The Faith that God Built series / by Gary Bower; illustrated by Barbara Chotiner. 3.14.2018

The Beautiful Garden of Eden / by Gary Bower; illustrated by Barbara Chotiner. (The Faith that God Built)

Tyndale Kids ISBN 9781496417435

A Patch on the Peak of Ararat / by Gary Bower; illustrated by Barbara Chotiner. (The Faith that God Built)

Tyndale Kids ISBN 9781496417442

The Hurry Up Exit from Egypt / by Gary Bower; illustrated by Barbara Chotiner. (The Faith that God Built)

Tyndale Kids ISBN 9781496417459

The Frightening Philippi Jail / by Gary Bower; illustrated by Barbara Chotiner. (The Faith that God Built)

Tyndale KidsISBN 9781496417503

PRI Grades K-4 Rating: 4

The Beautiful Garden of Eden, A Patch on the Peak of Ararat, The Hurry Up Exit from Egypt, and The Frightening Philippi Jail are four titles in the Faith that God Built series by the author/illustrator team of Gary Bower and Barbara Chotiner.

These hardcover children’s books retell the Bible stories of Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, the Israelites’ flight from Egypt, and the imprisonment of Silas and Paul. Vivid artwork by Barbara Chotiner enlivens the action, immersing young readers amidst the people, animals, and setting of each story. The flat, folk-art style is eye-catching and dramatic, particularly the crowded, concluding scenes. Gary Bower uses clever rhyming lines of text that repeat and build with theatrical flair. The vocabulary is fresh and alive, a wonderful blend of descriptive phrases, uncommon adjectives, alliteration, personification, and a touch of humor.

The Bible is introduced as the source of each story and a verse from Scripture (New Living Translation) is provided. The Beautiful Garden of Eden, A Patch on the Peak of Ararat, The Hurry Up Exit from Egypt, and The Frightening Philippi Jail are uniquely presented and especially well-suited to being read aloud.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Leather Shoe Charlie / by Gyeong-hwa Kim; illustrated by Anna Balbusso & Elena Balbusso. 3.12.2018

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers ISBN 9780802854735

INT Grades 2-5 Rating: 3

Charlie prizes the leather shoes his grandfather made for him. He even hopes to one day become a cobbler too. But something has changed in the English village where he lives, causing many to move away and leaving few people to buy his grandfather’s shoes.

When Charlie and his family also depart and relocate to the city of Manchester, he finds himself not only in unfamiliar surroundings but at a crossroads. He must decide whether to keep or to give up his comfortable leather shoes.

Leather Shoe Charlie, narrated from a child’s point of view, introduces young readers to the Industrial Revolution and globalization. The brown and grey color scheme by illustrators Anna and Elena Balbusso helps the reader to understand Charlie’s feelings about the changes occurring in society and in his family. At the end of the story, Gyeong-hwa Kim provides an easy-to-understand description of these movements and how they affected working and living conditions. Also included are Key Terms and Concepts, a map and pie chart, and a Timeline of Events; all of which serve to enhance comprehension and encourage further exploration of the topics.

Embedded in Leather Shoe Charlie, mainly a story of the changes that mechanized production and the growth of factories ushered in, lies a treasure. Despite the flux and shift that transform Charlie’s world, Gyeong-hwa Kim skillfully establishes a firm foundation for him. The choice he makes regarding his shoes demonstrates that though the world may change, family and love always remain constant and unchanging.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

The Story Travelers Bible / by Tracey Madder; illustrated by Tim Crecelius. 2.2.2018

Tyndale Kids ISBN: 9781496409157

PRI K-Grade 4 Rating: 4

The Story Travelers Bible by Tracey Madder presents Bible stories in a narrative format as three students time travel to learn about God’s Word.

School friends Lana, Griffin, and Munch are transported aboard a mysterious bus to witness 85 events of the New and Old Testaments. The Story Travelers Bible takes the trio–and their readers–on an epic journey from Genesis through Revelation.

Each Bible story includes its scriptural reference as well as sidebars with related historical/geographic information and fun facts. Added features invite readers to “Build Your Faith!”, “Think About It!”, or “Park Here!” to read and memorize a verse (New Living Translation). Author Tracey Madder infuses every chapter with dialogue and vivid descriptions of the setting, action, and emotion. In parallel, the three modern-day travelers talk about and react to what they are seeing.

The Story Travelers Bible is a story-within-a-story that encourages children to know God by reading His Word. The framework of the time-traveling students is a quirky twist that may be entertaining to some readers but distracting to others.

Cartoon-style illustrations by Tim Crecelius fill the pages and enhance the presentation. This is a hefty (350+ pages!) book with a ton of content and reading but the storytelling voice and expressive drawings work well together. The many facets of the book should foster its appeal to both young and more mature readers.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Where Does Love Hide? / by Mary Manz Simon; illustrated by Hannah Wood. 2.1.2018

Tyndale Kids ISBN 9781496411686

PRI PS-K Rating: 5

Where Does Love Hide? is a lift-the-flap board book by Mary Manz Simon that demonstrates simple ways to share God’s love.

Six colorful scenes show that love is not really hiding at all, but instead is all around us if we just know where to look! Readers unfold the flaps to reveal everyday examples: sharing toys, helping with a chore, making a new friend. Each flap also contains a short verse from Scripture pertaining to loving, respecting, and serving one other.

The enduring messages are sweet and relevant, making Where Does Love Hide? a wonderful way to introduce very young children to God’s word. Hannah Wood’s cheerful illustrations are like comfort food, filled with the gentle familiarity of cookies, teddy bears, building blocks, and sandcastles.

This sturdy book should withstand many readings and its small size is perfect for taking along.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Little Francis Falls Asleep / written and illustrated by Pip Craighead. 1.12.2018

Patrol ISBN 9780999083505

PRI PS-Grade 2 Rating: 4

Little Francis Falls Asleep is a beautifully illustrated theological bedtime story.

Francis is a little boy who can’t seem to go to sleep. He wanders into the night looking for tips on how to do so, but all the suggestions he gets—from a tree, a bird, and the moon—fail him. He’s still awake. He can’t find rest.

It isn’t until he beholds God’s providential care and rule over all nature—until he sees the heavens declaring the glory of God and the sky above proclaiming his handiwork (Psalm 19:1)—that Francis can rest easy. A small page offering reflections for parents concludes the book.

Pip Craighead’s story is richly Christian and his illustrations are whimsical and skillful, with a distinctive visual style. Patrol publishes quality books with excellent attention to detail and solid craftsmanship.

Mark L. Ward, Jr., CLJ

Jada Jones series / Kelly Starling Lyons 12.29.2017

Rock Star, / Kelly Starling Lyons (Jada Jones, 1)

Penguin Workshop ISBN 9780448487519

Class Act / Kelly Starling Lyons (Jada Jones, 2)

Penguin Workshop ISBN 9780451534279

INT Grades 1-3 Rating: 4

Author Kelly Starling Lyons kicks off a new realistic fiction series for young readers, featuring fourth grader Jada Jones.

In Rock Star, Jada Jones misses her best friend Mari who moved away that summer. When her teacher assigns a group project on rocks and minerals, she is thrilled because rocks are her passion. But finding friends to work with who understand her can be a challenge. Will she rock the assignment and make new friends in the process?

In Class Act, Jada is back with another school story–this time she is running for student council! Being a candidate is challenging when others pressure her to make promises she can’t keep. The last straw is a rumor spread about her fear of public speaking. Who can she trust? Will she lose friends as a result of the election?

Lyons creates a likeable character in Jada Jones. She hits just the right note of spunk without being sassy to adults, and just the right note of vulnerability without being weak. Jada is an African-American fourth grader who appeals to young readers. She has her struggles but her stories promote good values such as believe in yourself, say no to drama, and try to fix your mistakes. Most of all, her stories show that to have a friend, one must be a friend.

Lyons’ books are delightfully illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton in these easy-to-read chapter books. Readers in first through third grades will enjoy meeting Jada and her friends!

Recommended for school and public libraries. Fans of “Katie Woo” and “Ivy and Bean” will welcome this new series.

Carol R. Gehringer,

Glimmer Girls series / by Natalie Grant. 12.20.2017

London Art Chase / by Natalie Grant. (Glimmer Girls, 1)

ZonderKidz ISBN 9780310752653

A Dolphin Wish / by Natalie Grant. (Glimmer Girls, 2)

ZonderKidz ISBN 9780310752530

Miracle in Music City / by Natalie Grant. (Glimmer Girls, 3)

ZonderKidz ISBN 9780310752509

Light Up New York / by Natalie Grant. (Glimmer Girls, 4)

ZonderKidz ISBN 9780310752745

INT Grades 3-6 Rating: 4

Musician Natalie Grant pens her Glimmer Girls series for young girls, featuring the adventures of twins Mia and Maddie and their little sister Lulu.

In London Art Chase, the Glimmer girls travel to London to watch their singer mom, Gloria Glimmer, perform at a concert. During their sightseeing at the National Gallery, they stumble upon a mystery–a stolen painting. Maddie and her sisters track the clues throughout London to recover the stolen artwork.

In A Dolphin Wish, the Glimmer family is in San Diego. When they visit a nearby water park, the girls overhear animal workers discussing the problem of animals not staying in their habitats. The girls revisit the sea park to look for clues. Mia leads the adventure to keep the animals safe.

In Miracle in Music City, singer Gloria Glimmer wants her daughters to think of othersneeds. She gets them involved in an annual benefit and auction. The girls are involved in more than just raising money–they have another mystery to solve!

In Light Up New York, the Glimmer family is sightseeing while in New York for a benefit concert. As usual, the girls stumble across another mystery, and deal with sibling rivalry and random acts of kindness.

Grant pens a delightful series for young readers with a family similar to her own (she has twins and a younger daughter). The faith element is very evident, yet it is not preachy. The family prays together and tries to treat one another with kindness. The family motto is: “Glimmer Girls, Sparkle & Shine, But most of all, Be kind.” In each book, the girls investigate a mystery they stumble across. Together they learn lessons about being good friends, telling the truth, and following their instincts. The characters are appealing, the dialogue is genuine, and the storytelling is lively.

Recommended for school and church libraries.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

A Night of Great Joy / by Mary Engelbreit. 12.13.2017

Zonderkidz ISBN 9780310743545

PRI PS-Grade 2 Rating: 4

In A Night of Great Joy, Mary Engelbreit uses her distinct illustrative style combined with simple text to retell the Nativity story for a primary audience. The illustrations depict a children’s Christmas pageant, complete with wooden props, paper stars hanging from string, a red wagon, children dressed in animal costumes, a rocking horse, and stuffed animals. This provides an engaging backdrop for the story of Christ’s birth, one that may inspire its young reader audience to recreate.

From Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay to angels appearing to the shepherds and the wise men following a bright star, the complete story unfolds in color-rich scenes visually mirroring the text, capturing both eyes and ears. The text on each page ranges from one to five sentences, appearing in varying font size with some color to create interest; however, the text does not detract from the full-page illustrations.

A subtle humor is sparingly added as some of the illustrations portray the unscripted actions of a few of the child actors, such as fighting over a stuffed sheep or a young cow falling asleep on stage. Children will enjoy pointing these out, while adults will find this touch of authenticity endearing. Overall, this is a charming rendition of the Christmas story that brings the joy of that wondrous night to life.

Justina McBride, CLJ

The Story of Passover / by Rabbi Francis Barry Silberg; illustrated by Stephanie McFetridge Britt. 12.4.2017

Worthy Publishing ISBN 9780824916527

PRI Grades 2-5 Rating: 3

Writing for adults about important topics–like faith–can be challenging, and introducing children to important events and intangible ideas requires a wholly different set of skills. In The Story of Passover, Rabbi Francis Barry Silberg uses the simplicity of a board book to make a detailed and complex story comprehensible to both children and adults of all ages and beliefs.

Rabbi Silberg re-tells the story of the Exodus: a significant period in history where God demonstrates wonders and plagues in Egypt in order to force Pharaoh to release the Jewish people from slavery. With easy-to-understand vocabulary and short sentences, he holds the reader’s attention in light suspense that keeps them asking, “What happens next?” Illustrations by Stephanie McFetridge Britt provide realistic artwork, though the soft pastels and light blues that predominate prevent the segment on the ten plagues from being frightening.

The Story of Passover assumes some prior knowledge of the biblical event, while vocabulary specific to the story (such as unleavened bread, worship, and children of Israel) may require adult explanation. While the story does not contain the usual sound patterns and rhymes common to many board books, it engages the child at a higher thinking level where each sentence leads naturally into the “why?” questions that help children to create meaning and that enhance deeper understanding.

Rabbi Silberg’s main skill lies in his ability to touch the inherent curiosity and imagination of a child in order to guide them into the realm of the unseen and of faith.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

Currents / by Jane Petrlik Smolik. 11.1.2017

Charlesbridge ISBN 9781580896481

INT Grades 4-6 Rating: 4

On a planation in Virginia, 11-year-old Bones Brewster has spent her life a slave, serving a harsh mistress, longing for freedom. When a series of circumstances occurs that leads to hope and heartache, she discovers something that no one can take away from her, while an old bottle set adrift a river may bring its own form of freedom.

An ocean away, Lady Bess Kent longs for adventure, to explore the world as her father does far away from her manipulative step-mother. When she discovers a bottle that has washed up on her English shores, its mysterious contents provide an adventure all their own, as well as help in a time of need.

In Boston, Massachusetts, Mary Margaret Casey irons shoelaces for eight pennies a week and, in her free time, fills a journal with stories about life and the people around her. Though she would love to be a writer, few options are open to a poor Irish girl, especially when any spare funds are needed to help her sick sister. When a shiny bottle catches her eye, Mary finds a valuable treasure inside.

In Currents, author Jane Petrlik Smolik presents a historically rich tale of three young girls living miles and an ocean apart, but whose lives and stories are intertwined and impacted by one bottle set adrift in the James River. The stories flow seamlessly from one to the other, with little reoccurring details (such as Merry’s Museum Magazine and inspiring quotes from the philosopher Marcus Aurelius) that tie them further together and add historical authenticity. Black-and-white illustrations and brief descriptions signal the story shifts, and an epilogue at the end brings closure for both the characters and readers. Messages of courage, friendship, compassion, sacrifice, and forgiveness drift across the pages. Hard topics such as slavery and prejudices are presented with an age-appropriate honesty that stirs both outrage and empathy. A note of caution: there is a somewhat graphic description of a slave being beaten in the first story.

Justina McBride, CLJ