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, worthy2read.wordpress.com

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

In Plain Sight / written by Richard Jackson, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. 10.19.2017

Roaring Brook Press ISBN 9781626722552

PRI K-Grade 3 Rating: 5

Little Sophie finds missing items for her grandpa in the book, In Plain Sight. Sophie’s grandpa lives with Sophie and her parents. Every day when Sophie comes home from school, she helps grandpa find something that he “lost” during the day. Every so often he even has a treat for her, but the best treat of all is time spent with a man she loves.

Richard Jackson writes a sweet story, and Jerry Pinkney’s lovely illustrations made In Plain Sight a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book. With a few simple words, and a few detailed paintings, Jackson and Pinkney illustrate the love between the members of this family. Grandpa has a twinkle in his eye as he “loses” items each day, and part of the fun of reading this book is looking for the missing item that is hidden in the illustrations.

Kristina Wolcott, CLJ

Over the Ocean / written and illustrated by Taro Gomi. 10.13.2017

Chronicle Books ISBN 9781452145150

PRI PS-Grade 1 Rating: 5

A child gazes across the ocean and wonders what is on the other side in Taro Gomi’s Over the Ocean.

More ships? Big farms? Cities, small houses, and stars? Gomi’s bright illustrations show the reader all that the child can imagine: far-away people and animals, a fair with fun rides, a country made of ice, and perhaps even another boy or girl gazing back from the opposite shore.

A single boat moving across the water in the distance connects the vibrant scenes, which are rendered with clever detail and a richly-hued palette. The author/illustrator places the reader behind the child on the beach, as if sharing in his or her gentle contemplation.

This picture book was originally published in Japan in 1979 and, upon translation into English and release in the United States, received the 2017 Mildred L. Batchelder Award. With succinct text and a relatable theme, Over the Ocean is a soothing and thoroughly enjoyable read-aloud that speaks to the power of imagination and wonder.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

They All Saw a Cat / written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel. 10.10.2017

Chronicle Books ISBN 9781452150130

PRI PS-Grade 3 Rating: *5

A child and assorted animals show their individual perspectives in They All Saw a Cat, a Caldecott Honor Book written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel.

As a brown and tan cat wanders “through the world” it is viewed by a young boy and 11 different animals, each seeing the cat in a distinct way. For example, the boy sees a pet, the fox sees prey, the fish (through its bowl) sees a blurry pair of eyes, the mouse sees a giant monster, and the flea sees a mass of cat hair.

With simple rhyming and use of repetitive phrasing, They All Saw a Cat entertains with a lively, playful tone. Author/illustrator Brendan Wenzel delivers a wonderful amalgam of color, drama, and humor with each turn of the page. His drawings are a creative mix of paints, pastels, pencils, and digital art that yield a bounty of scenes from pastoral to bold. Even the inside cover pages are imaginatively conceived.

They All Saw a Cat shows that we all see the world through different eyes. At the conclusion of the book, the cat sees its own reflection in the water–a reminder that we also see ourselves from a unique point-of-view.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Giant Squid / by Candace Fleming; illustrated by Eric Rohmann. 9.29.2017

Roaring Brook Press ISBN 9786435995

PRI Grades 1-5 Rating: 5

A 2017 Robert F. Sibert Honor Book, Giant Squid is a picture book that will be enjoyed by readers of many ages. The text, although not rhyming, is written in a poetic manner and is both entertaining and informative. The illustrations of this elusive creature, mostly dark and mysterious, take readers right into the deep. No one had actually seen a live giant squid until 2012 so the information from this wonderful book is the latest and most up to date.

As with all good picture books covering a non-fiction subjects, Giant Squid includes a page of very informative facts along with a bibliography, sites on the internet for research, and a short list of other books about the giant squid.

Candace Fleming’s Giant Squid is highly recommended for school and public libraries.

Ceil Carey, CLJ