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’Twas the Season of Advent: Devotions and Stories for the Christmas Season 

By Glenys Nellist, illustrated by Elena Selivanova
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema 

In this children’s Advent devotional, author Glenys Nellist replicates the familiar cadence of ’Twas the Night Before Christmas to relate the good news of Jesus Christ.  

Each of the 25 devotions begins with a verse from Nellist’s poem, setting the stage for the celebration of Advent. For Dec. 1: “’Twas the season of Advent, when all through the earth, / People were pausing to ponder Christ’s birth. / The bright lights hung ’round the door frames with care / In hopes that Christmastime soon would be there.” Scripture passages, an imaginative reflection on a participant in the biblical Christmas story, and a prayer round out each devotion. Illustrator Elena Selivanova’s artwork masterfully contrasts light and darkness as she portrays the coming of Jesus, the light of the world. (ZonderKidz)

Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston

By Alicia D. Williams, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

Sprightly, jubilant, and “attracted to tales like mosquitoes to skin,” a young Black girl named Zora grew up in Eatonville, “a place where magnolias smelled even prettier than they looked, oranges were as sweet as they were plump, and the people just plain ol’ got along.”

Author Alicia William’s spirited, peppy narrative and illustrator Jacqueline Alcantara’s playful, frisky artwork packed with the animal characters of many tall tales portray the ordinary—yet extraordinary—trajectory of Zora’s life.

Jump at the Sun reveals the power a parent has to shape children’s futures for their own good and the common good and rejoices in the life and work of classic author Zora Neale Hurston. (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)

Kindness Is My Superpower: A Children’s Book About Empathy, Kindness and Compassion

By Alicia Ortego
Reviewed by Li Ma

Kindness and care for others is perhaps the most important social skill a child can learn. This rhyming story book, a No. 1 bestseller in Amazon’s Children’s Christian Social Issues Fiction, is packed with engaging details and inspiring insights into a child’s emotional life.

A boy named Lucas teases his classmate Lisa for wearing glasses but later is haunted with regrets. The author uses Lucas as a model to show how an ordinary boy who sometimes makes mistakes can spread kindness. Included are simple exercises for practicing kindness. The author stresses intentionality: “Any act of kindness, no matter how big or small, can make a difference—especially when done intentionally.” (Independently published)

Tomatoes for Neela

By Padma Lakshmi, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema 

Young Neela loves to cook with her amma—her mother. On Saturday, Neela and Amma go to the farmers market and buy tomatoes. They return home and set to work making tomato sauce. As Neela works with Amma, she thinks about Paati, her grandmother, and feels close to her. Neela sees the fruit of their labor and knows that “cooking tomatoes in summer would make her happy in the winter, too.” She prepares for Paati’s next visit from India by placing a special jar of tomato sauce at the back of the cupboard so they can share the lovely flavors together when she arrives. 

Illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal’s gentle, peaceful illustrations bring to life author Padma Lakshmi’s celebration of food, family, love, and meaningful labor. (Viking Books for Young Readers)

War and Millie McGonigle

By Karen Cushman
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema  

In the fall of 1941, 12-year-old Millie McGonigle struggles to adapt to change and longs for a world she can count on. But her beloved grandmother has recently died, her younger sister is ill and receives the bulk of her parents’ attention, and, most scary of all, the world is at war, and Millie fears that the conflict will erupt along the California coast where she lives.

Partially based on the experiences of author Karen Cushman’s husband growing up on the beach in San Diego, Calif., in the years after World War II, this sensitive novel for middle school readers explores the troubles brought by the war to American children. The book contains a few instances of profanity and briefly grapples with reincarnation. (Knopf Books for Young Readers)

The Arctic Fury

By Greer Macallister
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema 

Virginia Reeve is summoned by Lady Jane Franklin to lead a dozen women to the Arctic to find her husband, Lord Franklin, and his lost expedition. If the women are successful, they will receive a reward. If not, Lady Franklin will deny any association with them. 

Narrated in alternating chapters depicting courtroom scenes and what transpired among the women in the Arctic, this riveting novel for adults portrays women whose voices have been discredited and gifts denied who are yet given a chance to prove themselves.

Author Greer Macallister refreshingly depicts a protagonist whose Christian faith alone “bears her up” and is portrayed in an earthy, ordinary walk with God. (Sourcebooks Landmark)

Nothing but Life

By Brent van Staalduinen
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema  

After surviving a school shooting, 15-year-old Dills moves with his mother to live with his grandmother and aunt. Starting over is an uphill battle as Dills struggles to adjust to his new high school while shattered daily by the knowledge of the shooter’s identity: his stepfather, Jesse, a veteran haunted by “demons” carried back from his military tours. Dills meets unlikely friends Gal, a former Israeli soldier, and Mia, a Palestinian teen who immigrated to Canada with her family.

Nothing but Life offers young adult readers a deeply moving portrait of a teen and his family who have suffered from gun violence. The author presents well-developed, realistic characters who falter, fail, triumph, and experience grace. The book contains some profanity. (Dundurn Press)

In a Far-Off Land

By Stephanie Landsem
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema  

Minerva Zimmerman has fled her home in the Midwest to make her way in Hollywood as the Great Depression wreaks havoc in people’s lives. In the glamour of Hollywood’s prospects and promises, Minerva—with her new name, Mina Sinclaire—thinks she can outrun the past: her theft from Papa, her sister Penny’s relentless criticisms, and the shame of what her boyfriend did to her.

Oscar, an American-born man of Mexican descent who doesn’t have a birth certificate and is in danger of deportation, helps Mina, not realizing the web of danger, intrigue, and spiritual confusion and choices he is being drawn into. 

Echoing Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, this complex, meaningful novel for adults probes the relationship between justice and mercy. (Tyndale House Publishers)

The Sound the Sun Makes

By Buck Storm
Review by Trevor Denning

Suspended for punching a man who wouldn’t cross the street when he saw him coming, the usually happy-go-lucky Early Pines is depressed. Since his old friend Gomez Gomez died, Pines hasn’t been the same. Now the best detective in Paradise, Ariz., is just sitting on his back porch listening to the sound the sun makes as it scrapes across the sky.

While Buck Storm’s yarn-spinning skills are as delightful as ever in this sequel to The Beautiful Ashes of Gomez Gomez, one can’t help missing the cast of characters and small-town slice of life provided in the previous novel. Even so, this novel is laugh-out-loud funny and encouraging in all the right ways. (Kregel)

The Preacher Who Couldn’t Talk

By George McGuire
Reviewed by Paul Delger

Pastor George McGuire writes about a lifetime illness as he encourages others who suffer from conditions that will not heal. He discusses his journey with epilepsy resulting from a childhood near-death experience with encephalitis. The epilepsy also caused stuttering, which caused one fellow pastor to deem McGuire unfit to preach. But throughout the bumps of his life, McGuire has admirably fulfilled his calling to preach. He served several Presbyterian Church in America congregations and finished his full-time ministry with a 12-year tenure at the Austinville (Iowa) Christian Reformed Church. He often mentions a bedrock verse: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). This 54-page book offers a look at a faithful man with a deep trust in the Lord. (CreativeSpace/Amazon)

Chasing Shadows

By Lynn Austin
Reviewed by Ann Byle

Lena de Vries is content to be a farmer’s wife, but her faith is tested when the Nazis threaten her family and her way of life.

Lena’s daughter Ans must juggle her resistance work with her feelings for a Dutch policeman working with the Nazis.

Miriam Jacobs flees Cologne, Germany, with her father to escape Nazi persecution and makes her way to Leiden, where she meets Ans.

Lynn Austin weaves a thought-provoking tale of heroism, fearlessness, and faith in the face of great evil. Her many fans will love this new book, and she’s sure to draw new readers with her latest historical fiction set in her beloved Netherlands. (Tyndale)

The Weight of Memory

By Shawn Smucker
Reviewed by Cynthia Beach

Another of Shawn Smucker’s fast-reading, throat-grabbing, genre-bending novels arrives, and it serves up Smucker’s specialty: metaphysical fantasy. Beneath the natural thrums the supernatural. Shadows and forest seem alive.

Within this edgy universe, 58-year-old Paul Elias, a.k.a. “Grampy,” has gotten bad news. The tumor bulging behind his ear will kill him. But what will become of Pearl, his precocious 11-year-old granddaughter? This question worries him, and it should. Paul has sole custody of Pearl.

The diagnosis funnels him to a decision: He’ll return to Nysa, his hometown, and see if someone there, someone trusted, will take Pearl.

The faith conversation is implicit. The fantasy element lets Smucker suggest much indirectly, as light and dark symbolically do. I was hooked from the first line. (Revell)

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