A Time fo Dance

A Time to Dance9780399257100_p0_v2_s260x420A time to Dance

Padma Venkatraman, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, May 2014

Suitable for ages: 12-16

Themes: Dance, India, Amputee, Disabilities, Abilities

Book Jacket Synopsis: Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance–so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown up used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.

Why I like this book: This inspirational novel is lyrically written in verse. Padma Venkatraman has woven together a story about loss and resilience of a girl determined to dance once again her beloved Bharatanatyam.  This is not a story about disability, but one of ability. It is about finding the deeper spiritual meaning of the dance over the applause. “For my invisible audience of the One I begin to dance./ Colors blur into whiteness and a lilting tune that is and is not of the world resonates within and without me./ My body feels whole./In the beat of my heart I hear again the eternal rhythm of Shiva’s feet.” Reading Venkatraman’s novel is an experience of India in all its beauty, cultural traditions, senses and sounds. If you listen closely you can hear the faint echo of a dancing rhythm.  Thaiya thai. Thaiya thai.  I highly recommend this beautiful novel for tweens and teens who have faced challenges in their lives. This book is a treasure on my bookshelf.

Padma Venkatraman is an oceanographer by training and a writer by choice. She is the author of Climbing the Stairs and Island’s End, both multi-award winners.  Padma was born in India, but is now an American citizen. Visit Padma at her website. It has discussion questions and teaching resources.

My Name is Blessing

My Name is Blessing9781770493018_p0_v1_s260x420My Name is Blessing

Eric Walters, Author

Eugenie Fernandes, Illustrator

Tundra Books,  Fiction, 2013

Suitable for ages: 6-9

Themes: Kenya, Poverty, Disability, Orphan Crisis, Hope

Opening: “Muthini watched his grandmother stirring the big pot. He knew there would be not much to eat. But whatever there was would be shared equally among her nine grandchildren. They lined up, oldest to youngest. Muthini was lastUsing the two fingers of his right hand he scooped up some porridge.”

Synopsis: Muthini and his grandmother, Nyanya, live in rural Kenya near the mountains. Nyanya barely makes enough money to support nine orphaned grandchildren. Muthini, whose name means “suffering” is the youngest and was born with no fingers on his left hand and only two on his right. He is teased by others. When he asks his grandmother why he as fewer fingers she tells him “we are each given more of some things and less of others.” ” It is so sad that other children only have ten fingers when you have a larger heart, a bigger brain, and greater spirit.” One day his grandmother realizes that she is too old to help Muthini. She takes him to a special residential home/school for children without families, where he meets the director. Gabriel, looks at Muthini’s hands and only sees his potential. But Gabriel will only accept Muthini if he changes his name to Baraka, which means blessing.

Why I like this book:  Eric Walters’ story is about a real boy named Baraka and his grandmother, Grace. His text is very lyrical and heartwarming. His extraordinary story begins by showing Muthini’s disability as a misfortune.  But Gabriel focuses on Baraka and his great heart and spirit. Baraka is a blessing and not one who suffers.  Eugenie Fernandes’ acrylic illustrations are done in soft browns and yellows hues and capture both the emotion and spirit of the story.  He gives great detail to facial expressions.

Resources: There are five pages of back matter about Baraka and his grandmother. Walters shares information about the Mbooni Region of Kenya — the poverty, famine and disease which leaves 500 children orphaned. He chronicles his 2007 visit with photographs of Grace and her family, their meager living conditions and the region. Walters response to what he sees by founding The Creation of Hope, a residential care center for children. You can read about Eric Walter’s work in the book and on his website. Make sure you check out the page devoted to the Creation of Hope.

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.

King For A Day – Multicultural Children’s Book Day

King for a Day9781600606595_p0_v1_s260x420King For A Day

Rukhsana Khan, Author

Christiane Kromer, Illustrator

Lee & Low Books Inc., Fiction, Oct. 1, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Kites, Basant Festival, Disabilities, Pakistan

Opening“Basant is the most exciting day of the year! With feasts and music and parties, people celebrate the arrival of spring. And many will make their way to the rooftops of Lahore to test their skills in kite-flying battles.”

Synopsis:  Malik is up early and perched in his wheelchair on the rooftop. He is ready to launch his home-made kite, Falcon, into the skies. He sends his brother to the streets to catch the kites he hopes to set free today. His sister helps him launch his kite. Falcon is small, but built for speed. Malik works his string so that Falcon dives and breaks the strings on the kites of the next door bully. He moves on to circle other kites plucking them from the sky. His brother returns with a pile of kites. By the end of the day Malik has succeeded in showing that he is the best kite fighter and flyer — the King of Basant. As Malik watches the bully shove a girl to the ground and grab her kite, this king shows his kindness to the girl in a special way.

Why I like this book: Master storyteller Rukhsana Khan has written a celebratory story about a boy who is clearly more focused on his abilities than his confinement to a wheelchair. Choosing a child with physical challenges will inspire other children. Malik has talent, technique, self-confidence, and determination. He wants to win the annual kite battle in Lahore. And, Malik beats his bully neighbor with his kite-flying skills and not hurtful words. Khan has turned this centuries-old tradition into a contemporary story for children. Christiane Kromer’s illustrations are exquisite and there is a feast of color on every page.  She focuses on so much detail that you can feel the breeze of the soaring kites on this perfect day. Her pen and ink illustrations are a mixed collage of beautiful fabrics, laces, cut paper and folk art designs of Pakistan. King For A Day is a beautiful collaborative effort between author and illustrator.  Visit Rukhsana Khan and Christiane Kromer at their websites.

Resources:  Khan has devoted a page at the end of the book to the Basant Festival, which is celebrated across South Asia to herald in the spring. Making a kite would be a fun activity for kids. Watch this Kidspot Youtube video and learn how to make your own home-made kite. With markers you can write fun or  inspirational messages or write you name on your kite if it blows away.

Special Note: Monday, January 27,  I am joining other bloggers in celebrating Multicultural Children’s Book Day, which celebrates diversity in children’s literature. The event is co-hosted by Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press. Please visit the website to view multicultural books in all genres.

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

Little Yellow Bottle61mN--8Sz3L__SX300_The Little Yellow Bottle

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.

Emily Included – Cerebral Palsy

Emily Included9781926920337_p0_v1_s260x420Emily Included:  A True Story

Kathleen McDonnell, Author

Second Story Press, Biography, Mar. 1, 2012

Suitable for Ages:  8-12

Themes:  Cerebral Palsy, Disabilities, Special Needs, Inclusive Education, Supreme Court

Synopsis:  Emily Eaton was born with a severe form of cerebral palsy (CP) and had many physical challenges.   As a young child, her body was “floppy,” but she eventually defied doctors predictions and learned to sit, feed herself and walk with a special walker and leg braces.  She uses a wheel chair.  Verbal communication was difficult, although she learned to communicate with facial expressions and body language. Emily also had visual difficulties.  Because of her special need for therapy and teachers, Emily had attended a school for children with disabilities.  But at age five, her parents decided to enroll her in a public school so that she could interact with other children and become part of the community in which she lived.  Emily was nervous at first, but grew to love her school and new friends.  She attended school two years before the board of education intervened.

Little did Emily know she was about to face a great challenge in her life  — a school system that only saw her disabilities and not her abilities.  She was denied access to her second grade class.    This very strong girl only wanted the right to attend school like a regular kid.  With the support of her family, Emily  confronted the local board of education first.  This courageous girl ended up taking her case to the Canadian Supreme Court in the late 1990s.  Her fight became a battle for all children with physical and mental disabilities to have the right to be included in public schools.

What I like about this book:  Kathleen McDonnell has written an inspirational narrative about Emily’s remarkable journey to attend school with non-disabled children.  What I found fascinating was that Emily’s teachers and students found how much they benefited from her participation in school.  They all worked together as a team and enjoyed her presence in the classroom.  Teachers reported here were so many valuable lessons for everyone involved.  Her inclusion in school was groundbreaking for a child with severe CP in the nineties.   According to the author, there is still a lot of work to be done because “resources and funding remain major roadblocks to facilitating these rights in classrooms today.”   Emily however, graduated from high school.  You may visit Kathleen McDonnell at her website.

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

Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller

Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller

Doreen Rappaport, author

Matt Tavares, illustrator

Disney Hyperion Books, Biography, Oct. 16, 2012

Suitable for:  Ages 6 and up

Themes: Deafblind people, Sign language, Braille, Courage, Wisdom

Opening/Synopsis:  “Helen gurgled and giggled in her crib.  At six months, she crawled and  said, ‘How-d’ye,’ and ‘wah-wah’ for water.  When she was one, she ran after a ray of sunshine.  She loved the mockingbird’s song and the sweet smell of climbing roses.  But best of all was being on her father’s lap and in her mother’s arms.”   When Helen was 19 months old, an illness took away her sight and speech.  She was surrounded by silence and darkness.  Helen tried to make up signs to communicate with her parents.  But her failure to make them understand turned into outbursts.  Annie Sullivan came to work with Helen when she was seven years old.  Helen learned sign language quickly and was considered a genius.  Annie taught her Braille so she could read books.  She learned to write with a pencil, read lips, speak, and to experience the world with enthusiasm.  Helen graduated from college with honors.  Helen’s journey out of darkness led to freedom and she taught people how very large her world was.

Why I like this book:  The title says it all “Helen’s Big World,”which is rich, full of life and not limited in any way.  This is an excellent introduction for young readers to learn about this most remarkable woman.  Doreen Rappaport beautifully captures the essence of this very inspirational child and woman, Helen Keller.  It is written in prose with quotes from Helen woven into the story on every page.  The book not only chronicles the story of Helen’s challenging and courageous life, but shows children how one can move beyond physical limitations, find their own gifts and change the world for the better.  The book is large and Matt Tavares’ illustrations are bold, colorful, emotional and lively.  The illustrator emphasizes what Helen can do.  This book is a feast for the soul.  Adults will also enjoy reading this treasure.  I love that the book title is also printed in braille on the front cover.

Favorite Quotes:  “We do not think with eyes and ears, and our capacity for thought is not measured by five senses.”

“The chief handicap of the blind is not blindness, but the attitude of seeing people toward them.”

“I have the advantage of a mind trained to think, and that is the difference between myself and most people, not my blindness and their sight.”

Resources:  The book alone is a great resource.  There are back pages of resources and materials, as well as a page of the manual alphabet chart Annie Sullivan used with Helen.   The American Foundation for the Blind has great resources or kids and teachers, especially if you scroll down and click on the Braille Bug link.  Check out author Doreen Rappaport’s website.  This is an excellent book for the classroom.

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.

Keep Your Ear on the Ball – Perfect Picture Book

Keep Your Ear on the Ball

Genevieve Petrillo, Author

Lea Lyon, Illustrator

Tilbury House Publishers, Fiction, 2007

Suitable for:  Grades 3 to 6

Theme: Visual Impairment, Disability, Self-reliance, Sports

Opening/Synopsis:  “Davey looked like every other new kid that ever came into our class.  Ms. Madison walked him in and said, ‘Boys and girls, this is Davey.’  He was medium height.  He had medium brown hair and medium brown eyes.  A regular kid.”   When Davey asks the teacher if he can look around, he walks around the room touching the book-case, blackboard and his desk.   Davey is blind.  The students realize that Davey is very resourceful and can do just about everything the others do.  All of the kids try to be helpful and offer to do things for Davey.  His response is always “Thanks, but no thanks.”  When they play kickball, things escalate a bit and no one wants him on their team.

Why I like this book:  Based on a true story, Genevieve Petrillo has created a heartfelt story about how students respond to a blind student.   Lea Lyon’s illustrations are colorful, expressive and full of action.  Once again she uses students from a visually impaired classroom to act out scenes for her sketches.  Davey is determined to be self-reliant.  He doesn’t want anyone doing anything for him.  He wants the kids to see what he can do.  When he has difficulty playing kickball and still refuses help, the kids are frustrated.  But together they begin to observe Davey, recognize what he can do, and figure out how to help him in an unusual and respectful way.

Resources:  Click on Reach and Teach  for special classroom activities designed especially to go with Keep Your Ear on the Ball.   There is more information about the real Davey.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.

Just a reminder for May 7:   I will be interviewing NYT bestselling author Kristin Hannah about her new book Home Front.  There will be a book giveaway.  Her interview will launch my focus on Military Families in May.