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Culture Children's Books

Fantastic tales

Children's Books

Fantastic tales

Four middle-grade novels

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street 

Karina Yan Glaser

This wonderful novel is reminiscent of All-of-a-Kind Family. It features a happily married biracial couple, five rambunctious but nice children, and Mr. Beiderman, their crabby landlord, who declines to renew the family’s lease on the brownstone they rent in Harlem. All this happens around Christmas, which casts a pall over the holidays. As the children scheme to get the landlord to change his mind, they learn his sad back story and the reason he’s particularly crabby with them. Yan Glaser mixes humor and pathos in a throwback package. (Ages 7-12)

Jim at the Corner 

Eleanor Farjeon

Originally published in 1934, this book tells the story of Jim, an old sailor who sits all day on an orange crate on the street corner. The children love him, especially 8-year-old Derry. Each day, Derry wanders down to the street corner. He sits while Jim regales him with stories from his sailing days, stories about sea serpents, gigantic waves, and chimpanzees. The book ends with Jim getting his 80th birthday wish: Derry’s family takes him to see the sea, “while the orange box stood at the corner of the street all by itself.” Edward Ardizzone’s pen-and-ink illustrations complement the stories. (Ages 6-10)

The Explorer 

Katherine Rundell

When a small plane crashes in the Amazon, only four children survive. The book follows them as they overcome obstacles to make their way home. The journey requires creativity and courage—traits they never had to use in their ordinary lives. They discover a lost city—and the bitter explorer who lives there. He teaches them survival skills, and they help him recover his capacity for kindness and generosity. This old-fashioned adventure tale has noncynical children learning the world is bigger and more wonderful than they ever imagined. (Ages 8-12)

The Dollmaker of Krakow 

R.M. Romero

This novel about the Holocaust uses characters drawn from fairy tales. In the land of the dolls, a rat army invades, bringing with it destruction. Karolina escapes to the land of humans, hoping eventually to bring rescue to her land. Meanwhile in Krakow, the Dollmaker brings Karolina to life and discovers she can talk. They become friends and together meet a Jewish violinist and his daughter. Evil grows after the Nazis invade and spread their hatred. Although the book deals in a gentle way with great evil, it is an intense story with a historically accurate ending. (For mature middle-graders)


Erick Erickson (Handout)


Conservative radio host Erick Erickson wrote Before You Wake: Life Lessons from a Father to His Children (Hachette, 2017) after sickness caused him to consider his legacy to his children: his faith, the centrality of family, and standing up for the things you believe. Erickson writes honestly: “The need for relationships and community is why it pains me to have to acknowledge what a jerk I have been and can still be on social media.” More than 30 recipes will encourage you to break bread with your neighbors.

Oliver Jeffers wrote Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth (Philomel Books, 2017) to give his newborn child basic facts about our planet. The tone is amazement at the scope and variety of creation—including lots of amazing people. The message: Be kind. Detailed illustrations and Jeffers’ amusing voice make this fun to read. Although Jeffers focuses on the material creation, the book provides many points for conversations about God. —S.O.


  • GregFam
    Posted: Mon, 02/19/2018 12:54 am

    One note of caution on Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth. While the book is visually striking and beautiful, we will not be checking it out from the library again, due to one picture of a lesbian couple getting married. While we teach our children to love everyone, we also teach them to obey God's rules for marriage and sexuality. Too bad that Jeffers felt he had to include that bit. We love his books. Lost and Found and Stuck are among our kids' favorites.