Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson

Hattie Ever After9780375850905_p0_v1_s260x420Hattie Ever After

Kirby Larson, Author

Delacorte Press, Fiction, 2013

Suitable for ages: 12-17

Themes: Self-reliance,  Orphans,  Dreams, Reporter, San Francisco, Friendships, Historical Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: Great Falls, Montana, 1919. When Hattie mails off her last check to Mr. Nefzger, her uncle’s debt is paid in full. Now she is free to go anywhere, away from Mrs. Brown’s boarding house and the less-than-glamorous life of a chambermaid.  Hattie’s dear friend Perilee urges her to do the sensible thing and join her family in Seattle. But Hattie is not prone to the sensible. What sensible girls would say yes to spending a year under Montana’s big sky trying to make a go of a long-lost uncle’s homestead claim? And what sensible girl would say no to Charlie, who is convinced he and Hattie are meant to grow old together?

For all its challenges and sorrows, Hattie’s time on the homestead gave her a taste of what it might be like to stake her own claim on life.  She hasn’t yet confessed it to anyone, not ever to Perilee, but Hattie has thrown a lasso around a dream even bigger than a Montana farm.  She wants to be a big-city reporter.  Thanks to a vaudeville vanishing act, a mysterious love token, an opera star, and her unique ability to throw a snake ball, it looks like Hattie just might have a chance.  And it is an opportunity for her to discover the truth about her “scoundrel” uncle and in the process learn more about herself.

What I love about this book:

  • Kirby Larson returns with a sequel to her Newbery Honor Book, Hattie Big Sky. She couldn’t leave her readers wondering what happened to her memorable character, Hattie Inez Brooks, after she leaves the Montana homestead.
  • The author brings history alive in this sequel, accurately recreating the setting for San Francisco in 1919. Readers will experience the inequality of women in the workplace, the shortening of dresses and bobbed hairstyles, an earthquake, the smells of China Town, the clanging of street cars, and the bay area before the Golden Gate Bridge is constructed.
  • Hattie’s character grows in self-confidence after her year on the prairie. She is spunky and even more determined to follow her dreams to become a big-city newspaper reporter in a man’s world, where women write society columns. That’s not for strong-willed Hattie, who pays her dues as she moves up from a fact finder at the Chronicle to covering baseball games,  rides in a Boeing seaplane, and snags an exclusive interview with President Woodrow Wilson.
  • Her story is packed with action and tension. There is a mystery, an unexpected betrayal , a romantic under current, and other twists that kept me quickly turning the pages.  Hattie Ever After is a very satisfying conclusion to Kirby’s Hattie Big Sky.  Hattie is no longer the orphan trying to find home.

Kirby Larson is the author of Hattie Ever After, Duke, Dash, The Fences Between Us and The Friendship Doll.  Check out Kirby Larson’s website and my reviews of Hattie Big Sky and Dash.

The Olive Tree by Elsa Marston

Olive Tree9781937786298_p0_v1_s260x420The Olive Tree

Elsa Marston, Author

Claire Ewart, Illustrator

Wisdom Tales, Fiction, Nov. 1, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Olive Tree, Neighbors, Lebanon, Middle East, Sharing, Friendship, Peace, Multicultural

Opening: For many years the house next to Sameer’s had stood empty. “What a pity!” his mother often said. The family who lived there had gone away during the troubles, because they were different from most of the people in the village. But now, the long war was over, and they were coming back.

Synopsis:  Sameer leans on an old stone wall that divides the property between two families. Above him an ancient olive tree grows on the other side of the wall, but the best olives fall on his family’s property. He eagerly watches the family move back into their home and hopes that they have a boy with whom he  can play. But Muna doesn’t want to play with Sameer, or share her family’s olives. One night during a storm, lightning strikes the olive tree and it crashes to the ground. Even the stone wall is broken. Will the two children find a way to resolve their differences?

What I like about this book:

  • Elsa Marston’s The Olive Tree is a richly textured and realistic story about two Lebanese children who struggle to get along after a war, learn to share, and find friendship through adversity.
  • The narrative is simple and lyrical. There is tension between Sameer and Muna, who are from two different families with different backgrounds. When their beloved olive tree is struck by lightning, they work silently together to clear the broken branches from their yards. They move beyond their anger, reconcile and heal.
  • The symbolism is appropriate with the broken stone wall, the toppled tree, and the olive branch (a peace-offering.)
  • This book is a reminder that our actions toward peace and reconciliation are powerful and unifying. They do make an important difference in the lives of those around us.
  • Children will gain a glimpse into a contemporary Lebanon and its culture. Marston was in Lebanon at the outbreak of the war and after it was over.  She was moved to write this hopeful middle eastern story.
  • This healing multicultural book belongs in school libraries as it will encourage many interesting discussions among students.
  • Claire Ewart’s beautiful illustrations are warm and colorful watercolors that draw the reader into the story from the first page. Her artwork is expressive and supports the emotion and tension in the story.

Resources: Visit Elsa Marston’s website to learn more about The Olive Tree.  She has included some background information about Lebanon, the culture, the civil war and discussion questions for the classroom.  I especially like her role-playing suggestions.

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.

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

Hattie Big Sky9780385735957_p0_v1_s260x420Hattie Big Sky

Kirby Larson, Author

Random House Children’s Books, Fiction, 2008

Awards: Newbery Honor Books

Suitable for Ages: 12-17

Themes: Homesteading, Prairie, Montana, Prejudice, Friendship

Publisher Synopsis: Alone in the world, teen-aged Hattie is driven to prove up on her uncle’s homesteading claim. For years, sixteen-year-old Hattie’s been shuttled between relatives. Tired of being Hattie Here-and-There, she courageously leaves Iowa to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim near Vida, Montana. With a stubborn stick-to-itiveness, Hattie faces frost, drought and blizzards. Despite many hardships, Hattie forges ahead, sharing her adventures with her friends–especially Charlie, fighting in France–through letters and articles for her hometown paper.

Her backbreaking quest for a home is lightened by her neighbors, the Muellers. But she feels threatened by pressure to be a “Loyal” American, forbidding friendships with folks of German descent. Despite everything, Hattie’s determined to stay until a tragedy causes her to discover the true meaning of home.

Why I liked this book:

  • It is based on Kirby Larson’s great-grandmother successful attempt to homestead in Montana in  1918. She heard the story long after her great-grandmother passed and began researching and reading diaries of people in the area.
  • Larson writes a powerful and authentic story about the harsh realities of life and work for any homesteader, let alone 16-year-old Hattie Inez Brooks. The setting is so realistic that readers will feel like they are there with Hattie digging and placing every fence post in the frozen earth to stake out her claim, plowing the fields and sharing in her adventure every step of the way.
  • The narrative is rich and visual. The story is packed with details of Hattie’s care for her livestock (a cow, horse and chicken) planting, harvesting, extreme weather, worry over paying bills and saving enough money to pay off her uncle’s claim, experiencing prejudices and making true friendships.
  • Great characters make a book and Larson has succeeded with Hattie, a brave, intelligent and independent character from the start. Her credibility grows as she learns to draw deep within herself to deal with raw reality of the hardships she faces, including the loss of her claim at the end. Even that doesn’t defeat her because what she may have lost she gained in deep friendships, values and knowing she gave homesteading her very best effort.
  • The plot is filled with suspense, tension and action, which will keep readers quickly turning pages.
  • Hattie is a hero and a great role model for teenage girls.  This books belongs in every middle grade and high school library.
  • Larson wrote a sequel, Hattie Ever After, in 2013. Readers can follow Hattie to see where her dreams lead her and if she finds her place in the world. I will soon review the sequel.

Kirby Larson is the author of Hattie Ever After, Duke, Dash, The Fences Between Us and The Friendship Doll.  Check out Kirby Larson’s website and my review of Dash.

You and Me – Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds

You and Me9781419711978_p0_v1_s260x420You and Me

Susan Verde, Author

Peter H. Reynolds, Illustrator

Abrams Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jan. 6, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Best Friends, Cats, Friendship, Fate, Rhyme

Opening: “Sometimes I think of how things came to be. / How we met. / How we became best friends. / You and me.”

Publisher’s SynopsisYou and Me is a loving tribute to how fate brought two best friends together. An adorable cat muses about the what-ifs in life: What if he had slept late that one special morning? What if he’d missed his train on that fateful day? Then he might never have met his favorite person in the world, and his entire life would be different!

Why I like this book: Susan Verde has written a charming tale about a serendipitous meeting between two cats at a train station– one yellow and the other purple. It is a heartwarming story about a friendship.

  • You and Me introduces children to the curious concept of life encounters that are due to chance meetings, perfect timing, fate or serendipity. The theme may seem a little big for children, but it is a concept they will quickly grasp, question and have great fun discussing.
  • Children will be amused with the yellow cat’s “what if’s.” “What if I had slept in, cover pulled up to my chin?…If I had sung opera in the shower…Or if the clock had been slow and I was late, lingering over my breakfast plate…”  Would they have ever become friends forever?
  • Verde’s narrative text is lyrical, sweet and simple for children. Adults will enjoy reading this lighthearted tale to children and reminiscing over serendipitous moments and magical encounters in their own lives.
  • Peter H. Reynolds’ illustrations are lively, whimsical and add a joyful spirit to the special friendship between the two cats.  His colorful illustrations are rendered in pen and ink, watercolor, and are playful and expressive. Great collaboration between Reynolds and Verde.
  • Visit Verde and Reynolds at their websites.

Resources: Who doesn’t like to think about fate, destiny, chance meetings, fate and serendipity. Big words for kids, but easily understood and fun to play with.  This story will trigger interesting conversations with children about the role of perfect timing plays out in their own lives. Ask them how they met some of their friends. Was it unplanned or unexpected? Was it a surprise? Did it lead to a friendship? This would make for a fun family or classroom 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.

Rain Reign – Middle Grade

Rain Reign9780312643003_p0_v2_s260x420Rain Reign

Ann M. Martin, Author

Feiwel and Friends, Fiction, Oct. 7, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Winner: 2015 Charlotte Huck Award Winner and the 2015 Schneider Family Book Award

Themes: Animals, Autism Spectrum, Homonyms, Separation, Friendship, Family Relationships, Bravery, Hope

Pages: 223

Opening: “I am Rose Howard and my first name has a homonym. To be accurate, it has a homophone, which is a word that’s pronounced the same as another word but spelled differently My homophone names is Rows.

Book Jacket Synopsis: Rose Howard is obsessed with homonyms. She’s thrilled that her own name is a homonym, and she purposely gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein) which, according to Rose’s rules of homonyms, is very special. Not everyone understands Rose’s obsessions, her rules, or the other things that make her different–not her teachers, not other kids, and not her single father. When a storm hits their rural town, rivers overflow, roads are flooded, and Rain goes missing. Rose’s father should not have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search.

Why I like this book: Rain Reign is told from Rose’s point of view. Superb storytelling by Ann Martin who helps her readers experience Rose’s high-functioning mind as she navigates her autistic world. This is not a story about disability, or autism, but a story about a fifth grader who uses her unique abilities and strengths to break some of her rules and routines to search for her lost dog, Rain. Martin’s narrative is seamless and gripping.  Her characters are believable with strong personalities, characteristics and quirks. The story is as captivating and creative as it is heartbreaking. It is set in a small rural town that is ravaged by a hurricane. The plot is well-paced with just the right amount of tension to keep readers intrigued, engaged and guessing. This is a realistic story that is emotionally honest and filled with heart.

Ann M. Martin is the author of Ten Rules for Living with My Sister, Ten Good and Bad Things About My Life, and Everything for a Dog, all from Feiwel and Friends. She won a Newbery Honor Award for A Corner of the Universe, and is the author of the beloved Baby-sitters Club series.

The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm

Rhino9780990539506_p0_v2_s260x420The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm

LeVar Burton and Susan Schaefer Bernardo, Authors

Courtenay Fletcher, Illustrator

Reading Rainbow, Fiction, Oct. 7, 2014

Themes: Comforting a child after a tragedy, Dealing with emotions and feelings

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Opening: “In the middle of the morning, Mica Mouse trembled under her blanket. A storm boomed outside her window. Rain crashed against the glass. Wind rattled the shutters.”  

Synopsis: Mica mouse is afraid of storms because she lost her home the year before to a powerful hurricane.  Papa reassures Mica that they are safe and the storm will soon pass. To calm Mica, Papa reads her a story about a little Rhinoceros who lives happy and carefree until one day a raging storm destroys everything around him. Angry, he opens his jaws and swallows the storm.  He digs himself into a deep hole until some friends pull him out. Swallowing the storm makes him feel awful, so the little Rhino sets out on a journey to heal himself. Along the way he meets wise animal friends who guide him.

Why I like this book: Sometimes scary things happen to children and they don’t know how to cope. LeVar Burton and Susan Schaefer Bernardo have co-authored this powerful and compelling story that will help children deal with tragic events in their lives. The book  is really two stories in one. The opening is written in prose. And, I detect Bernardo’s beautiful and lifting rhyme in the little Rhino’s story. I love the metaphor of the storm and the Rhino burying his feelings until his friends encourage him to let them go. Even the typeset words and lines have movement that mirror the action. Courtenay Fletcher’s stunning and colorful  illustrations take the reader on a visual journey through the darkest moments of death and destruction of the ravine, the Rhino’s loneliness and despair, to his steps towards healing and making new friendships. This picture book is a beautiful collaboration between the authors and illustrator. It is a book I would recommend parents add to their book shelves because it can be used for many different situations to comfort a frightened child.

Resources: At the end of the book is a discussion section with eight great questions that help children and parents take a deeper look inside the story. The discussion encourages children to share their feelings and explore how they handle difficult times. This book is also a good resource for teachers and counselors.

LeVar Burton: Actor, director, and educator LeVar Burton has been an icon for more than 35 years. It’s his 31 years as host, producer, and now co-owner of Reading Rainbow that have given Burton his greatest impact, delivering the message of the importance of literacy and reading to generations of children.

Co-author and poet Susan Schaefer Bernardo and illustrator Courtenay Fletcher created their first book Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs to help children deal with separation and loss.  It’s one of my favorite healing books for children. Click here to read the review.

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.

Armond Goes to a Party

ArmondGoesToAPartyArmond Goes to a Party: A Book about Asperger’s and Friendship

Nancy Carlson, Author and Illustrator, and her friend Armond Isaak

Free Spirit Publishing, Fiction, Apr. 15, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Asperger’ syndrome, Autism Spectrum, Friendship, Socialization, Coping

Opening: “You can read any time,” his mom said. “But parties make me nervous,” Armond said. “What if balloons pop?” “And parties are disorganized. I don’t like when things are disorganized.”

Synopsis: Armond has been invited to his best friend Felicia’s birthday party. Instead of being excited, Armond is anxious and worried. He recites all the reasons about why he shouldn’t go. The party may be too noisy.  He may feel invisible and lonely. And, he always plays basketball every Saturday. Armond’s mother reminds him that Felicia will feel sad if he doesn’t attend.  After all, Felicia is his best friend, doesn’t care that he has Asperger’s, and talks all the time about dinosaurs. Armond decides to attend the party. With the support of Felicia and her mother, he is able to make it through the party and have fun.

Why I like this book:  This is a realistic and humorous portrayal of what it’s like for a child with Asperger’s to socialize with other children. The story is inspired by Armond Isaak, who participated in Nancy Carlson’s writing classes when he was seven years old. The author was inspired by Armond’s stories about his life with Asperger’s syndrome.  When he approached her a few years later to help him turn his stories into a book, she agreed.  The book is about learning how to cope in situations where you are uncomfortable, learning to be a better friend and realizing your aren’t alone. Nancy Carlson’s illustrations are vivid, colorful, emotive and include diversity. Armond’s facial expressions are priceless. This is an excellent book that offers helpful coping advice to  children on the autism spectrum and for those who care about them. This is an ideal book  for classrooms.

Nancy Carlson is an accomplished children’s book author and illustrator who has published 65 children’s books.

Armond Isaak is now 14 years old and in middle school. Besides reading books, he loves Legos, acting, and playing the trumpet. He is also a proud Boy Scout.

Resources: There is a note for parents and teachers at the end of the book with suggestions about helping children make friends, learn social skills, and encourage empathy.  Armond shares his thoughts about living with Asperger’s syndrome with the hopes it will help other kids.  You may want to visit Nancy Carlson’s website for more information and a video of Nancy and Armond being interviewed on television.

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.