The Hugging Tree by Jill Neimark

hugging-tree-coverThe Hugging Tree: A Story of Resilience

Jill Neimark, Author

Nicole Wong, Illustrator

Magination Press, Sep. 22, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Trees, Nature, Determination, Resilience, Hope, Compassion

Opening: “On a bleak and lonely rock / by a vast and mighty sea / grew a lonely little tree / where no tree should ever be.”

Synopsis: This is a story about a lonely little tree planting its roots on a high cliff above a beautiful and unforgiving sea. The tree basks in the spring and summer sunbeams and endures the raging storms and the cold winters. It thrives with the ebbs and flows of the sea.  It provides a home for a loon family. Over time the harsh environment begins to tear its exposed roots and weakens the tree. One day a boy discovers the tree high on the cliff. Everyday he brings rich soil and tends to the tree until it one day it fulfills its greatness.

Why I like this book:

The Hugging Tree is an inspiring story about a tree’s resilience to thrive and survive the harsh challenges of being the only tree at the top of a cliff. Jill Neimark’s poetic and rhythmic text sings off the pages as we follow a tree through its many seasons. The story is a beautiful metaphor of the natural world that children will understand and embrace as they face challenges in their daily lives.  It will introduce them to themes of resilience, determination and standing tall during difficult times.

The story is also a triumphant reminder of the inescapable connection between people’s actions and nature. The boy shows love and compassion in his tender care for the tree so that it begins to thrive and realize its full potential. It is also reminds children that they too can make a difference.

Nicole Wong’s watercolors are exquisite, lively and expressive and contribute significantly to the story. There is power in her illustrations of the stormy sea and windy coast, and sensitivity when the tree is ragged and barely standing. This is an exceptional pairing of art and text.

My Favorite Lines:

Soft gold sunbeams / kissed her crown, / warm as honey pouring down. / At night she raised her branches high / to greet the moon up in the sky.

“Mighty cliff, hold me tight. / Don’t let me blow away.” / “Little tree, with all my might, ‘ I’ll hold you close, / night and day.”

Now every day new people stop / to rest beneath the little tree / and dream the things we all dream of. / To love, to share, to give, to dare / to grow just where we are. /

And to this very day they come. / For on a splendid sunny rock / by a warm and bright blue sea / a great big hugging tree / grows just where she was meant to be.

Resources: There is A Note to Parents and Caregivers in the back pages, which is a perfect resource for parents, teachers and counselors helping children build resilience. It provides suggestions to help children talk about the challenges they face daily (i.e. bullying, disappointments, loss, etc.) and tools to cope. Make sure you also read Neimark’s remarks at the beginning of the book about the conception of The Hugging Tree. Visit Jill Neimark at her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

*Please Note: My website will be on hiatus until October 19.

The Honest Truth

September 2015 is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

The Honest Truth415Wpdo3ejL__SX341_BO1,204,203,200_The Honest Truth

Dan Gemeinhart, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Jan. 27,  2015

Suitable for Grades: 4 – 7

Pages: 229

Themes: Boy with cancer, Choices, Goals, Self-confidence, Dog, Friendship, Mount Rainier

Opening: “The mountain was calling me. I had to run away. I had to. And, I didn’t need anyone to go with me.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: In all the ways that matter, Mark is a normal kid. He’s got a dog named Beau and a best friend, Jessie. He likes to take photos and write haiku poems in his notebook. He dreams of climbing a mountain one day. But, in one important way, Mark is not like other kids at all. Mark is sick. The kind of sick that means hospitals. And treatments. The kind of sick some people never get better from. So Mark runs away. He leaves home with his camera, his notebook, his dog, and a plan. A plan to reach the top of Mount Rainier. Even if it’s the last thing he ever does.

Why I like The Honest Truth:

Debut author Dan Gemeinhart has written a powerful and inspiring novel about a 12-year-old boy who has cancer. Mark’s dealt with chemo treatments since he was five years old. His options are running out. He’s angry. He’s lost.  His parents and doctors are making decisions for him. Mark feels out of control and wants to make some choices about his life — and that may include how he dies. He confides his pain and secrets to his best friend, Jessie.

The setting is realistic to the Pacific Northwest and the unpredictable weather. The theme is raw and honest. The plot is fraught with danger and obstacles. Mark runs away with his dog, Beau, and embarks upon a journey to climb the summit of Mount Rainier — a dream he can focus on. His choice may seem selfish because of the pain and worry he causes his parents. He also creates a dilemma for his friend, Jessie –does she tell his parents or keep his secret. And he puts his dog and himself at risk during a dangerous snowstorm on the mountain.

Mark, Jessie and Beau are memorable characters. Beau is devoted and protective of Mark. The alternating chapters, with Jessie’s occasional half chapters, works well. You hear about Mark’s parents anxiety and pain through Jessie. But, you experience Jessie’s struggle to interpret what Mark wants her to do. Does she share her suspicions with his parents or honor her friend’s request.

It took Gemeinhart guts to write a book with such depth. It is a tough book to review, even though it grabbed me from the first page.  Mark grapples with life and death questions as he works through anger and fear. Which will he choose? The Honest Truth will make readers think. It is an excellent classroom discussion book for teens.

Thank you Greg Pattridge! I won The Honest Truth in a giveaway on Greg’s website, Always in the Middle.

Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket

September 2015 is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Daniel and Starry Blanket 51fb4nqSz3L__SX384_BO1,204,203,200_Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket: A Story of Illness and Sibling Love

Sally Loughridge, Author and Illustrator

Maine Authors Publishing, Fiction, Aug. 1, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8, Parents

Themes: Children with a seriously ill sibling, Cancer, Exploring feelings, Jealousy

Opening: “Just before Daniel was born, his grandmother made him a soft blanket that danced with brilliant stars. His mother wrapped him in the blanket when they brought him home from the hospital. It was just right, with room to grow. His father called it Daniel’s Starry Night Blanket.”

Synopsis: Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket is a story about a boy whose older sister, Kate, is diagnosed with cancer. He is sad and worried that Kate is so sick and not interested in playing with him anymore. His parents include him in the hospital visits for Kate’s chemotherapy, but he soon tires of going. Daniel is upset that his parents cook Kate’s favorite foods. When Kate receives cards and gifts, Daniel is angry that he doesn’t receive anything. His Dad takes Daniel to a ball game and spends “special” time with him. Daniel begins to find quiet projects that he and Kate can do together. Daniel wants to do something special for Kate and comes up with a secret plan and asks his grandmother to help.

Why I like this book:

Sally Loughridge has written a compassionate and sensitive story for families who are dealing with a child diagnosed with cancer and the challenges for siblings. Daniel is representative of all siblings dealing with confusing feelings of sadness, anger, fear and jealousy. For children like Daniel, it can be a roller coaster ride.

Daniel has the support of his parents and grandmother to help guide his journey through the highs and lows of a Kate’s cancer treatments. With their support Daniel is able to participate more fully in Kate’s care. It is significant when Daniel wants to share his special blanket with his sister forever– a signal of his own progress, growth and maturity. He asks his grandmother to help with his secret plan for Kate. I won’t spoil the secret. The soft watercolor illustrations are expressive, emotive and compliment the story. I highly recommend this book for families who have a seriously ill child.

Resources: The book can be used in many ways to support young children during a siblings illness. It is a valuable resource for parents, therapists and counselors working with children and families. Loughridge includes two pages of suggestions and activities about ways to use Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket. Visit Sally Loughridge at her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Bayou Magic

Bayou Magic9780316224840_p0_v2_s192x300Bayou Magic

Jewell Parker Rhodes

Little, Brown and Company, Fiction, May 12, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 256

Themes: Bayous, Magic, Environment, African-Americans, Louisiana, Grandmothers, Friendship, Hope

Synopsis: At home, she’s just plain Maddy to her four older sisters. It is 10-year-old Maddy’s turn to spend the summer alone with her grandmother in the Louisiana bayou. Her sisters tease and frighten her about Grandmère Lavalier, who they claim is a witch. But after a few days in the bayou, Maddy begins to feel a kindred spirit in Grandmère and at home in the enchanted beauty of her surroundings. She learns about healing herbs, wisdom, and listens to stories about her ancestors and the Lavalier magic. Maddy begins to wonder if she is the only one in her family to carry family’s magical legacy.

Maddy finds a good friend, in “Bear,” a shaggy-haired boy who takes her on great adventures into the bayou. The bayou becomes her playground and she’s having the time of her life exploring its wonders and secrets. Everything speaks to Maddy, including the fireflies and a face she sees deep within the water. Could it be a mermaid, the legendary Mami Wata? When there is an explosion on an offshore oil rig and the leak threatens her beautiful bayou, Maddy knows that she may be the only one who can help save the Bons Temp bayou.

What I love about Bayou Magic:

  • Jewell Parker Rhodes’ novel is a whimsical adventure into another life that feels more real to Madison Isabelle Lavalier Johnson, than her real home in New Orleans. Rhodes has spun a story of pure magic. Her writing style is very lyrical.
  • The setting is lush, believable and magical. Fireflies shimmer in the sky at night as residents of the Bons Temp swamp come together to contribute to the pot of jambalaya, eat, dance and tell stories well into the night.
  • The characters are colorful, eccentric and realistic. Maddy is a courageous and hopeful heroine who already has a sense of reverence and gratitude about her. She thanks the hen for laying eggs for breakfast, a fish for giving its life for lunch, and the fireflies that call her. Grandmère is eccentric, the Queen of the bayou who takes care of its residents with her natural medicines. Bear is a lively friend that coaxes Maddy to explore and teaches her about the fragility of the bayou ecosystem.
  • What a glorious plot, filled with adventure, wonder, mystery and danger. When her grandmère asks Maddy one day, “Who do you want to be?” Maddy shares her secret, “A hero. Like in my stories. I want to do good. Be brave.” Maddy is tested before the summer is over when a disastrous oil spill threatens the gulf and the Bons Temp bayou. Does Maddy really have what it takes to be a hero when bad things happen? A time of great tension for Maddy and the community.
  • There is a quiet theme of hope rippling through the novel. At the end, the author says that “In Maddy, I poured all of my love for young people who seek, each and every day, new and better ways to care for our earth’s natural resources.” I highly recommend this novel.

Jewell Parker Rhodes is the Coretta Scott King Honor Book award-winning author of Ninth Ward and A Jane Addams Children’s Book Award winner of  Sugar, her first novels for young readers.  You can visit Jewell Parker Rhodes at her website. She has a Teaching Resource for educators.

I Am Yoga by Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds

September is National Yoga Month

i-am-yoga-coverI Am Yoga

Susan Verde, Author

Peter H. Reynolds, Illustrator

Abrams Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Sep. 8, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 3-9

Themes: Yoga, Children, Yoga poses, Quiet Mind, Relaxation, Imagination. Creativity

Opening: “When I feel small in a world so big, I calm my mind, my body, my breath. I can create and imagine. I am Yoga.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: An eagle soaring among the clouds or a star twinkling in the night sky…a camel in the desert or a boat sailing across the sea. Yoga has the power of transformation. Not only does it strengthen bodies and calm minds, with a little imagination it can show us that anything is possible.

Why I like I Am Yoga:

I Am Yoga is another home run for the creative team of Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds. Verde’s text is sparse, lyrical and creative. You feel peaceful reading the story about a young girl trying to cope with a world that is spinning around her. She is busy with school, homework, sports, music lessons and household chores. Through yoga she learns to close her eyes, quiet her mind, and focus on her breathing. Reynolds’ expressive and soothing watercolors compliment the story. He gracefully captures the girl practicing the 16 yoga poses as she imagines herself in nature standing tall as the trees, soaring among the clouds, dancing with the moon, and opening like a flower.

I am drawn to Verde’s beautiful story because I believe in the benefits of teaching yoga and mindfulness to young children. If children learn a yoga practice early in their developing years, it becomes a natural part of a who they are. It teaches them tools that bring balance into their busy lives. They learn to recognize stress and use well-known practices to still, calm and relax their bodies, thoughts and emotions. Yoga will benefit children for a lifetime and help them change their world…the world.

Resources: There is a kid-friendly guide at the end of the book that features 16 yoga poses to strengthen, calm and inspire children to live happier and healthier lifestyles. Each pose includes instructions. This is a terrific practice for both children and parents to do together. Since September is National Yoga Month, many yoga studios, teachers and recreational centers are offering free yoga classes and events in their communities.

Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds will officially launch  I Am Yoga, Saturday, September 19 at 11 a.m. Join the celebration, which will be held at The Blue Bunny, in Dedham, MA.  They have collaborated on two other books, The Museum and You and Me. Visit their websites.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Happy International Dot Day!

dot_day_2012_v01Today is the 12th anniversary of Peter H. Reynold’s international bestselling book, The Dot, about a girl who doesn’t think she can draw.

It is also the seventh annual celebration of International Dot Day. Over 3,910,952 students from 115 countries will be participating. It will be a fun week for children worldwide to read The Dot in 12 different languages and braille, sing the Dot Song, use their imagination to make their unique and creative dots, and share their masterpieces. Many classrooms have signed up to SKYPE  and connect with each other in the U.S. and around the world.

Authors have created Celebri-Dots. KidLit bloggers are making their marks today and all week. Please remember to post your dots on your websites, Facebook and Twitter using @DotClubConnect, #dotday and #makeyourmark.

I have included a few of the dots I’ve created over the years.


Dot Day20150907_151552

Copyright 2015 Patricia Tilton

Nicole and tireCAM00400

Copyright 2013 Patricia Tilton

Remember to have fun today and this week of celebration of imagination, creativity connecting with our global friends. I’m still hoping for many more KidLit bloggers sharing their dots.

The Way to School

WTS_backcover.inddThe Way to School

Rosemary McCarney with Plan International, Author

Second Story Press, Nonfiction, Sept. 1, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes: How children from around the world travel to school

Opening: “You probably enjoy going to school. Even if you have a bad day now and then, wouldn’t you miss it if you could never go? Did you know that lots and lots of kids around the world would love to go to school, but can’t?”

Synopsis: As the new school year begins, many children eagerly prepare for school. In America and Canada, most ride school buses, travel by car or walk.  But, children all over the world don’t have a yellow school bus picking them up each day. For many children, the journey to school is not very easy. It can be long, arduous and dangerous. They travel though earthquake and tsunami areas, wade or paddle across rivers, climb mountains and slippery cliffs, cling to ziplines that dangle over gorges, and ride dog sleds.

Why I like this book:

Rosemary McCarney has once again written a beautiful and remarkable book that will be an eye-opener for many children. I was surprised at the extreme dangers children face daily because they are so determined to attend school. They want to improve their lives and help their communities.

I like McCarney’s minimal use of text and her emphasis on the beautiful photographs that speak more than words ever could. Every photograph in this stunning picture book shows the commitment children are willing to make to go to school. This is a magnificent book for teachers to use in the classroom at the start of a new school year. It will jump-start many interesting discussions about extreme modes of transportation for children in third world countries.  It will also help children appreciate what they have. This book belongs in every school library.


Photo Courtesy of Second Story Press

Resources/Activities: After reading the book and showing children each detailed photograph, ask them some lively questions: “What would you do to get to school?” “How important is school to you? Why do children in poor villages want to go to school?” Ask kids to choose one of modes of transportation in the book, draw a picture and write a paragraph about going to school by boat, dog sled or ziplines. Today is a National Day of Service. How will you be involved?

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.