The Way to School

WTS_backcover.inddThe Way to School

Rosemary McCarney with Plan International, Author

Second Story Press, Nonfiction, Sept. 1, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes: How children from around the world travel to school

Opening: “You probably enjoy going to school. Even if you have a bad day now and then, wouldn’t you miss it if you could never go? Did you know that lots and lots of kids around the world would love to go to school, but can’t?”

Synopsis: As the new school year begins, many children eagerly prepare for school. In America and Canada, most ride school buses, travel by car or walk.  But, children all over the world don’t have a yellow school bus picking them up each day. For many children, the journey to school is not very easy. It can be long, arduous and dangerous. They travel though earthquake and tsunami areas, wade or paddle across rivers, climb mountains and slippery cliffs, cling to ziplines that dangle over gorges, and ride dog sleds.

Why I like this book:

Rosemary McCarney has once again written a beautiful and remarkable book that will be an eye-opener for many children. I was surprised at the extreme dangers children face daily because they are so determined to attend school. They want to improve their lives and help their communities.

I like McCarney’s minimal use of text and her emphasis on the beautiful photographs that speak more than words ever could. Every photograph in this stunning picture book shows the commitment children are willing to make to go to school. This is a magnificent book for teachers to use in the classroom at the start of a new school year. It will jump-start many interesting discussions about extreme modes of transportation for children in third world countries.  It will also help children appreciate what they have. This book belongs in every school library.


Photo Courtesy of Second Story Press

Resources/Activities: After reading the book and showing children each detailed photograph, ask them some lively questions: “What would you do to get to school?” “How important is school to you? Why do children in poor villages want to go to school?” Ask kids to choose one of modes of transportation in the book, draw a picture and write a paragraph about going to school by boat, dog sled or ziplines. Today is a National Day of Service. How will you be involved?

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Water Is Water

Water is Water9781596439849_p0_v1_s192x300Water Is Water

Miranda Paul, Author

Jason Chin, Illustrator

Roaring Brook Press, Nonfiction, May 26, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Water cycles, Seasons, Rhyming, Diversity

Opening: “Drip. Sip. Pour me a cup. Water is water unless…it heats up.”

Synopsis: Two children explore the different phases of the water cycle during the year. They experience rain turning into fog, snow, and ice, as each season brings with it the mystique of this life-giving element.

Why I like this book:

Miranda Paul’s engaging brief and lyrical text sings off the pages. The rhyming is very clever. Children will relate to the brother and sister as they experience water in its many forms throughout the year. I especially like that the brother and sister in the story are biracial with a diverse group of children joining them as they splash in puddles, glide on ice, build snowmen, throw snowballs, squish in mud after snow melts, pick apples, press apple cider and jump into ponds. This is a fascinating introduction to the water cycle for young children. Jason Chin’s lively and expressive watercolors contribute significantly to the beauty of Water Is Water. This is an exceptional pairing of text with illustrations.

Resources: Paul includes extensive backmatter about the movement and change of water from liquid to vapor and fog, to precipitation, to ice and so on. This information will compliment classroom lesson plans.

Miranda Paul has traveled to Gambia as a volunteer teacher, a fair-trade and literacy advocate, and freelance journalist.  She is also the author of One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia  (read my review) and Water is Water, both of which were named Junior Library Guild selections. Visit Miranda Paul at her website.

Imani’s Moon

Imani's Moon9781934133576_p0_v1_s260x420Imani’s Moon

JaNay Brown-Wood, Author

Hazel Mitchell, Illustrator

Charlesbridge Publishing, Fiction, Oct. 14, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Maasai tribe, Maasai mythology, Moon, Belief and doubt, Self-confidence, Determination

Opening: “Imani was the smallest child in her village.”

Book Synopsis: Imani may be the smallest child in her Maasai village, but she is big in heart. The more she hears the ancient stories of her people, the more she longs to do something great. Imani wants to touch the moon, like Olapa, the moon goddess of Maasai mythology. Despite the teasing from village children, Imani isn’t about to give up on her dream.

What I like about this book:

JaNay Brown-Wood’s heartwarming story is filled with hope, ambition and big dreams. Even though Imani is tiny, she is strong in spirit. She endures the teasing of the village children daily. But they don’t deter her. For Imani there are no limitations, only possibilities and dreams to touch the moon. This richly textured story is charming, magical and begs to be read repeatedly. Hazel Mitchell’s cover with Imani’s outstretched arms in front of the big moon is engaging and draws the reader into Imani’s story. Her vibrant watercolor and graphite artwork includes a lot of Maasai detail.  The night scenes of Imani and the moon are dazzling and magical. Great collaborative work between the author and illustrator.

Resource: There is a lovely Author’s Note about the culture of the Maasai people living on the plains of Tanzania and Kenya. Passing along stories and mythology is an important part of the culture. You may want to visit JaNay Brown-Wood at her website. She has a Teaching Guide available for teachers and parents.

Sharing Our Homeland

Sharing Our Homeland9781584302605_p0_v1_s260x420Sharing Our Homeland: Palestinian and Jewish Children at Summer Peace Camp

Trish Marx, Author

Cindy Karp, Photographer

Lee & Low Books Inc., Nonfiction, Jun. 1, 2010

Pages: 42

Suitable for Ages: 8 and up

Themes: Peace Camp, Friendships between Jewish and Arab children, Tolerance, Respect, Multicultural

Opening: “Summer is here, and Alya and Yuval are off to camp. They will swim and play games, sing and make crafts, go on field trips and spend a night sleeping in tents. They will have fun with their friends and make new ones.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Summer is here, and Alya, an Israeli Palestinian girl, and Yuval, and Israeli Jewish boy, are off to Peace Camp. They are excited, but their excitement is mixed with apprehension. The area in which they live has been fought over by Palestinians and Jews for a hundred years. What will campers from the “other side” be like? the children wonder.

At camp, Alya, Yuval, and the other campers enjoy two weeks of fun in close contact with one another. They participate in sports, create arts and crafts projects, and go on field trips. The children begin to understand what their homeland means to both sides. They learn not to be afraid and to respect one another.

What I like about this book:

  • Trish Marx has written a compelling and thought-provoking book for youth about a Peace Camp for children in one of the most complex parts of the world. It is heartwarming to know that there are both Jews and Muslims living in Israel who would like a peaceful coexistence.
  • The book focuses on a Muslim girl, Alya, and a Jewish boy,Yuval, who happen to live in neighboring settlements and probably would never meet, except through camp. Readers are introduced to their families, learn a little about their daily lives, occupations, culture and traditions.
  • The author gives a brief history about the Middle East and the context for the conflict in the region. As she does so, she explains how Alya and Yuval live in the midst of this ongoing conflict and the impact on their lives.
  • The goal of Givat Haviva’s Menashe Summer Peace Camp is to build “bridges and understanding among the campers.” It reaches out to children with the hopes of creating a foundation for peace, tolerance and respect for each other.
  • Cindy Karp’s vivid and colorful photographs are filled with laughter and chronicle the activity of the campers. The campers’ days are filled with swimming, water slides, a day at the beach, arts and crafts projects, climbing, and games. There are field trips to a kibbutz (Jewish settlement) and an Arab village where they learn to bake challah bread and taboon, a round flatbread. There is a sleepover the last night.
  • Readers will gain insight into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and feel hope that solutions may come with younger generations. I highly recommend this book and hope that it has a home in every school library.

Resources: The author provides further reading, websites of interest, and a glossary at the end.  You may visit Trish Marx at her Lee  & Low website.

A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord

A Handful of Stars9780545700276_p0_v2_s260x420A Handful of Stars

Cynthia Lord, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, May 26, 2015

Pages: 192

Suitable for Ages: 8-12, Grades 3-7

Themes: Blueberries, Migrant workers, Hispanic-American children, Prejudice, Blind dog, Friendship, Multicultural

Opening: The only reason I ever spoke to Salma Santiago was because my dog ate her lunch. 

Synopsis: Two girls from different cultures meet when Lily’s blind dog, Lucky, takes off across the blueberry barrens of Maine. Salma, a migrant girl, grabs her peanut butter sandwich and lures Lucky before he runs onto a highway. Lucky is Lily’s last link to her mother who left them with her grandparents when she was two. Lily and her grandfather thank Salma at the migrant camp with a pork dinner pie. The girls bond over their love of dogs and painting.  Salma helps Lily paint wooden bee hives to raise money for an operation to save Lucky’s eyesight. When Salma decides to enter the Blueberry Queen Pageant, something a bilingual Hispanic migrant girl has not done before, Lily becomes aware of the town’s biases. Through their enduring friendship, both girls find their own inner strengths .

What I love about A Handful of Stars:

Cynthia Lord delivers a magical and richly textured story about an unlikely friendship between Lily, a French Canadian, and Salma, a Hispanic-American.  She draws her readers into the story with that great opening sentence (above) that begs the reader to want to know more.

I love that Lord continues to use her home state of Maine as the setting for many of her stories. She paints a vivid picture of the blueberry barrens of eastern Maine. Readers will learn a little history about the Mason bees that pollinate the blueberries and gardens, the raking of the wild Maine blueberries by migrant workers, and the top of a blueberry is shaped like a star. Readers will also gain insight into the lives of migrant children and how hard it is to be uprooted.

Lord is a master at developing memorable characters. Readers will easily connect with Lily and Salma’s struggles, longings and hopes. Lily and Lucky live with her grandparents. Lily feels the loss of her mother, who is deceased. Lucky is Lily’s last link to her mother, so she is determined to earn money and save his eyesight. Salma is imaginative and artistic, but secretly longs to belong and stay in one place.   Their friendship will test and carry them to a new self-confidence and healing.

The plot is realistic with the right amount of tension that will keep readers turning pages. Lord seamlessly weaves many themes into this touching story: migrant families, cultural differences, biases, community, loss, letting go and accepting change. There is a wonderful twist in the plot of the story, so readers will be pleasantly surprised with the ending.

A Handful of Stars is a perfect summer read. The cultural themes will encourage many lively discussions. Visit Cynthia Lord at her website.

Cynthia Lord is the award-winning author of Rules, a Newbery Honor book and a Schneider Family Book Award winner. She is also the author Half a Chance, Touch Blue, and the Shelter Pet Squad chapter book series.

Drum Dream Girl

Drum Dream Girl9780544102293_p0_v4_s260x420Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music

Margarita Engle, Author

Rafael Lopez, Illustrator

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Mar. 31, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes: Drummers, Music, Cuba, Gender equality, Diversity

Opening: “On and island of music / in a city of drumbeats / the drum dream girl / dreamed…”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Girls cannot be drummers. Long ago on an island filled with music and rhythm, no one questioned that rule — until the drum dream girl. She longed to play tall congas and small bongos and silvery, moon-bright timbales. She had to keep her dream quiet. She had to practice in secret. But when at last her music was heard, everyone sang and danced and decided that boys and girls should be free to drum and dream.

Why I like this book: Margarita Engle’s Drum Dream Girl is an inspirational and beautiful work of free-verse historical fiction. As you read this melodic poem out loud, you are drawn to the rhythmic beat of the text about a girl who made a difference. Millo Castro Zaldarriaga is so infused by the music and sounds around her, she can’t help herself.  When she walked under / wind-wavy palm trees / in a flower-bright park / she heard the whir of parrot wings / the clack of woodpeckers breaks / the dancing tap / of her own footsteps / and the comforting pat / of her own / heartbeat. When her sisters hear her drumming, they invite her to join their dance band. Her father says only boys can play drums, but relents and takes her to a teacher.

I applaud Engle for focusing on Zaldarriaga’s young life instead of her career. It is important for children to see how a 10-year-old girl dares to make a difference in 1932 and paves the way for Cuban women to become drummers. There is a historical note about Zaldarriaga and her musical career at the end of the book. Rafael Lopez’s creates his own magic with his vibrant, colorful and dreamy illustrations. His artwork beautifully compliments the story.

Resources: Children love music as much as they enjoy making things.  Make a drum or other musical instruments to encourage creativity and play. Visit the Kinder Art site for steps to make a variety of easy homemade drums.

Author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books (PPB) Fridays will be on hiatus this summer. This will be the last PPB review until September, although you will still be able to visit the link. I will continue to review books throughout the summer.

Peace, Bugs, and Understanding

Peace, Bugs9781937006631_p0_v3_s260x420Peace, Bugs, and Understanding: An Adventure in Sibling Harmony

Gail Silver, Author

Youme Nguyen Ly, Illustrator

Parallax Press, Fiction, Dec. 9, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Anger, Sibling Rivalry, Mindfulness

Opening: Lily was having a picnic with her father and her little sister, Ruby, but it wasn’t much fun. Ruby was lying on the checkerboard.

Book Jacket Synopsis: Lily and her sister are having a picnic when Ruby spoils their game of checkers. Lily lashes out but soon gets absorbed in a wonderful book, the story of her great-grandfather Lahn’s encounter with a strong-looking frog-like creature called Anger. The precious old journal teaches Lily about Metta, a technique that has helped people transform anger into loving kindness for thousands of years.

Why I like this book:

  • Gail Silver, author of Ahn’s Anger, has written a positive and resourceful book for children and adults about transforming negative feelings. This book focuses on anger, but I believe it can be used with feelings of jealousy, frustration, anxiety, disappointment or any negative feeling that causes disharmony. It’s a book children and parents will want to read together.
  • Peace, Bugs and Understanding, introduces its readers to a very simple calming technique called “Metta,” which means loving kindness. Silver suggests “that when you practice Metta,  sit quietly and become aware of your own breath.” Once you calm yourself, you focus on the person you are angry with and wish for them “to be happy, be strong, be safe and live with peace.” 
  • This is a wonderful tool for children and adults to cultivate forgiveness towards others and even themselves. How can you be angry at someone when you are sending them kind, happy and loving thoughts?
  • The book is a story within a story. Therefore, Youme Nguyen Ly’s illustrations are colorful and warm watercolors in Lily’s world, but are gray and white pen and ink for Lahn’s journal.  The illustrations project a sense of calm that fits beautifully with the theme. This is a lovely collaboration between author and illustrator.

Resources: My favorite part of the book is a “Reader’s Guide” at the end that helps parents teach “Metta” to their children. There is also a page of discussion questions to use with children. This is also a book to pair with Ahn’s Anger, which I reviewed in 2013. You can visit Gail Silver and Youme Nguyen Ly at their websites.

Gail Silver is the founder of Yoga Child, a program that develops curriculum for school-based yoga and mindfulness programs. She is the author of Anh’s Anger and its sequel Steps and Stones.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.