The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza

The Key Swallowed Joey9780374300838_p0_v1_s260x420The Key that Swallowed Joey Pigza

Jack Gantos, Author

Farrar Straus Giroux, Fiction, Sep. 2, 2014

Pages: 154

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: ADD/ADHD, Family Relationships, Dysfunctional Families

Opening: I’m Joey Pigza and here I am again back in my roachy row house on Plum Street and living my whole wired past, present, and future all at the same time.

Book Jacket Synopsis: Just months after the birth of his baby brother, Carter Junior, everything goes topsy-turvy all over again for wired Joey Pigza. With his dad missing in the wake of appearance-altering plastic surgery, and his mom suddenly absent, Joey has no choice but to become man of the house. For this heroic and hilarious boy, playing dad to little Junior is a challenge that gets harder by the moment, even after an old friend arrives to lend a hand. But then the real man of the house comes out of hiding, and Joey is full of hope that he has found the key to help his shattered family — even though he knows that when it comes to the Pigzas, the future could not be more unpredictable.

What I love about this book:

  • Joey Pigza is back in this fifth and final book of Jack Gantos’ multi-award winning and heart-rendering series. It is filled with the same crazy humor of a boy who faces the toughest challenges ever with his emotionally charged and dysfunctional family. Fans will continue to cheer and love this hero for trying to keep his broken family together.
  • Gantos writes the best first-page openings that hook the reader from the start. He takes them on a complicated journey that is action-packed and engaging. His mother, who’s suffering from postpartum depression, checks herself into a hospital and leaves Joey to care for and protect his baby brother from his hyperactive father, who plots to kidnap Carter Jr.  Readers will keep turning pages until they have finished the book.
  • The characters are memorable. Gantos skillfully gets to the core of each one. Joey shows maturity as he takes his medicine for ADHD,  thinks before he acts, is thoughtful, manages to make the right decisions and be a “pawzzz-i-tive” force for the good of his family. Olivia, “the meanest blind girl in the whole world,” reappears in this story after she is suspended from her blind school. She hides out at the Pigza house — lucky for Joey she has a soft spot for babies. Her presence adds some comic relief.
  • I am completely invested in this series and am thrilled that Gantos brought Joey’s story to an unpredictable and satisfying conclusion. In fact Joey may be the most sane member of the Pigza family. Fans will cheer and love this hero for his triumphant efforts to keep his broken family together. This book may indeed be the darkest in the series.

Resources: Visit Jack Gantos website and download a study guide for The Key that Swallowed Joey Pigza.  You can also check out my earlier review of the other Joey Pigza books in the series.

Peace, Bugs, and Understanding

Peace, Bugs9781937006631_p0_v3_s260x420Peace, Bugs, and Understanding: An Adventure in Sibling Harmony

Gail Silver, Author

Youme Nguyen Ly, Illustrator

Parallax Press, Fiction, Dec. 9, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Anger, Sibling Rivalry, Mindfulness

Opening: Lily was having a picnic with her father and her little sister, Ruby, but it wasn’t much fun. Ruby was lying on the checkerboard.

Book Jacket Synopsis: Lily and her sister are having a picnic when Ruby spoils their game of checkers. Lily lashes out but soon gets absorbed in a wonderful book, the story of her great-grandfather Lahn’s encounter with a strong-looking frog-like creature called Anger. The precious old journal teaches Lily about Metta, a technique that has helped people transform anger into loving kindness for thousands of years.

Why I like this book:

  • Gail Silver, author of Ahn’s Anger, has written a positive and resourceful book for children and adults about transforming negative feelings. This book focuses on anger, but I believe it can be used with feelings of jealousy, frustration, anxiety, disappointment or any negative feeling that causes disharmony. It’s a book children and parents will want to read together.
  • Peace, Bugs and Understanding, introduces its readers to a very simple calming technique called “Metta,” which means loving kindness. Silver suggests “that when you practice Metta,  sit quietly and become aware of your own breath.” Once you calm yourself, you focus on the person you are angry with and wish for them “to be happy, be strong, be safe and live with peace.” 
  • This is a wonderful tool for children and adults to cultivate forgiveness towards others and even themselves. How can you be angry at someone when you are sending them kind, happy and loving thoughts?
  • The book is a story within a story. Therefore, Youme Nguyen Ly’s illustrations are colorful and warm watercolors in Lily’s world, but are gray and white pen and ink for Lahn’s journal.  The illustrations project a sense of calm that fits beautifully with the theme. This is a lovely collaboration between author and illustrator.

Resources: My favorite part of the book is a “Reader’s Guide” at the end that helps parents teach “Metta” to their children. There is also a page of discussion questions to use with children. This is also a book to pair with Ahn’s Anger, which I reviewed in 2013. You can visit Gail Silver and Youme Nguyen Ly at their websites.

Gail Silver is the founder of Yoga Child, a program that develops curriculum for school-based yoga and mindfulness programs. She is the author of Anh’s Anger and its sequel Steps and Stones.

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.

Queen of the Diamond: The Lizzie Murphy Story

Queen of the Diamond9780374300074_p0_v2_s260x420Queen of the Diamond: The Lizzie Murphy Story

Emily Arnold McCully, Author and Illustrator

Farrar Straus Giroux Books, Biography, Feb. 17, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8 years

Themes: Lizzie Murphy, Baseball, Women baseball players

Opening: “In 1900, baseball was America’s national pastime…In Warren, Rhode Island, there were several amateur teams and Lizzie Murphy followed all of them. Her father had played on one as a young man. Her brother, Henry, was a shortstop on one of the best boys’ teams. To sharpen his game, he played catch with Lizzie.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Lizzie Murphy was good at baseball. In fact, she was better than most of the boys. But she was born in 1894, and everyone said baseball was not a game for girls.

Lizzie practiced with her brother anyway, and then she talked her way onto the local boys’ team, first as a batboy, then as a player. Everyone was impressed by her hard catches and fast pitches. By the time she turned fifteen, she playing for two different amateur boy’s teams. When she turned eighteen, Lizzie did something else that women didn’t do, she signed with a professional baseball team determined to earn her living playing the game.

Why I like this book:

  • It’s time to play ball and I can’t think of a more inspiring story to share than Emily Arnold McCully’s Queen of the Diamond.  Lizzie Murphy’s true story can only happen in America. It is historically accurate to the 1900 time period.
  • The story is definitely character-driven with Lizzy, a strong, self-confident and determined eight-year-old, who believes in herself, her abilities and follows her dream to play a boy’s game. Lizzy defies the social mores of the time.  Her father is supportive, her mother says “It’s not a game for girls.”
  • McCully also shows the inequality that Lizzie faces when she is signed with a major league team. Even though Lizzie is a phenomenon, draws large crowds and fans, the manager won’t pay her. She confronts him, demands equal pay and her team supports her.  Professional baseball  is her job for the next 17 years and she’s paid the same as men.
  • The narrative is a bit wordy, but it doesn’t feel inappropriate for the time period.  In fact I wanted to know the detail. I loved baseball as a girl and could catch a mean hardball.  I would have worn out the pages in this book if I had a copy.
  • McCully’s acrylic pen and ink drawings are warm, expressive and emotive. She captures the attire worn during the early 20th Century. Lizzie plays baseball in dresses and wears high-topped laced shoes.

Resources/Activities: There is a very  interesting Author’s Note at the end about Lizzie and women playing baseball.  Take children to a baseball game, if they’ve never attended a game. If they are interested in playing, sign them up for local Little League team. More girls are showing interest in playing Little League.  There are also Softball Little Leagues for girls. Visit Emily Arnold McCully 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.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

Yaqui Delgado 9780763671648_p0_v3_s260x420Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

Meg Medina, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, 2013

Awards:  2014 Pura Belpré Author Award; ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults; International Latino Best Books Awards – Young Adult Fiction; and  Kirkus Reviews Best Books for 2013

Suitable for Ages: 14-17

Themes: New Girl, Latin Americans, Bullying, High School, Family Relationships, Friendships

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass.” That’s what some girl tells Piddy Sanchez one morning before school. Too bad Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui Delgado is, let alone what she’s done to piss her off.  All Piddy knows is that Yaqui hates her — and she better watch her back because Yaqui isn’t kidding around.

At first Piddy just focuses on trying to find out more about the father she’s never met and how to balance honors courses with her weekend job at the neighborhood hair salon. But as the harassment escalates, avoiding Yaqui and her gang starts to take over Piddy’s life.  Is there any way for Piddy to survive without closing herself off and running away from her problems?

Why I like this book:

  • Meg Medina focuses on the paralyzing impact of bullying in this raw, emotional and honest novel. The theme is timely and based on the author’s own experience with a bully as a teen, which adds depth and credibility to the story.
  •  The richly textured Latino story is set in Queens, New York, where Medina grew up.  The story is peppered with Spanish expressions, which contributes to the reader’s experience.
  • The characters are diverse and memorable. Piddy is an outgoing, smart and attractive Latina girl who wants to be a scientist. Yaqui is a jealous and threatening adversary who hates Piddy simply because she’s the “new” girl at school. Piddy’s Mama is strong and protective. Lila, her Mama’s best friend, is Piddy’s only confidant.  She works at the hair salon with Piddy, sells Avon and adds some comic relief.
  • Medina’s first-person narrative is extremely effective. The reader feels Piddy’s growing panic as the harassment increases and Yaqui and her gang stalk and close around her. Piddy is trapped and knows that if she tells school authorities or her mama, she will be “digging her grave.” Her grades dive, she isolates herself, skips school and her personality changes.
  • The plot is multi-layered, courageous and complicated. Medina delves deeply into the loneliness, fear and trauma of a bullied teen trying to handle the situation alone and the realistic mother-daughter relationship with family secrets.  The pacing is fast, engaging and keeps the reader turning pages. There are unexpected surprises and a realistic ending.  I had a hard time letting go of the story and characters.
  • Older teens will identify with Piddy and relate to the theme and plot.  Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass belongs in every school library because it is such an excellent work of fiction and a great discussion book.

Meg Medina is an award-winning Cuban-American author who writes picture books, middle grade, and YA fiction. She is the 2014 recipient of the Pura Belpré medal and the 2013 CYBILS Fiction winner for her young adult novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. She is also the 2012 Ezra Jack Keats New Writers medal winner for her picture book Tia Isa Wants a Car.  Visit Meg Medina at her website.

Never Say a Mean Word Again

Never Say Mean Word9781937786205_p0_v2_s260x420Never Say A Mean Word Again: A Tale from Medieval Spain

Jaqueline Jules, Author

Durga Yael Bernhard, Illustrator

Wisdom Tales, Fiction, May 7, 2014

Awards: 2015 Sydney Taylor Honor Books Award; 2014 National Jewish Books Award Finalist; 2014 Middle East Book Awards Honorable Mention

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Conflict Resolution, Justice, Fathers and sons, Friendship, Historical Spain

Opening: Samuel, the son of the grand vizier, walked into the castle courtyard wearing a flowing purple robe. His eyes were on the flowers and the fountains, not where he was walking. “OUCH!” Too late. 

Synopsis:  Samuel accidentally bumps into Hamza, the tax collector’s son. Samuel apologizes, but Hamza doesn’t believe him. Later that day, they are seated beside each other for lunch.  Samuel’s goblet slips out of his hand and stains Hamza’s shirt. Hamza is angry, calls Samuel mean names and won’t accept his apology. Samuel asks his father, the vizier, if he will punish Hamza. Instead the vizier tells his Samuel to “make sure Hamza never says a mean word to you again.”  How will Samuel deal with Hamza so he isn’t insulted again?

Why I like this book:

  • It is an inspiring multicultural tale of two lively boys, one Jewish and one Muslim, trying to solve their differences.
  • Jules’ story is inspired by a medieval legend about the Jewish poet Samuel Ha-Nagid, (993-1056) who was the vizier in Muslim Granada, a city in Spain. 
  • It explores the challenges of friendship across cultures and social status.
  • The ending is unexpected. Without realizing it, Samuel finds himself playing with Hamza daily. Samuel’s attempt to obey his father turns into an unexpected quest to make a friend out of his enemy.
  • The message of Samuel’s attempts to find a peaceful resolution to his differences with Hamza, is relevant today. Children will resonate with this timeless issue of making a bully into a friend.
  • Bernhard’s colorful and vivid illustrations capture the culture of this Medieval period. They are lively and show the tension and humor in the story.

Resources: There is a beautiful history about the Medieval legend and the history of Spain at the end of the book. This is a great book for teachers to use in the classroom to discuss peaceful ways to resolve conflict. Visit Jacqueline Jules’ website for information, a teacher’s guide and other materials to use with Never Say a Mean Word Again.

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.

World Autism Awareness Day and Month 2015

World-autism-awareness-dayToday is World Autism Awareness Day, designated in 2007 by the United Nations to promote global awareness. Autism has no racial, ethnic or socio-economic boundaries, so it is important to focus on AWARENESS on this growing public health concern. It is also an important time to highlight the talents and gifts of those on the Autism Spectrum.

Many  Iconic landmarks around the world will Light It Up Blue to show their support today. Among the 2,000 buildings going blue last year were the: NY Stock Exchange, Empire State Building, Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, Niagara Falls, Al Anoud Tower in Saudi Arabia, Cairo Tower in Egypt, Great Buddha at Hyogo in Japan, CN Tower in Canada and Sydney Opera House in Australia.  At the end of this post, I have listed many of the autism organizations involved in this special awareness day and month.

Since April is National Autism Awareness Month in the U.S., I will share the titles and authors of 31 books that I have reviewed in the Autism Spectrum. You can click on Autism Spectrum and Asperger’s Syndrome in the “Topics” side bar to the right of my blog to find all the reviewed and recommended books. The titles include Picture Books (PB), Middle Grade (MG) and Young Adult (YA) novels, and books for Parents.

Picture Books

Anthony Best, Davene Fahy

Armond Goes to a Party: A Book about Asperger’s and Friendship, Nancy Carlson

Ellie Bean: The Drama Queen, Jennie Harding

Ian’s Walk, Laurie Lears

I’m Here, Peter Reynolds

In Jesse’s Shoes, Beverly Lewis

Leah’s Voice, Lori DeMonia

My Brother Charlie, Holly and Ryan Elizabeth Peete

Russel’s World: A Story for Kids about Autism, Charles A. Amenta, III, M.D.

Story for Kids about Autism, Charles A. Amenta, III, M.D.

Understanding Sam and Asperger’s Syndrome, Clarabelle van Niekerk & Liezl Venter, MA, CCC-SLP

Waiting for Benjamin: A Story about Autism, Alexandra Jessup Altman,

Wings of Epoh, Gerda Weissmann Klein and Peter Reynolds

Middle Grade

Autism, The Invisible Chord, Barbara Cain

Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes, Jennifer Elder

How to Talk to an Autistic Kid, Daniel Stefanski

Mocking Bird, Katherine Erskine

Rain Reign, Ann M. Martin

Rules, Cynthia Lord

The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders, by Elizabeth Verdick and Elizabeth Reeve, M.D.

Young Adult Fiction and Nonfiction

Carly’s Voice: Breaking Through Autism, Arthur and Carly Fleischmann (YA/Adult)

I Am in Here: The Journey of a Child with Autism, Elizabeth M. Bonker and Virginia Breen

Marcelo in the Real World, Francisco X. Stork

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World, Sy Montgomery (MG/YA/Adult)

Trilogy of books: Wild Orchid, Waiting for No One, and White Bicycle, Beverly Brenna (YA Trilogy)

Parents

A Friend Like Henry, Nuala Gardner

Carly’s Voice: Breaking Through Autism, Arthur and Carly Fleischmann (Also for parents)

Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism and Love from His Extraordinary Son, Tom Fields-Meyer

Not My Boy, Rodney Peete

Resources: There are many local and national organizations promoting Autism Awareness Month. Check out Autism Speaks, the National Autism Association, the Autism Society, The Arc, The Autism Now Center for information, resources, research and tool kits.   And check out Craig Wiesner’s website at Reach and Teach to view his wonderful post on autism today.  And, please take time to listen to a teen with Asperger’s Syndrome talk about how to interact with kids on the Autism Spectrum.

A Boy and a Jaguar – Stuttering

A Boy and Jaguar9780547875071_p0_v1_s260x420A Boy and a Jaguar

Alan Rabinowitz, Author

Catia Chien, Illustrator

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Biography, May 6, 2014

Winner: 2015 Schneider Family Book Award

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Stuttering, Wildlife conservationist, Endangered animals

Opening: I’m standing in the great cat house at the Bronx Zoo.  Why is this jaguar kept in a bare room? I wonder. I lean toward my favorite animal and whisper to her. “What are you doing?” My father asks. I try to explain, but my mouth freezes, just as I knew it would. I am a stutterer…

Book Jacket Synopsis: Alan loves animals, but the great cat house at the Bronx Zoo makes him sad.  Why are they all alone in bare cages? More than anything, he wants to be their champion –their voice — but he stutters uncontrollably. Except when he talks to animals…Then he is fluent. Follow the life of the man Time magazine calls “The Indiana Jones of wildlife conservation” as he searches for his voice and fulfils a promise to speak for animals, and people who cannot speak for themselves.

Why I like this book: This is one of the  few books I’ve found for children who stutter. Alan Rabinowitz’ uplifting story focuses on courage, ability, healing, finding one’s voice and making a difference in the world. This is a very important message for children who stutter. The book is based on the true story of the author, who stuttered as a child. The narrative is in first person, which works very well as Alan deals with being put in a “disturbed class” and feels “broken.” He gets through school by using tricks that stutterers use. It is Alan’s remarkable relationship with animals who listen and understand him, that saves him. He talks to his animal friends at the zoo and his pets at home, without stuttering. He becomes passionate about the condition of zoo animals and makes a promise to be their voice one day. Rabinowitz finds his voice as he follows his passion to become a wildlife conservationist and saves big cats. It is important for children to see themselves in role models like Rabinowitz. Catia Chien’s breathtaking illustrations are lush and really evoke the emotion and loneliness felt by Alan. At the end of the book is a Q&A with the author about stuttering, bullying and his work with animals. Visit Rabinowitz’ website.

Resources: I encourage you to visit the Stuttering Foundation for information, free resources, support groups, summer camps and a section that is devoted to kids sharing their stories about how stuttering has affected them — fabulous website. 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. National Stuttering Awareness Week is May 11-17, 2015.