Our Great Big Backyard/ by Laura Bush and Jenna Bush Hager; illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers. 5.19.2017

HarperCollins Children’s Books ISBN 9780062468352

PRI PS-Grade 3 Rating: 4

Former first lady Laura Bush and her daughter Jenna Bush Hager introduce the wonder of our national parks in Our Great Big Backyard.

Young Jane is planning to spend her summer watching movies and playing video games, until her parents announce “The Great American Road Trip” through some of America’s iconic parks. Initially Jane is too absorbed in her tablet to notice the passing scenery, but a meteor shower in Big Bend, Texas finally gets her attention.

As her family explores the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite, Jane comes to appreciate the beauty of the outdoors, swapping electronic games for real hands-on adventure (and even enjoys writing a postcard instead of sending an email to her friends).

Artist Jacqueline Rogers uses pen, ink, watercolor, gouache, and marker to produce lively scenes of the parks as well as busy images of a classic family car trip and a fun-to-study map inside the front and back covers. Rogers cleverly includes details from the children’s imagination, such as wearing moon suits as they traverse the desert and seeing a spaceship blasting out of Old Faithful.

With minimal text, Our Great Big Backyard is quickly paced and suited to early readers. It is hard to overlook Jane’s ill-mannered attitude at the beginning of the story (mom and dad allowing her to use a tablet while canoeing in the Everglades is also questionable!). Parents might use the opportunity to talk with children not only about our national parks and about traveling as a family, but about the distraction of electronics and the many other ways to have fun.

The publishing of Our Great Big Backyard was well-timed with the 2016 centennial of our national park system. The distinguished authors include a list of parks by state and several websites for further information.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

12 Children Who Changed the World / by Kenya McCullum. (Change Makers) 5.16.2017

12-Story Library ISBN 9781632351463

YA Grades 5-8 Rating: 4

12 Children Who Changed the World is one of six books in 12-Story Library’s Change Makers series for middle grade readers.

This small format book introduces 12 remarkable youth, some famous (Anne Frank) and some lesser-known (Samantha Smith), from ancient times (King Tut and Joan of Arc) to modern (education advocate Malala Yousafzai). All achieved a place in history by being leaders, challengers, and creators of change.

Six girls and six boys are featured for their involvement with issues including apartheid, the holocaust, racism, AIDS, and child labor. Others have made enduring contributions to math (Blaise Pascal) and music (Wolfgang Mozart).

Author Kenya McCullum provides engaging biographical details, along with significant facts and related social and cultural background. Each of the 12 children is presented over two pages highlighted with photographs.Helpful extras include “Think About It” questions, a glossary, and a list of books and internet resources. Readers are invited to “go beyond the book” for additional content on the publisher’s website.

12 Children Who Changed the World would be a compelling volume for a home or classroom library, manageable for younger readers, but with a range of topics that may be more suited to grades 5 and above.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Turning Points in History series / by Lois Sepahban and by Angie Smibert. 5.15.2017

12 Incredible Facts about the D-Day Invasion / by Lois Sepahban. (Turning Points in History)

12-Story Library ISBN 9781632351289

12 Incredible Facts about the Moon Landing / by Angie Smibert. (Turning Points in History)

12-Story Library ISBN 9781632351302

YA Grades 5-8 Rating: 5

12 Incredible Facts about the D-Day Invasion and 12 Incredible Facts about the Moon Landing are two of eight books in 12-Story Library’s Turning Points in History series for middle grade readers. These small format books provide historical and political background, along with significant dates, places, people, and details. Each of the 12 “incredible facts” is expanded over two pages of compelling information, highlighted by related sidebars, maps, and photographs.

Lois Sepahban’s 12 Incredible Facts about the D-Day Invasion presents events leading up to the D-Day Invasion, the planning and strategy, the battle itself, and the aftermath. Contemporary photos illustrate wartime conditions including weaponry and the holding of prisoners.

Angie Smibert’s 12 Incredible Facts about the Moon Landing reviews the “space race,” the early U.S. space program, and the Apollo missions. Both triumphs and tragedies are included, along with thoughts about what the moon landing meant for America.

Each volume offers a great synopsis of a significant event in U.S. history, jam-packed with facts and figures, eye-catching page design, and helpful extras including a list of key dates, glossary, and references. The publisher also offers interactive content, videos, and updates on its website.

The Turning Points in History series would be well-suited to home or school reading. These concise books are manageable for younger history buffs, yet there is enough depth to the material to elevate the reading level for older students.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

The Lion Storyteller Book of Parables / by Bob Hartman; illustrated by Krisztina Kállai Nagy. (Lion Storyteller Series) 4.25.2017

Lion Children’s Books ISBN 9780745964461

PRI K-Grade 5 Rating: 5

The Lion Storyteller Book of Parables presents 26 of Jesus’s parables retold in illustrated storybook format.

Author Bob Hartman prefaces the book with an explanation of what the parables are, how Jesus used them in His teaching, and how one can still listen for their meaning. Hartman invites adults to share these lessons with their children and provides ideas for group discussion at the end of the book.

Each parable is concisely told in one to four pages, with the first paragraph setting the stage and the final few lines summarizing the message. Hartman’s use of descriptive and conversational language keeps the content alive and relatable. Children will be easily engaged, whether as readers or listeners.

Wonderful bright artwork by Krisztina Kállai Nagy invigorates the pages. The gestures and facial expressions of her characters are delightful; even the animals seem to have personality. A final scene shows Jesus surrounded by a group of attentive children—a perfect image of the spirit of the parables.

The book’s table of contents includes the biblical references for each story. The Lion Storyteller Book of Parables would be a treasured gift for a child and a lasting addition to the family bookshelf.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Why Am I Here? / by Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen & Akin Duzakin. 4.17.2017

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers ISBN 9780802854773

PRI K-Grade 3 Rating: 4

In Why Am I Here? by Ørbeck-Nilssen & Akin Duzakin, a young girl ponders why and how a person is born in the exact place he or she exists rather than a number of other places that could have been possible in this great big world. The child wonders how she might have been different or the same if born in, for example, a bustling city or a dry desert, or if she had grown up in a country constantly at war. What would life be like and would she still have these same questions? Does anyone have the answers she seeks?

The focus–or rather theme–of this book is as old as time itself and as complex as the most intricate workings of the universe. The meaning of life, and of one’s very existence and purpose, have been reflected upon by some of the greatest philosophers of history. Yet, here the authors put such contemplations into thoughts that elementary children can understand and relate to. Much of the text consists of questions. As the girl reflects upon her questions about life, she never really comes to an absolute answer, though she draws some possible conclusions or suggestions. Ultimately, this allows the book to be a springboard for helping children consider life, purpose, identity, and belonging, without fully influencing their final conclusions, leaving that to the gentle, loving guidance of parents and guardians, as well as the child’s own feelings and convictions.

The text itself appears on a clean white background, drawing the reader’s eyes to the corresponding page’s beautiful illustrations. Overall, this book is a short, contemplative read that will inevitably lead to valuable conversation and reflection for young and old to share in together.

Justina McBride, CLJ

Psalm Book: Prayers and Poems for Kids / edited by Naomi J. Krueger; illustrated by Peter Grosshauser. (Spark Story Bible) 4.3.2017

Spark House Family ISBN 9781506417684

PRI K-Grade 5 Rating: 4

Psalm Book: Prayers and Poems for Kids is an illustrated collection of 50 prayers, worded and compiled for young readers.

Nine authors contributed to this 2017 Junior Library Guild Selection, edited by Naomi J. Krueger and organized into four chapters: Prayers of Morning and Evening, Prayers of Praise, Prayers of Comfort, and Prayers of Creation. Each short prayer is titled, referenced to a psalm, and accompanied by an illustration. The prayers reflect a range of thoughts, emotions, and situations.

Imbedded sparkles on the book’s cover suggest that something really special is inside! Cartoon-style illustrations by Peter Grosshauser add brightness and activity to the pages; a friendly green snake playfully appears throughout. The readability and length of the prayers are right on target for children.

A Message for Kids” explains what the psalms are, where to find them in the Bible, and why they are such an expressive part of prayer. “A Message for Grown-ups” encourages parents to help their children engage with the material. Blank pages at the end of the book are included for readers to write their own notes or prayers.

With an intended grade school audience, Psalm Book: Prayers and Poems for Kids offers simple, succinct prayers that children can share and understand. The book’s well-organized format and small size make it the perfect travel companion or bedside devotional.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

The Prince Warriors series / by Priscilla Shirer and Gina Detwiler. 3.31.2017

The Prince Warriors / by Priscilla Shirer and Gina Detwiler. (The Prince Warriors, 1)

B&H Kids ISBN 9781433690198

The Prince Warriors and the Unseen Invasion / by Priscilla Shirer and Gina Detwiler. (The Prince Warriors, 2)

B&H Kids ISBN 9781433690204

The Prince Warriors and the Sword of Rhema / by Priscilla Shirer and Gina Detwiler. (The Prince Warriors, 3)

B&H Kids ISBN 9781433690211

INT Grades 3-6 Rating: 4

Priscilla Shirer and Gina Detwiler co-authored this fiction series for children ages 8-12 years old. Xavier and Evan are brothers and used to fighting each other. Now they discover the real battle is in the spiritual realm, and they have been called to fight it using the armor of God.

In The Prince Warriors, Xavier and Evan find themselves in a hidden realm (Ahoratos) where some friends join them, and they learn under the tutelage of Ruwach what it means to be Prince Warriors. He directs them in their first danger-filled adventure and warns them not to take anything from Ahoratos back to their world. Will they defeat the enemy in their first battle with him? What happens when one of them forgets Ruwach’s warning?

In The Prince Warriors and the Unseen Invasion, they face new weapons from the enemy, ones they never even imagined. They are given more armor to help them face the deadly Olethron. Have they learned their lessons well? What about the consequence of those seemingly harmless decisions that went against Ruwach’s instructions? Will that cost them the battle?

In The Prince Warriors and the Sword of Rhema, the Prince Warriors finally receive their long-awaited swords, promised to them when they first began their training in Ahoratos. Now they must face the enemy for the final battle to stop him. Will their swords give them victory? Will they recognize the traitor in their midst?

Gina Detwiler and Priscilla Shirer, author of several best-selling adult non-fiction books, do an excellent job of capturing the voice of the children in this new series. They tackle the non-fiction topic of spiritual warfare through the use of fantasy fiction to reach their target audience. More character development than plot development, the series is an easy read for young readers, filled with adventure, choices, consequences of wrong choices, danger, and wisdom gained from experience. Both boys and girls alike will enjoy this series. Loosely based on Ephesians 6:10-18, the series highlights the armor of God and its application in spiritual warfare.

Recommended for school and public libraries. The authors have also created an app for smartphones and a 365-day devotional (Unseen: The Prince Warriors 365 Devotional)

for their young readers, based on the series.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

Robo Tales series / by Jill Williamson and Luke Williamson. 3.29.2017

Tinker / by Jill Williamson and Luke Williamson. (Robo Tales, 1)

Novel Kids Press ISBN 9780996294508

INT Grades 4-5 Rating: 3

Mardok and the Seven Exiles / by Jill Williamson and Luke Williamson. (Robo Tales, 2)

Novel Kids Press ISBN 9780996294522

INT Grades 4-5 Rating: 4

Award-winning author Jill Williamson and her son Luke Williamson co-author this series aimed at young readers, featuring a robotic dog.

In Tinker, 13-year-old Tinker lives with his uncle and two cousins, Grezzer and Ratch, on the planet Kitz. Although his uncle owns the repair shop, Tinker does most of the work. When the Invention Institute holds a Recycle Race, Tinker builds an airbike to compete against his cousins. They sabotage his entry, and a robot dog named Robo helps him fix his entry in time. Who will win the Race and the coveted apprenticeship at the Invention Institute?

In Mardok and the Seven Exiles, Robo flies to the moon Relo on his way to President Cassian. Cadet Riv Mardok is asked by General Gruss to hunt down the Ice Beast. He eagerly accepts the quest but finds himself trapped in a deep pit in the forest. When he calls for help, it is Robo to the rescue. Together with the other exiles, they pursue the Ice Beast, discovering who is behind the strange things happening at the Space Force Military Academy. Can they stop him before Robo flies off to the President?

Ms. Williamson and her son pen convincing stories about Robo and his adventures. It is hard to believe that a robot dog is the main character in these tales, but somehow it works. Williamson used illustrations from a number of young artists, ages 10-15.

Although self-published, these books will appeal to its intended audience. The futuristic spin on a Cinderella story (Tinker) and Snow White (Mardok and the Seven Exiles) will delight readers. In light of the Makerspace movement in libraries, this reviewer recommends Tinker for book clubs.

Recommended for public and school libraries. The third book in the series, The Tiny Cyborg, will be available in 2018.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

The Great Shelby Holmes / by Elizabeth Eulberg. 3.14.2017

Bloomsbury     ISBN 9781681190518

MS     Grades 3-7     Rating: 4

Army brat John Watson thinks writing fiction was more exciting than his life–until he moves to Harlem and meets Shelby Holmes. After Shelby’s science experiment interrupts John’s moving day, his curiosity and desire for friendship get the better of him. After tagging along with Shelby on an errand, John realizes that his scientist neighbor is actually a junior sleuth–and no amateur at that. It seems like all of New York City knows her name!

Because of Shelby’s reputation, it’s no surprise that when Daisy (the award-winning dog) goes missing, Detective Holmes is on the case. Shelby is no people-person, and Daisy’s family’s emotions are running high before the next competition. She needs outside help to solve the case. But Shelby doesn’t have friends; she has contacts. Can Shelby find the pooch on her own before the big show? Or will she need to trust John in order to break the case?

Children of all ages will love Elizabeth Eulberg’s version of Sherlock Holmes. With a new twist on the classic story, Eulberg comedically sends these two characters to middle school. Just like Sherlock, Shelby is socially awkward and likes to work alone. John, like Dr. Watson, follows the detective out of curiosity. Their adventure leads them to the truth of friendship.

Thanks to John’s personal and journal-like tone in narrating the story, kids will get to experience the case and the peculiar Shelby Holmes up close. Kids can follow John’s thoughts and guess who was the pup-snatcher. The only problem is that Shelby is way more perceptive than John, so readers won’t get all the clues. But it’s still fun for them to guess who the culprit is based on the clues available.

Rebecca Schriner, CLJ

At Night / by Helga Bansch. 3.13.2017

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers ISBN 9780802854711

PRI PS-Grade 1 Rating: 4

Late at night, animals and little boys and girls alike are asleep in their own special beds. The bats are hanging upside down in their caves, the birds are hunkered down in their nests, and the leopards are stretched out in the trees, while boys and girls are tucked snuggly under the covers of their beds. All seems to be in order, but what would happen if the night were suddenly turned upside down? Would rabbits hang in caves, while dogs snore in trees?

At Night by Helga Bansch is an amusing tale of a normal night turned upside down with wild imaginings, a perfect bedtime read. The book is divided in half, portraying two alternative nights; the first with everyone in their rightful beds and the second with silly mix-ups, like an elephant in a bird nest and a polar bear in a dog house. To read the second half, the book must be flipped over to the back cover and turned upside down, providing a clever and literal mirroring of the chaotic mix-ups in the alternative night scene. Children will enjoy the absurdity in this book, as well as the charming illustrations of animals wearing pajamas. Overall, this book is a lighthearted bedtime story that will help chase away nightmares, and hopefully encourage sweet and wildly imaginative dreaming.

Justina McBride, CLJ