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From Chewable Books to Books on Which to Chew: Tomes for Younger Readers

From Chewable Books to Books on Which to Chew: Tomes for Younger Readers

I’m Going to Give You a Polar Bear Hug!

By Caroline B. Cooney, illustrated by Tim Warnes
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema  

A vivacious young girl imagines taking all her beloved stuffed animals on an adventurous excursion through an enchanting winter wonderland. In cheerful verses, author Caroline B. Cooney portrays the girl’s exuberance as she describes to her companions the hugs she’s going to give each one. To her polar bear, she says: “I’m going to give you a polar bear hug. / A wintry, windy, / play in the snow hug. / A shivery, quivery, / forty below hug.” Each stuffed animal in turn receives a hug. Author Caroline Cooney’s playful rhymes complement illustrator Tim Warnes’ exuberant, frolicking artwork in this sequel to their earlier collaboration, I’m Going to Give You a Bear Hug!  (Zonderkidz)


One Earth

By Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Rogerio Coelho
Reviewed by Li Ma

Children need to experience the wonder and awe of nature before they desire to love and conserve it. This poetic picture book presents the theme of creation care with carefully crafted counting schemes. Counting up from 1 to 10, the first pages celebrate the wonders of our natural world: “One wide, sweeping sky. Two honeybees. . . .” Counting down from 10 to 1, the book relates our daily life to ways we can bless our natural surroundings by helping care for the earth: “Ten scraps of litter? Toss them in the trash. Nine empty bottles? Turn them in for cash.” Through short, lyrical verses, the reader is taken by the earth’s manifold beauties. The conclusion reasserts the urgency of creation care: “One Earth so beautiful—only one.” (WorthyKids)


Outside, Inside

By LeUyen Pham
Reviewed by Li Ma

This moving picture book from Caldecott honoree LeUyen Pham celebrates essential workers and communities coming together to face the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. With poetic language and colorful illustrations, the book describes how the natural world exuberates as human activities decrease: “Outside, the world kept growing.” As part of God’s ongoing creation, children kept growing too even when they have been kept inside. Pham transforms the story into one about human solidarity in the midst of a global crisis: “On the outside, we are all different. But on the inside, we are all the same.” There is hope in this solidarity as well as in the coming of a new spring when all things become renewed. (Roaring Brook Press)



By Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Jago
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema  

“God is my Father who made everything. / And I am a little explorer of the wide world. / He is near me / And he protects me. / He sees me / And he knows me. / He is strong / And he looks after me. / He is with me—always!” So begins author Sally Lloyd-Jones’s comforting, charming board book inspired by Psalm 139. Illustrator Jago’s delightful, energetic depictions of children from various ethnic backgrounds exploring the vastness of God’s good creation complement Lloyd-Jones’s text. In Near, the creators of The Jesus Storybook Bible have once again collaborated to craft a unique, biblically based resource. Young children (and their parents and caregivers) will discover in this attractive, easy-to-hold board book that God will never leave them. (Zonderkidz)


The Library Bus

By Bahram Rahman, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema 

In Kabul, Afghanistan, young Pari and her mother leave home while it’s still dark to travel on the library bus, the only one of its kind in the city. Author Bahram Rahman was born in Afghanistan and grew up during the civil war and the Taliban regime. He wrote this sensitive, informative children’s picture book to tell and celebrate the stories of strength and courage displayed by the children of Afghanistan, particularly Afghan girls, and to honor the fearless and creative female teachers who run mobile schools and libraries. Illustrator Gabrielle Grimard’s gentle, winsome artwork captures the safety, joy, and comfort of a unique educational setting where teachers take risks to love their students and students respond with enthusiasm and curiosity. (Pajama Press)


Bronco and Friends: A Party to Remember

By Tim Tebow, with A. J. Gregory, illustrated by Jane Chapman  
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema 

Bronco, a loveable pup with terrible vision, receives an invitation to a special party. Each animal will bring a special puzzle piece to the event to fit into a big puzzle revealing how each is unique—“made purposefully”—and a necessary guest at the party. Sniffing, turning his ears to the slightest sound, and offering encouragement to other animals facing their own challenges, Bronco arrives at the party, discovers his unique gifts, and places his puzzle piece. Illustrator Jane Chapman’s vivacious artwork energizes author Tim Tebow’s sweet, encouraging narrative inspired by Ephesians 2:10: “We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (NLT). (WaterBrook)


Ten Beautiful Things

By Molly Beth Griffin, illustrated by Maribel Lechuga
Reviewed by Jenny deGroot

Lily and Gram are getting ready to drive across Iowa to Gram’s house. Lily looks at the X on the far side of the map that marks the spot where Gram lives. It looks so far away. Gram senses Lily’s feelings. “Let’s try to find ten beautiful things,” Gram says as they drive off. Looking out the window Lily does not see anything beautiful. But then the sun bursts over the horizon. “Number one!” cries Lily. As they drive along the endless highway they see beautiful numbers two and three in quick succession. Into the night, when they finally turn off the road and arrive at Gram’s house, they have only nine beautiful things. But ten is easy! They have each other. (Charlesbridge)


Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away

By Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

Young Daniela and her friend Evelyn Del Rey live so close together they can call out to each other from their separate apartment building windows. Their apartments are “almost twins,” and so are the girls because of their close friendship. But now Daniela is sad because her “mejor amiga” and “numero uno best friend” is moving away. Sonia Sanchez’s vibrant illustrations convey the love, laughter, happiness, energy, and sadness of author Meg Medina’s young fictional characters. In this children’s picture book that subtly celebrates the friendship of two children from different ethnic backgrounds, young readers who have experienced having a friend move away will find a voice for their emotions. 



What If a Fish

By Anika Fajardo 
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema 

Little Eddie lives in Minnesota and can’t remember much about his Colombian papa, who immigrated to the United States and died when Little Eddie was four years old. But Little Eddie finds comfort in the third-place medal Papa won in the 2nd Annual Arne Hopkins Dock Fishing Tournament. When Little Eddie learns that the 14th annual tournament will take place later that summer, he’s filled with a desire to be like Papa and is determined to enter the contest even though he doesn’t know how to fish and can’t afford the fee. This poignant novel for middle school readers skillfully employs fishing as a metaphor for life and explores issues of ethnic identity and finding one’s place in the world. (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)


Jack vs. the Tornado

By Amanda Cleary Eastep 
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema 

In this fast-paced, adventurous, and humorous novel for children ages 8-12, Jack Finch receives “the worst present ever” for his 10th birthday. His family moves out of his grandparents’ farmhouse, leaving behind the best hayloft fort in the world and a pet chicken named Henrietta. They relocate to a suburb of Chicago. Though Jack has no intention of making friends or becoming attached to his needy elderly neighbor, he is inexorably drawn into adventure, friendship, and acts of service as the discovery of a mysterious object and events beyond his control carry him along. Amanda Cleary Eastep effectively characterizes a young protagonist in the mid-1990s who is aware of God’s presence in his life yet wonders why difficult things happen to him. (Moody Publishers)


Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey

By Erin Entrada Kelly
Reviewed by Natalie Hart

Marisol Rainey is an imaginative and daydreamy 8-year-old who loves her cat, her best friend, silent movies, naming inanimate objects, and the nicknames her parents give her. She doesn’t love the huge magnolia tree in her back yard. It is perfect for climbing, but Marisol is scared of falling, so her feet stay on the ground. Erin Entrada Kelly explores the complicated feelings and relationships of children in funny and endearing ways. Some of the illustrations cover a full page, but drawings are also used as interjections, as when Marisol admits she hates radishes and a frowning radish with its hands on its sides asks, “What did we ever do to you?” It seems as if more Marisol books will be coming. (Greenwillow Books)



By Lisa Fipps
Reviewed by Natalie Hart

Starfish is a middle grade verse novel. It tells a single story, but each chapter is a one- to four-page poem. The reader has no distractions from the thoughts and feelings of Ellie, a 12-year-old girl who is bullied for her weight at school and at home. It’s heartbreaking to read, but it’s not all melancholy. Ellie’s two best pals are everything you would hope for in a friend, and their families love and appreciate her unconditionally. She has some wonderful teachers who encourage her gifts as a poet. The counselor she doesn’t want to see is exceptional (and their exercises together will give readers lots of good ideas for how to process pain). Starfish is a book that challenges and changes readers. (Nancy Paulsen Books)


A Place to Hang the Moon

By Kate Albus 
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema  

In 1940, the citizens of London face the threat of Hitler’s bombs. Orphans William, Edmund, and Anna—12, 11, and 9 years old, respectively—fear for their safety and are distressed about their uncertain future because their cold-hearted grandmother, who was raising them, has recently died. When the children are sent into the countryside as part of the massive wartime evacuation effort, they face one obstacle after another—bullying, hunger, poverty, filth, and rejection—and move from home to home, always searching for a family that will truly love them. Author Kate Albus’ skilfully crafted, realistic, and endearing characterizations of William, Edmund, and Anna give middle school readers insight into the challenges faced by children living in a time of war and deprivation. A gratifying, heart-warming read. (Margaret Ferguson Books)


Firekeeper’s Daughter

By Angeline Boulley
Reviewed by Natalie Hart

You could describe Firekeeper’s Daughter as a Native American Nancy Drew story. It’s about a half-Ojibwe high school hockey star and science whiz who winds up investigating wrongdoings in her Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., community. More than that, it’s a coming-of-age story about a young woman who doesn’t feel entirely accepted or acceptable by either of her families. As a story about contemporary teens, there is a little swearing, some underaged drinking, and sexual passages. But if those do not prevent you from enjoying a story, I highly recommend Firekeeper’s Daughter. The characters are richly drawn, the community felt real, the plotting is tight, and it made me stay up way too late on a work night to see how it ended. (Henry Holt & Co.)


Love Is a Revolution (Audiobook)

By Renee Watson, narrated by Renee Watson
Reviewed by Michelle Loyd-Paige

Nala Robertson is a full-figured African American who lives with her “cousin-sister-friend” and is looking forward to the summer before her senior year of high school.  Nala loves the shape of the person she sees in the mirror, and I found it refreshing to listen to her describe her body with admiration and acceptance. But as the story develops, she must come to terms with the difference between being true to herself and creating an illusion of herself. When Nala’s summer plans for finding love are realized, she finds a radical and revolutionary kind of love that begins on the inside and radiates to those around her. This is a girl-power, Black-girl-magic kind of book. The author herself narrates, which adds authenticity. (Audible, 6 hrs. 31 min.)


The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person (Audiobook) 

By Frederick Joseph, narrated by Miebaka Yohannes
Reviewed by Michelle Loyd-Paige

Writing from the perspective of a friend, Frederick Joseph offers candid reflections for teens on his own experiences with racism as well as conversations with prominent artists and activists about theirs. Here is a series of stories of how his life has been impacted by racism. The voices of white allies and white racists are woven throughout the book, as are stories of Asian and Latino friends. Joseph speaks as that Black friend who is walking beside and with white people who genuinely want to know how to be an ally (or “accomplice,” as Joseph says) in the fight for racial equity. Narrator Miebaka Yohannes sounds like a friend with whom you’d chill and, from time to time, have honest conversations about life. (Brilliance Audio, 5 hrs. 9 min.) 

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