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.”

.

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. 

Out of My Mind – Cerebral Palsy

Out of My Mind

Sharon M. Draper, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, 2010

Suitable for:  Ages 10 to Adult

Themes:  Cerebral Palsy, Intelligence, Interpersonal Relationships

Opening “Words.  I’m surrounded by thousands of words.  Maybe millions.  Cathedral.  Mayonnaise.  Pomegrante…Words have always swirled around me like snowflakes — each one delicate and different, each one melting untouched in my hands.  Deep within me, words pile up in huge drifts.  Mountains of phrases and sentences and connected ideas.  Clever expressions and jokes.  Love songs.”  Melody’s head is full of words and sentences.   She is  11 years old and has never spoken one single word.  Melody has cerebral palsy and is trapped in a body that won’t do what she wants it to do.  She is confined to a wheel chair, unable to move, walk, talk, feed  and care for herself.  Melody has a photographic mind, and is a very smart.  But no one knows that except Melody.  No one knows that her favorite song is “Elvira.”

Draper has written a very compelling novel and has given us a rare glimpse into Melody’s world.  She shows Melody’s frustration in having doctors, teachers and people talking about her like she’s “profoundly retarded and unable to understand.”  Her frustration  and her inability to speak can lead to “tornado explosions,” which only reinforces their beliefs that she’s severely brain-damaged.  Melody says, “I live in a cage with no door and no key.”  “And, I have no way to tell someone how to get me out.”  Draper has created a very strong protagonist who simply will not give up and fights to find that key to unlock the cage so people will know she is there.   She’s tired of going to school and being put in a special education classes and taught the same nursery rhymes and songs year after year.   She wants to learn.  She’s hurt that no one wants to be a friend and deals with constant bullying when she participates in inclusion classes.

Fortunately for Melody, she has loving parents who advocate for her, and a neighbor who drills Melody every afternoon on words she has written on flash cards to help Melody communicate.   Melody is even more determined, and one day she discovers a special computer that can help her speak.  Melody world begins to change once she gets her Medi-talker.  She is catapulted into some exciting new adventures that are also fraught with disappointment.  But this very courageous girl now has a voice, and she’s not afraid to express her feelings.  Hooray for Melody!

After reading Draper’s very moving novel, I believe there are very important things Melody would want you to know when meeting or working with a child with special needs.  Don’t talk about them as if they are invisible.  Don’t assume that they are brain-damaged and aren’t intelligent.  Always assume they can hear or understand you even if they can’t communicate.  Look directly into  their eyes and talk to them as if they understand you.  Treat them with respect and dignity.  Don’ talk in a loud voice, talk normally.  Don’t look away if you feel awkward.  Smile and say hello.

Draper is “fiercely adamant that nobody feel sorry for Melody.” “I tried hard to make her unforgettable – someone you would never dare feel sorry for,” says Draper.  “I wanted her to be accepted as a person, not as a representative for people with disabilities.  Lots of people have worse difficulties in their lives. As readers embrace the story, I hope that they will cheer for her!”

Sharon Draper is a two-time Coretta Scott King Award-winning author, most recently for Copper Sun, and previously for Forged by Fire.   Visit this award-winning author, educator, speaker, poet and National Teacher of the Year at her website (click here).   Her website contains interviews and information about all of her books.

I also want to say a special thank you to Cathy Mealey for recommending this extraordinary book to me.  Out of My Mind is one of my favorite reads this year.

Reaching for Sun — Cerebral Palsy

Reaching for Sun

Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, author

Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books, 2007,  Fiction, Middle Grade

Suitable for ages: 8 and up

Theme: Cerebral Palsy, Friendship, Disabilities, Single-families

Reaching for Sun is a touching story about Josie Wyatt, a 13-year-old girl, who has a disability.  The novel is written in free verse from Josie’s viewpoint.  It’s simplicity and charm linger with you.  I read it in one afternoon as I couldn’t put it down.   The book is divided into four sections, each representing a season, and the chapters are short.  Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, won the Schneider Family Book Award, which honors an author or illustrator for “an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.”   She certainly is deserving of the honor.

Josie has a mild form of cerebral palsy and wears leg braces.  She knows what it feels like to be different.  Josie attends special education classes at school, and physical, occupational and speech therapy at a clinic.  She experiences social isolation and teasing from classmates.  Josie wants to forget she has a disability.  What she wants most is to have one friend.  She lives on an aging farm with her busy mother, and Grandmother.  She loves the patch of woods around her, nature and working in the gardens with Gran, who teaches Josie everything she knows.   I believe verse works very well because it showcases Josie’s love of nature and the world around her.  To hear Josie comment, “I’m the wisteria vine growing up the arbor of this odd family, reaching for sun,” resonates with her world.

She finds a friend in 12-year-old geeky, Jordan who is a walking encyclopedia on science and nature.   Jordan lives in the neighborhood behind her farm with his widowed father, who has little time for his son.  Jordan is very accepting of Josie, and understands what it feels like not to fit in. They become best friends.  Jordan quickly becomes a member of  Josie’s family and spends hours with them in the gardens.  Says Josie, “He’s always excited about some new experiment to try in the garden or at the lab in his new basement.  But I’ve learned this fact for myself:  Days spin faster than a whirligig in a spring storm by the side of my new friend.”

Reaching for Sun is a beautiful coming-of-age novel that will captivate your heart.  Readers will enjoy spending time with Josie and learning about her world.   I applaud the author for not dwelling on Josie’s cerebral palsy.  Instead we watch Josie blossom throughout the year, and become more than her disability.

Tracie Vaughn Zimmer taught high school children with autism and middle grade school children with developmental and learning disabilities.   Tracie has created hundreds of guides for children’s and young adult literature that are available for free on her blog.  There is a special guide for Reaching for Sun in the Teacher Resources section.

Copyright (c) 2011,  Patricia Howe Tilton, All Rights Reserved

You Can Be a Friend

By:  Tony & Lauren Dungy
Illustrator:  Ron Mazellan
Publisher:  Little Simon Inspirations
Ages: 4-8 yrs.                                                
 
 
 
 
                                   
I purchased You Can Be a Friend,  for my granddaughter before she starts kindergarten next fall.  I am grateful to authors  Tony and Lauren Dungy, for writing this inspirational and important book about family values and friendships.   Having friends is one of the most beneficial aspects of a child’s life.  But what if the child has a disability?   The Dungys artfully show  that “having limitations can never limit the boundaries of friendship.”   The Mazellan’s illustrations are simply beautiful.
 
Jade is over-the-hill excited when she discovers  a new girl moving into the house across the street.  Her wish has come true.  She has grown up in a family of all boys and there are no other girls living nearby.   She will have a friend at last.  The Dungy family bakes cookies for the new family, and they go welcome their new neighbors.   When Jade meets  Hannah, she’s not ready to find her in a wheel chair.   She assumes that Hannah can’t do any of the things that she does.  Jade’s not sure if she can be friends with Hannah.  Over time Jade gets to know Hannah and they become good friends.  Hannah teaches Jade to bowl, they share secrets and   play games.  She also realizes that there are things Hannah can’t do.   Jade’s birthday is approaching and she wants to invite Hannah to her party.  But, the party site will cause problems for her friend.  Jade has some important decisions to make.       
 
You Can Be a Friend is an excellent book for parents to introduce children to disabilities, and a great class room discussion book.  All children want to play and interact with other children.  Children with disabilities want to share similar experiences with their siblings and friends.   Having a good friend means sharing both the good and difficult times.   

Rules — Autism Awareness Month

 In wrapping up Worldwide Autism Awareness Month, I wanted to end my children’s book reviews with Rules, by Cynthia Lord.   This is a chapter book for children in grades 4-7, published by Scholastic Press.  The author won the Newberry Honor and the Schneider Family Book Awards in 2009.   Lord, is the mother of two children, one of whom has autism.  She is also a former teacher and behavioral specialist.

The book cover says it all, “No toys in the fish tank!”   It is one of many rules, that 12-year-old, Catherine has made up to help her autistic brother, David, understand his  world.  There are others too:  Flush!   A boy can’t  take off his pants in public.  This is Catherine’s room.  David must knock!  It’s okay to hug Mom, but not the clerk at the video store.  Don’t chew your food with your mouth open.

Rules, is a very convincing story about the challenges for siblings living with a brother/sister with autism.  For Catherine, it’s about wanting to live a normal life, which is not possible when life revolves around David.  Catherine is an endearing character, struggling with her own identity and wanting to have friends.  She has all the normal feelings of resentment, anger, embarrassment, frustration and jealousy that siblings share.   A diagnosis of autism is very hard on siblings.

Yet for  Catherine, it becomes a fine balancing act.   She loves and fiercely protects her brother, but she also has wants and dreams for herself.    A lot for a 12-year-old girl to handle, as she is attempting to come into her own.  The  rules begin to blur for Catherine as she becomes involved in other friendships.  You begin to wonder who she has really written the rules for — David or herself.   In the end, what is important to Catherine is that everyone is different in their own way.  And, that is okay.

This book is an inspirational read for siblings and their parents, and an exceptional  discussion book for  teachers and students.