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Children's Books

Story hour

Four recent picture books reviewed

All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah

Emily Jenkins & Paul O. Zelinsky

Based on the middle-grade novels by Sydney Taylor, this picture book offers a sweet story of a Jewish family living on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the early 20th century. Mama keeps telling Gertie, the youngest of five sisters, that she is too young to help prepare the latkes for Hanukkah. The peeler, grater, and knife are all too sharp. Angry about missing the fun, Gertie stomps off to her room and hides under the bed. That’s where Papa finds her—and soothes her hurt feelings and lets her help light the first candle on the menorah. (Ages 3-7)

I Really Want to See You, Grandma

Taro Gomi

This charming story has two characters, Yumi and her grandmother. One lives on a hill in a house with a pink roof. The other lives on a mountain in a house with an orange roof. They really want to see each other, so each sets out to visit the other, Yumi by bus and Grandma by train. But when they arrive, they’re surprised to find the other missing. The mix-ups continue with less conventional forms of transportation, depicted with simple illustrations that express their determination to see each other. As a grandma, I love this book. (Ages 3-6)

Cycle City

Alison Farrell

As Cycle City gathers for its annual Starlight Parade, the organizing committee realizes it has failed to deliver eight invitations. The mayor agrees to deliver them, but first he needs to find the people and their wacky cycles. Young readers will have to search for critters like Chickadee and Frog. On every page, Farrell delivers quirky characters on unique bikes. There’s the armadillo on a unicycle and a polar bear riding a gelato bike. The pages aren’t as cluttered as the ones in Where’s Waldo?, but fans of Richard Scarry’s Busytown books will feel right at home. (Ages 4-7)

There’s a Dinosaur on the 13th Floor 

Wade Bradford

Readers whose taste runs to the silly will enjoy this story about one tired man’s adventure at the Sharemore Hotel. Mr. Snore checks in and is very sleepy, but when he turns out the light, “about to lay his head upon the pillow, he heard a squeaking sound.” And thus his troubles begin. First it’s a mouse in his bed, then a pig, then a leak from the ocean room. None of these troubles surprises the bellhop, who gladly moves Mr. Snore from room to room. Kevin Hawkes’ bright acrylic and pen illustrations offer hilarious detail. (Ages 3-8)

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Children's Books

Quiet times

Four devotional books for the family 


Louie Giglio

In Indescribable, Giglio explores God’s creation through 100 devotionals related to space, earth, animals, and people. Giglio writes that it’s important for children to learn about what God has created because it helps them also learn more about Him: “The stars don’t speak in words like we do, but how big they are and the way they shine so bright tell us that the God who created them is amazing and powerful.” Each short devotional in this fully illustrated book begins with a science concept and then relates it to a simple Biblical principle. Kids will enjoy each day’s “Be Amazed” factoid that further highlights a piece of God’s amazing world. (Ages 5-9)

Exploring Grace Together

Jessica Thompson

Thompson and her mother Elyse Fitzpatrick co-authored in 2011 Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus (see “Notable books,” Aug. 27, 2011). Exploring Grace Together is Thompson’s 2014 follow-up of short, family devotionals centered on gospel concepts. Each of the 40 entries offers a Bible verse, a vignette, and then questions for discussion. The vignettes center on scenarios elementary children may encounter in school or home, identifying root sins and then pointing to Biblical truths and our need for Jesus. Older children will find the devotionals overly simplistic, but their concise format will appeal to parents managing short attention spans. (Ages 5-10)

Listen Up

Marty Machowski

Machowski’s latest book of 10-minute family devotionals spends 13 weeks studying 13 parables aimed at fulfilling Psalm 78:4’s exhortation to “tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord.” Each chapter begins by introducing an action word of the week and providing a hands-on family activity intended to get kids thinking about the week’s parable study. Five days of devotionals follow, each with a Bible passage, short commentary, and questions for discussion that make this book well-suited for older school children. Sprinkled throughout the weeks’ lessons are “Fun Fact” boxes and opportunities for “Going Deeper.” (Ages 8-13)

Fearless Faith

Melanie Shankle

Through 100 brief devotionals, Shankle sets out to encourage girls on the cusp of womanhood to be brave in their walk with God and to cultivate the kind of faith that makes them fearless. Shankle addresses a variety of concerns tweens and teens may encounter in their faith journey while using Scripture and vignettes to instruct them in Biblical truth. The entries in this beautiful gift book each conclude with a take-away point and space to answer reflection questions. Every five days, Shankle includes an activity designed to help girls serve others or learn more about who they are in Christ. (Ages 8-13)

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Children's Books

Helping the hurting

Recent fiction for tweens and teens

A Fever, a Flight, and a Fight for the World 

J.A. Myhre

Dr. Mujuni awakes weak and feverish on a deserted island with no recollection of who he is or how he got there. A young girl, Nyakato, nurses him to health and reveals that they are the lone survivors of an Ebola-like virus that has wiped out their African village. As they journey to the mainland, Mujuni learns he is at the center of a government cover-up. A friend advises, “Safety is not our goal; … move into danger if it is the only way to move into good.” Myhre’s compelling fourth installment of the Rwendigo Tales stems from her and her husband’s experiences as physicians in Uganda during an Ebola outbreak. (Ages 8-14)

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

Jonathan Auxier

Eleven-year-old Nan Sparrow has only a hat and a strange lump of charcoal to remember the Sweep, her beloved mentor who took her in as an infant and taught her his trade. But when a fiery near-death experience releases her from an abusive master, the lump of charcoal magically awakens, becoming a protective golem she names “Charlie.” Set in Victorian-era London, Auxier’s story intertwines themes like class exploitation, anti-Semitism, and gruesome child labor conditions with charming characters and Dickensian villains. With Charlie by her side, Nan gains strength and purpose, learning what the Sweep exemplified: “We save ourselves by saving others.” (Ages 10-14)


Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead

Livy was 5 the last time she visited her Gran in Australia, and she has forgotten about many things, including a short greenish creature wearing a chicken suit that has been waiting in a closet for her to return. “Bob” knows little about who he is and where he comes from, and Livy determines to keep him hidden while she hunts for clues to help him find his origins. Told in alternating voices, this winsome story contains themes of friendship, identity, and belonging. Mass and Stead infuse humor into a quirky tale while capturing the magic and mystery that children savor. (Ages 8-12)

The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden

Karina Yan Glaser

It’s summertime in Harlem, and the eldest of the five Vanderbeeker children is away at orchestra camp, leaving the others bickering and bored. When their beloved upstairs neighbor Mr. Jeet ends up in the hospital after suffering a stroke, the children set out to turn an abandoned church lot into a beautiful community garden as a welcome-home surprise. The countdown begins, but as the children enlist the help of neighbors and friends and cultivate the garden, a wealthy developer seeks to turn the lot into condominiums. A companion to Glaser’s The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, this book is an equally endearing tale of an urban, biracial family with tenacity and neighborly love. (Ages 8-12)

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