Lost Girl Found

Lost Girl Found9781554984169_p0_v1_s260x420Lost Girl Found

Leah Bassoff and Laura DeLuca, Authors

Groundwood Books, Fiction, March 2014

Suitable for Ages: 13-17

Themes: Lost Girls, Education, Persecution, Refugees, Sudan, War, Survival, Courage, Hope

Pages: 192

Synopsis:  Poni lives in Chukudum, a small village in South Sudan. Poni wants an education and is encouraged by her mama. She is smart and has no interest in marriage. She beats away the boys who show her any attention. She will not be forced into a marriage like her best friend, Nadai. Instead she watches the boys, becomes a fast runner and swims in the forbidden Kinyeti River. One night the bombs start falling over her village and Poni flees for her life. She can’t find her family and journeys with other refugees to a camp in Kenya, where conditions are deplorable. She escapes from the camp for a chance to pursue her dreams.

Why I like this book: Leah Bassoff and Laura DeLuca have written a very powerful and gripping novel about a strong-willed girl, Zenitra Lujana Paul Poni, who against all odds, survives the trauma and atrocities of the Sudanese war to pursue her dream of getting an education.  Poni is one of the Lost Girls of Sudan. Unlike the Lost Boys, the stories of the Lost Girls are rarely told. Poni narrates the story and her voice is smooth, strong and determined, no matter the challenges she faces. You can’t help but cheer for her. This is the first book I have read about the Lost Girls of Sudan, so I was particularly interested in the story behind this story. Poni is actually a compilation of many resilient girls and women who survive, receive the education, and give back to their country. A lot of research went into telling Poni’s remarkable story. Bassoff and DeLuca met at a conference for Southern Sudanese Women. DeLuca, an anthropologist, knew the Sudanese people, the language  and the culture. She helped Bassoff with the details and accuracy. Their collaboration results in a realistic portrayal  that honors these incredibly resilient women so that students will learn about what child refugees, mostly orphans, endure in war-torn parts of the world. Lost Girl Found is a page-turner and belongs in every middle and high school library.

Resources: The authors have listed films, documentaries and books about the lost children at the end of the book. There also is a beautiful author’s note, information on the Lost Children of Sudan, a map and a brief timeline of Sudan from 1955 to 2011, when the Republic of South Sudan gains independence and is founded. Visit Leah Bassoff at her website.

All royalties from the sale of this book will be donated to Africare, a charitable organization that works with local populations to improve the quality of life for people in Africa.

A Time fo Dance

A Time to Dance9780399257100_p0_v2_s260x420A time to Dance

Padma Venkatraman, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, May 2014

Suitable for ages: 12-16

Themes: Dance, India, Amputee, Disabilities, Abilities

Book Jacket Synopsis: Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance–so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown up used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.

Why I like this book: This inspirational novel is lyrically written in verse. Padma Venkatraman has woven together a story about loss and resilience of a girl determined to dance once again her beloved Bharatanatyam.  This is not a story about disability, but one of ability. It is about finding the deeper spiritual meaning of the dance over the applause. “For my invisible audience of the One I begin to dance./ Colors blur into whiteness and a lilting tune that is and is not of the world resonates within and without me./ My body feels whole./In the beat of my heart I hear again the eternal rhythm of Shiva’s feet.” Reading Venkatraman’s novel is an experience of India in all its beauty, cultural traditions, senses and sounds. If you listen closely you can hear the faint echo of a dancing rhythm.  Thaiya thai. Thaiya thai.  I highly recommend this beautiful novel for tweens and teens who have faced challenges in their lives. This book is a treasure on my bookshelf.

Padma Venkatraman is an oceanographer by training and a writer by choice. She is the author of Climbing the Stairs and Island’s End, both multi-award winners.  Padma was born in India, but is now an American citizen. Visit Padma at her website. It has discussion questions and teaching resources.

Because I am a Girl: I Can Change the World

International Day of the Girl – Declared by the United Nations — October 11

Because I Am a Girl9781927583449_p0_v2_s260x420Because I am a Girl: I Can Change the World

Rosemary McCarney, with Jen Albaugh and Plan International, Authors

Second Story Press, Nonfiction, Oct. 11, 2014

Themes: Girls in developing countries, Poverty, Girls uniting to change the world, Social conditions, Educating Girls, Promoting girls’ rights

Suitable for Ages: 8 – 14

Pages: 96

Book Synopsis: Meet some amazing girls! They are from all over the world and tell stories of their lives that are sometimes hard to imagine. In Because I am a Girl we hear of the barriers and dangers that they, and millions of girls like them face every day. Despite the hardships, they have great hope for the future. All are willing to do whatever they can to make their lives and those of their families and communities better. Read about: Lucy, an orphan in Zimbabwe, who struggles to find enough food for herself and her sister; Kathryn from South Sudan, who teaches the younger children in the refugee camp where she lives; Farwa, who was destined to become a child bride in Pakistan; and Fahmeeda, a Youth Ambassador from Canada, who works to protect the rights of women and children around the world.

Why I like this book: Rosemary McCarney with Jen Albaugh, has written a powerful, inspiring, and uplifting book for middle grade readers that belongs in every school library — in multiple copies! It is a wonderful resource for students and teachers. The layout of the book is done with thought and purpose.  Readers are introduced to the stories of poverty-stricken girls who deal with barriers and hardship. Each story is followed by a “Did You Know” section, with facts and information about other girls around the globe facing similar problems and the critical need for education. In later sections the authors focus on hope and action. You feel strength and determination as the voices of the girls grow strong about what they can contribute. By the end of the book you see the girls uniting to form clubs to work on projects that will benefit their communities. These girls will become the future teachers, nurses, midwives, doctors, lawyers, business women and leaders. They will be the heart of their communities, bring growth and change, and turn the tide away from poverty and towards a more peaceful world. This book reminds me of what the Dalai Lama said at the Vancouver Peace Summit in 2009:  “The western women will save the world and bring peace.” It will also be educated girls in small villages around the globe bringing change to their communities and unity to the world.  Many photographers contributed to the bright and bold photographs that highlight each story. The book is beautifully packaged.

Rosemary McCarney is the author of a picture book Every Day is Malala Day She is President and CEO of Plan International Canada, and spearheads the Because I am a Girl global initiative.  She led the call for United Nations to declare October 11 the “International Day of the Girl” — a day each year to recognize and advocate for girls’ rights and end global poverty. Proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to Plan’s Because I am a Girl FundPlan International is one of the world’s largest international charities working in 50 developing countries, including the United States.

Jen Albaugh is a former elementary school teacher and librarian working as a freelance writer and editor in Toronto who is greatly inspired by the work of Plan and the Because I am a Girl initiative.

*I was provided with a copy of “Because I am a Girl” in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Upside Down and Backwards

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month – September 2014

Upside Down9781433816383_p0_v1_s260x420Upside Down and Backwards: A Sibling’s Journey Through Childhood Cancer

Julie Greves, Katy Tenhulzen, and Fred Wilkinson, Authors

Magination Press, Fiction, May 12, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 8-13

Themes: Cancer, Siblings, Family Relationships, Feelings,

Book Summary: Ever since his first ride, Bryce has been obsessed with roller coasters. The hiss of the ride starting, the anticipation, the slow climb up the first steep hill, the pause just before the car careens over the steep drop. But when Bryce’s sister Paige is diagnosed with cancer, his life become one of the craziest roller coasters he would ever ride. His parents are suddenly distracted and stressed. It seems like Paige always gets her way. Brice has trouble keeping up with school. He misses out on time with his friends. And he worries about Paige. Will his family ever get back to normal?

Why I like this book:  The roller coaster is the perfect metaphor for a sibling’s journey through childhood cancer. It is written in a matter-of-fact and understandable way. The story is vivid, realistic, upbeat and honest. It focuses on real-life issues for siblings and family members. I especially like that the book emphasizes recovery rather than dealing with a loss. Bryce narrates the story and the authors did an excellent job of exposing the confusing emotions of his character. Bryce’s world is turned upside down and backwards because his sister is diagnosed with cancer. He feels like he’s also riding the “cancer coaster.” There are midnight trips to the emergency room with Paige, but no one bothers to tell him. He feels forgotten when his parents don’t pick him up after school or don’t make a baseball game where he hits his first home run. Yet he cares about his sister and shaves his head when she loses her hair to chemo treatments. A sibling support group become a refuge because the other kids actually get what his life if like. The authors really got this story right and I highly recommend it for siblings of cancer patients and their parents.

Resources: There is a very helpful six-page guide at the back of the book with suggestions for siblings on how to take care of themselves, stay connected, talk to friends, discuss their feelings, deal with guilt, seek out a support group, and face  the future.

About the Authors: The authors share a passion for supporting patients and their families throughout the entire cancer journey in their work at Seattle Children’s Hospital. This passion  motivated them to write a book and create resources for siblings.

Julie Greves, CCLS,  is a certified child life specialist, where she has spent over 10 years working with pediatric oncology patients. Katy Tenhulzen, CCLS, is a certified child life specialist who has had the opportunity to support pediatric hematology and oncology patients and families since 2002.  Fred Wilkinson, LICSW, has been an oncology social worker focusing on psychological trauma since 2001.

Kindred Souls

Kindred Souls9780060522995_p0_v2_s260x420Kindred Souls

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Fiction, 2012

Suitable for ages: 6-10

Themes: Aging Grandfathers, Sod houses, Prairies, Family Life, , Dogs, Loss

Book Synopsis: Jake’s grandfather, Billy, hears the talk of birds, is eighty-eight years old, and is going to live forever. Even when Billy gets sick, Jake knows that everything will go on as always. But there’s one thing Billy wants: to rebuild the sod house where he grew up. Can Jake give him this one special thing? 

What I like about this book: Patricia MacLachlan’s book is a heartwarming story about a bond between a boy and his grandfather (kindred souls), their shared love of nature, and what Jake does to fulfill his grandfather’s wish.  The story is set on the family’s prairie farm. The story has a lovely rhythm about it. The plot is paced well for young readers with short chapters and an air of adventure in building the sod house, from research to recruiting the entire family to help after Billy becomes ill. Even the sudden appearance of Lucy, the stray “angel dog,” who never leaves Billy’s side, adds to the love and grace that permeates this story about family and letting go. This is a beautiful story.

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.

 

Always By My Side

Always by my Side9781595723376_p0_v1_s260x420Always By My Side

Susan Kerner, Author

Ian P. Benfold Haywood, Illustrator

Star Bright Books, Fiction, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 5-8 years

Themes: Absence of a father, Loss, Love, Families

Opening: “If you ask me where my daddy is, this is what I’ll say: He’s in me and around me, never far away.”

Synopsis: This is a story that will help children understand that a dad’s love is forever. Even if they grow up without his presence in their lives. He’s in the trees, the waves, in the wind and in the sunshine’s rays. And when they sing or move their hands in a certain way, Mama is there to say, “You’re a lot like your daddy.”

What I like this book: This is a beautiful and heartwarming story for children experiencing the loss or absence of a father.  Susan Kerner gives no specific reason for a loss in her lovely rhyming text. Fathers may be absent for many reasons like work, military deployments, divorce, incarceration, and death.  Through comforting verse, Kerner’s shows that their fathers are still part of them, whether it’s in their mannerisms and likeness to him or in everyday activities and nature. This book can be read to any child experiencing a father’s absence and help them know they are still loved.  And Mama is there to remind them,“No matter the day, the month, the year, the weather, the tears, or smiles…Daddy is always by your side, guiding you all the while.” Haywood’s illustrations are lively, colorful and ethnically diverse. Families coping with loss will find Always By My Side a helpful grief book.

Susan Kerner: Shortly after marrying the love of her life, her husband died of cancer before their first child was born. Her book is inspired by her own experiences. According to Kerner, Always By My Side has become popular among military families.

Knock Knock

Knock Knock9780316209175_p0_v1_s260x420Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream For Me

Daniel Beaty, Author

Bryan Collier, Illustrator

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Dec. 17, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Fatherless sons, Separation, Loss, Hope

Opening: Every morning, I play a game with my father. He goes KNOCK KNOCK on my door, and I pretend to be asleep till he gets right next to the bed. Then I get up and jump into his arms. “Good morning, Papa!” And my papa, he tells me, “I love you.” We share a game…KNOCK KNOCK.

Synopsis: Every morning a boy plays a game with his father. Then one day the knock doesn’t come. The boy’s father is gone and is not there to help him get ready for school, cook his breakfast or help him with homework. One day he finds a letter from is father on the desk in his room. His father is sorry that he won’t be coming home and gives hims advice “for every lesson I will not be there to teach you.” He encourages his son to “KNOCK KNOCK down the doors that I could not.”

Why I like this book: Daniel Beaty’s powerful storyline is based on his own experience as a child when his father is incarcerated. In writing this heart-wrenching story, Beaty doesn’t indicate where the father in KNOCK KNOCK has gone. Many children who have an absent father due to incarceration, divorce, abandonment, military deployments and death, will identify with this story. Even though the story is sad, it is also about love, survival, and hope. Beaty’s text is simple and lyrical. The plot is engaging and moving.  The last few pages are filled with inspirational words from the father. Bryan Collier’s stunning illustrations are done in watercolor and collage and support the sentiment of the text.

Daniel Beaty is an award-winning writer, performer, educator and empowerment expert. KNOCK KNOCK  has won the Huffington Post Best Picture Book of the Year, the Boston Globe-Horn Books Award Honor and the ALSC Notable Children’s Book Award.  You can visit Beaty’s website here.

Bryan Collier has illustrated more than 25 picture books, including the award-winning Dave the Potter and Fifty Cents and a Dream.  He  has received three Caldecott Honors and five Coretta Scott King Award, including the 2014 Coretta Scott King Award for KNOCK KNOCK. You can visit Collier’s website here.