Inside Out and Back Again

Inside Out and Back9780061962790_p0_v2_s260x420Inside Out & Back Again

Thanhha Lai, Author

Harper Collins Children, Fiction, 2011

Suitable for Ages:  8-12

Themes:  Vietnamese Americans, Immigration, Refugees, Alabama, Resilience

Synopsis from Book Jacket:  For all the ten years of her life, Ha has only know Saigon: The thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by…and the beauty of her very own papaya tree.   But now the Vietnam War has reached her home.  Ha and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope.  In America, Ha discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape…and the strength of her very own family.  This is the moving story of one girl’s year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next.

Why I like this book:  Thanhha Lai has written the story of Ha, in short free verse narrative, which is exquisitely executed. Her images are both rich and humorous.  It was the winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. This is a remarkable  story based on  Thanhha Lai’s own vivid childhood memories of fleeing Saigon and sailing to a strange new country. She vividly captures Ha’s rich and confusing emotional life. In Vietnam she’s an outstanding student. In America Ha is put into a lower grade because she can’t speak English. She feels dumb. There are so many rules in English that make absolutely no sense to Ha. She says “Whoever invented English,/ should be bitten/ by a snake.”  Ha is humiliated after the class claps for her when she recites the ABC’s and counts to twenty.  “I’m furious,/ unable to explain,/ I already learned/fractions/and how to purify river water./So this is/ what dumb feels like./ I hate, hate, hate it.”  This is a story about the resilience of the feisty spirit of a child told with such simplicity.

Resource:  You may be interested in reading an interview with Thanhha Lai when she won the 2011 National Book Award.

A Long Walk to Water – Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Today I am participating in Multicultural Children’s Book Day, which celebrates diversity in children’s literature.  The event is co-hosted by Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press.  Around 60 bloggers have signed up to participate.  Please visit the site mentioned above to view the many books reviewed.

Long Walk to Water9780547577319_p0_v1_s260x420A Long Walk to Water

Linda Sue Park, Author

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Historical Fiction, Oct. 14, 2011

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: Refugees, Survival, Sudan, War, Water

SynopsisA Long Walk to Water is narrated in alternating chapters by two 11-year-old children who live in the Sudan two decades apart. Nya’s story is told in 2008 and Salva’s story is told in 1985. Nya spends nearly eight hours everyday walking to a pond to fetch dirty water in a container for her family. She makes the trip twice daily and it prevents her from ever attending school. Salva is attending school when war breaks out in his village. He and the school children run deep into the forest so they aren’t killed by rebels. He is separated from his family and makes a long journey fraught with danger — rebel armies, lions, crocodiles, and desserts — to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. He later leads 150 boys to safety in Kenya. Salva is among 3,800 “lost boys” of Sudan who make it to freedom and a new life in America. His path crosses Nya’s in an amazing way many years later.

Why I like this book:  Linda Sue Park gives her readers an extraordinary perspective about the brutal Sudanese conflict. It is a true and gripping story based on the childhood experiences of Salva Dut, an 11-year-old boy from the Sudan, who suffers great hardships when he flees from his home when it is attacked. Not only does he survive such a brutal ordeal, he gives back to his country in a remarkable way years later. Park said A Long Walk to Water made the New York Times Bestseller’s list three years after it was published because “the book spread quickly by word of mouth among teachers and librarians.” It is required reading this year for 7th graders living in New York. Park wrote this book because “I want young readers to know that there are people like Salva in this world, to admire and emulate however they can.” Click here to visit Linda Sue Park’s website. She is also a Newbery Medalist for A Single Shard, and the author of the  Xander’s Panda Party, 2013.

Resources:  You can learn more about the lifesaving work Salva is doing today in Sudan by visiting his website Water for Sudan.  Listen to the interview with Linda Sue Park and Salva.

Hero Mom

Hero Mom9781477816455_p0_v1_s260x420Hero Mom

Melinda Hardin, Author

Bryan Langdo, Illustrator

Amazon Children’s Publishing, Fiction, 2013

Suitable for Ages:  4-8

Themes:  Military Moms, Jobs, Military Families, Pride, Love, War

Opening“Our moms are superheroes.  My mom doesn’t leap over tall buildings — she builds them.”

Synopsis: The mothers in this book are heroes to their sons and daughters.  They fly helicopters, work with dogs to find missing people and dangerous objects, repair aircraft, trucks and tanks, heal patients,  and lead battalions.  They have two things in common.  They are American soldiers and they are moms.

Why I like this book:   This is a very positive and heartwarming book that introduces kids to the subject of what military Moms do while they are away serving our country.  It is very simple and emphasizes how proud the children are of the job their hero parents do to keep us safe.  Melinda Hardin has taken a tough subject of separation and put a positive spin on the subject.   I could easily see a military child taking this book to share at school.  Bryan Langdo’s pastel watercolors are friendly an engaging and capture a feeling of pride in each child.  Hardin also is the author of Hero Dad.  These are two great books to use in the classroom.

Resources:  Have children in class write thank you letters to deployed military soldiers.  All moms  and dads are super heroes.  Encourage the class to draw pictures about the jobs their parents do, regardless of whether or not they are military.  With Father’s Day around the corner, this would be a great activity.  Have children pack care packages for soldiers to show them how much you appreciate what they do.  I know it warms the hearts of soldiers to receive letters and packages from kids.  My grandson received care packages from school children.

Kirkus Review:  “An important message, delivered with effective straightforwardness and an abundance of heart.”

School Library Journal:  “The luminous watercolors make the difficult subject matter approachable for young children.

Hero Dad9780761457138_p0_v1_s260x420

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.

Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops

God Bless Our Troops9781442457355_p0_v1_s260x420Don’t Forget, Gold Bless Our Troops

Jill Biden, Author

Raúl Colón, Illustrator

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes:  Children of Military Personnel, Soldiers, Family Relationships

Opening“Does Daddy Really Have to Go?” “Daddy is a soldier,” Natalie’s mom answers in a quiet voice. “Soldiers have to do hard things sometimes.” She runs her hand through Natalie’s hair. Her father takes Natalie in his arms. “Home is wherever I’m with you!” he sings softly.

Synopsis:  Natalie’s father has been deployed overseas for a year and she misses him. She and her brother, Hunter, are supported by a loving mother and Nana. They celebrate holidays and help Natalie bake cookies and pack care packages to send to her father and other soldiers. Friendly neighbors bring them food, help shovel the sidewalks and mow the lawn. Her church family prays every Sunday for the many soldiers, including Natalie’s father. When Natalie prays at bedtime, she tells Nana, “And don’t forget, God bless out troops.” E-mails and video chats with her Dad make things a little easier, but it still isn’t the same as having him home.

Why I like this book: Second Lady Jill Biden has written a sensitive book based on the experiences of her granddaughter, Natalie, when her father is deployed to Iraq. She chronicles Natalie’s life and the strong bond with her brother and mother, family, neighbors, church, school and community. Biden’s book is heartfelt and approachable for kids. Military children will quickly relate to Natalie and Hunter. Raúl Colón’s illustrations give a sense of tenderness and emotion as he uses soft watercolors and colored pencils to show for some very special moments in the story. This book belongs in every school library.

Resources: Jill Biden offers four detailed pages of back matter at the end of the book  She includes an author’s note, information about the military, and tips for how children and adults can reach out to military families.  She includes many creative ideas and projects for families and teachers to use this book at home and in the classroom.  She also lists special resources and websites for military children and families.

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.

Personal Effects

Personal Effects9780763655273_p0_v1_s260x420Personal Effects

E. M. Kokie

Candlewick Press, Fiction,  Sept. 12, 2012

Suitable for Ages: 14-17

Themes:  War, Deployments, Dealing with Loss, Grief, Redemption

Synopsis:  Matt Foster is drowning in grief after his older brother, T.J., is killed in Iraq.   Matt has a rocky relationship with his father who is stoic and doesn’t know how to deal with his own feelings about T.J.’s death, let alone help Matt with his loss.  Matt has  a minefield of problems like failing classes,  getting into serious fights with kids, and expulsion from school.  When T.J.’s personal items are delivered by the military, his father stashes them away, daring Matt to go near them.   Shauna, his best friend, is the only person Matt confides in.  He fears his bully father, but knows that the only way he can understand what has happened to T.J. is by opening the sealed trunks without getting caught.  Matt finds stacks of letters T.J. has written to Celia Carson and photos.  At the very bottom is a letter sealed in an envelope to “Celia” that T.J. never got to send.  After reading each letter over and over, Matt decides he must travel from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin to deliver the letter and photos to Celia.   Together with Shauna, they plot his trip, calculate the cost, find where Celia lives and her place of employment, and find a cheap place for Matt to stay.  Shauna loans Matt her car.  In searching for answers about his brother in Wisconsin, Matt discovers he doesn’t know T.J. at all.

Why I like this book:  E. M. Kokie has written a courageous and beautiful debut novel that is complicated and compelling.  She delves deeply into the anger, pain, and grief of a 17-year-old trying to make sense of his brother’s death.  Matt wants to know the truth so he can find closure.  It leads him on a journey where he uncovers shocking truths about his brother he never imagined.  What Matt learns challenges him to honor T.J.’s memory, stand up to his volatile father, and take charge of his own life.  In many ways it is also a coming of age book that includes his relationship with Shauna.  There is no tidy ending and this book is as real as it gets.  You won’t easily forget Matt.  It is definitely a book for kids in high school and young adults.   Visit E.M. Kokie at her website and learn more about this author who writes “about teens on the cusp of life-changing moments, exploring issues of identity and self-determination.”

SPOILER ALERT:  Thought it important to include a quote from the author E.M. Kokie: “I think it is important to note that many LGBTQ service members  who served under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” policy, including over 13,000 military personnel who were discharged.” Matt’s story about how his brother lived a secret life is not uncommon.  Yet, T.J.  was deployed three times, served honorably and was killed in an explosion.  Make sure you read the author’s note at the end of the book.

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.