Connecting Dots

Connecting Dots516dZBPfoUL__SX348_BO1,204,203,200_Connecting Dots

Sharon Jennings, Author

Second Story Press, Mar. 1, 2015

A Gutsy Girl Book (4): 197 pages

Suitable for Ages: 9-13; Grades 6-8

Themes: Self-Esteem, Family Relationships, Loss, Abuse, Coming of Age, Friendship

Opening: Until I was five, I thought my grandmother was my mother. In kindergarten, I found out the truth.

Book Synopsis: My name is Cassandra. Some people think I’m an orphan.  They say that truth is stranger than fiction, and in my case that’s definitely true. My best friend, Leanna, keeps bugging me to write my life story. She loves writing. Me, I’d rather be an actress. But telling the truth for once about my life could feel good. You see, I always thought my grandma raised me because I was an orphan. But when she died, I found out that was a lie. It’s hard to find out that nobody wants you. For a long time I didn’t have a real home, or any real friends. But things can change, and now I’m sitting here at my desk in my room, writing my story so you can read it, strange or not.

Why I like this book:

Sharon Jennings has written a heartbreaking and heartwarming coming of age story about a 12-year-old girl who is shipped off to the homes of many cruel relatives who treat her with disdain. Cassandra suffers abuse, hardship and finds little love. All she really wants is to find a family and a home where she feels she belongs.

Connecting Dots is a richly textured story narrated by Cassandra.  Cassandra’s character is memorable, strong, resilient, fearless and wise. In the face of such adversity and unimaginable abuse, she finds a bosom buddy in Leanna Mets, who encourages her to write her life story. As Cassandra shares her pages with Leanna, she finds writing cathartic, empowering and healing. Acting in school plays and with a kid’s theater company strengthens her resolve to never lose sight of her dream to become an actress.

The plot is strong, honest, tough and clever, with many twists and turns.  When you finish, you’ll want to cheer Cassandra for connecting the dots in her life. This third installment lives up to the “Gutsy Girls” book. Connecting Dots is definitely a companion book to Home Free, where Cassandra’s friend Leanna is the protagonist.

Note to Parents: There is a mention of Cassandra being sexually abused by an uncle Ernie and punished by an aunt with an enema and beatings. Although the book is for readers 9-12, parents may want to judge their child’s maturity level.

Other Gutsy Girl Books: Finding Grace, by Becky Citra; The Contest, by Caroline Stellings; Home Free, by Sharon Jennings; and Connecting Dots, by Sharon Jennings.

Sharon Jennings has written over 60 books for young people, many of them award winners and nominees. Home Free, the prequel to Connecting Dots, was nominated for a Governor General’s Award, the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award, and the Silver Birch Award. Visit Sharon Jennings at her website.

Check out the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books reviewed and listed on author Shannon Messenger’s blog.


I’m a Great Little Kid Series

I’m a Great Little Kid series

Today I’m sharing three books of the new I’m a Great Little Kid series, co-published by Second Story Press and BOOST Child Abuse Prevention & Intervention. Never Give Up, Reptile Flu and Fifteen Dollars and Thirty-Five Cents, are the first of six planned picture books for kids aged 5-8 to teach important lessons about communication, self-esteem, and self-confidence. Many of the same characters appear in each book. Written by Kathryn Cole with colorful illustrations by Quin Leng, the series will have a Facilitator’s Guide, which will be published with the final book in the series.  This is an important series that can be used to teach character education in the classroom.

Never Give Up9781927583609_p0_v1_s260x420Never Give Up: A Story about Self-esteem

April 2015

Synopsis: Nadia looks on as her friend, Shaun, struggles to ride his bicycle in the park — with training wheels. A group of kids laugh and tease Shaun about riding his “tricycle” and watch him take a spill. Shaun picks up his bike and tries again and again, each time crashing.  Nadia feels badly that she isn’t a good friend and doesn’t stand up to the taunting, but she offers to help him. Determined to not to give up, Shaun manages to impress his friends, win their respect and feel like a king.

Reptile FluuntitledReptile Flu: A Story about Communication

May 2015

Synopsis: Kamal is studying reptiles at school. His teacher announces a surprise class trip to visit a reptile show at the museum. Everyone cheers, except Kamal. He’s terrified of live reptiles, especially snakes. But he’s even more afraid of admitting his fear to anyone, including his teacher. What if his friends tease him? He unsuccessfully tries to get out of the trip by telling his parents and sister about his fear, but they are too busy to listen. At the last-minute Kamal finds a way communicate his fear with surprising results.

Fifteen51hWwUW+0KL__SY498_BO1,204,203,200_Fifteen Dollars and Thirty-Five Cents: A Story about Choices

September 8, 2015

Synopsis: Joseph and Devon are good friends at school. Joseph spots money on the playground and yells to Devon, “I’m rich!”  Joseph wants to keep the money, “finder keepers.” Devon thinks someone may have lost the money and wants to take it to the office and help find its owner. They spot Claire and Lin searching the playground; Lin was crying because she lost her money. During class, the teacher asks why Lin is so sad. Joseph shoots Devon a look to not tell. Will Devon be able to convince Joseph to do the right thing?

Kathryn Cole has spent a forty-five-year career in children’s books as an illustrator, art director, editor, designer, and publisher at Scholastic, OUP, Stoddart Kids and Tundra Books. Her experience along with 13 years of volunteering for BOOST give her a strong understanding of the issues children face every day. She is co-managing editor at Second Story Press in Toronto.

Qin Leng has illustrated a number of children’s books. She was born in Shanghai, China and lived in France before moving to Montreal. She always loved to illustrate the innocence of children and has developed a passion for children’s books. She has created art for many award-nominated picture books.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

Yaqui Delgado 9780763671648_p0_v3_s260x420Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

Meg Medina, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, 2013

Awards:  2014 Pura Belpré Author Award; ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults; International Latino Best Books Awards – Young Adult Fiction; and  Kirkus Reviews Best Books for 2013

Suitable for Ages: 14-17

Themes: New Girl, Latin Americans, Bullying, High School, Family Relationships, Friendships

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass.” That’s what some girl tells Piddy Sanchez one morning before school. Too bad Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui Delgado is, let alone what she’s done to piss her off.  All Piddy knows is that Yaqui hates her — and she better watch her back because Yaqui isn’t kidding around.

At first Piddy just focuses on trying to find out more about the father she’s never met and how to balance honors courses with her weekend job at the neighborhood hair salon. But as the harassment escalates, avoiding Yaqui and her gang starts to take over Piddy’s life.  Is there any way for Piddy to survive without closing herself off and running away from her problems?

Why I like this book:

  • Meg Medina focuses on the paralyzing impact of bullying in this raw, emotional and honest novel. The theme is timely and based on the author’s own experience with a bully as a teen, which adds depth and credibility to the story.
  •  The richly textured Latino story is set in Queens, New York, where Medina grew up.  The story is peppered with Spanish expressions, which contributes to the reader’s experience.
  • The characters are diverse and memorable. Piddy is an outgoing, smart and attractive Latina girl who wants to be a scientist. Yaqui is a jealous and threatening adversary who hates Piddy simply because she’s the “new” girl at school. Piddy’s Mama is strong and protective. Lila, her Mama’s best friend, is Piddy’s only confidant.  She works at the hair salon with Piddy, sells Avon and adds some comic relief.
  • Medina’s first-person narrative is extremely effective. The reader feels Piddy’s growing panic as the harassment increases and Yaqui and her gang stalk and close around her. Piddy is trapped and knows that if she tells school authorities or her mama, she will be “digging her grave.” Her grades dive, she isolates herself, skips school and her personality changes.
  • The plot is multi-layered, courageous and complicated. Medina delves deeply into the loneliness, fear and trauma of a bullied teen trying to handle the situation alone and the realistic mother-daughter relationship with family secrets.  The pacing is fast, engaging and keeps the reader turning pages. There are unexpected surprises and a realistic ending.  I had a hard time letting go of the story and characters.
  • Older teens will identify with Piddy and relate to the theme and plot.  Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass belongs in every school library because it is such an excellent work of fiction and a great discussion book.

Meg Medina is an award-winning Cuban-American author who writes picture books, middle grade, and YA fiction. She is the 2014 recipient of the Pura Belpré medal and the 2013 CYBILS Fiction winner for her young adult novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. She is also the 2012 Ezra Jack Keats New Writers medal winner for her picture book Tia Isa Wants a Car.  Visit Meg Medina at her website.

I Want Your Moo

I Want Your Moo9781433805424_p0_v1_s260x420I Want Your Moo: A Story for Children About Self-Esteem

Marcella Bakur Weiner and Jill Neimark, authors

JoAnn Adinolfi, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, 2010

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes:  Animals, Self-esteem, Sounds, Turkeys

Opening:  “Toodles the Turkey did not like herself.  Her legs were like sticks.  Her head had no hair.  Her feathers were brown.  But most of all, Toodles hated her sound.  Gobble-gobble. Gobble-gobble.  What a horrible noise!”

Synopsis:  Toodles doesn’t like the sound of her own voice and goes searching for a new sound.  She want’s Cathy the Cow’s strong  “Mooo-oooo-oooo.”  She wants Paris the Pig’s “Oink” and Harry the Horse’s “Neigh,” and the cat’s “Mee-oow.”  They all refuse.  But, Ralph the Rooster invites Toodles to join him in a duet of “Cocka-cocka! Doodle -doo!’ But, that didn’t go over well and Toodles runs away.  Defeated, Toodles runs into the very wise Omar the Owl “Whoo-whoo” gives her advice.  She wanders back into the barnyard, just in time to save the day with her Gobble-gobble.  Will Toodles ever be happy with her sound?

Why I like about this book:  Kids will have fun making all the wonderful animal sounds.  Weiner and Neimark have written a lively and lyrical book that will captivate young children.  This is a great book to add to your collection to boost your child’s self-esteem.  Adinolfi’s bright and colorful illustrations explode off each page.  The expressions she captures of the animals are hilarious.  Jill is also the author of Toodles and Teeny, which I reviewed last spring.

Resources:  There is a forward and back pages for parents talking about building a child’s self-worth and offering practical advice for guiding children toward self-acceptance.  This book offers so many teaching moments.  Have children act out the animal characters and draw pictures of Toodles and the other animals.  It is also a great classroom 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.

The Juice Box Bully

Juice Box BUlly9781933916729_p0_v1_s260x420The Juice Box Bully: Empowering Kids to Stand Up for Others

Bob Sornson and Maria Dismondy, Authors

Kim Shaw, Illustrator

Ferne Press, Fiction, 2011

Mom’s Choice Award, 2012

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes:  Acceptable behavior, Bullying, No bystanders, Self-esteem, Empowerment

OpeningAs Pete stood in front of his new class, Mr. Peltzer announced, “Let’s welcome Pete to our team.  Pete, you will be sitting behind Ralph.”  Settling into his seat, Pete pulled his hat down over his head so that only his eyes could be seen.

Synopsis:  Pete is the new kid in class.  It’s obvious from the start that he has an attitude when he won’t remove his hat in class.  He is a bystander watching the other kids play soccer at recess and refuses to join.  Ralph invites him to play, but Pete has his own ideas and steals the ball.  Lucy and Ruby talk to Pete nicely and explain the classroom rules and promise.   Pete only responds by squirting his juice box on Ruby’s shirt.  Will Ralph and the students stand up for each other and make a new friend?

Why I like this bookThe Juice Box Bully belongs in every classroom.  Bob Sornson and Maria Dismondy have written a book that empowers children to stand up for themselves and their friends.  It encourages children to make the right choices, teaches them not to be bystanders and to solve the problems with each other before involving adults.  This is one of the few books I’ve read where the kids are empowered from the start.  If used with a classroom curriculum, it would inspire kids to action.  Kim Shaw’s illustrations are bold and colorful.  She beautifully captures the action and mood of the story.

Resources:  There are excellent back pages on bystanders, empowerment and a classroom Promise.  You may also visit Bob Sornson  and Maria Dismondy at their websites to learn more strategies about empowering children.

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.

Millie Fierce

Millie Fierce141268607Millie Fierce

Jane Manning, Author and Illustrator

Philomel Books, Fiction, August 2012

Suitable for:  Ages 3 and up

Themes:  Feeling left out, Behavior, Self-acceptance, Self-esteem

Opening/Synopsis“Millie was too short to be tall, too quiet to be loud, and to plain to be fancy.  When she spoke at show-and-tell, hardly anyone listened.  When she walked into a room hardly anyone looked up.”  One day Millie is drawing a flower with chalk on the sidewalk, when three girls from her school walk over her flower until nothing is left but a big smudge.   “I’m not a smudge,” she said.  Millie is tired of not being noticed and comes up with a plan.    She frizzes her hair, sharpens her nails, stomps, and growls.  Her behavior becomes obnoxious and wild so people will notice her.  She paints the dog’s face blue, scratches the blackboard with her nails, pulls the buds off her neighbor’s flowers, and dumps jelly beans all over the classroom floor.  The kids at school notice Millie now, but she doesn’t receive the reaction she hoped for.  Millie wishes she were invisible again.  Perhaps being fierce isn’t the best way to get noticed.

What I like about this book:  You can’t help but love Millie and feel her pain.  What child hasn’t felt invisible and left out.  No child wants to feel like a smudge.   Jane Manning has written a fun and important story about how far a little girl will go to get attention.  This is a great lesson that will stay with children for a long time.  Being mean doesn’t mean kids will like you.  Kids will definitely identify with Millie.   Although Millie’s behavior is extreme, it’s a very funny book because of her creative  and outrageous character.   It also teaches without preaching.  Manning’s illustrations are vibrant and colorful and capture Millie’s expressive behavior to a tee.  Manning says that “Millie Fierce must have been rattling around inside me for a long time.”  “I remember feeling like Millie on many different occasions when I was a kid – like I wasn’t being seen, or heard, or considered.”   She has illustrated dozens of books.

Resources:  Great discussion book for the classroom.  Ask kids if they ever feel like Millie and to share situations  when they have felt invisible and left out.  Do they feel sad, hurt or mad?   How did they handle the situation?  What advice would they give Millie?   Have kids write a letter to Millie, or draw an exaggerated self-portrait of themselves that shows their sad, angry or wild side.

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.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio


R.J. Palacio, Author

Random House Children’s Books, Fiction, 2012

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes:  Abnormalities, Differences, Friendship, Middle School, Self-esteem

Opening: “I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid.  I mean, sure, I do ordinary things.  I eat ice cream.  I ride my bike.  I play ball.  I have an XBox.  Stuff like that makes me ordinary, I guess.  And, I feel ordinary.  Inside.  But I know ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds.  I know ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go.” 

Synopsis:  August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a rare facial deformity.  He has undergone many surgeries in his young life. He has dealt with people staring at him and rushing away in horror his 10 young years.  His mother has homeschooled August to protect him, but he’s about to start fifth grade,  His parents have taken a bold step and have enrolled him in Beecher Prep.  Although Auggie has learned to brace himself, he’s not happy about going to middle school.   It’s hard enough to be the new kid on the block.   But facing your classmates knowing there will be rejection, ridicule and cruelty is a lot to ask of any child.  The principal asks three students to be friends with Auggie and show him the ropes.  Among the three, Jack is the only true friend who really enjoys being with Auggie.  There are a few other kids who gather around to support Auggie.  Only Julian, the popular kid and class bully, turns the rest of the class against Auggie and Jack.  But Jack and Auggie will have their day when friendship  and kindness rule.


What I like about this book:  Palacio has written a gripping story that is both heartbreaking and funny.  The chapters are short and are told in first-person from the viewpoint of each child who interacts with Auggie — which is very raw and revealing.  The author has done an excellent job of getting into the mind of each of his characters and letting readers experience their feelings and reactions.  We also see how Auggie grows and builds inner strength and courage.   Wonder is an excellent book to use in the classroom and encourage kids to talk about differences — visible or invisible.  Wonder has been named the by the New York Times as one of the Top Ten Notable Children’s Books for 2012.