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.

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.

A Happy Hat – Perfect Picture Book Friday

A Happy Hat9781433813382_p0_v1_s260x420A Happy Hat

Cecil Kim, Author

Joo-Kyung Kim, Illustrator

Imagination Press, Fiction, Sep. 28, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes:  Hats, Resilience, Self-worth, Contentment, Optimism, Hope

Opening: “I am a hat. I am worn out here and there. I have a few holes, and even a few weeds sticking out. But I am still very much a hat. A very happy hat. I have lots of stories to tell.”

Synopsis: This is the story of a very happy and stylish hat made by the most popular hat maker in town. It is a  black silk hat decorated with peacock feathers. There are many gentlemen who want to buy the hat.  But, its first owner is a new groom on his wedding day. The hat feels very special to be worn for such a festive occasion.  As time passes the hat ends up in a second-hand store for sale where it is purchased by a magician. The hat feels lucky that it can make so many children laugh. The hat eventually ends up with a street musician who turns it upside down to collect coins to feed his hungry family. The hat is joyful to have children dance and giggle around it. One day a dog steals the hat and abandons it in the woods where it weathers the seasons with a positive attitude, until a mother bird makes her nest in the hat. What will happen to the hat?

Why I like this book:  Cecil Kim has written a beautiful story about an extraordinary hat that manages to find the good in life no matter its challenges. I love that it is told from the hat’s upbeat viewpoint. There are many teachable moments for children to learn about disappointment, challenges, self-worth, self-discovery, hope and optimism — all presented in the tale of a silk top hat. Before it was translated, it was originally published in Korean in 2011.  Joo-Iyung Kim’s illustrations are bold and colorful and remind me of a collage.

Resources: The book itself is a resource. The tale ends with a double-page spread of illustrations that give children the opportunity to imagine and write a caption about what the hat, the magician and street musician are thinking.  After the baby bird leaves the hat, children are encouraged to draw a picture of who they think should be the hat’s next owner. There also is a double-page spread written by Mary Lamia, PhD, for parents, teachers and caregivers on how to teach children about disappointment, encourage hope, and develop a positive outlook on life.

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.

My Paper House

The Paper House9781459800519_p0_v1_s260x420.jpg.My Paper House

Lois Peterson, Author

Orca Young Readers, Fiction, 2012

Suitable for ages: 8-11

Themes: Nairobi, Garbage Dump, Poverty, Survival, Love, Hope

Opening: “Safiyah stood ankle-deep in garbage near the top of the dump. Below her lay the Kibera slum, a patchwork of rusty tin roofs. A thick blanket of cloud and dirty smoke hid the concrete buildings and busy road of nearby Nairobi.”

Synopsis: Ten-year-old Safiyah dreams of going to school like her best friend, Pendo. She wants to learn to read and write and wear a school uniform. But going to school isn’t possible, because Safiyah can’t pay the tuition. Her mother is dead and she lives with her sick Cucu (grandmother) in the Kibera slums of Nairobi. Safiyah earns money from the items she finds in the dump and sells them on the streets so she can buy food and help her Cucu. On one of her scavenger trips to the dump, Safiyah finds a stack of magazines with beautiful pictures of things and places she’s never seen. She uses some of the pages to fill in holes inside their tin hut. The magazines inspire her to create something very beautiful that draws attention to her talents and a way to pursue her dreams.

Why I like this book: Lois Peterson has written an uplifting story about a very strong and determined girl who finds a way to survive the slums of Nairobi and still hold onto her dreams. It is also a realistic story about how a community comes together to support each other during times of dire need. There is also an element of suspense as readers wonder what Safiyah will do with her pictures. The ending is creative and unexpected. This is an important book for children to learn about the challenging lives of very poor children in other parts of the world. I appreciate this book because Peterson brings awareness to the lives of children living in Nairobi slums.

Resources: Visit Lois Peterson at her website.  This is an excellent classroom book.  Teachers will especially want to click on “For Kids” for resources and activities to use with The Paper House in class She also has a video trailer.

A Long Walk to Water – Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Today I am participating in 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.  Around 60 bloggers have signed up to participate.  Please visit the site mentioned above to view the many books reviewed.

Long Walk to Water9780547577319_p0_v1_s260x420A Long Walk to Water

Linda Sue Park, Author

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Historical Fiction, Oct. 14, 2011

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: Refugees, Survival, Sudan, War, Water

SynopsisA Long Walk to Water is narrated in alternating chapters by two 11-year-old children who live in the Sudan two decades apart. Nya’s story is told in 2008 and Salva’s story is told in 1985. Nya spends nearly eight hours everyday walking to a pond to fetch dirty water in a container for her family. She makes the trip twice daily and it prevents her from ever attending school. Salva is attending school when war breaks out in his village. He and the school children run deep into the forest so they aren’t killed by rebels. He is separated from his family and makes a long journey fraught with danger — rebel armies, lions, crocodiles, and desserts – to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. He later leads 150 boys to safety in Kenya. Salva is among 3,800 “lost boys” of Sudan who make it to freedom and a new life in America. His path crosses Nya’s in an amazing way many years later.

Why I like this book:  Linda Sue Park gives her readers an extraordinary perspective about the brutal Sudanese conflict. It is a true and gripping story based on the childhood experiences of Salva Dut, an 11-year-old boy from the Sudan, who suffers great hardships when he flees from his home when it is attacked. Not only does he survive such a brutal ordeal, he gives back to his country in a remarkable way years later. Park said A Long Walk to Water made the New York Times Bestseller’s list three years after it was published because “the book spread quickly by word of mouth among teachers and librarians.” It is required reading this year for 7th graders living in New York. Park wrote this book because “I want young readers to know that there are people like Salva in this world, to admire and emulate however they can.” Click here to visit Linda Sue Park’s website. She is also a Newbery Medalist for A Single Shard, and the author of the  Xander’s Panda Party, 2013.

Resources:  You can learn more about the lifesaving work Salva is doing today in Sudan by visiting his website Water for Sudan.  Listen to the interview with Linda Sue Park and Salva.

Red Kite, Blue Kite

RedKite9781423127536_p0_v4_s260x420Red Kite, Blue Kite

Ji-Li Jiang, Author

Greg Ruth, Illustrator

Disney Hyperion Books, fiction, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Father/son relationship, Kites, Separation, Hope, Chinese Cultural Revolution, Multicultural

Opening:  “I love to fly kites.  But not from the ground.  My city is crowded, and the streets are skinny.  Baba and I fly our kites from the tippy-top of our triangle roof.  We are above but still under, neither here nor there.  We are free, like the kites.”

Synopsis:  When Tai Shan and his father, Baba, are separated during China’s Cultural Revolution, Tai Shan goes to live with Granny Wang.  Baba is able to visit Tai Shan every Sunday, but they stay close by greeting each other every day with flying kites.   It is their secret way of communicating their love for one another and ease the separation.  One day Tai Shan isn’t able to see Baba’s kite in the sky and worries if he will ever see his father again.

Why I like this book:  Ji-Li Jiang has written a beautiful poetic story about a father/son relationship that endures under the most difficult time in China’s history.  Greg Ruth’s double-page spreads are done in ink and watercolors.  They are large, evocative and a feast for the eyes. It is a compelling story that teaches children about the Chinese culture and a little history at the same time.

Resources;  There is an author’s note at the end that talks about the author’s relationship to the story and the Chinese Cultural Revolution from 1966-1976.  The author was born in Shanghai and spent many years dealing with her childhood memories of surviving the Cultural Revolution.  Visit Ji-li Jiang’s website to learn more about using this book in the classroom.  She has a video presentation that can be downloaded.  Talk about separation with kids and ask them what they would do to stay in touch with a parent.

Navigating Early

Navigating Early9780385742092_p0_v1_s260x420Navigating Early

Clare Vanderpool, Author

Delacourte Press, MG Fiction, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 10-14 (5-8 grades)

Themes:  Adventure, Journey, Appalachian Trail, Boarding Schools, Eccentricity, Loss

Synopsis:  When Jack Baker’s mother dies, his father, a WW II Navy captain, boxes up their lives in Kansas and moves them to Maine.  Jack is enrolled in the Morton Hill Academy and his father returns to his military job.  Jack struggles with making friends until he meets Early Auden, a strange but curious boy.  Jack and Early share two things in common — the loss of loved ones and distant fathers. Early is a gifted mathematical genius and is obsessed with the Pi =3.14. Early sees numbers in colors, images and creates a spellbinding story about Pi.  Early is certain that Pi is lost and the boys embark upon the journey of their life to find Pi on the Appalachian Trail.  Jack knows the constellations and navigates their trip as they encounter sea, pirates, timber rattle snakes, an old woman, lost souls, buried secrets, deep forests, caves and catacombs, and a Big Black bear.  Early’s gift of taking information and seeing what others miss keep the boys one-step ahead of danger.  The ending is unexpected but more than satisfying.

Why I like this book: This is one of the most complex books I’ve reviewed for middle graders.  Clare Vanderpool (Moon Over Manifest) has written a very emotional and compelling novel that tugs at her reader’s heartstrings and has them glued to their seats.  It is a story playing out within a story, and sometimes the lines of reality become blurred for both the boys when their hearts are involved.  This is a story about two boys searching for someone who is lost while trying to find themselves along the way.  Early would probably be diagnosed on the autism spectrum and a savant today, but the author doesn’t want to label him — so I haven’t labeled him in my tags.  Navigating Early is definitely a stand-out novel and I highly recommend it for middle graders and young adults.

Resources:  You may want to visit Clare Vanderpool at her website where readers can learn more about Navigating Early.  Teacher resources are also available.  Clare Vanderpool won the Newberry Award for her novel Moon Over Manifest.

The Goodbye Cancer Garden

The Goodbye Cancer Garden

Janna Matthies, author

Kristi Valiant, illustrator

Albert Whitman & Company, Fiction, 2011

Suitable for:  Ages 4-10

Themes:  Parent with cancer, Family support,  Hope, Gardens

Opening/Synopsis  “In our backyard, where first base used to be, is a special garden.  We didn’t expect to plant it.  But Mom says things don’t always go as expected.  For example, Mom didn’t expect the doctor to say she had breast cancer.”   Mom and Dad tell Janie and Jeffrey that Mom has breast cancer.   Both kids are worried, but the parents involve them in discussions and have them meet the doctor.  When Jeffrey asks if his mom is better, the doctor responds, “Not yet, but we’re working very hard to make her better–probably by pumpkin time.”  This gives Janie an idea.  Mom prepares to go to the hospital for surgery on Valentine’s Day.  Janie points out the window and says, “Let’s plant a garden!  Watching it grow, and eating healthy veggies, will remind us Mom’s getting better.  Then before we know it…Hello, pumpkins, goodbye cancer!”  Her Mom thinks her idea is perfect.  The garden is planted with vegetables, flowers and pumpkins.  During the summer Mom goes through chemo and radiation and loses her hair.  The family lovingly tend to the garden and to Mom.   As fall arrives, pumpkins appear and Mom is well on her way towards recovery.

Why I like this book:   Janna Matthies’ book is realistic and optimistic.  The story is based on the author’s own experience with breast cancer, and she wrote the book while undergoing treatment.  Even through the difficult times, there is an abundance of support from family and friends.  Planting a garden does help the family focus on healing.  Kristi Valiant portrays Mom smiling and positive in a charming way.  Kristi’s  illustrations are warm, rich and full of life.   This is a beautiful story for moms and grandmothers with breast cancer to share with their children/grandchildren.  Visit Janna Matthies at her website.

The Goodbye Cancer Garden was selected as Best English Language Children’s Book at the Sharjah (U.A.E) International Book Fair in November of 2011.  With this honor the book may be published in Arabic and touch the lives of readers in the Middle East.

Resources:  This is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  For families undergoing a life changing event, planting a garden is a healing activity and helps them focus on living.  Janna travels around the country speaking to children and families about cancer and her book.  She’s discovered that many families in similar situations have planted gardens of hope in their backyards.   Other activities to help children cope can be found at Bear Essentials website.

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.

Kathy’s Hats: A Story of Hope

Kathy’s Hats:  A Story of Hope

Trudy Krisher, author

Nadine Bernard Westcott, illustrator

Albert Whitman & Company, Fiction, 1992

Suitable for: Ages 6-10

Themes:  Childhood cancer, Hair Loss, Hope, Self-esteem

Opening/Synopsis: “When I was born, I was almost bald.  My mother tied a tiny green ribbon to my little puff of fuzz.  This was my first hat.”  Kathy has a hat for every occasion.  Then one day when Kathy turns 9 years old, she finds out she has cancer.  Because of her cancer she feels angry, sick and scared.  There are some moving lines in the story:  “I didn’t like it when they poked me with needles to put the medicine in…I didn’t like it when I felt sick from the medicine…and the worst thing about the medicine was that it made my hair fall out.”   Kathy’s mother buys her lots of hats to cover her bald head, but she looses interest in her hats.  One day Kathy puts a bear pin on her hat and all her friends begin to give her pins for her hat.  They rally behind her on her journey.

Why I like this book:  I remember when this book first came out.  The author is from my home town and I went to a book signing to get copies for two children who were dealing with cancer and the aftermath of the chemo therapy.  I loved the idea of this book because it is so upbeat and encouraging.  I knew it would help them feel less alone.  Since my original purchase, the book has been picked up by a larger publisher and more text added.   Nadine’s illustrations are colorful and support the realistic, but positive story line.  Trudy wrote the book for her daughter who had cancer.  This is an outstanding book to help students in the classroom understand what a classmate with cancer is going through.  I highly recommend it.

Resources:  September was National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.  I discovered  a wonderful curriculum for teachers to use in the classroom at the Live Strong at School website.    For parents resources  visit the National Children’s Cancer Society, Childhood Cancer Lifeline,  American Childhood Cancer Organization.

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.