A Monster Calls – Grief

A Monster Calls9780763680817_p0_v1_s260x420A Monster Calls

Patrick Ness, Author

Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd

Jim Kay, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, 2011; Reprint Aug. 4, 2015

Motion Picture Release: October 2016

Suitable for Ages: 14 -17

Themes: Grief, Loss, Monsters, Mothers and sons, Breast cancer,  Single-parent families, Bullying, School

Book Jacket Synopsis: The Monster Showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…

This monster, though, is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.

What I like about this story:

Patrick Ness has written a powerful and haunting story about a 13-year-old boy trying to deal with grief and loss. This beautifully crafted story is also filled with dark humor, vivid imagery, fear, rage, and courage.

The characters are realistic and fleshed out. Conor O’Malley is dealing with the nightly visits of a monster at precisely 12:07 a.m., but it’s not the monster that frightens him. It is the recurrent nightmare “that is filled with darkness, screaming and a hand slipping from his grasp.”  The dream begins when his mother starts chemotherapy and is so terrifying that he hasn’t told anyone. His father is remarried and living in America, his grandmother is cold and doesn’t understand him, and the kids bully him at school. Conor is totally alone. Ness brilliantly creates a monster that resembles a nearby ancient Yew tree to act as a catalyst to help Conor face his greatest fear. The monster shares three tales with him and tells Conor that he will tell the fourth story which will be his truth.

The plot is distinctly realistic and the tension is palpable. Readers will ride Conor’s roller coaster as his world spins out of control. In confronting his fear and releasing his rage, Conor destroys his grandmother’s living room — all important steps that will lead him to face the final truth and heal.

Jack Kay liberally uses his pen and ink drawings to illustrate the darkness and intensity of Conor’s fears and rage on each page, heightening the emotion and the scary truth that lies ahead. The total package is a beautiful collaboration between author and illustrator.

Note: In his introduction,  Patrick Ness says he never met Siobhan Dowd. She had a final story idea, but her premature death from cancer prevented her from writing this story herself. This would have been her fifth book.  According to Ness, “she had an idea, the characters, a premise, and a beginning.” With some hesitation, Ness undertook the project and decided from the start that “he would not write a novel that mimicked her voice.” Visit Patrick Ness at his website.

Nobody!: A Story About Overcoming Bullying in Schools

Nobody9781575424965_p0_v1_s260x420Nobody!: A Story About Overcoming Bullying in Schools

Erin Frankel, Author

Paula Heaphy, Illustrator

Free Spirit Publishing, Fiction, May 15, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Bullying, Differences, Accountability, Relational Aggression, Self-confidence

Opening: I used to like school. But that was before somebody decided to make my life miserable. Before somebody named Kyle made me feel like a NOBODY!

Publisher Synopsis: Thomas feels like no matter what he does, he can’t escape Kyle’s persistent bullying. At school, at soccer—nowhere feels safe! “Mom said Kyle would grow over the summer and stop picking on me, but he didn’t grow up, he just grew.” With support from friends, classmates, and adults, Thomas starts to feel more confident in himself and his hobbies, while Kyle learns the importance of kindness to others.

What I love about this book:

  • Erin Frankel and Paula Heaphy, who created the popular Weird series, have published a powerful stand-alone picture book for boys about bullying. Many of the beloved characters in the Weird, Dare and Tough, appear in the background of Nobody! 
  • Readers will identify with the name-calling, insults, threats, fear, and anger. The characters are realistic and the language is simple, but edgy.
  • Thomas narrates the story. We watch him grow from the victim who doesn’t like feeling like a nobody to a more self-confident somebody. I like how his narrative is accompanied with “bubble comments” from all the characters on each page. This allows the reader to be more engaged in the story dynamics as they hear from Thomas, the bully, siblings, parents, teachers and bystanders. The bully, Kyle, also learns a few lessons.
  • Nobody! is an excellent resource for teaching school-age children good emotional techniques to stand-up for what is right, to survive and grow beyond bullying. This is another book that belongs in every school library.
  • Paula Heaphy’s stand-out illustrations are pen and ink drawings with splashes of color. They are bold, expressive, emotive and capture the action in the story. I also like her use of white space. Children will find her illustrations especially appealing.

Resources: The book concludes with “activity club” pages for kids, as well as information to help parents, teachers, counselors, and other adults foster dialogue with children about ways to stop bullying. I would pair this book with the first three books, Weird, Dare and Tough.  Visit  Erin Frankel 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.

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.



Paige Rawl with Ali Benjamin, Authors

Harper Collins, Memoir, Aug. 26, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 12-16

Themes: Paige Rawl, HIV-positive children, AIDS in adolescence, Bullying, Suicide, Hope

Book Synopsis: Cheerleader, soccer player, honor roll student. One of the good kids at her middle school. Then on an unremarkable day, Paige disclosed the one thing that made her “different”: her HIV-positive status. Within hours, the bullying began.  They called her PAIDS. Left cruel notes on her locker. Talked in whispers about her and mocked her openly. She turned to school administrators for help. Instead of assisting her, they ignored her urgent pleas…and told her to stop the drama. She had never felt more alone. One night, desperate for escape, Paige found herself in front of the medicine cabinet, staring at a bottle of sleeping pills. That could have been the end of her story. Instead, it was only the beginning.

Why I like this book: Paige Rawl and Ali Benjamin have written a realistic, raw, brave and powerful memoir about a teen living with HIV since birth. Although Paige is stable on medications, HIV is such a sensitive subject and tough diagnosis for a teen to deal with — especially when her best friend betrays her. Once Paige’s secret spreads like wildfire at school, the bullying begins. This is one of the best memoirs I’ve read this year. It is a real page turner that I could not put down. Although what happens to Paige is heartbreaking, her courage to reclaim herself and move forward is inspiring. You will find yourself rooting for Paige as she finds a voice she didn’t know she had. Her memoir is written in short chapters and is well-paced. Her voice is strong and determined. In sharing her story, she encourages other teens to find their inner strength in the midst of any storm. And her experience has made a difference for others.

Resources: There is extensive information and facts about HIV, bullying and suicide.  She shares information on programs for kids who are touched by HIV/AIDS, a National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and programs to stop bullying.

Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral

WordsWound9781575424514_p0_v2_s260x420Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral

Justin W. Patchin, Ph.D, and Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., Authors

Free Spirit Publishing, Nonfiction, Dec. 3, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 13-17

Themes: Cyberbullying, Bullying, Computer crimes, Internet and teenagers, Prevention, Kindness

Publisher Synopsis: Cyberbullying among teens happens every day. Vicious messages and damaging photos exchanged through texts, email, and social media can lead to humiliation, broken friendships, punishment at school, and–as recent headlines prove–legal prosecution and even suicide. Faced with this pandemic problem, concerned parents, educators, and young people across the country are looking for information and advice.  Words Wound  is written especially for tweens and teens on the importance of standing up for themselves and others online.

Why I like this book: Justin W. Patchin, Ph.D., and Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., are cyberbullying experts who have written a practical and valuable handbook for teens. Both authors know from personal experience what it feels like to be bullied at school. They have researched and talked with thousands of teens at schools, libraries and youth centers about their experiences with bullying. They’ve spoken with parents who have lost children to suicide. Words Wound is very easy to use. It is divided into three parts all supported with real-life stories and strategies for preventing, reducing and combatting cyberbulling at school. Teens are taught ways to be kind, respectful and stand up for friends. And, they are encouraged to be advocates for change in their schools and communities. What I like about this user-friendly guide is you can choose the chapters that interest you, or you can read it from beginning to end. It is a “must-have companion” for any kid with social media access. This book is a valuable resource for parents, educators and administrators. The authors wrote the book because they“know what a school without bullying looks like.” They have visited many schools across the country that are bully free because of students and educators working together.

Resources: The authors run the Cyberbullying Research Center and have designed a website, Words Wound, specifically for teens. It is a place where teens can go to keep up with the conversation, ask questions, express worries, share thoughts, ideas, and strategies about what has worked for them personally and in their schools. The authors want to hear from you. They want teens and young adults to join the national discussion to make schools a safe place.