The Hugging Tree by Jill Neimark

hugging-tree-coverThe Hugging Tree: A Story of Resilience

Jill Neimark, Author

Nicole Wong, Illustrator

Magination Press, Sep. 22, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Trees, Nature, Determination, Resilience, Hope, Compassion

Opening: “On a bleak and lonely rock / by a vast and mighty sea / grew a lonely little tree / where no tree should ever be.”

Synopsis: This is a story about a lonely little tree planting its roots on a high cliff above a beautiful and unforgiving sea. The tree basks in the spring and summer sunbeams and endures the raging storms and the cold winters. It thrives with the ebbs and flows of the sea.  It provides a home for a loon family. Over time the harsh environment begins to tear its exposed roots and weakens the tree. One day a boy discovers the tree high on the cliff. Everyday he brings rich soil and tends to the tree until it one day it fulfills its greatness.

Why I like this book:

The Hugging Tree is an inspiring story about a tree’s resilience to thrive and survive the harsh challenges of being the only tree at the top of a cliff. Jill Neimark’s poetic and rhythmic text sings off the pages as we follow a tree through its many seasons. The story is a beautiful metaphor of the natural world that children will understand and embrace as they face challenges in their daily lives.  It will introduce them to themes of resilience, determination and standing tall during difficult times.

The story is also a triumphant reminder of the inescapable connection between people’s actions and nature. The boy shows love and compassion in his tender care for the tree so that it begins to thrive and realize its full potential. It is also reminds children that they too can make a difference.

Nicole Wong’s watercolors are exquisite, lively and expressive and contribute significantly to the story. There is power in her illustrations of the stormy sea and windy coast, and sensitivity when the tree is ragged and barely standing. This is an exceptional pairing of art and text.

My Favorite Lines:

Soft gold sunbeams / kissed her crown, / warm as honey pouring down. / At night she raised her branches high / to greet the moon up in the sky.

“Mighty cliff, hold me tight. / Don’t let me blow away.” / “Little tree, with all my might, ‘ I’ll hold you close, / night and day.”

Now every day new people stop / to rest beneath the little tree / and dream the things we all dream of. / To love, to share, to give, to dare / to grow just where we are. /

And to this very day they come. / For on a splendid sunny rock / by a warm and bright blue sea / a great big hugging tree / grows just where she was meant to be.

Resources: There is A Note to Parents and Caregivers in the back pages, which is a perfect resource for parents, teachers and counselors helping children build resilience. It provides suggestions to help children talk about the challenges they face daily (i.e. bullying, disappointments, loss, etc.) and tools to cope. Make sure you also read Neimark’s remarks at the beginning of the book about the conception of The Hugging Tree. Visit Jill Neimark at her website.

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.

*Please Note: My website will be on hiatus until October 19.

Bayou Magic

Bayou Magic9780316224840_p0_v2_s192x300Bayou Magic

Jewell Parker Rhodes

Little, Brown and Company, Fiction, May 12, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 256

Themes: Bayous, Magic, Environment, African-Americans, Louisiana, Grandmothers, Friendship, Hope

Synopsis: At home, she’s just plain Maddy to her four older sisters. It is 10-year-old Maddy’s turn to spend the summer alone with her grandmother in the Louisiana bayou. Her sisters tease and frighten her about Grandmère Lavalier, who they claim is a witch. But after a few days in the bayou, Maddy begins to feel a kindred spirit in Grandmère and at home in the enchanted beauty of her surroundings. She learns about healing herbs, wisdom, and listens to stories about her ancestors and the Lavalier magic. Maddy begins to wonder if she is the only one in her family to carry family’s magical legacy.

Maddy finds a good friend, in “Bear,” a shaggy-haired boy who takes her on great adventures into the bayou. The bayou becomes her playground and she’s having the time of her life exploring its wonders and secrets. Everything speaks to Maddy, including the fireflies and a face she sees deep within the water. Could it be a mermaid, the legendary Mami Wata? When there is an explosion on an offshore oil rig and the leak threatens her beautiful bayou, Maddy knows that she may be the only one who can help save the Bons Temp bayou.

What I love about Bayou Magic:

  • Jewell Parker Rhodes’ novel is a whimsical adventure into another life that feels more real to Madison Isabelle Lavalier Johnson, than her real home in New Orleans. Rhodes has spun a story of pure magic. Her writing style is very lyrical.
  • The setting is lush, believable and magical. Fireflies shimmer in the sky at night as residents of the Bons Temp swamp come together to contribute to the pot of jambalaya, eat, dance and tell stories well into the night.
  • The characters are colorful, eccentric and realistic. Maddy is a courageous and hopeful heroine who already has a sense of reverence and gratitude about her. She thanks the hen for laying eggs for breakfast, a fish for giving its life for lunch, and the fireflies that call her. Grandmère is eccentric, the Queen of the bayou who takes care of its residents with her natural medicines. Bear is a lively friend that coaxes Maddy to explore and teaches her about the fragility of the bayou ecosystem.
  • What a glorious plot, filled with adventure, wonder, mystery and danger. When her grandmère asks Maddy one day, “Who do you want to be?” Maddy shares her secret, “A hero. Like in my stories. I want to do good. Be brave.” Maddy is tested before the summer is over when a disastrous oil spill threatens the gulf and the Bons Temp bayou. Does Maddy really have what it takes to be a hero when bad things happen? A time of great tension for Maddy and the community.
  • There is a quiet theme of hope rippling through the novel. At the end, the author says that “In Maddy, I poured all of my love for young people who seek, each and every day, new and better ways to care for our earth’s natural resources.” I highly recommend this novel.

Jewell Parker Rhodes is the Coretta Scott King Honor Book award-winning author of Ninth Ward and A Jane Addams Children’s Book Award winner of  Sugar, her first novels for young readers.  You can visit Jewell Parker Rhodes at her website. She has a Teaching Resource for educators.

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.

The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob: A Challenging Job

Blue Ocean Bob Challenges9780982961353_p0_v1_s260x420The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob: A Challenging Job

Brooks Olbrys, Author

Kevin Keele, Illustrator

Children’s Success Unlimited LLC, Fiction, Apr. 14, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Pages: 54

Themes: Oceans, Sea life, Nature, Pursuing dreams, Positive attitude, Friendship, Confidence, Gratitude

Opening: On the Island of Roses, there once lived a lad / who was looking for more than the things that he had. / He discovered his passion to safeguard the sea / and finally knew what he wanted to be. / He adopted the nickname of Blue Ocean Bob / and decided to master this challenging job.

Book Jacket Synopsis: Blue Ocean Bob loves the sea and wants to dedicate his life to protecting it. He begins a new job as assistant to Mary Marine, the Island of Rose’s leading marine biologist, and with his hummingbird guardian, Xena, by his side, works hard to carry out his duties to the sea creatures both on and off the shore. When the challenges mount, Bob seeks advice from Doc the turtle, Earl the clam, and Wallace the walrus, who each help him to develop the positive attitude he needs to succeed.

What I like about this book:

  • Brooks Olbrys has written another dynamic ocean adventure about Bob, a boy on a journey to pursue his dream of becoming a marine biologist and protecting all life in the Sea of Kerchoo. Bob is a great role model for children.
  • Although Blue Ocean Bob: A Challenging Job is a chapter book for emerging readers, it also can be read as a picture book to younger children. There is a special rhythm to the text and there is breathtaking artwork on every page.
  • The plot is strong and packed with adventure as Bob overcomes many hurdles.  Each chapter presents a different challenge for Bob: training a young seal to swim, hunt and survive on her own; clearing garbage floating near the pier and accidentally entangling a pelican in his net; warning the whales and dolphins that a storm is brewing; missing his marine science class and almost giving up; and freeing a stingray from a fishing line in deep waters.
  • The characters are realistic, believable and endearing. Xena is a a great sidekick, warning Bob about dangers (metaphor for Bob’s doubt) and adding some comic relief. Bob learns valuable lessons about forgiveness, confidence, communications and gratitude.
  • Kevin Kelle’s vibrant and rich illustrations of the ocean and sea life fill every page. They are engaging and draw the reader into the story. Make sure you check out the end pages to view a map of the Island of Roses.

Resources: Parents and teachers can download a free activity guide on The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob website. You can preview the first chapter of the book for free and view a trailer for the first book in the series. 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.

The Tiny Wish

The Tiny Wish9780385379229_p0_v3_s260x420The Tiny Wish

Lori Evert, Author

Per Breiehagen, Illustrator

Random House, Fiction, Jan. 6 2015

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Animals, Wishes, Nature, Spring, Travels

Opening: Long, long ago, in the days when you could only see as much of the world as a horse could take you, lived a curious little girl named Anja.

Synopsis: Anja, the kind and brave heroine of the bestselling book, The Christmas Wish, sheds her winter skis and returns in a magical springtime Scandinavian adventure. Anja visits her two cousins at their mountain farm. The three-some ride off on a big horse to check on the family’s goats. Once the goats have been accounted for, the children play a game of hide-and-seek. When Anja wishes to be tiny to win the game, her wish comes true! Just a few inches tall, she must find her way home with the help of some new animal friends.

Why I like this book:

Lori Evert and her husband, Per Breiehagen, have teamed up to create another breathtaking and enchanting story featuring their daughter. Anja looks like she’s stepped out of a Scandinavian fairy tale as she celebrates and explores the arrival of Spring in the mountains and valleys.

Evert’s text is simple and magical. She inspires reader’s to use their imaginations. During a game of hide-and-seek with her cousins, Anja’s favorite goat follows her and gives away her hiding places. She wants to be small, so her cousins can’t find her. When her wish comes true she has the most extraordinary adventures. She climbs onto the back of a finch and flies over fields of cotton grass, she eats wild strawberries bigger than she is, and has conversations with the most adorable gigantic animals who guide her journey home.

Breiehagen’s photographs are lush and exquisite. The gorgeous scenery of green meadows, snow-capped mountains draining into overflowing streams, goats grazing in fields of cotton grass, and Anja sitting in grass as tall as trees, really make this story sing of springtime. This is a perfect book to read to children as the sun warms their faces and nature blooms around them.

Resources: Visit Random House Kids for more information about the book and for activities that can be downloaded. Go on a nature walk at a nearby park and search for plants and trees that are blooming in the woods.  Observe how busy the animals are. Look for birds tending to nests and listen for the sounds of new life.

Check out my review of The Christmas Wish.

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.

My Love for You is the Sun

My Love for you9780989668835_p0_v1_s260x420My Love for You is the Sun

Julie Hedlund, Author

Susan Eaddy, Illustrator

Little Bahalia Publishing, Fiction, Sep. 9, 2014

Suitable for ages: 0-6

Themes: Parental love, Animals, Rhyming

Opening: “My love for you is the sun. / Rising in your tender heart, / It shines on you when we’re apart.”  “My love for you is a tree. / Giving shelter, strength and shade, / It comforts you when you’re afraid.”

Little Bahalia Overview: My Love for You is the Sun is a love letter from parent to child, written in verse and expressing that timeless and unconditional love through metaphors from the natural world. My Love for You is the Sun, a Tree, the Rain, a River… but of course, it’s also about more than familial or parental love, it’s about the universal, infinite nature of love itself, and as such, will hold crossover appeal for all ages.

Why I like this book: Julie Hedlund’s My Love You is the Sun, is a celebratory picture book of many types of families. It is a tender, comforting and reassuring story for young children about parental love. It is perfect for lap sharing with cherished little ones. Her text is a simple and has the authenticity of a lyrical lullaby. Her use of metaphors from the natural world adds a universal appeal to the story. It also introduces children to animals and their babies. This is a cozy and peaceful read for children at bedtime. Susan Eaddy’s richly colored hand-sculpted clay creations are a feast for any child’s eyes. Children will pour over the stunning detail on each page. The illustrations truly set this book apart. I suspect that adults will be most taken with the story and its overall treatment. This is such a beautiful collaborative effort between the author and illustrator.

Julie Hedlund is the author of A Troop is Group of Monkeys and A Shiver of Sharks. As a child she loved playing outside with animals. Visit Julie at her website, which is an incredible resource for writers and her blog posts and resources have helped many an aspiring kidlit writer reach their goals. She is the founder of 12 x 12, a forum for authors to kick-start their manuscript writing over the course of 12 months.

Susan Eaddy works entirely in polymer and modeling clay, and has appropriated every kitchen tool in the house for her art. Her clay things appear in magazines, books, greeting cards, wallpaper, kitchen textiles and other licensed products.

Fly Away

Fly Away9781442460089_p0_v3_s260x420Fly Away

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Margaret K. McElderry Books, Fiction, April 2014

Suitable for ages: 7 -10

Themes: Family Life, Brothers and sisters, Floods, Farms, Poets, Music

Book Jacket: “Family means — offering help when it’s not asked for, accepting help when you think you don’t need it, sharing joys, keeping secrets, and singing your song. Unless you’re Lucy and you can’t carry a tune. Lucy thinks she has no voice. But family means — even if you’re sure you can’t sing, you’ll be heard.”

Synopsis: Lucy and her family (and Mama’s chickens) pack into an old Volkswagen bus and travel across Minnesota to spend the summer with her Aunt Frankie in North Dakota. They time their annual visit to help Aunt Frankie plan for the flooding of the Red River.  When they reach the Red River, it is high and flowing fast.  Lucy’s mother, Maggie, remembers the dangers from her childhood.

Lucy has a secret. Everyone in her family sings, but she can’t. Her father, Boots, loves opera, her mother likes Langhorne Slim and her younger sister, Gracie, sings in a high perfect voice. When Lucy opens her mouth nothing comes out. Even her little brother Teddy, who can’t talk, can sing. He sneaks into her bedroom at night and coaxes Lucy to sing with him. His sweet “la la la’s” are pitch perfect and no one knows but Lucy. As the flood waters recede and the house is safe, another crisis occurs when Teddy turns up missing. Will Lucy find her voice and save him in a way no one else can?

Why I like this book: With the heavy rains and major flooding we are experiencing across the country, Patricia MacLachlan chooses the perfect time to release a new book for children about this phenomenon of nature. It is a story that touches the readers emotions. I love the quirky nature of Lucy’s family, the secrets, the fears, the joys and the strong family bonds that keep the family afloat during a dangerous flood.  Fly Away is poetic and written simply for young readers wanting to read longer chapter books. The plot is engaging, well-paced and full of adventure. This is a great summer read and is 107 pages.

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 The Truth of Me, another middle grade novel about complicated family relationships.