The War that Saved My Life

The War that Saved Life9780803740815_p0_v2_s260x420The War that Saved my Life

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Author

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jan. 8, 2015

Pages: 316

Suitable for Grade Levels – 4 – 7

Themes: WW II, Evacuation of children, London, Siblings, Family relationships, Disabilities, Identity

Opening: “Ada! Get back from that window!” Mam’s voice, shouting. Mam’s arm, grabbing mine, yanking me so I toppled off my chair and fell hard to the floor.

Book Jacket Synopsis: Ten-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother, Jamie, is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute — she sneaks out to join him.

So begins a new adventure for Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan — and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But, in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?

What I like about this book:

  • Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s story tugs at her reader’s heart-strings from the first page. It is a captivating journey about pain, love (lost and found), freedom from the past and victory over obstacles. The narrative is in Ada’s voice.
  • The setting is vivid and realistic, from Ada’s window perch to the beautiful English countryside, Susan Smith’s home, the airfield, and the community that love and support the siblings. The story is rich in detail of how WW II changed British family life. And there are spies and bombs. The author did a lot of research.
  • The story is character driven.  Readers will be captivated by Ada’s spirit and strong will.  She is a survivor and makes her escape from her one-room prison, Mam, and Hitler’s bombs.  In Ada, we see how abusive relationships can be more crippling than her clubbed foot. Ada shows signs of detachment when she finds it hard to trust and get close to Susan. Instead she bonds with a pony named Butter even though she wants to believe in love and acceptance.
  • The strong plot is fast-moving with unexpected surprises and twists that have the reader quickly turning pages.
  • The War that Saved My Life is a story that will stay with you long after you put it down. Once I finished the story, I wasn’t ready to let it go. I thought about the characters the next day and reread the last four chapters the next evening. For me, this is a book worth reading!

My Favorite Ada lines: I was greeted with smiles and shouts of “There’s our little spy-catcher! or “There’s our good lass!”  It was if I’d been born in the village. As if I’d been born with two strong feet. As if I really was someone important, someone loved.”

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, a longtime Anglophile, first became interested in World War II evacuees, when her mother read Bedknobs and Broomsticks out loud at bedtime. Her historical fiction has garnered great acclaim: Jefferson’s Sons received four starred reviews, Ruthie’s Gift was a Publishers Weekly Flying Start, and For Freedom was an IRA Teacher’s Choice and Bank Street College Best Book of the Year. Visit Bradley at her website.

Juneteenth for Mazie

Juneteenth9781623701703_p0_v1_s260x420

Juneteenth for Mazie

Floyd Cooper, Author and Illustrator

Capstone for Young Readers, Fiction, Jan.1, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes: Juneteenth, Celebrating freedom from slavery, Passing down family history

Opening: Mazie wants to play outside, but it is too late. “It’s getting dark, Mazie. It’s time to stay inside.”

Synopsis: Mazie is restless because it’s bedtime and she can’t go where she wants, have what she wants or do what she wants. Her father tells her about a big celebration she will attend the next day — Juneteenth. “We will celebrate the day your great-great-great-grandpa Mose, crossed into liberty.” Grandpa Mose works hard in the cotton fields along with many slaves in Galveston, Texas, until that joyful day in 1865, when word of their emancipation finally reaches the slaves. They celebrate and dance into the night. After freedom arrives, Grandpa Mose and many others continue to work and are paid, but equality is still a long way off.  Mazie learns from her father that many African-Americans struggle to stand as equals with white people. Each generation carries that dream to improve their lives. Now it’s Mazie’s turn to celebrate who she is and to remember the accomplishments of her ancestors.

Why I like this book:

  • Floyd Cooper’s Juneteenth for Mazie beautifully illustrates and celebrates a memorable day in American history. His picture book about June 19, or Juneteenth, will encourage a new generation of children to celebrate, ask questions and remember. This year will  mark the 150th anniversary of that auspicious day.
  • This is a lovely saga about Mazie, her family and their ancestral relationship to Juneteenth. Her father narrates this touching story about Grandpa Mose who “worked in fields that stretched all the way to sunset.” He tells Mazie about her family legacy, the joy of freedom, the struggle for the right to vote, the desegregation of schools, of forgiveness, achievement and celebration.
  • With June 19 approaching, this is a perfect book for teachers to integrate into their lesson plans. The text and writing style will encourage children to love history and want to know more about their own family histories.
  • Cooper’s captivating oil illustrations are in shades of warm browns and yellows and give the book a nostalgic feel.  The faces of each character captures the intensity of the struggle, the joy of freedom, the determination of future generations, and celebration of milestones made.

Resources and Activities: Do you know your family history? Talk with your parents and grandparents and ask them questions about what they may know about your family history. Record their stories or write information about your history in a journal. Browse through family photo albums. Ask your parents to help you draw your own family tree.

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.

Why is Dad So Mad?

Why is Dad Mad9780692420683_p0_v1_s260x420Why is Dad So Mad?

Seth Kastle, Author

Karissa Gonzales-Othon, Illustrator

Tall Tales Press and Kastle Books, Fiction, Mar. 14, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Military Families, PTSD, Anger, Family Relationships, Love

Opening: “Mom. Why is Dad so MAD all the time?”

Kastle Books Synopsis: Why Is Dad So Mad? Is a narrative story told from a family’s point of view (mother and children) of a service member who struggles with PTSD and its symptoms. Many service members deal with anger, forgetfulness, sleepless nights, and nightmares.This book explains these and how they affect Dad. The moral of the story is that even though Dad gets angry and yells, he still loves his family more than anything

Why I like this book:

  • Seth Kastle is a former Army combat soldier who suffers from PTSD following two tours served in the Middle East. I first saw him interviewed about this important book on the NBC Nightly News. 
  • Kastle has written this heartfelt picture book for his two daughters and other military families to help them understand the changes that occur when military members return from war.
  • The story narrative is told from the family’s point of view. The text is simple and straightforward, allowing for many questions and discussions between parent and child. The characters feature a family of lions, which is a gentle and less threatening way to portray a troubled family.
  • Kastle’s book is a labor of love for his family and for service members who want to start a dialogue with their children. There are many changes for military members returning from war and adjustments for the entire family. This book is a valuable resource that can encourage open and honest communications to help families get through some very tough times.
  • Karissa Gonzales-Othon’s illustrations are simply rendered in ink and pastels with a lot of white space. They help the reader focus on the lion’s emotions (angry roar) and his interactions between the lioness and the cubs.

Favorite Lines: “It’s Like Dad always has a FIRE inside his chest.  When he gets mad. The FLAME grows and grows really quickly. When he gets mad. It’s like the FIRE is in control of him.”

Note: Kastle has also authored a book Why is Mom So Mad?, which is scheduled for release in August 2015. He explains that there are very few books that “address the issues combat mothers face when they return to their families.”

Resources: Why is Dad So Mad is an excellent resource for families. First of all it helps children realize they aren’t the reason the parent is angry. The book helps children ask important questions and get answers. Dialogue between parent and child starts the healing process. Follow Seth Kastle at his website and on his Facebook page, Why is Dad So Angry, where there is a wealth of information for military families.

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 Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob: A Challenging Job

Blue Ocean Bob Challenges9780982961353_p0_v1_s260x420The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob: A Challenging Job

Brooks Olbrys, Author

Kevin Keele, Illustrator

Children’s Success Unlimited LLC, Fiction, Apr. 14, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Pages: 54

Themes: Oceans, Sea life, Nature, Pursuing dreams, Positive attitude, Friendship, Confidence, Gratitude

Opening: On the Island of Roses, there once lived a lad / who was looking for more than the things that he had. / He discovered his passion to safeguard the sea / and finally knew what he wanted to be. / He adopted the nickname of Blue Ocean Bob / and decided to master this challenging job.

Book Jacket Synopsis: Blue Ocean Bob loves the sea and wants to dedicate his life to protecting it. He begins a new job as assistant to Mary Marine, the Island of Rose’s leading marine biologist, and with his hummingbird guardian, Xena, by his side, works hard to carry out his duties to the sea creatures both on and off the shore. When the challenges mount, Bob seeks advice from Doc the turtle, Earl the clam, and Wallace the walrus, who each help him to develop the positive attitude he needs to succeed.

What I like about this book:

  • Brooks Olbrys has written another dynamic ocean adventure about Bob, a boy on a journey to pursue his dream of becoming a marine biologist and protecting all life in the Sea of Kerchoo. Bob is a great role model for children.
  • Although Blue Ocean Bob: A Challenging Job is a chapter book for emerging readers, it also can be read as a picture book to younger children. There is a special rhythm to the text and there is breathtaking artwork on every page.
  • The plot is strong and packed with adventure as Bob overcomes many hurdles.  Each chapter presents a different challenge for Bob: training a young seal to swim, hunt and survive on her own; clearing garbage floating near the pier and accidentally entangling a pelican in his net; warning the whales and dolphins that a storm is brewing; missing his marine science class and almost giving up; and freeing a stingray from a fishing line in deep waters.
  • The characters are realistic, believable and endearing. Xena is a a great sidekick, warning Bob about dangers (metaphor for Bob’s doubt) and adding some comic relief. Bob learns valuable lessons about forgiveness, confidence, communications and gratitude.
  • Kevin Kelle’s vibrant and rich illustrations of the ocean and sea life fill every page. They are engaging and draw the reader into the story. Make sure you check out the end pages to view a map of the Island of Roses.

Resources: Parents and teachers can download a free activity guide on The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob website. You can preview the first chapter of the book for free and view a trailer for the first book in the series. This is a unique series because Olbrys has used “timeless principles of achievement,” to encourage children to dream big — Think it. See it. Believe it. Achieve it.

The Tiny Wish

The Tiny Wish9780385379229_p0_v3_s260x420The Tiny Wish

Lori Evert, Author

Per Breiehagen, Illustrator

Random House, Fiction, Jan. 6 2015

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Animals, Wishes, Nature, Spring, Travels

Opening: Long, long ago, in the days when you could only see as much of the world as a horse could take you, lived a curious little girl named Anja.

Synopsis: Anja, the kind and brave heroine of the bestselling book, The Christmas Wish, sheds her winter skis and returns in a magical springtime Scandinavian adventure. Anja visits her two cousins at their mountain farm. The three-some ride off on a big horse to check on the family’s goats. Once the goats have been accounted for, the children play a game of hide-and-seek. When Anja wishes to be tiny to win the game, her wish comes true! Just a few inches tall, she must find her way home with the help of some new animal friends.

Why I like this book:

Lori Evert and her husband, Per Breiehagen, have teamed up to create another breathtaking and enchanting story featuring their daughter. Anja looks like she’s stepped out of a Scandinavian fairy tale as she celebrates and explores the arrival of Spring in the mountains and valleys.

Evert’s text is simple and magical. She inspires reader’s to use their imaginations. During a game of hide-and-seek with her cousins, Anja’s favorite goat follows her and gives away her hiding places. She wants to be small, so her cousins can’t find her. When her wish comes true she has the most extraordinary adventures. She climbs onto the back of a finch and flies over fields of cotton grass, she eats wild strawberries bigger than she is, and has conversations with the most adorable gigantic animals who guide her journey home.

Breiehagen’s photographs are lush and exquisite. The gorgeous scenery of green meadows, snow-capped mountains draining into overflowing streams, goats grazing in fields of cotton grass, and Anja sitting in grass as tall as trees, really make this story sing of springtime. This is a perfect book to read to children as the sun warms their faces and nature blooms around them.

Resources: Visit Random House Kids for more information about the book and for activities that can be downloaded. Go on a nature walk at a nearby park and search for plants and trees that are blooming in the woods.  Observe how busy the animals are. Look for birds tending to nests and listen for the sounds of new life.

Check out my review of The Christmas Wish.

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.

Paperboy by Vince Vawter

National Stuttering Awareness Week is May 11-17, 2015

Paperboy9780307931511_p0_v2_s260x420Paperboy

Vince Vawter, Author

Yearling, Imprint of Random House Children’s Books, Fiction, 2013

Winner: 2014 Newbery Honor Book

Themes: Stuttering, Newspaper carriers, Self-esteem, Race-relations, Family life

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Book Jacket Synopsis: LITTLE MAN throws the meanest fastball in town. But talking is a whole different ball game.  He can barely say a word without stuttering –not even his own name. So when he takes over his best friend’s paper route for the month of July, he’s not exactly looking forward to interacting with the customers. But it’s the neighborhood junkman, a bully and thief, who stirs up real trouble in Little Man’s Life.

What I like about this book:

  • Finally, a realistic book written about an 11-year-old boy who struggles with stuttering! And, it is based on author Vince Vawter’s own experiences with stuttering as a child and adult in the 1950’s. It will be especially meaningful to anyone who has a stuttering problem. Every page reminds you of the day-to-day challenge for someone who stutters — it is exhausting.
  • The book opens with a great hook sentence: “I’m typing about the stabbing for a good reason. I can’t talk. Without stuttering.”  The reader is compelled to keep reading this first-person narrative because you know something big is going to happen. Typing is how the paperboy shares his story.
  • Paperboy is an unforgettable coming of age book, set in 1959, when Memphis, TN, is segregated. The plot is engaging. After the paperboy takes his friends paper route for a month, he meets many neighbors along his route (each with a story) that expose him to inequality, spousal abuse, racial tensions, and a bully junkman who steals his knife. He also meets an older gentleman who becomes his mentor.
  • All of the characters are memorable and well-developed. The paperboy is intelligent, clever, compassionate, observant, and courageous.  His growth is something readers will cheer!
  • The pacing of the story starts out like a lazy hot summer day and continues to build into an eruption of violent behavior at the end. I believe most 10-year-old kids can handle the chapters, because it is important to the story. The story is a page turner.
  • The ending reflects the paperboy’s summer journey and is satisfying. He stands up in his new 7th grade classroom and says his name, even though he stutters. Until the last page, the reader doesn’t know his name.
  • Stuttering is a top topic researched by visitors to my website, and sadly enough I only a few picture books and novels to share.
  • As other reviewers have noted, Paperboy is reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird. I tend to agree. This is a heartfelt story that will stay with you long after you close the book.

Vince Vawter, a native of Memphis, retired after a 40-year career in newspapers, most recently as the president and publisher of the Evansville Courier & Press in Indiana.  He lives with his wife in Louisville, TN, on a small farm in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Paperboy is his debut novel. Visit Vince Vawter’s website.

Resources: Visit the Stuttering Foundation of America, The National Stuttering Association, and The Stuttering Home Page for information, stories written by kids who stutter, free resources, support groups, and summer camps. There are 3 million Americans who stutter, 68 million people worldwide.  It affects males four times more than females.  You will be surprised at the long list of famous people and celebrities who stuttered as children and teens.

Here Comes the Tooth Fairy Cat

ToothFairyCatstacks_image_936Here Comes the Tooth Fairy Cat

Deborah Underwood, Author

Claudia Rueda, Illustrator

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, May 19, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Cat, Mouse, Tooth fairy

Opening: Cat! You lost a tooth! Did the Tooth Fairy come?

Synopsis: Cat has lost a tooth and the Tooth Fairy has left behind a coin. Cat is disappointed because he wanted to meet her. Cat devises a plan to trick the Tooth Fairy with the tooth of a comb. The Tooth Fairy doesn’t fall for Cat’s scheme, but sends a costume, a trickster mouse and a note that suggests “if you help me with a few deliveries, maybe we can meet.” Cat and Mouse head off with deliveries to a gopher, a squirrel and a bear. As the stakes rise, so does the humor. The story concludes with an unexpected surprise for Cat.

What I like about this book:

What a hoot! Deborah Underwood has written another playful and clever story about the antics of Cat, this time as the Tooth Fairy Cat.  Underwood assumes the role of narrator and commentator for Cat and Mouse. The story is character driven and focuses entirely upon Cat and Mouse. The text is spare with minimal illustrations and great use of white space. The words and illustration depend upon one another. Readers will  focus on the hilarious facial expressions, the naughty behavior, the impish body language, and the playfulness of Cat and Mouse as they try to outsmart the Tooth Fairy. This is a great example where Claudia Rueda’s colored-pencil and ink illustrations really tell the story, much to the delight of the many fans of this series. The author and illustrator team up to produce another winning book for children.

Resources: Losing a tooth is a rite of passage for young children.  Encourage your child to write a letter to the Tooth Fairy. Check out this pinterest page about making Tooth Fairy pillows and other activities. Since this is a story about a cat losing a tooth, do other young animals lose baby teeth? How many teeth do cats, dogs, turtles, cows, horses and elephants have compared to children? And how do they use their teeth?

Deborah Underwood is the New York Times bestselling author of Here Comes the Easter Cat, as well as Here Comes Santa Cat, The Quiet Book and Bad Bye, Good Bye. Bella the cat lives with the author. Visit Deborah Underwood 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.