Mr. Mergler, Beethoven, and Me by David Gutnick

Mr. Mergler, Beethoven, and Me

David Gutnick, Author

Mathilde Cinq-Mars, Illustrator

Second Story Press, Fiction, Apr. 18, 2018

Suitable for Ages:5-8

Themes: Music, Piano teacher, Intergenerational relationships, Friendship, Loss

Opening: Not long after my family arrived from China, I went to the park with my father, whom I call Baba. Lots of people went there to play…it is where I met someone I will always remember.

Synopsis: Shortly after a girl and her family arrive from China, she and her father (Baba) meet an older gentleman in a park. They learn that Mr. Mergler has taught piano lessons to hundreds of students for over 50 years. Baba proudly shares that his daughter plays the piano at their church. Mr. Mergler asks her to sing her favorite song. He closes his eyes as he listens.  He hears music in a way that most of us can’t. When she finishes, Mr. Mergler recognizes the girl’s talent and offers to give her piano lessons. Their bond grows as she studies with him.  Her fingers fly over the ivory keys and she becomes lost in the magic of her music.  After many months of study, the girl learns that Mr. Mergler is ill. Mr. Mergler sends her a letter and a special gift.

Why I like this book:

This is a heartwarming multicultural and intergenerational story about a girl and her elderly music teacher. The author beautifully captures the affection and bond between teacher and student — and all of the hundreds of students who lives he’s touched. His walls are adorned with their photographs.

This story is inspired by the life of the wonderful and generous musician Daniel Mergler, who loved to teach children. It is a story that will inspire many classically trained young musicians. It is also a tribute to a quiet and kind man who was adored by his students. His story brought tears to my eyes as I reminisced about many of my favorite piano teachers as a child, teen and young adult. I am sure many adults reading this story with their children will recall their memories of favorite teachers.

Mathilde Cinq-Mars soft and whimsical illustrations carry their own melody with musical symbols woven into the delicate composition. They are exquisite and compliment the text.

Resources: Make sure you read the material about the lives of Daniel Mergler and Beethoven at the end of the story. They give insight into Mr. Mergler and are a good way to address music with children. Music can be made with many items. If you don’t have a piano, give children a harmonica, kazoo, bells, pots and pans to play with to encourage rhythm and fun.

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.

The Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman

The Length of a String

Elissa Brent Weissman, Author

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, May 1, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: Adoption, Identity, Family relationships, Jews, African Americans, Holocaust

Synopsis:

Imani is adopted by a Jewish family. Now that she’s turning 13, she knows exactly what she wants as her big bat mitzvah gift: to find her birth parents. She loves her family and her Jewish community in Baltimore, but she has always wondered where she came from, especially since she’s black and almost everyone she knows is white.

When her mom’s grandmother–Imani’s great-grandma Anna–passes away, Imani discovers an old journal among her books. It’s Anna’s diary from 1941, the year she was twelve and fled Nazi-occupied Luxembourg alone, sent by her parents to seek refuge in Brooklyn, New York. Imani keeps the diary a secret for a while, only sharing it with her best friend, Madeline. Anna’s diary chronicles her escape from Holocaust-era Europe and her journey to America and her new life with a Jewish adoptive family. She continues to write to her sister Belle about the tall New York sky scrapers, shopping in supermarkets, eating Chinese food, modeling fur coats, and playing Chinese checkers, until news about her family stops. She fears the worst and puts down her pen.

Imani decides to make Anna’s story her bat mitzvah research project. She uncovers some important information about the war and Luxembourg. As Imani reads Anna’s diary, she begins to see her own family and her place in it in a new way.

Why I like this book:

The author skillfully weaves two stories, one from the present and another from the past, using characters that you will feel like you know intimately. This is a very different holocaust story because it focuses on the identity of Jewish and African-American girls (70 years a part) and their search for self, something that readers will find relevant. The setting, the unforgettable characters, and the plot create an engaging reading experience. The ending is unexpected and very satisfying.

You learn about Anna Kirsch and the painful decision her family makes in deciding which of their seven children to smuggle to America as the Nazi’s begin to occupy Luxembourg.  Anna is selected and separated from her identical twin sister, Belle, the other half of her heart. On the ship she begins to write Belle daily letters daily chronicling her journey so that she keeps their connection alive. Anna lives with  loving strangers, Hannah and Max, a Jewish family who open their hearts and home to her. Anna is essentially adopted, like Imani. She continues to write to Belle about her adventures until news about her family stops.

My children are adopted, each responding differently like Imani and her adopted El Salvadoran brother. Like Imani, my daughter had so many questions about her past. What were her ethnic roots? Who did she look like? Why was she adopted? Like Imani’s family, we ran a genetic DNA test for our daughter so she had a sense of her heritage. This eventually led to her finding two biological sisters this past year.  Now she has answers and it has brought her peace as an adult. We need more MG and YA books for adopted children who are trying to figure out who they are and need to see themselves in stories.

Elissa Brent Weismann’s novel is a captivating story that is a departure from her humorous Nerd Camp series. Her website includes teacher resources and curriculum for all of her books.

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.

Forever or a Day by Sarah Jacoby

Forever or a Day

Sarah Jacoby, Author and Illustrator

Chronicle Books, Fiction, Mar. 27, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-6

Theme: Time, Child’s experience, Love

Opening: If you look closely you can see it. You can almost touch it.

Book Jacket Synopsis:  What is it? It is a drumbeat. It is a wildly wagging tail. Perhaps it is a ghost. Sometimes people pay a lot of attention to it.  The more you try to hold it…the better it hides. Where does it go? Is it forever, or a day?

In a poignant conversation as elegant as a poem and as perfectly paced as a mystery, Sarah Jacoby captures the paradox of time. At once individual and universal, measured and unbounded, fleeting and eternal, time tells us how to live — and how to love.

Why I like this book:

Reading Sarah Jacoby’s Forever or a Day is an experience to savor with a child. It is a magical journey into the endless mystery of time.  Children and adults will ponder its meaning and what makes it so special, because you can blink and miss it. Time is fleeting and is the biggest riddle in life.

Jacoby’s book is a quiet and contemplative story. It would be a good way to practice mindfulness and appreciate living in a moment that will quickly slip away. It includes cherished moments of sharing breakfast with parents, visiting with loved ones, building castles in the sand, fishing from a peer, watching a sunrise or sunset.  And it is about love.

Jacoby’s prose is lyrical and heartfelt. Her stunning and soft watercolors capture a child on a journey with his family, a beautiful sunrise, shooting stars in the night sky, the lights of a city at night and the love of family. I highly recommend her timeless book for all ages.

Sarah Jacoby grew up wandering the woods outside of Philadelphia. She has since earned degrees in both English Literature and Illustration. She now draws for many people and places, including the New York Times.  Her illustrations have won awards from the Society of Illustrators (Gold Medal), American Illustration, Creative Quarterly, and Communication Arts.Learn more about Sarah Jacoby at her website.

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.

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Amal Unbound

Aisha Saeed, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, May 8, 2018

Suitable for ages: 10-13

Themes: Indentured servants, Pakistan, Family Life, Dreams, Courage

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Amal’s dream of becoming a teacher one day is dashed in an instant when she accidentally insults a member of her Pakistani village’s ruling family. As punishment for her behavior, she is forced to leave her heartbroken family behind and go work at their grand estate, surrounded by a high brick wall and gate guards.

Amal is distraught but has faced setbacks before. So  she summons her courage and begins navigating the complex rules of life as a servant, with all its attendant jealousies and pecking-order woes. Most troubling is Amal’s increasing awareness of the deadly measures the Khan family will go to in order to stay in control. It’s clear that their hold over her village will never loosen as long as everyone is too afraid to challenge them — so if Amal is to have any chance of ensuring her loved ones’ safety and winning back her freedom, she must find a way to work with the other servants to make it happen.

Why I like this book:

Fans of Aisha Saeed’s Written in the Stars, will eagerly devour Amal Unbound, a heartbreaking and hopeful story about believing in yourself and finding courage in the midst of danger. Saeed’s bold and skillfully penned novel creates an exceptional reading experience that will  touch your soul.

The setting is culturally rich as it is about Pakistani traditions, village schools, small villages, shopping in local markets, food preparations, the landscape, neighbors knowing everyone’s business, and the pressure on mothers to birth baby boys.

The first-person narrative with Amal offers greater depth into her character. Amal is a strong, determined and clever protagonist who loves school and dreams of going to the university and becoming a teacher one day. When her mother suffers postpartum depression after the birth of a fifth daughter, her father makes Amal quit school to care for her siblings. Not one to give up, she manages to find a creative way to keep up with her school work. When Amal stands up to the wealthy Kahn son, Jawad Sahib, at the market and refuses to give him her purchases, her world begins to crumble. As a punishment, he makes her a servant at the Khan family home.  The characters are well-developed, memorable and despicable. They will stay with you after you finish.

The plot is suspenseful and dangerous at times. The author shows much of the action, which is more powerful than words. Even though Amal is living in luxury serving the kind mother of the brutal landlord, it will always be a prison for Amal. But Amal is smart and resourceful and she uses it to her advantage.  Amal Unbound is a page-turner and I could not put it down. The author manages to surprise me with the unexpected ending. Readers will be cheering.

It is so hard to imagine that indentured servitude is a problem that still exists for millions of people globally. It takes many forms and occurs in the United States. It is a corrupt and dangerous business. It is Saeed’s hope that Amal’s story will shine a light on the brave girls enduring servitude.

Favorite Quote:

“I balanced the tray in my hands and walked to the kitchen. I tried to pretend I didn’t care what the woman said, but I did.  I doubted I would every get used to being discussed like cattle at the market.” Page 109

Aisha Saeed is the author of Written in the Stars. As a Pakistani American and one of the founding members of the much-talked-about We Need Diverse Books Campaign, she is helping to change the conversation about diverse books. Visit her 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.

Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead

Bob

Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead, Authors

Nicholas Gannon, Illustrator

Feiwel and Friends Book, Fiction, May 1, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Family, Friends, Magic, Fantasy, Creature, Lost, Mystery

Synopsis:

It’s been five years since Livy and her family have visited Livy’s grandmother in Australia, which is under a severe drought. Now that she’s back, Livy has the feeling she’s forgotten something really, really important about Gran’s house.

It turns out she’s right.

Bob, a short, greenish creature dressed in a chicken suit, didn’t forget Livy, or her promise. He’s been waiting five years for her to come back, hiding in a closet like she told him to. During that time he learns to count to 987,654,321, six times; build a Lego pirate ship, 63 times; and reads and memorizes the dictionary. But Bob can’t remember who—or what—he is, where he came from, or if he even has a family. But five years ago Livy promised she would help him find his way back home. Now it’s time to keep that promise.

Clue by clue, Livy and Bob will unravel the mystery of where Bob comes from, solve a community problem, and discover the kind of magic that lasts forever.

Why I like this book:

Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead work their magic to create an enchanting and heartwarming story about a girl, Livy, and a little green creature, Bob. This will be a popular summer read inviting teens on an adventure to solve the mystery of Bob.

Livy is on a quest to discover exactly who and what Bob is, where he  comes from and how she returns him to his home and family. The story is told by Livy and Bob in alternating chapters. Stead wrote Livy and Mass wrote Bob. The storytelling is seamless with the tone of the text wistful and wandering, with a sense of urgency that there is much to discover.

The characters are lovable and relatable. Livy is a sweet 10-year-old girl struggling to feel comfortable in Gran’s home, a place she barely even remembers. She is troubled that she has forgotten Bob. How could she forget a little green zombie-creature? Bob is a kind-hearted and jovial and patient friend who tells  stories about the “old 5-year-old Livy” who wasn’t curious and took risks. He often refers to the “old” and the “new” Livy, when he wants to nudge her. There are many other memorable characters in this story, especially young Danny who has made his own discoveries about green creatures.

The plot is one big mystery with many subplots. Livy discovers that something peculiar happens to her whenever she leaves Bob for the afternoon to go with Gran into town — her memory of Bob fades. So she carries around Bob’s chipped chess piece in her pocket she can stroke and remember him. She also discovers that not everyone can see Bob.

I enjoyed the collaboration of these two celebrated middle grade authors, along with the entertaining illustrations of Nicholas Gannon, which contribute significantly to the story. It’s easy to lose yourself in Livy and Bob’s world because it is an inspiring story about the importance of family and friendship, with a sprinkle of magic. Even thought this story is rated for middle grade students, I believe it is a perfect read for fourth and fifth graders.

Resources: Visit Wendy Mass’ website, where readers will find a Book Club Guide, an Educator’s Guide and book trailers.

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.

Breathe by Inês Castel-Branco

Breathe

Inês Castel-Branco, Author & Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Apr. 30, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 and up

Themes: Breathing, Stretching, Relaxation

Opening: “Mom, I can’t sleep!” / “Why not?” / ” don’t know… I’m nervous and I can’t stop thinking, thinking, thinking…”

Synopsis:

Do you know how to breathe? Do you really know how to breathe?

When a young boy can’t sleep, his mother teaches him how to breathe with his whole body. He learns new ways to move his body, notice his breath, and calm himself.

He can pretend he is a ringing bell, a cat, a rocket…any number of things! The activities combine controlled breathing, stretches, and visualization, and are an introduction to mindfulness and meditation that can be used to help induce sleep or just to calm the body and mind.

Why I like this book:

The story is a conversation between a boy and his mother when he can’t relax and go to sleep. The mother is a shadow in the background on the first page as she teaches her son how to breath properly. If you teach children how to breathe and relax at a young age, they will have tools to use throughout their lives. Focusing on breathing helps them to stop thinking and quiet their minds.

The book helps children learn to visualize and use their imaginations. The exercises the mother uses to guide the boy — floating on a wave, smelling roses, blowing up balloons, launching a rocket and breathing with vowel sounds — are shared at the end of the book with detailed information on how to do each exercise and how they help children work through fear and anxiety. This is a wonderful family activity.

Author Inês Castel-Branco’s illustrations are joyful, peaceful and simply beautiful. Readers will feel the positive energy flowing from the boy just by studying each illustration and the exercise he is attempting. Make sure you check out the end papers as they are filled with poses taught in the book.

Resources: Breathe is a picture book that helps children work through worries and fears by playful breathing, stretching and relaxation techniques.  There is a Note to Parents and Caregivers at the end that includes exercise techniques based on yoga, tai chi, chi kung and meditation.

Inês Castel-Branco founded Fragmenta Editorial in Barcelona with Ignasi Moreta, and so submerged herself in the fascinating world of the typography and layout of books. With the birth of their three children, Inês returned to making models (now of castles, zoos, and doll houses) and they discovered the marvels that can be made with recycled objects, which are explained on Ines’s Spanish blog, “Mama Recicla.” Their love of children’s books also grew, until they decided to start this collection. One morning during breakfast, she “saw” in her mind the book that you now have in your hands, and she once again took up her brushes and painted.

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.

*A copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Lost! Survivor Diaries by Terry Lynn Johnson

Lost! Survivor Diaries 

Terry Lynn Johnson, Author

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, Jul. 3, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes: Lost, Jungle, Costa Rica, Extreme elements, Survival skills, Courage

Synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Carter and his parents are interested in birding and travel to the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica, to observe over 400 species of birds. At the resort where they are staying, Carter meets Anna who is 12, and vacationing with her parents. While they wait to go to dinner with their parents, they decide to explore a well-marked jungle trail to see an ancient monkey statue and a waterfall.

On their way Carter spots a red-bellied quetzal. He has already identified 308 different endangered bird species and is especially excited to see a quetzal. The quetzal jumps off the branch and flies down the path, with Carter trailing. They reach the waterfall and realize that is getting dark. Then they hear a very terrifying noise — howler monkeys shrieking and leaping in the branches all around them. Anna screams and sprints off the trail into the jungle dodging trees and branches as the monkeys follow. Carter yells at her at her to stop. When he finally catches up to her they try to find their way back to the familiar path, but the tangle of vines and trees all look the same. They are…lost.

Carter suffers from anxiety and panic attacks. As part of his therapy, he studies survival techniques and is prepared for his Costa Rica trip. He tells Anna they have to stay put — S.T.O.P, which means to stop, think observe and plan.  Carter tells Anna their parents and rescuers will be able to track them. The humidity in the rainforest is so intense they are soaked and are forced to stop. They are dehydrated and need water. Carter pulls an emergency kit he’s made and carries in a Ziploc bag in his pocket. It has a fire starter, whistle, aluminum foil, ground tarp, flashlight, bandages and water purification tablets. As they begin to clear the area to start a fire, build shelter and look for a water source, a troop of White-faced monkeys leap from above trees and steal Carter’s emergency kit. Sobbing he sits on a log and is stung by a scorpion.

Their journey is only beginning and will test Carter’s ability to stay calm and focused and use what ever is available in the jungle to stay alive. They only have a machete, a rope and a large garbage bag. Will they find a water source? What will they eat? What about the dangerous animals, snakes and spiders lurking nearby? Should they stay or try to find their way out. How will they mark a path so rescuers can follow them? Carter knows that the difference between staying and leaving could mean life or death.

Why I like this book/series:

Lost! is another thrilling chapter book in Terry Lynn Johnson’s Survivor Diaries series. It is inspired by true stories of hikers lost in the rainforests of Costa Rica. The plot is riveting,  exciting and fast-paced. I like how it makes kids think about what it would take to survive a difficult situation.

It would be challenging to stay calm when you know you may not make it out alive. I like how Johnson pushes the envelope a little and creates Carter, who already has a problem with anxiety and panic attacks, as the main character. His anxiety is a major reason Carter has become such an expert about survival in the jungle. It may seem obsessive, but in Carter’s case it is empowering because he prepares for every “what if” situation he encounters. When his emergency kit is stolen he learns to learn to trust himself and use the tools he knows to survive. If he can survive a scorpion bite, he can survive anything.  Anna is a nice balance to Carter. She’s a year older, taller, stronger, bossy and wants to control the situation. But she is out of her element when it comes to survival and has to depend on Carter.

The Lost! Survivor Diaries will have huge kid-appeal because the element of danger and the universal need to know what to do if you are unexpectedly caught in a situation where your life depends upon what you know. Johnson’s words of real-life advice echo loud and clear: Stay calm. Stay Smart. Survive. After reading this book, you’ll be better prepared for surviving a real-life disaster. It is an important story for families, who are birdwatchers and hikers, to read together. It is also an excellent book that belongs in every school library.

Resources: Make sure you check out the Author’s Note and tips from the Canadian Red Cross on Building Your Own Safety Kit at the end of the book. Do you have what it takes to survive? Check out Johnson’s Online Survival Game to see if what you’ve learned from Carter and Anna will help you survive.

Terry Lynn Johnson, author of the acclaimed Ice Dogs, Sled Dog School, Falcon Wild, and the Survivor Diaries, writes adventures based on her 17 years of experiences and training in the wilds of northern Ontario. Her next sequel, Dust Storm! will be published in November. She has been dragged on her face by her dog team, been lost in the bush more than once, and even chased a bear with a chainsaw. She owned a team of eighteen sled dogs for many years and currently works as a conservation officer. Visit her at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the permanent 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.

A Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker

A Stone for Sascha

Aaron Becker, Author & Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, May 8, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Pet, Death, Grief, Journey, Healing, Wordless picture book

Synopsis:

This year’s summer vacation will be very different for a young girl and her family without Sascha, the beloved family dog, along for the ride. After laying her dog to rest in the family’s backyard and showering the grave with flowers, the family goes on a camping trip. A wistful walk along the beach to gather cool polished stones becomes a brilliant turning point in the girl’s grief.  A major shift occurs in the story. There, at the edge of a vast ocean beneath an infinite sky, the girl uncovers, alongside the reader, a profound and joyous truth.

Why I love this book:

Aaron Becker’s breathtaking wordless picture book takes readers on an epic journey across the cosmos. This is a quiet and contemplative picture book. Readers will want to pour over all of the details in the dreamy illustrations of the girl’s extraordinary journey of healing that reaches beyond time and civilizations — because of one polished stone. A meteor strikes the earth, leaving a path of debris that is mined by ancient human workers. The golden stone is carved into a statue. During times of war the stone topples. It is carried away to serve other purposes and eventually ends up in the ocean where it is polished into a smooth stone by the churning waves and discovered by the girl. This is a book Becker hopes readers “will find comfort in stories that are older than our own and  inspire the reader to discover their own path.” Verdict: This book is a treasure.

Aaron Becker is the author of the award-winning Journey, Quest, and Return wordless picture book trilogy. A Stone for Sascha is a stand-alone book. Becker took care of a hermit crab for his pet merit badge in the Boy Scouts. When it died, he wasn’t too sad about it. But when lost Lily, his first cat, it was a different story altogether. Learning that love includes loss is a profound lesson that he’s learned from his animal companions over the years.

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.

Carnival Magic by Amy Ephron

Carnival Magic

Amy Ephron, Author

Philomel Books, Fiction, May 1, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Siblings, Carnival, Fantasy, Magic, Adventure, Family relationships, Vacation

Synopsis:

This companion to Castle In the Mist features a mysterious carnival, an ominous psychic, and a wind that whisks Tess and Max away from their vacation in South Devon, England. Which fantastical world will they find this time?

Tess and Max are back in England for another summer with their Aunt Evie–this time by the seashore in South Devon. And they’re incredibly excited about the travelling carnival that’s come to town. There are rides, games, acrobats, The House of Mirrors–and even a psychic, with a beautiful wagon all her own.

In a visit to the psychic’s wagon, while Tess is being hypnotized, the wagon seems to move. Before Tess can shake herself out of the hypnosis, before Max can do anything, they seem to be travelling–along with the rest of the carnival–too quickly for the two of them to jump out. But where are they going and what awaits them? Will they be caught in a world different from their own? And do the Baranova twins, acrobats who miss their sister almost as much as Tess and Max miss their family, hold the keys to the mystery?

Why I like this book:

Amy Ephron returns with a companion novel to The Castle in the Mist and creates a magical tale filled with adventure, mystery, fantasy, family, and fun. Readers will feel like they’re in the middle of the action and find Carnival Magic the perfect summer read.

The fun carnival setting will appeal to readers. Who doesn’t like cotton candy, a baby tiger, a Ferris wheel, a Hall of Mirrors, psychics, and acrobats. The chapters are short and fast-paced, propelling readers forward into this magical ride.

The plot is one adventure after another, as the brother-sister duo literally work themselves through a magical maze of adventures that are not of their world. Tess saves a baby tiger, rescues a child dangling from a stuck Ferris wheel, stands in as an acrobat, and tries to reunite three siblings, while Max figures out the mystery of the Hall Mirrors and navigating worlds.

Tess is a smart, strong and independent female protagonist, following in the footsteps of her mother and Aunt Evie.  Max is the logical and sensible of the two. He has a way of looking to the future and finding the positive, which Tess envies. Tess tends to jump in and not worry about where she’s jumping until later. She’s good at making snap decisions that lead her into some very hair-raising moments. Tess and Max are a nice balance to one another, especially when they enter another worldly dimension. Both siblings are resourceful and supportive in their attempts to right some wrongs and get back to South Devon — or did they really ever really leave it? A question readers will ponder.

The novel is entertaining, imaginative and filled with unexpected twists from beginning to end.

Amy Ephron is the author of The Castle in the Mist, which was her first middle grade novel. It was nominated for a SCIBA Award and selected as a February 2017 Barnes and Noble Best Book for Young Readers and Amazon Best Book of the Month. She has also written several adult books. A Cup of Tea was an international bestseller. Visit Ephron 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.

Abracadabra! The Magic of Trying

Abracadabra! The Magic of Trying

Maria Loretta Giraldo, Author

Nicoletta Bertelle, Illustration

Magination Press, Fiction, Apr. 23, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Animals, New experiences, Fear, Practice, Setbacks, Courage, Perseverance

Opening: “Today was an important day at the little birds’ school. Today was the day they all learned how to fly!”

Book Synopsis:

All of the little birds have learned to fly…except one. Little Owl can’t do it! He is too afraid of falling. Blackbird, Robin, Sparrow and Hummingbird explain that it’s easy. All he has to do is say “abracadabra!”

At first, it doesn’t work, and Little Owl thinks the “magic” word is broken! But as he gets better and better, he realizes that the real magic is in himself. This book teaches children how to face challenges and keep trying, despite setbacks.

An empowering story of gradually overcoming fear that will resonate with young children. A great purchase for most collections.

Why I like this book:

Maria Loretta Giraldo’s engaging picture book realistically depicts how slow Little Owl’s progress may be, yet how rewarding it is when he overcomes his fear and succeeds in the end.  He glides through the sky and his self-confidence soars.

This story has a memorable cast of forest characters — the birds, a turtle, a mouse, hedgehog — who turn out to encourage Little Owl to take the leap and flap his wings. They offer suggestions and continue to support him. Each one tells him to say the magic word, “abracadabra,” but it doesn’t work.  No matter how many times Little Owl tries, he fails and crashes. But he doesn’t give up and keeps trying.

This book is a useful book for parents to have on hand when their child tries to do something new, like riding a bike or swimming. Some children may be afraid of failing, hurting themselves and don’t want to try. Like Little Owl, trying something new takes practice and perseverance, no matter the setbacks. It is so important to support a frustrated child. Practice takes time, but is well worth the effort.

Nicoletta Bertelle’s signature illustrations are colorful and whimsical and compliment the story. She is a long-term artistic partner with the author.

Resources: The book includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers with tips for encouraging kids to practice and persevere.

Maria Loretta Giraldo is an Italian children’s writer based in Verona, Italy. She is the author of more than 100 books published and translated all over the world. Nicoletta Bertelle has illustrated more than 80 books for many Italian and foreign publishers.

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.

A copy of this book was provided by Magination Press.