Through intricate paintings and a cohesive text, this Christian tale becomes fully fleshed out.


A thief finds mercy from Jesus during the crucifixion in this retelling of a Gospel story.

In Arroyo’s picture book, Dismas, an abandoned child, is raised to be a thief. Despite his kind heart, he is instructed by his master that “mercy is a great weakness.” As Dismas grows to adulthood, he becomes a feared bandit, quick to kill. One night, Dismas encounters a group of travelers: a couple with a child, whom the thief recognizes as divine. Dismas spares the family, asking the child to remember him and show him mercy one day. Years pass, and Dismas continues his wicked ways until he is finally caught. As he hangs on a cross next to an innocent preacher, Dismas recognizes the man as the divine child he met long ago. Because of his faith, the thief is forgiven and welcomed into heaven. The tale’s violent content, from Dismas’ master’s killing a kitten to the bandit’s committing his own murders, is handled discreetly in the author’s straightforward text and delicately in Gallegos’ beautiful paintings. But this material makes the work better suited for older independent readers and upper level Sunday school classes. The detailed illustrations nod to European Renaissance art depictions of Bible stories, featuring White, dark-haired characters throughout. Arroyo offers an insightful endnote about the various traditional versions of Dismas’ journey, beginning with the Gospel of Luke but including the writings of St. Augustine and others.

Through intricate paintings and a cohesive text, this Christian tale becomes fully fleshed out.

Pub Date: March 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64413-238-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Sophia Institute Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2021

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An uplifting, rhyming picture book offering food for the soul.


A mother teaches her daughter a special recipe to help feed her faith.

Layla, a young, brown-skinned girl, is ready yet nervous for her first day of school. Seeking a confidence boost, she goes in search of her mom—“’Cause mamas can help / when you need love and calm”—and finds her in the kitchen. “Hey, sweetie, sit here / Let’s make a quick meal / that’s full of good things / to help how you feel,” her mother suggests and fishes out a recipe book. The recipe for the meal includes many ingredients, but none of them are tangible. Instead, courage, “a spoonful of faith,” “dashes of kindness,” “handfuls of hope,” “pinches of prayers,” and warm hugs go into the mixing bowl. To concretize these virtues, the artwork uses a visual motif of hearts and flowers. Once the meal is ready, Layla hesitantly looks into the bowl, unsure what to make of the imaginary repast, but a word of wisdom from Mama helps her realize the true source of her emotional sustenance and strength. The illustrations, created using digital watercolor, pencil, and gouache brushes in Procreate, are soothing, with soft pastel colors. While God is mentioned, there are no references to any specific religion.

An uplifting, rhyming picture book offering food for the soul. (author's note) (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-301781-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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Provocative yet cautious.


A community transformed by swastikas, and the response.

Chokecherry, Colorado, is a small town with a lot going on. A group of paleontologists from Massachusetts have set up a research station after fossilized dinosaur poop is discovered in the area. Some residents still whisper about the Night of a Thousand Flames in 1978, when Ku Klux Klan members flocked to the area and burned crosses. And the local media is sent into an uproar when Michael Amorosa, a Dominican boy and one of the few students of color, discovers a swastika painted on a wall at Chokecherry Middle School. Told in alternating perspectives, the story follows the students as they embark on a lengthy tolerance-building curriculum, come up with an art project to commemorate Jewish victims of the Holocaust, deal with an out-of-town YouTuber who wants to go viral with his commentary on the story, and learn more about themselves and their family histories. The only Jewish girl, Dana Levinson, helps Lincoln Rowley study for his bar mitzvah after he learns that his maternal grandmother, rescued and raised by nuns as a Christian, was the sole member of her family to survive the Holocaust. While the story is engaging, with many twists and turns, the different voices blend together, and emotional depth takes a back seat to educational goals. There’s a lot to ponder here about mistakes, intention, the difference between ignorance and hatred, and religious identity.

Provocative yet cautious. (author's note) (Fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: July 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-62911-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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