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.

 

 

 

Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord

Half a Chance9780545035330_p0_v2_s260x420Half a Chance

Cynthia Lord, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Feb. 25, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Moving, Photography, Friendship, Dementia

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Lucy Emery’s family has moved to an old cottage on a New Hampshire lake. Her father is a famous photographer and takes off on another travel shoot before the family settles. Lucy misses her father and is tired of starting over again.  When she discovers that her father is judging a photography contest for youth, she is eager to enter to see if she has talent.  She enters anonymously. She studies the photo scavenger hunt list and begins to take photos of her new lake surroundings. Lucy meets her neighbor Nate and his family, who visit their  Grandmother Lilah at her cottage every summer. Nate likes Lucy’s photographs and wants to help her with the contest. Lucy enjoys being with Nate’s family and learns that his grandmother is a naturalist. Since Grandmother Lilah is in poor health, Nate invites Lucy to help with the family “Loon Patrol.” Their goal is to help keep the endangered loons safe, carefully document their activity in a journal and report their findings. Lucy photographs the loons and  the birth of their chicks. Through her photos of the loons, the mountains, the lake and the community, Lucy also captures pictures of Grandmother’ Lilah’s memory loss, something that Nate’s not ready to see.

Why I like this book: This is a heartwarming coming of age story by Cynthia Lord, author of the 2007 Newbery Honor book Rules. It is a lazy summer read that is so captivating that you feel like you’re there with Lucy, Nate and the lake. Half a Chance is packed with adventure, wonder, friendship, artistic endeavors, and nature. Lord’s characters are realistic and engaging. The story is narrated by Lucy who gives readers a good feel for life on the lake. She struggles with ambivalence towards her father and a need for him to notice her photographic work. She encounters rivalry and the complexities of new friendships. Nate deals with Grandmother Lilah’s dementia. The plot is well-paced and readers won’t want the story to end. It is a fresh concept for a story with a satisfying ending. I highly recommend this book for tweens. Click here to visit Cynthia Lord’s website.

Picture a Tree – Earth Day, April 22

Picture a Tree9780807565261_p0_v1_s260x420Picture a Tree

Barbara Reid, Author and Illustrator

Albert Whitman & Company, Fiction, 2013

Suitable for ages: 4-7

Themes: Trees, Imagination, Nature, Seasons

Opening: “There is more than one way to picture a tree. You may see a drawing on the sky. A game of dress-up.”

Summary: Picture a tree–what do you see?  A tree can be so many things: a drawing in the sky, a tunnel hovering over a neighborhood,  a home for  birds and animals, a clubhouse, a pirate ship, a great place to climb and think and shade from the heat.

Why I like this book: This is a perfect Earth Day book because it a celebration of trees, one of our most important resources.  Barbara Reid encourages her young readers to stretch their imaginations to see that a tree can be any thing as they change with each season.  Her text is simple and the artwork is gorgeous and lively. Her unique Plasticine creations are pressed onto an illustration board showing layered textures and color for a special visual effect. Both children and adults will study the expressive detail on the pages of this extraordinary book. And, make sure you check out the gorgeous end papers which are filled with pictures of trees. This is a wonderful book for the classroom and home.

Resources: Have children draw pictures of trees for each season and something special about the season.  Visit Barbara Reid’s website where there is a students/teacher artwork page, a picture a tree memory game, videos and a page devoted to working with Plasticine material.

 

 

The Tree Lady — Arbor Day, April 25

The Tree Lady9781442414020_p0_v4_s260x420The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever

H. Joseph Hopkins, Author

Jill McElmurry, Illustrator

Beach Lane Books, Biography, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 5-10

Themes: Kate Olivia Sessions, Horticulturists, Trees, San Diego, Nature

Opening: “Katherine Olivia Sessions grew up in the woods of Northern California. She gathered leaves from oaks and elms. She collected needles from pines and redwoods. And she braided them together with flowers to make necklaces and bracelets.”

Book Synopsis: Trees were Kate Sessions’ best friends.  She spent a lot of time in the woods in the 1860s. Her passion for the natural world led her to study science in college at the University of California.  She was the first woman to graduate with a degree in 1881. Her first teaching job took her to San Diego in 1883. You can imagine her shock when she arrived in this desert town. Most San Diegans didn’t think trees could grow, but Kate did.  She left her teaching job and began to research trees that could grow in a hot and dry desert. This young woman began to collect seeds of trees that would grow in San Diego from all over the world.  She began to garden and plant trees. Soon people began to buy trees from Kate’s nursery and planted them in their yards and around the city. In 1909 the city leaders announced that a great fair was coming to San Diego’s Balboa Park in 1915. The entire town volunteered to plant trees — millions to be exact. Kate became known as the Mother of Balboa Park.

Why I like this book:  This is a perfect book Arbor Day book.  H. Joseph Hopkins has written a story that portrays Kate as gutsy and passionate conservationist who literally transformed a desert town into the beautiful, lush green city it is today. More importantly his story teaches kids that if you have vision, determination, perseverance, you can make a difference in the world. That’s what Kate did. This is a wonderful classroom book and can be used in many different ways.  Jill McElmurry’s beautiful illustrations match the era and will certainly appeal to children.

Resources: There is a more detailed Author’s Note at the end of the book that gives the reader a lot more information about Kate Session and the celebrated work she did during her lifetime.  With Arbor Day and Earth Day close together, it is a great time to plant trees in areas in need of greenery.  This is a great project for kids to do through school, scouting programs and with families. Check out the Arbor Day Foundation for ways to get involved at home and in your community.

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.

Little Bird Lost

Little Bird Lost9781492762829_p0_v1_s260x420Little Bird Lost

Kate Larkinson, Author

Steve Larkinson, Photographer

CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes: Nature, Birds, Sibling Rivalry

Opening: “1..2..3 little birds but there should be more. Three baby birds in the nest but there should be four.”

Synopsis (Book Description) : One of the baby birds seems to be missing. His greedy siblings have pushed him out of view! A tale of sibling rivalry and their parents love all their offspring.

Why I like this book: I loved Kate Larkinson’s simplicity and rhyming text for young children. This is a charming story about nature, a mother bird feeding her young ones and sibling rivalry. According to the book, Steve Larkinson “saw the nest in the eaves of a bakery in south-west France,” and decided to capture the life of a family of swallows through his beautiful photography. This is the perfect spring read for beginning readers. They  will feel triumphant over mastering this beautiful book.  Make sure you check out Kate and Steve Larkinson’s website.

Resources: Walk around your house and yard and look for nests of birds.  You can watch the birds busily building nests right now. Bird watch and write down the variety of bird you see in your yard this spring.

There is a Goodreads Giveaway for a copy of this book at https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/83442-little-bird-lost-a-rhyming-picture-story  that ends March 24.

There is also a LibraryThing Giveaway for the ebook edition at http://www.librarything.com/er_list.php?program=giveaway&sort=enddate which expires on March 28.

Erik from This Kid Reviews Books, also reviewed Little Bird Lost last fall.  He has included some excellent activities for children that I won’t repeat.

The Three Sunflowers

Three Sunflowerscropped-tts-cover-for-website-headerThe Three Sunflowers

Janet Lucy, Author

Colleen McCarthy-Evans, Illustrator

Publishing by the Seas, Fiction, November 2012

Suitable for Ages: 4 and up

Themes:  Sunflowers, Life Cycles, Nature, Courage,  Faith, Harmony, Peace, Patience, Wisdom

Opening:  “Dawn awoke early one morning washing the summer sky in fresh new shades of pink, orange and lavender.” 

Synopsis:  Life in the garden was alive with activity.   Gloria, a tall and wise sunflower, sprung up earlier in the season near a pepper tree.  She was once a black and white seed in one of the bird feeders.  She was dropped by a bird to the ground where she planted herself and grew.  Two smaller sunflowers, Sunny and Solita, grew beside Gloria.  Their day was peaceful until a hawk swooped down to the feeders and disturbed the tranquility in the garden.  The birds flew off.  Solita and Sunny  were frightened and shouted at the hawk.  But, Gloria reminded them “We are sunflowers, golden and radiant.”  “Our job is to be loving and peaceful wherever we stand.”   Peace returned to the garden, but later that afternoon a thunderstorm darkened the skies and threatened the strength and stability of the sunflowers.   Once again Sunny and Solita held on by their roots afraid they might tumble.  Gloria reached for their stalks and pulled them close.  Their resiliency was tested in the face of a big storm.

Why I like this book:  Janet Lucy has created an inspiring book for children with many gentle life lessons about staying centered when turbulence is swirling around you, being who you are supposed to be, living in the moment, being present with those we love and being thankful.   These are all concepts children will grasp.  There is so much depth to this story and I had to be careful not to give it away.  With spring around the corner, it is also a story about life cycles, death, and transformation.  Colleen McCarthy-Evans’s watercolor illustrations are exquisite and perfect for the story.

Resources:   Sunflowers are an international symbol of Peace.  Lucy urges children to plant seeds of peace in their gardens.  You only need to visit The Three Sunflowers website to find wonderful resources, activities and a teaching guide to share with children.   I was intrigued with how many virtues are included in this story, all great topics for discussion.

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.

Mama Grizzly Bear

Mama Grizzly Bear9781616333041_p0_v1_s260x420Mama Grizzly Bear

Margot Finke, Author

Gloria Gaulke Swan, Illustrator

Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc., October 2012

Suitable for:  Ages 6-12 yrs.

Themes: Grizzly Bears, Conservation,Nature, Threats, Protection

Opening/Synopsis“The great grizzly mama is awesome and wild/She’ll tear you to bits if you threaten her child/With her shaggy coat flying, she hunts down a meal/Her sharp teeth and claws make it look like a steal.”  Follow Mama Grizzly bear through the year as she hunts for food, prepares for winter hibernation and gives birth to her cubs.   By spring the cubs are ready to play and explore their new world.  But, Mama will spend the spring and summer teaching them lessons in survival, foraging for food and fishing.

Why I like this book:  Margot Finke is known for her beautiful rhyming picture books.  She has written a charming and informative book for children about Grizzly bears.  It is a great classroom book to teach children about the North American Grizzly bears.  Finke’s goal is to inspire a new generation of children to feel compassion towards animals that are threatened or endangered.  She hopes that some day they will want to take an active role in protecting them from their fiercest enemy — man — who cuts down their habitat.  The illustrations by the late GLoria Gaulke Swan, are rich and warm in color, and the detail is inviting.

Resources:  Margot Finke has created a fun section For Cool Kids at the end of the book where children can find resources on conservation for Grizzly Bears, free Grizzly Screensavers, and Grizzly Bear eCards.  The last page of the book is a Word Puzzle.  She also has a fun place on her website called Wild US Critters, where children can learn about grizzlies and other US animals.

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.