Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
Long Way Gone
Musicians and nonmusicians alike will appreciate this modern twist on the prodigal son story. When 18-year-old Cooper O’Connor tires of playing traditional hymns at his preacher father’s tent revivals, he strikes out from Colorado to Nashville, Tenn., where he’ll use his talents in more creative ways. Martin’s fantastical world of music includes larger-than-life characters and the occasional supernatural encounter. Things don’t work out the way he planned, but Cooper ultimately learns that when it comes to both his earthly father and his heavenly Father, no wanderer is too far gone.
These Healing Hills
Ann H. Gabhart
Francine Howard leaves Cincinnati to train as a nurse-midwife in rural Kentucky after her longtime beau returns from World War II with a British fiancée in tow. Her heart slowly mends as she immerses herself in the close-knit mountain community and becomes acquainted with a local man recently returned from the war. This delightful story centered on “catching babies” celebrates the sanctity of life and highlights God’s providence in all things. Inspired by the real-life Frontier Nursing Service founded in 1925, These Healing Hills is fiction, but Gabhart’s use of precise detail adds authenticity.
A Time to Stand
This gripping novel about a white police officer who shoots an unarmed black teenager tackles the timely subject of race relations. When the officer is indicted, young black attorney Adisa Johnson lobbies for the job of special prosecutor. After a change of heart, Johnson offers to work for the defense. That causes a rift in her budding relationship with the local pastor who spearheads the community’s demand for justice. Adisa’s great-aunt and the injured teenager’s grandmother prove by example that racial reconciliation is possible by hearts transformed through the power of Jesus Christ.
The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck
When erotica writer Sarah Hollenbeck becomes a Christ-follower, she realizes her life needs a major overhaul. Ashamed that her early fiction glorified sexual sin, she wants her new work to be God-honoring, but her agent, publisher, and adoring fans want more of the same. Her romantic relationship with a widowed pastor seems implausible but essential to show her transformed lifestyle. This quirky, candid tale told from a new Christian’s perspective illustrates that no matter how badly we bungle things, God promises to work all things together for good for those who love Him.
Sarah Loudin Thomas charms readers with the Appalachian Blessings series (Bethany House), a trilogy that follows the Phillips family for several generations. Miracle in a Dry Season (2014) begins in 1954 when single mom Perla Long arrives in Wise, W.Va., where she meets church elder Casewell Phillips. Long’s unique gift helps the town survive a severe drought. Until the Harvest (2015) picks up the story in 1975. College dropout Henry Phillips finds solace back on the family farm where he encounters his grandmother’s caretaker, Margaret Hoffman. They forge a strong bond despite their individual struggles. A Tapestry of Secrets (2016) takes place in 2008, when Perla decides to reveal long-held secrets. Before she can, she suffers a stroke, and granddaughter Ella Phillips returns to the family homestead to help care for her beloved Gran.
The books honor faith, family, and tradition and have a feel-good, nostalgic vibe. Each book can stand alone, but they’re best read in order because of the layers of backstory. —S.B.