Soul Moon Soup

Soul Moon1886910871Soul Moon Soup

Lindsay Lee Johnson, Author

Front Street, Fiction, Reprint edition 2008

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes:  Artist, Homelessness, Loneliness, Poverty, Different Families

Synopsis:  Phoebe Rose dreams of becoming an artist.  Her father is her biggest supporter until one day he leaves and never returns.  Phoebe  and her mother find themselves forced to live on the streets.  They are homeless wandering from one soup kitchen and shelter to another.  Their only possession, one suitcase that holds all of their belongings and memories.  Phoebe’s spirit begins to fade, she stops drawing and sinks into despair.  When someone steals their suitcase, her mother sends her to live with her Gran at Full Moon Lake.  Healing is slow, until she finds a friend in Ruby, who encourages Phoebe to draw again.  Slowly Phoebe begins to find strength within herself until her mother returns and she has to make some decisions.

What I like about this book:  This moving story of sadness, loss, relationships and finding yourself, also has an element of beauty.  It is narrated in a series of poems or verse by Phoebe Rose as she describes the emptiness, loneliness, and hopelessness of existing day-to-day on the streets.  Lindsay Lee Johnson tells a compelling, lyrical and soulful story through the voice of an 11-year-old girl.  Her story will linger in your heart long after you’ve put the story down.  You really get a glimpse into Phoebe’s pain and suffering.  The plot is strong.  This book is a stark reminder that there are many children who are homeless and live on the streets in our cities.  I highly recommend this book because it help teens understand the humanity of the homeless.  Hopefully, it will encourage them to find a way to get involved.

Resource:  I reviewed A Kid’s Guide to Hunger and Homelessness: A Guide to Action by Free Spirit Press, in June.  It shows many ways kids can get involved through youth groups.

A Kids’ Guide to Hunger and Homelessness

Last Friday I reviewed a picture book for children about homelessness, Lily and the Paper Man, by Rebecca Upjohn.  Today I’m following up with a brief review of a hands-on workbook for kids and how they can be part of the solution.

Hunger Guide9781575422404_p0_v1_s260x420A Kids’ Guide to Hunger & Homelessness: How to Take Action

Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A.

Free Spirit Publishing, 2007

Suitable for Ages: 10 -17

Themes:  Homelessness, Hunger, Understanding the problems, Taking action

Book OverviewKids explore what others in the world (including young people) have done and are doing to address the issues, find out what their community needs, and develop a service project. The workbook includes facts, quotations, real-life examples, write-on pages, resources, a note to adults—and a lot of inspiration to get out there and make a difference in the world. Includes exclusive interviews with author and activist Francis Moor Lappé, and Lindsey Lee Johnson, author of Soul Moon Soup, the story of a girl living on the streets with her mother.

Why I like this guide:  Children are caring and compassionate and want to help when they see a need. Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A.,  has carefully designed this exceptional guide to show four major stages children must learn to be of service: Preparation, Action, Reflection and Demonstration.  Children first learn all they can about hunger and homelessness in the Preparation stage. Once they prepare themselves they are encouraged to think about whether their Action is direct, indirect, advocacy or research. The third stage involves Reflection on what they have learned to decide what they want to do. The final stage, kids Demonstrate what they want to accomplish and what unique skills they have to give to the project.  This is an excellent workbook for parents, teachers and  youth group leaders to use at home, in the classroom, at church and in youth service programs. It will help children focus on both local and global issues. We are living during a time when the face of hunger and homelessness is rapidly changing.  Children may see a family member or a neighbor suddenly hungry and homeless. Kaye’s guide empowers children to look at tough issues and take action.

Other ResourcesFree Spirit Publishing has a How to Take Action! series by Cathryn Berger Kaye. There are guides for climate change and global warming, protecting and caring for animals, service learning, and kids helping kids to read and succeed. There is a teen guide for saving our oceans and waterways. Visit the Free Spirit Publishing website.

Lily and the Paper Man

Lily and Paper Man9781897187197_p0_v1_s260x420Lily and the Paper Man

Rebecca Upjohn, Author

Renée Benoit, Illustrator

Second Story Press, Fiction, 2007

Suitable for Ages: 4 and up

Themes: Homelessness, Hunger, Compassion

Opening“Shall we take the bus home today?”  Lily’s mother asks.  Lily peers from under her umbrella.  “Let’s walk.  I like the rain.”  She takes her mother’s hand to cross the street.  Her mother goes around the puddles.  Lily skips through them.

Synopsis:  During her walk home, Lily backs into a scraggly looking man who is selling newspapers.  His clothing is ragged and he is soaked from the rain.  Lily is frightened.  Her mother gives the man a dollar and thanks him for the paper.  Lily and her mother have many encounters with the man outside a favorite shop.  But as the seasons change, Lily begins to see him differently.  Winter arrives and she sees that his coat is thin and has holes.  The soles on his shoes reveal bare toes peeking through the ends.  He has no gloves or hat and his ears are red from the cold.  Lily is so concerned about the paper man, that the images of him on the street makes her toss and turn in bed — until she comes up with an idea.

Why I like this book:   There are very few children’s books about the homeless.   Rebecca Upjohn tells a compelling and heartwarming story about how a little girl makes a difference for one man.  Children by nature are compassionate and want to help, and this is a perfect book to talk about the many kinds of homelessness.  There is a lovely marriage between art and text in this beautiful story. Renée Benoit’s illustrations are vivid and evoke a lot of compassion from the reader.

Resources:  This is a good discussion book with kids.  What would you do if you saw some one in great need?  There are many activities kid can do to help the homeless:  donate to local food pantries, donate clothing and toiletry items, books, clean toys to shelters.  Visit Rebecca Upjohn’s website where she has a teacher page of suggested activities and resources to use with children in the classroom.

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Perfect Picture Book Friday will go on vacation after today’s post.  It will resume in September.  I will cut back on my posts this summer, but will continue to post some picture books,  middle grade and young adult reviews.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

The White Zone

White Zone145003966The White  Zone

Carolyn Marsden, author

CarolRhoda Books, Fiction,  January 2012

Suitable for:  Ages 10-14

Themes:  Iraqi War, Inner War, Families torn apart, Miracle

Carolyn Marsden takes us to Baghdad, after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2008.   Iraq is no longer at war with America.  But the Iraqi people are raging an inner war of their own between the Sunnis and Shiites.   She shows us this war through the lives of two young cousins, Nouri and Talib, who barely remember a time when there weren’t tanks and gunfire.   Nouri is Shiite and Talib is half Sunni and Shiite.   The conflict between the two sects is tearing their country and their family a part.  After Nouri’s uncle is killed in a bombing by the Sunnis, he begins to see Talib differently.   Even though Nouri and Talib were close, Nouri turns on his cousin in a hateful way and his actions divide the family.  Talib’s family leave their home and extended family for safety near Mutanabbi Street, where both Sunnis and Shiites get along for a while.   But, even roadside bombers attack Mutanabbi Street.  Only a miracle can mend the conflict between the cousins.  That miracle arrived in the form of snow — the only snow that ever fell in Baghdad in living memory.  For one day, people raised their eyes to the sky and fighting ceased.  There were no red or green zones, only a white zone.

Why I Like This Book:  Carolyn Marsden tells a memorable and compelling story that teaches young readers about different cultures and war through the eyes of two young boys.  Nouri and Talib are casualties of war.  Although conflict erupts between the cousins, Marsden delicately shows their inner struggle with fear, grief, hate, and confusion.  The cousins have to figure out their relationship on their own.  It is their  love of family and faith which influences their choices.  This is a powerful novel with the right balance of tension.

Migrant

Migrant150305577Migrant

Maxine Trottier, author

Isabelle Arsenault, illustrator

Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press,  2011, Fiction

Suitable for: Ages 4-8

Theme:  Migrant workers, Mennonites, Mexico and Canada

Opening/Synopsis“There are times when Anna feels like a bird.  It is the birds, after all, that fly north in the spring and south every fall, chasing the sun, following the warmth.  Her family is a flock of geese beating its way there and back again.”  Anna is the daughter of a special group of Mennonite migrants from Mexico that travel to Canada to work in the agricultural fields each spring.  Anna  wonders what it would be like to stay in one place, to have her own bed, to ride her own bicycle.  Anna sometimes feels like a jack rabbit without a burrow, a bee and not a worker bee, and a kitten sharing a bed with siblings. Most important, she wonders what it would feel like to be a tree with firmly planted roots so that she could watch the seasons pass and never have to be uprooted when spring and fall arrive.

Why I like this book:  Maxine Trottier has written a very unique and whimsical book about a little girl who wants to live somewhere permanently.   Trottier’s text is simple and lyrical.  Isabelle Arsenault’s illustrations are beautiful and have a sense of humor –even the geese wear prayer caps.  Migrant has won of the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of 2011.  I have written many newspaper articles over the years about migrant workers, the hardships, and the challenges for the children.  But, I never knew the story about the Canadian Mennonites that moved to northern Mexico in the 1920s with the hope of farming and finding religious freedom.  They maintained their dual citizenship, which has allowed them to return to Canada each spring to work in the agricultural fields planting and harvesting crops.  It is difficult for them to earn a living in Northern Mexico due to droughts during the summer months.  Some find jobs in industry.  Life is hard life for these peace-loving Mennonites, especially the children.  Many speak Low German.   They wear plain clothing, and the women and girls wear white caps and the men wear hats.  They cling to their old ways and peace-loving traditions.  There is background information on the Low-German Mennonites from Mexico in the back of the book.

Saraswati’s Way

Saraswati’s Way

Monika Schroder, Author

Frances Foster Books, Fiction, 2010

Suitable for:  Ages 10 -14 years

Themes:  Indian boy wants to study math, Poverty, Child labor, Hindu culture

Award:  2011 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year

Schroder has written a powerful, compelling and inspirational novel about twelve-year-old boy from India, who has a gift with numbers.  Akash sees numbers as patterns in his head.  He desperately wants to learn more from the village teacher, but he knows more than his teacher.  Akash shares his dreams of applying for a scholarship to go to a city school with his Bapu (father).  He is told that if the gods want him to have an education, he will.  He prays to Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom, to grant his wish and to help him.

But, life deals Akash a blow when Bapu develops a fever and dies.  His Dadima (grandmother) sends him to work in the landlord’s rock quarry to pay off the family debt.  When Akash mathematically figures out that the landlord is charging interest on the loans, he realizes he will never pay off the family debt.   Late one night he hops a train headed to New Delhi to pursue his dreams.  He is now a street child rummaging for food and stealing to survive.  He wonders if Saraswati has abandoned him.  The streets of New Delhi hold unimaginable dangers, and temptations.  Akash must find a way to make money to pay for a math tutor.  His dreams of attending school present him with some difficult choices.   He can follow a street-smart boy, Rohit, and earn a lot of money dishonestly.  Or he can work with Ramesh,  a kind elderly newspaper vendor, who sees something very special in Akash.   He remembers his last conversation with Bapu before he dies.  “What you desire is on its way.” 

Monika Schroder, an elementary school teacher in New Delhi for seven years, really captures the essence of India — its color, heat, smells, beauty, poverty and child labor practices — through the eyes of a very determined orphaned boy.   In an “Author’s Note” at the end of the book she estimates there are between 100,000 to 500,000 street children.  Schroder also says about 80 percent of the people in India practice Hinduism.  There also is a glossary of Hindu words.   “A boy like Akash has a slim chance of fulfilling his dream in contemporary India,”  said Schroder.  “Yet I wanted to write a hopeful book about a child who, with determination, courage, and some luck achieves his goal against all odds.”

  

Abe in Arms – Child Soldiers

Abe in Arms

Pegi Deitz Shea

PM Press (Reach and Teach), 2010,  YA Fiction

Suitable for:  Ages 12 and up

Themes: Child Soldiers, War, PTSD, Courage and Hope

Opening/Synopsis:  “What’s your name boy?  He stares into the mirrored sunglasses.  Words don’t come out.  I’ll tell you mine, then you tell me yours.  What’s behind those mirrors?  All he can see is himself.  What’s inside the camouflage uniform?  My name is Grant.  See, it’s easy.  Now tell me yours.  He finds a voice.  It comes out:  James.”  Abe in Arms is a gripping novel about a teen who has survived the war in Liberia, escaped the rebel army,  is adopted by an American doctor and his loving family.  Abe may have survived the war and started a new life, but his scars are so deep that his senior year begins to unravel as he deals with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  This is a story you will not easily forget, or want to forget.   It evokes a powerful response within you.

Abe is a high school senior on his ways to a Division 1 Track scholarship.   He is an honor student, has a girlfriend and has developed a close relationship with his brother, Niko, and parents.  Abe is at a track meet at the starting line with the other runners when he hears the gun “BANG.”  Abe leaps forward, but is suddenly  transported to another place and time where he hears the BANG of rebels guns shooting randomly at people in his village.  He has collapsed at the starting line and is curled in a fetal position.  His coach is shouting his name.   Abe is rushed to the hospital.  Over the following months, Abe suffers disabling flashbacks and seizures as he relives the events of his young life in war-torn Liberia, where he loses his mother and sister.  At home, his brother Niko, observes his flashbacks at night and his explosive temper over silly things.  At school he is zoning out in classes.  He fights with another runner and knocks out his teeth.  He distances himself from his girlfriend.  His father, Dr George Elders, recognizes Abe is in trouble and has him work with a therapist who specializes in PTSD.  Abe journeys into a dark world where he has suppressed his memories.  He finds himself facing the demons of his past life as a boy soldier — something he wants to bury.  This action-packed novel is full of suspense, twists and turns, surprises and hope.

Why I like this book:   Pegi Deitz Shea has written a powerful book for teens about young boys forced to become soldiers in war-torn countries like Africa.  She isn’t afraid to take her readers to complicated and uncomfortable places.  These boy soldiers suffer unimaginable violence and are made to do things by rebel armies that are horrific.  They are robbed of their childhoods.  How will those who survive, ever live normal lives?  Abe in Arms is just one shocking story about a teen coming to grips with his past.  Fortunately, Abe is grounded by the support and love of  his family who long to see him heal.  Click here on the Reach and Teach  resource link for Abe in Arms.  This site has information from Amnesty International, resources, lessons plans, ways to get involved and a very moving video about a boy soldier.  Published reports estimate that there are approximately 250,000 children enslaved as soldiers around the world.

Pegi Deitz Shea is an award-winning children’s author, who has brought the worlds of refugees, immigrants, child laborers and historical figures into the minds of readers of all ages through books that include The Whispering Cloth, Tangled Threads, Ten Mice for Tet, The Carpet Boy’s Gift, Patience Wright, and Noah Webster: Weaver of Words.