Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson

Hattie Ever After9780375850905_p0_v1_s260x420Hattie Ever After

Kirby Larson, Author

Delacorte Press, Fiction, 2013

Suitable for ages: 12-17

Themes: Self-reliance,  Orphans,  Dreams, Reporter, San Francisco, Friendships, Historical Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: Great Falls, Montana, 1919. When Hattie mails off her last check to Mr. Nefzger, her uncle’s debt is paid in full. Now she is free to go anywhere, away from Mrs. Brown’s boarding house and the less-than-glamorous life of a chambermaid.  Hattie’s dear friend Perilee urges her to do the sensible thing and join her family in Seattle. But Hattie is not prone to the sensible. What sensible girls would say yes to spending a year under Montana’s big sky trying to make a go of a long-lost uncle’s homestead claim? And what sensible girl would say no to Charlie, who is convinced he and Hattie are meant to grow old together?

For all its challenges and sorrows, Hattie’s time on the homestead gave her a taste of what it might be like to stake her own claim on life.  She hasn’t yet confessed it to anyone, not ever to Perilee, but Hattie has thrown a lasso around a dream even bigger than a Montana farm.  She wants to be a big-city reporter.  Thanks to a vaudeville vanishing act, a mysterious love token, an opera star, and her unique ability to throw a snake ball, it looks like Hattie just might have a chance.  And it is an opportunity for her to discover the truth about her “scoundrel” uncle and in the process learn more about herself.

What I love about this book:

  • Kirby Larson returns with a sequel to her Newbery Honor Book, Hattie Big Sky. She couldn’t leave her readers wondering what happened to her memorable character, Hattie Inez Brooks, after she leaves the Montana homestead.
  • The author brings history alive in this sequel, accurately recreating the setting for San Francisco in 1919. Readers will experience the inequality of women in the workplace, the shortening of dresses and bobbed hairstyles, an earthquake, the smells of China Town, the clanging of street cars, and the bay area before the Golden Gate Bridge is constructed.
  • Hattie’s character grows in self-confidence after her year on the prairie. She is spunky and even more determined to follow her dreams to become a big-city newspaper reporter in a man’s world, where women write society columns. That’s not for strong-willed Hattie, who pays her dues as she moves up from a fact finder at the Chronicle to covering baseball games,  rides in a Boeing seaplane, and snags an exclusive interview with President Woodrow Wilson.
  • Her story is packed with action and tension. There is a mystery, an unexpected betrayal , a romantic under current, and other twists that kept me quickly turning the pages.  Hattie Ever After is a very satisfying conclusion to Kirby’s Hattie Big Sky.  Hattie is no longer the orphan trying to find home.

Kirby Larson is the author of Hattie Ever After, Duke, Dash, The Fences Between Us and The Friendship Doll.  Check out Kirby Larson’s website and my reviews of Hattie Big Sky and Dash.

The Olive Tree by Elsa Marston

Olive Tree9781937786298_p0_v1_s260x420The Olive Tree

Elsa Marston, Author

Claire Ewart, Illustrator

Wisdom Tales, Fiction, Nov. 1, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Olive Tree, Neighbors, Lebanon, Middle East, Sharing, Friendship, Peace, Multicultural

Opening: For many years the house next to Sameer’s had stood empty. “What a pity!” his mother often said. The family who lived there had gone away during the troubles, because they were different from most of the people in the village. But now, the long war was over, and they were coming back.

Synopsis:  Sameer leans on an old stone wall that divides the property between two families. Above him an ancient olive tree grows on the other side of the wall, but the best olives fall on his family’s property. He eagerly watches the family move back into their home and hopes that they have a boy with whom he  can play. But Muna doesn’t want to play with Sameer, or share her family’s olives. One night during a storm, lightning strikes the olive tree and it crashes to the ground. Even the stone wall is broken. Will the two children find a way to resolve their differences?

What I like about this book:

  • Elsa Marston’s The Olive Tree is a richly textured and realistic story about two Lebanese children who struggle to get along after a war, learn to share, and find friendship through adversity.
  • The narrative is simple and lyrical. There is tension between Sameer and Muna, who are from two different families with different backgrounds. When their beloved olive tree is struck by lightning, they work silently together to clear the broken branches from their yards. They move beyond their anger, reconcile and heal.
  • The symbolism is appropriate with the broken stone wall, the toppled tree, and the olive branch (a peace-offering.)
  • This book is a reminder that our actions toward peace and reconciliation are powerful and unifying. They do make an important difference in the lives of those around us.
  • Children will gain a glimpse into a contemporary Lebanon and its culture. Marston was in Lebanon at the outbreak of the war and after it was over.  She was moved to write this hopeful middle eastern story.
  • This healing multicultural book belongs in school libraries as it will encourage many interesting discussions among students.
  • Claire Ewart’s beautiful illustrations are warm and colorful watercolors that draw the reader into the story from the first page. Her artwork is expressive and supports the emotion and tension in the story.

Resources: Visit Elsa Marston’s website to learn more about The Olive Tree.  She has included some background information about Lebanon, the culture, the civil war and discussion questions for the classroom.  I especially like her role-playing suggestions.

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.

Hansel and Gretel: A Fairy Tale with a Down Syndrome Twist

Hansel & Gretel9781615992508_p0_v2_s260x420Hansel 0& Gretel: A Fairy Tale with a Down Syndrome Twist

Jewel Kats, Author

Claudia Marie Lenart, Illustrator

Loving Healing Press, Fiction, Oct. 10, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Down syndrome, Fairy tale, Special needs

Opening: “One fateful night, a storm ripped through Cottage Country…The rain finally stopped pouring days and days later. Cottage Country was deserted. The only people left were the fisherman and his family.”

Synopsis: A storm sweeps through a village and a fisherman and his two children, Hansel and Gretel, are the only survivors. Their food runs out and Hansel and Gretel are sent to search for food in the forest. Their mother protests that Hansel is sick and too young for such an adventure. But, Hansel’s father disagrees and says he has Down syndrome and that they can’t always protect him forever.  Hansel takes the lead and bravely runs into the forest and stumbles upon the witch’s candy house.  Will Hansel be able to outwit and negotiate with the witch?

Why I like about this book:

  • Jewel Kats retells this magical story with the main character, Hansel, who has Down syndrome — a different ability.
  • It is the perfect read for World Down Syndrome Day, March 21.
  • This book will help readers look beyond disabilities and see Hansel as a clever, capable, determined and successful hero, who faces the witch with wit and kindness.
  • The story breaks stereotypes and touches on prejudices about what a child with a disability can achieve. And there is an unexpected twist with the witch, who also shouldn’t be judged by her appearance.
  • Claudia Lenart’s illustrations are breathtaking, whimsical, and contribute to the book’s appeal. Lenart is a fiber artist who pokes wool and other natural fibers, like alpaca, with a barbed needle to sculpt her soft characters and scenes.  This is the perfect medium for a fairy tale.

Resources: Check out the website for World Down Syndrome Day, where you can find information, personal stories, worldwide events and how to participate. And visit Jewel Kats and Claudia Marie Lenart at their websites.

Joey Daring Caring and Curious

Joey Daring9781433816536_p0_v1_s260x420Joey Daring Caring and Curious: How a Mischief Maker Uncovers Unconditional Love

Marcella Marino Craver, MSEd, CAS,  Author

Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Sep. 15, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes: Love,  Mother and child relationship, Behavior, Favoritism

Opening: “Joey kept thinking the same unpleasant thing over and over.  He thought of it at night. He thought of it in school. He even thought of it while eating ice cream at the park! Finally, he thought: just ask Mom! But could he?”

Synopsis: Joey is worried his mother prefers his siblings over him. After all, Joey is daring, curious and mischievous.  He just can’t seem to stay out of trouble, unlike his older brother and younger sister.  He wonders if his mother has a favorite child and if there is anything about him for his mother to love.  He gather his courage and writes a series of hand-written notes to his mom that will put a smile on your face.

Why I like this book:

  • The author tackles a classic and worrisome question for children with humor, imagination and reassurance. Does my mother favor my brother or sister over me? Am I good enough? Does she love me as much as she does them?  Especially if you are Joey and make a lot of messes, break toys, paint the walls, cut the dog’s hair and test your mother’s patience.
  • This delightful book serves as a wonderful reminder of parental unconditional love. How many times I remember saying to my daughter, “I may not like your behavior or what you have done, but I always love you no matter what.”
  • It subtly emphasizes that breaking rules and independence are an important part of a child’s development.
  • Parents will find this book serves as a great tool to discuss the meaning of unconditional love with their child.
  • Joanne Lew-Vriethoff’s lively, expressive and whimsical illustrations are colorful and done in pen and ink. They perfectly capture the theme of the story. The cover is a great example.

Resources: The one thing I like about books published by Magination Press is they have excellent resources and activities for parents and readers at the end. This book is no exception.

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.

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

Hattie Big Sky9780385735957_p0_v1_s260x420Hattie Big Sky

Kirby Larson, Author

Random House Children’s Books, Fiction, 2008

Awards: Newbery Honor Books

Suitable for Ages: 12-17

Themes: Homesteading, Prairie, Montana, Prejudice, Friendship

Publisher Synopsis: Alone in the world, teen-aged Hattie is driven to prove up on her uncle’s homesteading claim. For years, sixteen-year-old Hattie’s been shuttled between relatives. Tired of being Hattie Here-and-There, she courageously leaves Iowa to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim near Vida, Montana. With a stubborn stick-to-itiveness, Hattie faces frost, drought and blizzards. Despite many hardships, Hattie forges ahead, sharing her adventures with her friends–especially Charlie, fighting in France–through letters and articles for her hometown paper.

Her backbreaking quest for a home is lightened by her neighbors, the Muellers. But she feels threatened by pressure to be a “Loyal” American, forbidding friendships with folks of German descent. Despite everything, Hattie’s determined to stay until a tragedy causes her to discover the true meaning of home.

Why I liked this book:

  • It is based on Kirby Larson’s great-grandmother successful attempt to homestead in Montana in  1918. She heard the story long after her great-grandmother passed and began researching and reading diaries of people in the area.
  • Larson writes a powerful and authentic story about the harsh realities of life and work for any homesteader, let alone 16-year-old Hattie Inez Brooks. The setting is so realistic that readers will feel like they are there with Hattie digging and placing every fence post in the frozen earth to stake out her claim, plowing the fields and sharing in her adventure every step of the way.
  • The narrative is rich and visual. The story is packed with details of Hattie’s care for her livestock (a cow, horse and chicken) planting, harvesting, extreme weather, worry over paying bills and saving enough money to pay off her uncle’s claim, experiencing prejudices and making true friendships.
  • Great characters make a book and Larson has succeeded with Hattie, a brave, intelligent and independent character from the start. Her credibility grows as she learns to draw deep within herself to deal with raw reality of the hardships she faces, including the loss of her claim at the end. Even that doesn’t defeat her because what she may have lost she gained in deep friendships, values and knowing she gave homesteading her very best effort.
  • The plot is filled with suspense, tension and action, which will keep readers quickly turning pages.
  • Hattie is a hero and a great role model for teenage girls.  This books belongs in every middle grade and high school library.
  • Larson wrote a sequel, Hattie Ever After, in 2013. Readers can follow Hattie to see where her dreams lead her and if she finds her place in the world. I will soon review the sequel.

Kirby Larson is the author of Hattie Ever After, Duke, Dash, The Fences Between Us and The Friendship Doll.  Check out Kirby Larson’s website and my review of Dash.

Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence

Mumbet's Declaration9780761365891_p0_v2_s260x420Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence

Gretchen Woelfle, Author

Alix Delinois, Illustrator

Carolrhoda Books, Biography, Feb. 1, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 5-10

Themes: Elizabeth Freeman, African-American Woman, Slavery, Massachusetts, Human Rights

Opening: Mumbet didn’t have a last name because she was a slave. She didn’t even have an official first name. Folks called her Bett or Betty. Children fondly called her Mom Bett of Mumbet. Others weren’t so kind. 

Book Jacket Synopsis: Everybody knows about the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence in 1776. But the founders weren’t the only ones who believed that everyone had a right to freedom. Mumbet, a Massachusetts slave, believed it too.  She longed to be free, but how? Would anyone help her in her fight for freedom? Could she win against her owner, the richest man in town? Mumbet was determined to try.

What I like about this book:

  • Gretchen Woelfle’s tells Mumbet’s compelling and true story for the first time in a picture book biography. While the book is considered nonfiction, it is fictionalized so that the reader experiences the hardships in 1780s. The author’s language is true to the time period, she creates the right amount of tension and her pacing of the story is perfect.
  • The characters are realistically portrayed and well-developed. Mumbet is a smart, bold and determined character filled with hopes, dreams and ambitions for her life. Col. John Ashley is wealthy and owns the iron mine, a forge, a sawmill, a gristmill a general store and 3,000 acres of land with slaves. His wife is mean, abusive, strikes the slaves and calls Mumbet ” useless baggage, a stubborn wench and a dumb creature.” She didn’t break Mumbet’s spirit.
  • Mumbet’s courageous actions to fight for freedom and equality and challenge the new Massachusetts Constitution in the courts, is a huge step in ending slavery in the United States.
  • You can’t help but smile when you see Mumbet returning to the courthouse in 1781 to choose a name for herself, Elizabeth Freeman.
  • Alix Delinois fills the pages with bold, colorful. evocative and detailed acrylic illustrations.

Resources: Mumbet’s story is an excellent read for Women’s History Month. The book is a resource which will spark many discussions.  There is a wonderful “Author’s Note” at the end with a lot of information to use in the classroom, a picture of Mumbet and suggested reading materials. Check out the Mumbet website with the transcript of the trial as well as photos. Visit the author Gretchen Woelfle 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.

Angel Violet’s Magic Wings

Angel Violets Magic WingsuntitledAngel Violet’s Magic Wings

Bonnie Snyder, Ed.S., CPC, Author

Alissa Shoults, Illustrator

Bonnie Snyder, Publisher, Nonfiction, 2013

Suitable for ages: 3-7

Themes: Feelings, Empowerment, Happy hearts, Managing challenges, Inspirational

Opening: “Once upon a time all the children on the earth everywhere remembered something that many grown-ups forgot: Everyone has a happy heart and everyone sparkles from the inside out.”

Synopsis: A delightful book that helps children focus on their happy and yucky feelings, and identify where the feeling is located in their body –heart, tummy, head or back. The author shows children and parents healthy ways to bond through conversation, mindfulness, and exercises that include visualization and gratitude.

Why I like this book:

  • Bonnie Snyder has written a soothing and empowering book to help children talk about their feelings. There is a lovely story on the right side of each double-page spread that helps children easily identify a positive and happy feeling, or a sad and angry feeling.
  • On the left side of the page are questions and suggestions for  parents to help them start a conversation with their child about their day.  For example: What felt happy in your heart today? (younger child) What were three happy things in your day today? (older) What are the three most favorite things about your day today? (older)
  • Angel Violet’s Magic Wings is a lovely resource for parents, grandparents and caregivers.  It is a book filled with exercises and visualization techniques that can be taught to children, who will hopefully feel the benefits.
  • It also helps children cultivate a feeling of gratitude and thankfulness.
  • Alisa Shoults illustrations are in soothing colors of blue, violet, pink and green.  They are childlike and whimsical and fit the tone of the book.

Resources: The book is a resource with many tips, activities, visualizations and exercises to use with a child. Adults will also benefit from reading the book.  Check out the website for Angel Violet’s Magic Wings.