, fear, prejudice and hostility as they travel illegally from Guatemala into Mexico and then, hopefully, into the United States.

In an age of peoples displaced due to wars and catastrophes, and controversy over immigration issues, this title serves as a reminder of the reasons why many leave their countries for the dream and promise of America. The Only Road, a Pura Belpre Honor Book, reminds the reader that sometimes flight is the only option, and that love, at times, demands great sacrifices.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children, and Their Holy Dog / by Adam Gidwitz and Illustrated by Hatem Aly. 9.28.2017

Dutton Children’s Books ISBN 9780525426165

YA Grades 4-8 Rating: 4

The Inquisitor’s Tale centers around three children: Jeanne, William, and Jacob. These adventurers have been joined by circumstances and forged together by resolve. Along with a dog named Gwenforte, they are on a mission to stop the King of France. The time is the 13th century, and superstition and suspicion are rife. During their adventure, the children find that purported enemies are friends and some posing as friends are truly enemies. There are intrigue, excitement, danger, a good story, and a few twists and turns along the way. The children also find that not exactly fitting in may not be the worst thing in the world–and that being different is what helps you stand out and make a difference.

Adam Gidwitz has written a tale with several likable characters. His research into the 13th century aids in placing this fictional story into its presumed historical context. There is a section in the back that shows the source of his inspiration for some of the characters in the story. The illustrations by Hatem Aly aid the reader in visualizing what is occurring in the story. The story teaches while remaining a story. This is both its great achievement and also its danger.

The book touches upon the issue of Christian-Jewish relations in the medieval period. This can be seen in the attempt in the book by the authorities to burn copies of the Jewish Talmud. It can also be observed in some of the statements by characters and the author about whom God will save. The reader will likely be thinking through their response to issues that occur in the story much as the characters do. Overall, this book was enjoyable and recommended for those who like adventure with a solid dash of history.

Michael Wilhelm, CLJ

Billy Graham: America’s Pastor / by Janet & Geoff Benge.  (Heroes of History) 9.27.2017

Emerald Books ISBN 9781624860249

YA Grades 5-8 Rating: 5

Part of the Heroes of History series, this biography for young people about evangelist Billy Graham is excellent. Beginning with his childhood as a 12-year-old still known to family and friends as Billy Frank, the authors take the readers through Billy’s life at home, in church and school, and then as a famous preacher of the Gospel. He was a small-town North Carolina boy who traveled the world and made friends with almost every famous person of the 20th century. He preached the message of salvation to over 200 million people in 185 countries, never agreeing to preach to a segregated crowd–a stance which had much to do with changes in civil rights in the United Sates as well as other countries of the world, such as South Africa.

The book also tells of Billy’s marriage to Ruth Bell, a missionary daughter who grew up in China, and their ensuing large family. At Ruth’s funeral in 2007, Billy assumed it would not be long before he joined his beloved wife in heaven. But at the writing of this review, Billy Graham is alive at 98 years of age.

The life story of Billy Graham, America’s foremost evangelist and also named as s National Treasure, is interesting but so much more than that. How God can use a person dedicated to Him is inspiring and encouraging to readers.

Ceil Carey, CLJ

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