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Stories for the Youngest Booklovers: Good Reads That Transcend Age

Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

You Are So Wonderful

By Jacqueline J. Lewis, illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

This updated edition of the 2003 children’s picture book You Are So Wonderful begins with the words of Psalm 139:13-14 (Contemporary English Version): “You are the one who put me together inside my mother’s body, and I praise you because of the wonderful way you created me.” With a focus on God’s creativity and boundless love for creation, author Jacqueline Lewis’ exuberant text and illustrator Jeremy Tugeau’s joyful artwork celebrate the diversity of God’s people as they enjoy life in a city park. Children of all ages, ethnic groups, and abilities run, swing, laugh, play, eat, smile, enjoy ice cream, and more as loving parents and caregivers keep watch over each of them, each a gift from God. (Beaming Books)


When Charley Met Emma

By Amy Webb, illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

When Charley goes with his mother to the park, they encounter a girl with no hands who is sitting in a wheelchair. Charley blurts out, “Why does she look so weird, Mommy?” His mother gently admonishes him and urges him to introduce himself to the girl.

Charley meets Emma and learns that Emma was born with limb differences and that she drives her own wheelchair. Illustrator Merrilee Liddiard’s winsome portraits of Charley and Emma and author Amy Webb’s simple story teach children to see that differences are to be celebrated. Christian parents and caregivers might want to use this book’s end notes to help them take steps to encourage children to establish friendships with kids of different abilities. (Beaming Books)


Ten Little Eggs: A Celebration of Family

By Mary Hassinger, illustrated by Jess Mikhail
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

In this amusing, whimsical picture book for very young children, a serene mama bird cradles her precious nest and studies the 10 eggs of differing colors and sizes crowded inside. She is filled with questions about what each egg will be.

Through rhyming verse, readers count down to discover the mystery of each egg’s occupant. One by one, the eggs crack open. A bluebird is joined by a brave-looking eaglet, a leggy flamingo, a colorful toucan, a confused platypus, and a friendly (thankfully) alligator. In the crowded nest that night, the mama bird adoringly gathers the newborns under her protective wings. Illustrator Jess Mikhail’s comical artwork enhances Mary Hassinger’s joyful narrative that celebrates families—no matter their makeup. (Zonderkidz)


Stretchy McHandsome

By Judy Schachner
Reviewed by Jenny deGroot

The McHandsomes are a big kitty clan. There are nine of them, and they live together in a box “with no one in charge.” But Stretchy is different in so many ways. There comes a day when Stretchy decides to leave his overcrowded home and find adventure in the city. It is exciting, scary, and challenging all at once. But then he sets his eyes on a young lass named Beanie McBride, and there is an instant connection. Author Judy Schachner loves cats and is well known for creating the Skippyjon Jones series about an unstoppable Siamese cat. This delightful and funny offering is the perfect picture book for any child who loves animals, especially cats. (Penguin Random House)


Sparky Helps Mary Make New Friends

By Caryn Rivadeneira
Reviewed by Lorilee Craker

Young readers will adore Sparky, a lively, loving mix of border collie and Bernese mountain dog, and they’ll cheer him on as he finds a new home with Tasha, a trainer of “Helper Hounds” (also the name of this book series). Exuberant Sparky just wants to help, and after graduating from obedience school with top marks, he gets his chance. Enter Mary, a shy girl facing her first day of school in a new state. Sparky models how to “settle,” listen, trust, and be yourself, even when things are hard, as Sparky’s encounter with Mary’s cat proved to be. Sweet, engaging, and packed with tidbits about dog behavior, “Sparky” is a book worth barking over. Perfect for dog lovers ages 6-9. (Red Chair Press)


Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery

By Meeg Pincus, illustrated by Yas Imamura
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

In this vividly and energetically illustrated children’s picture book, young readers learn about the Great Monarch Migration, a mystery that for centuries puzzled North American common folk and scientists alike until 1976, when the butterflies’ roosting place was discovered high in Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains.

Pincus ends her book with a challenge: “Today, there’s a new burning monarch question: How will they survive? Who can keep them alive?” Her answer is simple: each of us can play a part to ensure the monarchs’ survival.

Winged Wonders includes informative notes and is an excellent resource for Christian parents and caregivers to point children to God’s majestic creation and the mandate for us to care for it. (Sleeping Bear Press)


Wondrous Rex

By Patricia MacLachlan
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

When 7-year-old Grace and her writer aunt, Lily, try to write a story, both are stymied by the writing process. So Aunt Lily advertises her need for an assistant “for inspiration and some magic!” Lily and Grace are amazed when a man wearing a top hat brings a Labrador retriever to Lily’s house and says, “I have brought you magic.” So begins the unveiling of wondrous Rex’s surprising gifts and the enchanting role he plays in Lily’s and Grace’s attempts to write.

In this short chapter book for children ages 8 and older, Patricia MacLachlan, renowned author of Sarah, Plain and Tall, narrates a magical tale in her characteristic gentle, sweet manner. (Katherine Tegen Books)


The Jesus Storybook Bible


By Sally Lloyd-Jones
Reviewed by Lorilee Craker

Eleven years ago, my new neighbor told me she was using the The Jesus Storybook Bible for her personal devotions. “I just feel so loved by God,” she said. Author Sally Lloyd-Jones wrote this children’s Bible as a sweeping story of God’s “never ending, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.” Into each story she masterfully weaves progressive revelation, the idea that God reveals himself in Scripture to humanity over time, from Genesis through the New Testament. Written to be read aloud, this audiobook, narrated gently and winsomely by British actor David Suchet, gives a panoramic view of the Bible in three hours. Perfect for family road trips or for listening at bedtime, this audiobook is one to savor again and again. (Zondervan)



By Cynthia Copeland
Reviewed by Lorilee Craker

Set in 1972-73, this book is a graphic memoir of author Cynthia Copeland’s seventh-grade year, when she navigated bullies, friendship tangles, a first crush, and her burgeoning desire to be a journalist. Her dad, while loving, continually encourages Cindy’s younger brothers in their future careers but doesn’t seem to see Cindy as someone who might excel at a career someday. But when a bold, young female journalist takes her under her wing, Cindy shows her family, her town, and even the mean girls at school how brave journalism can change a neighborhood—or a nation. Though designed for readers 8-12, Cub is perfect for any budding writer, graphic artist, or photographer who longs to make a difference with words and pictures. (Algonquin Young Readers)


We Dream of Space

By Erin Entrada Kelly

Reviewed by Natalie Hart

It is January 1986, and 12-year-old twins Bird and Fitch and their big brother, Charlie, are all in the seventh grade (Charlie for the second time) studying the Space Shuttle Challenger mission. Bird feels excited and purposeful: she wants to be a space shuttle commander. Fitch can’t manage his feelings, and he lashes out at everyone. Charlie feels as if he’s not good at anything. It’s heartbreaking to see how disconnected their family is and how casually cruel their friendships are, but the Challenger explosion (which Bird watches live in her school auditorium) is a turning point, and the novel ends on a hopeful note. A great book for adults and children to read together, this one will surely start conversations. 



By Pam Muñoz Ryan
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

Eleven-year-old Maximiliano Cordoba (Max) lives with Papa and Buelo, his grandfather, “somewhere in the Americas.” His homeland, Santa Maria, borders a nation characterized by oppression and political unrest whose citizens often flee through Santa Maria to safer havens.

An unexpected visitor presents Max with a challenge he never could have imagined. So begins Max’s dangerous journey for a cause he is only beginning to understand, one that will stretch his courage to the breaking point and force him to sacrifice like never before. This stirring novel for middle-grade readers, by the author of the beloved modern classic Esperanza Rising, is emotionally rich and relevant to the current worldwide realities of refugees and migrants. (Scholastic)


The Blackbird Girls

By Anne Blankman 
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

On April 26, 1986, in Pripyat, Ukraine, Soviet Union, 11-year-old Valentina Kaplan notices unnaturally colored smoke churning up from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, where her father is finishing his shift. Soon Valentina and her neighbors, including her bullying classmate, Oksana, are being evacuated even as the communist government pretends nothing is drastically wrong. In this riveting historical novel, author Anne Blankman skillfully weaves together in alternating perspectives the stories of Valentina and Oksana in 1986 and Rifka, Valentina’s grandmother, in 1941 Ukraine. Though the book is recommended for ages 9 and older, it is better suited for mature readers ages 12 and older because it deals with the harsh and painful realities of abuse and war. (Viking Books for Young Readers)

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