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.

Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match – Marisol McDonald no combina

Marisol McDonald9780892392353_p0_v1_s260x420

Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match

Monica Brown, Author

Sara Palacios, Illustrator

Children’s Book Press, Imprint of Lee & Low Books, Fiction, 2011

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 years

Themes: A bilingual, Peruvian-Scottish-American soccer-playing girl celebrates her individuality

Opening: My name is Marisol McDonald, and I don’t match. At least that’s what everyone tells me./Me llamo Marisol McDonald y no combino. Al menos eso es lo que me dicen todos.

Book Synopsis: Marisol McDonald has flaming red hair and nut-brown skin. Polka dots and stripes are her favorite combination. She prefers peanut butter and jelly burritos in her lunch box. To Marisol, these seemingly mismatched things make perfect sense together. Other people wrinkle their nose in confusion at Marisol — can’t she just choose one or the other? Try as she might, in a world where everyone tries to put this biracial, Peruvian-Scottish-American girl into a box, Marisol McDonald doesn’t match. And that’s just fine with her.

Why I like this book: Monica Brown has written a charming story about a strong, spunky and carefree girl who embraces her multiracial heritage. You want to cheer for Marisol. It is inspired by Brown’s own Peruvian-American heritage. Did I mention the book is bilingual, so that Hispanic children can read the story and American children can learn Spanish? Like Marisol, some of the paragraphs are mismatched and include bilingual words.  For example Marisol even likes speaking Spanish and English at the same time. “Can I have a puppy? A furry, sweet perrito?” I ask my parents. “Por favor?” When Marisol tries to match her clothes so she fits in at school, she is miserable.  This book is a creative and beautiful example about how important it is to be comfortable and proud of who you are. Sara Palacios’s lively and colorful illustrations capture Marisol’s personality — just look at that cover! Great collaborative effort between the illustrator and author.

Resources: Lee & Low Books has a wonderful teachers guide page for Marisol McDonald with a lot of ideas and activities for using the book in the classroom.

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.

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.