A Time fo Dance

A Time to Dance9780399257100_p0_v2_s260x420A time to Dance

Padma Venkatraman, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, May 2014

Suitable for ages: 12-16

Themes: Dance, India, Amputee, Disabilities, Abilities

Book Jacket Synopsis: Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance–so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown up used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.

Why I like this book: This inspirational novel is lyrically written in verse. Padma Venkatraman has woven together a story about loss and resilience of a girl determined to dance once again her beloved Bharatanatyam.  This is not a story about disability, but one of ability. It is about finding the deeper spiritual meaning of the dance over the applause. “For my invisible audience of the One I begin to dance./ Colors blur into whiteness and a lilting tune that is and is not of the world resonates within and without me./ My body feels whole./In the beat of my heart I hear again the eternal rhythm of Shiva’s feet.” Reading Venkatraman’s novel is an experience of India in all its beauty, cultural traditions, senses and sounds. If you listen closely you can hear the faint echo of a dancing rhythm.  Thaiya thai. Thaiya thai.  I highly recommend this beautiful novel for tweens and teens who have faced challenges in their lives. This book is a treasure on my bookshelf.

Padma Venkatraman is an oceanographer by training and a writer by choice. She is the author of Climbing the Stairs and Island’s End, both multi-award winners.  Padma was born in India, but is now an American citizen. Visit Padma at her website. It has discussion questions and teaching resources.

Snowflakes Fall

Snowflakes Fall 9780385376938_p0_v2_s260x420Snowflakes Fall

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Steven Kellogg, Illustrator

Random House Children’s Books, Fiction, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Snowflakes,  Grief, Renewal, Memory

Opening: “After the flowers are gone/ Snowflakes fall./ Flake/After flake/After flake/Each one a pattern/ All its own–/No two the same–/All beautiful.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: In Snowflakes Fall, Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan and award-winning artist Steven Kellogg, portray life’s natural cycle: its beauty, its joy, and its sorrow.  Her simple but powerful words gently convey the impact of loss and the healing power of memory.  This book is a tribute to the qualities that make each individual unique.

Why I like this book:  Patricia MacLachlan and  Steven Kellogg collaborate to create this beautiful, lyrical and inspirational book to honor and remember the community of Sandy Hook and Newtown, CT, who lost family members during the school shooting in Dec. 14, 2012.  In opening remarks, Kellogg, a former resident of the community,  says he hopes “to celebrate the laughter, the playful high spirits, and the uniqueness of the children of Sandy Hook and children everywhere.”  There is no mention in the story about the Sandy Hook incident. Instead, the book celebrates the individuality of children and compares them to snowflakes, with no two being alike.  It offers hope that when the world is dark, in the morning the “world shines” and the children will romp in the snow, build forts, go sledding, leave their footprints and make snow angels.  Kellogg’s illustrations are colorful, magical and uplifting.  Make sure you check out both the front and end pages because they add to the story.  Random House has made a donation to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund and donated 25,000 new books to the national literacy organization First Book in the community’s honor and in support of children everywhere.

Resources: Parents and teachers can use this book as a quiet book about the natural life cycles of birth and renewal.   It is an excellent book to help children work through grief and healing.  With winter quickly approaching,  it is a perfect time to encourage children to play in the snow, catch snow flakes on their tongues, follow animal tracks and make snow angels.  Visit Random House for a special list of activities, coloring pages and a teacher’s guide for Snowflakes Fall.

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 Three Sunflowers

Three Sunflowerscropped-tts-cover-for-website-headerThe Three Sunflowers

Janet Lucy, Author

Colleen McCarthy-Evans, Illustrator

Publishing by the Seas, Fiction, November 2012

Suitable for Ages: 4 and up

Themes:  Sunflowers, Life Cycles, Nature, Courage,  Faith, Harmony, Peace, Patience, Wisdom

Opening:  “Dawn awoke early one morning washing the summer sky in fresh new shades of pink, orange and lavender.” 

Synopsis:  Life in the garden was alive with activity.   Gloria, a tall and wise sunflower, sprung up earlier in the season near a pepper tree.  She was once a black and white seed in one of the bird feeders.  She was dropped by a bird to the ground where she planted herself and grew.  Two smaller sunflowers, Sunny and Solita, grew beside Gloria.  Their day was peaceful until a hawk swooped down to the feeders and disturbed the tranquility in the garden.  The birds flew off.  Solita and Sunny  were frightened and shouted at the hawk.  But, Gloria reminded them “We are sunflowers, golden and radiant.”  “Our job is to be loving and peaceful wherever we stand.”   Peace returned to the garden, but later that afternoon a thunderstorm darkened the skies and threatened the strength and stability of the sunflowers.   Once again Sunny and Solita held on by their roots afraid they might tumble.  Gloria reached for their stalks and pulled them close.  Their resiliency was tested in the face of a big storm.

Why I like this book:  Janet Lucy has created an inspiring book for children with many gentle life lessons about staying centered when turbulence is swirling around you, being who you are supposed to be, living in the moment, being present with those we love and being thankful.   These are all concepts children will grasp.  There is so much depth to this story and I had to be careful not to give it away.  With spring around the corner, it is also a story about life cycles, death, and transformation.  Colleen McCarthy-Evans’s watercolor illustrations are exquisite and perfect for the story.

Resources:   Sunflowers are an international symbol of Peace.  Lucy urges children to plant seeds of peace in their gardens.  You only need to visit The Three Sunflowers website to find wonderful resources, activities and a teaching guide to share with children.   I was intrigued with how many virtues are included in this story, all great topics for discussion.

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 Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob

BlueOceanBob9780982961346_p0_v1_s260x420The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob:  A Journey Begins

Brooks Olbrys, Author

Kevin Keele, Illustrator

Children’s Success Unlimited LLC, Fiction, Mar. 12, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 6-10, Early Chapter Book

Themes:  Ocean Journey, Finding Purpose, Facing Fear and Doubt, Setting Goals, Making Friends, Inspirational

Opening“There once was a boy who lived close to the sea and daydreamed all day about what he might be.  His island was lush and his life wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t content with the things that he had.”

Synopsis:  Bob lives on a beautiful island, but something seems to be missing in his life.  He sets out on a journey with his chatty hummingbird, Xena, to seek guidance from the friendly creatures of the ocean.  He meets Al, a playful dolphin, Doc, a sage turtle, Earl, the clam, and Wallace the walrus.  They all offer Bob wise and sound advice.  Doc helps Bob realize his passion to protect the blue ocean and sea life.   His journey to fulfill his purpose is only beginning as he has to face his doubts and fears.  He meets Mary Marine, the Island of Roses’s leading marine biologist, who gives Bob a series of tests.   She asks Bob to tag a blue whale and document its progress for 30 days.  He encounters his first problem when his boat springs a leak.  He feels hopeless.  Xena, his guardian, is always nearby to warn Bob of danger.   But with the help of his new sea friends, Bob learns to overcome his fears, sets some goals and develop a positive attitude so he can become Mary’s trusted assistant and care for the sea creatures he cherishes.

What I like about this book:  Brooks Olbrys has created an entertaining and engaging early chapter book series for children. The book is beautifully illustrated by Kevin Kelle, whose breathtaking artwork of the ocean and sea life fills every page.  Blue Ocean Bob encourages children to pursue their dreams.  It will spark their imaginations and take them on a journey.  The plot is strong and full of adventure.  The characters are endearing and believable.  Olbrys has written a charming book in lyrical rhyme, which will engage young children who aren’t able to read alone.  Older readers will enjoy the important lessons about finding one’s passion and turning it into his/her purpose.  This is a unique series because Olbrys has used “timeless principles of achievement,” to encourage children to dream big – Think it.  See it.  Believe it.  Achieve it.   Visit Oblrys’s website to learn more about the The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob , preview the first chapter of the book for free, learn about upcoming books in the series and click on the app.

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Father-Son Partnership:   When Brooks Olbrys began writing Blue Ocean Bob, his son, Nicolas, was four years old.  He is now eight.  I want to share a brief interview about their inspiring relationship.

Nicolas has been a great partner on my project.   When I wrote the first five or six stories and was unsure about them, Nicolas was the first one to hear them.  He would give me honest and insightful comments about the characters, action or rhyme.  And we would brainstorm about new characters or storylines.  His most helpful advice was, “Dad, that is pretty good, but it needs to be funnier.”  The messages are important, but won’t get through if they aren’t fun and engaging for kids.  We try to incorporate that humor into the illustrations too.  Nicolas reviews every illustration and I always get his approval before giving the final sign off.  Another comment I love is when he told me “Dad, you are like a really, really good amateur writer.” 

Nicolas also helped with the music that we needed for the trailer and app.  We listened to dozens of samples from the internet and our app developer.  I couldn’t decide.  I told Nicolas if he would help me, I would make him an equity partner in the app project.  That got his attention.  He listened to the four “finalists” and chose one from an internet site.  He said that it was “just too much better” and we went with it.  Later, he asked me “Dad, if I had chosen the other ones, would you have gone with those?  I told him yes, it was his decision.  The music is perfect for the trailer, app and series.  And it is great to have an in-house junior creative director.

I Have a Dream

Martin Luther King9780375858871_p0_v1_s260x420I Have A Dream

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Kadir Nelson, illustrator

Schwartz & Wade Books, Oct. 2012

Suitable for Ages: 5-10

Themes:  Dr. Martin Luther King, African-Americans, Civil Rights, Freedom, Diversity

Opening/Synopsis:  “I say to you today, my friends, that even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.  It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.  I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Book CoverFrom Dr. Bernice A. King:  “My father’s dream continues to live on from generation to generation, and this beautiful and powerful illustrated edition of his world-changing “I Have a Dream” speech brings his inspiring message of freedom, equality, and peace to the youngest among us — those who will one day carry his dream forward for everyone.”

Why I like this book:  Artist Kadir Nelson has taken one of the most powerful and inspirational speeches in history, and created a  beautifully illustrated book set to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic speech delivered on Aug. 28, 1963.   Nelson’s oil paintings are masterpieces  and a feast for the eyes and soul.  I was mesmerized by the strength and power in each painting.  Now a new generation of children will have the opportunity to learn about this great civil rights leader.

Resources:  There is a CD that accompanies this book.  The entire speech is printed at the end of the book.  With the inauguration of President Barak Obama, our first African-American President,  falling on Jan. 21, Martin Luther King Day, it is right to combine the two.  In honor of both, tomorrow, January 19, has been named a National Day of Service, and Americans are being urged to get involved in a local community service project.   Just check on the website for information

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.

Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs

Sun Kisses, Moon Hugspdf_coverLRSun Kisses, Moon Hugs

Susan Bernardo, Author

Courtenay Fletcher, Illustrator

Inner Flower Child Books, Fiction, Nov. 15, 2012

Suitable for:  Ages 4 and up

Themes:  Separation, Anxiety, Grief, Divorce, Inspirational, Reassurance

Opening/Synopsis:  “No matter how far apart we are, I’ll always find ways to tell you I love you./ How?/ From wherever we stand, you see the moon and I see the moon.  That is how we can send each other hugs./ Moon hugs?/  Yes, moon hugs.”  This story is told through the seasons and delivers a very powerful message to children — love is eternal.   

Why I like this bookSun Kisses, Moon Hugs is pure poetry and a visual feast for the eyes.   Written and illustrated by two friends,  Susan and Courtenay have taken a sad subject about separation and created a beautiful consoling book for children.  It is written in dialogue, but is very lyrical and inspirational.  It is the perfect book to use with children when they are dealing with separation from a parent because of deployment or job, loss, illness, divorce,  and tragedy.   The dialogue in the book gives kids the vocabulary to feel connected and to feel the presence of a loved one — and it’s all done through signs of nature. The illustrations are big, vibrant and breathtaking, and include children from all cultures.  The book is simply beautiful!

Sun KissesIllust_2lr

Favorite rhymes:

“But the moon doesn’t have any arms!/It’s true the moon cannot reach down to hold your hand, but she is strong enough to pull waves onto sand./Her invisible arms rock the tides by night and day, like my love holds you safely when I am away.”

“But when I wake up, the moon will be gone!/ Ahh, but then we can send each other kisses by dawn.  When you open your eyes and see the sun rise, just do this…blow a kiss.”

“From the heavens above to earth below, there are infinite ways to say hello.  Love is in each star twinkling in space and every frosty snowflake tickling your face.”

Resources:  The book alone is a beautiful resource.   Children will be wide-eyed with questions as you snuggle with them to read Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs.   You may visit the author’s website for more information.

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.

This book has been provided to me free of charge by the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review of the work. 

Because Amelia Smiled

Because Amelia Smiled178344784Because Amelia Smiled

David Ezra Stein, author and illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction,  September 2012

Suitable for:  Ages 4 -8

Theme:  A child’s smile inspires happiness, kindness and love

Opening/Synopsis“Because Amelia smiled, coming down the street…Mrs. Higgins smiled, too.  She thought of her grandson, Lionel, in Mexico and baked some cookies to send to him.”  Lionel shares the cookies with his class and teaches them an English song.  His act inspires a student in his class to film her kickboxing skills, who in turn inspires a ballet club in England.  These acts of kindness start a ripple effect that takes the reader to England, Israel,  Paris, Italy and back to New York City and Amelia.  It only takes one big smile from a little girl to ignite a chain reaction from people around the world.

Why I like this book:  Stein’s book shows children the power of how we are all connected to people we know and don’t know.  Everything thing we do has an impact on someone else.   And, with the internet and social media, our actions within our global family becomes even more important.   With Amelia her unknowing act of kindness spreads like wildfire around the world.  Too often we see the negative and it is an inspiring message to share with children and adults.  And Stein urges readers of his book to “Pass it on.”  The illustrations are very detailed and done with pencil, water-soluble crayons, and watercolor.  Stein is the author-illustrator of Interrupting Chicken, which was awarded a Caldecott Honor.

Resources:  This picture book alone stands as a powerful tool for parents and teachers to encourage children to do acts of kindness at home, school,  and in their neighborhoods and communities. The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation is a great resource for classroom activities.  Candlewick has a page about the story behind the book.

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.