Inside Out and Back Again

Inside Out and Back9780061962790_p0_v2_s260x420Inside Out & Back Again

Thanhha Lai, Author

Harper Collins Children, Fiction, 2011

Suitable for Ages:  8-12

Themes:  Vietnamese Americans, Immigration, Refugees, Alabama, Resilience

Synopsis from Book Jacket:  For all the ten years of her life, Ha has only know Saigon: The thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by…and the beauty of her very own papaya tree.   But now the Vietnam War has reached her home.  Ha and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope.  In America, Ha discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape…and the strength of her very own family.  This is the moving story of one girl’s year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next.

Why I like this book:  Thanhha Lai has written the story of Ha, in short free verse narrative, which is exquisitely executed. Her images are both rich and humorous.  It was the winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. This is a remarkable  story based on  Thanhha Lai’s own vivid childhood memories of fleeing Saigon and sailing to a strange new country. She vividly captures Ha’s rich and confusing emotional life. In Vietnam she’s an outstanding student. In America Ha is put into a lower grade because she can’t speak English. She feels dumb. There are so many rules in English that make absolutely no sense to Ha. She says “Whoever invented English,/ should be bitten/ by a snake.”  Ha is humiliated after the class claps for her when she recites the ABC’s and counts to twenty.  “I’m furious,/ unable to explain,/ I already learned/fractions/and how to purify river water./So this is/ what dumb feels like./ I hate, hate, hate it.”  This is a story about the resilience of the feisty spirit of a child told with such simplicity.

Resource:  You may be interested in reading an interview with Thanhha Lai when she won the 2011 National Book Award.

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.

King For A Day – Multicultural Children’s Book Day

King for a Day9781600606595_p0_v1_s260x420King For A Day

Rukhsana Khan, Author

Christiane Kromer, Illustrator

Lee & Low Books Inc., Fiction, Oct. 1, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Kites, Basant Festival, Disabilities, Pakistan

Opening“Basant is the most exciting day of the year! With feasts and music and parties, people celebrate the arrival of spring. And many will make their way to the rooftops of Lahore to test their skills in kite-flying battles.”

Synopsis:  Malik is up early and perched in his wheelchair on the rooftop. He is ready to launch his home-made kite, Falcon, into the skies. He sends his brother to the streets to catch the kites he hopes to set free today. His sister helps him launch his kite. Falcon is small, but built for speed. Malik works his string so that Falcon dives and breaks the strings on the kites of the next door bully. He moves on to circle other kites plucking them from the sky. His brother returns with a pile of kites. By the end of the day Malik has succeeded in showing that he is the best kite fighter and flyer — the King of Basant. As Malik watches the bully shove a girl to the ground and grab her kite, this king shows his kindness to the girl in a special way.

Why I like this book: Master storyteller Rukhsana Khan has written a celebratory story about a boy who is clearly more focused on his abilities than his confinement to a wheelchair. Choosing a child with physical challenges will inspire other children. Malik has talent, technique, self-confidence, and determination. He wants to win the annual kite battle in Lahore. And, Malik beats his bully neighbor with his kite-flying skills and not hurtful words. Khan has turned this centuries-old tradition into a contemporary story for children. Christiane Kromer’s illustrations are exquisite and there is a feast of color on every page.  She focuses on so much detail that you can feel the breeze of the soaring kites on this perfect day. Her pen and ink illustrations are a mixed collage of beautiful fabrics, laces, cut paper and folk art designs of Pakistan. King For A Day is a beautiful collaborative effort between author and illustrator.  Visit Rukhsana Khan and Christiane Kromer at their websites.

Resources:  Khan has devoted a page at the end of the book to the Basant Festival, which is celebrated across South Asia to herald in the spring. Making a kite would be a fun activity for kids. Watch this Kidspot Youtube video and learn how to make your own home-made kite. With markers you can write fun or  inspirational messages or write you name on your kite if it blows away.

Special Note: Monday, January 27,  I am joining other bloggers in celebrating 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. Please visit the website to view multicultural books in all genres.

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.

Rain School

RainSchool9780547505008_p0_v1_s260x420Rain School

James Rumford, Author and Illustrator

Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, Fiction, 2010

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes:  Africa, Educating Children, Schools, Multicultural

Opening“In the country of Chad, it is the first day of school.  The dry dirt road is filling up with children.  Big brothers and big sisters are leading the way.”

Synopsis:  Thomas and the other children are excited about their first day at school and pester their older siblings with questions.  When they arrive at the schoolyard, there is no school.  But, there is a teacher who says, “We will build our school.  This is the first lesson.”  The children are so eager to go to school that they quickly learn to build a frame, make mud bricks and dry them in the sun, and build their school and mud desks.  After they spend a year filling their heads with knowledge, school is over.  Summer arrives, and torrential rains destroy the school.  But, the children leave knowing they will return to build their school again.

Why I love this book:  James Rumford, a former Peace Corps volunteer who taught school in Chad, drives home a very strong message in Rain School.   Learning and going to school is very important to children in third world countries.  They want an education!   Such a strong contrast to what many children in first world countries take for granted.  Rumford’s text is very simple and his bright and colorful ink and pastel illustrations tell a powerful story.  This book should be in every school library.  Visit James Rumford at his website.

On Monday, September 9, I will review A Girl Called Problem, by Katie Quirk.  It is an MG novel about a Tanzanian girl who wants to attend school even though the boys and men don’t want her to attend.   

Anh’s Anger – Perfect Picture Book

Anh's Anger9781888375947_p0_v1_s260x420.jpg.Anh’s Anger

Gail Silver, Author

Christiane Kromer, Illustrator

Plum Blossom Books, Fiction 2009

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes:  Handling Anger, Grandfathers, Mindfulness

Opening:  Anh was in the living room building a tower, the tallest tower he’d ever built.  His grandfather was in the kitchen making dinner.  “Anh” Grandfather called out. “Dinner is ready.”  

Synopsis:  Anh is building a block tower when his grandfather calls him for dinner.  He wants to keep playing — just one more block.  Anh erupts into anger and knocks down his tower.  When he says hurtful things, his grandfather tells Anh to go to his room and sit with his anger.  In his bedroom, Anh meets his anger in the form of a hairy, red creature.  They talk, howl, spin in circles and beat the ground with their hands.  Anh is so exhausted he’s ready sit and be still with his anger.

Why I like this book:  Gail Silver has written an enchanting book for both children, parents and teachers.  It is based on the teachings about mindfulness and Buddhism by Thich Nhat Hanh.  It encourages parents to stay calm and caring when their child has a melt down.  It helps children find ways of handling their own anger in a safe place.  This is an excellent book to teach children coping skills that they can use throughout their lives.  Christiane’s beautiful and lively Asian illustrations are mixed-media artwork that include paper and silk collages with realistic brush and pencil drawings.  You can visit Gail Silver  and Christiane Kromer at their websites.

Resources:  Encourage children to draw pictures about what their anger looks like.  Then ask them to draw a picture of what their anger look like when they calm down?

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 Little Yellow Bottle

Little Yellow Bottle61mN--8Sz3L__SX300_The Little Yellow Bottle

Angele Delaunois, Author

Christine Delezenne, Illustrator

Second Story Press, Fiction,  2011

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes: Children, War, Disabilities, Friendship, Multicultural

Awards: IBBY International – Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities, 2010

Opening“My name is Marwa and my best friend is Ahmad.  We’ve known each other forever.  He was the goalkeeper on our village soccer team.  The best one we’ve ever had.  But Ahmad doesn’t play ball anymore.  He’s the reason I want to tell this story.”

Synopsis:  Marwa and Ahmad live in a country where there is war.  They continue to go to school, play soccer and don’t think very much about war because it seems far away.   Then one day a planes fly over their homes and drop gray bombs.  They are frightened, but after a few days they forget and begin to laugh and play again.  One day Marwa and Ahmad are kicking the soccer ball in the forest and Ahmad spots a shiny yellow bottle.  He picks it up to show Marwa and it explodes.  Both children are seriously injured.  Marwa wakes up to bandages.  Ahmad has lost two limbs.  Only time and a very special visitor brings hope that will give Ahmad the courage to live and walk again.

Why I like this bookThis picture book is for older children.  It is written in a manner that is appropriate for children.  I debated about sharing this book, but then decided that is a story that needs to be shared with older children.  It is a story about how war affects the physical and emotional lives of many innocent children around the world daily.  Angele Delaunois, the author of over 40 books, tells this heartbreaking story through Marwa.  Her words are simple and powerful.  Marwa’s goal is to “honor the courage of Ahmad and all the children in the world like him.” “I hope you won’t forget them.”  Christine Delezenne uses a blend of textures, drawings and collage to capture the action and emotion of the story.  I recommend the book for both school and public libraries.

There is a forward in the beginning of this book from Handicap International, which was a co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for its fight against anti-personnel mines.  “In some parts of the world children can be carefree and happy-go-lucky.  In other parts of the world, mutilation and death are close by, hidden underground or in toys or in little yellow bottles.  Every day, Handicap International sees the consequences for children and their families.”  Handicap International works in more than 60 countries helping those who have been injured by war.  They “fight for a more just and welcoming world without landmines.”

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

Taconi and Claude: Double Trouble

Taconi & Claude9781616331306_p0_v1_s260x420Taconi & Claude: Double Trouble

Margot E. Finke, Author

Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc., Fiction, Jan. 2011

Themes:  Aboriginal boy, Australian Outback, Multicultural, Coming of Age, Courage

Suitable for Ages:  Middle Grade

Opening:  “The full moon cast a cold light on Taconi’s naked body as four wizened elders pinned him on the ground close to a blazing fire.  Sweat rolled off him, and his heart raced the thump, thump, thump of the feather drums: faster and faster.”

Synopsis:  This is a 1950′s coming of age story about a young aboriginal boy living in the Australian outback.  Nearly 13, Taconi  knows he will soon face his upcoming man ceremony  and suffers night terrors.   Secrecy shrouds the ceremony and he has no one to talk with except Claude, his chatty Cockatoo.  He’s also torn about leaving his mother and tribe to live with his father, who is a cook at the Coorparoo Cattle Station.   His father says that it’s good for Taconi to learn and understand the white man’s world if he’s to serve his tribe in later years.   Taconi will train as a jackaroo (cowboy) on the cattle ranch.  The Boss and the Misses throw a big party which gives Taconi’s father the chance to become the head “Cookie,” at the ranch.   But the meal is jeopardized when dingoes (wild dogs) raid the chicken house, leaving no meat for the soup.  Taconi wants to help his father and goes on a dangerous walkabout  into the bush with Claude to find good aboriginal meat for the soup.  He kills a Bandy-Bandy snake, searches for Witchetty grubs, a Goanna (lizard) and catches Yabbies (shell-fish) for his father’s soup.  Only Taconi and his father know the secret of a good pot of soup.  Trouble still lurks before the big ranch party.   And, Taconi must have the courage to deal with the Dreamtime Spirits planning his future.         

Why I like this book:  I was wowed  by Taconi and Claude from the first chapter.  Margot Finke has written a gripping story that weaves Aussie language and vivid tales of Medicine Men and tribal customs with an adventure that boys and girls won’t be able to put down.  Finke quickly draws the reader into Taconi’s life in the outback and the challenges he faces.  Each chapter is a page turner.   The characters are fleshed out, including his awesome Cockatoo, Claude, who provides much comic relief throughout the story.  The plot is exciting, funny and packed  with action.  Readers will enjoy learning about eating live Witchetty Grubs,  catching Yabbies and being covered by green fire ants.  There is a glossary of Aussie terms at the end of the book that will introduce readers to a variety of new vocabulary and expose them to a new culture.

Clara Bowman-Jahn also reviewed Taconi and Claude last year on her blog.

Margot Finke is an Aussie transplant who writes middle grade adventure fiction and rhyming picture books. For many years she has lived in Oregon with her husband and family.  Visit Margot Finke  on her website. 

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Boy Who Harnessed Wind9780803735118_p0_v1_s260x420The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. Authors

Elizabeth Zunon, Illustrator

Dial Books for Young Readers, Biography, 2012

Suitable for: Ages 6-9

Themes:  William Kamkwamba, Science, Windmills, Irrigation, Children Making a Difference

Opening/Synopsis“In an a small village in Malawi, where people had no money for lights, nightfall came quickly and hurried poor farmers to bed.  But for William, the darkness was best for dreaming.”   William Kamkwamba, is a 14-year-old boy who lives in a drought-stricken area of Malawi in Africa.  He’s a curious boy interested in trying to figure out how car engines run and radios transmit music.  He loves to study science and mechanics.  When a drought hits his village and many people starve and die, William wants to help.  He goes to a nearby library donated by Americans where he learns that windmills can produce electricity and pump water.   He envisions a  windmill outside his home pulling electricity from the breeze and bringing light to the dark valley.  He sets to work to build electric wind to bring light to his village and water to soak the ground and grow crops to feed the village.  The villagers think he’s crazy.

Why I like this book:  This is a powerful and true story about how a boy’s dreams, imagination and mechanical talents save his village.   I love this book because it encourages and empowers children to imagine and dream big.  They too can make a difference like William.   It also introduces children to the Malawi culture which is unlike their own.  The book is written by the now grown William Kamkwamba, who is a student a Dartmouth College.  The book has a lyrical feel to it and Elizabeth Zunon’s illustrations are simple, bold and stunning.

Resources:  There are back pages of information about William Kamkwamba.  Also Alliant Energy Kids  teaches kids about alternative energies and powering toys with wind power.  Visit Kids and Energy for more activities and resources about alternative power sources.

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Friday, December 14, is the anniversary of the date in 1954 that the UN General Assembly recommended there should be a Universal Children’s Day.  All of those participating in author Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Friday, are doing out part to raise awareness of the plight of children around the globe and to promote the welfare of children in the world by posting books which focus on multicultural/multiracial issues, human rights, and/or children who have helped to change the world in some way.

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.