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.

Kindred Souls

Kindred Souls9780060522995_p0_v2_s260x420Kindred Souls

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Fiction, 2012

Suitable for ages: 6-10

Themes: Aging Grandfathers, Sod houses, Prairies, Family Life, , Dogs, Loss

Book Synopsis: Jake’s grandfather, Billy, hears the talk of birds, is eighty-eight years old, and is going to live forever. Even when Billy gets sick, Jake knows that everything will go on as always. But there’s one thing Billy wants: to rebuild the sod house where he grew up. Can Jake give him this one special thing? 

What I like about this book: Patricia MacLachlan’s book is a heartwarming story about a bond between a boy and his grandfather (kindred souls), their shared love of nature, and what Jake does to fulfill his grandfather’s wish.  The story is set on the family’s prairie farm. The story has a lovely rhythm about it. The plot is paced well for young readers with short chapters and an air of adventure in building the sod house, from research to recruiting the entire family to help after Billy becomes ill. Even the sudden appearance of Lucy, the stray “angel dog,” who never leaves Billy’s side, adds to the love and grace that permeates this story about family and letting go. This is a beautiful story.

Patricia MacLachlan is a Newberry Medalist for her book Sarah, Plain and Tall. I reviewed her powerful 2013 picture book about grief and renewal, Snowflakes Fall, which was dedicated to the families of Newtown and Sandy Hook, CT. I also reviewed Fly Away and The Truth of Me,  both middle grade novels about complicated family relationships.

 

Always By My Side

Always by my Side9781595723376_p0_v1_s260x420Always By My Side

Susan Kerner, Author

Ian P. Benfold Haywood, Illustrator

Star Bright Books, Fiction, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 5-8 years

Themes: Absence of a father, Loss, Love, Families

Opening: “If you ask me where my daddy is, this is what I’ll say: He’s in me and around me, never far away.”

Synopsis: This is a story that will help children understand that a dad’s love is forever. Even if they grow up without his presence in their lives. He’s in the trees, the waves, in the wind and in the sunshine’s rays. And when they sing or move their hands in a certain way, Mama is there to say, “You’re a lot like your daddy.”

What I like this book: This is a beautiful and heartwarming story for children experiencing the loss or absence of a father.  Susan Kerner gives no specific reason for a loss in her lovely rhyming text. Fathers may be absent for many reasons like work, military deployments, divorce, incarceration, and death.  Through comforting verse, Kerner’s shows that their fathers are still part of them, whether it’s in their mannerisms and likeness to him or in everyday activities and nature. This book can be read to any child experiencing a father’s absence and help them know they are still loved.  And Mama is there to remind them,“No matter the day, the month, the year, the weather, the tears, or smiles…Daddy is always by your side, guiding you all the while.” Haywood’s illustrations are lively, colorful and ethnically diverse. Families coping with loss will find Always By My Side a helpful grief book.

Susan Kerner: Shortly after marrying the love of her life, her husband died of cancer before their first child was born. Her book is inspired by her own experiences. According to Kerner, Always By My Side has become popular among military families.

Rachel’s Promise – Book Two in the Rachel Trilogy

Rachel's Promise9781927583142_p0_v1_s260x420Rachel’s Promise

Shelly Sanders, Author

Second Story Press, Historical Fiction, Sept. 23, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 12 and up

Themes:  Persecution, Russian Jews,  Family, Love, Loss, Separation

SynopsisRachel’s Promise is set in pre-revolutionary Russia, where tensions run high between the Jewish and Christian populations. Vicious riots break out in Kishinev in 1903.  Rachel’s father is killed and her home and Jewish community destroyed.   Her Christian friend Sergei turns against his police chief father, to help 15-year-old Rachel.  (Read my review of Rachel’s Secret here.) Rachel, her mother, sister Nucia, and an adopted brother, Menahem, flee Russia and the brutal riots.  They travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway to the coast where they board a ship to Shanghai, China.  The journey is hard on her mother and she dies in a Shanghai medical facility.  Now it is up to Rachel and her siblings to earn enough money to travel to America.  Although her life becomes one of daily survival, she never gives up her dream of going to school and becoming a journalist.   She discovers a Jewish newspaper in Shanghai and submits articles, earning extra money for the voyage.

Meanwhile, as Rachel flees Russia, Sergei leaves home for a factory job in St. Petersburg to help support his family and earn money to attend the university.  Work in the Russian factories is deplorable and dangerous.  Sergei is injured.  His dream of becoming an architect fades as he realizes the harsh reality of his life.  He joins the growing number of factory workers who are rebelling against the government.  Although separated, Sergei and Rachael continue to communicate through letters and hang on to hope they will be together again.

Why I like this book:  This is the second book in the Rachel Trilogy written by Shelly Sanders.  The trilogy is inspired by the lives of her maternal grandmother, Rachel Talan Geary, and her sister Anna “Nucia” Rodkin, who lived in Kishinev and survived the massacres in 1903.  Sanders has once again written a gripping story set against real historical events.  She tells the story of the Russian Jews who managed to escape Russia under incredible odds to new lives filled with hardship in Shanghai.  Many of the characters in this story did exist.  I learned so much about a period of Russian history I knew little about.  Sanders beautifully balances the alternating stories of Sergei and Rachel, who are mere teenagers caught in the cross-fire of persecution during extreme political upheaval.  Her main characters are authentic, with each having a very distinct voice.  The book is a page-turner.

Visit Shelly Sander’s at her website.  I look forward to her third upcoming novel in the trilogy, Rachel’s Hope.  After two years in Shanghai, Rachael and her family save enough money to pay for passage on a ship sailing to San Francisco.  Follow her journey and new life in America.

America’s White Table

America's White 9781585362165_p0_v2_s260x420America’s White Table

Margot Theis Raven, Author

Mike Benny, Illustrator

Sleeping Bear Press, Fiction, 2005

Suitable for Ages: 5-10

Themes: Veterans Day, Remembering our fallen soldiers, Symbolism

Synopsis:  It is Veterans Day and Katie’s mother has invited her Uncle John for dinner.  She explains to Katie and her two sisters that they will  be setting a separate little table,  just like the ones that will be set in  Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy dining halls across America to honor the men and women who have served their country.  Mama gets out a white table-cloth,  a single empty  chair, a white plate, silver ware, a black napkin, an overturned glass, a white candle and a red rose in a vase tied with a red ribbon.  She explains the significance of each item on the table, and what it will mean to Uncle John.

Much to Katie and her sister’s surprise, they learn a special story about their favorite uncle from their mother.  Uncle John was on a rescue mission in Vietnam when his helicopter was shot down over enemy territory.  He was taken as a Prisoner of War (POW).  Uncle John found an opportunity to escape and carried his wounded friend on his back to safety.  He was a hero.

Katie and her sisters are in awe when they hear the story.  Katie stares at the little white table and feels there is something missing.  The girls come up with a special idea and surprise their uncle at dinner.  Uncle John is moved beyond words by their loving gesture.

Why I like this book:  Once again I am sharing a book I reviewed several years ago before I had following.  This is an outstanding book that will touch the hearts of young and old alike.  It is a time to remember and honor those who are not with us.  I was delighted to find a book about this very simple, but deeply meaningful tradition observed by service members for over 35 years.  Few civilians are familiar with the symbolism.  It seemed the perfect book to share again on Veterans Day.  Raven tells a moving story, and at the end  provides a detailed history of the origin of the White Table and how it became a symbol of caring for our MIA and POW service members after the Vietnam War.  Benny’s subdued pastel paintings add to the mood of the solemn occasion that transcends generations.

Resource:  Click here to lean how to set America’s White Table.  Also visit Margot Theis Raven at her website.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

The Fantastic FLying Books174515865The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

William Joyce, author

Joe Bluhm, illustrator

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, 2012

Suitable for:  Ages 4-8

Themes:  Books, Love, Loss, Healing, Aging

Opening and brief synopsis“Morris Lessmore loved words.  He loved stories.  He loved books.  His life was a book of his own writing, one orderly page after another.  He would open it every morning and write of his joys and sorrows, of all that he knew and everything that he hoped for.”  One day there was a very bad storm that blew so hard that he lost his home and all the books he loved so much.  Not knowing what to do he started walking.  A lady drifted through the sky pulled by a bouquet of books.  The lady tossed down her favorite book and beckoned him to follow her to a strange building that housed books.  But the books in the building weren’t ordinary — they were extraordinary.   Many books required repair.  Morris started to restore and care for the books.  Some times he got lost in the books.  Morris shared the books with people.  And, once again he began to write in his own book.

Why I love this book:  The book is about life experiences — love, loss and healing.  Adults will enjoy this book.  It is a brilliant book that took William Joyce 13 years to write.  The book began as a tribute to a friend, but after Hurricane Katrina devastated  Joyce’s home state, his book was put on hold.  Joyce visited children in shelters and saw firsthand the healing power of books.  So the storm in the book is a combination of Katrina and the cyclone in the Wizard of Oz.   Joe Bluhm’s illustrations are stunning.  Bluhm uses brown hues similar to the opening of Oz, to give the stark effect of the storm in the book.  As Morris wanders, the book is full of colorful and expressive  illustrations.

Resources:  There are many themes that parents  and teachers can explore when reading this book with a children.   Since the idea grew out of Hurricane Katrina and the tragic losses, it would be a good time to discuss with kids what it means to lose everything and how you rebuild lives with the love and help of family and community.   Donated books were an escape for the kids of Katrina.  We’ve once again experienced devastation with Hurricane Isaac.  As a family you may want to donate to a reputable charity.   Another way to help displaced children in your community is to have your kids donate used books to local organizations.  The book also is about imagination and reading.  Be creative and encourage your kids to make a mobile of their favorite book cover titles to hang in their room, similar to the flying woman and the books.

Visit William Joyce at his website.  Joyce first won an Academy Award for his short film The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, then turned the film into this imaginative book.  I’ve include a short clip of the video, but the entire film is available on YouTube.   The book also is available as an iPad app.

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To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Books to Help Your Child with Grief

When a child faces the death of a loved one, especially a parent or family member, the support system is disrupted.  It is essential that families find new ways to communicate, express their feelings of grief and honestly answer questions a child may have.  Some children are verbal, others hold their feelings in.  One way to help address a child’s loss is through story books.  The key is in helping a child realize that he/she is not alone.  I will share a few favorites with you.

I Miss You:  A First Look at Death, by Pat Thomas, and published by Barron’s Educational Series, 2001.  This book helps children (and adults, too) deal with the loss of loved ones.   The author gently explains the life cycles. “Death is a natural part of life. All living things grow, change and eventually die.”  The child will view a dying tree, and a fallen bird. When the book reaches human loss, there’s a question at the bottom of the page where the author gives the child the opportunity to discuss his/her own loss by asking, “What about you? Has anyone you know died? How did they die?” Likening one’s soul to a raindrop that joins other raindrops in the ocean is beautiful.   At the end of the book is a section on how to use the book, a short glossary and  resources for grief support.

Saying Goodbye to Daddy, by Judith Vigna, and published by Albert Whitman & Co., 1991.    This is a good book to use when there has been a sudden death.  When Clara is picked up early from school by her grandfather, she doesn’t understand that something terrible has happened to her father.  Clara learns about her father’s death and what happens afterwards.  Grief, loneliness, anger and confusion follow.  Her family helps her work through her feelings and fears.  Due to family support, Clara reaches a place of peace by the end of the book.

Rain Came Down,  by David Shannon, and published by Blue Sky Press, 2000.   Many times things unexpected happen that we don’t like, and it can impact everything and everybody.  In the story, one Saturday the rain comes down and it sets off a chain reaction that causes the entire block to honk, yell, bicker, and bark.   This book can help explain how our moods can get messy when something unexpected happens.  Then the rain stops and the sun shines once again.  I like this book because you can use it to ask a grieving child about the unexpected events in their lives that upset them and impact their mood?   What feels messy and out of control in their life?  What would make it better.