Hart, Charlie. You Can!: Words of Wisdom From the Little Engine That Could. Illustrated by Jill Howarth. Grosset & Dunlap, 2018. Unpaged. $12.99. ISBN 9781524784683. Ages 8+. P6 Q7
We are familiar with The Little Engine that Could and often read the book to inspire children to believe in themselves and to believe that they can accomplish their goals. This small book is not a story but is filled with quick and simple words of wisdom based on the story and illustrations from the Little Engine That Could. One page contains short words of wisdom and the other page contains colorful, cheerful illustrations. Each page can stand alone or can be read straight through. Some of the words of wisdom, such as, “There is always light at the end of the tunnel” may be advanced for young readers, but adults can explain the meaning to them.
Verdict: If I read this book to children, I would read The Little Engine that Could first. Without that, they would not have a reference for the book and it would not be as meaningful. I think older children and adults will enjoy this book since it has familiar illustrations and the words of wisdom reminding them that they can do it. I recommend this book for public libraries.
April 2018 review by Tami Harris.
Lowe, Natasha. Lucy Castor Finds Her Sparkle. Simon & Schuster, 2018. $16.99. ISBN 9781534401969. 231 pages. Ages 8-12. P7 Q8
Lucy likes magic, nests, and her best friend Ella. When she comes home from summer vacation, life has changed. Her friend Ella has joined a dance troupe and no longer cares about magic. Lucy wants life to remain the same is not happy to find that her mother is expecting a baby. As Lucy adjusts to life in the fourth grade, with the help of her teenage neighbor, Chloe, she makes new friends and realizes change is not always a bad thing. Lowe’s use of descriptive words enhance the story. Describing the magic wands, she writes, “It was as if the magic had leaked out, and all Lucy could see now were two old sticks covered in glitter and bits of moss. Like a little kid’s art project.” This easy to read, engaging story will hold the interest of readers. There are a few twists and turns that keep the reader wondering how things will turn out. The relationships between the characters form and grow as the story develops. Friendships are found in unexpected places and it teaches one to not look at a person’s outward appearance, but to take the time to get to know people. This book is very well written.
Verdict: It is a fact that life changes and does not stay the same. This book explores the value of change and how it can add to one’s life, encouraging the reader to embrace life as it comes and find the good in situations they encounter. While this book is a good read for all children, it is especially helpful for children who do not like change or children who are an only child with a sibling on the way. I highly recommend it for elementary school, public, and home libraries.
March 2019 review by Tami Harris.
Ecton, Emily. The Ambrose Deception. With illustrations by Gilbert Ford. Disney-Hyperion, 2018. $16.99. ISBN 9781484788387. 359 pages. Ages 9-12. P7 Q8
Three students from three different Chicago schools are chosen to participate in a scholarship competition. The students are given lists of questions to answer to be eligible to win the competition. They need to figure out the clues and take pictures of the answers. The first student to successfully complete the challenge wins. Even though it is an individual competition, once the participants figure out something is not right, they work together to figure out what is going on. If you read the book closely, you will notice clues along the way. It is interesting that the children they picked to enter the competition had families that struggled a bit more, emphasizing that struggles build resilience. It also shows that given a chance, children can accomplish anything they set their minds on. The book is written in short chapters from each person’s perspective. It is captivating right to the end of the book.
Verdict: The moral of the story is that all people have different strengths and while not all children will excel in academics, all children have skills that are equally important. This book would be great for middle school libraries.
February 2018 review by Tami Harris.
Mobley, Jeannie. Bobby Lee Claremont and the Criminal Element. Holiday House, 2017. 229 pgs. $16.95. ISBN 9780823437818. Ages 8-12. P8Q8
Bobby Lee Claremont, age 13, decides to leave New Orleans after losing his mother to consumption and realizing that he has no future in that city. He embarks on a life of crime by robbing the poor box at the Sisters of Charitable Mercy Orphanage. He buys a train ticket to Chicago, since it looks like the best bet for a clever kid who wants to join a gang and cash in on the illegal alcohol business that prohibition created. His plans don’t quite work out though- he gets thrown in with some nasty gangsters on the train, and finds that the life of crime may not be for him. Together with two quick witted African American boys (the grandsons of a train employee), Bobby Lee gets to the bottom of a murder mystery. I really enjoyed this fast paced adventure, with its villains, believable characters, jazz musicians, and train culture. Bobby Lee learns a lot about the Jim Crow laws that were in place at the time, and comes to believe that segregation and racism are very wrong. The author’s note gives further information about Jim Crow laws, segregation on trains, and gangsters in the 1920s.
VERDICT: I think young readers will find this a fast and fun read. It could be used in the classroom to provide background in a history class as well.
January 2018 review by Carol Schramm.
Surojegin, Nora. Otto and the Secret Light of Christmas. Illustrated by Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin. Floris Books, 2016. English Version 2016. 101 pgs. $24.95. ISBN 9781782503231. Ages 5-10. P8Q8
Otto the elf goes on a quest through the dark forests of Finland looking for the Light of Christmas to brighten the dismal winter on the coast. This is a beautiful Christmas tale that is rich in references to Finnish folklore and culture, and the soft, intricate, glowing illustrations added so much to my appreciation of the story. I enjoyed the richness of the language. The descriptions of the forest, scenery, and characters are absolutely magical, and new vocabulary is used. I can imagine parents and children cuddled up, drinking hot chocolate and reading this book together over the Christmas holidays. The kindness and generosity that Otto encounters throughout the story are a nice reminder of how people should behave. The format of the book is pleasing too- it’s a large size with a sturdy cover. Every spread has an illustration, and the text is divided into short chapters that will help young readers keep pace with the story, and will make the book a good bed time story to read over the course of several nights. The author and illustrator are mother and daughter. Originally published Finland in 2010.
VERDICT: I think this book will become a holiday favorite at my library in the years to come.
January 2018 review by Carol Schramm.
Pierce, Tamora. Tempests and Slaughter. “Advance Reader’s Copy.” (The Numair Chronicles, book 1) Random House Books for Young Readers, on sale February 6, 2018. $18.99.  pages. ISBN 978-0-375-8471-0. “Ages 12-up.” P8Q8
Fans of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall series will welcome this new prequel series about the early life of mage Numair Salmalín, once called Arram Draper. At the age of 10, Arram becomes a student at the Imperial University of Carthak. The opening scenes with his father and uncle at the Imperial Games introduce Arram to the gladiator Musenda, who saves his life, and begin his lifelong aversion to slavery. In many ways, Tempests and Slaughter is a fantasy tale in the form of a school story. Arram faces classroom challenges, dormitory dominance issues, beginning friendships, and growing confidence in his own abilities. Also typical of school stories, Arram’s story focuses on new classes and growing mastery, not on extraordinary quests and tests. In this first book of a planned trilogy, Pierce introduces major players and conflicts that tie into the later books in the world of Tortall.
Verdict: Highly recommended for public, middle and high school libraries.
January 2017 review by Jane Cothron.
Smy, Pam. Thornhill. Roaring Brook, 2017. $19.99. 539p. ISBN 978-1-626-72654-3. Ages 13+. P9Q10
Darkness, both in narrative and illustrations, highlight the tragic story of Ella Clarke, a lonely girl in a new town who slowly learns about the misery of another teenage girl living in an orphanage across from her house 35 years earlier. As the girl looks out the window at the deserted building and onto its untended surrounding land, she is drawn to investigate Thornhill and discovers the reason for the fire that destroyed the facility just days before the last few girls were to be moved to foster homes. The story is one of cruel bullying, horrific neglect by adult caretakers, and the loss of hope leading to the end of lives. Each brief chapter from the orphan girl’s diary is prefaced by magnificent two-page spreads that extend the plot and characters.
Verdict: Smy’s debut novel is an engrossing tale of harrowing persecution leading to revenge, an unforgettable and chilling revelation of abuse and desperation. An excellent choice for Neil Gaiman fans of Coraline and The Graveyard Book.
December 2017 review by Nel Ward