Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord

Half a Chance9780545035330_p0_v2_s260x420Half a Chance

Cynthia Lord, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Feb. 25, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Moving, Photography, Friendship, Dementia

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Lucy Emery’s family has moved to an old cottage on a New Hampshire lake. Her father is a famous photographer and takes off on another travel shoot before the family settles. Lucy misses her father and is tired of starting over again.  When she discovers that her father is judging a photography contest for youth, she is eager to enter to see if she has talent.  She enters anonymously. She studies the photo scavenger hunt list and begins to take photos of her new lake surroundings. Lucy meets her neighbor Nate and his family, who visit their  Grandmother Lilah at her cottage every summer. Nate likes Lucy’s photographs and wants to help her with the contest. Lucy enjoys being with Nate’s family and learns that his grandmother is a naturalist. Since Grandmother Lilah is in poor health, Nate invites Lucy to help with the family “Loon Patrol.” Their goal is to help keep the endangered loons safe, carefully document their activity in a journal and report their findings. Lucy photographs the loons and  the birth of their chicks. Through her photos of the loons, the mountains, the lake and the community, Lucy also captures pictures of Grandmother’ Lilah’s memory loss, something that Nate’s not ready to see.

Why I like this book: This is a heartwarming coming of age story by Cynthia Lord, author of the 2007 Newbery Honor book Rules. It is a lazy summer read that is so captivating that you feel like you’re there with Lucy, Nate and the lake. Half a Chance is packed with adventure, wonder, friendship, artistic endeavors, and nature. Lord’s characters are realistic and engaging. The story is narrated by Lucy who gives readers a good feel for life on the lake. She struggles with ambivalence towards her father and a need for him to notice her photographic work. She encounters rivalry and the complexities of new friendships. Nate deals with Grandmother Lilah’s dementia. The plot is well-paced and readers won’t want the story to end. It is a fresh concept for a story with a satisfying ending. I highly recommend this book for tweens. Click here to visit Cynthia Lord’s website.

A Snicker of Magic

A Snicker of Magic9780545552707_p0_v3_s260x420A Snicker of Magic

Natalie Lloyd, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Feb. 25, 2014

Suitable for ages: 8-12 (Grades 3-7)

Themes: Magic, Single-parent families, Moving, Mothers and daughters, Friendship

Synopsis: Felicity Juniper Pickle and her mama, sister and dog are on the move again. They’ve been moving all over the country ever since her father left them five years earlier. Felicity feels her mother is cursed with a wandering heart. And she’s tired of starting over in a new town, a new school and with new friends. When Mama’s van, the Pickled Jalapeno, heads to her Aunt Cleo’s home in Midnight Gulch, Felicity feels that her luck may be changing. She loves hearing Mama’s stories about Midnight Gulch being a magical place where people sing up thunderstorms, make ice cream that brings back sweet and sour memories, and bake secrets into pies. One day the city is cursed and the magic leaves. The only kind of magic Felicity is interested in is the kind that would make her mama stay put.

Felicity, who is 12 years old, collects words and writes them in her blue book and on her tennis shoes. She sees words hover around people light as feathers or heavy as burdens. Other words sparkle, dance and shine like stars. But in Midnight Gulch Felicity sees words like magical, bittersweet, sorrowful, splendiferous, factofabulous, believe, stay, friend and home. Felicity still feels the magic in the town and knows it is hiding.  At school she becomes best friends with Jonah Pickett, who navigates the town in his wheelchair doing acts of kindness. Together they begin to unravel the town’s secrets of the curse of the mysterious Brothers Threadbare. Will Felicity and Jonah find a way to release the curse, bring back the joy and magic to Midnight Gulch, and find a permanent home for the gypsy Pickles?

Why I like this book: Once in a while you discover a book that touches your soul and you know from the start that it is something very special to read. And when you finish that book, you want to go back to the beginning and start all over. This charming and delicious debut novel by Natalie Lloyd is magical from the first page and full of child appeal. Its literary style will captivate many adults. The language is lyrical and the plot is strong. There is a large cast of lovable, quirky and very talented characters who deal with real-life issues of loss, divorce, disabilities, bullying and loneliness.  This is an inspiring story about family, friends, and hope. A Snicker of Magic is an extraordinary magical experience and spindiddly fabulous!

Visit Natalie Lloyd at her website.

While You Were Out

While You Were Out9780142406281_p0_v1_s260x420While You Were Out

J. Irvin Kuns, Author

Dutton Children’s Books, Fiction, 2006

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes:  Loss of a friend, Grief, Family, Hope, Healing, School

Synopsis: Penelope is about to start fifth grade without her best friend, Tim, who died of cancer during the summer. Not only is she dealing with the grief of losing Tim, she is also dealing with the fact that her quirky father will be the new school janitor. And her irritating next door neighbor, Diane, thinks she can replace Tim as her best friend.  Memories of Tim are everywhere, including the empty desk right next to her and their favorite oak tree near the playground. Finding a way to cope with her loneliness, she begins to write notes to Tim on her pink While You Were Out notepad, folds them and puts them inside Tim’s empty desk — “I hugged our tree today. I think it hugged me back.”  After receiving a mysterious note with a poem about grief on her desk one day, she realizes someone else misses Tim as much as she does.  Perhaps she will be able to survive fifth grade without Tim.

Why I like this story: J. Irvin Kuns has written a very sensitive and realistic story about grief, loneliness, hope, healing and the power of words that help a child move forward again.  Written in first person, Penelope is authentic, smart and beautifully expresses her feelings, mixed with some sarcasm and humor. Her overactive father is imperfect and embarrassing when he jumps rope and plays marbles on the playground. He acts more like a student than the janitor. The book does show how Penelope finds a way of moving forward after losing her best friend and schoolmate.  This is a very moving story that would help children deal with loss.

Erik the Red Sees Green

Erik the Red9781480453845_p0_v1_s260x420Erik the Red Sees Green

Julie Anderson, Author

David Lopez, Illustrator

Albert Whitman & Company, Fiction, Oct. 15, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 2-7

Themes: Color Blindness, School, Friendship, Teamwork

Opening: “Erik the Red was a wonderful kid. Ask anyone. He wondered if fish got thirsty. He wondered why he couldn’t tickle himself…Sometimes he wondered what life would be like without a nickname, but from the day he was born he was Erik the Red.”

Synopsis: At school, everything seems to be going wrong for Erik.  In soccer, he kicks the ball to the wrong team. In class he messes up his reading homework and misses half the math problems written on the board. Erik is teased in art class when he draws a self-portrait and paints his own hair green. A trip to the doctor confirmed that Erik’s painting isn’t wrong — he is color blind.

What a like about this book: Julie Anderson’s book is an uplifting story about a strong and self-confident boy  who seems to do everything wrong, but doesn’t know why. Once he understands his visual issues, he takes charge and talks to his class about his color blindness and invites them to ask questions. Erik sees colors, but just differently. He says, “I like to think I am color vision quirky!” Because his color deficiency is diagnosed, his teacher makes black-and-white copies of math assignments. His parents and friends jump in with other solutions to help Erik in a positive way.  This is an excellent story about everyone working together to help Erik. Even young children will understand the language. David Lopez’s illustrations are colorful and create a happy atmosphere for Erik.

Resources:  The author has included a double-page spread of information about color vision deficiency. The book is a great resource for parents, teachers and children. Visit the Color Blind Awareness website, where you can actually experience color deficiency and learn about why it effects more men then women.

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 Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

Invisible Boy 9781582464503_p0_v1_s260x420The Invisible Boy

Trudy Ludwig, Author

Patrice Barton, Illustrator

Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House for Kids, Fiction, Oct. 8, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes: Feeling invisible and left out, Popularity, Friendship, School

Opening: “Can you see Brian, the invisible boy?  Even Mrs. Carlotti has trouble noticing him in her classroom.  She’s too busy dealing with Nathan and Sophie.”

Synopsis:  Brian feels invisible to his teacher and friends at school.  He is with them, but  not really.  At lunch he eats alone.  At recess the other kids don’t pick him to play on their kick-ball team.  During class when the other children play board games and read, Brian draws dragons, pirates, space aliens and super heroes.   When Mrs. Carlotti introduces Justin, a new student to the class, the other kids poke fun at his Korean lunch.  Brian draws Justin a special picture to make him feel better.  Justin invites Brian to work with him on a school project.  Brian’s artwork shows his unique talent and the students notice.

What I like about this story:  What child has not felt invisible at some time in school.  Trudy Ludwig masterfully tells a heartfelt story about a boy who wants to belong, but is ignored by others.  Even his teacher doesn’t pay a lot of attention to Brian because she has to deal with other high-maintenance children in the classroom.  Brian is kind-hearted and finds his own way to make a friend and gain the acceptance of the other students.  Ludwig’s book is an excellent resource for any parent or teacher looking for material that addresses shy and quiet students.  It is isn’t preachy and Brian solves his own problem.  Patrice Barton’s artwork is creative and perfect for the book.  The cover is in muted pastels which sets the tone for the story.  In the beginning pages, Brian is a black and white sketch, while the classroom is shown in full color.  When Justin befriends Brian, a little color begins to appear.  As Brian asserts himself in the class project he is revealed in full color.  This a great collaborative effort between Ludwig and Barton.

Resources:  Ludwig has included a backpage of questions for classroom discussion and suggested reading lists for adults and children.  I received a poster with an educator’s guide, activities and questions for group discussions and goal-setting.  Ludwig is a nationally known author whose work focuses on helping children cope with and thrive in the social world.   She is an active member of the International Bullying Prevention Association and a sought-after-speaker.  Visit Trudy Ludwig at her website.  Random House has created a free Bullying Discussion Guide for teachers and librarians to use with Ludwig’s books.  It includes ready-made lesson plans and activities that follow the common core state standards.

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.

Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly

Harmonic Feedback9780805090109_p0_v1_s260x420Harmonic Feedback

Tara Kelly, Author

Henry Holt and Company, YA Fiction, 2010

Suitable for ages: 14 – 18

Themes: Asperger’s Syndrome, Friendship, Music, Emotional Problems, Drug Abuse

Synopsis:  Sixteen-year-old Drea knows what it feels like to be an outsider.  Her mother is once again moving Drea to another town and school — this time to her grandmother’s  home in Bellingham, WA.  Drea also is diagnosed with ADHD and a mild form of Asperger’s syndrome. The last thing she wants is to be labeled.  Life isn’t easy and she finds the world confusing.  Her real desire is to just make sense to herself.  Drea is intelligent, musically gifted and passionate about sound design.  She meets two other outsiders, free-spirited Naomi, who flirts with drugs and danger, and Justin, who is persistent and may even like Drea. They share her love of music and form a rock band.  For the first time in her life Drea finds two true friends who accept and care about her.  But, as in many relationships there will be joy, pain, grief and hope.

Why I like this book:  A debut novel for Tara Kelly, Harmonic Feedback is a brilliant and complex book about finding your way in a world that doesn’t always make sense to you.  It is both uplifting and tragic as Drea makes her first-ever friends.  Tara delves deeply into the thoughts and feelings of Drea so that you really experience her world.  Naomi and Justin are stand-out characters, each struggling with their own challenges.  The plot is strong making this story a real page-turner. In writing Harmonic Feedback, Tara was clear that her novel “is not about defining Asperger’s syndrome or ADHD.”   It is a story about the turmoil of teenagers trying to figure out their lives.  It is a book that teens will relate to.  After all, who hasn’t felt like an outsider.  Make sure you read the author’s back pages. Visit Tara Kelly at her website and learn more about her recent novel Amplified.  Tara is a one-girl band, writer, filmmaker, video editor, and digital photographer.

Each Kindness

Each Kindness9780399246524_p0_v2_s260x420Each Kindness

Jacqueline Woodson, Author

E. B. Lewis, Illustrator

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, 2012

Suitable for Ages: 4 -8

Themes: Acceptance, Kindness, Friendship

OpeningOne morning, as we settled into our seats, the classroom door opened and the principal came in.  She had a girl with her, and she said to us, “This is Maya.”  Maya looked down at the floor.  I think I heard her whisper Hello.

Synopsis:  When Chloe first meets Maya, she notices her clothes are old and tattered and the strap on one of her shoes is broken.   The teacher assigns Maya to sit next to Chloe.  Maya manages to smile and say hello, but Chloe turns and looks out the window.  Chloe and her friends play and eat lunch together, but ignore Maya’s attempts to join them.  Whenever Mayas asks to play with the other girls, they say no.  Then one day Maya’s seat is empty.  After their teacher talks about kindness and its ripple effect, Chloe realizes that she and her friends have been wrong in their treatment of Maya.  Is it to late?

Why I like this book:  I am a Jacqueline Woodson fan.  She takes on relevant subjects for children, like kindness. Her text is lyrical.  Each Kindness is a story that will stay with a child.  I am pleased there is no tidy ending in this story.  Maya is gone.  Chloe is left to think about her actions and how she lost an opportunity to make things right with Maya.  The soft watercolor illustrations by E.B. Lewis really set the tone for the book and convey a lot of emotion.  The last illustration is priceless and beautifully expresses Chloe’s sadness and feeling of loss.  A beautiful collaboration between Woodson and Lewis.  I also reviewed another book they collaborated on The Other Side.

Resources:  This is a great discussion book for the classroom.  It focuses on the ripple effect of our actions towards others.   Visit Jacqueline Woodson at her website and learn more.

Awards:  Coretta Scott King Honor Book, 2013 Jane Addams Peace Award, 2013 Charlotte Zolotow Award, Best Book of 2012 – School Library Journal

The Moon Children

Moon Children41-eZ6u0MzL__SY300_The Moon Children

Beverley Brenna, Author

Red Deer Press, Fiction, 2007

Suitable for Ages: 9 and up

Themes:  Fetal Alcoholism Spectrum Disorder (FASD), Foreign Adoption, Friendship, Abilities

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Billy Ray is unhappy because his father has left home and the things they planned to do together aren’t going to happen.  His mother is pregnant, and works a lot.  A watchful older neighbor is a great cook, invites Billy to visit daily and treats him to a good meal.  School is hard for Billy because he has Fetal Alcoholism Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and he has many challenges.  He can’t sit still without falling out of a chair.  He is unable to focus on schoolwork.  Words get jumbled in his mind and he can’t read.  Billy is a target for bullies.  He wonders what’s wrong with him.  If only he can enter the talent show at the local park and impress his father with the 21 tricks he’s mastered with his Typhoon yo-yo.  Will his father show?

Billy needs a friend and discovers that one of his classmates, an adopted Romanian girl, lives across the street from him.  Natasha never talks and Billy occasionally gets her to smile.  An unlikely friendship develops between the Billy and Natasha and they share secrets.  Billy discovers Natasha is keeping a moon journal.  Every day she draws a picture of the phase of the moon and writes.  He feels her sadness and knows there is a hidden story she’s trying to tell.  His  friendship with Natasha show’s Billy’s many abilities — he’s compassionate, caring, and helps Natasha  when no one else can.  Even though he has his heart set on winning that talent contest, Billy discovers what is most important in his life.

Why I like this book:  Beverley Brenna has chosen complex topics and presented them in a very positive manner, focusing on abilities over challenges.  Brenna writes believable characters that stay with you long after you put the book down.  You don’t realize that Billy has FASD right away, but you experience the roller coaster he rides daily.   FASD is revealed when he overhears his parents talking about “the new baby won’t be like Billy.”  This comment upsets and confuses Billy until he talks with his mother and learns about her drinking problem during her pregnancy with him.  Brenna carefully handles this topic with concern for Billy and his mother.  Brenna also tackles the subject of  Romanian adoptions and the difficult adjustments for the children in their new homes in Canada and America.  This is an excellent book for kids with FASD to read so they can better understand themselves through Billy.  It’s also a good book for the classroom.

Resources:   Beverley Brenna has a teacher’s guide for The Moon Children.   Visit her website to view all the books she’s authored.   And, click here for information on the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS).  The website provides a wealth of information for those interested.

Toodles and Teeny

Toodles9781433811982_p0_v1_s260x420Toodles and Teeny:  A Story About Friendship

Jill Neimark and Marcella Bakur Weiner, Authors

JoAnne Adinolfi, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Awards: 2012 Gold Medal Winner, Mom’s Choice Awards

Themes:  Building Healthy Friendships, Best Friends, Animals

Opening:  Toodles the Turkey had no best friend.  She had oodles of playmates/And all kinds of play dates with Cathy the Cow and Omar the Owl/With Streaky the Barn Cat/And Boo-Boo the Barn Bat.”

Synopsis:  Although Toodles has many friends who keep her busy, she feels lonely because she doesn’t have a best friend.  One day by the pond she meets Teeny, a tiny white turkey who is also lonely.  Toodles and Teeny spend the entire summer together eating berries and chestnuts, taking naps on the hillside, telling silly stories, fishing in the pond and chatting about everything.  Back in the barnyard, the other animals miss Toodles and wonder why she isn’t playing with them anymore.  They find Toodles and Teeny by the pond and are angry that they have been ignored all summer.  Will Toodles have to make a choice?

Why I like this book:   Jill and Marcella have written a very heartwarming book about the difficulties of childhood friendships.  All children will relate to this entertaining story.  The ending is very clever and satisfying.  Building friendships is important to a child’s growth and self-worth.  Children need to have both casual and fun friendships.  They also need to have at least one best friend.  JoAnn Adinolfi’s illustrations are colorful, bold, expressive and add to this engaging story.

Resources:  The authors have written helpful back matter for parents to use as a guide with their children.  Friendships are complicated and the author’s offer important tips for parents to help their children build healthy relationships.  Their suggestions can lead to good discussion material with children.  Check out friendships crafts that children can make.   Make sure you visit Jill Neimark’s website.  Jill is also the author of I Want Your Moo.

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

Devin and the Greedy Ferret

Debut author Leo B. Kennedy is proving that young adults with autism can find success in the world, including the field of children’s literature.  His book is not about autism, nor does it contain characters who have autism.   I share this with you first because of the inspiration I hope it may bring to the many talented young people on the ASD spectrum.  An interview will follow the review with Leo’s mother.

Devin and Greedy9781449784294_p0_v1_s260x420Devin and the Greedy Ferret

Leo B. Kennedy, Author

Chris Fowler, Illustrator

WestBow Press, Fiction, Feb. 20, 2013

Suitable for Ages:  8-12

Themes:  Kidnapping school mascot, Racing high-performance cars, Friendship

Synopsis:  Devin and his friends think it will be cool to kidnap the school mascot dog during a football game.  But when they try to hide from the police, Devin and his friends only find themselves in more trouble when they end up crashing their truck onto Frederick Ferret’s property. Frederick wants to impose  an extreme punishment on Devin’s friends.  The only way Devin can save them is by striking a deal with Frederick.  Devin travels with Frederick to Germany to drive a high-performance race car on the world’s most dangerous racetrack.   Will Devin save his friends when he’s terrified of extreme speed and nearly tosses his cookies on the first round?

Why I like this book:  Leo has written a very entertaining and fast-paced book with quirky and fun characters.   Leo loves race cars and has turned his passion for cars into this witty book for middle graders.  “I wanted characters that were daring, courageous, and funny,” says Leo.  “I also required that none of them walk on four legs.”  And they don’t.  Chris Fowler’s cartoon-like characters add to the humor of the book.  You can visit Leo B. Kennedy at his website where you can view a video trailer of his book and a video interview with Leo — both are very interesting.

I’ve asked Leo’s mother, Nan Kennedy, to talk about her son’s early years and answer some questions about his writing and publishing experience.  Leo is now 21-years-old.

Leo Kennedy1-IMG_3043Leo was diagnosed with autism at the age of two.  He had a number of difficulties throughout his childhood, and academic work was always difficult for him.  Finding teachers along the way who really appreciated Leo for his talents and sense of humor made a significant difference for him.   Leo generally didn’t perform well on standardized tests, often performing far below grade level.  However, a middle school teacher noticed that if Leo was allowed to take as long as he wanted on a subtest    where he would construct sentences out of random words, he actually performed beyond the graduate school level!  That finding was just a curiosity to me at the time.  But, when as a young adult he started writing a book, I remembered that sliver of ability, and it took on new meaning.

Did Leo like reading as a child?

[N] Leo has never been much of a reader, so it was a startling notion that he might write a book.   I encouraged him as much as possible, because it was what he wanted to do.   And, when I started seeing the finished chapters, my excitement began to rise.  This could be a real book!  There were engaging, funny characters, and exciting adventure, a plot with suspense, a couple of crisis points and a satisfying ending.

Was Leo involved in the entire process of publishing?

[N] Finishing the book was only the beginning.  Getting it edited, illustrated, published, and then marketed are tasks in which Leo has been heavily involved, but in which he need extensive support.   All of these activities are stretching him in ways neither of us initially expected.  He is learning how to respond to questions in an interview and is preparing a speech for his book launch party.  But he is stretching in other profound ways, such as agreeing to have his picture taken and videos made of him (after years of an obsessive avoidance of any camera), because he knows that people want to see what an author looks like.  He just went shopping with me for new clothes, because he now understands that an author can’t wear sweatpants to a book signing.

Has writing and publishing a book done anything for Leo’s confidence?

[N] Leo says “positive things, for sure.  In fact, it’s given me the confidence to write more books, including a special one.”  Leo is still secretive about his future books, so I can’t get him to tell me what the special one is about.  He also agrees that his role as a published author has given him greater confidence in social relationships and in pursuing his goal of living independently.  It’s been a long road, and there are still many challenges to face.  But Leo now sees a path for himself as an adult that he never did before.  He also wants to act as a role model for other young people on the autism spectrum in pursuing their dreams.

Parents have written about the travails of raising a child with autism, adults have written memoirs about their personal experiences on the spectrum, and recent novels have been written from the supposed perspective of a person with autism.  But where are the children’s fiction books written by a person who actually has autism?  This book demonstrates to children, whether on the spectrum or not, that people with autism have real skills and talents, but is also a sign post of hope to parents concerned about their own child’s future.

Thank you Nan for sharing your thoughts about Leo’s journey.  Leo keep writing!  To your success,  Patricia