The Very Fairy Princess: Valentines from the Heart

The Very Fairy Princess Valentines from 61caklR2VdL__SX496_BO1,204,203,200_The Very Fairy Princess: Valentines from the Heart

Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton, Co-authors

Christine Davenier, Illustrator

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Fiction, December 22, 2015

  • Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Valentine’s Day, Creativity, Compassion, Kindness, Friendship

Opening: “One of my FAVORITE days is coming up — Valentine’s Day! Fairy princesses are at their sparkly best making people smile, and what better way to do that than with a FABULOUS homemade card?”

Synopsis: Gerry makes home-made valentines for her classmates using glitter, sequins, glue and sparkly markers. Her mother gives her one of her father’s folders, to protect her valentines. When there is a mix-up in folders at home, Gerry needs to find another way to deliver her valentine message to her friends.

Why I like this book:

  • Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton have written a delightful reminder that gifts from the heart are meaningful, especially when delivered by a spunky and engaging character, Geraldine. Gerry believes she is a fairy princess because “the sparkle I feel inside tells me that it’s TRUE.” It is impressive how a special word like sparkle, can convey so much self-confidence to a child.
  • Gerry creatively personifies the power of compassion when she delivers her special sparkly message to each classmate. Her friends respond with surprise, kindness and generosity towards Gerry. This kind of authentic interaction between children just doesn’t get any better! Coming from Gerry, it is believable.
  • The book has a new format with bonus stickers and is perfectly suited for young readers. It is an excellent gift for Valentine’s Day.
  • Christine Davenier’s warm, expressive and whimsical pastel illustrations beautifully capture the compassionate tone of this timeless story of friendship for children.

Make sure you check out the other seven books and two Early Readers in the New York Times bestselling Very Fairy Princess series. The books hallmark self-confidence, creativity, problem-solving and radiate inner sparkle. They can be read in any order, but I encourage you to start with the very first book — that is where all the magic begins with Gerry, a passionate and memorable character. They are beautiful gift books. For more information, visit the Julie Andrews Collection and Emma Walton Hamilton’s website.

The Very Fairy Princess Halloweeen 613qu4MOEGL__SX496_BO1,204,203,200_Very Fairy - Grarudation 9780316219600_p0_v1_s260x420The Very Fairy Princess Sparkles9780316219631_p0_v1_s260x420Very Fairy - Flower Girl9780316185615_p0_v1_s260x420

The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd

Key to Extraordinary 51KpzeoJqhL__SX329_BO1,204,203,200_The Key to Extraordinary

Natalie Lloyd, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Feb. 23, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Ancestors, Family Relationships, Friendships, Magic, Community, Cleft Palate

Pages: 240

Opening: “It is a known fact that the most extraordinary moments in a person’s life come disguised as ordinary. It is a known fact for me, at least.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Everyone in Emma’s family is special. Her ancestors include Revolutionary War spies, brilliant scientists, and famous country music singers — every single one of which learned of their extraordinary destiny through a dream.

For Emma, her own destiny dream can’t come soon enough. Right before her mother died, Emma promised that she’d do whatever it took fulfill her destiny, and she doesn’t want let her mother down. But when Emma’s dream finally arrives, it points her toward an impossible task — finding a legendary treasure that’s supposedly hidden near her town’s historic cemetery. If Emma fails, she’ll let down generations of her extraordinary ancestors…including her mother. But how can she find something that’s been missing for centuries and might be protected by a mysterious singing ghost, known as the “Conductor?”

Why I like this book:

Natalie Lloyd has written a captivating tale that will delight readers and take them on a journey to Blackbird Hollow, a Tennessee community where  small-town neighbors care about each other. Lloyd’s writing is lyrical and magical. Her voice is original. Her storytelling and literary style set her a part from other authors. She succeeds in creating an experience for her readers. Fans of her debut novel, A Snicker of Magic, will not be disappointed.

Emma Pearl Casey and her brother live with their Granny Blue, who owns the family Boneyard Café, which sits on the edge of a famous historic graveyard. A ghost wanders among the gravestones at night singing about treasures. The café is where the town folk gather to chat, drink Granny’s famous Boneyard brew (cocoa), and sing and dance the night away. It is a setting where magic happens daily. Flowers and Telling Vines that are  unique only to Blackbird Hollow, whisper messages from the departed.

The characters are quirky, good-hearted, and unforgettable. Emma comes from a lineage of creative and strong women who call themselves the Wildflowers, because they learn about their extraordinary destiny through a dream. Emma still carries the “ache” of missing her mother and is self-conscious of a small scar above her lip, the result of a repaired cleft palate. She is a spirited young Wildflower, who is determined to find the hidden treasure. Eccentric and feisty Granny Blue is a former professional boxer, who has some secrets of her own. Sadness creeps over her as she struggles to keep the café afloat. Uncle Periwinkle tucks violets into his long white beard and shares the ghost songs and magic with Emma.

What an enchanting plot filled with adventure, wonder, mystery and danger. The café is having financial problems and a scrupulous developer wants to purchase the land. Emma gives daily tours of the graveyard to visitors to help support the café. Emma and her best friends, Cody Belle and Earl, embark upon a secret mission to find the hidden treasure so they can save her family’s home and café. They explore the forbidden areas of the graveyard and the search the Wailing Woods, which hold secrets of their own. But treasures can take on different meanings and only the pure of heart can understand their meaning. For Emma, this is a story about believing in yourself and finding courage in the midst of danger.

Visit Natalie Lloyd at her website. She is the author of A Snicker of Magic, an ALA Notable Children’s Book, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, and a Parents Magazine Best Children’s Book.

I received an advanced reading copy of this book. This review reflects my own honest opinion about the book.

Check other Middle Grade review links on Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

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The Baking Life of Amelie Day

Baking Life of Amelie 9781496522160The Baking Life of Amelie Day

Vanessa Curtis, Author

Capstone Young Readers, Sept. 1, 2015

Pages: 167

Suitable for Ages: 9-13

Themes: Cystic Fibrosis, Baking Competitions, Family relationships, Friendship, Trust, Responsibility, Loss

Synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Amelie Day is made of sugar and spice and lives to bake sweet confections for her family and friends.  Her life would be empty without baking.  Flour power dominates her mind.  She is excited when she is invited to compete in the Best Teen Baker of the Year contest, even though she knows that participating is a risk to her worsening cystic fibrosis. There are days when she can barely breathe and many trips to the hospital. When her doctors and parents tell her she is too ill to participate, she defies them and takes a train on her own from Pennsylvania to New York City.  She hopes to wow the judges with her German gingerbread with vanilla custard, her macaroons, and chocolate lava cakes. The trip presents many unexpected challenges and hurts family and friends.

Why I like this book:

I am thrilled to share Vanessa Curtis’ compelling story about a strong protagonist with cystic fibrosis (CF). This work of realistic fiction fits the bill. There is a nice balance between a teen wanting to pursue her dreams and a teen living with a serious illness. Teens with CF will find a hero in Amelie.

The narrative is written in first person and gives the reader deep insight into Amelie and how she finds a way to cope with CF. Her love of baking is the perfect antidote because she isn’t able to participate in many physical activities like her classmates. Amelie is a feisty, creative and determined character. She finds a way to balance her daily treatments, exercises and medications, with school, a job, a boyfriend and her baking dreams. She works part-time at a grocery store to earn her pay in baking supplies. Her parents are supportive but protective. Her childhood friend and boyfriend, Harry, is very accepting of Amelie’s CF.

The plot is interesting, adventurous and entertaining. Themes cover issues of responsibility, trust and independence. It is easy to lose yourself in Amelie’s baking world. I found myself drooling over her recipes. There is plenty of tension to keep readers turning pages. Teens who love to bake, will enjoy the inclusion of recipes of Amelie’s baked goods at the end of many chapters. Here’s to Amelie’s flour power!

Vanessa Curtis is the award-winning author of several young adult novels including Zelah Green (Egmont 2009), which won the Manchester Children’s Book Prize, and The Haunting of Tabitha Gray (Egmont, 2012), a contemporary ghost story with a shocking twist.

Check other Middle Grade review links on Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

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Lost in the Sun

Lost in the Sun9780399164064_p0_v1_s192x300Lost in the Sun

Lisa Graff, Author

Philomel Books, Fiction, May 26, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 10 and up

Themes: Friendship, Loss, Guilt, Disfigured persons, Brothers, Remarriage

Book Jacket Synopsis: Everyone says that middle school is awful, but Trent knows nothing could be worse than the year he had in fifth grade, when he accidentally hit Jared Richards in the chest with a hockey puck out on Cedar Lake. (Who knew that Jared had a heart defect? And that one little hockey puck could be deadly?) Trent’s pretty positive his entire town hates him now, and can’t blame them. So for Trent, middle school feels like a fresh start. He may even join the baseball team, if he wants to.

If only Trent could make the fresh start happen. It isn’t until Trent gets caught up in the whirlwind that is Fallon Little — the girl with the mysterious scar across her face — that things begin to change. Because fresh starts aren’t always easy. Even in baseball, when a fly ball get lost in the sun, you have to remember to shift your position to find it.

Why I like Lost in the Sun:

Lisa Graff has written a compelling coming of age story about Trent, a sixth-grader who blames himself for Jared’s death, is wracked with guilt and doesn’t know how to handle the nightmares from the accident and the rage that burns inside him.

This novel speaks powerfully about deep emotional pain. The plot is complex, realistic and skillfully executed. It digs deeply into many themes that include recovery from a tragedy, a father’s remarriage and a new baby, the relationships between three brothers who play pranks on each other, and Trent’s friendship with Fallon, who also shares a different kind of scar.

The first-person narration by Trent is raw and honest. The characters are believable, vulnerable and memorable. It’s hard not to become attached to the characters in this story. Trent is sarcastic, moody, angry, sensitive and funny. Fallon is taunted by other kids at school about her scar, but is upbeat, wise and strives to be herself. In a way she is fragile like Trent, but her demeanor is opposite. They bond through watching baseball movies and searching for “continuity errors” in the movies. Trent and Fallon are an unlikely pairing, but they support each other on their journey towards healing in unusual ways. Trent’s brothers, Aaron and Doug, are pranksters and provide comic relief.

Although Graff’s novel is written for middle graders, young adults will be drawn to this authentic and emotionally driven story from a boy’s perspective. Visit Lisa Graff at her website.

Check other Middle Grade review links on Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

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The Reindeer Wish

The Reindeer Wish51K66-2f6xL._SX389_BO1,204,203,200_The Reindeer Wish

Lori Evert, Author

Per Breiehagen, Illustrator

Random House for Kids, Fiction, Oct. 6, 2015

Pages: 48

Suitable for Ages: 3-8

Themes: Christmas, Wishes, Reindeer, Arctic region, Nature, Adventure, Friendship

Opening: Long, long ago, far to the north and high in the snowy mountains, where you could ski for days and never see another soul, lived a kind little girl named Anja.

Synopsis: Anja wants a puppy for Christmas. School is out for the holidays and she is lonely. She writes a letter to Santa and places it in the postbox. After spending Christmas Eve skiing down her favorite snowy hill, Anja finds a wild baby reindeer abandoned under a tree. Her parents let her care for the little reindeer in the hay shed. Anja is thrilled with her gift and names the reindeer Odin.

Odin gets stronger daily. By spring, Odin’s antlers begin to grow. Anja and Odin become best friends and spend the summer exploring the budding countryside, the cascading waterfalls, and the mountains.

Anja roofTHE REINDEER WISH_@PER RBEIEHAGEN-19Photograph courtesy of Per Breiehagen

As winter returns early to the arctic, Anja teaches Odin to pull a sleigh. She begins with her little sled packed with heavy sacks. By Christmas, Anja decides Odin is ready to pull her father’s sleigh. They borrow the sleigh and search for the perfect Christmas tree to decorate for Santa. On another journey with Odin, Anja sees a herd of reindeer along a ridge. She wonders if Oden would be happier living with other reindeer. How could she give up her best friend? She knows she must make a decision.

Anja sledTHE REINDEER WISH_@PER RBEIEHAGEN-20Photograph courtesy of Per Breiehagen

Why I like The Reindeer Wish:

  • Lori Evert and her husband, Per Breiehagen, have teamed up to create their second enchanting and richly textured Nordic Christmas tale featuring their rosy-cheeked daughter, Anja. The Reindeer Wish is a magical tale of friendship, bravery and believing. It will give children something to wonder about.
  • The setting is realistic and contributes to the fairy tale charm. Anja is bundled up in authentic 18th century Norwegian clothing, reindeer boots, and slender wooden skis with straps. Her rustic log house has an earthen roof. The text is friendly and imparts information about nature and survival in the arctic.
  • I have shared some of the story, but I have not given away the unexpected ending that will delight both children and adults.
  • Award-winning photographer Per Breiehagen captures this beautiful story with his extraordinary photographs of breathtaking landscapes and playful scenes of Anja interacting with animals and nature. Readers will journey through the seasons in this story and experience the beautiful Northern Lights. Exquisite!
  • This is a beautiful collaborative effort by this husband and wife team, and their daughter Anja. Fans of The Christmas Wish and The Tiny Wish will want to add this heartwarming treasure to their collection. It will open their hearts to the magic and wonder of Christmas.

Anja ornamentTHE REINDEER WISH_@PER RBEIEHAGEN-21Resources: Visit the Random House for Kids for more information about the book. Click on the activity page and download The Reindeer Wish ornaments, a Santa wish list, a reindeer adventure page and coloring pages. Kids can also view a video and send a free Christmas e-card of their favorite photograph to  friends. Make sure you also visit The Christmas Wish website to see enlarged pictures of all three books.

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.

Edward’s Eyes

Edward's Eyes41gicCObHuL._SX371_BO1,204,203,200_Edward’s Eyes

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, 2007

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Family relationships, Baseball, Death, Donation of Organs

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Jake is part of an extraordinary family. He has a life filled with art, music, and long summer nights on the Cape. He has hours and days and months of baseball. But, more than anything in this world, Jake knows he has Edward. From the moment he was born, Jake knew Edward was destined for something. Edward could make anyone laugh and everyone think. During one special year, he became the only one in the neighborhood who could throw a perfect knuckleball. It was a pitch you could not hit. That same year, Jake learned there are also some things you cannot hold.”

Why I liked Edward’s Eyes:

  • Patricia MacLachlan’s unforgettable story is about family relationships, love, laughter and loss. It is a well-written story that is uplifting from the start. It may be about a loss, but is also realistic and inspiring. Some may feel the story is sad, but I experienced it with wonder and awe.
  • Edward’s Eyes is narrated by Jake, who is the youngest until Edward is born. From the first moment Jake looks into baby Edward’s beautiful dark blue eyes, he knows his brother is special. Jake becomes his brother’s teacher. Through Jake we get a sense of a very strong family (five children) that love, play, and raise each other. Edward grows into a a kind, friendly and thoughtful old soul. He seems to know things before anyone else, like his mother is going to have a baby girl and she’ll be named Sabine.
  • The characters are all memorable and well-developed. The pacing is perfect for this short novel and it has the right amount of tension, especially when tragedy unexpectedly strikes the family and community.
  • MacLachlan succeeds in creating an experience for young readers. The language is simple and not complicated. I love the emphasis on a family that supports and treats each other with respect. It’s also a good baseball story that includes community and Edward’s famous knuckleball pitch. And MacLachlan knows how to pack an emotional punch. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but this heartfelt story will tug at your heart, put a smile on your face, and fill you with hope.

Patricia MacLachlan is a Newberry Medalist for her book Sarah, Plain and Tall. I reviewed her powerful 2013 picture book about grief and renewal, Snowflakes Fall, which was dedicated to the families of Newtown and Sandy Hook, CT. I also reviewed Fly Away and The Truth of Me,  both middle grade novels about complicated family relationships.

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Written in the Stars

Written in the Stars9780399171703_p0_v2_s192x300Written in the Stars

Aisha Saeed, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction,  Mar. 24, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 14-17

Themes: Forced Marriages, Pakistani-American teen, Diversity,

Synopsis: Naila is a responsible and trustworthy daughter to her immigrant Pakistani parents. Steeped in cultural tradition, her parents allow her to attend a Florida high school, study subjects she likes, wear her hair how she wishes, dress like the other students and choose her career path in college. The only thing she is not allowed to do is date boys or choose a husband. Naila falls in love with Sajf, a Pakistani-American boy, during her senior year. She keeps her secret and meets Saif for lunch everyday. When Naila disobeys her parents and sneaks to the senior prom with Saif, her parents are outraged at her betrayal of trust and humiliated by their close-knit community. In attempt to help Naila understand her heritage, they pull her out of school, travel to Pakistan to visit relatives. Naila enjoys meeting so many family members and bonding with her cousin, Selma. Her vacation turns into a nightmare when her parents betray her, force her into an arranged marriage with Amin, and then leave Pakistan. She is alone living with a strange family, who see her as their ticket to America. Is this Naila’s destiny or is there any hope for escape?

What I love about Written in the Stars:

  • Aisha Saeed has masterfully written a bold, heart wrenching and complex cross-cultural novel that will be an eye-opener for many young readers. It is also beautiful love story between two Pakistani-American teens.
  • The setting is culturally rich for teens reading Written in the Stars. It is about Pakistani traditions, extended families living together, food preparations, small villages, the landscape, neighbors knowing everyone’s business, and shopping in local markets.
  • The first-person narrative with Naila offers greater depth into her character. Naila is a strong and determined protagonist. Her anger and pain are palpable, as is her desire to escape. All of the characters are well-developed, memorable and stay with you after you finish. The plot is suspenseful and brutal at times. The author shows much of the action, which is more powerful than words. The reader experiences Naila’s prison. Written in the Stars is a page-turner and I could not put it down. The ending is unexpected.
  • The author shares that although her own marriage was arranged by her parents, she wrote the book to shed light on the many arranged forced marriages.  I have never read anything like this powerful book, and I mean that as a compliment. Saeed sheds so much light on the problem of forced marriages in America and around the world. Although her characters are American-Pakistani, Saeed points out that “the issue is not limited to one particular culture or religion.”

Resources: There is a lovely Author’s Note at the end, along with resources for individuals needing advice, and a glossary. Visit Aisha Saeed at her website.

Aisha Saeed is a Pakistani American writer, teacher and attorney. Written in the Stars is her debut novel. She is on of the founding members of the We Need Diverse Books Campaign.