A Snicker of Magic

A Snicker of Magic9780545552707_p0_v3_s260x420A Snicker of Magic

Natalie Lloyd, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Feb. 25, 2014

Suitable for ages: 8-12 (Grades 3-7)

Themes: Magic, Single-parent families, Moving, Mothers and daughters, Friendship

Synopsis: Felicity Juniper Pickle and her mama, sister and dog are on the move again. They’ve been moving all over the country ever since her father left them five years earlier. Felicity feels her mother is cursed with a wandering heart. And she’s tired of starting over in a new town, a new school and with new friends. When Mama’s van, the Pickled Jalapeno, heads to her Aunt Cleo’s home in Midnight Gulch, Felicity feels that her luck may be changing. She loves hearing Mama’s stories about Midnight Gulch being a magical place where people sing up thunderstorms, make ice cream that brings back sweet and sour memories, and bake secrets into pies. One day the city is cursed and the magic leaves. The only kind of magic Felicity is interested in is the kind that would make her mama stay put.

Felicity, who is 12 years old, collects words and writes them in her blue book and on her tennis shoes. She sees words hover around people light as feathers or heavy as burdens. Other words sparkle, dance and shine like stars. But in Midnight Gulch Felicity sees words like magical, bittersweet, sorrowful, splendiferous, factofabulous, believe, stay, friend and home. Felicity still feels the magic in the town and knows it is hiding.  At school she becomes best friends with Jonah Pickett, who navigates the town in his wheelchair doing acts of kindness. Together they begin to unravel the town’s secrets of the curse of the mysterious Brothers Threadbare. Will Felicity and Jonah find a way to release the curse, bring back the joy and magic to Midnight Gulch, and find a permanent home for the gypsy Pickles?

Why I like this book: Once in a while you discover a book that touches your soul and you know from the start that it is something very special to read. And when you finish that book, you want to go back to the beginning and start all over. This charming and delicious debut novel by Natalie Lloyd is magical from the first page and full of child appeal. Its literary style will captivate many adults. The language is lyrical and the plot is strong. There is a large cast of lovable, quirky and very talented characters who deal with real-life issues of loss, divorce, disabilities, bullying and loneliness.  This is an inspiring story about family, friends, and hope. A Snicker of Magic is an extraordinary magical experience and spindiddly fabulous!

Visit Natalie Lloyd at her website.

The Impossible Knife of Memory

The Impossible Knife9780670012091_p0_v1_s260x420The Impossible Knife of Memory

Laurie Halse Anderson, Author

Viking, Fiction, Jan. 7, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 12-17

Themes:  Father-daughter relationship,  Family problems, PTSD, Veterans

Book Jacket Synopsis: “For the past five years, Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have been on the road trying to outrun the memories that haunt them both.  They move back to Andy’s hometown to try a “normal” life, but the horrors he saw in the war threaten to destroy their lives. Hayley watches, helpless, as her father turns to drugs and alcohol to silence his demons. And then her own past creeps up, and everything falls apart. How do you keep your father alive when death is stalking him?  What are you supposed to do when your father stops acting like an adult?”

Why I like this book: Laurie Halse Anderson’s heart-wrenching novel sensitively addresses the harsh reality of a family broken by war. Her plot is riveting and realistic. Her characters are well-developed with 17-year-old Hayley, an angry yet fragile teenager, who is dealing with very deep wounds — the death of her mother, abandonment by her father’s girlfriend, and parenting a father who suffers severe PTSD. She has watched her father go from the superhero soldier who made the world safe to the sobbing, raging and alcoholic father that she can’t depend upon. Hayley’s only school friend, Finn, brings some stability to her teenage life and the hope  she can believe in someone. Finn is a quirky character that provides the welcomed comic relief to the story. The book is a timely page turner with an unexpected twist at the end. The Impossible Knife of Memory will resonate with young people, but especially those dealing with parents suffering with PTSD.

Visit Laurie Halse Anderson at her website.

Gatsby’s Grand Adventures: Books 1 and 2

Gatsby's book1 9781616333508_p0_v1_s260x420Gatsby’s Grand Adventures:Winslow Homer’s Snap the Whip

Barbara Cairns, Author

Eugene Ruble, Illustrator

Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc., Fiction, 2012

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Themes: Cat, Art gallery, Famous paintings, Mischief

Opening:”Gatsby the cat lived in Miss Annabelle’s art gallery.  At night, he had the most peculiar habit. He jumped into famous paintings.” 

Synopsis: In Book 1, Gatsby was an art gallery cat who loved exploring famous paintings at night. One night his long tail twitched, his nose itched and his haunches hitched as he leaped into Winslow Homer’s Snap the Whip picture. He darted between the boy’s tripping and knocking four of them down. The boys chased Gatsby and he jumped out of the painting as the sun rose. Miss Annabelle was shocked to find the boys struggling to stand.  Gatsby returned repeatedly to fix the painting, but each attempt ended in another cat-astrophe.  Will Gatsby restore Homer’s painting so Miss Annabelle doesn’t think she has lost her mind?

Gatsbys 2 Book9781616333874_p0_v1_s260x420.jpg.Book 2 published 2013

Gatsby’s Grand Adventures: Auguste Renoir’s The Apple Seller

Synopsis: Ever since Gatsby leaped into his first painting, he wanted to visit another painting.  When he discovered Renoir’s Apple Seller, his tail  twitched, his whiskers itched and his haunches hitched. He jumped into the painting after absent-minded Miss Annabelle had gone to bed. The girls seated with the apple seller in the painting are excited to see a cat and stroked Gatsby’s head. When Jasper the dog barked at Gatsby, he ran and climbed up a tree. The girls caught their dog and Gatsby leaped out of the painting after the sun had risen. Oops! He looked back and the painting was a mess.  There would be more trips to restore this picture. Poor Miss Annabelle.

Why I like these  books: Barbara Cairns books  introduce children to art in a fun way.  Both books combine art history and education with adventure and humor. Children who enjoy animals and art will learn about an artist’s work through the adventures of a mischievous cat named Gatsby. His name suits him well because he is one cat with personality. I am sure there will be many more Gatsby adventures in this series. Eugene Ruble’s lovely pastel paintings are lively and colorful. He captures the essence of both famous artists with his own style.

Resources: The author has provided information about Homer and Renoir in the back of the book, along with helpful websites for children.  For activities check out a site Cairns suggested: Art Smarts 4 Kids.  These books are a great way to introduce children to famous artwork before they visit an art gallery.

Barbara Cairns is a former K-6 school teacher, a special education teacher for the deaf, and a retired elementary school principal. You can find interesting facts about Gatsby and cats on her website.

 

Yell and Shout, Cry and Pout

yellshout1Yell and Shout, Cry and Pout: A Kid’s Guide to Feelings

Peggy Kruger Tietz, Ph.D., Author

Rebecca Layton, Illustrator

CreateSpace, Mar. 25, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 5 and up

Themes: Learning about emotions and feelings

Opening:What makes you laugh, or blush, or run and hide? What makes your eyes open wide? Can you guess? Do you know? Whatever you feel inside will show…Feelings tell you what’s happening to you. Learn all their names because each is there to take care of YOU.”

Book Synopsis: Yell and Shout, Cry and Pout is an essential guidebook for adults in steering children through the different facets of emotions. Each of the eight emotions is clearly defined through vignettes and illustrations, keeping both adult and child captivated, thus creating an opportune time for discussion. By recognizing that all humans experience these emotions throughout their lives, the book provides a true sense of comfort.  The different ranges of emotions are not to be shunned but rather embraced and explained to provide a positive development environment for all children.

Why I like this book: Peggy Kruger Tietz, Ph.D., has written a very clever and important guide to help children identify eight different emotions: anger, fear, shame, sadness, happiness, love, disgust and surprise. I hope I have your attention because I know when I mentioned emotions you immediately thought of negative ones. This isn’t the case because the author also deals with positive emotions. I also like her consistent and simple format. Each emotion has a color. She identifies an emotion like shame with the color gray. Shame “tells us we’ve done something wrong and helps us say we’re sorry.” On the following page you are asked how you might respond or what happens to you when you feel ashamed: turn bright red, hang your head, look away or try to leave. Then there are examples of what you might do when you feel ashamed: lying, not seeking help when a friend is bullied or calling someone a mean name. Then it ends with a question to the child, “What might make You ashamed?

This guide offers parents, teachers and counselors a peek into the inner emotional lives of children. I believe that both children and adults lack the language to express what they are feeling. It is a relief for children to have a way to describe their experiences. And a blessing for  parents to have some insight in how to deal with puzzling behavior.  Excellent team work between author and illustrator. Rebecca Layton’s illustrations are simple black and white drawings with a splash of color that matches the emotion being discussed.  The drawings also are lively and expressive.  I highly recommend this book.

Visit Peggy Kruger Tietz at her website.  She is a psychologist and has counseled parents and children for over 30 years.

 

Little Bird Lost

Little Bird Lost9781492762829_p0_v1_s260x420Little Bird Lost

Kate Larkinson, Author

Steve Larkinson, Photographer

CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes: Nature, Birds, Sibling Rivalry

Opening: “1..2..3 little birds but there should be more. Three baby birds in the nest but there should be four.”

Synopsis (Book Description) : One of the baby birds seems to be missing. His greedy siblings have pushed him out of view! A tale of sibling rivalry and their parents love all their offspring.

Why I like this book: I loved Kate Larkinson’s simplicity and rhyming text for young children. This is a charming story about nature, a mother bird feeding her young ones and sibling rivalry. According to the book, Steve Larkinson “saw the nest in the eaves of a bakery in south-west France,” and decided to capture the life of a family of swallows through his beautiful photography. This is the perfect spring read for beginning readers. They  will feel triumphant over mastering this beautiful book.  Make sure you check out Kate and Steve Larkinson’s website.

Resources: Walk around your house and yard and look for nests of birds.  You can watch the birds busily building nests right now. Bird watch and write down the variety of bird you see in your yard this spring.

There is a Goodreads Giveaway for a copy of this book at https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/83442-little-bird-lost-a-rhyming-picture-story  that ends March 24.

There is also a LibraryThing Giveaway for the ebook edition at http://www.librarything.com/er_list.php?program=giveaway&sort=enddate which expires on March 28.

Erik from This Kid Reviews Books, also reviewed Little Bird Lost last fall.  He has included some excellent activities for children that I won’t repeat.

While You Were Out

While You Were Out9780142406281_p0_v1_s260x420While You Were Out

J. Irvin Kuns, Author

Dutton Children’s Books, Fiction, 2006

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes:  Loss of a friend, Grief, Family, Hope, Healing, School

Synopsis: Penelope is about to start fifth grade without her best friend, Tim, who died of cancer during the summer. Not only is she dealing with the grief of losing Tim, she is also dealing with the fact that her quirky father will be the new school janitor. And her irritating next door neighbor, Diane, thinks she can replace Tim as her best friend.  Memories of Tim are everywhere, including the empty desk right next to her and their favorite oak tree near the playground. Finding a way to cope with her loneliness, she begins to write notes to Tim on her pink While You Were Out notepad, folds them and puts them inside Tim’s empty desk — “I hugged our tree today. I think it hugged me back.”  After receiving a mysterious note with a poem about grief on her desk one day, she realizes someone else misses Tim as much as she does.  Perhaps she will be able to survive fifth grade without Tim.

Why I like this story: J. Irvin Kuns has written a very sensitive and realistic story about grief, loneliness, hope, healing and the power of words that help a child move forward again.  Written in first person, Penelope is authentic, smart and beautifully expresses her feelings, mixed with some sarcasm and humor. Her overactive father is imperfect and embarrassing when he jumps rope and plays marbles on the playground. He acts more like a student than the janitor. The book does show how Penelope finds a way of moving forward after losing her best friend and schoolmate.  This is a very moving story that would help children deal with loss.

Inside Out and Back Again

Inside Out and Back9780061962790_p0_v2_s260x420Inside Out & Back Again

Thanhha Lai, Author

Harper Collins Children, Fiction, 2011

Suitable for Ages:  8-12

Themes:  Vietnamese Americans, Immigration, Refugees, Alabama, Resilience

Synopsis from Book Jacket:  For all the ten years of her life, Ha has only know Saigon: The thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by…and the beauty of her very own papaya tree.   But now the Vietnam War has reached her home.  Ha and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope.  In America, Ha discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape…and the strength of her very own family.  This is the moving story of one girl’s year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next.

Why I like this book:  Thanhha Lai has written the story of Ha, in short free verse narrative, which is exquisitely executed. Her images are both rich and humorous.  It was the winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. This is a remarkable  story based on  Thanhha Lai’s own vivid childhood memories of fleeing Saigon and sailing to a strange new country. She vividly captures Ha’s rich and confusing emotional life. In Vietnam she’s an outstanding student. In America Ha is put into a lower grade because she can’t speak English. She feels dumb. There are so many rules in English that make absolutely no sense to Ha. She says “Whoever invented English,/ should be bitten/ by a snake.”  Ha is humiliated after the class claps for her when she recites the ABC’s and counts to twenty.  “I’m furious,/ unable to explain,/ I already learned/fractions/and how to purify river water./So this is/ what dumb feels like./ I hate, hate, hate it.”  This is a story about the resilience of the feisty spirit of a child told with such simplicity.

Resource:  You may be interested in reading an interview with Thanhha Lai when she won the 2011 National Book Award.

Learning to Feel Good and Stay Cool

Learning to Feel Good9781433813436_p0_v1_s260x420Learning to Feel Good and Stay Cool: Emotional Regulations Tools for Kids with AD/HD

Judith M. Glasser, PhD and Kathleen Nadeau, PhD

Charles Bey, Illustrator

Magination Press, Nonfiction, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 6-11

Themes: ADHD, Emotions, Self-control, Tools for kids

Book Jacket Synopsis“Did you know that there are things you can do every day to help you feel better more often? It’s true! Packed with practical advice and fun activities, this book will show you how to: understand your emotions; practice healthy habits to stay in your Feel Good Zone; know the warning signs that you are heading into your Upset Zone; feel better when you get upset; and problem-solve so upsets come less often.”  

Why I like this book: Judith M. Glasser and Kathleen Nadeau have written this book for children using language they easily understand.  But, it is an excellent book for parents to read with their children. It can also be used as a guide by school counselors who work with kids. It is an upbeat book with a lot of practical information and tools that kids with ADHD can use to understand their feelings, learn tools to manage and regulate their emotions and behavior, and become more emotionally independent.  The authors suggest that parents read the book one chapter at a time with their child to give them the opportunity to integrate ideas and put them into daily practice.  Although the book targets children, I think it would be helpful for older kids (tweens) who can read it on their own.  I especially enjoyed Charles Bey’s entertaining cartoons added humor to the book.

Resources: The book is a stand-alone resource. And there are individual front pages from the author for parents and children, as well as back pages filled with resources for parents and counselors.

Kwirky: The Kid Detective with a Different Perspective

Kwirky9781493598663_p0_v3_s260x420Kwirky: The Kid Detective with a Different Perspective

Russell Kane, Author

Sarah Beth Ryder, Illustrator

CreateSpace, Fiction, Oct. 31, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 7-11

Themes: ADHD, Differences, Abilities, Kid detective

Book Jacket Synopsis: Fifth grader Daniel Kwirk is known around Duckworth Elementary School as “Kwirky” because he thinks and acts differently than most kids his age.  His Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) causes him to be a bit clumsy, not pay attention and have way too much energy for certain occasions. But Daniel has so much more to offer than what people give him credit.  He is intelligent, perceptive and always wants to do the right thing. These attributes help Daniel, with the help of his younger sister Hayley, find clues to discover the theft of valuable gold and silver coins at the local Civil War exhibit and help police track down the culprits. Daniel’s unconventional approach to everyday life proves to be extremely useful as only someone with Daniel’s unique perspective could have cracked this case.

Why I like this book:  Russell Kane’s delivers a very positive message about ADHD to his young readers. His book is a fun and quick read. The characters are relatable. The plot is easy to follow. Kane names his character Daniel Kwirk, thus allowing him to use “quirkiness” as a theme that shows Daniel’s strength rather than his inability. Daniel is able to see beyond the obvious facts and demonstrates his talents to his friends, classmates and entire community.  This is a book of celebration of differences and abilities. Sarah Beth Ryder’s illustrations are cartoons that are fun and add to the story.  Readers will cheer for Daniel!

Resources: The author has a “Discussion Questions” at the end of the book for parents and teachers to use in the classroom.

My Paper House

The Paper House9781459800519_p0_v1_s260x420.jpg.My Paper House

Lois Peterson, Author

Orca Young Readers, Fiction, 2012

Suitable for ages: 8-11

Themes: Nairobi, Garbage Dump, Poverty, Survival, Love, Hope

Opening: “Safiyah stood ankle-deep in garbage near the top of the dump. Below her lay the Kibera slum, a patchwork of rusty tin roofs. A thick blanket of cloud and dirty smoke hid the concrete buildings and busy road of nearby Nairobi.”

Synopsis: Ten-year-old Safiyah dreams of going to school like her best friend, Pendo. She wants to learn to read and write and wear a school uniform. But going to school isn’t possible, because Safiyah can’t pay the tuition. Her mother is dead and she lives with her sick Cucu (grandmother) in the Kibera slums of Nairobi. Safiyah earns money from the items she finds in the dump and sells them on the streets so she can buy food and help her Cucu. On one of her scavenger trips to the dump, Safiyah finds a stack of magazines with beautiful pictures of things and places she’s never seen. She uses some of the pages to fill in holes inside their tin hut. The magazines inspire her to create something very beautiful that draws attention to her talents and a way to pursue her dreams.

Why I like this book: Lois Peterson has written an uplifting story about a very strong and determined girl who finds a way to survive the slums of Nairobi and still hold onto her dreams. It is also a realistic story about how a community comes together to support each other during times of dire need. There is also an element of suspense as readers wonder what Safiyah will do with her pictures. The ending is creative and unexpected. This is an important book for children to learn about the challenging lives of very poor children in other parts of the world. I appreciate this book because Peterson brings awareness to the lives of children living in Nairobi slums.

Resources: Visit Lois Peterson at her website.  This is an excellent classroom book.  Teachers will especially want to click on “For Kids” for resources and activities to use with The Paper House in class She also has a video trailer.