Circle C Stepping Stones series / by Susan K. Marlow. 7.26.2017

Andi Saddles Up / by Susan K. Marlow. (Circle C Stepping Stones, 1)

Kregel ISBN 9780825444302

Andi Under the Big Top / by Susan K. Marlow. (Circle C Stepping Stones, 2)

Kregel ISBN 9780825444319

INT Grades 3-5 Rating: 3

Prolific children’s author Susan Marlow kicks off a new historical fiction series set in the Wild West in the late 1800s.

In Andi Saddles Up, nine-year-old Andi Carter wants to learn to do a trick on her palomino Taffy, but her older brother Chad doesn’t want her to do it. She disobeys her brother and injures herself, preventing her from riding for a month. Andi meets a new friend, Sadie, and they are caught up in a boundary quarrel between Andi’s brother and Sadie’s father. Will their friendship endure despite the fight between their families?

In Andi Under the Big Top, the circus comes to town and nine-year-old Andi can’t wait to see it, especially the bareback rider. She meets a young boy–Henry–selling concessions under the big top. When he tells her that he ran away from home to join the circus, she thinks he has the perfect life! But she learns his life with the circus is not as pleasant as she thinks. Problems develop when Andi wants to help him return home.

Marlow has written three historical fiction series for girls: Circle C Beginnings (ages 6-9), Circle C Stepping Stones (ages 7-10), Circle C Adventures (ages 9-13). She also has a series for boys: Goldtown Adventures (ages 8-12). The Circle C books follow Andrea “Andi” Carter at different ages and are set in California in the 1880s.

The faith element is light but present, and the books focus more on character than plot development. Marlow does a good job of telling the story and keeping young readers engaged. These would be a good addition to a home school library, a church library, or a school library.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

Stoner’s Boy: A Seckatary Hawkins Mystery / by Robert F. Schulkers. 7.6.2017

University Press of Kentucky ISBN 9780813167916

INT Grades 4-6 Rating: 4

In the early 1920s, Robert F. Schulkers created a series of 41 adventure stories built around the “Fair and Square Club.” The stories were first published in the Sunday edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper, then later syndicated in over 100 newspapers. Stoner’s Boy was originally published in 1921, and is the very first book in the series. This 2016 edition of Stoner’s Boy features an introduction by the author’s grandson Randy Schulkers, who explains that the riverbank boys exemplify “simple values of honesty, patriotism, loyalty to friends and family, and faith in God.”

The Fair and Square Club is located near the shore of a fictional Kentucky river, where the boys meet in a restored houseboat. At any one time, there are about a dozen boy members of the club. The club recorder is Seckatary Hawkins. His spelling is sometimes lacking (hence his misspelled title).

In this first book in the series, the club members are confronted with the shenanigans of a mysterious stranger, known as “Stoner’s Boy.” He secretly comes and goes, sneaking around the clubhouse and causing mischief in the ranks of the club. At one time, Stoner’s Boy even tries to set their clubhouse on fire. The club members are thrown into disarray, and must decide how to catch this interloper or at least protect their members from harm.

Each chapter in the book contains the journal entries penned by Hawkins. There is no meeting on Sunday, since the boys are at church or Sunday School. Each chapter concludes with some proposed action for the club members, and the line, “Which we did.”

Stoner’s Boy is a fun, wholesome adventure. The plot is quite tame by modern standards; no one uses drugs or even smokes, and none of the boys are seriously injured. Occasionally, the boys in the club start minor scuffles, which end quickly—usually with handshakes all around, or even a sing-along around the club organ. (Yes, the boys actually have an organ in their clubhouse.)

The adventures of the Fair and Square Club illustrate the values of friendship, loyalty, and forgiveness.

Chris Lawson, Bassocantor.com

Downside Up / by Richard Scrimger. 7.4.2017

Tundra Books ISBN 9781770498457

YA Grades 4-7 Rating: 3

Losing a loved one is never easy. Talking about it can be even harder. But finding a special place that makes the world right again can heal a hole in the heart.

Fred, a sixth grader, used to be happy and energetic, but now he’s often so sad that he doesn’t want to eat or get out of bed. All of that changes when, one day, he climbs down a sewer drain to retrieve a ball and finds himself in an upside down world, where everything feels right. He meets himself: the Fred whose family life is intact, and who has suffered no loss or heartache. When danger threatens his other self, it is Fred who rises to the challenge and helps to save the family and keep them together.

In Downside Up, Richard Scrimger creates an adventure into another realm that mirrors the experiences of children dealing with loss. The plot, filled with joy and wholeness, as well as danger and dragons, visualizes the emotional turmoil taking place within Fred. The story can encourage readers to verbalize their own pain, and help them to realize that they are not alone and that it’s okay to feel bad sometimes.

More importantly, Downside Up empowers the young to comprehend that they have the strength and resources within themselves to overcome and rise above all obstacles, sorrows, and tragedies.

Richard Scrimger’s book is an excellent stepping-stone for care-givers and children alike to discuss what happens when loved ones leave this earth.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

God’s Good News: Devotions from Billy Graham / by Billy Graham; illustrated by Scott Wakefield. 6.22.2017

Tommy Nelson ISBN 9780718006303

INT Grades K-6 Rating: 5

God’s Good News by noted Christian evangelist Billy Graham offers 74 illustrated Bible stories for young readers. Graham opens with an inspiring note inviting parents and children to read about God’s love and good news; he closes with a heartfelt prayer for his readers.

The stories are evenly divided between the Old and New Testaments, using scripture quotations from The New King James Version of the Bible. Brief italicized segments provide contextual information when needed, and accompanying each story is a related sidebar from Billy Graham offering additional details, questions to ponder, and spiritual “takeaways.”

For the very young, God’s Good News Bible Storybook is a wonderful introduction to events from the Bible. This is a book that children can grow up with: first by having a parent describe the stories depicted in the illustrations, later as independent readers with a fuller grasp of the actual text, and eventually as “tweens” re-reading their favorite stories and considering some of the author’s devotional messages.

Bright illustrations by Scott Wakefield are bold and active, capturing the history, drama, and awe of the subject matter. The artist adds visual interest and stimulates the imagination by showing scenes from varying perspectives–from inside the pit with Daniel, eye-level with Noah and a giraffe, gazing up at Moses atop the mountain.

God’s Good News would be a treasured gift at any age. This attractive book with its padded hard cover, embossed lettering, and almost 200 heavy pages, is practically destined to find an enduring place on a child’s bookshelf or nightstand!

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

God Made the Sun/ God Made the Moon / by Mary Manz Simon; illustrated by Lizzie Walkley. 6.16.2017

God Made the Sun/ by Mary Manz Simon; illustrated by Lizzie Walkley.

Worthy Kids/Ideals ISBN 9780824919801

God Made the Moon / by Mary Manz Simon; illustrated by Lizzie Walkley.

Worthy Kids/Ideals ISBN 9780824919818

PRI PS-K Rating: 5

God Made the Sun and God Made the Moon are two preschool board books by the team of Mary Manz Simon and Lizzie Walkley.

Celebrating God’s creation of the moon and sun, the two books encourage children to see these natural wonders as gifts from God. Simon’s sweet rhyming quatrains are lilting and memorable, showing how the moon and sun light up our world both day and night.

In God Made the Sun, a young boy plays outdoors with his friends, swims, and enjoys a picnic with his family. In God Made the Moon, a young girl catches fireflies, listens to the crickets, and stargazes before her cozy bedtime bath and story.

Lizzie Walkley’s tender illustrations are brightly rendered, friendly, and heartwarming. The scenes are happy and loving, filled with charming details that toddlers will love to spot.

God Made the Sun and God Made the Moon are ideal first books for the very young. Sun and moon cut-outs on the cover and pages add visual and tactile interest for little ones. The small sturdy size (and wonderful rounded corners) of these companion books make them perfect for tucking into a stroller, diaper bag, or backpack.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Good Night Owl / written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli. 6.15.2017

Hyperion ISBN 9781484712757

PRI PS-Grade 2 Rating: 4

A noise in the house is keeping Owl up and he just can’t find the source, in Greg Pizzoli’s Good Night Owl, a 2017 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book.

It’s not someone at the door, the wind, a creaky cupboard, or anything under the floorboards. The humor and drama in each scene escalate as Owl tears his little house apart, but the tiny squeak persists.

The source of the sound is obvious to the reader, which adds to the comedy. Preschoolers will enjoy the increasingly outrageous storyline, which has Owl using some extreme methods to get some peace and quiet. Author/illustrator Greg Pizzoli’s muted colors evoke the feeling of nighttime in a cozy home. His wide-eyed Owl, snuggled under a patchwork quilt, is adorable.

Good Night Owl is a sweet picture book that will entertain children and amuse anyone who has ever been forced out of bed by a noise in the night.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

We Are Growing / by Laurie Keller. 6.14.2017

Hyperion ISBN 9781484726358

PRI PS-Grade 2 Rating: 4

Something exciting is happening! The grass is starting to grow and as a result, each blade of grass is discovering his or her unique characteristics. One blade is the tallest, while another is the curliest, and another still the silliest. Everyone finds they are the something-est–everyone, that is, except Walt. No one can seem to find anything special about Walt, especially Walt himself. It will take the minor catastrophe of a buzzing lawn mower for Walt to finally figure out what makes him special.

With simple sentences, patterned dialogue, and repetitive phrasing that will entice emergent readers, We Are Growing by Laurie Keller has rightfully earned its standing as the 2017 medal winner of the Geisel Award. The colorful speech bubbles and varying bolded font make reading a visual delight. The humorous illustrations add characterization, plot detail, and tone to the simple text. This book is a great tool for introducing superlative words and teaching dialogue, both of which could inspire some fun classroom activities. The underlying theme that everyone is special for their own unique characteristics and abilities adds depth to an otherwise silly, lighthearted read. Overall, this is an entertaining book that young readers will enjoy hearing or reading many times over.

Justina McBride, CLJ

Juana and Lucas / written and illustrated by Juana Medina. 6.13.2017

Candlewick Press ISBN 9780763672089

INT Grades 3-4 Rating: 5

Juana and Lucas introduces a vivacious little girl, Juana, who loves her life. She loves drawing. She loves her hometown, Bogatá, Columbia. She loves and admires her mother. She loves her grandparents, her friend Juli, and her Tia Cris. She especially loves Lucas, her dog. But a challenge has entered her happy world. She is expected to learn English. She has to pronounce “th” and figure out how to tell the difference between read and read, and so many other elements of the English language, and she simply doesn’t understand how English relates to her Spanish-speaking world. She asks various friends and family members who unsuccessfully attempt to help her understand how speaking and understanding English would be helpful. The best motivation to learn English comes when poor grades could possibly prevent Juana from taking a trip to Spaceland in the United States. Will she be able to cram all those words and sounds in the space between her pigtails, or is it too late to raise her grades?

In this chapter book, Juana Medina’s writing paints the picture of a fun-loving, interesting young girl, and Medina’s cartoonish illustrations also bring little Juana to life. Written in first person, Juana and Lucas reads like a conversation with a third grader. Juana’s character grows throughout the book as she expands her knowledge. Her loving family surrounds her with support and encouragement. Familiar Spanish words are lightly sprinkled throughout, giving English readers a small taste of what Juana experiences while learning a different language. Occasionally different size fonts and even unusual word direction are employed to illustrate the size of Juana’s thoughts or her feelings. The mostly cheerful Juana brightens any room she walks in–even the reader’s living room. Even though learning English presents a challenge, once she has, she wonders, “…if there will be enough espacio between my pigtails for French and Chinese and Italian and Farsi and Portuguese and all the other languages. Maybe it’s time to…ask Lucas what he thinks about that.” (p. 89)

Kristina Wolcott, CLJ

Jumping Off Library Shelves: A Book of Poems / selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins. 6.8.2017

WordSong ISBN 9781590789247

PRI PS-Grade 3 Rating: 5

Jumping Off Library Shelves is a delight! With 15 library poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and written by such well-known author poets as Nikki Grimes and Jane Yolen, it covers library cards and their magic, librarians who read your mind because they know just the perfect book for you, canine reading buddies, literary dreams when you use your book for a pillow, and even dictionaries, story times, and the Internet.

The poems are written using different literary devices and illustrated very imaginatively–each one makes readers smile and nod their heads in agreement.

In the words of Michelle Kruegger in “At the Library”:

I’ve found a treasure,
a literal pleasure.

a book
I’ve not read
before.

For kids or adults, this book is a treasure and the poems will be enjoyed again and again.

Ceil Carey, CLJ

The Princess and the Warrior: The Tale of Two Volcanoes / by Duncan Tonatiuh. 6.7.2017

Abrams ISBN 9781419721304

PRI PK–Grade 3 Rating: 4

Children will love the lore that author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh shares in his Pura Belpré award-winning book, The Princess and the Warrior: The Tale of Two Volcanoes. The origin story of Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, two volcanoes that overlook Mexico City, is a tragic love story.

This story begins with the Aztec princess Izta and a common warrior, Popoca. While the princess has many suitors, Popoca is the only man who understands her love for the common people. The two are supposed to be married after Popoca defeats the neighboring kingdom’s ruler. In a cruel twist of events, Izta is tricked into believing her lover is dead and drinking a sleeping potion to ease her pain. When Popoca returns, he cannot wake his princess.

Children in Mexico are still told this story today to explain why only one of these volcanoes erupts: Popocatépetl is still trying to wake his dormant lover, Iztaccíhuatl.

While the story of Izta and Popoca draws on Atzec history, Tonatiuh discusses in his author’s note that the historical events as depicted in the legend may be inaccurate. Oral tradition has influenced this story enough that Tonatiuh chose to share his own variation of the events.

Tonatiuh enhances the interest of his story by using some Nahuatl words. This language would have been the language originally spoken by the Aztec people and has influenced much Spanish today. Children can visit the glossary in the back of the book for translations and pronunciation help, or they can find context clues in the illustrations to discover the meanings for themselves. The unique and colorful illustrations were inspired by those on Mixtec codices, giving this story the feel of an authentic legend.

Rebecca Schriner, CLJ