Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson

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Terry Lynn Johnson

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: Sled dogs, Alaska, Wilderness, Survival, Grief

Opening: All eight of my dogs are stretched in front of me in pairs along the gangline. They claw the ground in frustration as the loudspeaker blares. “Here’s team number five. Our hometown girl, fourteen-year-old Victoria Secord!”

Synopsis:  Victoria is a dogsled racer in Alaska. Since the recent death of her father, who taught her everything she knows about being a musher, she pours herself into training her dogs and preparing for the White Wolf Classic. On a routine run, she comes across Chris who is injured in a snowmobile accident. A fast-approaching blizzard catches Victoria by surprise and covers her sled trails. She finds herself lost in the frozen wilderness with little food or protection. Her real race becomes one of survival against time. Will she be able to save Chris and herself?

Why I like this book: This inspiring and gripping story by Terry Lynn Johnson, is a page turner. Johnson, who once owned  and raced 18 Alaskan huskies, knows how beautiful, peaceful and unforgiving the wilderness can be. Reading a novel based on Johnson’s knowledge and experience makes for great realistic fiction and a very vivid setting. Her plot is fast-paced with high-adventure, danger, courage and hope. Her main characters, Victoria and Chris, are well-developed. The story is narrated by Victoria, a fiercely independent, strong, brave, and smart teen coping with the tragic death of her father in the wilderness. She is determined to carry on his legacy as a musher. Chris, a city boy from Toronto, offers a bit of comic relief. Their relationship is full of tension, emotion and complexity. He steps up to the plate and works with Victoria in a race for their survival. Ice Dogs is a spellbinding story that will appeal to young readers. Visit Terry Lynn Johnson at her website where you can view a video, read interesting information, and check out her blog.  Johnson is a conservation officer in Whitefish Falls, Ontario, Canada.

A special thank you to Amanda at Born Bookish, who first introduced me to Ice Dogs. Click on her blog to read her review.

Willow’s Whispers

Willow27606548Willow’s Whispers

Lana Button, Author

Tania Howells, Illustrator

Kids Can Press, Fiction, 2010

Suitable for Ages: 3-8

Themes:  Soft-spoken, Shyness, Bravery, Courage, Compassion

Opening: ” Willow’s words came out in whispers.  They were just too tiny to hear.”

Synopsis: Willow’s voice is very soft. She wishes her words would come out strong and loud so that everyone would notice her.  She is tired of sitting by herself at lunch, not being called on in class, playing by herself and getting the wrong juice at snack time because her teacher, Mrs. Post, and other children can’t hear her whispers. Her father is reassuring and tells Willow “one day your voice will wiggle its way out.”  One night she comes up with a plan and makes a magic microphone out of a cardboard tube and practices talking. When she uses her microphone at school the next day, everyone can hear her…until her magic microphone breaks. Is the magic gone? When it’s her turn to be a line leader will she find the courage to be heard?

Why I like this book: Lana Button has written a powerful and encouraging book for shy children.  I like how the font in the text becomes very tiny every time Willow speaks to exaggerate Willows painfully shy voice. I love that Willow is so desperate to have friends and participate in school activities, that she tries to find a solution to help herself. She makes the magic microphone and practices so that she can project her voice.  This is an excellent book to read in the classroom because many children will relate to Willow and it teaches them about compassion! Tania Howells simple digital characters are colorful, whimsical and show Willow’s longing to be heard. I especially love the cover where Willow is only half on the page emphasizing the book theme.

Resources: Click here to visit Lana Button’s website. Button suggests several resources to use with her book. Make magic microphones with children. All you need is a paper towel tube, markers, stickers, glitter, glue and construction paper. The author of The Crafty Crow shows how her students made microphones when they read Willow Whispers.  Button says this opens the conversation to whether the microphone was truly magic. Talk with children about how much courage it took Willow to speak up the first time, and how the microphone gave her the courage to do it.  As she practiced, it got easier. So in the end, she didn’t need it as she’d found her own voice.

Button says another effective teacher resource is creating a character map for Willow. It’s a terrific way to open discussion on how Willow feels, and what her struggles are. The children draw a picture of Willow and then add her character traits and her feelings in a web around her. Not only is this an effective language arts activity it’s a great activity for encouraging positive social relations with children and developing empathy. Here is an example of a teacher using a character map in class.
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Lana Button is also the author of a 2013 book, Willow Finds a Way, about bullying.
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Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Healing Days: A Guide for Kids Who Have Experienced Trauma

Healing Days9781433812934_p0_v1_s260x420Healing Days: A Guide for Kids Who Have Experienced Trauma

Susan Farber Straus, Ph.D., Author

Maria Bogade, Illustrator

Magination Press., Fiction, May 18, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 5 -11

Themes: Children facing trauma and tragedy, PTSD, Anxiety, Fear, Anger, Healing

Opening“Something bad happened to me.  I did not want anyone to know.  I was scared.  I was sad.  I was angry.  I was embarrassed.  I was hurt and confused.  I tried to forget.  I tried to sleep and not wake up.” 

Synopsis:  A child has had something scary happen.  We follow the child through feelings of hurt, confusion, anger and fear that the bad thing might happen again.  The child has bad dreams and is afraid of the dark.  At school there are run-ins with the teachers.  Friends notice the child isn’t fun to play with.  The child is lonely.  Finally an aunt notices differences and takes the child to talk with a therapist who helps the child share the secret.  Only then can intervention and healing begin for the child.

Why I like this book:  I am thrilled to find Susan Farber Straus’ very sensitive and comforting book due to its relevance in our world today.   Although the story is told from the viewpoint of one child, each page features pictures of a diverse group of children of all ages acting out the narrative.  This book is a fabulous tool for parents, guidance counselors and therapists to read with a child when they may suspect a trauma.  And that trauma could range from abuse, an accident, school and home violence, bullying, the sudden death of a parent or sibling to natural disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes and floods that are prevalent today in the world.  The book also helps children know they aren’t alone and that they can find ways to heal.  Maria Bogade’s illustrations are warm, and comforting, and beautifully show the emotion of the children.

Resources:  The book alone is a resource as the author is a clinical psychologist.  The American Psychological Association also has a list of helpful resources available online.  Also be sure to read the Note to Readers at the beginning of the book and check out the jacket flaps on the front and back pages.

Note:  I will be attending the Northern Ohio SCBWI conference this weekend, so I won’t be able to respond to your comments or posts until I return.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Love You More Than You Know

Love You More9781598510553_p0_v1_s260x420Love You More Than You Know: Mothers’ Stories About Sending Their Sons and Daughters to War

Janie Reinart and Mary Anne Mayer

Gray and Company, Publishers, Non-fiction, 2009

Suitable for:  Adults, Parents, Grandparents

Themes:  Sending a Son/Daughter to War, Love, Faith and Courage

Awards:  2013 Best Cleveland Book

Opening“Mothers are not prepared to let go when their children grow up and become soldiers.”

Synopsis:  This book is a collection of 45 powerful true stories written by mothers who share a common bond of sending their sons and daughters to war and the anguish of waiting and praying for their safe return.   The idea for the stories was born out of the experiences of two authors who began writing their personal stories and sharing them with groups.  They began to receive letters from other mothers sharing their stories and messages from their children about life on the front line.  There are some families with several sons and daughters deployed at the same time.  Reading these stories shows their strength, courage, love, faith and resiliency in some challenging situations.

When Janie Reinart’s 22-year-old son Joe, an Army Specialist with the Ohio National Guard, was deployed to the Middle East in 2003 it was like “time stopped.”  “Night ran into day.  I took off my watch and put on a lapel pin with Joe’s picture inside the frame.  I wore Joe’s picture over my heart every day.”  She spent many sleepless nights, sometimes falling asleep near the computer waiting for a message that would arrive at 2 a.m.   Her son rode in a Humvee in convoys, which were easy targets.  He lost friends.  Like many of the stories I read, Janie found that the only way to deal with a deployment was by realizing she was not in control of the situation and surrendering to a higher power.  Joe returned home from his deployment in February 2005.  He completed six years of service and was honorably discharged.

Mary Anne Mayer’s son, Stan, enlisted in the Marines in 1999.  Then Sept. 11, 2001 changed the world and he was deployed.  She kept Stan’s leather jacket hanging on the back of the dining room chair.  And there was a vigil candle on her mantel, with Stan’s picture nearby.  Stan was part of a Mobile Assault Platoon (MAP), which executed offensive missions against the insurgents.  Stan’s Humvee was hit by a suicide bomber, but he miraculously survived, although he had injuries.  He carried his wounded brothers to safety.  That day he lost four friends and many were seriously wounded.   Mary Anne’s hands would “freeze on the steering wheel when she heard on the radio that 14 Marines from Stan’s unit had been killed.”  “We rushed home and sat by the phone, praying that it would not ring and fearful of the sound of cars coming up the driveway.”  Stan was not killed and eventually returned home.  But their lives had been changed forever.

Why I like this book:  This book is not about personal feelings about war, but rather the love and unrelenting pride the mothers feel for their sons and daughters.  This book is truly a labor of love and a must read for anyone who has sent a son or daughter to war.  There aren’t always happy endings.  It is also an important book for those wanting to understand the depth of a mother’s love.  This book meant a great deal to me because our 20-year-old grandson was a casualty of war in 2009, the year Janie and Mary Anne published this book.  I have always felt the children families at home are the heroes as they deal with long separations and wait for those e-mails, letters and phone calls, letting them know their loved one is okay.  They serve too!

You can visit Janie Reinart on her website Love You More Than You Know, where she shares stories about heroes, unusual reunions, military dogs, loss, victories and the daily lives military families.

The Three Sunflowers

Three Sunflowerscropped-tts-cover-for-website-headerThe Three Sunflowers

Janet Lucy, Author

Colleen McCarthy-Evans, Illustrator

Publishing by the Seas, Fiction, November 2012

Suitable for Ages: 4 and up

Themes:  Sunflowers, Life Cycles, Nature, Courage,  Faith, Harmony, Peace, Patience, Wisdom

Opening:  “Dawn awoke early one morning washing the summer sky in fresh new shades of pink, orange and lavender.” 

Synopsis:  Life in the garden was alive with activity.   Gloria, a tall and wise sunflower, sprung up earlier in the season near a pepper tree.  She was once a black and white seed in one of the bird feeders.  She was dropped by a bird to the ground where she planted herself and grew.  Two smaller sunflowers, Sunny and Solita, grew beside Gloria.  Their day was peaceful until a hawk swooped down to the feeders and disturbed the tranquility in the garden.  The birds flew off.  Solita and Sunny  were frightened and shouted at the hawk.  But, Gloria reminded them “We are sunflowers, golden and radiant.”  “Our job is to be loving and peaceful wherever we stand.”   Peace returned to the garden, but later that afternoon a thunderstorm darkened the skies and threatened the strength and stability of the sunflowers.   Once again Sunny and Solita held on by their roots afraid they might tumble.  Gloria reached for their stalks and pulled them close.  Their resiliency was tested in the face of a big storm.

Why I like this book:  Janet Lucy has created an inspiring book for children with many gentle life lessons about staying centered when turbulence is swirling around you, being who you are supposed to be, living in the moment, being present with those we love and being thankful.   These are all concepts children will grasp.  There is so much depth to this story and I had to be careful not to give it away.  With spring around the corner, it is also a story about life cycles, death, and transformation.  Colleen McCarthy-Evans’s watercolor illustrations are exquisite and perfect for the story.

Resources:   Sunflowers are an international symbol of Peace.  Lucy urges children to plant seeds of peace in their gardens.  You only need to visit The Three Sunflowers website to find wonderful resources, activities and a teaching guide to share with children.   I was intrigued with how many virtues are included in this story, all great topics for discussion.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

The Little Yellow Bottle

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Angele Delaunois, Author

Christine Delezenne, Illustrator

Second Story Press, Fiction,  2011

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes: Children, War, Disabilities, Friendship, Multicultural

Awards: IBBY International – Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities, 2010

Opening“My name is Marwa and my best friend is Ahmad.  We’ve known each other forever.  He was the goalkeeper on our village soccer team.  The best one we’ve ever had.  But Ahmad doesn’t play ball anymore.  He’s the reason I want to tell this story.”

Synopsis:  Marwa and Ahmad live in a country where there is war.  They continue to go to school, play soccer and don’t think very much about war because it seems far away.   Then one day a planes fly over their homes and drop gray bombs.  They are frightened, but after a few days they forget and begin to laugh and play again.  One day Marwa and Ahmad are kicking the soccer ball in the forest and Ahmad spots a shiny yellow bottle.  He picks it up to show Marwa and it explodes.  Both children are seriously injured.  Marwa wakes up to bandages.  Ahmad has lost two limbs.  Only time and a very special visitor brings hope that will give Ahmad the courage to live and walk again.

Why I like this bookThis picture book is for older children.  It is written in a manner that is appropriate for children.  I debated about sharing this book, but then decided that is a story that needs to be shared with older children.  It is a story about how war affects the physical and emotional lives of many innocent children around the world daily.  Angele Delaunois, the author of over 40 books, tells this heartbreaking story through Marwa.  Her words are simple and powerful.  Marwa’s goal is to “honor the courage of Ahmad and all the children in the world like him.” “I hope you won’t forget them.”  Christine Delezenne uses a blend of textures, drawings and collage to capture the action and emotion of the story.  I recommend the book for both school and public libraries.

There is a forward in the beginning of this book from Handicap International, which was a co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for its fight against anti-personnel mines.  “In some parts of the world children can be carefree and happy-go-lucky.  In other parts of the world, mutilation and death are close by, hidden underground or in toys or in little yellow bottles.  Every day, Handicap International sees the consequences for children and their families.”  Handicap International works in more than 60 countries helping those who have been injured by war.  They “fight for a more just and welcoming world without landmines.”

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This book has been provided to me free of charge by the publisher in exchange for an honest review of the work.

The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob

BlueOceanBob9780982961346_p0_v1_s260x420The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob:  A Journey Begins

Brooks Olbrys, Author

Kevin Keele, Illustrator

Children’s Success Unlimited LLC, Fiction, Mar. 12, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 6-10, Early Chapter Book

Themes:  Ocean Journey, Finding Purpose, Facing Fear and Doubt, Setting Goals, Making Friends, Inspirational

Opening“There once was a boy who lived close to the sea and daydreamed all day about what he might be.  His island was lush and his life wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t content with the things that he had.”

Synopsis:  Bob lives on a beautiful island, but something seems to be missing in his life.  He sets out on a journey with his chatty hummingbird, Xena, to seek guidance from the friendly creatures of the ocean.  He meets Al, a playful dolphin, Doc, a sage turtle, Earl, the clam, and Wallace the walrus.  They all offer Bob wise and sound advice.  Doc helps Bob realize his passion to protect the blue ocean and sea life.   His journey to fulfill his purpose is only beginning as he has to face his doubts and fears.  He meets Mary Marine, the Island of Roses’s leading marine biologist, who gives Bob a series of tests.   She asks Bob to tag a blue whale and document its progress for 30 days.  He encounters his first problem when his boat springs a leak.  He feels hopeless.  Xena, his guardian, is always nearby to warn Bob of danger.   But with the help of his new sea friends, Bob learns to overcome his fears, sets some goals and develop a positive attitude so he can become Mary’s trusted assistant and care for the sea creatures he cherishes.

What I like about this book:  Brooks Olbrys has created an entertaining and engaging early chapter book series for children. The book is beautifully illustrated by Kevin Kelle, whose breathtaking artwork of the ocean and sea life fills every page.  Blue Ocean Bob encourages children to pursue their dreams.  It will spark their imaginations and take them on a journey.  The plot is strong and full of adventure.  The characters are endearing and believable.  Olbrys has written a charming book in lyrical rhyme, which will engage young children who aren’t able to read alone.  Older readers will enjoy the important lessons about finding one’s passion and turning it into his/her purpose.  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.   Visit Oblrys’s website to learn more about the The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob , preview the first chapter of the book for free, learn about upcoming books in the series and click on the app.

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Father-Son Partnership:   When Brooks Olbrys began writing Blue Ocean Bob, his son, Nicolas, was four years old.  He is now eight.  I want to share a brief interview about their inspiring relationship.

Nicolas has been a great partner on my project.   When I wrote the first five or six stories and was unsure about them, Nicolas was the first one to hear them.  He would give me honest and insightful comments about the characters, action or rhyme.  And we would brainstorm about new characters or storylines.  His most helpful advice was, “Dad, that is pretty good, but it needs to be funnier.”  The messages are important, but won’t get through if they aren’t fun and engaging for kids.  We try to incorporate that humor into the illustrations too.  Nicolas reviews every illustration and I always get his approval before giving the final sign off.  Another comment I love is when he told me “Dad, you are like a really, really good amateur writer.” 

Nicolas also helped with the music that we needed for the trailer and app.  We listened to dozens of samples from the internet and our app developer.  I couldn’t decide.  I told Nicolas if he would help me, I would make him an equity partner in the app project.  That got his attention.  He listened to the four “finalists” and chose one from an internet site.  He said that it was “just too much better” and we went with it.  Later, he asked me “Dad, if I had chosen the other ones, would you have gone with those?  I told him yes, it was his decision.  The music is perfect for the trailer, app and series.  And it is great to have an in-house junior creative director.