Ella Wood by Michelle Isenhoff

Ella Wood2940151472746_p0_v1_s260x420Ella Wood

Michelle Isenhoff, Author

Michelle Isenhoff, Publisher, Historical Fiction, May 10, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 12-16

Themes: Morality, Civil War, Slavery, Family relationships, Love

Opening: The sight of blood had a powerful effect on Emily Preston. It was merely a trickle of red oozing from a black woman’s finger, but it rocked the very foundation of her upbringing.

Synopsis: After spending a year living with her abolitionist uncle in Detroit, Emily Preston is no longer a spoiled Southern belle, but a thoughtful 16-year-old whose views about slavery have been dramatically altered. Her heart wants to believe that the slaves living at her beloved Ella Wood are treated well, but she sees signs that things are amiss. Emily has changed in many other ways. She’s really not interested in social parties, suitors and marriage proposals. Although she is drawn to some brief romantic encounters with suitors Thad and Jovie, she harbors a secret dream of attending university like her brother, Jack. This wish creates conflict between Emily and her traditional and controlling father. With the war looming between the North and South and her father’s involvement in politics, Emily’s independent spirit begins to take flight.

What I like about Ella Wood:

Michelle Isenhoff proves her skill as an outstanding literary author in her recent YA novel Ella Wood, a sequel to her MG novel, The Candle Star. Taking Emily’s story to a more mature level is an ambitious undertaking for Isenhoff, who is responding to her readers’ request to know more about Emily’s journey. Ella Wood is the first novel in this new trilogy.

Ella Wood is bold and profound, and heartbreaking and breathtaking all at once. Highly researched, this captivating work of historical fiction offers a penetrating look into South Carolina’s role in the civil war, the elite plantation owners, the customs and culture, and the horrific treatment of slaves.

Readers will care about her distinct and memorable characters. Emily is strong-willed and determined to fight for what she believes, unlike her mother, a proper Southern lady who bows to her husband’s demands. Brother Jack has top grades at the university, but runs with the wrong crowd. Suitor Thad is dashing, exciting, and mysterious, while Jovie is a solid Southern gentleman and supports Emily’s ambitions. Emily’s loyal slave and friend, Lizzie, carries many sorrows and deep-seated secrets.

Isenhoff’s plot is realistic, gripping and full of tension. Her deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged. I am completely invested in this book and enjoyed every moment I spent with Ella Wood. The ending is unexpected and feels a bit rushed for me. It left me with many questions. I look forward to the second book in the Ella Wood Trilogy, which will be published in 2016. I highly recommend Ella Wood!

Michelle Isenhoff is the author of the The Candle Star, Blood of Pioneers and Beneath the Slashings (Divided Decade Collection); Song of the Mountain and Fire on the Mountain (Mountain Trilogy); Taylor Davis and the Flame of Findul, Taylor Davis and the Clash of Kingdoms; The Color of Freedom; and The Quill Pen. Visit Michelle Isenhoff at her website.

Tilt Your Head, Rosie the Red

Tilt Your Head Rosie9781927583593_p0_v1_s260x420Tilt Your Head, Rosie the Red

Rosemary McCarney, Author

Yvonne Cathcart, Illustrator

Second Story Press, Fiction, Apr. 1, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes: Bullying, Standing up for what is right, Differences, Friendship, Self-confidence, Diversity, Tolerance

Opening: Every night at bedtime, Rosie took off her special red cape and hung in on the bedpost. And every morning, she tied it over her shoulders before leaping out of bed to start the day.

Synopsis: Rosie arrives at school wearing her red cape and is stunned to see kids on the playground teasing the new girl Fadimata, who is Muslim and wears a hijab. Not all her classmates are being mean, but they seem afraid to stop the bullying. Before Rosie can say anything, the bell rings. She comes up with a plan to help her friend feel welcome. Rosie asks Fadimata if she will make her cape into a headscarf and wears it all day amidst the whisper of the other students. When Rosie arrives at school the next day, she realizes her solution proves that anything is possible and that differences can be celebrated.

Why I like this book:

Rosie is an optimistic, self-confident and strong role model for girls. She’s not afraid to stand up for what is right. If she sees something wrong, she tilts her head, looks at the situation from every angle before she takes action. She’s a superhero for girls. The character Rosie, is based on author Rosemary McCarney, who as a child had and “amazing sense of social justice.” Tilt Your Head, Rosie the Red, is the first of a three picture books starring Rosie the Red. Yvonne Cathcart’s illustrations are colorful and vibrant. They beautifully capture Rosie’s positive and expressive character. This is an inspiring book for home and school.

Resources: This is a great character book to use in the classroom. It addresses diversity, bullying, tolerance and the courage to do what is right. Do some role-playing and ask children to walk in Fadimata’s shoes? How would they feel if they looked different and were teased? Have they been teased and why? Have they ever been a bystander and afraid to help someone being teased? How did that make them feel? Is it hard to stand up to their friends? Did they like how Rosie stood up for Fadimata?

Rosemary McCarney is President and CEO of the Toronto-based Plan Canada, where she spearheads the Because I am a Girl Movement. She is the author of Every Day is Malala Day and Because I am a Girl: I Can Change the World.

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 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

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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.