As Amos counts sheep to fall asleep, he hears a loud thump. Two grumpy sheep have tumbled into his bedroom, beckoned by his nightly ritual. More arrive and want Amos to build a fence for them to leap over. Lots of humorous demands and attempts follow. Finally the sheep are satisfied, and they tell Amos to test out the fence. He jumps and jumps until he’s sound asleep. Readers will enjoy the zany illustrations and crazy requests: “I feel like having a shower right now,” one sheep says. “Do you happen to have a hot tub?” another asks. (Ages 3-7)
What Does an Anteater Eat?
An anteater wakes up and realizes he’s hungry, so he asks a series of animals if they know what he should eat. The animals give him all kinds of advice, but none of it seems quite right. He asks a leopard, who responds, “I must say, you look very tasty.” Finally he spots an ant mound and discovers the joys of … bananas. The book’s square format, bold watercolor-and-charcoal illustrations, and large text make it appealing for pre-readers and early readers. Children will also enjoy finding the ants going about their business on each spread. (Ages 2-5)
The Pawed Piper
“I want a cat to cuddle.” So begins this story of a little girl who really wants a cat. She hatches a plan that proves so successful it attracts 67 cats to her bedroom, including her Granny’s cat, Hector. The detailed watercolor-and-pencil illustrations show the little girl’s determination and the blessing of a bed teeming with cats, which she enjoys all the next day. But when she returns Granny’s cat, she discovers the others also belong to other people. She has to return them, too. The ending will delight cat lovers. (Ages 2-5)
The Little Green Hen
The Little Green Hen lives in the hollow of an apple tree and tends the orchard. When she needs help, the dog, sparrow, and squirrel volunteer, but the peacock, fox, and ginger cat refuse. Through the seasons the friends enjoy the trees, and when the rain comes they find shelter in the hollow. But the lazy critters are almost swept away in the flood until they beg for shelter. Later, when it’s time to clean up, all the animals help. This version of an old story has a subtle environmental twist. Simple woodcut-style illustrations give the book a retro feel. (Ages 2-5)
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Middle grade books that explore understanding, community, and friendship reviewed
by Rachel Lynn Aldrich
Some Places More Than Others
Amara grew up in Portland, Ore., far away from the extended family she wished she could meet. She is excited when she gets the chance to go with her father to visit New York City, where he grew up and his parents and siblings still live. While there, Amara learns about the history of her family and African Americans in the United States and discovers how our family history and culture affect us in ways we don’t always recognize. The story explores forgiveness and understanding between generations, the importance of family, and the cultural differences between the East and West Coasts. (Ages 9-13)
Song for a Whale
This whimsical and bittersweet book is about loneliness and the importance of connection. Iris’ deafness causes her to feel isolated from her schoolmates and even some of her family members who don’t know how to sign. When she learns about a hybrid whale named Blue 55 whose song is too high for the other whales to hear, she is determined to make a song for him and tell him he is not alone. During her pursuit of the whale, Iris discovers that a healthy life thrives on relationships—with family members, friends, and, sometimes, even with whales. (Ages 9-13)
The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA
A near miss on his bicycle changes 12-year-old Gabriel’s whole summer. A stranger named Meriwether Hunter saves him from an oncoming car, and the two become unlikely but close friends. The story explores the little-understood experience of African American soldiers returning from the battlefields of World War II to hometowns that did not always appreciate their service. It tackles themes of friendship and empathy between people with significant cultural, racial, or religious differences. The author also weaves into the story interesting details about the time period, like the Green Book that African Americans used to travel safely. (Ages 9-13)
The Multiplying Mysteries of Mount Ten
Krista Van Dolzer
This fun mystery focuses on math and codes. When a storm prevents Esther from getting to art camp and instead strands her at math camp, she must team up with the other students to solve a mystery. As she makes friends with the “math nerds” and learns to organize and solve logic puzzles, she discovers her artistic creativity isn’t so different from the talents of the Camp Archimedes students. Although the book seems to take a dark turn, the conclusion is lighthearted and appropriate for middle graders. A great read for kids who are interested in puzzles and codes. (Ages 8-12)
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Read and discuss
Four books from Christian authors
by Mary Jackson
Sophie and the Heidelberg Cat
Sophie has a spat with her sister and explodes at her parents, but she never expects her neighbor’s white cat to confront her. They take a rooftop walk, and Sophie expresses guilt and frustration: “It’s so hard to be good all the time.” The cat helps Sophie see that no one, not even her parents, teacher, pastor, or Bible heroes, is without sin—only Christ is. Wilson puts the Heidelberg Catechism’s first question and answer into a simple story that kids can grasp. “Hope doesn’t come from the good things we do,” the cat says. “It comes as a gift, from what Jesus has done.” (Ages 4-8)
Why Do We Say Good Night?
Children who fear the dark will find reassuring truths in this book to prepare them when the lights go out. Written as a bedside conversation between a mother and daughter, the book’s simple prose enlightens a common childhood question: How can the night and darkness possibly be good? The girl’s mother speaks soothing words about God as an illuminating Good Shepherd who is near, watching over and protecting His children. He “made nighttime good and right,” the mother tells her daughter. “You need not fear.” Illustrator Rommel Ruiz adds vibrant pictures that capture both the scariness and the wonder of a darkened bedroom. (Ages 3-6)
Look! I Wrote a Book! (And You Can Too!)
Lloyd-Jones wants children to know that anyone can write a book, and she prods with simple pointers that will help them start. With humor and whimsical illustrations, the book gives a step-by-step guide to the writing process, from choosing an idea and considering the audience to covering the necessary story elements and capturing the reader’s attention. It includes plenty of tongue-in-cheek commentary, common writing mishaps, and witty tricks and tips to demystify the task. From the best-selling author of The Jesus Storybook Bible, this book will inspire both budding and reluctant writers, and perhaps even their parents. (Ages 4-8)
God Made Boys and Girls
Children naturally have questions and sometimes confusion about gender, especially in a culture that tells them they can choose whether to be a boy or a girl. This book helps parents introduce young children to a Biblical perspective on gender differences that “celebrates God’s good gift of creating each of us either male or female.” The book avoids stereotypes and emphasizes that what girls or boys do, like, or think does not decide their gender. Machowski delicately ties in the gospel, reminding children “people get mixed up” because of sin and brokenness and only Christ can free them. (Ages 4-8)