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.

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.

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.

All My Stripes: A Story for Children with Autism

April is National Autism Awareness Month

All My Stripes9781433819179_p0_v1_s260x420All My Stripes: A Story for Children with Autism

Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer, Authors

Jennifer Zivoin, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Mar. 22, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Autism Spectrum, Animals, Differences

Opening: Zane ran home as fast as he could.  “Nobody gets me, Mama!” Mama hugged Zane. He began to tell her about his bad day.

Synopsis: Zane the Zebra feels different from the rest of his classmates. He worries that all they notice about him is his red “autism stripe” located smack in the middle of his forehead.  During art class when the other zebras are working on their hoof-painting projects, Zane doesn’t want to get paint on his hooves and uses a paintbrush instead. The other zebras tease him.  During math class, the fire alarm blares. The other zebras form a line and leave while Zane hides under his desk screaming. After lunch he tries to join in the conversation with the other zebras and they ignore him. He worries that all the other zebras see is his autism stripe.

What I like about this book:

  • All My Stripes is a heartwarming book written especially for children with autism.  They will easily see themselves in this lovable zebra hero. As they follow Zane at school they will identify with his sensitivity to touch and sound, and his difficulty interacting with the other zebras.  Zane wants so much to fit in and just can’t figure out how to start a conversation. When the kids walk away, Zane starts talking louder.  I’m sure this will resonate with autistic children.
  •  Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer shine a light on the autism spectrum, but go a step further and show how endearing, unique and beautiful the children are in this inspiring story about embracing differences. Although the book is meant for kids with autism, its message really could translate to all children. It is also very entertaining.
  • I applaud the author’s use of stripes as a wonderful metaphor in the story. Mama zebra helps Zane feel proud of all of his stripes. She holds him up to a mirror and tells him the meaning of his stripes and how each pattern reveals something that is uniquely Zane: his caring stripe, his curiosity stripe, his pilot stripe, his honesty stripe and his autism stripe. Children will grasp this concept.
  • Jennifer Zivoin’s illustrations are bold, colorful and stunning.  They capture Zane’s emotions and exhilaration. Children will carefully pour over each adorable detail. Great collaboration between the authors and illustrator.

Resources/Activities:   The book has a wealth of information at the end. There is a reading guide that follows the book and tackles the problems that Zane faces in school. There is also a note to for parents and caregivers with tips on finding support. Encourage kids to draw a picture of a zebra and make their own unique stripe patterns.  Visit Hello Kids to learn how to draw a zebra.

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.

Woolfred Cannot Eat Dandelions

Woolfred Dandelions9781433816727_p0_v1_s260x420Woolfred Cannot Eat Dandelions: A Tale of Being True to Your Tummy

Claudine Crangle, Author and Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Sep. 28, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes: Animals, Sheep, Food Intolerance

Opening:  “Most sheep will eat almost anything they come across… whether it’s good for them or not.” 

Synopsis: Woolfred is born with a delicate system. He can’t eat dandelions. It isn’t fair – the other sheep can eat whatever they want. Beautiful yellow clumps of dandelions grow everywhere and tempt him as he grazes. Finally he chews a mouthful of dandelions. They are so delicious until …Gaaaaglewaaaglelewush!

Why I like this book:

  • Claudine Crangle has written an engaging story about a daring young sheep who knows he can’t eat dandelions, but wants to taste them in the worst way.  Sound familiar?
  • This is one of a few picture books I’ve seen for children who have a food intolerance to products like milk, gluten, eggs, fructose and yeast. This is not a book about food allergies that may be life threatening. It is a book about learning to cope with a food intolerance and still lead a normal and active life.
  • The plot is humorous. Does Woolfred learn his lesson after he tries the dandelions the first time? No! He tries eating the different parts of the dandelion and has the same tummy reaction each time. The narrative is funny and the text is simple and silly.
  • Children with food intolerance issues will certainly identify with Woolfred. Like Woolfred, they want to eat the same foods their friends eat at school, birthday parties and outings. Like Woolfred, they don’t want to feel deprived, different or lonely.
  • I love Crangle’s takeaway message for children. While Woolfred focuses on what’s missing, he’s not seeing the good things in his life.
  • Crangle’s illustrations are in bright and colorful spring colors. They are expressive, warm and endearing. Crangle’s process is quite unusual. She begins with “an idea cut out of paper with a knife. Designs are translated through the printmaking process and evolve with each proof.  They are done by hand without any computer manipulation.”

Resources: The book is a resource for parents, caregivers and children. Children with a food intolerance will have fun discussing Woolfred’s antics and comparing them to their own situation. At the end of the story Woolfred begins to think about the other sheep and shares how his friends have differences: Dank rolls in bad smells. Lana sneezes when she’s near clover. Marino is terrified of bees. Bert likes to scratch his bottom on the ground. This would be a fun family activity to discuss how everyone is different.  Visit Claudine Crangle 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.

My Love for You is the Sun

My Love for you9780989668835_p0_v1_s260x420My Love for You is the Sun

Julie Hedlund, Author

Susan Eaddy, Illustrator

Little Bahalia Publishing, Fiction, Sep. 9, 2014

Suitable for ages: 0-6

Themes: Parental love, Animals, Rhyming

Opening: “My love for you is the sun. / Rising in your tender heart, / It shines on you when we’re apart.”  “My love for you is a tree. / Giving shelter, strength and shade, / It comforts you when you’re afraid.”

Little Bahalia Overview: My Love for You is the Sun is a love letter from parent to child, written in verse and expressing that timeless and unconditional love through metaphors from the natural world. My Love for You is the Sun, a Tree, the Rain, a River… but of course, it’s also about more than familial or parental love, it’s about the universal, infinite nature of love itself, and as such, will hold crossover appeal for all ages.

Why I like this book: Julie Hedlund’s My Love You is the Sun, is a celebratory picture book of many types of families. It is a tender, comforting and reassuring story for young children about parental love. It is perfect for lap sharing with cherished little ones. Her text is a simple and has the authenticity of a lyrical lullaby. Her use of metaphors from the natural world adds a universal appeal to the story. It also introduces children to animals and their babies. This is a cozy and peaceful read for children at bedtime. Susan Eaddy’s richly colored hand-sculpted clay creations are a feast for any child’s eyes. Children will pour over the stunning detail on each page. The illustrations truly set this book apart. I suspect that adults will be most taken with the story and its overall treatment. This is such a beautiful collaborative effort between the author and illustrator.

Julie Hedlund is the author of A Troop is Group of Monkeys and A Shiver of Sharks. As a child she loved playing outside with animals. Visit Julie at her website, which is an incredible resource for writers and her blog posts and resources have helped many an aspiring kidlit writer reach their goals. She is the founder of 12 x 12, a forum for authors to kick-start their manuscript writing over the course of 12 months.

Susan Eaddy works entirely in polymer and modeling clay, and has appropriated every kitchen tool in the house for her art. Her clay things appear in magazines, books, greeting cards, wallpaper, kitchen textiles and other licensed products.