My Father’s Words by Patricia MacLachlan

My Father’s Words

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Fiction, Oct. 2, 2018

Pages: 133

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Loss, Grief, Love, Healing, Family relationships, Shelter dogs

Synopsis:

Declan O’Brien always had a gentle word to share, odd phrases he liked to repeat, and songs to sing while he played basketball. His favorite song was “Dona Nobis Pacem,” “Grant Us Peace.” His family loved him deeply and always knew they were loved in return.

But a terrible accident one day changes their lives forever, and Fiona and Finn O’Brien are left without a father. Their mother is at a loss. What words are there to guide them through such overwhelming grief?

At the suggestion of their friend Luke, Fiona and Finn volunteer at an animal rescue shelter where they meet two sweet dogs, Emma and Jenny, who are in need of comfort, too. Perhaps with time, patience, and their father’s gentle words in their hearts, hope will spark once more.

Why I like this book

Patricia MacLachlan’s captivating and unforgettable story is about a tragic loss, family relationships, love, laughter and healing. It is a well-written story that is realistic, inspiring and hopeful. Her narrative is gentle and heartfelt. The text is spare and powerful. Some may feel the story is sad, but I experienced it with wonder and awe.

Fiona and Finn are working through their grief following their father’s untimely death. Fiona looks out for her younger brother, but she’s searching for memories of her time with her dad. Finn is a sensitive and gentle boy. He is quiet and thoughtful like his father. Their best friend, Luke, suggests they all volunteer at a local animal shelter. They each connect with and walk a dog. Finn reads, talks and sings “Dona Nobis Pacem” to Emma, who is depressed and faces a wall. Fiona takes Jenny for long walks in the park. The siblings learn that while you comfort a shelter dog, the dog is also comforting you.

This is perfect story for dog lovers. The plot is engaging, but the beautiful ending sneaks up on you. I thought I knew how it would end, but the author surprises me. Make sure you have tissues nearby. My Father’s Words is a refreshingly quiet book that gives readers time to ponder big questions and explore underlying truths and memories. It will make an excellent classroom read-aloud and discussion book.

Patricia MacLachlan is the celebrated author of many timeless books for young readers, including Sarah, Plain and Tall, winner of the Newbery Medal. Her novels for young readers include Skylark, Caleb’s Story, More Perfect than the Moon, Grandfather’s Dance, Word After Word After Word, Kindred Souls, The Truth of Me, and The Poet’s Dog; she is also the author of many beloved picture books, a number of which she cowrote with her daughter, Emily. She lives in Williamsburg, Massachusetts.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Library Copy

Emily, 10-Year-Old Champion of Rainforest Animals in Need by Cathleen Burnham

Emily, 10-Year-Old Champion of Rainforest Animals in Need

Cathleen Burnham, Author and Photographer

Crickhollow Books, Nonfiction, Sep. 15, 2018

Series: World Association of Kids and Animals

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Themes: Global Youth Activism, Nature, Rainforest, Animal Rescue, Baby Sloth, Endangered Wildlife

Opening: High in a tree in a rainforest in Costa Rica, a mother sloth slept, cradling her baby close to her. The mother was sleeping, but the baby was wide awake. 

Synopsis:

Meet Emily, a 10-year-old girl, who is active in a youth-led conservation program to save rain forest animals in western Costa Rica. She helps care for an orphaned sloth at an animal sanctuary by taking it for walks along a jungle path and participates in other activities to protect local wildlife and their environment.

When Emily arrives at a local youth program, Kids Saving the Rainforest (KSTR), she and her friends perform a play about teaching tourists to not feed wild animals human food. Bananas and cookies makes them sick. They play is a good way to practice when they encounter tourists. Afterwards, they grab garbage bags and enter the jungle to clean up trash, plastic bottles, gum wrappers and food packages that can make animals sick. They also sponsor blue rope bridges to help squirrel monkeys cross busy roads and stay away from dangerous power lines. Because of their work, the titi monkey populations are growing.

The story highlights the impact young people can have on protecting local wild animals and preserving natural habitats.

Like the earlier books in this World Association of Kids and Animals (WAKA) series (Doyli to the Rescue: Saving Baby Monkeys in the Amazon; Tortuga Squad: Kids Saving Sea Turtles in Costa Rica; and Tony and His Elephants, set in Thailand), the text and photos show a youngster deeply involved in caring for the well-being of baby wild animals in need of shelter, food, and lots of love.

Why I like this book:

Cathleen Burnham’s mission is to find, photograph and celebrate children who are united in a cause to rescue and save endangered wildlife around the globe. Her true and inspiring photodocumentary books are a call to children globally that they don’t have to be adults to make a difference. Emily and the youth of  western Costa Rica are passionate young conservationists trying to save rainforest animals through their organization Kids Saving the Rainforest (KSTR).

Burnham’s books inspire and empower children. Every page is filled with rich, beautiful and touching photographs that capture life in the Costa Rica rainforest and shows the delicate ecosystems and the gorgeous endangered species living there, including sloths, birds and a variety of monkeys. She also focuses on the dangers in the town of monkeys trying to cross the streets and shows the young KSTR activists engaged with tourists.

The conservation message is clear and blended into a glimpse of everyday life of child activists who are involved in inspiring small-scale, grassroots animal-rescue efforts. The story shows the impact young people can have on protecting local wild animals and preserving natural habitats.

Burnham continues to show that children can have a real impact on the world around them! Kids are not just the next generations of caretakers of our planet, they also can do things now to make a difference. The WAKA series are stories of kid power — real kids who inspire other kids to empathize with the wild world around them, to see how we are all connected on this planet, and to find ways to make a difference.

Resources: To learn more about the amazing things Emily and other committed children are doing to protect wildlife around the globe, visit the World Association of Kids and Animals (WAKA) and get involved. There is a special teacher’s guide available for classroom use. Make sure you read the Author’s Note about the story behind KSTR and the two nine-year-old girls who founded the organization. Burnham also encourages kids to ask themselves, “What do you care about most? What can you do to make a difference? Is there something you can do in your community?

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 website.

*Copy of book provided by publisher.

Just Under the Clouds by Melissa Sarno

Just Under the Clouds

Melissa Sarno, Author

Knopf Books for Young Readers, Jun. 5, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-11

Pages: 225

Themes: Siblings, Family relationships, Loss, Homelessness, Shelter life, Belonging, Difference, Nature

Book Synopsis:

Always think in threes and you’ll never fall, Cora’s father told her when she was a little girl. Two feet, one hand. Two hands, one foot. That was all Cora needed to know to climb the trees of Brooklyn.

But now Cora is a middle schooler, a big sister, and homeless. Her mother is trying to hold the family together after her father’s death, but they are evicted from their home. Cora must look after her sister, Adare, who’s just different, their mother insists. Quick to smile, Adare hates wearing shoes, rarely speaks, and appears untroubled by the question Cora can’t help but ask: How will she find a place to call home?

After their room at the shelter is ransacked, Cora’s mother looks to an old friend for help, and Cora finally finds what she’s been looking for: Ailanthus altissima, the “tree of heaven,” which can grow in even the worst conditions. It sets her on a path to discover a deeper truth about where she really belongs.

Just Under the Clouds will take root in your heart and blossom long after you’ve turned the last page.

Why I like this book:

I am always searching for books on homelessness.  And Melissa Sarno’s, Just Under the Clouds, offers readers a different perspective of how we view the homeless in a raw, heartbreaking, touching and hopeful way. Not all homeless people live on the streets. It’s a reminder that anyone can unexpectedly find themselves in a similar situation. When Cora’s father dies, her family is eventually evicted from their home.

The story is more character-driven than it is about the plot. Yes, the family moves from run-down apartments to homeless shelters where their safety is always an issue. But this beautiful lyrical story focuses a variety of relationships between family, friends and school. Cora is courageous and resilient and shoulders the responsibility of her sister, Adare, who is born special — her brain is deprived of oxygen at birth. Adare is my favorite character, because she has a unique perception of the world. She has a soft-song voice, says hello to everyone, stares endlessly at the sky, spins in the rain and befriends cats and crows.

Cora’s relationship with a quirky friend, Sabina, offers a happy balance to the story. Cora’s mother is an artist, who has to give up her talent to take low-paying jobs to support the family. When her mother’s childhood friend, Willa, invites them into her classy apartment, Cora is hopeful she can finally stay in one place. But how long will her mother accept Willa’s help?

The one constant in Cora’s life is her father’s “tree journal,” which he left her. He loved to map out trees in their community. Cora picks up where he has left off and it helps her feel close to her dad. She maps the trees around her, draws pictures and records seasonal information. There is a lot of symbolism for Cora ash she searches for her own “roots.”

Just Under the Clouds has a heartwarming message about understanding the struggle of others. It is a story that will create empathy among readers. It should be required reading for youth because the face of homelessness is changing.

Melissa Sarno is a freelance writer and editor with and MFA in screenwriting. She lives in the Lower Hudson Valley of New York with her family. Visit her at her website and follow her on Twitter at @melissasarno.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Copy: Library

Quiet Please, Owen McPhee! by Trudy Ludwig

Quiet Please, Owen McPhee!

Trudy Ludwig, Author

Patrice Barton, Illustrator

Alfred A. Knopf, Fiction, Jul. 3, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Talking too much, Being a good listener, Social skills

Opening: Owen McPhee doesn’t just like to talk. He loves to talk, morning, noon, and night.

Synopsis:

Owen spends every waking minute chattering away at his teachers, his classmates, his parents, his dog, and even himself. But all that chatter can get in the way of listening to important instructions from the teacher during a science experiment. Not only does he mess up his own project, he messes up another group’s project. His chatter spoils story time. Even his classmate are annoyed and yell “quiet” when they’ve had enough and exclude him from playtime.

When Owen wakes up with a bad case of laryngitis, he resorts to writing down the things he wants to tell his classmates. When he can’t write fast enough, it gives him a perfect opportunity to observe and listen to what others have to say. He may just learn something or have something to offer in a different way.

From the author-illustrator team behind The Invisible Boy comes a bright and lively picture book that captures the social dynamics of a busy classroom while delivering a gentle message about the power  and importance of listening…not only with your ears but with your heart.

Why I like this book:

Trudy Ludwig’s newest treasure, “Quiet Please, Owen McPhee!” is the perfect resource for home and classrooms. Many children — and adults — talk to much. And their nonstop chatter may cause problems, that include loneliness because everyone wants to avoid a chatterbox. But, Ludwig tackles this subject with humor and wisdom as she lets a spirited Owen find his own way of learning to listen to others. Owen doesn’t change overnight, but he realistically works hard to control his chatter. This story also reminds readers that it’s important to put others first. There is so much heart in Owen’s journey.

Ludwig once again teams up with illustrator Patrice Barton, whose colorful pastels are lively and dramatic. Barton brilliantly captures the dynamics between Owen and his classmates through page after page of priceless expressions! Children will also enjoy the great use of speech bubbles, which show how chatty Owen is. Check out the book endpapers.

Resources: The author has prepared Questions for Discussion that teachers can use in the classroom to personalize Owen’s story. Parents will also find the  discussion questions useful.

TRUDY LUDWIG is a nationally acclaimed speaker and an award-winning author who specializes in writing children’s books that help kids cope with and thrive in their social world, including My Secret Bully, Confessions of a Former Bully, and The Invisible Boy. An active member of the International Bullying Prevention Association and a contributor to Sesame Workshop, Trudy has received the Mom’s Choice Gold Award, the IBPA Gold Benjamin Franklin Award, and the NAPPA Gold Medal, and also been recognized as NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Books for Young People. Visit her at Trudy Ludwig on her website. Follow her on Twitter at @TrudyLudwig.

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 website.

*Review copy provided by the author.

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

Harbor Me

Jacqueline Woodson, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, Aug. 28, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 10 -12

Themes: School, Friendship, Diversity, Open-minded dialogue, Deportation, Racism, Loss, Empathy, Courage

Synopsis: It all starts when six kids are sent to a room for a weekly chat – by themselves, with no adults to listen in. At first they fear this new unfamiliar and wonder what on earth they’ll even talk about. But in the place they dub the ARTT (“A Room to Talk”), they discover it’s safe to discuss stuff they usually keep private.

A father has recently gone missing, and that starts a conversation about the things causing angst their lives, from racial profiling and fears of deportation to a deep yearning for family history and a sense of belonging. When the six of them are together, they find they can express the feelings and fears they usually hide from the world. And together, they can grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives.

With her always honest, lyrical writing, acclaimed author Jacqueline Woodson celebrates the power of friendship, open-minded dialogue and empathy. Harbor Me digs in deep to show how so many of America’s social issues affect today’s kids — and they creatively learn to forge their way in spite of them.

Why I like this book:

Jacqueline Woodson’s Harbor Me is a powerful and timely book that is soulful and moving. Her first-person narrative is intimate and perfect for this poetic story. The setting, the characters, the plot and the imagery are brilliantly intertwined to create an exceptional experience for readers. They will feel the awkward silence of being in an unfamiliar place with six diverse students with only one rule — to treat each other with respect. Otherwise, they can talk about anything.

Woodson’s focus on 5th and 6th graders is perfect, because it is such a transitional time in the lives of kids. They want to be cool, but still have an urge to play with Nerf water guns and American Girl dolls. The boys voices haven’t deepened. There are no boyfriend/girlfriend relationships. They are six students who develop a lasting bond because they are able to share their secrets, feelings and fears in an honest way. They become best friends.

The characters, two girls and four boys, are memorable. Their backgrounds differ, but each one has a story to share in a place with a group of friends where they feel safe and supported. Twelve-year-old Haley narrates. She is bi-racial and longs for a real family life. Her mother was killed in a car accident, her father is in prison and her uncle cares for her. Her best friend Holly is fidgety and has trouble censoring herself. Esteban’s father is an undocumented immigrant who is taken from his job. Esteban is desperate to find out news of his father’s whereabouts and what it means for his family. Ashton is the only Caucasian in the group and is bullied by older students who call him Ghostboy and Paleface. Amari hides behind his artwork, but shares his feelings about racial profiling. Tiago is from Puerto Rico and speaks Spanish and English. His puppy dies and he struggles with feeling at home in America.

This is a celebratory book of the human spirit for six young people coming of age. The plot is distinctly realistic, honest, brave and complicated. It tackles relevant topics young people deal with daily. During their Friday group discussions, they learn to be vulnerable, build trust, listen without judgement and be sensitive each others challenges — a recipe that allows kindness, empathy and freedom to blossom. I highly recommend this novel. It belongs in school libraries as it is an important classroom discussion book.

Jacqueline Woodson is the 2018-19 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. She received the 2018 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and the 2018 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. Her memoir Brown Girl Dreaming won the 2014 National Book Award and was a NY Times Bestseller. Her adult novel, Another Brooklyn, was a National Book Award finalist and an Indie Pick in 2016. Jacqueline is the author of nearly thirty books for young people and adults including Each Kindness, If You Come Softly, Locomotion and I Hadn’t Meant To Tell You This.  She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.

Greg Pattridge hosts the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

Book: Library copy.

She Persisted All Around the World by Chelsea Clinton

Remember the United Nation’s 

International Day of the Girl Child, Oct. 11, 2018

She Persisted All Around the World

Chelsea Clinton, Author

Alexandra Boiger, Illustrator

Philomel Books, Nonfiction, Mar. 6, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Theme: Girls, Women, Diversity, Pursuing dreams, Persistence, Making a difference

Opening: It’s not always easy being a girl — anywhere in the world. It’s especially challenging in some places. There are countries where it’s hard for girls to go to school and where women need their husband’s permission to get a passport or even t o leave the house.

Synopsis:

Women around the world have long dreamed big, even when they’ve been told their dreams didn’t matter. They’ve spoken out, risen up and fought for what’s right, even when they’ve been told to be quiet. Whether in science, the arts, sports or activism, women and girls throughout history have been determined to break barriers and change the status quo. They haven’t let anyone get in their way and have helped us better understand our world and what’s possible. In this companion book to She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World, Chelsea Clinton introduces readers to a group of thirteen incredible women who have shaped history all across the globe.

She Persisted Around the World is a book for everyone who has ever aimed high and been told to step down, for everyone who has ever raised their voice and been told to quiet down, and for everyone who has ever felt small, unimportant or unworthy.

Why I like this book:

Chelsea Clinton’s inspiring book empowers/encourages girls worldwide to nurture their big dreams and never give up.  There may be difficult times, but they must be true to themselves and fight for what they believe. Challenges build character and resilience and leads to success. It’s important for girls to find the power inside them and believe in it so they will one day be the next generation of doctors, scientists, environmentalists, artists, leaders, authors, astronauts and athletes.

This is what girls will learn as they delve into the stories of 13 ground-breaking women who never give-up despite the extraordinary challenges they faced. There are some familiar faces like Joanne (J.K.) Rowling, author of the bestselling Harry Potter series ; Marie Curie’s work in radioactivity; Malala Yousafzai’s tireless work to promote better education for girls globally; and Yuan Yuan Tan who against many odds, becomes the most famous Chinese ballerina of all times, performing at the San Francisco Ballet.

And the not-so-familiar women like Dr. Mary Verghese who loses the use of her legs in a car accident, and founds the first functional rehabilitation center in India; Leymah Gbowee who lives through the two Liberian civil war and unites thousands of Christian and Muslim women to peacefully protest and help end the war; and Aisha Rateb who was the first woman appointed to Egypt’s highest court, 50 years after she was first told she couldn’t be a judge.

Alexandra Boiger’s lively watercolors and ink illustrations showcase each motivating story. I like the book’s format. Each girl/woman is given a double-page spread with her motivating story shared on the inside page and a full illustration on the opposite page that also includes an important quote from the woman. This book belongs in every school library and pairs nicely with Clinton’s first book, She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World.

Resources: Encourage students to name someone in their family, school, community, country and world that they feel has made a contribution. Even children are making changes in their world. Have kids draw a picture of the individual and write a short paragraph about what this person has done to help others. Also check out the UN’s International Day of the Girl Child.

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 website.

*Book: Library Copy

The Sky at Our Feet by Nadia Hashimi

The Sky at Our Feet

Nadia Hashimi, Author

Harper Collins, Fiction, Mar. 6, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 291

Themes: American-Afghani boy, Undocumented immigrant parent, Family Relationships, Runaways, Epilepsy, Courage, Friendship

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Jason has just learned that his Afghan mother has been living illegally in the United States since his father was killed in Afghanistan. Although Jason was born in the US, it’s hard to feel American now when he’s terrified that his mother will be discovered—and that they will be separated.

When he sees his mother being escorted from her workplace by two officers, Jason feels completely alone. He boards a train with the hope of finding his aunt in New York City, but as soon as he arrives in Penn Station, the bustling city makes him wonder if he’s overestimated what he can do.

After an accident lands him in the hospital, Jason finds an unlikely ally in a fellow patient. Max, a whip-smart girl who wants nothing more than to explore the world on her own terms, joins Jason in planning a daring escape out of the hospital and into the skyscraper jungle—even though they both know that no matter how big New York City is, they won’t be able to run forever.

Why I like this book:

Nadia Hashimi has skillfully penned a moving and sensitive tale about two brave teens on the run in New York City (NYC) when difficult circumstances uproot their lives. Their amusing adventure through the Big Apple showcases the city’s character with its subways, NYC Marathon, Central Park Zoo, food trucks, and police officers on horses.

The characters are authentic and believable. Jason’s strong narrative highlights/underscores the dilemma for children of undocumented immigrant families. He witnesses his mother being arrested by police at work because she didn’t renew her visa and is an illegal immigrant. What will happen to him? He sneaks into their apartment, packs his backpack, and embarks on a journey to find his Auntie Seema in NYC.

Jason blacks out in the train station and wakes up in a hospital with a head injury. There he meets Max, a girl who is smart and artful in helping Jason dodge a police officer’s questioning. She’s trapped like an inmate in her hospital prison and longs to experience a big adventure before she undergoes a major surgery. Together they plot an epic hospital escape and navigate the streets evading police officers.

The author sets aside the political aspects involved in deportation of decent immigrant parents and their American children. Instead she focuses on the emotional and physical impact on a teen like Jason. His fear that his mother may be sent back to Afghanistan forever, is daunting. How is a Muslim boy in America supposed to cope with something so big? His mother hasn’t created a plan for Jason if she’s arrested. He’s left to his own resources to find Auntie Seema.

The plot is original and courageous with moments of humor, action, danger, and suspense that will keep readers quickly turning pages. When Max has a seizure along the way, Jason is challenged to find the way on his own. This is an engaging read about current and thought-provoking issues. It is also heartwarming and hopeful and a good choice for classroom discussions.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

Book: Library copy.

Relaxation and Meditation Books for Children

Relaxations: Big Tools for Little Warriors

Mamen Duch,  Author

Raúl Nieto Guridi, Illustrator

Magination Press, Jun. 4, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Breathing, Relaxation, Mindfulness, Concentration

Synopsis: Relaxations is a guide on mindfulness techniques for children ages 4 to 8. Creative metaphors work to help children achieve a state of calm and concentration through breathing, relaxation, and visualization. This book uses gentle affirmations to improve and enhance confidence, self-esteem, concentration, and creativity!

Bee Still: An Invitation to Meditation

Frank J. Sileo, Author

Claire Keay, Illustrator

Magination Press, Aug. 13, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Meditation, Mindfulness, Soothing feelings

Synopsis: Bentley the bee lives in a busy, bustling hive. One day, when the other bees rush out to make honey, Bentley decides to meditate first. The other animals are curious about what Bentley is doing — so he teaches them how he uses meditation to focus, feel calm, and soothe difficult feelings.

Just like adults, children can benefit from turning off electronic devices and being present to what is happening to them in the moment. Bee Still is a child-friendly introduction to meditation.

Why I like these books:

Children and parents will fall in love with both charming books. The world can be a noisy place for young minds. These books are great resources that help children cultivate a little more peace in their lives and learn to just “be.”  Each book offers practical approaches to applying the skills of mindfulness and compassion to live with more wonder, love and joy. The books are nicely paired because of their unique perspectives.

Learning to relax and meditate is a quiet activity that children and parents can do together — even if it is only for five minutes a day. All family members can benefit in this age of social media and electronic devices. It is quality time spent together.

The illustrations in each book are stunning. The artwork in Relaxations is simple and bold.  In Bee Still, the artwork is whimsically detailed and stunning.

Resources: Both books contain a guide for simple meditation and exercises for young readers at the end in a Note to Parents.

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 website.

*Review copies of both books were provided by the publisher.

Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Merci Suárez Changes Gears

Meg Medina, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sept. 4 2018

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Pages: 346

Themes: Cuban-American, Bullying, Aging grandparents, Alzheimer, Friendship

Synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Mercedes (Merci) Suárez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she has no idea just how different. Merci has never felt like she fits in with the other kids at her private Florida school because she and her brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t live in a big house, and they have to do community service to make up for their tuition. Roli adjusts because he loves science and is a stellar student. When Merci is assigned to be a Sunshine Buddy with the new boy at school, bossy Edna Santos is jealous.

Things aren’t going well at home, either. Merci’s grandfather, Lolo, has acted differently lately. He forgets his glasses, falls off his bike, tries to pick up the wrong twin grandsons at school, wanders off and gets angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what’s going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.

Why I like this book:

Meg Medina skillfully writes a heartwarming and engaging novel that tackles several big topics. There is a mean, rich-girl bully theme at school, due to the differences in social status and culture. While the rich kids show up in expensive SUVs, Merci arrives in the old truck Papi drives for his painting business. Instead of expensive vacations, Merci is stuck watching her twin cousins. And there is her grandfather’s Alzheimer diagnosis, which her parents shield Merci from until the end of the novel. Her concerns for Lolo turn into anger when she discovers that she is being lied to and treated like a child. After all, the Suárez family prides itself in being truthful.

This richly textured Latino story is peppered with Spanish expressions from her Cuban-American family. Medina uses humor in this true-to-life story that is topsy-turvy and filled with heart. The Suárez family is a large multigenerational family that live in a group of three pink houses where all family members come and go, regardless of who lives where. The three identical houses are affectionately called Las Casitas. Needless to say there is a lot of chaos. The Suárez family is a close-knit family that work, cook and eat together, share childcare, and support each other, even if money is tight.

The characters are memorable. Medina uses authentic voices to create a story about a tween girl who has worries, frustrations and angst about her looks. Merci is a strong-willed, but it  takes her a long time to realize that she is genuinely liked by many of her classmates and forms connections with ease as long as she is herself. This is a winning and completely satisfying coming-of-age story.

Meg Medina is the author of the YA novels Burn Baby Burn; Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, for which she won the Pura Belpre Author Award; and The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. She lives in Richmond Virginia. Visit Meg Medina at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by publisher.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold

International Day of Peace, Sep. 21, 2018

All Are Welcome

Alexandra Penfold, Author

Suzanne Kaufman, Illustrator

Knopf Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jul. 10, 2018

Pages: 44

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Diversity, Inclusiveness, Classroom, School, Friendship

Opening: Pencils sharpened in their case. / Bells are ringing, let’s make haste. / School’s beginning, dreams to chase. / All are welcome here.

Publisher Synopsis:

Follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcomed with open arms. A school where kids in patkas, hijabs, and yarmulkes play side-by-side with friends in baseball caps or sitting in wheel chairs. A school where students grow and learn from each other’s traditions, share lunches, play hard at recess, share science projects, play musical instruments, and gather as a whole community to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

All Are Welcome lets young children know that no matter what, they have a place, they have a space, they are welcome in their school.

Why I like this book:

All Are Welcome celebrates inclusiveness and diversity, sending the message to children and parents that everyone is welcome in their school, in their class, and in their community.  Suzanne Kaufman’s joyful and lively illustrations remind kids that the world is a rainbow of color when cultures merge from every part of the world. There is a beautiful surprise in the book.

The text sings with Alexander Penfold’s simple rhymes and repetitive chant “All are welcome here,” which  will resonate with young children as they will pour over pictures of kids like themselves. Some with dark skin, light skin, red hair, and curly hair. Others wear baseball caps, hijabs, glasses, hearing aids, and sit in wheelchairs.  It is a place where diversity and compassion advance the culture of peace.

As a new school year begins, All Are Welcome is a must-have book for pre-schools and elementary schools everywhere. It demonstrates on how much fun children have together in the classroom, on the playground and in the lunch room. “Time for lunch – what a spread! /A dozen different kinds of bread. / Pass it around till everyone’s fed. / All are welcome here.” 

I first learned about this book from Pragmatic Mom’s website last summer. Check out the story behind the story of how the author started a movement with a poster.

Resources: I believe this book would be a wonderful discussion book for today’s UN celebration of International Day of Peace. It is a day for engaging kids in peace-building activities.  And what better way than to remind kids they live in a rainbow world. Encourage kids to talk about ways to create peace at school, their communities and in the world. Whatever you decide to do, remember to pause at noon, (no matter your time zone) for a Minute of Silence and think about how you will build peaceful relationships.

Alexandra Penfold is the author of Eat, Sleep, Poop (Knopf, 2016) and the forthcoming picture books The Littlest Viking (Knopf) and Everybody’s Going to the Food Truck Fest (FSG). She is also a literary agent at Upstart Crow, where one of her clients is author-illustrator, Suzanne Kaufman! Learn more about Alex on Twitter at @agentpenfold and Suzanne on her website  or on Twitter at @suzannekaufman.

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