If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson

If You Plant a Seed 511V106f+0L__SY498_BO1,204,203,200_If You Plant a Seed

Kadir Nelson, Author and Illustrator

Balzer + Bray/Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, Fiction, Mar. 3, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Animals, Nature, Planting and Growing, Sharing,  Seeds of kindness, Generosity, Friendship

Opening: “If you plant a tomato seed, a carrot seed, and a cabbage seed, / in time, / with love and care, /  tomato, carrot and cabbage plants will grow.”

Synopsis: Rabbit and mouse, plant seeds in their garden. They patiently tend to their garden and watch the rain and sun do their magic. As the fruits of their labor begin to pay off they do their happy dance and marvel at the sweetness of their bounty. When five birds appear from the sky, rabbit and mouse try to protect their vegetables from their winged friends.  The birds stare them down (illustrations are priceless) and pandemonium breaks out, until mouse gives the birds a peace-offering. Because of mouse’s act of generosity, the birds return with seeds of kindness and friendship reigns.

Why I like If You Plant a Seed:

Kadir Nelson’s If You Plant a Seed is a timeless story for the entire family that will charm you from the first double-spread to the last. His spare and clever text makes this story an easy book for kids to read alone or to a sibling. It shows children what happens when you are selfish and hoard your bounty. And it teaches them what happens when they are kind and share with others — friendships form. These are values they will easily understand. The cover is gorgeous. Nelson’s beautiful, oversized oil paintings are breathtaking! Facial expressions are dramatic, expressive and humorous. The vegetables look so real, that you want to reach out and take a bite of a carrot or tomato. If You Plant a Seed has heart, humor, connection and friendship. It  is a treasure! Visit Kadir Nelson online at his website.

Kadir Nelson won the 2012 Coretta Scott King Author Award and Illustrator Honor for Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. He received Caldecott Honors for Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine and Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, for which he also garnered a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and won an NAACP Image Award. Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange won a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. Nelson’s authorial debut, We Are the Ship, was a New York Times bestseller, a Coretta Scott King Author Award winner, and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor book. He is also the author and illustrator of the acclaimed Baby Bear.

Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick

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Lindsay Mattick, Author

Sophie Blackall, Illustrator

Little, Brown and Company, Oct. 20, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Bear, True Story, Canadian Soldier, Mascot, London Zoo, Christopher Robbins

Opening: “Could you tell me a story?” asked Cole. “It’s awfully late.” It was long past dark, and a time to be asleep. “What kind of story?” “You know. A true story. One about a Bear.” 

Book Synopsis: Before Winnie-the-Pooh, there was a real bear named Winnie.

In 1914, Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian on his way to tend horses in World War I, followed his heart and rescued a baby bear. He named her Winnie, after his hometown of Winnipeg, and he took the bear to war.

Harry Colebourn’s real-life great-granddaughter tells the true story of a remarkable friendship and an even more remarkable journey — from the fields of Canada to a convoy across the ocean to an army base in England…

And finally to the London Zoo, where Winnie made another new friend: a real boy named Christopher Robin. Here is the remarkable true story of the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh.

Why I like this book:

This is an inspiring true story by Lindsay Mattick about the origins of the most famous bear ever — Winnie-the-Pooh. It will rekindle memories of adults who loved this bear and appeal to their children and grandchildren. It is a heartwarming story for the entire family.

It is a revelation for me to learn that there is a family connection to the endearing story about this globally well-loved bear. The author is the great-granddaughter of Harry Colebourn, the soldier-veterinarian who found the little bear and named him Winnie. Her storytelling is warm and friendly and filled with little-known details about the bear.  It was a special treat to see the album of pictures of Winnie with Colebourn, the platoon members, at the London Zoo and with the original Christopher Robbins Milne. Children who love Milne’s classic Winnie-the-Pooh stories, will be captivated by the bear’s history. Sophie Blackall’s watercolor illustrations are warm and beautifully expressive. They compliment and add charm to this lovely story.

Resources/Activities:  Read your favorite Winnie-the-Pooh book, whether Milne’s original stories or the Disney series. Encourage kids to draw a picture of Winnie and pick out a favorite quote. Check out the teacher’s guide for using Finding Winnie with students.

A Morning with Grandpa by Sylvia Liu

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Sylvia Liu, Author

Christina Forshay, Illustrations

Lee & Low Books, Fiction, Apr. 1, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Intergenerational relationships, Tai Chi, Yoga, Grandfathers, Multicultural

Opening: “Mei Mei watched Grandpa dance slowly among the flowers in the garden. He moved like a giant bird stalking through a marsh. His arms swayed like reeds in the wind.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Mei Mei’s grandpa is practicing tai chi in the garden, and Mei Mei is eager to join in. As Gong Gong tries to teach her the slow, graceful movements, Mei Mei enthusiastically does them with her own flair. Then Mei Mei takes a turn, trying to teach Gong Gong the yoga she learned in school. Will Gong Gong be able to master the stretchy, bendy poses?

Why I like this book:

Sylvia Liu has written a story that celebrates the special relationship between a granddaughter and her grandfather as they learn tai chi and yoga together. Mei Mei watches her grandfather practice tai chi, wants to know more, and adds a lively spin to his methodical movements.  Grandfather shows patience with Mei Mei’s  enthusiastic and energetic interpretation of tai chi and praises her movements as “perfect.” He’s a good sport when Mei Mei in turn shows him yoga movements, despite his creaky knees.  Liu’s book is a beautiful intergenerational story about a grandfather and grandchild teaching each other something new. Christina Forshay’s colorful illustrations are warm, expressive and capture the lovely memories of a morning spent together.

Resources: The book includes instructions for the tai chi and yoga exercises described in the text in the back matter of the book — a fun activity for children, parents and grandparents. Visit Sylvia Liu at her website.

When Penny Met POTUS by Rachel Ruiz

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Rachel Ruiz, Author

Melissa Manwill, Illustrator

Capstone Young Readers, Fiction, July 1, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes: Going to work with mother, POTUS, White House, Political Season, Imagination

Opening:”Penny jumps out of bed extra early, even though she doesn’t have school today. Why? Because today she gets to go to work with her mom!”  

Synopsis: Penny’s mother works in a big white house for a boss called POTUS.  She thinks it is a funny name (POE-TUS), but she can’t imagine what he may look like. She imagines a blue, superhero monster, because after all he has his own secret service agents. She hopes she gets to meet POTUS and practices how to bow and what to say.  She imagines they may even have a tea party together. Once she arrives at her mom’s office, she’s impatient to meet POTUS and sneaks off to find this mysterious creature. Will she be disappointed or surprised with her discovery?

Why I like this book:

The timing is perfect for the release of Rachel Ruiz’s imaginative, entertaining, and very informative book that will introduce young children to the President, the job and the election year. It is a clever and animated story about Penny, an imaginative and curious brown-skinned girl, wondering what her mother does at work every day in a big white house with someone important named POTUS. When Penny finally tracks down the president and discovers POTUS is not a blue monster, her expressions are priceless! You sense some disappointment, until the POTUS invites Penny to visit the kitchen. There are other surprises that I won’t spoil.  The ending is humorous and satisfying.

Melissa Manwill’s illustrations are large, bold, lively and colorful. They significantly contribute to Penny’s larger-than-life imagination of what is a POTUS. I also enjoyed Manwill’s depiction of diversity among the White House staff.

Ruiz was inspired to write her picture book after spending most of 2012 working on President Obama’s re-election campaign. “After long days at the office, I would rush home to my inquisitive three-year-old daughter, who often showered me with questions like, ‘Did you see the President today? What did he have for lunch? Is he allergic to peanut butter?’ and on and on,” said Ruiz. “When my daughter met President Obama at a campaign rally the weekend before the election, the brief but oh-so-memorable exchange between POTUS and the 3-year-old was the exact moment when the idea for this book took hold.”

Resources: Check out this delightful video about kids thoughts on who and what is a POTUS! It will inspire discussions and activities for you to do with your children. You might add FLOTUS, VPOTUS, and SCOTUS to the list of political acronyms.  This is a great book to pair with President Squid by Aaron Reynolds and Diana’s White House Garden, by Elisa Carbone.

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.

Penny and Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars

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Maria Gianferrari, Author

Thyra Heder, Illustrator

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, Jun. 14, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes: Sleepover, Dogs, Stargazing, Creativity, Solutions, Friendships

Opening: “Hooray!” said Penny. “Tomorrow is Sleepover Under the Stars Night, Jelly!”

Synopsis: Penny is excited when she receives an invitation to a sleepover under the stars from the recreation center.  She calls her four best friends to see if they are attending. Penny begins to make a list of what she needs: sleeping bag, pillow, PJs, book and Jelly. Then Penny realizes that the invitation says “no pets allowed.” She comes up with an idea to make a  pretend Jelly — out of paper, yarn, fleece, vegetables, marshmallow, cotton balls and clay. But, her creation just isn’t her beloved Jelly. Penny must find a solution.

Why I like Penny & Jelly:

Maria Gianferrari has written a perfect summer read for children about a determined girl and her devoted dog.  Slumber parties and outdoor sleepovers are a summer tradition for children. I especially like that this slumber party is about stargazing, a great activity for children to learn about constellations. Penny is a fun-loving character full of heart, who sports mismatched socks with every page turn. She’s imaginative, curious, enjoys picking out star constellations, and is resourceful in finding a solution to her problem. Thyra Heder’s  warm watercolor illustrations are cheerful, expressive and eye-catching. The characters are diverse.  I love the book cover. Verdict: This captivating story will be a popular summer read with children and parents as it lends itself to many discussions. Visit Penny & Jelly at their website.

Maria Gianferrari is also the author of Penny & Jelly: The School Show.

1-2-3 A Calmer Me

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Colleen A. Patterson and Brenda S. Miles, Authors

Claire Keay, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Sep. 22, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Anger, Emotions, Calmness

Opening: I am happy, but sometimes I feel mad and VERY frustrated! Like the other day when I let go of my balloon. I felt s-o-o-o mad!

Synopsis: A girl becomes angry when she lets go of her balloon. Her friend tells her it’s okay to feel mad, but there is something she can do to feel better. He shares with her a rhyme he uses to calm his body and mind. “1-2-3 a calmer me. 1-2-3 I hug me. 1-2-3 relax and b-r-e-a-t-h-e…1-2-3 a calmer me.” When she discovers it melts her angry feelings, she begins to use the technique when someone takes away her favorite crayon, when she has to stop playing and eat dinner, and when she loses a race.

Why I like this book:

I was delighted to discover Colleen A. Patterson and Brenda S. Miles’ book which helps children with relaxation and mindfulness when their emotions spin out of control. We need more books like this to use at home and at school to help upset kids regain control so that they don’t act out in a harmful way. Claire Keay’s illustrations are rendered in warm and comforting pastels and capture the emotion of the story.

1-2-3 A Calmer Me introduces readers to a very simple rhyming mantra to help them stop their negative reaction, calm their anger, frustration or disappointment and replace it with a very easy technique.  In the first action of the mantra the girl wraps her arms around herself and gives herself a big, tight hug. Then she counts again and slowly breathes in and out and relaxes her body. In the last action she slowly releases her hug and lets her arms dangle by her side. She feels the relaxation.

Resources: The book includes a “Note to Parents, Teachers and Other Grown-Ups” with more information about the steps of the “1-2-3” rhyme, and advice for working through the steps with your child.

Blood Moon by Michelle Isenhoff

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Michelle Isenhoff, Author

CreateSpace, Historical Fiction, Jun. 5, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 14 and up

Themes: Love, Family Relationships, Civil War, Slavery, Abolitionists, Pursuing educational dreams, Hope

Opening: “Brilliant orange sparks streaked across the night sky, snatched by the furious wind and flung onto rooftops to spring up as new geysers of flame. Building by building the fire magnified, towering over the cringing city, devouring the waterfront. Emily raced toward the inferno, compelled by visions of those she loved.”

Synopsis: Charleston lies in ruins and war between the North and South is imminent. Yet, Emily Preston refuses to give up her dream of becoming an artist. She defies her overbearing father and secretly enrolls in an art correspondence course under a male pseudo name, a step toward fulfilling her dream of studying at a Maryland university. When her father discovers her disobedience, he demands she leave Ella Wood to find her own living arrangements. Emily is now free to pursue her education, but she has many hurdles to overcome to support herself and earn her tuition for college. A love-triangle forms, betrayals are uncovered, family secrets abound, and Emily faces loss. Uncertainty looms big in her heart, as war threatens her dreams and the people she cares about most.

Why I love about Blood Moon:

Convincingly penned from beginning to end, Blood Moon is inherently absorbing and skillfully presented, establishing Michelle Isenhoff as an exceptionally talented novelist. Readers who have invested themselves in Isenhoff’s Ella Wood series, will be thrilled with the second volume in her latest sequel, Blood Moon, which continues Emily Preston’s transformation from Southern Belle to a determined young women who will stop at nothing to chase her educational dreams.

Blood Moon is richly textured and impeccably researched as it offers a vivid portrayal of the emotional landscape that bring Emily’s tale to life. It also sheds light on the penetrating truths of South Carolina’s role in the civil war, customs and culture, the suppression of women’s rights and the unforgivable treatment of slaves.

Her characters are vividly drawn and the many period details with which she fleshes out her story never feel forced or melodramatic. Emily, Thad, Jovie, Jack and Uncle Timothy are real. Some are gritty and abusive while others are tender and sweet, but most of all they are very much alive. I could feel the pain of loss, betrayal and hopelessness when Emily’s dreams are shattered and, yet through it all there remains a true bond of friendship and selfless acts of love.

Blood Moon is stunning, wrenching, and inspiring. Isenhoff’s sweeping imagination adds to a multi-layered, compelling, harrowing, and realistic plot. Her deliberate pacing and tension keep readers fully engaged and invested in Blood Moon.  There are many surprises for readers. It is truly an exceptional story and the characters will stay with you long after you finish Blood Moon.

The third volume in the series, Ebb Tide, will be available in the Spring of 2017Ella Wood is  available free to readers on Kindle, Nook, iTunes, and Kobo.  Ella Wood is a sequel to Isenhoff’s middle grade novel, The Candle Star.

Michelle Isenhoff is the author of Ella Wood; The Candle Star, Blood of Pioneers and Beneath the Slashings (Divided Decade Collection); Song of the Mountain and Fire on the Mountain (Mountain Trilogy); Taylor Davis and the Flame of Findul, Taylor Davis and the Clash of Kingdoms; The Color of Freedom; and The Quill Pen. Visit Michelle Isenhoff at her website.