Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run! An Alphabet Caper / written and illustrated by Mike Twohy. 9.6.2017

Balzer + Bray ISBN 9780062377005

PRI PS-Grade 1 Rating: 5

A dog’s ball bounces into a mouse’s hole and chaos ensues in Mike Twohy’s Theodore Seuss Geisel Honor Book, Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run!

A New Yorker cartoonist, Twohy manages to introduce characters, a setting, a plot, and a satisfying conclusion using just 30 words to accompany his delightful artwork. From A to Z, the busy story unfolds, one word (occasionally two) to a page. The large-font alphabetical text will appeal to preschoolers, who are also highly likely to enjoy the fast pace and the overall silliness.

Twohy’s felt-tip and India ink illustrations are vivid against their plain white background and are rich with feeling, action, and humor. Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run! is pure fun, with a heartwarming resolution and all the right qualities for a child’s picture book.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Leave Me Alone! / by Vera Brosgol. 9.4.2017

Roaring Brook Press ISBN 9781626724419

PRI K-Grade 2 Rating: 4

A little old woman just wants to be left alone so she can finish her winter knitting, but living in a small house with lots of children makes being alone almost impossible. So, the little old woman packs her bag and heads for the forest, thinking she will find the peace and quiet she needs to finish her knitting. Unfortunately, the bear family living in the forest makes being alone impossible. Once again, she packs up her bag, this time heading for the mountains, certain she will finally be alone way up there. However, the mountain goats force her to pack up once more and climb all the way to the moon. Will the little old lady ever find herself alone in time to finish her knitting before winter arrives?

Selected as a Caldecott Honor Book for 2017, Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol is full of charm, humor, and absurdity that will delight its young audience. Its rich watercolor illustrations provide warmth and visual appeal to the story and are the primary mode of infusing humor into each situation in which the little old lady finds herself. The illustrations have an eastern European flair, which is further reinforced by the ever-present samovar the little old lady uses to make her tea, providing a potential cultural side note to expound upon.

The repetitive phrase “Leave Me Alone!” always appears in a speech bubble in large font making it easily identifiable for pre-readers who will enjoy recognizing and reading this phrase aloud together with a parent or their fellow classmates. Overall, this book is a visual gem worth adding to any personal or classroom collection.

Justina McBride, CLJ

Du Iz Tak? / by Carson Ellis. 8.30.2017

Candlewick Press ISBN 9780763665302

PRI K-Grade 3 Rating: 5

Two flies “discover” a seedling sprout in Du Iz Tak?. The next time they and a friend see the young plant, it has grown, prompting them to ask a nearby friend for a ladder. They climb the leaves to sun themselves. Continued growth of the plant prompts them to build a plant fort, but while they work, they fail to notice danger creeping closer to them and potential disaster looming from above.

Du Iz Tak? showcases the writing and illustrations of Carson Ellis. Ellis determines what incites emotion in her bugs–from wonder to fear to determination to resignation–and writes from that perspective. Even though written in the language of bugs, Ellis’s application of grammar rules and her lovely illustrations enable the reader to easily understand the story. The drama unfolds quickly. Few words are necessary and few are used, but the created language is very enjoyable to read, and the fun lies in the discovery.

Kristina Wolcott, CLJ

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth / by Cathy Camper; illustrated by Raul the Third. (Lowriders, 2) 8.29.2017

Chronicle Books ISBN 9781452123431

YA Grades 4-9 Rating: 4

It seemed like an ordinary day at the car garage until the earthquake hit and the cat disappeared. Searching frantically, Lupe Impala and her partners, El Chavo Flapjack and Elirio Malaria, follow a trail of paw prints that lead into a giant corn maze where the trickster Coyote informs them that their pet, Genie, is being held prisoner in the underworld. Can they trust Coyote?

Determined to rescue Genie at all costs, the fearless trio power up their earth/space vehicle and plunge full-speed into a volcano and down through the earth’s rocky layers until they reach the center. If they find their cat, returning home in their hi-tech car will be a cinch. They just have to wrestle and defeat the god of the underworld who holds Genie prisoner. No, not the Greek god Hades–the giant Aztec god, Mictlantecuhtli!

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, second in Cathy Camper’s Lowriders series, has a suspense-filled rescue plot that engages readers with humorous word plays and puns while teaching earth science. The Spanish vocabulary spread throughout the story (defined in a glossary) and the depiction of diverse protagonists give voice to other cultures and validate characters that Hispanic children can relate to. Raul the Third’s graphic illustrations of skulls, skeletons, bones, and gods introduce Aztec world views.

This is a highly entertaining read, with Lupe Impala like a Latina version of Miss Frizz (of the Magic School Bus series, by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen), teaching important concepts and creatively overcoming obstacles.

From a Christian perspective, Lowriders to the Center of the Earth could engender discussion of the God of the Bible and His care for all creation, in contrast to the capricious and antagonistic natures of other deities. The story invites readers to explore ideas of love and sacrifice, and challenges them to reflect on how much they would be willing to risk for someone they love.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life / by Ashley Bryan. 8.28.2017

Atheneum Books for Young Readers ISBN 9781481456906

INT Grades 3-6 Rating: 4

Ashley Bryan wrote and illustrated this award-winning picture book about eleven slaves, based on a real document of sale.

In Freedom Over Me, Bryan gives life to the slaves listed in the bill of sale for the Fairchild’s estate by giving them an age and work assignment. After the passing of Mr. Cado Fairchild, Mrs. Mary Fairchilds hires an appraiser prior to selling the estate and its properties (including the slaves) and moving back to England. The book starts off with a group illustration of the eleven slaves, with their ages and estimated value, followed by the poems for each slave. The slaves are introduced by their roles on the estate, then later by their lives in Africa. The book ends with a print appraisal of the Fairchild estate of the ten slaves. (Bryan added an eleventh fictional slave to his collection to round out the ages.)

He writes free verse to create two poems each, one about their life and one about their dreams. Inspired by the actual 1828 will of Mr. Fairchild, Bryan creates poetry with illustrations to interpret each person’s life and dreams. The illustrations for each slave’s life are muted, while the ones for their dreams are colorful. According to the author’s note, the title of the book comes from a spiritual, “Oh Freedom,” which plays a role in the civil rights movement.

Freedom Over Me was the 2016 Newbery Honor Book, 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book, and 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book. Bryan ‘s book is a tribute to the “strength of their human spirit and power of hope” (front cover flap), as well as a recognition that the slaves were individuals who had a dream.

Recommended for school and public libraries.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

Cry, Heart, But Never Break / by Glenn Ringtved. 8.8.2017

Enchanted Lion Books ISBN 9781592701872

PRI K-Grade 3 Rating: 4

Cry, Heart, But Never Break, by award-winning author Glenn Ringtved, uses Death as a character to explain why dying is both inevitable and good. Four children, living with their aging grandmother, must face this reality when Death arrives at their door. One child asks Death why their grandmother must die, and Death responds with a story about two sets of twins, Sorrow and Grief, and Joy and Delight.

Through Death’s narrative, Ringtved suggests that joy and delight cannot fully be appreciated outside of the context of their counterparts, sorrow and grief. He then parallels this with life and death, suggesting that life is not truly itself, and cannot be fully appreciated, without death. The character, Death, speaks the title phrase, “Cry, Heart, but never break,” to the children. This phrase captures the essence of Ringtved’s message: that mourning is good and right, but that death is not entirely or essentially bad.

Charlotte Pardi’s detailed and vivid illustrations help set the tone for Ringtved’s narrative, adding to the reading experience with colors and tones that reflect the mood being depicted. For example, the scenes with Joy and Delight are bright and playful, while scenes regarding Death, Grief, or Sorrow, are gray and subdued.

Though it is often true that good things can be more fully appreciated in the context of their negative counterparts, the author presents a secular view of death and a pragmatic approach to teaching the young about this difficult subject. He suggests that death itself is a part of what makes life meaningful and good.

Elisabeth A. Orr, CLJ

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