The Last Christmas Tree

The Last Christmas Tree9780803737570_p0_v1_s260x420The Last Christmas Tree

Stephen Krensky, Author

Pascal Campion, Illustrator

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Oct. 16, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Christmas trees, Empathy, Hope, Spirit of Christmas

Opening: “Almost exactly a month before Christmas, the trees arrived for the holiday. On the day before, the lot had been empty.”

Book Synopsis: Among the grand balsams and firs at the Christmas tree lot is a little hunched tree that is missing several branches. Still, no tree is more filled with the spirit of Christmas. As the weeks go by, many others are selected but the little tree holds onto its hope of finding a home. On Christmas Eve, now alone in the lot, the little tree receives a special visitor who might just give it what it wants most of all.

Why I like this book: This is such a heartwarming and moving Christmas story by Stephen Krensky that will delight young children for years to come. His story will certainly create empathy among children as the little tree endures snickers and rejection by families searching for the perfect tree. But this little tree has spunk.  It is filled with hope that it will be selected until it is the last tree standing in the lot. Yet Krensky’s little tree is a very upbeat with an unwavering faith and personality. The plot will keep children turning pages and guessing what will happen to the last tree. Pascal Campion’s digital illustrations are colorful, inviting and show the loneliness and joy in the story. Beautiful book with a surprise ending.

Resources: Take your children to a Christmas tree farm or tree lot and let them select the family tree. Encourage them to make their own ornaments and decorate your tree together.

Stephen Krensky is the author of more than one hundred fiction and nonfiction books for children, including How Santa Got His Job, How Santa Lost His Job, Chaucer’s First Winter, The Great Moon Hoax, Big Bad Wolves, Ghosts, Paul Bunyan, and Casey Jones. Visit Krensky’s website.

Pascal Campion is a French American illustrator and animator. Visit Campion’s website.

Positive

Positive9780062342515_p0_v4_s260x420Positive

Paige Rawl with Ali Benjamin, Authors

Harper Collins, Memoir, Aug. 26, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 12-16

Themes: Paige Rawl, HIV-positive children, AIDS in adolescence, Bullying, Suicide, Hope

Book Synopsis: Cheerleader, soccer player, honor roll student. One of the good kids at her middle school. Then on an unremarkable day, Paige disclosed the one thing that made her “different”: her HIV-positive status. Within hours, the bullying began.  They called her PAIDS. Left cruel notes on her locker. Talked in whispers about her and mocked her openly. She turned to school administrators for help. Instead of assisting her, they ignored her urgent pleas…and told her to stop the drama. She had never felt more alone. One night, desperate for escape, Paige found herself in front of the medicine cabinet, staring at a bottle of sleeping pills. That could have been the end of her story. Instead, it was only the beginning.

Why I like this book: Paige Rawl and Ali Benjamin have written a realistic, raw, brave and powerful memoir about a teen living with HIV since birth. Although Paige is stable on medications, HIV is such a sensitive subject and tough diagnosis for a teen to deal with — especially when her best friend betrays her. Once Paige’s secret spreads like wildfire at school, the bullying begins. This is one of the best memoirs I’ve read this year. It is a real page turner that I could not put down. Although what happens to Paige is heartbreaking, her courage to reclaim herself and move forward is inspiring. You will find yourself rooting for Paige as she finds a voice she didn’t know she had. Her memoir is written in short chapters and is well-paced. Her voice is strong and determined. In sharing her story, she encourages other teens to find their inner strength in the midst of any storm. And her experience has made a difference for others.

Resources: There is extensive information and facts about HIV, bullying and suicide.  She shares information on programs for kids who are touched by HIV/AIDS, a National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and programs to stop bullying.

Rachel’s Hope

Rachel's Hope9781927583425_p0_v1_s260x420Rachel’s Hope (The Rachel Trilogy)

Shelly Sanders, Author

Second Story Press, Historical Fiction, September 1, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 12 and up

Themes: Russian Jews, Persecution, Separation, Immigration. Family, Love, Hope

Synopsis: Rachel Paskar flees the antisemitic violence and persecution against Jews in her Russian village and makes the long journey by train across Siberia with her family to a refugee camp in Shanghai. Rachel makes a name for herself as a journalist. After her mother dies in Shanghai, she and her surviving family members save enough money to sail to San Francisco in 1905. Rachel also leaves behind her boyfriend, Sergei, in St. Petersburg. He becomes involved in the revolution against the Tsarist Russians.

Rachel and her family find freedom from persecution in San Francisco, but are challenged with learning a new language and strange American customs, while trying to hang on to their family’s Russian traditions. Rachel works as a maid, meets a group of women’s voter activists, and makes friends with a female journalist who encourages her writing and introduces her to newspaper editors. She meets a student, Alexander, who she cares about, but Sergei remains in her thoughts. What has happened to him and will she ever see him again? Then the great San Francisco earthquake strikes and Rachel and her family lose everything.  Starting over is hard, yet this determined young woman never loses sight of her dream to attend the university.

Why I  like this book:  Rachel’s Hope marks the culmination of the The Rachel Trilogy. You can read my reviews of  Rachel’s Secret and Rachel’s Promise here. Shelly Sanders’ fictionalized trilogy is based on a true story about her courageous grandmother who faces persecution as a Russian Jew, escapes from Russia and journeys to America, where she becomes the first Jewish woman accepted into the University of California, Berkeley’s science program.  Sanders masterfully reconstructs life in early 20th century Russia, Shanghai and America, weaving the personal with the historical into a compelling story that creates a rich reading experience. She is fastidious in her research of different cultural customs and details of every day life (i.e. food, clothing, dwellings, and work conditions). Her heroine is a strong and courageous character.  Her plot is moving as she brilliantly writes two parallel stories — Rachel’s changing life in America and Sergei’s hard life in revolutionary Russia — and gives the reader a clear and realistic portrayal of a period in history that few people know. Yet, Rachel’s Hope brings a positive conclusion to the story of a Russian family immigrating to America where possibilities are limitless. I highly recommend this important series to teachers for use in the classroom. Resources: Visit Sanders’ website for teachers guides on the trilogy and more information.

Shelly Sanders has worked as a freelance writer for almost 20 years. The Rachel Trilogy was an “intense three-year journey” for her. She learned about her grandmother’s story when she was 16 years old, after her grandmother had died. It wasn’t until after Sanders had a family, that she felt a compulsion to get to know her grandmother.

Knock Knock

Knock Knock9780316209175_p0_v1_s260x420Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream For Me

Daniel Beaty, Author

Bryan Collier, Illustrator

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Dec. 17, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Fatherless sons, Separation, Loss, Hope

Opening: Every morning, I play a game with my father. He goes KNOCK KNOCK on my door, and I pretend to be asleep till he gets right next to the bed. Then I get up and jump into his arms. “Good morning, Papa!” And my papa, he tells me, “I love you.” We share a game…KNOCK KNOCK.

Synopsis: Every morning a boy plays a game with his father. Then one day the knock doesn’t come. The boy’s father is gone and is not there to help him get ready for school, cook his breakfast or help him with homework. One day he finds a letter from is father on the desk in his room. His father is sorry that he won’t be coming home and gives hims advice “for every lesson I will not be there to teach you.” He encourages his son to “KNOCK KNOCK down the doors that I could not.”

Why I like this book: Daniel Beaty’s powerful storyline is based on his own experience as a child when his father is incarcerated. In writing this heart-wrenching story, Beaty doesn’t indicate where the father in KNOCK KNOCK has gone. Many children who have an absent father due to incarceration, divorce, abandonment, military deployments and death, will identify with this story. Even though the story is sad, it is also about love, survival, and hope. Beaty’s text is simple and lyrical. The plot is engaging and moving.  The last few pages are filled with inspirational words from the father. Bryan Collier’s stunning illustrations are done in watercolor and collage and support the sentiment of the text.

Daniel Beaty is an award-winning writer, performer, educator and empowerment expert. KNOCK KNOCK  has won the Huffington Post Best Picture Book of the Year, the Boston Globe-Horn Books Award Honor and the ALSC Notable Children’s Book Award.  You can visit Beaty’s website here.

Bryan Collier has illustrated more than 25 picture books, including the award-winning Dave the Potter and Fifty Cents and a Dream.  He  has received three Caldecott Honors and five Coretta Scott King Award, including the 2014 Coretta Scott King Award for KNOCK KNOCK. You can visit Collier’s website here.

 

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.