Edward’s Eyes

Edward's Eyes41gicCObHuL._SX371_BO1,204,203,200_Edward’s Eyes

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, 2007

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Family relationships, Baseball, Death, Donation of Organs

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Jake is part of an extraordinary family. He has a life filled with art, music, and long summer nights on the Cape. He has hours and days and months of baseball. But, more than anything in this world, Jake knows he has Edward. From the moment he was born, Jake knew Edward was destined for something. Edward could make anyone laugh and everyone think. During one special year, he became the only one in the neighborhood who could throw a perfect knuckleball. It was a pitch you could not hit. That same year, Jake learned there are also some things you cannot hold.”

Why I liked Edward’s Eyes:

  • Patricia MacLachlan’s unforgettable story is about family relationships, love, laughter and loss. It is a well-written story that is uplifting from the start. It may be about a loss, but is also realistic and inspiring. Some may feel the story is sad, but I experienced it with wonder and awe.
  • Edward’s Eyes is narrated by Jake, who is the youngest until Edward is born. From the first moment Jake looks into baby Edward’s beautiful dark blue eyes, he knows his brother is special. Jake becomes his brother’s teacher. Through Jake we get a sense of a very strong family (five children) that love, play, and raise each other. Edward grows into a a kind, friendly and thoughtful old soul. He seems to know things before anyone else, like his mother is going to have a baby girl and she’ll be named Sabine.
  • The characters are all memorable and well-developed. The pacing is perfect for this short novel and it has the right amount of tension, especially when tragedy unexpectedly strikes the family and community.
  • MacLachlan succeeds in creating an experience for young readers. The language is simple and not complicated. I love the emphasis on a family that supports and treats each other with respect. It’s also a good baseball story that includes community and Edward’s famous knuckleball pitch. And MacLachlan knows how to pack an emotional punch. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but this heartfelt story will tug at your heart, put a smile on your face, and fill you with hope.

Patricia MacLachlan is a Newberry Medalist for her book Sarah, Plain and Tall. I reviewed her powerful 2013 picture book about grief and renewal, Snowflakes Fall, which was dedicated to the families of Newtown and Sandy Hook, CT. I also reviewed Fly Away and The Truth of Me,  both middle grade novels about complicated family relationships.

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This is Sadie

This is Sadie9781770495326_p0_v1_s192x300This is Sadie

Sara O’Leary, Author

Julie Morstad, Illustrator

Tundra Books, Fiction, May 12, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Imagination, Inspiration, Creativity

Opening: This is Sadie. No, not that. That’s a box. Sadie is inside the box. Wait, do you hear? Sadie says she’s not inside the box at all. “I’m on an enormous boat,” she says, “crossing a wide, wide sea.”

Synopsis: Sadie has a huge imagination. The days are not long enough for Sadie because she has so many things to make, do and be.  She likes to make boats of boxes. She chats with birds, builds things, and has wings that can fly her anywhere. She has been a boy raised by wolves, lived under the sea, and been the hero in fairy tales. Sadie likes stories best because she can make them from nothing at all.

Why I like this story:

Sara O’Leary has written an endearing story that encourages girls to try everything and be who ever they want to be. Sadie is irresistible. Her story is rich in imagination and will inspire many little girls to find their own “Sadie” within. I also appreciate that many of Sadie’s adventures and undertakings are non-gender specific. How fun would it be to build a contraption with a hammer and nails or be a boy raised by wolves? If you begin to think like Sadie, the possibilities are endless. And being yourself is pretty special.

The text is sparse, encouraging children to think outside the box. I am always drawn to books that inspire and celebrate a child’s imagination — especially when so many kids are plugged into gadgets. Julie Morstad’s illustrations are lush and magical. They beautifully capture Sadie’s story.

Resources: Give your child several big empty boxes to play with. Fill other boxes with non-gender specific dress-up clothing, toys and art supplies. Many of Sadie’s adventures may be related to her reading stories like the Little Mermaid, Alice in Wonderland, and Jungle Book. Teachers and parents can use these books to jump-start a discussion about favorite stories and characters.

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.

Written in the Stars

Written in the Stars9780399171703_p0_v2_s192x300Written in the Stars

Aisha Saeed, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction,  Mar. 24, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 14-17

Themes: Forced Marriages, Pakistani-American teen, Diversity,

Synopsis: Naila is a responsible and trustworthy daughter to her immigrant Pakistani parents. Steeped in cultural tradition, her parents allow her to attend a Florida high school, study subjects she likes, wear her hair how she wishes, dress like the other students and choose her career path in college. The only thing she is not allowed to do is date boys or choose a husband. Naila falls in love with Sajf, a Pakistani-American boy, during her senior year. She keeps her secret and meets Saif for lunch everyday. When Naila disobeys her parents and sneaks to the senior prom with Saif, her parents are outraged at her betrayal of trust and humiliated by their close-knit community. In attempt to help Naila understand her heritage, they pull her out of school, travel to Pakistan to visit relatives. Naila enjoys meeting so many family members and bonding with her cousin, Selma. Her vacation turns into a nightmare when her parents betray her, force her into an arranged marriage with Amin, and then leave Pakistan. She is alone living with a strange family, who see her as their ticket to America. Is this Naila’s destiny or is there any hope for escape?

What I love about Written in the Stars:

  • Aisha Saeed has masterfully written a bold, heart wrenching and complex cross-cultural novel that will be an eye-opener for many young readers. It is also beautiful love story between two Pakistani-American teens.
  • The setting is culturally rich for teens reading Written in the Stars. It is about Pakistani traditions, extended families living together, food preparations, small villages, the landscape, neighbors knowing everyone’s business, and shopping in local markets.
  • The first-person narrative with Naila offers greater depth into her character. Naila is a strong and determined protagonist. Her anger and pain are palpable, as is her desire to escape. All of the characters are well-developed, memorable and stay with you after you finish. The plot is suspenseful and brutal at times. The author shows much of the action, which is more powerful than words. The reader experiences Naila’s prison. Written in the Stars is a page-turner and I could not put it down. The ending is unexpected.
  • The author shares that although her own marriage was arranged by her parents, she wrote the book to shed light on the many arranged forced marriages.  I have never read anything like this powerful book, and I mean that as a compliment. Saeed sheds so much light on the problem of forced marriages in America and around the world. Although her characters are American-Pakistani, Saeed points out that “the issue is not limited to one particular culture or religion.”

Resources: There is a lovely Author’s Note at the end, along with resources for individuals needing advice, and a glossary. Visit Aisha Saeed at her website.

Aisha Saeed is a Pakistani American writer, teacher and attorney. Written in the Stars is her debut novel. She is on of the founding members of the We Need Diverse Books Campaign.

Don’t Put Yourself Down in Circus Town

Circus Town9781433819148_p0_v1_s192x300Don’t Put Yourself Down in Circus Town

Frank J. Sileo, Author

Sue Cornelison, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Feb. 28, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Building self-confidence, Making mistakes, Developing positive beliefs

Opening: Ringmaster Rick was excited for the big show at Circus Town! He visited the big tent to see all the performers practicing their acts.

Book Jacket Synopsis: Welcome to Circus Town, where it’s okay to bumble, stumble, and fumble. But no put downs! Give yourself a break! Everyone makes mistakes! Join Ringmaster Rick, Larry the Lion Tamer, Polka Dot Patti, and world-famous trapeze artists Jan and Juanita as they practice more, ask for help, think helpful thoughts, and bounce back from mistakes and mishaps to feel more confident!

Why I like this book:

Ringmaster Rick calls an emergency meeting after overhearing Circus Town’s several performers put themselves down for mistakes made while rehearsing their acts. “I’m the worst lion tamer…I can’t do this!…I am such a loser!…I’m such a klutz!…”  Does this self-defeating statement sound familiar?  This realistic story about making mistakes is something children can relate to as they participate in sports, dance, painting/drawing, practicing a musical instruments, helping in the kitchen and doing chores. I especially resonate with author Frank Sileo’s themes, “anyone can make a mistake and that self-defeating behavior is like bullying yourself.”  Sue Cornelison’s illustrations are bold, colorful and very expressive. They set the mood for the story and change as the story progresses. This is another important book for parents to have at home and for teachers to put on their bookshelves to help boost self-esteem in children. Well done!

Resources: The book includes a Note to Parents and Other Caregivers with more information and strategies for fostering self-confidence in children and helping them develop positive feelings and beliefs about themselves.

Whispers of the Wolf

Native American Heritage Month 2015

Whispers of Wolf12019923_1153634834665819_1090367024691818742_nWhispers of the Wolf

Pauline Ts’o, Author and Illustrator

Wisdom Tales Press, Fiction, Oct. 7, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 years

Themes: Pueblo Indians, Southwest, Wolves, Human-animal relationships, Wildlife Rescue

Opening: “Over five hundred years ago, a Pueblo boy and his grandfather were looking for medicine plants high above their village.”

Synopsis: Two Birds, a shy Pueblo boy living in the desert southwest, discovers a whimpering wolf pup in a deep hole. The cub is weak and hardly moves. He asks Grandfather if he may rescue the pup. Two Birds nurses the wolf pup back to health. The wolf goes with Two Birds and his friend, Gray Bear, on hunting trips. A bond forms between Two Birds and his wolf as they explore the natural world together. He hears the wolf’s thoughts in “whispers” of the wind, sun and rain. He shares these  “whisper” stories with Gray Bear. Word spreads through the village and children come to listen to Two Birds’ stories. One night the wild wolves begin calling from a distance and Two Birds’ wolf responds. The wolf yearns to be free and Two Birds will have a decision to make.

Why I like this story:

Whispers of the Wolf is a gratifying portrayal of the community life of the Pueblo Indians in New Mexico and Arizona before the arrival of the Spanish explorers. Pauline Ts’o spent over ten years visiting with Pueblo families in their homes and learning about their strong sense of community. Read the “Author’s Note” at the beginning of the book to learn about her impressive research for this work of historical fiction.

The result is a heartwarming story about a shy boy trying to find his voice and place among his Pueblo community. When Two Birds finds the wolf pup, his unlikely relationship with the wolf helps him gain self-confidence and develop reverence and respect for the natural world. The characters are memorable and the storytelling will appeal to children and adults of all ages. Ts’o has written a beautiful tale about Native Americans tribes of the southwest. She captures the warmth and beauty of the Pueblo culture in her rich and lively illustrations.

Resources: There are “Notes on the Illustrations” that include fascinating details about the Pueblo culture, family life, adobe houses and living spaces, language, storytelling, traditions and wolves. There is also a map showing the tribal regions in North America. Visit Wisdom Tales Press for resources on American Indians and the Native American Heritage Month website for other resources.

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. 

America’s White Table — Veterans Day

I reviewed America’s White Table for Veteran’s Day four years ago. Every year many people search my website to read about this tradition. I decided I would share it again. Enjoy!

America's White Table14673149America’s White Table is written by Margot Theis Raven and illustrated by Mike Benny for children of all ages.  I was delighted to find a book about this very simple, but deeply meaningful tradition observed by service members for over 40 years.  Few civilians are familiar with the symbolism.  It seemed the perfect book to share on Veterans Day.  Raven tells a moving story, and at the end  provides a detailed history of the origin of the White Table and how it became a symbol of caring for our MIA and POW service members after the Vietnam War.  Benny’s subdued pastel paintings add to the mood of the solemn occasion that transcends generations.

It is Veterans Day and Katie’s mother has invited her Uncle John for dinner.  She explains to Katie and her two sisters that they will  be setting a separate little table,  just like the ones that will be set in  Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy dining halls across America to honor the men and women who have served their country.  Mama gets out a white tablecloth,  a single empty  chair, a white plate, silver ware, a black napkin, an overturned glass, a white candle and a red rose in a vase tied with a red ribbon.  She explains the significance of each item on the table, and what it will mean to Uncle John.

Much to Katie and her sister’s surprise, they learn a special story about their favorite uncle from their mother.  Uncle John was on a rescue mission in Vietnam when his helicopter was shot down over enemy territory.  He was taken as a Prisoner of War (POW).  Uncle John found an opportunity to escape and carried his wounded friend on his back to safety.  He was a hero.

Katie and her sisters are in awe when they hear the story.  Katie stares at the little white table and feels there is something missing.  The girls come up with a special idea and surprise their uncle at dinner.  Uncle John is moved beyond words by their loving gesture.

This is an outstanding book that will touch the hearts of young and old alike.  It is a time to remember and honor those who are not with us.

Lost Dog by Michael Garland

LOSTDOGcvrscnLost Dog

Michael Garland, Author and Illustrator

Holiday House, Fiction, Aug. 10, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Dogs, Animals, Road trip, Lost, Grandma

Opening: “Pete went to see Grandma. She lived on Mutt Street.”

Synopsis: A big dog Pete sets off to visit his grandmother on her birthday. He carefully wraps a present, signs a birthday card and picks some flowers and heads to his little yellow car. As he drives to Mutt Street there are too many cars stuck in traffic, so he gets off at an exit and drives and drives. He finds himself at the top of a mountain and is lost. Along the way he meets a bear, a bird, a big cat, a walrus and a whale who point the way. Will Pete ever find Mutt Street and visit Grandma?

What I like about Lost Dog:

Lost Dog is an “Easy Reader” and Garland uses spare text, repetition and an engaging plot for children learning to read on their own. Garland’s signature double page-spreads feature lively, expressive and colorful illustrations that will appeal to children. Each spread highlights a host of friendly animals in their natural environment. In Pete’s  journey to find his grandma on Mutt Street, Garland takes readers on a journey around the world. Lost Dog also indirectly encourages children who may become  lost to ask for directions or help. It is also a great discussion book about learning to follow directions. This delightful story will engage children who will have fun pouring over the details on each page. Visit Michael Garland’s website to view all of his books.

Lost dog whale photo22-23B

Compliments of Michael Garland

Resources: One of the things I like about this story is that it indirectly addresses spatial issues for young children. I know my daughter had a hard time with directions and I made up games when we went to visit grandparents, a friend, or a favorite store. I would play games that helped her distinguish between right and left turns and encouraged her to memorize landmarks. Spatial training needs to begin with young children. There are many resources on the internet. Visit Laura Leticia‘s Pinterest page on Following Directions. She shares activities, games and resources to help children learn directions.

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.