Big and Little Are Best Friends by Michael Garland

Big and Little Are Best Friends

Michael Garland, Author and Illustrator

Orchard Books, Fiction, May 9, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes: Animals, Elephants, Mice, Best Friends, Differences, Acceptance, Rhyme

Opening: Big and Little / Are best of friends. / Though the things / that they like / Are at opposite ends.

Synopsis: Big is an elephant and Little is a mouse.  They are opposites in every possible way. One likes loud music, the other prefers soft. One loves hot weather, the other loves cold. One is shy and the other is bold. One wears plain, the other wears frilly. They are as different as night and day. Sometimes they fight, but they always make put their friendship first.

Why I like this book:

Michael Garland has written a timely and heartwarming story for children that celebrates tolerance. Elephant and a mouse are very different in surprising ways, but they learn to compromise and accept each other. They learn that they don’t need to change who they are in order to become best friends. Elephant and mouse discover that their differences can lead to a lot of fun when they are together. The story also breaks down some preconceived stereotypes.

Garland’s simple rhyming text includes fun synonyms and antonyms and is perfect for beginning readers. Garland’s signature double page-spreads feature lively, humorous and colorful illustrations that will appeal to children’s imaginations.

Resources: Use Garland’s concept book to teach children about opposites, like “big and little.”  Ask children their favorite color, food, toy, sport, book, movie and so on. Compare the similarities and differences with siblings or classmates. Apply the idea to friendship. Would they still be friends if one liked cake and the other preferred pie?  Depending upon the age of the child, you may want to include bigger topics that include diversity.

Michael Garland has 35 books in print. Four of Garland’s books are New York Times Bestsellers, and Miss Smith’s Incredible Storybook won State Reading Awards in Delaware, California and Texas. He lives in Patterson, NY.  You can visit Garland at his website.

Time Jump Coins By Susan May Olson

Time Jump Coins: An Adventure in Historic Philadelphia

Susan May Olson, Author & Publisher

Fiction, May 17, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Time travel, Historic Philadelphia, Different Abilities, Diversity, Friendship

Synopsis (GoodReads): Imagine if you could time travel to the past just by rubbing the date on a penny!

Ten-year-olds Joey (Johanna) and Eli can time travel to any year between 1859 and 1909, simply by rubbing a coin from a set of Indian Head pennies! Old Philadelphia can be a lot of fun. They see the first phone and climb up the arm of the Statue of Liberty at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition. They get to go on a sleigh ride through a Wissahickon winter wonderland.

In between trips, Hal, proprietor of Hal’s Coins and Collectibles, teaches them tons of interesting facts about coins. However, their adventures take a serious turn when they wind up in a textile mill in Manayunk. They are shocked by the conditions for children working in the mill. They get mistaken for workers and are forced to work. They’ll be lucky if they don’t fall into the dangerous gears of the machines!

Joey wants a friend more than anything. The fact that Eli is a super-smart history whiz should make him the ideal time travel partner. But Joey has a bad temper, and Eli has Asperger’s Syndrome. Will their quirks drive them apart, or worse, get them stranded in the past forever?

Why I like this book:

Susan May Olson’s debut novel is a whimsical time-travel adventure to historic Philadelphia for Joey (Johanna) and Eli. Olson has spun a story of pure magic around an inherited 50-coin collection of Indian Head Cents, that when rubbed can take the two fifth graders back to Philadelphia between 1859-1909,  and when pinched can return them home. What a clever way to travel back in time and experience history first-hand.

The main characters are memorable, but couldn’t be more opposite. Joey has a bad temper and Eli has different abilities and is socially awkward with people. But they share one thing in common — neither have friends. They are assigned to sit next to each other on the bus and they gain a respect for each other. Since Eli is a history buff, Joey shares her magic coin collection with him and its secret. Eli does much of the research for their coin jump leaps. Their growing friendship throughout the story is perhaps the highlight of the book for me.

The plot is clever, fast-paced and filled with adventure, wonder, mystery and danger — if you get lost, injured or lose the penny and don’t return in time.  There are some secrets and surprises in the story. This is a great summer read and I predict tweens will enjoy the Time Jump Coins.

I especially liked Joey and Eli’s interaction with Hal, the coin collector. I had no idea that each coin has a mint mark on it beneath “In God We Trust.”  P for Philadelphia, D for Denver, S for San Francisco and W for West Point.

Favorite entry from Joey’s Journal:

“The most popular kids are like a pop song you hear on the radio that everyone likes right away…And then there are other kids that are like a painting hanging on a wall that most people including you walk right by and never notice. But one day you walk by that painting and take a long look. You’re not even sure you like it at first, but you walk by slowly because you want to get to know it better. The more you get familiar with the painting, the more you realize how much there is to it and how cool it is. My friend Eli is that kind of painting.”

Susan May Olson is a former speech-language pathologist who lives with her family in Chapel Hill, N.C.  Time Jump Coins is her debut novel. Visit Susan at her website, where she’s reviewed over 150 time travel stories.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

Sammy’s Broken Leg (Oh, No!) and the Amazing Cast That Fixed It

Sammy’s Broken Leg (Oh No!) and the Amazing Cast That Fixed It

Judith Wolf Mandell, Author

Lise C. Brown, Illustrator

Harpeth Ridge Press, Fiction, Dec. 7, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 2-6

Themes: Broken Leg, Wearing a cast, Doctors, Family, Support, Love

Opening: Sammy ran and twirled and skipped. Then she jumped on her trampoline.  It was too late! Sammy stumbled and toppled off!

Synopsis: Sammy loved to bounce high on her trampoline until one day she tumbled off.  Her parents took her to the hospital where doctors told them Sammy had broken the bone in her thigh. Doctors fitted Sammy with a purple fiberglass body cast until she healed. When Sammy woke up and tried to sit up, she couldn’t. She had difficulty sleeping. Her clothes didn’t fit. She couldn’t use the potty by herself. She missed her baths. She was bored.

Mommy hung a calendar on the wall so they could check off the days until her cast would be removed. Family and friends came to visit bearing treats and presents. They played games with Sammy to help lift her spirits.

Finally the day arrived when Sammy returned to the hospital to have her leg x-rayed. The doctors said Sammy’s leg was healed and that they would remove her body cast. She was so happy to be free of her cast until she discovered her leg muscles were weak and she couldn’t sit up or stand by herself. Sammy was determined and resourceful.  Every day she grew stronger until she was once again her happy self.

Why I like this book:

Judith Wolf Mandell has written a sweet and original story that is a perfect gift book for a child with a broken limb. It is a timely and realistic story about what it’s like to wear a cast. Sammy’s story soothes, entertains and informs children and their families about what to expect while wearing a cast. All of the medical procedures Sammy undergoes are accurately described and will help reduce a child’s anxiety. The story also tackles a child’s fears and emotions which will vary depending upon how confined they are by their cast. It provides parents with many tips to help their child during the recovery process.

The author creates a  thousand bazillion surprise kisses that only Sammy can hear that both comfort and cheer her during her recovery. It is a clever way of showing all the get-well wishes Sammy receives from those who love her and want her to heal.

Lise C. Brown’s illustrations are colorful, quirky and lively. Sammy’s expressions are priceless. They will boost any child’s mood.

Judith Wolf Mandell was inspired to write Sammy’s Broken Leg (Oh, No!) and the Amazing Cast That Fixed It after her young granddaughter fell and had to wear a partial body cast. When she couldn’t find a book to help her granddaughter, she wrote one. Mandell is a professional writer.

Blue Sky White Stars by Sarvinder Naberhaus

Blue Sky White Stars

Sarvinder Naberhaus, Author

Kadir Nelson, Illustrator

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jun. 13, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 (and adults)

Themes: American Flag, Symbols, Landscape, Landmarks, Diversity

Book Jacket Synopsis: Blue Sky White Stars is an ode to our nation’s greatest and most enduring symbol — our flag.

A spare, poetic text has inspired the gorgeous paintings by the acclaimed Kadir Nelson. His artwork brims with iconic American imagery, including majestic landscapes and the beauty and diversity of its people.

From an image of the Statue of Liberty to a depiction of civil rights marchers banded together, the art for each spread depicts a sweeping view of America — its strength and inclusiveness — from sea to shining sea.

Visually stunning and deeply evocative, this book celebrates our country’s history and symbols and their promise for all Americans.

Why I love this book:

This timely book is a beautiful celebration of the American flag. It is an unwavering symbol of our freedom and a reminder of the growing pains we’ve weathered throughout our history. The book  is meant for children, but will also appeal to adults. Naberhaus’ text is powerful and lyrical, with each word carefully chosen and many examples of lovely word play — “Sew Together / Won Nation” showing Betsy Ross stitching the flag, and “So Together / One Nation,” depicting the cultural diversity that makes America special. Nelson’s oil paintings are exquisite. The landscapes are breathtaking. There is so much detail etched into the diverse faces of generations of immigrants who call America their home. This is the perfect gift book to celebrate our history this 4th of July with children, family and friends.

Resources: Make sure you check out A Note from the Author and A Note From the Illustrator at the end of the book. And be sure to hang your flag outside this weekend.

Sarvinder Naberhaus immigrated to Iowa from India when she was four years old. She was an elementary teacher and media librarian before she began writing. Her books include Boom Boom, and Lines. Visit her at her website.

Kadir Nelson is an acclaimed artist and the illustrator of several New York Times bestselling picture books, including his authorial debut We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, If You Plant a Seed, Nelson Mandela, I Have a Dream: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad, Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, and many more. Visit him at his website.

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Beyond the Bright Sea

Lauren Wolk, Author

Dutton Children’s Books, May 2, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Themes: Abandonment, Orphan, Identity, Family, Love, Elizabeth Islands, Sea

Prologue Opening: “My name is Crow. When I was a baby, someone tucked me into an old boat and pushed me out to sea. I washed up on a tiny island, like a seed riding the tide. It was Osh who found me and took me in. Who taught me how to put down roots, and thrive on both sun and rain, and understand what it is to bloom.”

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Crow has lived her entire life on a tiny, isolated piece of the beautiful Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts. Set adrift in a small boat when she was just hours old, Crow’s only companions are Osh, the man who rescued and raised her, and Miss Maggie, their fierce and affectionate neighbor across the sandbar. Even though Miss Maggie sent telegraphs to the other Elisabeth Islands asking if anyone was looking for a new-born, there were no responses. The rest of the islanders are afraid Crow was born on Penikese Island, which housed a colony of lepers. They keep their distance and won’t allow her to attend school with their children.

Crow feels a connection to Penikese and knows in her heart the island is part of her history. One night she spots a mysterious fire burning across the water on Penikese. She convinces Osh and Miss Maggie to take her there. Little does Crow know her quest will lead her down a path of self-discovery, danger and a villain who thinks she has something he wants.

Why I recommend this book:

Lauren Wolk’s Beyond the Bright Sea is a brilliantly crafted novel that is mysterious, breathtaking and heartbreaking. It is set in 1925 on the tiny island of Cuttyhunk where Osh and Crow experience an unlikely new beginning together. The untamed beauty of the sea and island becomes a powerful character that weaves their lives together. The setting, the characters, the plot and the gorgeous imagery create an extraordinary experience for readers.  

The characters are complex and memorable. Crow is a determined, curious and resilient girl. Her greatest gift is her intuition which nudges her to piece together the puzzle that reveals her own history. It is a joy to experience the story narrative through her innocent, yet wise character. Osh is a quiet and kind-hearted man with secrets of his own. He leaves a world at war behind him to live alone on Cuttyhunk. Crow’s unexpected arrival by sea changes Osh’s solitary life and he becomes a caring and protective father. Crow grows up happy and safe with Osh teaching her everything she needs to know about the ocean, the moon, the tides and the weather. Miss Maggie is outspoken with a voice like thunder and a heart that embraces Crow with grand-motherly affection. She schools Crow since she isn’t permitted to attend classes with the locals. Miss Maggie is the only one on the island who isn’t afraid of Crow. Both Osh and Miss Maggie support Crow’s journey to uncover her past.

The plot is courageous, gripping, and dangerous. Wolk’s deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. There are secrets, unexpected surprises and some harrowing moments for all the characters. Crow learns that family is about the people who care about you no matter what. Wolk nicely pulls everything together in a realistic and satisfying ending.

Lauren Wolk is an award-winning poet and author of the critically acclaimed Wolf Hollow, described by The New York Times Book Review as “full of grace and stark, brutal beauty.” She is a graduate of Brown University with a degree in English Literature.  She lives on Cape Cod. Visit Wolk at her website.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

The Green Umbrella by Jackie Azúa Kramer

The Green Umbrella

Jackie  Azúa Kramer, Author

Maral Sassouni, Illustrator

North South Books, Inc., Fiction, Jan. 31,  2017

2017 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year

Suitable for Ages: 4 – 8

Themes: Elephant, Animals, Favorite objects, Sharing, Imagination, Friendship

Opening: One rainy day an Elephant was taking a walk with his green umbrella. Along came a Hedgehog. “Excuse me,” said the Hedgehog. “I believe you have my boat.” “Your what?” asked the Elephant.

Synopsis:  When Elephant takes a peaceful walk with his green umbrella, he’s interrupted by Hedgehog, Cat, Bear, and Rabbit — all claiming that they’ve had exciting adventures with his umbrella. After all, it is an umbrella, and it certainly hasn’t been on any adventures more exciting than a walk in the rain. Or has it?

Why I like this book:

A charming and humorous debut picture book for Jackie Azúa Kramer about the power of imagination and sharing. It is a playful and clever story about friendship and compromise. Each animal in the book believes that the green umbrella belongs him or her. After all it was hedgehog’s boat, Cat’s tent, Bear’s flying machine and Rabbit’s sturdy walking cane. Elephant is a good sport and patiently indulges his friends as they each tell grandiose stories of how they used his umbrella.

This book has heart. Through lyrical text it teaches children compassion, how to play together, share, and have fun planning a whopping adventure.

Wow, what a beautiful and whimsical cover by Maral Sassouni. The cover drew me to this charming story along with her lively, colorful acrylic illustrations that will tickle young imaginations. The book is a perfect read-aloud.

Resources:  This story is about encouraging kids to use their imaginations as they play together. Give kids a box, a jump rope, chalk, a bottle of bubbles and let them create something together.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz

       World Refugee Day, June 20, 2017

The Only Road

Alexandra Diaz, Author

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Book, Fiction, Oct. 4, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Child Refugees, Immigration, Guatemala, Courage, Hope, Freedom, Multicultural

Awards: Pura Belpre Honor Book and ALA Notable Book

Book Synopsis: Jaime is sitting on his bed drawing when he hears a scream. Instantly he knows Miguel, his cousin and best friend is dead.

Everyone in Jaime’s small town in Guatemala knows someone who has been killed by the Alphas, a  powerful gang that’s known for violence and drug trafficking. Anyone who refuses to work for them is hurt or killed — like Miguel. With Miguel gone, Jaime fears that he is next. There’s only one choice. Accompanied by his cousin Ángela, Jaime must flee his home to live with his older brother, Tomas, in the United States.

Inspired by true incidents, The Only Road tells an individual story of a boy who feels that leaving his home and risking everything is his only chance for a better Life. It is a story of fear and bravery, love and loss, strangers becoming family, and one boy’s treacherous and life-changing journey.

Why I like this book:

Alexandra Diaz’s novel is powerful and timely. It is about two cousins fleeing from dangerous drug  trafficking gangs in Guatemala and making the treacherous journey north to the United States. There are no guarantees that they will survive. Their story is heartbreaking, but it underscores the problem of why many Central American children illegally immigrate to America.

The richly textured Latino text is peppered with Spanish words and expressions, which contribute to the reader’s experience. At the end of book, there is a glossary of words and expressions used throughout the story.

The story is distinctly character-driven. Jaime’s third person narrative will move readers. Twelve-year-old Jaime is driven by his grief over the death of his cousin. Jaime is brave and compassionate. He’s also a talented artist and sketches his journey. Fifteen-year-old Ángela is  a mother figure for Jaime and to other younger children they meet along their trip. She’s smart, cautious and reminds Jaime they can’t trust anyone. She’s particularly adept at changing her Guatemalan accent to a Mexican accent so she can fool immigration officers (la migra) and town locals. When they need more money for safe passage across the border, Jaime draws portraits and Ángela alters clothing for women.

The plot is multilayered, gripping and complicated. The trip is long and hazardous, which Diaz handles with care. Jaime and Ángela dodge brutal gangs, bandits, and immigration officers. Food and water is scarce. They are herded into a freight car heading north and nearly suffocate from the heat. They rest at safe houses and make friends with other teens who teach them survival techniques. They learn how to hop freight trains (la bestia) and ride on top the cars as they travel north through Mexico to the border of New Mexico. Their final challenge will be to find the right smuggler (coyote) who will help them safely cross the Rio Grande.

Immigration is a hot topic today. The UN reports there are 10 million refugees world-wide. This is an important book for middle school libraries to help students gain a better understanding of refugees, immigration and the reasons they risk their lives to find freedom.

Alexandra Diaz is the author of When We Were, which was an ALA Rainbow List book and a New Mexico Book Award finalist. Alexandra is the daughter of Cuban immigrants and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Make sure you read her Author’s Note at the end of the book that will give you further insight into immigration. Visit Diaz at her website.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.