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The Dog Ate My Homework And Other Gut Wrenching Tales Of A Fourth

Coming Home | JT 25.4

Posted by Ravi Zacharias, on September 1, 2017
Topic: Just Thinking Magazine

Taken from Walking from East to West by RAVI ZACHARIAS. Copyright © 2006 by Ravi Zacharias. Used by permission of The Zondervan Corporation.

ILLUSTRATIONS @2017 LUCINDA ROGERS

One of my earliest memories is of the old man on my street, a mystic who wore only a loincloth. He was tall, with matted hair and piercing eyes, quite fearsome to look at. Mud was caked all over his bony frame, his face was scarred by deep gashes that were self-inflicted from his religious devotion, and his skin was burned by constant exposure to the torrid heat of the midday sun. “How did he come to look like this?” I wondered as a boy. “What had he done to himself?”

I found out soon enough. Two or three times each week he would appear on our street; then, almost like a coiled rope unwinding, he would lie down on that filthy road and begin his routine. Cow dung and dog droppings littered the path, to say nothing of the stones or sharp objects that cluttered it as well, yet he would roll down the length of the street with a howl that sounded as if it came from the depths of a cavern.

“Govinda! Govinda! Govinda!”

I had no clue what his cry was about—I only knew it terrified me.

It was an astonishing sight to a five-year-old, and I recall scampering to my mother and asking her, “What is he doing? What is he doing?”

“He’s OK,” she replied. “Just ignore him.”

“But what is he doing?” I would implore. “Why is he doing it?”

“He’s calling to his god!” she said.

That did not quench my curiosity. But I did not pursue it as long as he continued to roll away from me, and his voice became a faint but haunting sound in the distance: “Govinda!”

The old mystic was only one of the striking sights on our street, a place that teemed with life in my eyes. On that street, I believed I saw everything that living represented. The world there was filled with sounds and screams and, yes, smells of different kinds. Silence was at a premium. Every morning at sunrise, any seeming quietness was broken by the shouts of the street vendors, hawking the items they were selling. “Onions! Milk! Vegetables! Knife sharpeners!” When these sellers came to our door, they would look through our open but barred windows. There was no privacy to speak of. We stepped outside onto the street, and the road itself was so narrow that a car couldn’t pass through but only hand-pulled or cycle rickshaws. Outside were stray animals and people, each about some pursuit. Sometimes it was a beggar at the door, sometimes a leprous hand reaching for a handout with a plea for compassion. Life with all its hurts and pains squinted at you, squatted before you, and stared you down daily. This was the street where I grew up.

Life in our neighborhood was lived out amid this jumble of sounds, sights, and scents. There, on the street every day, friends played soccer or cricket. Laughter, cries, angry outbursts—all the emotions were in evidence. Around the corner, a small shop sold potato-crisp snacks and spicy Indian treats, and the best thing you could do was go into the shop and have your uncle or your friend buy you a treat of some kind. Flavors were in the air—the smell of oil heated to its peak, frying food of some kind—and taking it all in was an all-day activity, with someone buying a morsel or two and munching on it as they went on their way. From sunrise to sunset, people of every stripe and need passed by.

Then at dusk, when the streetlamps came on, students came out of their homes to continue their studies under lamplight. In some homes, there was no electricity; in others, parents sent their children outside to study under the streetlamps to conserve electricity. There was often a tussle as to who claimed a lamppost first. Once that was settled, the fortunate student sat with his back resting against the post. Most of his scalp was shaved except for an area called the bodi, and he tied this part to the lamppost behind him. That way, whenever he began to doze off and nod forward, the pull on his hair kept him awake. This was the discipline of study in those days.

Now, more than a half century later, as I again walk the street where I was born, memories come alive with a wave of nostalgia. I find it hard to believe this is where I had my beginnings.

The narrow lane has been widened and paved. Still, it would be an adventure to try to wedge a larger car in here. Yet taxi drivers do it regularly and intrepidly, and as you watch you wonder if the metal shrinks when they approach an object that seems too close to avoid a scrape. An Indian friend of mine says that whenever he’s asked if India has a Disney World, he answers, “No, we just take a taxi ride. That is breathtaking enough.”

The first time I brought my wife here, we couldn’t get to the door of the house on this street where I was born and to which we returned to spend our vacations. A water buffalo had stopped in front of the door. That was twenty years ago, and I was completely overwhelmed then. The memories come flooding back so quickly and sharply: the neem tree in the backyard that we used as a wicket for our cricket games; the window to the room where my whole family slept; a kitchen with a clay coal fire in which to do all the cooking—the hot Indian flatbreads that would come out of the oven puffing fresh and make you hungry just by their smell, the curries that were lip-smacking good, the delicacies that to this day charm my imagination.

What a world that was for me as a youngster!


This house where I spent many a summer belonged to my uncle and was like our second home. It used to be number 7, but now it is number 13, and above the doorpost a large eye has been painted to ward off evil spirits. A Hindu family lives here now, a lovely couple with two young daughters, and I’ve made it a practice to visit them whenever I come back to Chennai (the historic city formerly known to the world as Madras in the state of Tamil Nadu, next to Kerala). The little girls have fallen in love with my Canadian wife, Margie. Every time she accompanies me, they giggle excitedly. They love her sandy-blonde hair and delightedly say, “Oh, Auntie, Auntie, I love your blue eyes!”

This simple little house is like most others on the street, very small, made up of four rooms, each measuring about ten feet by ten. Even these small rooms are carefully compartmentalized. There may be a stove next to a bed, that sort of thing. In fact, when my family returned here to visit, your bed was a chair, a desk, or whatever you wanted to make it for the moment. During those long summer stays, there were twelve of us altogether, including our relatives, squeezed into this tiny place. But we never once thought of complaining. This was life, and this is the way we grew up.

I am sitting with the present owners in a room that has been further divided into two. He and his brother have had a falling-out and have divided the house into these two compartments. Each family now uses two rooms. The girls probably sleep on the floor, just as my siblings and I did fifty years ago. Their mother offers me tea—there is always the beautiful custom of tea in India. This, too, takes me back. It is a marvel to sit here drinking tea with this family in the house that was my uncle’s years ago. They plead with me to stay for a meal, but much to their disappointment I have an appointment elsewhere, a speaking engagement.

It is an August evening, and it is hot—around 100 degrees. I remember having ceiling fans that kept the air circulating, but there was little else to cool you. You simply got used to it. And there were various other ways to manage. We had thatched-straw drapes—called khus-khus—that were woven together. You could water these homespun creations with a hose to moisten them, and then, as the breeze blew through the thatched straw, it cooled things somewhat.

I have brought the two girls of this family a bag full of gifts. Margie and I always prepare something for them at home before we come. And they’re always appreciative that we think of them.

The father asks, “How was your trip? Why are you here this time?”

“I’m speaking in various places here in Chennai. Then I’ll be going up to Delhi in a few days.”

This man is a marketing director for a small firm, with a master’s degree that he attained by going to night school. His English is broken, as is my Tamil, but between the two of us we make a sensible conversation. The girls do fairly well with English; the mother speaks none at all. They know I live in the United States, and one of the girls ventures to ask what city I live in.

“In Atlanta,” I say.

They begin to tell me their dreams. One wants to be a teacher, the other a doctor.

“A doctor,” I think, for I also was a premed student at one time.

The father tells me, in so many words, that his greatest burden is for his children to get an education, because none of his family did. Yet he doesn’t have the wherewithal to send the two girls to college. “Anything you can do to help them get the best education in America or Canada is my heart’s deepest desire.”

I tell him we could help. Our ministry provides scholarships toward education for families in need. His eyes get moist, hoping that this dream for his children might come true.

The last time I was here I tried to give the father some money, but he wouldn’t take it. He said, “You gave to me last time, sir. I am just honored you have come. That is enough for me, to see your face.”

So I handed it to one of the girls instead, telling her, “I want you each to have a bicycle to ride to school.” They beamed with gratitude, and now they ride those bikes to school every day.

Later, the father and I discover in our conversation that this house was sold to his father by one of my uncles. Family ties run deep here, coloring virtually every detail of life. I tell him that just a few doors down is the home that my mother’s family owned, the house where I was born.

That house was called “Dalmejiem.” The name was an acronym that included every member of my mother’s family: Devaram, the father; Agnes, the mother; Leela, the oldest daughter; Margaret; Elizabeth; James; my mother, Isabella; Ebenezer; and Manickam, the surname.

Now the girls are begging to show me the tree in their backyard. With their mother’s permission, they lead me to the very same neem tree that my cousins and I used as the wicket for our cricket games. The girls tell me they worship that tree for its antibiotic qualities. Every now and then, the mother lights a fire, and they hold a ceremony to pay homage. They tell me that she goes to the temple every day. “Every day, Uncle, she goes there,” they assure me, calling me by the affectionate term that Indian youths use to address their familiar elders.

Their mother’s eyes reveal the inner quest for piety, and my heart longs to tell her that God does not live in temples made with human hands. I trust that the time we spend together during my trips here will present the right moment.


It is not for sentimental reasons that I visit this family in my uncle’s former home. They are simply more of the beautiful people of my homeland with whom God has chosen that I cross paths. The truth is, I’m happiest when I’m with people such as these, people with whom I’m at ease. Here in my homeland I am most free to be me, with no one to recognize me because of my profession. And I get to do what I love best—simply to be with people. It reminds me of my youth when I surrounded myself with friends.

But the reality is, in the next month I will be speaking before the United Nations on the opening day of their assembly. I have been asked to address the ambassadors on the subject of “Navigating with Absolutes in a Relativistic World.” The contrasts between where I am now, in this humble house, and where I am going to be in a matter of weeks are too vast to fully process. Yet, there is no doubt that God prepared me for this life I now lead, connecting the varied and ironic threads of my experience into a beautiful tapestry as He would see fit.

It is not a natural drive within me to appear in such a prominent place as the United Nations. Yes, it is a privilege I hold dear, and a sacred trust. But I never would have wanted to engineer something like this. That was my father’s life. Because of the position to which he rose in the government of India, my siblings and I shook hands with prime ministers and presidents. We met and mixed with international leaders; we even entertained ambassadors and their entourages. The wealthy and the powerful are one side of India. Yet, I can’t explain why today I shrink from such a public life. I can only say that it has to do with the way the Lord has framed me. I truly do feel for a world in need. And I relate with ease to the ordinary person.

Even so, the last time I came here to Chennai, to the very street of my birth, a man came running out of his house and called me by name. “Raviji! Raviji!” he cried, using a term of reverence. “What are you doing here?” He had heard me speak in Amsterdam some years before and now as I passed in front of him, speaking to someone in Tamil, he was shocked to know that I understand his language, indeed, that this was the very street where I was born.


India is a nation with polarities of incredible proportions. Some of the world’s greatest minds come from here, making great advances in medicine, philosophy, and in the world of the Internet and high technology. Yet in the midst of this, of course, is dire deprivation and longing for a better way of life.

In this subcontinent, the raw reality of life stares you in the face. For that very reason, it has always been easy for me to see Jesus on these streets. Any time I read the accounts in the Gospels, I can envision the Lord with the lame man in all his bare need on the side of the road, or the leprous body longing for a touch. After all, that’s what I saw growing up, every day. Moreover, each time I read of the Lord walking in the streets of Bethany or Jerusalem and telling a parable, I see my Indian culture, which also deals in parables.

I see the tailor who sets up his machine in the open air on the street corner, wedged between other craftsmen and craftswomen, shoe shiners, fabric menders—all business-people who eke out a living from wherever they can find a small, square space. The people here know how to manage with very little. Yet, sometimes I wonder how they make a living out of it. Theirs are lives full of burdens and chores, and they’re so very hard-pressed for money just to get by. Some are forced to set up home on the side of the road in a little shack. Others live on the streets in poverty, without even the advantage of a roof. And it’s virtually impossible for the lower classes to rise upward.

This unvarnished reality must be one reason why India is the largest producer of movies in the world. The movies that are made here are the best barometer of humanity’s gnawing need for an escape hatch. Through movies, you can escape to romance, to justice, to the fulfilling marriage you never had, to upholding the cause of the poor. Yet, in spite of the escapism that movies promise, you can never escape the sharp edges of life in India. It’s always there to greet you as you exit the theater.

At the same time, there is also evident on these streets the very real resilience of the human spirit. People make a go of things with what they have. As I look from one side of the street to the other, I see those who will survive against all odds and who have learned to cope. India also is a deeply artistic culture. You see it even in this muddled-up, mixed-up, mishmash of a marketplace, in the way a merchant hangs beads or arranges his cushions with a pleasing aesthetic.

Each time I walk the streets in my homeland now, it’s a matter of good news/bad news to me. The good news is, I am able to see clear-eyed here—to behold life and all its pain. The bad news is, the pain is so overwhelming that I can get desensitized to it, and one has to be careful of that. It’s why I keep telling my children to never forget from whence they ultimately came.

As I walk my home street now, I’m hit with the reality that my own life came out of nothing. By the time I was a teenager, when my family returned here on vacations to my mother’s home in Chennai, in the South, from our home in Delhi in northern India, I realized how small her family’s house was and how little my cousins had. I would ask my mother, “Why are they so poor?” By then, coming to Chennai always reminded me of the meager side of our existence.

Now, whenever I return, I have a yearning in my soul to be a solution to this. How can I help the very people whose blood is in my veins? Their food, their language, their ragtag existence from day to day, their struggle to survive—all of that is in me.

I always bring an envelope with money I’ve saved up or set aside. At the beginning of the week, that envelope is open to various needs. By the time I leave, everything in it will be gone. In a little over a week from now, I will go home to a steady income and a comfortable home, and, yes, a kind of sanitized life. But the ones I see struggling here I know cannot make it on their own. Sharing with these people some of what I have, and seeing the small bit of happiness it brings into their lives, is the privilege of a native son.

Sometimes we can convince ourselves that the answer to everything lies in economic well-being. Obviously, this is a very important facet of life. When you can afford a meal, a bed, a home for your family, you can be content. But it does not ultimately solve the deepest questions that haunt you. That is where religion is supposed to help, to offer answers.

Whether we like to admit it or not, many religions of the world are concocted to hold fear and control over people. Nobody likes to talk about this, but it’s the way it is. The human psyche is vulnerable because of its built-in fear of failure, and becomes an easy prey.

That’s the way I remember first experiencing religion—as something involving fear: A man rolling down the street, chanting the name of his god. Men and women with deep gashes in their faces. Tales of goats being sacrificed in temples to procure answers to prayers. Each time I asked my mother about these things, she explained, “They do it to worship their god.”

Worship? It was an empty word to me, steeped in some mysterious expression that didn’t make ordinary sense. It was a magic wand to ward off tragedy. The one thing I learned from observing such rituals was a palpable sense of fear. Everything had to follow a certain sequence. If you didn’t do it right, something bad was going to happen to you. If I didn’t make my offering, what would befall me? If I didn’t do this one thing correctly, what price would I have to pay to some sharp, implacable divine being? Was all that just superstition born out of fear, dressed up into a system, and embedded into a culture?

There was one wonderful aspect of the religious world I grew up in that held my fascination—and that was its stories. I loved the pictures; the mythologies; and the ideas of rescue, of winning wars, of magical potions, of how your mother could be saved by some god who came down and carried her away from harm. It was a bit of folklore here, a bit of drama there, a bit of religion, a bit of historical fact, all mixed together.

I used to go with my friends and their families to watch the religious plays at the festivals, and I became quite fond of them. To me, it wasn’t so much religious as that it was part of a family’s annual routine. Each year, when the Hindu god Ram’s birthday came around, I went with my friends to see the plays that reenacted stories about Ram. I loved these dramas, because my little brother Ramesh was named after Ram.


My siblings and I got our first taste of Western religion when two Jehovah’s Witnesses came knocking on our door one day. A Mr. and Mrs. Smith appeared, telling my father they wanted to teach us children to read and to know the Bible. They assured our dad how very important this was.

So the Smiths came to our home once a week, and for the next year and a half they sat in our living room and taught us for an hour or two at a time. I remember reading the Witnesses’ book Let God Be True and the magazines The Watchtower and Awake. Most impressive, though, were the assemblies where they gathered groups and showed movies. One of these movies featured tens of thousands of people attending a Jehovah’s Witnesses rally at Yankee Stadium in New York City. When my siblings and I saw that spectacle, we couldn’t help being awed by it.

Yet, in retrospect, it shows how easily the human mind and heart can be manipulated. Ours was a small family with very little in comparison to most families in the West. And seeing that movie, with all those highly successful-looking people gathered in a magnificent stadium, my siblings’ hearts must have raced as my heart did. I’m sure they also thought, “This has to be true.” It made us want to be part of such a great event, in a great city like New York.

So we continued to study with the Smiths until the day Mr. Smith came to the chapter on heaven in the book of Revelation. He stopped there and told us that, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ teaching, only 144,000 people were going to make it to paradise.

That hit me like a ton of bricks. Here my siblings and I had thought we were becoming very spiritual. These Western missionaries had sat with us each week, giving us homework and encouraging our studies. But now I scratched my head over this news. I asked Mr. Smith, “Only 144,000?”

“That’s right,” he said.

“Sir, how many people are there in your organization?”

“Oh, we have many.”

“Do you have more than 144,000?”

“Oh yes.”

“So even all of your people aren’t going to make it to heaven?”

I thought of the Smiths’ constant praying, of all their efforts to reach more and more people—and yet even they had no way of knowing where they were going after death. So they certainly couldn’t assure me of where I might be going.

“Mr. Smith, before you came, I didn’t know where I was going after I died,” I said. “But now, after all this study, I still don’t know where I’m going after I die.”

They probably sensed they were up against something difficult at that point. Or perhaps my outright shock over this curious point of doctrine registered with them more deeply than normal. But not long afterward, the Smiths were succeeded by another couple, and when they sensed they were getting nowhere, they stopped coming to our house. Who knows, in another six or eight months, maybe we would have been convinced by them. But at that stage, I told myself, “I don’t much care for this. I’m done with Christianity.”

I didn’t know that it wasn’t Christianity I was rejecting, but I really had no idea how to distinguish one sect from another. At best, each of us was only thinking pragmatically, “What is it that’s going to work for me?”


Like most of India, my mother was very spiritual and at the same time very superstitious. In our home hung a picture of Saint Philomena, a Catholic saint, because of a commitment my mom had made after my sister Shyamala (Sham to us) was diagnosed with polio at five days old. The doctor gave Sham no hope of surviving, and in desperation my mother decided to send a gift to the Saint Philomena shrine in South India. She pledged that if my sister would get through this, my mother would give money to the shrine faithfully.

Sham survived. In her younger years she wore a crude knee brace from just above the knee to her ankle and walked with a bit of a hop. (Today, after a surgery, she has only a slight limp that is virtually undetectable.) But what was most important to my mother was that her daughter’s life was spared. That is why, almost until the day Mom died, she faithfully sent money to the Saint Philomena shrine. It is also why my sister Sham was given the middle name Philomena.

After that ordeal, our family was brought to the brink again years later over our baby brother Ramesh. I especially was very close to him, so it struck me hard when little Ramesh, only six or seven years old, became ill with double pneumonia and typhoid. Very little could be done in those days for someone in his condition, and the doctors offered us no hope.

I remember the evening my parents decided to take us to the hospital to visit our brother in what we sensed might be our last time to see him. I was deeply shaken when I witnessed what had happened to Ramesh. He was shriveled down to a bag of bones. I barely recognized him; he looked like a picture of a starved child. After seeing him, we all expected that this would be the night he would die.

My mother stayed at the hospital with my brother while my dad took us home. We gathered for prayer in my parents’ bedroom around a picture of Jesus that hung on the wall beside the picture of Saint Philomena. I recall that night clearly, on our knees in that room, my father’s voice cracking as he prayed. I couldn’t believe we were losing him. My little brother was really dying.

One of the people my dad had called to come and pray with us was a certain Pentecostal minister. Mr. Dennis had come to our house occasionally on his motorbike to talk with my dad and pray with him. We used to make a lot of fun of Mr. Dennis and to joke behind his back because he always sang when he prayed. He simply broke out into song, and it sounded so odd to us. We were unkind because we had no clue what this was all about, and our Hindu servants in the house reprimanded us for making fun.

But now, with my brother dying, I prayed as I never had, alongside Mr. Dennis and the others in the room that night. In a voice of deep reverence, this man asked God for a touch of healing, for a miracle. There was nothing funny now. I was moved to tears as he called on the Lord to have mercy on my brother.

Meanwhile, the doctor had come to my mother soon after we left the hospital. He uttered to her the worst news of her life. “Sometime between midnight and 5:00 a.m.,” he said, “it will be over.”

My mother had not slept for several days. She had sat by Ramesh’s side the entire time. Now, as she faced the torturous hours ahead, she was overcome with exhaustion. She simply couldn’t keep her eyes open. As the night wore on, she fell sound asleep at my brother’s bedside.

Hours later, my mother suddenly shocked herself awake. When she realized what had happened, she feared the worst. The hour had long passed at which Ramesh was to have gone. Yet when she looked at my brother, she saw that he was still breathing. In fact, his chest now rose and fell with a stronger rhythm than before. Something had happened during the night.

When morning came, my mom sent a message to us that Ramesh was looking stronger and better. None of us were sure what this meant. But the same message came to us on the second day, then the third day, then the fourth. Our brother had made the turn, and his strength was restored.

In our family’s collective memory, this was one of our most defining moments. I don’t know to what degree Mr. Dennis’s prayer consciously played a role in this monumental episode of our history. But to me, there was something of God in it.

I don’t recall ever seeing Mr. Dennis again, though I have often thought of him. He was a missionary living on a meager salary, a living saint. Somebody must have supported him. Why did he pick our family to visit? Was this not God in the shadows, keeping watch over His own? I did not think of it then, but I see it now. I made an association with the life of prayer and calling in that man, and with the miracle we all had witnessed—my brother’s life had been spared.


Being back here in my mother’s brother’s home brings me closer, I sense, to the reality of a sovereign God. I can never forget that sovereignty behind my life, and it brings to mind a great Indian custom.

If you travel to the north of India, you will see the most magnificent saris ever made, and Varanasi is where the wedding saris are handwoven. The gold, the silver, the reds, the blues—all the marvelous colors threaded together are spectacular. These saris are usually made by just two people—a father who sits on a platform and a son who sits two steps down from him. The father has all the spools of silk threads around him. As he begins to pull the threads together, he nods, and the son responds by moving the shuttle from one side to the other. Then the process begins again, with the dad nodding and the son responding. Everything is done with a simple nod from the father. It’s a long, tedious process to watch. But if you come back in two or three weeks, you’ll see a magnificent pattern emerging.

This is an image I always remind myself of: we may be moving the shuttle, but the design is in the mind of the Father. The son has no idea what pattern is emerging. He just responds to the father’s nod.

Back here in my homeland, I see the threads. My family, my home city, my spartan beginnings, a life having come out of nothing—I’m reminded again that the threads are all being pulled together.

This is the only explanation for the great irony in my being here now. You see, of all five siblings in my family, I had the unhappiest childhood. Yet I am the one who is most drawn to come back.

It’s unexplainable. All of my siblings are natural leaders, and all live in Toronto today. Each had the beginnings of his or her success and happiness sown here, in India. Ajit, the oldest, was an engineer with IBM in the 1970s who later went on to his own commercial success as an entrepreneur. You would think he’d want to come back to the place where his mind was shaped, where all his dreams and hopes and promises were formed. You would think the same of my younger brother, Ramesh, now a successful surgeon, and my two sisters, Sham and Prem. I have no doubt they have this desire, but not one shares the deep, soul-wrenching, unshakable tug that I feel. Ramesh does tell me, “I want to go back sometime. But I want to do it with you, Ravi.”

I’m the one who keeps coming back—and who wants to keep coming back. I have maintained the language and the contacts, mainly by walking these streets. When I return and see the buildings and the beauty and the people, I reminisce, “This is where my life was shaped. This is where my calling began. And this is where I very nearly ended it all, out of my own despair.”

The sound of a voice crying out to God, a voice that once spelled terror in my heart, is now the very cry to which I respond with a sense of privilege all over the world. Still, to me, coming back is a dip into an ocean too deep for me to fully fathom. The full story only the tapestry can explain.


One escape I had other than sports was the movies. I enjoyed the Westerns, where the bad guy was caught because the good guy had tracked him down. I liked some of the old classics, such as South Pacific, and I thought the World War II movies were great — films such as The Guns of Navarone. I was never quite a fan of Hitchcock; I liked a strong story line more than a film that tried to scare you. And I really liked historical movies. For me, good entertainment fell back on history.

That’s why my favorites were Indian movies. I loved the romance stories, which were portrayed with such innocence. There was never any kissing on-screen, just a chase around a tree to preserve Indian modesty. That was funny to us, but it was intended to be very romantic. When an Indian comedian was asked to give the difference between love on the Western screen and love on the Indian screen, he answered in one word: “Trees.”

Mostly, I loved every movie that applauded the human spirit, which is at the core of most Indian movies. The very best of them was Mother India, which I saw in the 1960s. The story focuses on a family from a small village that was struggling to make it in their world wracked by tragedy, deprivation, and conflict. It is reflective of the larger picture of India’s struggle for survival as a people. It is truly a masterpiece, and I do not believe it has been surpassed, even forty years later. Its story of the indomitable human spirit had such great appeal to me, and I saw it again and again. Mother India starred an actress named Nargis, who became famous after that role, and her son in the film was played by the actor Sunil Dutt, who also became a famous matinee figure in India. The movie portrayed a significant age difference between the pair, but in real life they later married. I was in my young teens when the movie was released.

Another one of our favorite escapes was to a centuries-old place called the “Old Fort.” It had been an actual fort built by the Persians in the 1500s, and it was only a short bicycle ride from our neighborhood. It provided a great place to wander around, scale walls, and spy out from the minarets at the top. It was also a great place to find some delicious food on Saturdays, when vendors and hawkers set up their food stalls along the inner wall.

Even as I nibbled on snacks of bread, potatoes, and chickpeas, history again made all the difference for me. I loved knowing that the Old Fort had been built by the Persians after they attacked India. The Mughals also invaded and established India as a major center for themselves. I actually had to study all that in history class. But I associated it with the great food we got to eat, because it was during the Mughal period that Indian food became essentially what it is today. The Mughals used almonds, cashews, and crèmes to marinate their foods, while India supplied the spices. Combined, it became known as Mughlai food.

I also used to love riding my bike up a steep hill into the fort and then come tearing down at a furious pace. This was actually quite foolish, because most of the time my bike didn’t have brakes that worked and it put both me and the motorized rickshaws and masses of people cluttering the road at risk. That was youth in the name of bravado — in reality, being foolish.

There is a memory, though, from that steep slope that I remember only too well. One Saturday, I was on my way into the Old Fort when an older man came riding his bike out through the front gate at a good speed. As he came down the slope, his bike hit a stone, flipped over, and threw him to the pavement, cracking his head severely. I quickly dismounted because, in an instant, the man was lying, totally unconscious, in a widening pool of blood.

I stood frozen, not knowing what to do, while people casually passed him by. Some stared and tittered with embarrassment, while others turned around as they walked by. But nobody stopped to help. No one called for the police or for medical help — no one did anything. Not knowing what to do, I slowly remounted my bike and moved on. Several minutes later, I came back, and the man was still lying there.

By this time, the blood had congealed, and those in the area were just muttering, “He’s dead. They’ll come and pick him up.” I was horrified. I had thought that an adult, someone who could rise to the task of confronting this tragedy, would have stopped to help. But they hadn’t. It was an early taste of life in the raw for me. I remember the thought registering with me that life was cheap.

Finally, in a daze I rode home and frantically told the servants in the house what had happened. They told me that sooner or later the police would be there, not to worry. Years later, when I read the story of the Good Samaritan for the first time, I remembered that old man and his horrendous accident, and I thought how real such imagery from the mind of the Lord was — people walking by and leaving a dying man even more destitute.


One of the memories from those days well sums up what was going on inside me and who I was really leaning on. I had a daily practice that I wouldn’t have been able to explain if anyone had asked me. But my mom often commented, even in my young adult years, that she remembered this too.

There was a bus stop at one of the main intersections near our home. As I visit that spot today, I see it is such a brief walk from our home, really just a couple of blocks away. But back then, it seemed like such a long way off.

My mother used to teach at a school a short bus ride away, to help earn income for our family. She used to come home every day at about 3:45 in the afternoon. For some reason, out of all five kids, I was the one who would always wait outside the front of our home until I saw her get off the bus. I wouldn’t let myself go into the backyard to play or head off to meet my friends at the park until I was completely certain that Mom was coming home. She arrived almost spot-on-the-button every day at 3:45, so I knew I was safe in predicting when I would see the bus rolling around. I could see it coming in the distance. And that’s when I told myself, “It’s OK. I’ll be able to go now.”

She was a very small woman and very slightly built, barely five feet tall, so she was easy for me to recognize from that distance. And only when I saw her step down from the bus, clutch her purse close to her, and start walking toward home did I feel everything was OK. It is so ineradicably etched in my memory that I can relive that scene vividly. She later told me she always wondered why I was the one who would wait there. But she must have known.

I did that until I was fourteen or fifteen. Although the reasons may be apparent now, I still don’t think I could explain exactly why I did it. At the time, I might have felt I wanted to make sure she was OK. I suppose I was afraid of losing her, as she was my only hope in a young life stalked by failure and haunted by shame.


My mother once brought an astrologer to our house to read our palms and tell us our future. Actually, he was a sari seller who came once every few months, with a big trunk saddled on the back of his bicycle. He would customarily spread out a sheet on the floor, unload the trunk, and display his beautiful saris for sale.

This man also claimed to be a palmist. He put on his old- fashioned, thick glasses, which dropped down halfway over a nose that was constantly sniffling, and in turn held our palms in his hand with total concentration. The “hmm’s” and “oh’s” and “ah’s” that issued from him kept each of us riveted on what he was doing as we awaited his final pronouncement. One after the other, we took our turn, and the futures he read for each of the others were all positive. But then he came to me, and the first note of uncertainty was sounded as he kept shaking his head with bad news about to spill out. “Looking at your future, Ravi Baba (Ravi, little boy), you will not travel far or very much in your life,” he declared. “That’s what the lines on your hand tell me. There is no future for you abroad.”

To say that I was deeply disappointed is putting it mildly. The one goal everybody had at that time in India’s fledgling economy since Independence was to go abroad. Of course, I had no reason to disbelieve this man, or for that matter to believe him. But it did plant another seed of uncertainty, however small….

 

Ravi Zacharias is Founder and President of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Alpharetta, GA.

2018

FEBRUARY 2018

Game Over, Super Rabbit Boy!
By Thomas Flintham

Game Over, Super Rabbit Boy! is the first book in a new series that will surely be a hit for readers who are looking for easy-to-read chapter books that read like a video games.  With its short chapters and action packed, full-color pages similar to a graphic novel layout, this is an entertaining and quick read for young readers. In the video game world, King Viking has created an evil robot army to attack Animal Town and to spread No Fun across the land. They have even kidnapped the happiest and most fun animal in Animal Town, Singing Dog! Is Super Rabbit Boy fast enough and brave enough to save the town? He must complete 6 levels and “beat” King Viking in order to win and save the day. Can he do it?  What happens when Sonny, the boy who is actually playing the game, loses at a level? Will it really be GAME OVER for Super Rabbit Boy?  Minecraft fans may want to give this series a try.

Recommended for gamers and readers in grades 1-3.

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POSTED: February 27, 2018

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Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race
by Chris Grabenstein

This is the third book in the Mr. Lemoncello’s Library series and it is just as entertaining as it’s predecessors,Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics. This time, Kyle Keeley and his friends are back to test
Mr. Lemoncello’s all-new Fabulous Fact-Finding Frenzy game. This “Amazing Race” style game has the teams uncovering interesting facts about famous people. They will race across the country using bicycles, bookmobiles, and even Mr. Lemoncello’s corporate jet to find the facts! The first team to bring their facts back to the library will win some fantastic prizes. Kyle is ready to research and he is ready to win! However, during the race, he uncovers some conflicting facts about Mr. Lemoncello. Could the great man, his hero, actually be a fraud? He must get past the fake facts to find the real truth. Filled with loads of puzzles and games, this is another fast-paced book covering a timely topic about not always accepting the first answer as the truth. Research is the key to uncovering the truth! 

Recommended for readers in grades 4-6.

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POSTED: February 19, 2018

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I’ve Got Feet! Fantastical Feet of the Animal World
by Julie Murphy Illustrated by Hannah Tolsen

Readers will love this fun book full of a menagerie of animal feet in action. Tolsen’s bright and cheerful artwork exhibits an array of animals, including cheetahs and blue-footed boobies. This informational picture book introduces children to the many ways which animal feet have adapted to life in their respective environments and can swim, climb, dig, kick, and even attract mates. Though none of the information goes very in-depth, this is a great book for young animal lovers interested in a quick overview of the indeed fantastical feet found throughout the animal world. Preschoolers and kindergarteners will be itching to learn more about these amazing animals (and their feet!) after reading this.
Recommended for ages 5-7.

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POSTED: February 12, 2018

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The Water Walker
by Joanne Robertson

This new nonfiction picture book tells the true story of an Ojibwe grandmother, Josephine Mandamin, and the Mother Earth Water Walkers who started an important environmental movement in 2003. This group made up of mostly women walk to increase awareness of the importance of clean water.  In 2003, after she heard an Ojibwe elder say that clean water would someday disappear, Mandamin and her friends began their walk. It took them 7 years to completely walk around the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. Basing their walks on the Anishinaabe Ceremonial Water Teachings, they only walk during the day. Since that first walk, Mandamin and the Mother Earth Walkers have walked across the entire United States from ocean to ocean to promote their cause! The book includes a glossary of the Ojibwe words and their pronunciations found in the book. After you read the book be sure to check out the website, www.motherearthwaterwalk.com. The bright and bold illustrations add to this simple story. This important story about water preservation should be read and shared with everyone. Recommended for readers of all ages.

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POSTED: February 5, 2018

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Marigold Bakes a Cake
by Mike Malbrough

Marigold is a very fussy cat who likes everything just exactly his way and loves to bake. His favorite days are Mondays because that means he gets to spend the entire day baking! Marigold decides to bake a fabulous cake, but is constantly being interrupted by various birds while he sets about baking.  A finch arrives, a gang of loons, then more and more birds silently fill his kitchen. Readers may wait in anticipation for Marigold to do what cats usually try to do when bothersome birds are around- eat them- but Marigold does what any dignified lover of baking would do…he tries to teach the birds who to bake! Many laugh out loud moments fill this book and children will be giggling every time another bird suspiciously appears in Marigold’s kitchen. 

Recommended for children ages 3–7.

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POSTED: February 1, 2018

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January

Gimme Shelter: Misadventures and Misinformation
by Doreen Cronin; illustrated by Stephen Gilpin;
cover by Kevin Cornell

The Chicken Squad- Dirt, Sugar, Poppy, and Sweetie, are back in their fifth adventure! These chicks are not your typical barnyard fluff balls spending their days pecking chicken feed and chasing bugs. These adventurous chicks solve mysteries and fight crime! The Chicken Squad pride themselves in being ready for anything in the barnyard. In their latest adventure, Sugar decides they need a storm shelter in the yard for protection. While digging the shelter, the Chicken Squad uncovers something mysterious and stops their work to investigate the mystery. To make matters worse, a big storm is now on it’s way! Will they be able to solve the mystery and save themselves before the big storm? Other books in this fun, easy- to-read chapter book series include The Chicken Squad: The First Misadventure and Dark Shadows: Yes, Another Misadventure. Check out their website at www.chickensquad.com for more information about the series and fun games! Recommended for grades 2-4.

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POSTED: January 22, 2018

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The Tea Dragon Society
by Katie O’Neill

The Tea Dragon Society is a whimsical new graphic novel, based on O’Neill’s imaginative webcomic, which follows Greta, a young blacksmith, as she discovers the magical world of “tea dragons”. These adorable mini-dragons are kept as pets not only because they produce delicious tea leaves on their antlers and horns, but because the owners of these creatures form special bonds with the dragons. This special connection allows whoever drinks the tea-dragon tea to experience the memories of the tea-dragon’s owner.  Greta is welcomed into the Tea Dragon Society, a group of tea-dragon caretakers who show her the ropes of this delicate and rare art.  Nearly without any real dramatic storyline, this book is a fun feel-good story with great world-building. It is also an extremely cute book, colored in beautiful hues and filled with manga-inspired illustrations, making it a perfect graphic novel for middle-grade fantasy or magical manga fans. Recommended for readers ages 9-12.

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POSTED: January 15, 2018

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This is a Good Story
by Adam Lehrhaupt; Illustrated by Magali Le Huche

What makes a good story? In this new picture book by award winning author Lehrhaupt, a young girl is writing and illustrating a story. She wants it to be “a good story” so she gets help by a narrator who offers her ideas and critiques what she has written. First, she starts with a hero and heroine who live in a small town. She creates a conflict when an evil overlord attacks the town. Next, she has to plan how the hero and heroine can resolve this conflict to have a happy ending. Readers are introduced to the basic elements found in a story in a very imaginative and creative way. Not only is this book an excellent book for classroom use to teach writing but it is also a fun book to read aloud and share. After all, who doesn’t love a story about a hero and heroine saving the day? Young readers may be inspired to write and illustrate their own stories too. Recommended for grades K-2.

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POSTED: January 8, 2018

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Someday, Narwhal
by Lisa Mantchev; Illustrated by Hyewon Yum

Readers will love this sweet and quietly inspiring story about a fantastically tiny narwhal who lives in a fishbowl, longing to see the world but scared to leave the familiar comfort of her home.  Thanks to some help from her friends and a red wagon, Narwhal is able to see her neighborhood as she is wheeled around town in the wagon.  Little Narwhal finds the bravery needed to leave the safety of her house and perhaps will one day explore the wider world, as she glances at travel posters for farther flung destinations. Softly illustrated in colored pencils and gouache, Yum’s light and airy artwork makes this beautiful story about friendship one that children will want to read again and again. Recommended for children ages 4-6.

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POSTED: January 4, 2018

 

 

2017

DECEMBER 2017

Virginia Hamilton: America’s Storyteller
by Julie K. Rubini

This new and well-researched biography is a great introduction to the life of honored children’s author, Virginia Hamilton, who was from Ohio and died in 2002. Hamilton was born and grew up with her large extended family in Yellow Springs, Ohio. She used the stories she heard from her family as a basis for some of her books like The House of Dies Drear, and later used her own experiences with racial discrimination and the civil rights movement for books such as The Planet of Junior Brown. She wrote forty-one books in many genres mostly featuring African Americans, ranging from picture books to folktales and mysteries to realistic fiction. She became the first African American writer to win the Newbery Award in 1974 for M.C. Higgins, the Great. To ensure and accurate biography of this important author, Rubini asked Hamilton’s husband and poet, Arnold Adoff, to check the manuscript before it was printed for errors and misinformation. The additional photographs and informational sidebars add details to this great story making it a memorable read for all.  Children will definitely finish this book knowing much about the personal and professional life of this remarkable woman. Recommended for readers in grades 5 and above.

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POSTED: December 18, 2017

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Ban This Book
by Alan Gratz

What would you do if your favorite book was banned from the library? In the latest by Alan Gratz, Ban This Book, fourth grader Amy Anne Ollinger decides to make a stand and fight back when her favorite book,  From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E.Frankweiler is banned from her school library. Anne fights back by starting a secret banned books library out of her locker. Other books banned are Wait Till Helen Comes, Captain Underpants, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Goosebumps and The Egypt Game. Amy Anne soon has these books and other controversial titles available in her locker for students to check out. Unfortunately, Amy Anne‘s library locker is eventually shut down by the principal when he finds out what she is doing and she is suspended from school. However, her hard work has won her the support of many of the students and their parents and she begins to pressure the school board to review these banned books and allow them back in the school. This wonderful story should be an inspiration to readers knowing that your voice can be heard when you stand up for what you believe in! Recommended for students in grades 4-6.

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POSTED: December 13, 2017

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7 Ate 9: the Untold Story
by Tara Lazar; Illustrated by Ross MacDonald

Tara Lazar, author of Little Red Gliding Hood and The Monstore, has a new clever and puzzling whodunit book in 7 Ate 9: The Untold Story. 6 must solve a crime-did 7 really eat 9? Where is 9 now? 6 asks Private “I” from the Al F. Bet agency for help in solving 9’s mysterious disappearance. Private” I” starts his investigation at the local Café Uno but unfortunately he cannot add 2 and 2 together to find 9. Will he be able to solve the mystery? The oversized letters and numbers with their expressive faces illustrated by MacDonald give the book a classic noir detective look reminiscent of the Maltese Falcon from the 1930s and 40s. Mathematical puns and loads of word play can be found on every page of this book. This humorous story will surely entertain adult readers as well as children. Check our Tara Lazar’s blog and website for more book suggestions and information on how she got started writing. Recommended for readers of all ages.

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POSTED: December 4, 2017

NOVEMBER 2017

Don’t Sneeze! #2 (The Kid From Planet Z)
by Nancy Krulik; illustrated by Louis Thomas

Nancy Krulik, the author of the George Brown and Katie Kazoo books has once again found success with her new series, The Kid from Planet Z. The first book in the series, Crash!  tells how Zeke Zander, an alien, came to live on Planet Earth with his family. When their spaceship crashes, they must try to act like humans while trying to fix their ship so that they can fly back home. This is not an easy task since they have antennae on their heads and a talking cat! In the second book, Don’t Sneeze, Zeke is still having a hard time adjusting to human life. Humans do some very weird things! When Zeke get the zeebop flu, he worries about how to explain his illness to his new human friends. Will they still like him? How can he help Amelia and Zack stop the fifth grade bully, Slade, from bothering the kids on the playground? What’s an alien to do?  Fans of the Galaxy Zack and How to be an Earthling series will enjoy this new, entertaining, and
easy-to-read series. Recommended for grades 2-4.

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POSTED: November 20, 2017

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Birds Make Nests
by Michael Garland

Birds Make Nests is a beautifully illustrated nonfiction picture book that depicts a lovely array of various bird species and their distinct nests. There are many interesting facts sprinkled throughout the book, such as how the Great Crested Flycatcher uses a snakeskin placed in the front of it’s nest to keep away predators. Readers will learn that not all birds make their own nests and some simply lay their eggs in other bird’s nests! In addition to providing beautiful and realistic illustrations of the many bird types, this book is a great way to introduce life science and engineering concepts to kids. Recommended for ages 4-8.

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All’s Faire in Middle School
by Victoria Jamieson

Jamieson follows up her Newbery Honor-winning graphic novel Roller Girl with another pitch perfect story about middle school, families, and friendships in her latest title All’s Faire in Middle School.  Readers will totally identify with eleven-year-old Imogene, lovingly referred to as Impy by her family, as she begins middle school- a feat to prove her bravery as a squire in training with the Renaissance Faire. As if middle school isn’t bad enough, this is Impy’s first experience with formal schooling since she has spent her entire life until now being homeschooled.  She makes friends with a group of girls who aren’t quite as nice as they seem and soon starts to feel embarrassed of her thrift shop jeans and her family’s unusual lifestyle. Impy struggles to navigate the choppy waters of middle school and questions her own bravery and values when she does something she regrets just to fit in at school.  A highly recommended read for kids age 9-12.

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A House Without Mirrors
by Marten Sanden

A House Without Mirrors is a lovely, haunting, and classic story perfect for older tween readers looking for a more serious read. This tale of magical realism, originally published in Swedish, follows Thomasine who has spent months living in the huge home her great-great-aunt owns assisting her father with the care of her elderly aunt. Thomasine’s father is distant, struggling with the loss of Thomasine’s younger brother. One day her cousin discovers a mysterious wardrobe that if filled with mirrors that can transport you into a different world. This story covers topics like grief, family, and growing up in a magical adventure sure to please readers. Recommended for readers ages 10 and up.

OCTOBER 2017

Sing, Don’t Cry
by Angela Dominguez


Families will love this uplifting picture book that carries a positive message. Author Dominguez was inspired by her grandfather, Apolinar Navarrete Diaz who was a successful mariachi musician. The story depicts how once a year a family’s Abuelo (grandfather in Spanish) comes from Mexico to visit. He always brings his guitar to share with his grandchildren so they can sing together. Through beautiful illustrations readers will see Abuelo’s life, both the good and bad moments, as he sings and plays music for his family. The grandchildren join in, each thinking of their own good and bad life experiences as they sing. Singing is a way to help lift their spirits and share a special moment as a family. The illustrations change between black and white for the somber and sad memories, while bright colors with black outlines serve as the illustrations for the majority of the book. Sing, Don’t Cry is a powerful and touching picture book recommended for ages 4-8.

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Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer Holm 

Readers who were curious about what happened to loveable Sunny after finishing Sunny Side Up can rejoice now that Holm has released this much anticipated sequel Swing It, Sunny. When we catch up with Sunny Lewin again, summer is over and she has entered middle school. Gramps still checks in with her with frequent phone calls from Florida, and Sunny reassures him she is doing just fine. The truth is that Sunny is still struggling with the absence of her older brother Dale who we learn was sent to a military boarding school while Sunny was visiting her Gramps and Dale will be attending school there all year. Dale comes home to visit and when he does he still isn’t the same- he’s rude, grouchy, and doesn’t even seem to like the pet rock Sunny saved up money to buy him for Christmas! All is well in the end as Sunny becomes friends with the new neighbor, an older girl who teachers her how to flag twirl and serves as not only a substitute older sibling but as someone to help her navigate middle school. Recommended for readers ages 8-12.

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Women Who Dared: 52 Stories of Fearless Daredevils, Adventurers, & Rebels
by Linda Skeers

Families will love sharing this great nonfiction title together which explores a plethora of interesting and amazing women from history! Often not mentioned in our history books, this great book of short biographies introduces young readers to ground breaking women who dared to break the rules and often times risk their lives. Familiar names like Valentina Tereshkova, the first women to fly into space are included alongside less well known famous women such as Helen Gibson who was the first woman to be a professional stunt person. The fun, colorful painting illustrations make this not only a treat to read but also a delight to look at. Recommended for readers ages 7-13.

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Escargot
by Dashka Slater; Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

Readers will fall in love with this hilarious and adorable book about a tiny French snail! Brimming with charm and sprinkled with French words and expressions, this sweet picture book depicts Escargot, a beret wearing garden snail, searching for a delicious carrot-free salad to eat.  Throughout the book he slowly makes his way to the salad of his dreams, but he also talks to directly to readers enticing them to choose him, the snail, as their favorite animal. Laugh out loud moment ensue. Airy and cartoonish illustrations make this a great read all around. Recommended for children ages 4-6

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POSTED: October 4, 2017

 

SEPTEMBER 2017

Ugly Cat & Pablo
by Isabel Quintero ; Illustrated by Tom Knight

Move over Bad Kitty! Ugly Cat is here and does he have an attitude and personality you do not want to miss. In this funny new chapter book series Ugly Cat is best friends with Pablo, a mouse who likes to dress well. They like to go around the neighborhood making trouble and eating. They love paletas or ice pops and will do whatever they can do in order to get some. In this first adventure, when Ugly Cat and Pablo try to trick a young girl in the park to drop her icy paleta, the tables turn and Pablo is instead caught to be a tasty treat for girl’s pet snake! How will Ugly Cat save his friend and enjoy the delicious paleta too? Spanish words are intermixed with English words throughout the story, and a glossary at the end will also help with the meaning of the Spanish words and phrases.  In addition to a great story, Tom Knight’s illustrations truly bring these two friends and the other neighborhood characters to life. A special bonus is the recipe for paletas de coco included at the end of the story. Readers of books with unusual friends like the Bad Guys should try this new series. Kids are sure to be left looking forward to more adventures with Ugly Cat and Pablo! Recommended for readers in grades 2-4.

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POSTED: September 18, 2017

 

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe
by Megumi  Iwasa ; Illustrations by Jun Takabatake

Poor giraffe. He is bored. He really wishes for a friend to share things with so he writes a letter to whomever over the horizon. Pelican who has just started his own mail delivery service takes his letter and gives it to the first person he sees beyond the horizon who happens to be Seal. Seal then delivers it to Penguin and thus, Giraffe becomes the pen pal of Penguin. From Giraffe’s letters, Penguin learns about what a “neck” is and what a “giraffe” is and Giraffe in turn learns about penguins and how they live through Penguin’s letters. They eventually want to meet but how can they when they are from opposite sides of the world? Their attempts to meet are hilarious and will keep readers laughing out loud!  The cute black and white illustrations help to make this early chapter book an easy and fun read. This is also a great book for parents or teachers to use to help children with their letter-writing skills. Recommend for readers in grades 2-3.

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POSTED: September 11, 2017

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Gandhi for Kids: His Life and Ideas, with 21 Activities
by
Ellen Voelckers Mahoney

Gandhi for Kids is the latest book in the For Kids series, which is written in a straightforward and easy to understand format. Each book in the series introduces children to people, events, and ideas that have influenced or changed the world’s history. In today’s world filled with violence, Gandhi for Kids is the perfect choice for readers who want to learn about Gandhi’s contribution to the nonviolence protest movement. Besides his activism, this book also gives a thorough overview of his childhood, family career, and his impact on the lives of contemporary leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malala Yousafzai. The book also includes a timeline, glossary, index, and a resource section with websites and books for more exploration. The 21 activities for kids focus on writing, art, math, and science and nicely supplement the nonfiction text. Recommended for readers in grades 4-6.

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POSTED: September 6, 2017

 

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AUGUST 2017

Inspector Flytrap in The President’s Mane is Missing
by Tom Angleberger; Illustrated by CeCe Bell

This is the second book in the Inspector Flytrap series, a funny and clever easy-to- read series featuring a mystery-solving Venus Flytrap and his assistant, Nina the Goat. Together they work at the Inspector Flytrap Detective Agency where “no case is too big” to be solved. In this book, the President of the United States is unveiling a huge horse statue in Washington, D.C. He invites Nina the Goat and Inspector Flytrap to the festivities. When the mane of the horse’s statue goes missing and a giant fly from Venus starts terrorizing Washington D. C., Inspector Flytrap and Nina the Goat forego the fun to try to save the U.S. capital before it is destroyed. Will they be able to do it? Fans of the Ricky Ricotta series and the Galaxy Zack series will enjoy this fun and wacky, graphic novel-inspired chapter book series. Recommended for readers in grades 2-4.

 

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POSTED: August 28, 2017

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Happy Dreamer
by Peter H. Reynolds

We can all dream big and Peter H. Reynolds, author of picture book favorites Ish and The Dot, tells us how in his latest book! All of our dreams are important and our dreams can help to make the world a better place. Fold out pages at the end of the book show all the different “types” of dreamers. The charming and fun Illustrations go along well with the inspirational message “By following one’s own path, we can all be happy dreamers!”.  This book would be great for sharing and reading aloud but also would be the perfect gift for graduations and for other happy monumental occasions.  Readers can access additional extension activities for this book from Scholastic for more dream fun at home. Recommended for all ages.

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POSTED: August 21, 2017

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Fairest of Them All
by Sarah Darer Littman

The latest title by Sarah Darer Littman, author of Charmed, I’m Sure, is Fairest of Them All which continues the fairy tale themed from her previous book. Aria Thibault, Sleeping Beauty’s daughter, loves everything to do with the fashion design world except needles. All of her life, her family has been super-protective of her around sharp objects, especially needles! In fact, even though Aria wants to become a fashion designer, her mother has forbidden her to sew. Secretly she joins her school’s new Couture Club and plans to enter a fashion competition for a reality TV show, Teen Couture. Unfortunately, another competitor tries to sabotage Aria. When she is pricked by a needle, Aria falls under a mysterious spell that forces her to speak with a Shakespearean dialect. Will this ruin her chances of winning? This is a fun and easy book to read. It will be perfect for fans of Jane B Mason’s Princess School and Wendy Mass’ Twice Upon a Time series. Recommended for readers in grades 4-6.

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POSTED: August 14, 2017

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Bunnybear
by Andrea J. Loney; Illustrated by Carmen Saldana

Bunnybear was born a bear, but feels more like a bunny, so when no one else is around he bounces around the forest happily eating berries. The other bears don’t seem to understand him, so Bunnybear runs off only to find a warren of rabbits who can’t seem to understand him either! Luckily, he meets Grizzlybun- a bunny who feels like bear inside. Bunnybear tells his new rabbit friend, “You just look one way on the outside and feel another way on the inside. That’s okay”. Eventually the two are accepted by their forest families and enjoy a fun party together. This hopeful, gentle story is not only a great story about friendship but a sweet picture book to share with children who may have their own identity issues. Recommended for readers ages 4-8.

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POSTED: August 7, 2017

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JULY 2017

One Trick Pony
by Nathan Hale

Hale’s latest graphic novel is a wonderfully original  science fiction story that is sure to keep readers on the edge of their seats until the final pages. In a departure from the historical fiction stories in his “Hazardous Tales” series, One Trick Pony gives kids a fast-paced post-apocalyptic adventure. This story has something for everyone in it, featuring a brave heroine, a robotic horse, and plenty of creepy alien invaders to escape! Using only shades of grey, black, and yellow Hale weaves an exciting tale which at its heart is a story about a girl and her horse (robotic horse in this case). Recommended for readers ages 9-12.

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Posted: July 31, 2017

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A Time to Act : John F. Kennedy's Big Speech
by Shana Corey; Illustrated by Gregory Christie 

Young readers who enjoy biographies will enjoy this stellar picture book biography which focuses on former president Kennedy’s evolution on civil rights while in office. The book begins by detailing Kennedy’s childhood, service in the U.S. military, and how he got his start in politics. Though the president was hesitant initially to strongly support civil rights, the story eventually exhibits how he ends up changing his mind and delivering his historic antidiscrimination speech. This important speech helped set the stage for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Complete with beautiful and expressive illustrations from Christie, and an empowering message for children to speak out and “make history”, this is a wonderful choice for readers ages 8 and up.

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POSTED: July 24, 2017

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Wolf Hollow
by Lauren Wolk

Fans of historical fiction will enjoy this serious and complex middle grade novel which serves as both a coming of age story for our narrator, twelve- year- old Annabelle, and also a look at morality and lying. Set in rural Pennsylvania during World War II, the story begins with Annabelle navigating how to deal with Betty, a bully, who hassles her and threatens her younger brothers on their way to school.  Bullying escalates to violence and the blame is placed not on Betty but on a hermit-like, gun-toting, World War I veteran named Toby. Annabelle finds herself caught in the middle of this drama as both Annabelle and Toby go missing. A great story for tween readers in search of a challenging read. Recommended for ages 10 and up .

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POSTED: July 17, 2017

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Fish Girl
by David Wiesner & Donna Jo Napoli

Thanks to an awesome team up of two stand-outs from the world of children’s literature, readers have this thoughtful and captivating graphic novel. Beautifully illustrated by Wiesner with his classic artwork, the story follows a young mermaid who stars in a boardwalk attraction and is kept in a large tank by Neptune, the owner of the aquarium and apparently our mermaid.  The mermaid accidentally meets a human girl one day, who names her Mira, and the two quickly form a secret friendship. Although there are some dark elements to this tale, it ends happily with Mira escaping the controlling Neptune and setting free all of the other marine animals he has held captive for profit.  Recommended for tween readers ages 10-12.

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POSTED: July 10, 2017

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A Cat Named Swan
by Holly Hobbie

“Then he was alone.” Readers will find this striking sentence beginning Hobbie’s beautiful picture book story about a lonely, homeless kitten. The tiny kitten has somehow lost his family, and manages to survive on the streets, but is eventually taken to an animal shelter and adopted by a loving family. Dubbed Swan by his new owners, he enjoys the luxuries of being a house cat, such as sleeping wherever and whenever he wants. This lovely story of animal rescue and adoption will surely touch the hearts of animal lovers young and old. Recommended for readers ages 3-7.

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POSTED: July 3, 2017

 

 

JUNE 2017

The Heartless Troll
by Oyvind Torseter

Based on a Norwegian fairytale, The Troll with No Heart,  this graphic novel follows Prince Fred as he sets out to save his six brothers who have been turned to stone by a mountain troll. Prince Fred discovers a trapped princess when he enters the troll’s cave home and the only way he can escape the cave, save the other princes, and the princess is to find and destroy the evil troll’s heart. Although the illustration style is very much cartoon-based, it is incredibly unique and artistic. The story has some genuinely creepy images, especially of the troll, making this a story for older readers who are not easily scared.

Recommended for readers 10 and up.

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POSTED: June 13, 2017

Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Face of the Depression
by Carole Boston Weatherford; illustrated by Sarah Green.

Dorothea Lange was on of the leading documentary photographers of the twentieth century, becoming the first woman awarded a Guggenheim fellowship for her work in 1940. This picture book biography outlines the struggles Lange encountered on her way to success. At age seven she was stricken with polio which left her with a limp for the rest of her life, but also grew within her a special sense of empathy and compassion for the less fortunate. She was not a stellar student in school but managed to graduate and eventually study photography at Columbia University. Lange became most famous for her photo Migrant Mother, which put a face to the Great Depression and lead to government aid at the migrant labor camp which Lange visited. Filled with beautiful yet simple illustrations and two pages of additional information at the end, this book is a wonderful introduction to an important American artist.

Recommended for children in Kindergarten-3rd grade.

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POSTED: June 5, 2017

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The Secret Project
by Jonah Winter and Jeanette Winter

The book begins with a quiet desert mountain landscape, as we meet a coyote, prairie dogs, and an artist some may recognize as Georgia O’Keefe enjoying its natural beauty. Soon the government has claimed a private boys school in this desert for a clandestine purpose, as scientists arrive and begin to conduct research on a mysterious “Gadget”.  These scientists are often referred to as the “shadowy figures” in the story, and often appear just as that in the illustrations. These gray men eventually drive their creation to the middle of the desert for testing and this is when readers will understand what this secrecy is about.  After a countdown from 10, a massive mushroom cloud blooms over the next four pages of illustrations and the books ends with two empty black pages. An author’s note follows, explaining how in March of 1943 the U.S. government started bringing scientists to the New Mexico desert to create the first atomic bomb. A mysterious and dark story is told in this serious nonfiction picture book, one that is sure to spark discussion between young readers and adults. Recommended for readers 6 and up.

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POSTED: June 1, 2017

 

 

MAY 2017

Bridges: An Introduction to Ten Great Bridges and Their Designers
by Didier Cornille

This beautiful non-fiction picture book depicts ten bridges that were not only amazing in their design and engineering, but also changed how we travel. The physical size and shape of the book itself is clever and makes for an interesting reading experience as it is long and wide, a perfect format for the amazingly detailed bridge artwork throughout.  Some of the cool bridges highlighted include the Brooklyn Bridge and the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk, which is located in the canopy of eucalyptus trees in Australia. A sure hit with aspiring young engineers and architects, this book is recommended for ages 6 and up.

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POSTED: May 22, 2017

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Ghosts
by Raina Telgemeier

Ghosts is indeed about ghosts, but is also a heartfelt story about serious topics like childhood illness, loss, and family. Maya, who has cystic fibrosis, and her older sister Catrina, move to the foggy Northern California city of  Bahía de la Luna with their parents in an effort to help Maya’s illness. Her parents think that the fresh coastal air will be good for her health. Differing slightly from her previous works, this story incorporates fantasy elements into Telgemeier’s trademark realism as the girls meet actual spirits while adjusting to their new home, and grappling with Maya’s uncertain future. Fans of Telgemeier’s previous books, Smile,Sisters, and her Babysitter’s Club adaptations, are sure to adore this fantastical new graphic novel. Recommended for ages 9-12.

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POSTED: May 15, 2017

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Leaping Lemmings!
By John Briggs; Illustrated by Nicola Slater

“If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?”. Briggs plays with this age-old question we have all heard at one point or another from parents in this fun new picture book. One lemming is the story is different from all the others- he dresses differently, behaves differently, and he isn’t afraid to speak his mind. While the other animals are tunneling in the winter, he decides to go sledding with the puffins. The other lemmings don’t seem to understand him, but when this unique lemming uses his independent mind to save his friends from literally jumping off a cliff, they start to come around to his ways. This would make for a fun read-aloud and teaches children that it is okay to be different! Recommended for children in preschool to second grade.

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POSTED: May 15, 2017

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Mae and June and the Wonder Wheel
by Charise Mericle Harper; illustrated by Ashley Spires


June and her dog, Sammy, are looking for a new best friend. They believe that a friend should follow the 3 Fs - be fun, be friendly, and be full of adventure! June wants her new friend to also have fun with the Wonder Wheel, a special gift sent to her by her Grandma Penny. If you follow the directions of the wheel, you can have fun adventures every day by making ordinary activities more enjoyable and special.  Unfortunately, Mae is already friends with April at school and April does not like June or dogs. Can Mae be friends with June too?  June is determined to find out! Fans of the Ivy and Bean series will enjoy this story too. This is a quick, fun book to read with short chapters and cute, simple illustrations. Let’s hope this book will be the first of a new series! Recommended for readers in grades 2-3.

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POSTED: May 15, 2017

April 2017

Chasing Butterfree
by Alex Polan

Are you a fan of Pokémon GO? If you are, then try this new series, the Unofficial Adventures of Pokémon GO Players! Ethan, Devin, Carlo, and Gianna are Pokémon trainers. With the help of their favorite Pokémon, they’re ready to tackle both the real world and the virtual world in Pokémon GO. Chasing Butterfree is the third book in the series. Gianna and Team Mystic go on a trip to the zoo and are amazed at all of the rare Pokémon they see and all of the PokeStops they find. How lucky can Team Mystic be? But their luck changes when Gianna loses her special Pokémon-catching cap. Will Team Mystic ever be able to find it? Other titles in the series are Catching the Jigglypuff Thief, Following Meowth’s Footprints, and Cracking the Magikarp Code. This is a quick and fun read for all Pokémon Go fans, especially readers in grades 2-3.

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POSTED: April 24, 2017

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I Got This: To Gold and Beyond
by Laurie Hernandez

2016 was a magical year for Laurie Hernandez. At sixteen years old, she accomplished many of her childhood dreams, including being a member of the 2016 gold winning U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, competing and winning the TV reality show Dancing with the Stars, and becoming youngest ever trophy winner. By sharing her story, she wants to encourage others to dream and dare to go after their goals. Starting gymnastics at age 6, she relied on her family’s love and support to help survive the rigorous training and many sacrifices. According to Laurie, “You win whenever you commit to something, because you can’t experience growth without even trying”. A glossary of gymnastic terms and several never- seen-before photos of her and her family are included in this autobiography. She also encourages readers to write down their goals and dreams in a journal so that they can believe they will accomplish them. She is such a positive person that as a reader, you can’t help but be inspired by her story!

Recommended for children in grades 4-6.

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POSTED: April 20, 2017

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What Do You Do With an Idea
by Kobi Yamada; illustrated by Mae Besom


What can YOU do with an idea? Winner of the Gold Independent Publisher Book Award in the children’s picture book category, this book’s message is a great one to share with readers of all ages. A young boy has an idea. It starts out as a small golden egg in the young boy’s black and white world. He doesn’t know what to do with this idea but he can’t get rid of it since it follows him everywhere! He’s afraid that no one will like his idea so he tries to hide it but the idea continues to grow. The young boy gradually starts to feel better and more confident about his idea. As the idea grows, the young boy’s world grows more colorful too. He feels happy as the idea becomes a part of everything in his life. Finally, the idea breaks open. The last line of the story is, "So what do you do with an idea? You change the world." How true!  This book will soon become a timeless classic!

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POSTED: April 11, 2017

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Word of Mouse
by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein;
illustrated by Joe Sutphin

Isaiah is a special mouse. He has blue fur and he can read and write. He can even talk to humans if they want to listen to him! Isaiah and his family have lived their entire life in a mysterious scientific laboratory and now they want to escape and see the real world. When the mouse family attempts to leave, Isaiah is the only one who makes it to the outside world. Now, Isaiah is all alone and afraid.  Will he be able to live in a world of mean cats, hungry owls and people who are terrified of mice? How will he get back to his family?  He befriends a human girl named Hailey and with her help and the help of another mouse family, he plans a rescue to retrieve the family he left behind. Will he succeed? Fans of The Tale of Despereaux,Stuart Little, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh will surely enjoy this new, delightful animal fantasy. Short chapters with plenty of illustrations make this an easy, quick read for readers in grades 4-6.

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POSTED: April 3, 2017

 

March 2017

Home Sweet Motel
by Chris Grabenstein; illustrated by Brooke Allen

Home Sweet Motel is the first book in the new series, Welcome to Wonderland. Eleven year old  P.T. Wilkie, his mother, and grandfather run the Wonderland Motel in St. Pete’s Beach, Florida but they are struggling to keep it open. They may have to sell it if they can’t find the money to pay a loan that is coming due in a month’s time. P.T. and his friend Gloria work together to develop some money making plans to save the motel. One scheme involves finding some stolen diamonds that were hidden somewhere in the motel years ago and collect the reward money before the crooks, fresh out of prison, come back for the same money.  Readers of James Patterson’s I Funny series should give this new series a try. Funny, laugh out-loud, short chapters, wacky characters, a little mystery, and lots of illustrations make this a fast-paced and quick read. The book also includes some funny add-ons at the end of the book, such as how to say, “Help! The Toilet is is Clogged!” in more than 20 languages. Recommended for grades 4-6.

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POSTED: March 27, 2017

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Doll Bones by Holly Black 

Readers looking for a spooky adventure story will not be able to put Black’s Doll Bones down! Winner of the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award in Children's Literature and a 2014 Newbery Medal Honor Book , this story follows three friends as they attempt to return a haunted doll, made from the ashes of a young girl who died years ago, to her grave. Despite the creepy premise there are not very many ghostly appearances by the deceased girl and only a few mildly scary scenes. Doll Bones is a fun, well-written, coming of age journey- perfect for fans of Goosebumps and recommended for readers ages 9-12.

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POSTED: March 21, 2017

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Snow Whiteby Matt Phelan

Phelan has published a beautifully crafted, unique retelling of the classic Snow White story that is sure to please fans of both the graphic novel format and fairy tales. Snow White is set in 1920s New York City and interestingly reads like a blend of historical fiction and realistic fantasy. Samantha White, nicknamed Snow, lost her mother at a young age. When her wealthy father remarries Snow finds herself the stepdaughter of an ambitious actress known as “The Queen of Follies”. Snow’s father has a ticker tape in the family’s apartment, which is constantly spitting out stock market updates, and takes the place of the Queen’s magical mirror in this reimagining. Slowly driven mad with jealousy from reading the messages on the tape, the stepmother hires a man to kill Snow. She luckily is saved by a gang of seven orphaned boys, a clever twist on the seven dwarves.  The stepmother eventually tricks Snow with a poison apple, but is saved by the dashing Detective Prince. Phelan’s nearly colorless watercolor evokes a dreamy tone and successfully continue the narrative when dialogue is absent.  Snow White is a stand-out graphic novel recommended for tween readers ages 9-12.

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POSTED: March 13, 2017

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All The Dirt: A History of Getting Clean
by Katherine Ashenburg

Ashenburg has written a very interesting, readable non-fiction title that outlines the history of human hygiene. That might sound boring at first, but this book is a really fun read! All the Dirt covers the history of bathing, waste management, washing of clothes, changing definitions of “clean”, and more. Young readers and adults alike will be surprised at some of the facts in this book, such as how people living in France during the eighteenth century might not have bathed more than once a year!  From the ancient Romans, medieval Europeans, and current practices in Zimbabwe and India- this book covers a wide variety of cultures and traditions. Recommended for ages 10 and up.

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POSTED: March 6, 2017

February 2017

We Found a Hat
by Jon Klassen

Klassen returns to finish his award-winning hat picture book trilogy with this gem involving two turtles and a coveted ten gallon hat. Readers who are familiar with
I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat will not be surprised to discover the story revolves around both turtles wanting the hat, but unlike his previous hat books, these animals are friends. Divided into three parts, the story begins with the turtles discovering the hat but agreeing to leave it behind because there is only one hand. Part two continues with the turtles watching the sunset together, though one of them is distracted by the nearby hat. Finally, in part three, the two friends go to sleep and the tale concludes with a beautiful dream sequence in which both turtles are wearing the great hat and floating in a dark, starry space.  A sweet and funny story about friendship, and of course, stylish hats. Recommended for ages 4-8.

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POSTED: February 27, 2017

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Tek, the Modern Cave Boy
by Patrick McDonnell

Tek is a cave boy who loves his technology: his tablet, video games, phone, and TV. He stays in his cave all day long glued to his electronic devices and has missed much of the outside world including dinosaurs and the entire Ice Age. However, when a volcanic eruption destroys his gadgets, Tek is forced outside into the prehistoric world. Will he be able to survive without his tech?  Is there life and fun beyond technology? This clever book actually looks like a tablet from its cover to most of its inside pages. As the story progresses, readers will notice how the “battery life” gets lower on each page as the “Wi-Fi signal” weakens to nothing. As Tek explores his new world without the use of technology, the tablet-like page format begins to morph into more of a traditional book format. Fans of Lane Smith’s It’s a Book will enjoy this one too. For grades 1-3.

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POSTED: February 20, 2017

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Gertie’s Leap to Greatness
by Kate Beasley; illustrated by Jillian Tamaki

Gertie wants to be the best fifth grade student in the universe! She has lived with her father and her Great-Aunt Rae for most of her life after her mother left them and moved into another house on a different street. When Gertie learns that her mother is finally moving away from their town, she wants to show her mother how special and great she is. If she does, maybe her mother may not want to move away. Gertie develops a plan to become the best student in fifth grade. However, the new girl in school, Mary Sue, wants to be the best student too. There is only room for one great student in fifth grade so what will Gertie do? Despite the hardships and hurts of daily life, Gertie faces each day with a brave and hopeful face. Fans of Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale will enjoy this heartwarming story with a likeable, spunky main character. For grades 4-6.

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POSTED: February 13, 2017

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The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

This short and original story focuses on Roz, who is a robot. Roz finds herself alone in a secluded island wilderness after her shipping crate is lost at sea. She has many existential questions to deal with in this new place. Who is she and why is she here? The various animals she encounters are incredibly weary of her and at times violent in their attempts to scare her away. AS she struggles to survive, she finds herself responsible for a tiny orphaned gosling (orphaned due to Roz herself).  The animals begin to give her a chance and she tries to build a life for herself amongst the wild animals. This is an interesting survival story that also addressed many emotional questions regarding our purpose, where we fit in, and who are families are. The book is also sprinkled with various illustrations that add to the reading experience and will appeal to readers in grades 3-5 especially.

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POSTED: February 7, 2017

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Don’t Touch This Book!by Bill Cotter

Larry, the purple, blobby monster from Don’t Push the Button is back for another fun, interactive adventure. This time with books!  Larry does not want anyone to touch his book. But when he allows you, the reader, to touch a page with one finger….the magic begins for everyone!  Fans of The Book with No Pictures and The Monster at the End of this Book will want to add this delightful book to their read aloud collection to share with preschool and kindergarten children. Love the book? Meet Bill Cotter, the author and illustrator, in person here at Rocky River Public Library on Monday, February 20, at 11:00 AM!

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POSTED: February 1, 2017

 

January 2017

The Bad Guys
by Aaron Blabey

The Bad Guys is the first in a new series featuring the Bad Guys - Mr. Wolf, Mr. Shark, Mr. Snake, and Mr. Piranha. They want to start being known as the Good Guys and do some nice things for a change but their reputations (and rap sheets) stand in the way. By forming the Good Guys Club together, they plan to change that Bad Guy image. First, they start small by helping to get a cat down from a tree but soon they develop a grand plan to free 200 dogs from the Maximum Security City Dog Pound! Naturally, events don’t always go the way they are planned. Will they be able to do it?  Written in a graphic novel-chapter book hybrid format, similar to the Captain Underpants series, this easy and fun book is a treat to read. Look forward to more books in the series in the future. For grades 1-3.

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POSTED: January 23, 2017

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Emma and Julia Love Ballet
by Barbara McClintock

This lovely picture book follows the everyday life of two ballet dancers, Julia a professional ballerina, and Emma a young ballet student. Readers see them from the moment they wake up, as they attend dance lessons, eat, read, and eventually meet at the end of the story when Emma gets her performance program autographed by the prima ballerina, Julia. McClintock’s wonderfully realistic illustrations capture the grace and athleticism of ballet, while working perfectly with the straightforward text.  Both characters devotion to ballet is made evident and ballet lovers of all ages will enjoy this story, though it is especially sure to please young readers dreaming of dancing on stage themselves one day. Recommended for ages 4-8.

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POSTED: January 12, 2017

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School Freezes Over
by Jack Chabert; illustrated by Sam Ricks

Eerie Elementary is alive! Only 3 students, Sam, Lucy and Antonio, know that the school was brought back to life by the mad scientist, Orson Eerie.  In book 5 of the series, a terrible snow storm hits the school forcing the students to be trapped inside for the night. Oh no! Eerie Elementary begins to freeze from the inside out! Can Sam, Lucy and Antonio save the other students before everyone freezes? This fast-paced story with illustrations on every page will appeal to fans of Dav Pilky’s Ricky Ricotta series. Other books in this series are:  The School is Alive, The Locker Ate Lucy, Recess is a Jungle and The Science Fair is Freaky. For grades 2-4.

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POSTED: January 12, 2017

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All the Dirt: A History of Getting Clean
by Katherine Ashenburg

Ashenburg has written a very interesting, readable non-fiction title that outlines the history of human hygiene. That might sound boring at first, but this book is a really fun read!

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