Oskar and the Eight Blessings

Oskar and Eight Blessings51kJJQr3hbL._SY399_BO1,204,203,200_Oskar and the Eight Blessings

Richard and Tanya Simon, Authors

Mark Siegel, Illustrator

Roaring Book Press, Fiction, Sep. 8, 2015

Pages: 40

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes: Kindness, Refugees, Jews, Holocaust, Hanukkah, Blessings, New York City

Prologue: “Oskar’s mother and father believed in the power of blessings. So did Oskar…until the Night of Broken Glass. His parents put him on a ship to America. He had nothing but an address and a photo of a woman he didn’t know — “It’s your Aunt Esther.” — and his father’s last words to him: “Oskar, even in bad times, people can be good. You have to look for the blessings.”

Book Opening lines: Oskar arrived in New York on the seventh day of Hanukkah. It was also Christmas Eve.

Book Jacket Synopsis: It is both the seventh day of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve, 1938. Oskar, a refugee from the horrors of Nazi Europe, arrives by ship in New York City with only a photograph and an address for an aunt he’s never met. As he walks the length of Manhattan, from the Battery to his aunt’s home uptown, he encounters the sights of the city at holiday time — and receives small acts of kindness from its people, each in its way welcoming him to the city and a life in the new world.

Why I like Oskar and the Eight Blessings:

Richard and Tanya Simon’s heartwarming story captures the best of New York and its residents who welcome Oskar to their city through their generous spirits and acts of kindness– a helping hand, a loaf of bread, a superman magazine, a snowball fight, a pair of mittens, and a friendly wink. It is the essence of what America is about, welcoming immigrants fleeing oppression or seeking a better life.

The story is realistic and believable for children. The characters are diverse. The plot is engaging. Oskar is overwhelmed by how small he feels in such a big city. He is tired and hungry. The sights and sounds are strange and confusing. Oskar is brave and remembers the wise fatherly advice he receives that wraps him in warmth during his 100-block journey to his aunt’s house.

This Hanukkah story, set in 1938, is timeless and should be shared with children no matter what tradition they celebrate. Compassion and kindness towards others is not limited to color, race or culture. This is a story of hope for humanity.

Mark Siegel’s illustrations are hauntingly beautiful. With spare text, the illustrations are expressive and really show the story. There is so much feeling captured in the characters eyes and smiles. The illustrations are uplifting.

Resources: An Author’s Note offers historical insight into the story, a glossary provides definitions of key words, and a map shows Oskar’s walk up Broadway in 1938.

Check out Susanna Leonard Hill’s review of Oskar and the Eight Blessings, on Perfect Picture Book Friday, which will return January 8.

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.

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.

Where Are My Books? by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Where Are My BooksWAMBCover-300Where Are My Books?

Debbie Ridpath Ohi, Author and Illustrator

Simon & Schuster, Fiction, May 12, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes: Books and reading, Lost and found possessions, Squirrels

Opening: “Spencer loved books. His favorite bedtime book was Night-Night, Narwhal. Sometimes he read it aloud. Every night, Spencer put the book back where it belonged. That way he’d always be able to find it.”

Synopsis: Spencer’s beloved books are disappearing. Each night he reads a book and places it on the shelf and in the morning his book is missing. In each empty space, he finds a tulip petal, screw or different object. He suspects his sister, but she isn’t the thief. He must find the culprit before his book shelves are empty. Spencer devises a plan. When he solves the mystery, he comes up with a great idea that will satisfy readers.

Why I like this book:

  • The cover of shaggy-haired Spencer is so appealing that children will snatch it off the shelf. Debbie Ridpath Ohi has hit a home run with this realistic and highly entertaining story.
  • The simple and precise narrative is a perfect springboard for the delightfully bold and colorful illustrations. Readers will love the detail, especially Spencer’s red Narwhal pajamas and stuffed animal.
  • Spencer’s memorable character is artfully crafted. He’s likable and persistent. Children will easily identify with Spencer and see themselves in similar situations like missing books and toys, accusing siblings of taking prized possessions, solving problems.
  • When Spencer traps the real culprits, readers hearts will melt at his discovery and his clever solution.  Who would have thought…. (no I won’t spoil the ending.) This is a great book for classrooms and school libraries.

Resources: You can find bonus activities and a teacher’s guide at Debbie Ohi’s website.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi: Where Are My Books? is the first picture book that Ohi has both written and illustrated. She illustrated the New York Times Notable Children’s Book I’m Bored and Naked, written by Michael Ian Black.

Water Is Water

Water is Water9781596439849_p0_v1_s192x300Water Is Water

Miranda Paul, Author

Jason Chin, Illustrator

Roaring Brook Press, Nonfiction, May 26, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Water cycles, Seasons, Rhyming, Diversity

Opening: “Drip. Sip. Pour me a cup. Water is water unless…it heats up.”

Synopsis: Two children explore the different phases of the water cycle during the year. They experience rain turning into fog, snow, and ice, as each season brings with it the mystique of this life-giving element.

Why I like this book:

Miranda Paul’s engaging brief and lyrical text sings off the pages. The rhyming is very clever. Children will relate to the brother and sister as they experience water in its many forms throughout the year. I especially like that the brother and sister in the story are biracial with a diverse group of children joining them as they splash in puddles, glide on ice, build snowmen, throw snowballs, squish in mud after snow melts, pick apples, press apple cider and jump into ponds. This is a fascinating introduction to the water cycle for young children. Jason Chin’s lively and expressive watercolors contribute significantly to the beauty of Water Is Water. This is an exceptional pairing of text with illustrations.

Resources: Paul includes extensive backmatter about the movement and change of water from liquid to vapor and fog, to precipitation, to ice and so on. This information will compliment classroom lesson plans.

Miranda Paul has traveled to Gambia as a volunteer teacher, a fair-trade and literacy advocate, and freelance journalist.  She is also the author of One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia  (read my review) and Water is Water, both of which were named Junior Library Guild selections. Visit Miranda Paul at her website.

Imani’s Moon

Imani's Moon9781934133576_p0_v1_s260x420Imani’s Moon

JaNay Brown-Wood, Author

Hazel Mitchell, Illustrator

Charlesbridge Publishing, Fiction, Oct. 14, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Maasai tribe, Maasai mythology, Moon, Belief and doubt, Self-confidence, Determination

Opening: “Imani was the smallest child in her village.”

Book Synopsis: Imani may be the smallest child in her Maasai village, but she is big in heart. The more she hears the ancient stories of her people, the more she longs to do something great. Imani wants to touch the moon, like Olapa, the moon goddess of Maasai mythology. Despite the teasing from village children, Imani isn’t about to give up on her dream.

What I like about this book:

JaNay Brown-Wood’s heartwarming story is filled with hope, ambition and big dreams. Even though Imani is tiny, she is strong in spirit. She endures the teasing of the village children daily. But they don’t deter her. For Imani there are no limitations, only possibilities and dreams to touch the moon. This richly textured story is charming, magical and begs to be read repeatedly. Hazel Mitchell’s cover with Imani’s outstretched arms in front of the big moon is engaging and draws the reader into Imani’s story. Her vibrant watercolor and graphite artwork includes a lot of Maasai detail.  The night scenes of Imani and the moon are dazzling and magical. Great collaborative work between the author and illustrator.

Resource: There is a lovely Author’s Note about the culture of the Maasai people living on the plains of Tanzania and Kenya. Passing along stories and mythology is an important part of the culture. You may want to visit JaNay Brown-Wood at her website. She has a Teaching Guide available for teachers and parents.

I’m a Great Little Kid Series

I’m a Great Little Kid series

Today I’m sharing three books of the new I’m a Great Little Kid series, co-published by Second Story Press and BOOST Child Abuse Prevention & Intervention. Never Give Up, Reptile Flu and Fifteen Dollars and Thirty-Five Cents, are the first of six planned picture books for kids aged 5-8 to teach important lessons about communication, self-esteem, and self-confidence. Many of the same characters appear in each book. Written by Kathryn Cole with colorful illustrations by Quin Leng, the series will have a Facilitator’s Guide, which will be published with the final book in the series.  This is an important series that can be used to teach character education in the classroom.

Never Give Up9781927583609_p0_v1_s260x420Never Give Up: A Story about Self-esteem

April 2015

Synopsis: Nadia looks on as her friend, Shaun, struggles to ride his bicycle in the park — with training wheels. A group of kids laugh and tease Shaun about riding his “tricycle” and watch him take a spill. Shaun picks up his bike and tries again and again, each time crashing.  Nadia feels badly that she isn’t a good friend and doesn’t stand up to the taunting, but she offers to help him. Determined to not to give up, Shaun manages to impress his friends, win their respect and feel like a king.

Reptile FluuntitledReptile Flu: A Story about Communication

May 2015

Synopsis: Kamal is studying reptiles at school. His teacher announces a surprise class trip to visit a reptile show at the museum. Everyone cheers, except Kamal. He’s terrified of live reptiles, especially snakes. But he’s even more afraid of admitting his fear to anyone, including his teacher. What if his friends tease him? He unsuccessfully tries to get out of the trip by telling his parents and sister about his fear, but they are too busy to listen. At the last-minute Kamal finds a way communicate his fear with surprising results.

Fifteen51hWwUW+0KL__SY498_BO1,204,203,200_Fifteen Dollars and Thirty-Five Cents: A Story about Choices

September 8, 2015

Synopsis: Joseph and Devon are good friends at school. Joseph spots money on the playground and yells to Devon, “I’m rich!”  Joseph wants to keep the money, “finder keepers.” Devon thinks someone may have lost the money and wants to take it to the office and help find its owner. They spot Claire and Lin searching the playground; Lin was crying because she lost her money. During class, the teacher asks why Lin is so sad. Joseph shoots Devon a look to not tell. Will Devon be able to convince Joseph to do the right thing?

Kathryn Cole has spent a forty-five-year career in children’s books as an illustrator, art director, editor, designer, and publisher at Scholastic, OUP, Stoddart Kids and Tundra Books. Her experience along with 13 years of volunteering for BOOST give her a strong understanding of the issues children face every day. She is co-managing editor at Second Story Press in Toronto.

Qin Leng has illustrated a number of children’s books. She was born in Shanghai, China and lived in France before moving to Montreal. She always loved to illustrate the innocence of children and has developed a passion for children’s books. She has created art for many award-nominated picture books.