I Spy Bible / by Julia Stone; illustrated by Samantha Meredith. 1.11.2017

Lion Children’s Books ISBN 9780745965550

PRI Toddler-K Rating: 4

I Spy Bible is an interactive “seek and find” board book with scenes from 11 biblical events.

From Adam and Eve to the Resurrection, the colorful pages include brief text by Julia Stone and cute illustrations by Samantha Meredith. A “Can you spot” sidebar on each two-page spread shows six objects for readers to find in the picture.

This sturdy padded book with its very simplistic stories and fairly easy-to-spy challenges seems ideal for the very young. (A notation on the back cover deems it “not suitable for children under 12 months, but presumably the book can be safely managed with a caregiver!) I Spy Bible would be a fun way to introduce toddlers to Bible stories along with some expanded vocabulary words (“skittles”, “vulture”, “jackal”).

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

My Big Story Bible / by Josh Edwards; illustrated by Christine Tappin. 1.6.2017

Lion Hudson ISBN 9781781282038

PRI PS-K Rating: 4

My Big Story Bible introduces familiar events from the Bible in brief illustrated vignettes intended for preschool-age listeners.

Each story (20 from the Old Testament and 15 from the New Testament) is concisely told in a single paragraph, with a simple concluding sentence or question that summarizes a message (“Even the wind and waves listened to Jesus”) or stimulates a child’s imagination (“Why do you think Jesus is like a good shepherd?”). A version of “The Lord’s Prayer” is adapted from The Good News Bible and may differ from what some children already know.

Lively illustrations by Christine Tappi have a gentle, flat, folk art quality. Lots of activity in the pictures will keep little ones focused on the stories and characters. The eye-catching cover offers a glimpse of some of the stories inside.

My Big Story Bible is fairly small in size for a picture book but packs in a lot of content and can inspire young readers in a big way!

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

The Ology: Ancient Truths, Ever New / by Marty Machowski, illustrated by Andy McGuire. 1.3.2017

New Growth Press ISBN 9781942572282

INT Grades 1-6 Rating: 5

Though geared toward and intended to be used by and with children grades 1 to 6, The Ology: Ancient Truths, Ever New is a beginner’s theology book that will likely be treasured and used by parents, family members, and friends. Parts may also appeal to teens. The 8.5”x8.5,” inch-thick picture book uses story and art to make scriptural truth understandable and digestible to children. A glossary highlights important Bible words, and each of the 71 topics is listed as a question with a brief scriptural reference to offer a quick setting.

The many beautiful drawings cover basic points of the Christian faith. With 71 topics covered, there is much to savor in multiple settings and to come back to again and again. One plus in the discussion is that the Christian faith comes across as one gift, not as something subject to division among the different Protestant denominations. When pages such as those concentrating on baptism mention that different denominations have different views on when baptism should occur, it notes that all agree that salvation is through Jesus. Each of the topics appears on two to four pages of text and illustrations. Another plus is that, incorporated within the illustration pages are multiple Scripture references as evidence and clarification for each point. The range of discussion covers the theology of God, of People, of Sin, of the Promise and the Law, of Christ, of the Holy Spirit, of Adoption into God’s Family, of Change, of the Church, of the End Times and of God’s Word.

There is also a companion music CD to The Ology by SovereignGraceKids that offers worship music for the family. A helpful resource for older children would be Big Truths for Young Hearts by Bruce A. Ware.

Leroy Hommerding, CLJ

Seven and a Half Tons of Steel / by Janet Nolan, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. 1.2.2017

Peachtree ISBN 9781561459124

PRI Grades 1-5 Rating: 4

Seven and a Half Tons of Steel refers to a special navy ship, the USS New York. Following the events of September 11, 2001, the governor of New York gave the Navy a steel beam, weighing seven and a half tons, that was once inside one of the World Trade Towers. The beam was driven to a foundry in Louisiana where chippers, grinders, painters, and polishers worked on the beam. The construction metal workers toiled throughout Hurricane Katrina to turn it into the bow of the ship with the motto “Strength forged through sacrifice. Never forget.” Thus, the USS New York’s story reveals how something remarkable can emerge from devastating events like September 11 and the Hurricane. Facts and figures are presented after the main narrative.

Thomas Gonzalez’s full-page illustrations are powerful, with every page arrayed in bold palette colors. The tones convey moods and action–as for example, reds and yellows and orange move across the metalworking furnace, and black and gray clouds billow from the towers and streams of morning light radiate the hull of the ship.

The images of destruction are shown respectfully but with flair. Author Janet Nolan’s narrative offers only a few sentences about September 11 and Hurricane Katrina so children may need more detail on both of these events to truly grasp the significance of the story.

Leroy Hommerding, CLJ

Baby Wren and the Great Gift / Written by Sally Lloyd-Jones; illustrated by Jen Corace. 12.29.2016

Zonderkidz ISBN 9780310733898

PRI PS-Grade 1 Rating: 4

Baby Wren looks out at the world around her, full of the wonder of ring-tailed cats cartwheeling over the walls of tall rock ledges and brave eagles soaring high in a stormy sky. What could a little bird like her do to match the wonder around her? She has no tail, she cannot swim, and she is much too little to be brave like an eagle. As the baby wren continues to explore the beauty around her, will she despair over what she lacks or instead discover a special gift?

Baby Wren and the Great Gift by Sally Lloyd-Jones is an inspiring story of the wonder and beauty of the natural world as seen through the eyes of a newborn bird, who longs to be a part of it all but sees herself as miniscule in light of the other marvelous creatures. Yet through one glorious sight, the baby wren discovers her gift, finding her special purpose in God’s wondrous world. The story is told in a narrative fashion, the baby wren an apparent observer of all the beauty around her; however, there is a clear shift in perspective in the final two pages as the baby wren is then included in the description of the sights and sounds of the canyon. This shift from observer to participant mirrors the wren’s discovery of her place and part in creation.

The rich, earth-toned color scheme of the illustrations brings warmth to the text and delights the eyes. Overall, this picture book is a story of self-discovery and belonging, which leads to thankfulness and praise, and would pair well with The Sleepy Songbird by Suzanne Barton.

Justina McBride, CLJ

On That Christmas Night / by Lois Rock; illustrated by Alison Jay. 12.21.2016

Lion Children’s ISBN 9780745965888

PRI K-Grade 3 Rating: 4

On That Christmas Night by Lois Rock is a new picture book retelling of the nativity and the events which surrounded the birth of Jesus.

In addition to the familiar details of Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem and taking shelter in the stable, On That Christmas Night explains the reason for the journey and the later threat of King Herod.

Author Lois Rock imagines what the characters might have thought and said. Joseph is described as “busy in his workshop”, Mary “dreamed of the day when she would be Joseph’s bride”, and the townsfolk murmur, “Tut tut” and “Oh dear” when they learn that the unwed Mary will have a baby. The magi who later visit Jesus are inexplicably referred to simply as three strangers.

Soft oil paint illustrations by Alison Jay show an atypical portrait of biblical times: tidy cottages on rolling hills, windmills, and well-dressed villagers in colorful cloaks, stockings, and aprons. The pages are adorned with lovely tiny sketches of angels, flowers, and animals, evoking a feeling of life and joy with the birth of the savior.

Though both author and illustrator stray from a conventional presentation, there is a gentle tone of reverence and love throughout. A notation on the book jacket points to the gospels of Luke and Matthew for the biblical basis of the story. Suggested for ages 5-9, On That Christmas Night offers enough complexity in backstory and artwork to be of interest to older children as well.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

The Not-So-Faraway Adventure / by Andrew Larsen; illustrations by Irene Luxbach. 12.14.2016

Kids Can Press ISBN 9781771380973

PRI PS-Grade 2 Rating: 5

Those parents, teachers, and adults familiar with The Imaginary Garden by the same author and illustrator will get a chance in Andrew Larsen’s The Not-So-Faraway Adventure to meet Theo and Poppa again. This time it’s about celebrating Poppa’s birthday. Poppa says he doesn’t need any gifts, but Theo comes up with a not-so-faraway adventure that is practical and fun. Theo locates Poppa’s chest and after rummaging through it, guesses that taking a trip to the beach would make Poppa happy. Their trip to the beach and then to a restaurant lets them have fun and adventure.

The mixed media collage-like art created by Irene Luxbach enables children ages 4 to 6 to sense the fun of adventure, and that one can do close to home. The vibrant colors offer their own sort of imagination and fun. The bigger illustrations are bold in color and enable children to enjoy the delight of the local fun, while the smaller designs let child and parent or child and teacher to look at the ins and outs of local fun.

Leroy Hommerding, CLJ

Life Without Nico / by Andrea Maturana; illustrations by Francisco Javier Olea. 12.2.2016

Kids Can Press ISBN 9781771386111

PRI PS-Grade 2 Rating: 4

Nico and Maia are dear friends. When Nico needs to leave with his father who is going to Australia for studies, Maia wonders how she will survive. After Nico leaves, Maia begins to fill the emptiness in her life with a pet cat, learning the piano, a new friend. When Nico returns, there are mixed emotions but through the experience Maia learns that “[t]here is always space in your heart for friendship.” This endearing story about love, loss, and friendship highlights the resilience of children as well as adapting to the change that is a natural part of growing up and welcoming new events and people into one’s life.

Andrea Maturana’s picture book, perfect for ages 4 to 6, is a poetic narrative that children will delight in reading on their own as well as a story for parent and child to share. The whimsical illustrations by Francisco Javier Olea offer a sense of magic as well as a better grasp on the meaning of goodbyes, loss and friendship. The design of each two-page spread conveys both powerful color and an invitation to explore these deeper emotions, an integral part of loss and recovery.

Leroy Hommerding, CLJ

Golly’s Folly / written by Eleazar and Rebekah Ruiz; illustrated by Rommel Ruiz. 11.3.2016

Patrol Books ISBN 9780692691939

PRI PS-Grade 3 Rating: 5

Golly’s Folly is the work of two brothers and the wife of one of those brothers. It is an artful take on several biblical themes, coupled with richly colorful and imaginative illustrations.

Golly is the son of King Zhor, and because he envies his father’s glory he asks for his father’s crown. This is the prodigal son demanding his inheritance, the fool who thinks a crown brings glory instead of symbolizing it.

And at first it seems Golly’s Folly will take a standard route “modernizing” Jesus’ parable (though in this case “modern” would refer to some unstated point in the Middle Ages among excessively brawny Vikings). But the story quickly takes an unexpected turn by recourse to a different scriptural theme—that of the vanity of life even among the rich and successful. This is Solomon, the son of a great king who inherits unbelievable treasure, achieves incredible wisdom, and still must conclude that life is vanity under the sun.

Golly discovers that vanity, and humbly (and believably) discovers a solution to it by the end of the book. Instead of laying up his treasures on earth, Golly perceives the all-importance of love.

This reviewer wondered whether “Golly,” “Zhor,” and the name of their steward had any significance—no, the author said in a private conversation, they are simply fun words (and therefore, incidentally, Golly is not a “minced oath”).

The book is made with excellent quality and attention to detail under an imprint—Patrol Books—created by the authors. The illustrations are both contemporary and evocative of a textured, purposefully two-dimensional 1960s style that will interest children visually. It may possibly be read as an anodyne addition to the picture book genre by readers who do not grasp the biblical themes which underlie the story and give it its true depth. It is recommended, therefore, that teachers and parents discuss the story with any kids who happen to hear it.

Mark L. Ward, Jr., CLJ


Lilliput / by Sam Gayton; illustrated by Alice Ratterree. 11.1.2016

Peachtree Publishers ISBN 9781561458066

INT Grades 3-6 Rating: 5

Lily desperately desires to return home to the island of Lilliput after being kidnapped by Lemuel Gulliver in Sam Gayton’s book, Lilliput. Lily’s tiny size makes it nearly impossible to flee. She fits in a bird cage, can dangle from a spider’s web, and drinks from a thimble. However, her diminutive size doesn’t prevent her from attempting the impossible. Unfortunately, after 33 failed escape attempts, Lily starts to wonder if she’ll ever see her homeland again.

Sam Gayton’s delightful use of language alone makes this book a pleasure to read. He dips into the language of Lilliputian when Lily hurls insults at Gulliver, a “flustian mungle boff.” (p. 43) Other nonsense words as well as brief rhymes add humor and delight to the story. Alice Ratterree’s occasional illustrations enhance the story, giving faces to the characters and perfectly depicting the tale. In addition to entertaining language and wonderful illustrations, the characters are fun to get to know–each having something that drives them and pushes them forward in their cause. As Lily pushes forward in her quest to go home, she stretches and grows from a little girl afraid of pinchers on the beach to a young lady ready to soar. She prays to the Ender – hoping that the Ender will offer protection from the “giant,” and later on she tells Finn about how the Ender created the world and showed kindness to the first people. When sought, Lily finds it in her heart to forgive.

The simple plot marches along, building in intensity as Lily’s quest becomes increasingly dangerous. Thankfully, her friend Finn offers her the help she needs at just the right time. When Lily thinks returning home is impossible, Finn says, “You have to hope. Hope is how I found you.” (p. 115)

Kristina Wolcott, CLJ