Whispers of the Wolf

Native American Heritage Month 2015

Whispers of Wolf12019923_1153634834665819_1090367024691818742_nWhispers of the Wolf

Pauline Ts’o, Author and Illustrator

Wisdom Tales Press, Fiction, Oct. 7, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 years

Themes: Pueblo Indians, Southwest, Wolves, Human-animal relationships, Wildlife Rescue

Opening: “Over five hundred years ago, a Pueblo boy and his grandfather were looking for medicine plants high above their village.”

Synopsis: Two Birds, a shy Pueblo boy living in the desert southwest, discovers a whimpering wolf pup in a deep hole. The cub is weak and hardly moves. He asks Grandfather if he may rescue the pup. Two Birds nurses the wolf pup back to health. The wolf goes with Two Birds and his friend, Gray Bear, on hunting trips. A bond forms between Two Birds and his wolf as they explore the natural world together. He hears the wolf’s thoughts in “whispers” of the wind, sun and rain. He shares these  “whisper” stories with Gray Bear. Word spreads through the village and children come to listen to Two Birds’ stories. One night the wild wolves begin calling from a distance and Two Birds’ wolf responds. The wolf yearns to be free and Two Birds will have a decision to make.

Why I like this story:

Whispers of the Wolf is a gratifying portrayal of the community life of the Pueblo Indians in New Mexico and Arizona before the arrival of the Spanish explorers. Pauline Ts’o spent over ten years visiting with Pueblo families in their homes and learning about their strong sense of community. Read the “Author’s Note” at the beginning of the book to learn about her impressive research for this work of historical fiction.

The result is a heartwarming story about a shy boy trying to find his voice and place among his Pueblo community. When Two Birds finds the wolf pup, his unlikely relationship with the wolf helps him gain self-confidence and develop reverence and respect for the natural world. The characters are memorable and the storytelling will appeal to children and adults of all ages. Ts’o has written a beautiful tale about Native Americans tribes of the southwest. She captures the warmth and beauty of the Pueblo culture in her rich and lively illustrations.

Resources: There are “Notes on the Illustrations” that include fascinating details about the Pueblo culture, family life, adobe houses and living spaces, language, storytelling, traditions and wolves. There is also a map showing the tribal regions in North America. Visit Wisdom Tales Press for resources on American Indians and the Native American Heritage Month website for other resources.

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. 

Lost Dog by Michael Garland

LOSTDOGcvrscnLost Dog

Michael Garland, Author and Illustrator

Holiday House, Fiction, Aug. 10, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Dogs, Animals, Road trip, Lost, Grandma

Opening: “Pete went to see Grandma. She lived on Mutt Street.”

Synopsis: A big dog Pete sets off to visit his grandmother on her birthday. He carefully wraps a present, signs a birthday card and picks some flowers and heads to his little yellow car. As he drives to Mutt Street there are too many cars stuck in traffic, so he gets off at an exit and drives and drives. He finds himself at the top of a mountain and is lost. Along the way he meets a bear, a bird, a big cat, a walrus and a whale who point the way. Will Pete ever find Mutt Street and visit Grandma?

What I like about Lost Dog:

Lost Dog is an “Easy Reader” and Garland uses spare text, repetition and an engaging plot for children learning to read on their own. Garland’s signature double page-spreads feature lively, expressive and colorful illustrations that will appeal to children. Each spread highlights a host of friendly animals in their natural environment. In Pete’s  journey to find his grandma on Mutt Street, Garland takes readers on a journey around the world. Lost Dog also indirectly encourages children who may become  lost to ask for directions or help. It is also a great discussion book about learning to follow directions. This delightful story will engage children who will have fun pouring over the details on each page. Visit Michael Garland’s website to view all of his books.

Lost dog whale photo22-23B

Compliments of Michael Garland

Resources: One of the things I like about this story is that it indirectly addresses spatial issues for young children. I know my daughter had a hard time with directions and I made up games when we went to visit grandparents, a friend, or a favorite store. I would play games that helped her distinguish between right and left turns and encouraged her to memorize landmarks. Spatial training needs to begin with young children. There are many resources on the internet. Visit Laura Leticia‘s Pinterest page on Following Directions. She shares activities, games and resources to help children learn directions.

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. 

Where Are My Books? by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Where Are My BooksWAMBCover-300Where Are My Books?

Debbie Ridpath Ohi, Author and Illustrator

Simon & Schuster, Fiction, May 12, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes: Books and reading, Lost and found possessions, Squirrels

Opening: “Spencer loved books. His favorite bedtime book was Night-Night, Narwhal. Sometimes he read it aloud. Every night, Spencer put the book back where it belonged. That way he’d always be able to find it.”

Synopsis: Spencer’s beloved books are disappearing. Each night he reads a book and places it on the shelf and in the morning his book is missing. In each empty space, he finds a tulip petal, screw or different object. He suspects his sister, but she isn’t the thief. He must find the culprit before his book shelves are empty. Spencer devises a plan. When he solves the mystery, he comes up with a great idea that will satisfy readers.

Why I like this book:

  • The cover of shaggy-haired Spencer is so appealing that children will snatch it off the shelf. Debbie Ridpath Ohi has hit a home run with this realistic and highly entertaining story.
  • The simple and precise narrative is a perfect springboard for the delightfully bold and colorful illustrations. Readers will love the detail, especially Spencer’s red Narwhal pajamas and stuffed animal.
  • Spencer’s memorable character is artfully crafted. He’s likable and persistent. Children will easily identify with Spencer and see themselves in similar situations like missing books and toys, accusing siblings of taking prized possessions, solving problems.
  • When Spencer traps the real culprits, readers hearts will melt at his discovery and his clever solution.  Who would have thought…. (no I won’t spoil the ending.) This is a great book for classrooms and school libraries.

Resources: You can find bonus activities and a teacher’s guide at Debbie Ohi’s website.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi: Where Are My Books? is the first picture book that Ohi has both written and illustrated. She illustrated the New York Times Notable Children’s Book I’m Bored and Naked, written by Michael Ian Black.

The Honest Truth

September 2015 is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

The Honest Truth415Wpdo3ejL__SX341_BO1,204,203,200_The Honest Truth

Dan Gemeinhart, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Jan. 27,  2015

Suitable for Grades: 4 – 7

Pages: 229

Themes: Boy with cancer, Choices, Goals, Self-confidence, Dog, Friendship, Mount Rainier

Opening: “The mountain was calling me. I had to run away. I had to. And, I didn’t need anyone to go with me.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: In all the ways that matter, Mark is a normal kid. He’s got a dog named Beau and a best friend, Jessie. He likes to take photos and write haiku poems in his notebook. He dreams of climbing a mountain one day. But, in one important way, Mark is not like other kids at all. Mark is sick. The kind of sick that means hospitals. And treatments. The kind of sick some people never get better from. So Mark runs away. He leaves home with his camera, his notebook, his dog, and a plan. A plan to reach the top of Mount Rainier. Even if it’s the last thing he ever does.

Why I like The Honest Truth:

Debut author Dan Gemeinhart has written a powerful and inspiring novel about a 12-year-old boy who has cancer. Mark’s dealt with chemo treatments since he was five years old. His options are running out. He’s angry. He’s lost.  His parents and doctors are making decisions for him. Mark feels out of control and wants to make some choices about his life — and that may include how he dies. He confides his pain and secrets to his best friend, Jessie.

The setting is realistic to the Pacific Northwest and the unpredictable weather. The theme is raw and honest. The plot is fraught with danger and obstacles. Mark runs away with his dog, Beau, and embarks upon a journey to climb the summit of Mount Rainier — a dream he can focus on. His choice may seem selfish because of the pain and worry he causes his parents. He also creates a dilemma for his friend, Jessie –does she tell his parents or keep his secret. And he puts his dog and himself at risk during a dangerous snowstorm on the mountain.

Mark, Jessie and Beau are memorable characters. Beau is devoted and protective of Mark. The alternating chapters, with Jessie’s occasional half chapters, works well. You hear about Mark’s parents anxiety and pain through Jessie. But, you experience Jessie’s struggle to interpret what Mark wants her to do. Does she share her suspicions with his parents or honor her friend’s request.

It took Gemeinhart guts to write a book with such depth. It is a tough book to review, even though it grabbed me from the first page.  Mark grapples with life and death questions as he works through anger and fear. Which will he choose? The Honest Truth will make readers think. It is an excellent classroom discussion book for teens.

Thank you Greg Pattridge! I won The Honest Truth in a giveaway on Greg’s website, Always in the Middle.

Not This Bear: A First Day of School Story

not this bear22718686Not This Bear: A First Day of School Story

Alyssa Satin Capucilli, Author

Lorna Hussey, Illustrator

Henry Holt and Company, Fiction, Jun. 23, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 2-6

Themes: First day at school jitters, Bears, Separation,  Friendship

Opening: “It was Bear’s first day of school. Mama gave Bear an extra big hug and extra big kiss. Bear held on to Mama tightly.”

Synopsis: Bear is unsure about his first day at school. He’d rather stay at home with Mama. Bear soon discovers that school can be fun. He paints, listens to stories, builds block towers, dresses up, gives a doll a bath, makes a new friend and plays on the playground. After school, Mama is waiting and Bear has a surprise for her.

Why I like this book:

Alyssa Satin Capucilli has written a charming book for children who may be reluctant to attend preschool or kindergarten for the first time. The book sweetly deals with separation anxiety from Mama and is comforting. As Bear hesitantly explores the new and exciting wonders of school, he makes a friend. What I appreciate most about this book is that Bear doesn’t choose gender specific toys and activities. He dresses up like a pirate, plays in the kitchen, and gives a doll a bath. When Bear goes to the playground he prefers to blow bubbles with another bear and make rainbows with chalk instead of swinging and climbing with the other cubs. This is an excellent book to help prepare little ones for school.  Lorna Hussey’s watercolor and ink illustrations are expressive, fun, and endearing. They really contribute to the cozy charm of the story.

Resources: Reading this book to your child is a good way to jump-start a conversation about going to school for the first time. Like Bear, encourage your little cub to paint or draw without coloring books, learn to put things away, play games to learn to take turns, or make a book together about school. Most important, attend an orientation or visit the school ahead of time.

Even though Perfect Picture Books is on vacation until September 11, you can still visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books to see a complete listing of all thePerfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources. 

A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord

A Handful of Stars9780545700276_p0_v2_s260x420A Handful of Stars

Cynthia Lord, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, May 26, 2015

Pages: 192

Suitable for Ages: 8-12, Grades 3-7

Themes: Blueberries, Migrant workers, Hispanic-American children, Prejudice, Blind dog, Friendship, Multicultural

Opening: The only reason I ever spoke to Salma Santiago was because my dog ate her lunch. 

Synopsis: Two girls from different cultures meet when Lily’s blind dog, Lucky, takes off across the blueberry barrens of Maine. Salma, a migrant girl, grabs her peanut butter sandwich and lures Lucky before he runs onto a highway. Lucky is Lily’s last link to her mother who left them with her grandparents when she was two. Lily and her grandfather thank Salma at the migrant camp with a pork dinner pie. The girls bond over their love of dogs and painting.  Salma helps Lily paint wooden bee hives to raise money for an operation to save Lucky’s eyesight. When Salma decides to enter the Blueberry Queen Pageant, something a bilingual Hispanic migrant girl has not done before, Lily becomes aware of the town’s biases. Through their enduring friendship, both girls find their own inner strengths .

What I love about A Handful of Stars:

Cynthia Lord delivers a magical and richly textured story about an unlikely friendship between Lily, a French Canadian, and Salma, a Hispanic-American.  She draws her readers into the story with that great opening sentence (above) that begs the reader to want to know more.

I love that Lord continues to use her home state of Maine as the setting for many of her stories. She paints a vivid picture of the blueberry barrens of eastern Maine. Readers will learn a little history about the Mason bees that pollinate the blueberries and gardens, the raking of the wild Maine blueberries by migrant workers, and the top of a blueberry is shaped like a star. Readers will also gain insight into the lives of migrant children and how hard it is to be uprooted.

Lord is a master at developing memorable characters. Readers will easily connect with Lily and Salma’s struggles, longings and hopes. Lily and Lucky live with her grandparents. Lily feels the loss of her mother, who is deceased. Lucky is Lily’s last link to her mother, so she is determined to earn money and save his eyesight. Salma is imaginative and artistic, but secretly longs to belong and stay in one place.   Their friendship will test and carry them to a new self-confidence and healing.

The plot is realistic with the right amount of tension that will keep readers turning pages. Lord seamlessly weaves many themes into this touching story: migrant families, cultural differences, biases, community, loss, letting go and accepting change. There is a wonderful twist in the plot of the story, so readers will be pleasantly surprised with the ending.

A Handful of Stars is a perfect summer read. The cultural themes will encourage many lively discussions. Visit Cynthia Lord at her website.

Cynthia Lord is the award-winning author of Rules, a Newbery Honor book and a Schneider Family Book Award winner. She is also the author Half a Chance, Touch Blue, and the Shelter Pet Squad chapter book series.

The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake

The Case of Missing Carrot9781939547170_p0_v2_s260x420The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake

Robin Newman, Author

Deborah Zemke, Illustrator

Creston Books, Fiction, May 12, 2015

Pages: 40

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Theme: Mystery, Detectives, Thieves, Stolen Cake, Farm Animals

Synopsis: The carrot cake Miss Rabbit bakes for her party goes missing on Ed’s Farm. With over 100 animals, all are suspect including the owl, dog and pig. Enter Detectives Wilcox, a policemouse and his boss, Captain Griswold. They are Missing Food Investigators (MFLs) and their job is to investigate food crimes. Has the cake been eaten or stolen? Who is the thief? What is the motive?

What I like about this book:

  • Debut author Robin Newman introduces young readers to the world of police work and solving mysteries and crimes in her deliciously entertaining chapter book. Each of the six chapters highlight detective work: investigation of the crime scene, interviewing of suspects, setting up video surveillance and stakeouts.
  • The characters are funny and memorable. Miss Rabbit is in a tizzy donning PJs covered in frosting. Owl offers wise advice. Porcini Pig is the best corn thief in town. Hot Dog is my favorite character, as he shows true doggie friendship when he bakes Miss Rabbit another carrot cake.
  • Wilcox and Griswold are hard-nosed, seasoned professionals keenly focused on the facts and evidence. They take their work seriously, but with no more suspects they are pacing, chewing on cheese donuts and trying to come up with a plan.
  • The text is funny and the vocabulary is rich and jam-packed with food-based puns. Newman creates the right amount of suspense that will keep kids engaged and turning pages to figure out the cake culprit. There is a surprise turn-of-events. If readers are still hungry for more, there is a recipe for a carrot cake at the end.
  • Deborah Zemke’s colorful cartoon-like illustrations fill each page and contribute to the hilarity and silliness of this perfect mystery about “who dunnit.” Great collaborative work between the author and illustrator. Here’s hoping for more Wilcox and Griswold cases to solve. Visit Robin Newman and Deborah Zemke at their websites.