Kids books. Oh my, where do we begin? I don't write enough about them, but we have a sizable room here in the shop with all manner of children's resources. We have non-book items, too, like CDs, including the new Roots for Rain Waiting Songs, and our latest cool thing, an interactive book/game with 20 blocks like dice that invite storytelling, nicely put together by our friend Daniel Nayeri, called How to Tell a Story (Workman; $19.99.)
I'm going to describe some fun and very creatively produced picture books, but first want to give a shout out to a few more serious books for middle-school readers or teens.
We have these in stock and at least until we sell out, we can ship promptly. The US Postal Service's Priority Mail is cheaper than UPS and just as quick and sometimes quicker. Contact us today and you'd still have these before Christmas. ALL ARE 20% OFF THE REGULAR PRICE SHOWN. We'll deduct the discount when you order at our secure on line page or call.
FOR OLDER KIDS, MIDDLE-SCHOOL READERS OR TEENS
Orbiting Jupiter Gary Schmidt (Clarion) $17.99
I hope you know the important Newberry Award winner Gary Schmidt, who not only is famous and respected in the youth, YA, and teen book world, but teaches writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids and is a significant Christian leader in the writing arts. (Oh how I loved his children's novel, The Wednesday Wars which is out in paperback, now.) We are fans of his work, and this very new one, Orbiting Jupiter, is about a 12-year old boy who gains a new 15 year-old foster brother who just got out of juvenile detention and himself has fathered a child, a child he hasn't met, named Jupiter. It's not a long story, and is sure to hold the attention of youth, but it is heavy. One critic said this is Schmidt at his very best. 183 pages, hardback.
Get Your Story Straight: A Teen's Guide to Learning and Living the Gospel Kristen Hatton (New Growth Press) $17.99
We stock most everything of this publisher, best known, perhaps, for their substantive "Gospel Centered Life" small group curriculum (that had been created by World Harvest Mission, now known as Serge.) This is a remarkable, Bible-based devotional with workbooky sorts of questions to ponder and some places for journaling. Its solid, rather Reformed, vision centers on grace and how Christ is King of all of life. We are called into His Kingdom story of renewal and restoration and teens, too, are invited to take faith seriously, to understand heavy stuff, and to take up their own resistance to the idols of the selfie culture. This is nice, but serious, joyful, but demanding, storied and full of stories, Scripture stories of truth and goodness. It's 325 pages in 52 chapters -- one a week for a year!
A Wolf at the Gate Mark Van Steenwyk, art by Joel Jedstrom (Mennonite Worker Press) $12.99
When I've described this before I've talked about the cool art -- done in full color, conjuring an old silkscreen press -- and how handsomely this small book has been designed and crafted. I have explained that this is actually a retelling of an old tale which is part of the legends that have grown up around the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. I've even explained that some of the proceeds have gone to the urban care ministry of the author and their radical mission among the poor in Minneapolis. But enough of the background; here is what is says on the back:
At night, the Blood Wolf prowls near the village of Stonebriar. She devours chickens and goats and cows and cats. Some say children are missing. But this murderous wolf isn't the villain of our story; she's the hero! Settle in and read a tale of tooth and sword, of beggars and lords, of outlaws and wild beasts. It is a story of second chances and the power of love. This is the story of the Wolf at the Gate.
Concerned about the xenophobia and violent response to fear in our culture? This is a beautiful story, made in a very street-level, hipster styling, that any cool kid would love to have, I think, and will will over a counter-narrative to all that. It's well told, just 75 pages, on nice creamy paper, a little oversized, making it a very nice paperback edition that makes a great gift.
A Chameleon, A Boy, and a Quest J.A. Myhre, illustrated by Acacia Masso (New Growth Press/Serge) $15.99
It seems that the well-traveled religious tradition of giving kids missionary stories has somewhat declined, and I was simply delighted to see this fairly recent publisher releasing an entertaining, spiritually-alive, adventuresome tale of life on the foreign mission front. At first I thought it was a standard missionary bio, but realized quickly that it is fiction, fiction tinged with what more highbrow scholars might call "magical realism." One scholar and mystery writer says, "It is like a Narnia tale set in the African bush."
The main character in this novella is 10-year old Mu, and readers of all ages can journey through Africa with Mu, discovering how one simple encounter can change everything.
The gospel themes are fairly subtle, the adventure vivid, the storytelling and writing quite fascinating. The author, J.A. Myhre, serves as a doctor with Serge in East Africa where she has worked for over two decades. (She is passionate about health care for the poor, training local doctors and nurses, promoting childhood nutrition and such, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.) This fantastical tale allows East Africa to come alive in the mind's eye of the reader, and the story of the chameleon (and a dog, too) is sure to appeal to older children and young teens. One reviewer says A Chameleon, A Boy, and a Quest "is rich in African texture." Mindy Belz writes that "It's a journey rich in the beauty and wonder of Africa, but it's also - importantly - a lesson on redemption and sacrifice." Nice. 160 pages
Secrets of the Ancient Manual Revealed! Every Dragon Slayer's Guide to the Bible Sir Wyvern Pugilist (Paraclete Press) $15.99
Perhaps you recall a few years our rave review of Sir Wyvern Pugilist's debut story, a matte black book designed to look like a mysterious, ancient manual, called Dragon Slayers: The Essential Training Guide for Young Dragon Fighters, Based Wholly on the Practices of the Great Dragon Slayers of Old and the Wisdom of the Ancient Manuel. Yep, that's the title, and the secrets of said Ancient Manuel are offered as kids learn the serious art of spiritual warfare. I'm not kidding, this is a hoot and a half and serious, maybe deadly serious. Yes, it names all kinds of species of dragons and writes about their "absolutely putrid, exceedingly loathsome and revolting breath" but it also gives good guidance on prayer and putting off the temptations of evil.
This one has look that is almost as cool and the page design is filled with graphics and fonts and pictures that will capture the imagination of anybody reading fantasy, Harry Potter type tales, or medieval battle stuff. Secrets of the Ancient Manual Revealed! Is an overview of the Bible, mostly, and while the first was truly about spiritual warfare and the armor of God, this is about the Word, fun, but informative.
One reviewer, a coordinator of children's ministry at an Episcopalian parish, says it "draws from a rich and fabulous literary tradition... and in so doing invites us to become more familiar with the Christian story of creation, fall and redemption."
This is just a slightly oversized paperback, 205 pages.
STRIKING, CLEVER, PICTURE BOOKS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN - OR KIDS OF ALL AGES
Edgar Wants to Be Alone Written and illustrated by Jean-Francois Dumont (Eerdmans) $16.00
Edgar the rat was furious. He had been out walking, when suddenly he noticed that an earthworm was following him. Edgar didn't want company, he wanted to be alone. He is determined to get rid of this menacing shadow, and recruits other animals to help him get this worm away from him. In a hilarious set of episodes Edgar eventually realizes that he might have been part of the problem all along. It's a zany story, wonderfully illustrated, with some kind of moral, maybe about humility or keeping an open mind or trusting others for help, or maybe it's just a crazy, fun parable about the unexpected obvious that can make us laugh. I love this French author's hilariously anti-xenophobic parable, The Chicken Built a Wall, too. Yay.
Never Ever Written and illustrated by Jo Empson (Child's Play) $7.99
This is one of the more wild and eccentric picture books this year, both subtle and at times nearly crazed... you may recall her weirdly wonderful book about grief called Rabbityness that we promoted a few years back. This one is about a child that complains that "nothing ever, ever, ever happens to me." Of course all kinds of stuff is happening (you can imagine the response of little ones who see the purple pig flying by) and the stuff that happens gets wilder and more interesting as the pages unfold. It is said that Never Ever displays Empson's "inimitable sense of fun, her love of storytelling and surprise, and her delight in the magical world of the imagination." Short, sweet, with a real lesson about realizing the amazing nature of the ordinary. It's not Brother Lawrence, I'll admit, but it might be a start. Yes, kiddos, stuff happens. Wake up.
Just for Today Written by Saint John XXIII, illustrated by Bimba Landmann(Eerdmans) $16.00
This classy hardback with somewhat of a medieval look is not about the current Pope, who even children have heard of, but an older one from the mid-20th century. This is John's little intention, his declaration of how he was going to live for God, moment by moment, day by day. He actually said some of this when he was 7 years-old, it is said, and developed it into a written rule years later. John served as pope from 1958 until his death in 1963. During his lifetime he helped save the lives of thousands of Jews fleeing the Holocaust, made a significant effort to resolve the Cuban Missile Crisis, and founded the Second Vatican Council. He was canonized in April of 2014. This nice reproduction of his "Decalogue" shows how we can live each day in a helpful spirit. Nice, with just a little edge to the bright art.
Little Big Written and illustrated by Jonathan Bentley (Eerdmans) $16.00
Who doesn't like a book with a giraffe on the cover? This story starts with a child saying, "Being little is no good. That's because being big is better."
Well, of course these fantastic watercolors portray all kinds of funny stuff and get the child into situations where being big may be a hindrance. Soon -- at least after some adventures -- he comes to see that "being little is best of all."
I offered this as a bit of a parable at a gathering of leaders from small congregations this past fall, helping us see that small things sometimes can do things that larger institutions cannot. But, let's be honest: I was stretching; it's not E.F. Schumacher's Small Is Beautiful book about localist economics: it's just a goofy kid's book about being a small child. What fun, and what a nice lesson to remind them that they are okay, "just the way they are."
Beautiful Hands Bret Baumgarten, illustrated by Kathryn Otoshi (Blue Dot Press) $17.99
This may be the most delightful, eye-catching, tenderly exciting children's picture book in years! It is made entirely (or so it seems) with kid's handprints, fingers and thumb-prints, palms and multiple hands, making remarkable gestures in bright, bright paint. This is so simple yet so incredibly creative, you will be delighted and the more you study it the more amazed you'll be. Some customers literally gasp as we turn the pages.
The text is, again, simple, but surprising; both sweet and profound.
"What will do you with your hands today?" it is asked.
Will you lift? What will you lift? Spirits?
Will you touch? What will you touch? Hearts?
Will you plant? What will you plant? Ideas?
There's a backstory, too, for this book; Otoshi is a very renowned and creative picture book designer, and Baumgarten is a dad fighting cancer, and the two came together to collaborate with this life-giving project, something for Bret to leave his own children, really. In an interview in the School Library Journal, Otoshi said,
I work with symbolism in my stories. For Beautiful Hands, I saw there could be wordplay between the tangible and the intangible--TOUCH hearts; LIFT spirits; REACH for love. Since this was a legacy book for his family, I thought it would be nice to have Noah, Sofie, and his wife, Deborah, to be physically engaged in the book's process as it all came together. So all their handprints, including Bret's and my own, are in the story.
And 100s more, actually. I wish we could show you how much fun and how inspiring and how beautiful this colorful book is. It's very nice. I'm not sure why I say this, exactly, but it might appeal to those who loved 2013's break-out. The Day the Crayons Quit and this year's The Day the Crayons Came Home. Sweet stuff, about connections and home and making a difference.
Fur, Fins, and Feathers: Abraham Dee Bartlett and the Invention of the Modern Zoo Written and illustrated by Cassandre Maxwell (Eerdmans) $17.00
The cut paper collage and mixed-media art in this great book is tremendous - not overdone or artfully designed for adults or to merely wow the viewer (as some seem to be.) Iit is perfect -- an aesthetically pleasing, creative, useful style, making this a delight to behold, but with the focus on the story. Importantly, the story is really, really good and something I think kids will be interested in. Fur, Fins, and Feathers is about the person who essentially created the first modern zoo (in the mid-1800s in London.) A person of deep faith, Abraham Dee Bartlett loved animals from the time of his childhood, and this picture book explains his passion and his principles about caring well for God's creatures. His vision was to keep animals in their habitats, treating them well, educating others about their glory and needs, helping moderns respect and co-exist with wilderness and the creatures of the wild. He worked tirelessly at the London Zoo to ensure that the animals were happy and healthy. This is a great book, inspiring and informative with lots of facts and lots of fun.
The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate (Eerdmans) $17.00
Eerdmans continues to be respected among the best scholars and practitioners of children's literature, and their picture books win awards world wide. This is a great example of a book that tells a story that even adults should know. It is wonderfully illustrated - whimsically, I'll admit - and told with passion and grit. It is a fun story, but a serious one, too, about heroism success, and, yes, about the scourge of racism.
John Roy Lynch had an Irish father and an enslaved mother. By the law of the South before the Civil War, that made John Roy and his brother half Irish and all slave. John Roy thrived after Emancipation and was appointed to serve as a justice of the peace and was eventually elected into the U.S. Congress where he worked to ensure that freedman like himself were truly free. This is a lively look at Reconstruction through the life of one of the first African American congressmen and is truly interesting.
There is a long and interesting historical note in the back that says, among other things:
Between 1870 and 1877 there were sixteen African Americans who served in the U.S. Congress from former Confederate states.
But there were only six more who served between 1878 and 1901.
And between 1902 and 1972 there were zero. What happened?
Roger Is Reading a Book Written and illustrated by Koen Van Biesen (Eerdmans) $16.00
This is an example of a European children's picture book picked up and redone for US readers. It is slick and cool in its jazzy drawings, funnier the second time through as more and more things seem to appear. The story is simple: Roger is reading and is disturbed by a rambunctious little girl named Emily through the apartment wall - she is shown on the left hand page of the spread and Roger and his chair and his book on the right. He goes over to her place, knocks on the door, and says, "Shhh. Roger is reading." Emily tries a different game, but this time it's even louder, and so it goes, Roger traipsing over to get her to pipe down, insisting that he needs to read his book, and the little girl doing more and more and more outrageous things to cause noise. The battle of wits continues and then ends - spoiler alert, here - when she is given a book, and she now wants to be quiet and read! Ahh, the power of the book, the goodness of solitude. There's a surprise funny ending, then, too.
Brother Giovanni's Little Reward: How the Pretzel Was Born Anna Egan Smucker, illustrated by Amanda Hall (Eerdmans) $17.00
What a jovial and sweet little book this is, full of colorful medieval monastic images and good-hearted monks at the monastery bakery. But the baker has to teach the children their prayers, and that is not going so well. With an important visit from the Bishop rapidly approaching, Brother Giovanni must figure out how to use his gift to motivate the children to learn. There are some colorful shades of Tomie DePaolo here, some think, and some good insight about using one's gifts and talents -- and even a recipe for home-made pretzels. Nice!
Just Like I Wanted Elinoar Keller & Naama Peleg Segal, illustrated by Aya Gordon-Noy (Eerdmans) $17.00
Originally published in Israel, this is one of my favorite kids books of the year! What great art - again, paper-cut collage and mixed medium, giving it a lively, interesting, curious look -- it tells a story about a child making an art project.
The story is mostly simple: what happens when one simply can't color inside the lines? "No matter how determined you are to draw the perfect picture, it's not always easy to stay inside the lines! Sometimes, though, mistakes can make a perfect picture even better." Creative types (or those who like to make excuses, perhaps) or those who like to experiment, listen up: the little star of this book is your new patron saint.
The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle Jude Isabella, illustrated by Simone Shin (Kids Can Press) $18.95
Every year there is a new book in the informative non-fiction series called Citizen Kid. (Learn more about them here. ) We've featured many over the years, such as Mimi's Village (about basic health care in a poor village), Planet Ark (about preserving the Earth's biodiversity), One Well (about the story of water on Earth) and more. Many loved One Hen which is sort of a Heifer Project type story, and last year we promoted Razia's Ray of Hope an inspiring book about a young girl and her dream of education.
This new one, The Red Bicycle is tremendous, really, really interesting, and I am sure it will be fascinating to some kids who tend to not want to read other sorts of storybooks. These informative books do come to us as a story, though, and in this one, a girl named Alisetta sees a bike without ever knowing that it had traveled across the ocean from North American where it once belonged to Leo. The author used to be the editor of YES magazine and is a science writer who has turned her considerable talents to this fabulous, complex, educational and very inspiring story.
We have a stack of these sitting here and have been eager to have somebody buy them - I'm sure you'll enjoy learning about the many places "Big Red" goes, from the bike repair shop and donation project center in Leo's town to the container ship leaving from the US docks, across the ocean to Koudougou in Burkina Faso. And there the story really takes off. Oh the difference that bike makes!
Kudos to Kids Can Press and CitizenKid that inform children around the world and inspire them to better global citizens. Watch a one minute trailer for the book here.
B Is for Bethlehem: A Christmas Alphabet Isabel Wilner, illustrated by Elisa Kleven (Worthy Publishing Group) $16.99
When I was listing some children's Advent and Christmas books a week or so ago I really wanted to show you this one, but the list was growing long. Now, I really want to list it, and exclaim about its colorful, curious, busy-ness and the wonderful, celebratory art it offers in this rhyming telling of various parts of the Christmas story. Here's what I like about this: the artwork reminds me of Eastern European culture, maybe even some sort of refugee or gypsy culture, bringing to mind the work of, say, Patricia Pollocca (I hope you know The Keeping Quilt, or her others with this look.) Indeed, B Is for Bethlehem won a number of mainstream book awards 25 years ago when it was first published, including being a coveted "Pick of the List" from the American Bookseller in 1990. It has been re-issued this year and we are glad to celebrate its eye-catching and fabulously evocative mixed-media art. I mentioned Eastern European culture; does this seem Jewish, somehow? Does it even evoke the religious art of famous painter Marc Chagall? Or do I misunderstand, and is it somehow Americana folk art? Or Hispanic? I am intrigued by this nice book, its heart-felt design with oh-so-much going on in each big spread. The rhyming lines are fine, the teachings about the Christmas adequate; I enjoy alphabet books and it's not always easy to do them right, but I think they have a lot of appeal, to many ages, actually. But the best part of this one is the endlessly curious paintings. I'm glad to see it back in print after being unavailable for so long. We stocked this book in our children's section decades ago, and it is good to recall it.
Ms Wilner, by the way, is the daughter of missionaries, lived her early years in China and the Philippines. The artist is renowned for a number of books, perhaps most significantly Abuela, which we have also stocked here at the shop. Kudos!
The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden Kevin DeYoung, illustrated by Don Clark (Crossway) $17.99 Last but not least -- so "not least", I am sure it will be on our "Best of 2015" lists -- is this spectacularly colorful and exceptionally profound children's Bible. We announced this when it came out this fall and the response has been great among those who have seen it. The art work is hip and very modern, the flow of the story coherent and faithful to the Biblical narrative.
The allusion in the subtitle is to the promise in Genesis 3 of God's victory over evil -- the snake will be crushed by a future king from the linage of Eve. This is the biggest story that frames our Christmas celebrations, isn't it? The Biggest Story and DeYoung's telling, in this sense, is similar to the Sally Lloyd-Jones' Jesus Storybook Bible I mentioned in the last post, a storybook Bible that isn't comprised of random, disconnect moralistic episodes, but a gritty unfolding drama of God's faithful rescue of the cosmos. Back to the garden, and more!
Of course, as with any such Bible storybook, there will be lines you wished were written differently, or this or that small feature you may not love. But we should be glad for such a passionate, creative, visually unusual telling of the biggest, most important story of all.
Why not donate one to your church library or nursery, and get young parents excited about reading the Bible to their little ones.
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