Father’s Chinese Opera

Father's Chinese Opera9781628736106_p0_v2_s260x420Father’s Chinese Opera

Rich Lo, Author and Illustrator

Skyhorse Publishing,  Inc., Fiction, Jun. 3, 2014

Suitable for ages: 3-8

Themes: Chinese opera, Acrobatics, Father and son, Perseverance

Opening: “Father was the band leader and composer of the Chinese opera in Hong Kong.  Sometimes I sat on top of the instrument cases and watched the actors onstage.”

Book Synopsis: The Chinese opera is anything but boring. Songs, acrobatics, acting, and costumes make the opera a truly spectacular show to behold. Spending a summer backstage at his father’s Chinese opera, a young boy yearns to be a part of the show. Rehearsing his acrobatic moves day and night with the show’s famous choreographer, the boy thinks he is soon ready to perform with the others. But the choreographer doesn’t agree. Upset, the boy goes home to sulk.  What will he do next? Will he give up?

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Artwork Compliments of Rich Lo

Why I like this book: This autobiographical story is based on Rich Lo’s childhood. His father, Lo Tok, was a famous opera composer in China before the family immigrated to the United States in 1964. The author is the child backstage longing to be a performer. This dramatic, expressive and colorful art form will be new to many readers. The story is narrated by the boy who is determined to become an acrobat. The text is simple so that the illustrations showcase the action in the story. It is a realistic story that encourages children to practice hard and not give up on their dreams. The boy’s disappointment turns into determination, perseverance and success. Every page is filled with colorful, evocative and detailed watercolors which highlight the traditional costumes, make-up, and dramatic action of the performers. Lo’s book is an inspiring tribute to his father and culture, and an introduction for children to the beautiful traditions in Chinese opera.

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Resources: Make sure you check out the “Author’s Note”about Chinese Opera at the end of the book.  There is also detailed information about the author’s father, Lo Tok, who was a famous opera composer and great musician. He shares the family’s struggles to immigrate from Communist China, and what it was like for his father being “a renowned writer of poetry and music to being illiterate.” The author lists other reading resources about Chinese Opera. Visit Rich Lo at his website for more information. Children can make their own Chinese Opera masks if they click [HERE] on the First Palette website.

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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.

Animal School: What Class Are You?

Animal School9780823430451_p0_v1_s260x420Animal School: What Class Are You?

Michelle Lord, Author

Michael Garland, Illustrator

Holiday House, Nonfiction, July 1, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Vertebrates, Reptiles, Fish, Mammals, Birds, Amphibians, Animals, Rhyming text

Opening: “Vertebrates have spines. Elephants to pygmy wrasses, vertebrates are grouped by classes. Vertebrates have spines like you, mammals, fish and reptiles too!”

Synopsis:  Animal School begins with very detailed illustrations of the skeletons of five classifications of vertebrates with spines like  mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds. Some walk on legs, while others swim, crawl, scamper or fly. Some breathe air while others live in water where oxygen flows through gills. With rhythmic text the author explores a subject many children will find fascinating.

I like this book because: it introduces children to the intriguing world of vertebrates. Michelle Lord’s knowledge of vertebrates is captured in her catchy and entertaining rhyming in each classification.  She provides the appealing facts about the special characteristics of each vertebrate classification: reptiles, fish, mammals (including humans), bird, amphibians, and animals.  Verses describe whether the vertebrae is cold-blooded or warm-blooded, scaly or furry,  hatched or birthed from an animal. Her language is understandable and kid-friendly. Michael Garland’s “digital woodcut” illustrations of the animals and reptiles add a dramatic touch that is eye-catching and suits the preferred natural habitat. The texture really adds realism to the story. His double-page spreads are simply stunning, complimenting the story. The cover is regal.

Favorite verses and illustrations:

Reptiles: “But alligators / raise their young. / Hatchlings ride on / Mother’s tongue. / Every noise / a reptile hears / through covered holes, / not floppy ears.”

Garland Gator6-7Compliments of Michael Garland

Fish: Underwater / fishes roam. / Rivers, lakes, or seas are home. / Oxygen flows/ through their gills./ Water passes/ through these frills. /Fish are cloaked / in flaky scales, / lacking hair or / furry tails.”

Garland Fish 8-9Compliments of Michael Garland

Resources: At the end of the book is a chart with all five classifications, their characteristics, some of the species, examples, an afterword about “invertebrates (spineless),” and suggested websites to check out. Use this book before you take your children on a visit to a zoo, aquarium or on a walk through the woods.  Visit Michelle Lord and Michael Garland’s websites to learn more about their books.

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.

The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm

Rhino9780990539506_p0_v2_s260x420The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm

LeVar Burton and Susan Schaefer Bernardo, Authors

Courtenay Fletcher, Illustrator

Reading Rainbow, Fiction, Oct. 7, 2014

Themes: Comforting a child after a tragedy, Dealing with emotions and feelings

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Opening: “In the middle of the morning, Mica Mouse trembled under her blanket. A storm boomed outside her window. Rain crashed against the glass. Wind rattled the shutters.”  

Synopsis: Mica mouse is afraid of storms because she lost her home the year before to a powerful hurricane.  Papa reassures Mica that they are safe and the storm will soon pass. To calm Mica, Papa reads her a story about a little Rhinoceros who lives happy and carefree until one day a raging storm destroys everything around him. Angry, he opens his jaws and swallows the storm.  He digs himself into a deep hole until some friends pull him out. Swallowing the storm makes him feel awful, so the little Rhino sets out on a journey to heal himself. Along the way he meets wise animal friends who guide him.

Why I like this book: Sometimes scary things happen to children and they don’t know how to cope. LeVar Burton and Susan Schaefer Bernardo have co-authored this powerful and compelling story that will help children deal with tragic events in their lives. The book  is really two stories in one. The opening is written in prose. And, I detect Bernardo’s beautiful and lifting rhyme in the little Rhino’s story. I love the metaphor of the storm and the Rhino burying his feelings until his friends encourage him to let them go. Even the typeset words and lines have movement that mirror the action. Courtenay Fletcher’s stunning and colorful  illustrations take the reader on a visual journey through the darkest moments of death and destruction of the ravine, the Rhino’s loneliness and despair, to his steps towards healing and making new friendships. This picture book is a beautiful collaboration between the authors and illustrator. It is a book I would recommend parents add to their book shelves because it can be used for many different situations to comfort a frightened child.

Resources: At the end of the book is a discussion section with eight great questions that help children and parents take a deeper look inside the story. The discussion encourages children to share their feelings and explore how they handle difficult times. This book is also a good resource for teachers and counselors.

LeVar Burton: Actor, director, and educator LeVar Burton has been an icon for more than 35 years. It’s his 31 years as host, producer, and now co-owner of Reading Rainbow that have given Burton his greatest impact, delivering the message of the importance of literacy and reading to generations of children.

Co-author and poet Susan Schaefer Bernardo and illustrator Courtenay Fletcher created their first book Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs to help children deal with separation and loss.  It’s one of my favorite healing books for children. Click here to read the review.

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.

Bumblebee Bike

Bumblebee Bike9781433816468_p0_v1_s260x420Bumblebee Bike

Sandra Levins, Author

Claire Keay, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes: Stealing, Bicycle, Behavior, Guilt, Honesty

Opening: David was impatient. When he saw something he wanted, his teeth clenched. His fists tightened. His heart raced. When he wanted something, he wanted it right away.

Synopsis: David has a secret treasure box in his closet where he keeps the things he borrows from people without asking — like the Superman he snatches from his best friend Payton, the blinking reindeer pin from Aunt Rhonda, and a green rubber ball from his neighbor Charlie. To lessen his guilt, David tells himself that he will give it all back someday. When his prized yellow bicycle is missing he feels sick inside and wonders how someone can take something that belongs to someone else. He remembers the things he’s taken and realizes what he’s done is wrong.  He knows he has to make things right.

Why I like this book: Sandra Levins’ book belongs in every home. Children are unaware of the value of an item until they lose something they cherish. A common conflict among children is the proverbial “I see, I want, and I take,” with no sense of consequence. Levins’ book addresses this common occurrence in a child’s development with simplicity and compassion.  Claire Keay’s illustrations are colorful pastels, full of detail and they compliment the storyline.

Resources: The book is a resource. There is a two-page spread of helpful information, strategies, activities and discussion questions parents can use with their children.

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.

Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match – Marisol McDonald no combina

Marisol McDonald9780892392353_p0_v1_s260x420

Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match

Monica Brown, Author

Sara Palacios, Illustrator

Children’s Book Press, Imprint of Lee & Low Books, Fiction, 2011

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 years

Themes: A bilingual, Peruvian-Scottish-American soccer-playing girl celebrates her individuality

Opening: My name is Marisol McDonald, and I don’t match. At least that’s what everyone tells me./Me llamo Marisol McDonald y no combino. Al menos eso es lo que me dicen todos.

Book Synopsis: Marisol McDonald has flaming red hair and nut-brown skin. Polka dots and stripes are her favorite combination. She prefers peanut butter and jelly burritos in her lunch box. To Marisol, these seemingly mismatched things make perfect sense together. Other people wrinkle their nose in confusion at Marisol — can’t she just choose one or the other? Try as she might, in a world where everyone tries to put this biracial, Peruvian-Scottish-American girl into a box, Marisol McDonald doesn’t match. And that’s just fine with her.

Why I like this book: Monica Brown has written a charming story about a strong, spunky and carefree girl who embraces her multiracial heritage. You want to cheer for Marisol. It is inspired by Brown’s own Peruvian-American heritage. Did I mention the book is bilingual, so that Hispanic children can read the story and American children can learn Spanish? Like Marisol, some of the paragraphs are mismatched and include bilingual words.  For example Marisol even likes speaking Spanish and English at the same time. “Can I have a puppy? A furry, sweet perrito?” I ask my parents. “Por favor?” When Marisol tries to match her clothes so she fits in at school, she is miserable.  This book is a creative and beautiful example about how important it is to be comfortable and proud of who you are. Sara Palacios’s lively and colorful illustrations capture Marisol’s personality — just look at that cover! Great collaborative effort between the illustrator and author.

Resources: Lee & Low Books has a wonderful teachers guide page for Marisol McDonald with a lot of ideas and activities for using the book in the classroom.

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.

Armond Goes to a Party

ArmondGoesToAPartyArmond Goes to a Party: A Book about Asperger’s and Friendship

Nancy Carlson, Author and Illustrator, and her friend Armond Isaak

Free Spirit Publishing, Fiction, Apr. 15, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Asperger’ syndrome, Autism Spectrum, Friendship, Socialization, Coping

Opening: “You can read any time,” his mom said. “But parties make me nervous,” Armond said. “What if balloons pop?” “And parties are disorganized. I don’t like when things are disorganized.”

Synopsis: Armond has been invited to his best friend Felicia’s birthday party. Instead of being excited, Armond is anxious and worried. He recites all the reasons about why he shouldn’t go. The party may be too noisy.  He may feel invisible and lonely. And, he always plays basketball every Saturday. Armond’s mother reminds him that Felicia will feel sad if he doesn’t attend.  After all, Felicia is his best friend, doesn’t care that he has Asperger’s, and talks all the time about dinosaurs. Armond decides to attend the party. With the support of Felicia and her mother, he is able to make it through the party and have fun.

Why I like this book:  This is a realistic and humorous portrayal of what it’s like for a child with Asperger’s to socialize with other children. The story is inspired by Armond Isaak, who participated in Nancy Carlson’s writing classes when he was seven years old. The author was inspired by Armond’s stories about his life with Asperger’s syndrome.  When he approached her a few years later to help him turn his stories into a book, she agreed.  The book is about learning how to cope in situations where you are uncomfortable, learning to be a better friend and realizing your aren’t alone. Nancy Carlson’s illustrations are vivid, colorful, emotive and include diversity. Armond’s facial expressions are priceless. This is an excellent book that offers helpful coping advice to  children on the autism spectrum and for those who care about them. This is an ideal book  for classrooms.

Nancy Carlson is an accomplished children’s book author and illustrator who has published 65 children’s books.

Armond Isaak is now 14 years old and in middle school. Besides reading books, he loves Legos, acting, and playing the trumpet. He is also a proud Boy Scout.

Resources: There is a note for parents and teachers at the end of the book with suggestions about helping children make friends, learn social skills, and encourage empathy.  Armond shares his thoughts about living with Asperger’s syndrome with the hopes it will help other kids.  You may want to visit Nancy Carlson’s website for more information and a video of Nancy and Armond being interviewed on television.

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.

Gifts from the Enemy

Gifts from the Enemy9781935952978_p0_v2_s260x420Gifts from the Enemy

Trudy Ludwig, Author

Craig Orback, Illustrator

White Cloud Press,  Biography, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Alter Wiener, Poland, Jews, Holocaust, Survivor, Courage, Kindness

Opening: “There are those who say that what I’ve lived through never happened. But I’m here to tell you that it did. My name is Alter Wiener and I am an ordinary person with an extraordinary past.”

Synopsis: Alter Wiener was a 13-year-old boy living with his family in Chrzanow, a small town in southwest Poland. His home was filled with love, laughter, food and books. Every Friday they shared their Sabbath dinner with a student or homeless person. When the German Nazi soldiers invaded and occupied Poland in 1939, Hitler ordered his army to imprison and kill millions of Jews. Alter’s father and older brother were taken when he was 13. The Nazis came for him when he was 15. He was moved to many different prison labor camps where the conditions were deplorable.  The prisoners wer treated cruelly, given very little food and forced to work long hours. Years passed and he found himself working in a German factory. One day he began receiving a daily gift from a stranger who he thought was his enemy. Her kindness gave Alter the hope to survive.

Why I like this book: Trudy Ludwig has treated Alter Wiener’s story about surviving the Holocaust with great compassion and dignity. Since it is a picture book, she doesn’t go into detail about the atrocities that occurred during WW II.  Instead she focuses on the fact that not all Germans were filled with the hatred and risked their lives to help the Jews. Gifts from the Enemy is an excellent introduction to the Holocaust for young readers. It also is a timely classroom book for children to understand the dangers of hatred, prejudice and intolerance. It is critical that as a society we begin to encourage kindness, compassion, and goodwill among our children so they will have the tools to stand up to social injustice and make sure genocide is a thing of the past. Craig Orback’s illustrations are breathtaking and realistic. His oil paintings capture the fear and darkness of that time in history.

Resources: There is a beautiful afterword from Alter Wiener, who wrote his memoir From a Name to a Number: A Holocaust Survivor’s Autobiography. Trudy Ludwig provides a wealth of resources for teachers to use in the classroom. She includes information about the Holocaust, questions for discussion and recommended activities for young readers. You may want to visit Trudy Ludwig on her website. She is a nationally acclaimed speaker and author whose work helps empower children to cope with and thrive in their social world. Craig Orback  has illustrated over 20 children’s books, including The Can Man and Nature’s Paintbox.

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.