Not This Bear: A First Day of School Story

not this bear22718686Not This Bear: A First Day of School Story

Alyssa Satin Capucilli, Author

Lorna Hussey, Illustrator

Henry Holt and Company, Fiction, Jun. 23, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 2-6

Themes: First day at school jitters, Bears, Separation,  Friendship

Opening: “It was Bear’s first day of school. Mama gave Bear an extra big hug and extra big kiss. Bear held on to Mama tightly.”

Synopsis: Bear is unsure about his first day at school. He’d rather stay at home with Mama. Bear soon discovers that school can be fun. He paints, listens to stories, builds block towers, dresses up, gives a doll a bath, makes a new friend and plays on the playground. After school, Mama is waiting and Bear has a surprise for her.

Why I like this book:

Alyssa Satin Capucilli has written a charming book for children who may be reluctant to attend preschool or kindergarten for the first time. The book sweetly deals with separation anxiety from Mama and is comforting. As Bear hesitantly explores the new and exciting wonders of school, he makes a friend. What I appreciate most about this book is that Bear doesn’t choose gender specific toys and activities. He dresses up like a pirate, plays in the kitchen, and gives a doll a bath. When Bear goes to the playground he prefers to blow bubbles with another bear and make rainbows with chalk instead of swinging and climbing with the other cubs. This is an excellent book to help prepare little ones for school.  Lorna Hussey’s watercolor and ink illustrations are expressive, fun, and endearing. They really contribute to the cozy charm of the story.

Resources: Reading this book to your child is a good way to jump-start a conversation about going to school for the first time. Like Bear, encourage your little cub to paint or draw without coloring books, learn to put things away, play games to learn to take turns, or make a book together about school. Most important, attend an orientation or visit the school ahead of time.

Even though Perfect Picture Books is on vacation until September 11, you can still visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books to see a complete listing of all thePerfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources. 

Rain Reign – Middle Grade

Rain Reign9780312643003_p0_v2_s260x420Rain Reign

Ann M. Martin, Author

Feiwel and Friends, Fiction, Oct. 7, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Winner: 2015 Charlotte Huck Award Winner and the 2015 Schneider Family Book Award

Themes: Animals, Autism Spectrum, Homonyms, Separation, Friendship, Family Relationships, Bravery, Hope

Pages: 223

Opening: “I am Rose Howard and my first name has a homonym. To be accurate, it has a homophone, which is a word that’s pronounced the same as another word but spelled differently My homophone names is Rows.

Book Jacket Synopsis: Rose Howard is obsessed with homonyms. She’s thrilled that her own name is a homonym, and she purposely gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein) which, according to Rose’s rules of homonyms, is very special. Not everyone understands Rose’s obsessions, her rules, or the other things that make her different–not her teachers, not other kids, and not her single father. When a storm hits their rural town, rivers overflow, roads are flooded, and Rain goes missing. Rose’s father should not have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search.

Why I like this book: Rain Reign is told from Rose’s point of view. Superb storytelling by Ann Martin who helps her readers experience Rose’s high-functioning mind as she navigates her autistic world. This is not a story about disability, or autism, but a story about a fifth grader who uses her unique abilities and strengths to break some of her rules and routines to search for her lost dog, Rain. Martin’s narrative is seamless and gripping.  Her characters are believable with strong personalities, characteristics and quirks. The story is as captivating and creative as it is heartbreaking. It is set in a small rural town that is ravaged by a hurricane. The plot is well-paced with just the right amount of tension to keep readers intrigued, engaged and guessing. This is a realistic story that is emotionally honest and filled with heart.

Ann M. Martin is the author of Ten Rules for Living with My Sister, Ten Good and Bad Things About My Life, and Everything for a Dog, all from Feiwel and Friends. She won a Newbery Honor Award for A Corner of the Universe, and is the author of the beloved Baby-sitters Club series.

Always By My Side

Always by my Side9781595723376_p0_v1_s260x420Always By My Side

Susan Kerner, Author

Ian P. Benfold Haywood, Illustrator

Star Bright Books, Fiction, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 5-8 years

Themes: Absence of a father, Loss, Love, Families

Opening: “If you ask me where my daddy is, this is what I’ll say: He’s in me and around me, never far away.”

Synopsis: This is a story that will help children understand that a dad’s love is forever. Even if they grow up without his presence in their lives. He’s in the trees, the waves, in the wind and in the sunshine’s rays. And when they sing or move their hands in a certain way, Mama is there to say, “You’re a lot like your daddy.”

What I like this book: This is a beautiful and heartwarming story for children experiencing the loss or absence of a father.  Susan Kerner gives no specific reason for a loss in her lovely rhyming text. Fathers may be absent for many reasons like work, military deployments, divorce, incarceration, and death.  Through comforting verse, Kerner’s shows that their fathers are still part of them, whether it’s in their mannerisms and likeness to him or in everyday activities and nature. This book can be read to any child experiencing a father’s absence and help them know they are still loved.  And Mama is there to remind them,“No matter the day, the month, the year, the weather, the tears, or smiles…Daddy is always by your side, guiding you all the while.” Haywood’s illustrations are lively, colorful and ethnically diverse. Families coping with loss will find Always By My Side a helpful grief book.

Susan Kerner: Shortly after marrying the love of her life, her husband died of cancer before their first child was born. Her book is inspired by her own experiences. According to Kerner, Always By My Side has become popular among military families.

Knock Knock

Knock Knock9780316209175_p0_v1_s260x420Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream For Me

Daniel Beaty, Author

Bryan Collier, Illustrator

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Dec. 17, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Fatherless sons, Separation, Loss, Hope

Opening: Every morning, I play a game with my father. He goes KNOCK KNOCK on my door, and I pretend to be asleep till he gets right next to the bed. Then I get up and jump into his arms. “Good morning, Papa!” And my papa, he tells me, “I love you.” We share a game…KNOCK KNOCK.

Synopsis: Every morning a boy plays a game with his father. Then one day the knock doesn’t come. The boy’s father is gone and is not there to help him get ready for school, cook his breakfast or help him with homework. One day he finds a letter from is father on the desk in his room. His father is sorry that he won’t be coming home and gives hims advice “for every lesson I will not be there to teach you.” He encourages his son to “KNOCK KNOCK down the doors that I could not.”

Why I like this book: Daniel Beaty’s powerful storyline is based on his own experience as a child when his father is incarcerated. In writing this heart-wrenching story, Beaty doesn’t indicate where the father in KNOCK KNOCK has gone. Many children who have an absent father due to incarceration, divorce, abandonment, military deployments and death, will identify with this story. Even though the story is sad, it is also about love, survival, and hope. Beaty’s text is simple and lyrical. The plot is engaging and moving.  The last few pages are filled with inspirational words from the father. Bryan Collier’s stunning illustrations are done in watercolor and collage and support the sentiment of the text.

Daniel Beaty is an award-winning writer, performer, educator and empowerment expert. KNOCK KNOCK  has won the Huffington Post Best Picture Book of the Year, the Boston Globe-Horn Books Award Honor and the ALSC Notable Children’s Book Award.  You can visit Beaty’s website here.

Bryan Collier has illustrated more than 25 picture books, including the award-winning Dave the Potter and Fifty Cents and a Dream.  He  has received three Caldecott Honors and five Coretta Scott King Award, including the 2014 Coretta Scott King Award for KNOCK KNOCK. You can visit Collier’s website here.

 

Red Kite, Blue Kite

RedKite9781423127536_p0_v4_s260x420Red Kite, Blue Kite

Ji-Li Jiang, Author

Greg Ruth, Illustrator

Disney Hyperion Books, fiction, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Father/son relationship, Kites, Separation, Hope, Chinese Cultural Revolution, Multicultural

Opening:  “I love to fly kites.  But not from the ground.  My city is crowded, and the streets are skinny.  Baba and I fly our kites from the tippy-top of our triangle roof.  We are above but still under, neither here nor there.  We are free, like the kites.”

Synopsis:  When Tai Shan and his father, Baba, are separated during China’s Cultural Revolution, Tai Shan goes to live with Granny Wang.  Baba is able to visit Tai Shan every Sunday, but they stay close by greeting each other every day with flying kites.   It is their secret way of communicating their love for one another and ease the separation.  One day Tai Shan isn’t able to see Baba’s kite in the sky and worries if he will ever see his father again.

Why I like this book:  Ji-Li Jiang has written a beautiful poetic story about a father/son relationship that endures under the most difficult time in China’s history.  Greg Ruth’s double-page spreads are done in ink and watercolors.  They are large, evocative and a feast for the eyes. It is a compelling story that teaches children about the Chinese culture and a little history at the same time.

Resources;  There is an author’s note at the end that talks about the author’s relationship to the story and the Chinese Cultural Revolution from 1966-1976.  The author was born in Shanghai and spent many years dealing with her childhood memories of surviving the Cultural Revolution.  Visit Ji-li Jiang’s website to learn more about using this book in the classroom.  She has a video presentation that can be downloaded.  Talk about separation with kids and ask them what they would do to stay in touch with a parent.

Rachel’s Promise

Rachel's Promise9781927583142_p0_v1_s260x420Rachel’s Promise (The Rachel Trilogy)

Shelly Sanders, Author

Second Story Press, Historical Fiction, Sept. 23, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 12 and up

Themes:  Persecution, Russian Jews,  Family, Love, Loss, Separation

SynopsisRachel’s Promise is set in pre-revolutionary Russia, where tensions run high between the Jewish and Christian populations. Vicious riots break out in Kishinev in 1903.  Rachel’s father is killed and her home and Jewish community destroyed.   Her Christian friend Sergei turns against his police chief father, to help 15-year-old Rachel.  (Read my review of Rachel’s Secret here.) Rachel, her mother, sister Nucia, and an adopted brother, Menahem, flee Russia and the brutal riots.  They travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway to the coast where they board a ship to Shanghai, China.  The journey is hard on her mother and she dies in a Shanghai medical facility.  Now it is up to Rachel and her siblings to earn enough money to travel to America.  Although her life becomes one of daily survival, she never gives up her dream of going to school and becoming a journalist.   She discovers a Jewish newspaper in Shanghai and submits articles, earning extra money for the voyage.

Meanwhile, as Rachel flees Russia, Sergei leaves home for a factory job in St. Petersburg to help support his family and earn money to attend the university.  Work in the Russian factories is deplorable and dangerous.  Sergei is injured.  His dream of becoming an architect fades as he realizes the harsh reality of his life.  He joins the growing number of factory workers who are rebelling against the government.  Although separated, Sergei and Rachael continue to communicate through letters and hang on to hope they will be together again.

Why I like this book:  This is the second book in the Rachel Trilogy written by Shelly Sanders.  The trilogy is inspired by the lives of her maternal grandmother, Rachel Talan Geary, and her sister Anna “Nucia” Rodkin, who lived in Kishinev and survived the massacres in 1903.  Sanders has once again written a gripping story set against real historical events.  She tells the story of the Russian Jews who managed to escape Russia under incredible odds to new lives filled with hardship in Shanghai.  Many of the characters in this story did exist.  I learned so much about a period of Russian history I knew little about.  Sanders beautifully balances the alternating stories of Sergei and Rachel, who are mere teenagers caught in the cross-fire of persecution during extreme political upheaval.  Her main characters are authentic, with each having a very distinct voice.  The book is a page-turner.

Visit Shelly Sander’s at her website.  I look forward to her third upcoming novel in the trilogy, Rachel’s Hope.  After two years in Shanghai, Rachael and her family save enough money to pay for passage on a ship sailing to San Francisco.  Follow her journey and new life in America.

The Night Dad Went to Jail by Melissa Higgins

Dad in Jail9781479521425_p0_v1_s260x420The Night Dad Went to Jail:  What to Expect When Someone you Love Goes to Jail

Melissa Higgins, author

Wednesday Kirwan, illustrator

Picture Window Books, Fiction, 2012

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes:   Children of Prisoners, Prisons, Separation, Family Relationships

Opening:   This is one of my before drawings.  Before means “before my dad went to jail.”  Dad and I didn’t catch anything, but we had fun anyway.

Synopsis:  Family life is disrupted one night for Bailey and his siblings when police officers arrive at their dad’s apartment. They arrest their dad, put him in handcuffs, put him a police car, and take him to jail.  An officer remains behind until their mother arrives.  Naturally, Bailey is upset, scared and wants to know “why and what happened?”  He even asks if it is his fault.  His mother explains that their father made a bad choice, broke a law and would be in jail.  Attending school the next day and dealing with the teasing from the other kids angers and embarrasses Bailey.  On their first visit with their dad, a glass window separates them and they talk to him by phone.  When he’s transferred to a prison, they walk through a metal detector, can hug and spend time with their dad.  Their dad will be in jail for six years,  so Bailey and his siblings join a support group and find ways keep in touch by writing letters and drawing pictures.

Why I like this book:  I’ve been looking for a book like this for a while.  There are roughly two million children in the country who have a mom or a dad in prison for a variety of reasons.  Melissa Higgins has written a sensitive and compassionate book for children facing such a difficult separation.  All of the characters in the book are animals, which makes the story easy to read to a child.  Although the children have done nothing wrong and may not even understand  what has happened, they feel responsible.  They are teased at school and associated with a crime they haven’t committed.   Wednesday Kirwan’s illustrations are especially warm, caring and show the stages of feelings the children work though. Throughout the books she offers facts at the bottom, like “One in every 43 kids in the United States has had a mom or dad in prison.”  This is an excellent book for parents, teachers and counselors.

Resources:  The author has included a glossary of terms to use with children.  She suggests some helpful internet sites and resources. With so many children with parents incarcerated, Sesame Street has created a video for children and a tool kit for parents, caregivers and therapists.  There is also the National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated.

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.