Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
Culture Notable Books
Freedom's Stand has three main human characters-a cynical security contractor, an idealistic aid worker, and former jihadi Jamil, who now uses his medical training to help his countrymen and women in the name of Isa Masih (Jesus). Afghanistan is also a character-Windle conveys well a beautiful land that has suffered under constant war, cruel and corrupt officials, and Islam. As elections draw near and politicians vie for the support of both the U.S. government and religious hard-liners, Jamil's ministry draws attention, and he ends up in jail. Windle's engrossing story doesn't offer easy answers, but it does show how the gospel empowers believers to live courageously amid bleak circumstances.
Chasing Mona Lisa
Chasing Mona Lisa features a plucky female heroine, her gallant man, a couple of gun battles, bad guys worth rooting against, historical detail, and suspense. With Paris in 1944 on the verge of liberation, Communist resistance groups vie with groups supporting Charles de Gaulle. In this context, a Nazi hatches a plot to steal the Mona Lisa from its hiding place in the French countryside. Gabi Mueller and Eric Hofstadler, Swiss OSS agents working as Red Cross officials, bring much-needed medical supplies to the struggling resistance groups in Paris. While there they learn of the plot and set out to protect the famous painting.
Less Than Dead
Nick Polchak is a forensic entomologist with an acerbic tongue. The FBI calls him to investigate human remains found on land belonging to a U.S. senator running for president. Polchak's motto could be "question authority," and he constantly aggravates the senator and the senator's wife. Meanwhile he gets to know a mysterious woman with a skilled cadaver dog able to sniff out buried bodies. When man, woman, and dog uncover not only remains but long dormant secrets, murder ensues. The book is both a whodunit and a political thriller. Polchak's sarcasm may grate on some readers, but his brash, nerdy persona and his knowledge of bugs and dead bodies makes for interesting reading.
A Wedding Invitation
Alice Wisler writes Christian romances with main characters testing the waters of adulthood but afraid to take the final plunge. Wisler's third novel is set in 1993, with 31-year-old Sam working in her mother's dress shop, although she intended to be a teacher. She's still mooning over a young man she worked with seven years earlier in a refugee camp in the Philippines. A series of improbable events brings Sam back in contact with Connor, the boy she loved, and several refugees from the camp. Wisler shows how Sam and Connor's friendship unfolded in the past and how Sam's fear of getting hurt throws up roadblocks in the present.
Castaway Kid (Focus on the Family Books, 2011) tells the incredible but true story of Robert Mitchell's bleak childhood. Abandoned by his psychotic mother at the age of 3, rejected by his wealthy family, and stranded in an orphanage for 14 years, Robby seems trapped-but he struggles to maintain a fragile stability, hoping to know one day what family really means.
One night, exhausted from trying to escape his misery, Robby reaches a point of utter despair. Realizing nobody is going to rescue him, he hardens his heart, vowing, "nothing and nobody will hurt me this badly again." For 10 years Robby keeps that vow. Then one day, this frightened, angry teen prays the first real prayer of his life: "Jesus, if you're real, please come into my nightmare." Castaway Kid is the riveting story of how Jesus did just that.