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 – Book Two in the Rachel Trilogy

Rachel's Promise9781927583142_p0_v1_s260x420Rachel’s Promise

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.

Love, Lizzie: Letters to a Military Mom

LoveLizzie51oEU3AbzRL__SX285_Love, Lizzie: Letters to a Military Mom

Lisa Tucker McElroy, Author

Diane Paterson, Illustrator

Albert Whitman & Company, Fiction, 2009

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes: Military Families, Mothers and Daughters, Separation, War

Opening: “Dear Mommy,  I know that it’s only been three days since you went away, but I really, really miss you.  Can you come back soon?”

Summary:  Lizzie’s mother is a soldier who has been deployed overseas to serve her country, and Lizzie misses her a lot.   She and her mother write a lot of letters to help with their separation.  Lizzie keeps her up to date with every day happenings at home with her Daddy and brother.  She talks about school, winning a soccer game and attending the state finals.  Lizzie draws pictures of how she rearranges her room.  She also draws many detailed maps about changes in town, and trips she takes with her Dad and brother to visit grandparents.  Foremost in Lizzie’s mind are the questions “Are you staying safe, Mommy?” and “When will you be home?”

What I like about this book:  This book is a series of hand-written letters with child-like drawings.  The major focus is about how a child deals with a long separation from a parent, especially if the parent is on a dangerous assignment.   Lisa Tucker McElroy has written a compelling book that speaks for the many military children who silently serve at home and endure the long separations, anxiety, fear and concern for the safety of their deployed parent.  They want to know where their parents are, what they are doing, why they miss birthday parties, holidays and soccer tournaments.  Diane Paterson’s colorful and lively artwork is very appealing.

Resources:  The author has written “Tips from Lizzie and Her Mom on Handling Separation.”   A great activity is to encourage your child to create a memory box where they can save things they’ve done throughout the year.  The box can be a way of sharing their year with a returning parent.

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.

Love You More Than You Know

Love You More9781598510553_p0_v1_s260x420Love You More Than You Know: Mothers’ Stories About Sending Their Sons and Daughters to War

Janie Reinart and Mary Anne Mayer

Gray and Company, Publishers, Non-fiction, 2009

Suitable for:  Adults, Parents, Grandparents

Themes:  Sending a Son/Daughter to War, Love, Faith and Courage

Awards:  2013 Best Cleveland Book

Opening“Mothers are not prepared to let go when their children grow up and become soldiers.”

Synopsis:  This book is a collection of 45 powerful true stories written by mothers who share a common bond of sending their sons and daughters to war and the anguish of waiting and praying for their safe return.   The idea for the stories was born out of the experiences of two authors who began writing their personal stories and sharing them with groups.  They began to receive letters from other mothers sharing their stories and messages from their children about life on the front line.  There are some families with several sons and daughters deployed at the same time.  Reading these stories shows their strength, courage, love, faith and resiliency in some challenging situations.

When Janie Reinart’s 22-year-old son Joe, an Army Specialist with the Ohio National Guard, was deployed to the Middle East in 2003 it was like “time stopped.”  “Night ran into day.  I took off my watch and put on a lapel pin with Joe’s picture inside the frame.  I wore Joe’s picture over my heart every day.”  She spent many sleepless nights, sometimes falling asleep near the computer waiting for a message that would arrive at 2 a.m.   Her son rode in a Humvee in convoys, which were easy targets.  He lost friends.  Like many of the stories I read, Janie found that the only way to deal with a deployment was by realizing she was not in control of the situation and surrendering to a higher power.  Joe returned home from his deployment in February 2005.  He completed six years of service and was honorably discharged.

Mary Anne Mayer’s son, Stan, enlisted in the Marines in 1999.  Then Sept. 11, 2001 changed the world and he was deployed.  She kept Stan’s leather jacket hanging on the back of the dining room chair.  And there was a vigil candle on her mantel, with Stan’s picture nearby.  Stan was part of a Mobile Assault Platoon (MAP), which executed offensive missions against the insurgents.  Stan’s Humvee was hit by a suicide bomber, but he miraculously survived, although he had injuries.  He carried his wounded brothers to safety.  That day he lost four friends and many were seriously wounded.   Mary Anne’s hands would “freeze on the steering wheel when she heard on the radio that 14 Marines from Stan’s unit had been killed.”  “We rushed home and sat by the phone, praying that it would not ring and fearful of the sound of cars coming up the driveway.”  Stan was not killed and eventually returned home.  But their lives had been changed forever.

Why I like this book:  This book is not about personal feelings about war, but rather the love and unrelenting pride the mothers feel for their sons and daughters.  This book is truly a labor of love and a must read for anyone who has sent a son or daughter to war.  There aren’t always happy endings.  It is also an important book for those wanting to understand the depth of a mother’s love.  This book meant a great deal to me because our 20-year-old grandson was a casualty of war in 2009, the year Janie and Mary Anne published this book.  I have always felt the children families at home are the heroes as they deal with long separations and wait for those e-mails, letters and phone calls, letting them know their loved one is okay.  They serve too!

You can visit Janie Reinart on her website Love You More Than You Know, where she shares stories about heroes, unusual reunions, military dogs, loss, victories and the daily lives military families.