Penny and Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars

Penny & Jelly9780544280052-276x300Penny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars

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

1-2-3 Calmer Me 51hB9ta-cnL__SX397_BO1,204,203,200_1-2-3 A Calmer Me: Helping Children Cope When Emotions Get out of Control

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

Blood Moon 517wv6vKojL__SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Blood Moon (Ella Wood) Volume 2

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.

Betsy’s Day at the Game by Greg Bancroft

Betsy's Day 51PPSIp5vML__SY398_BO1,204,203,200_Betsy’s Day at the Game

Greg Bancroft, Author

Katherine Blackmore, Illustrator

Mighty Media Press, Fiction, 2013

Mom’s Choice Awards, 2013 Winner

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes: Baseball, Keeping score, Intergenerational relationships, Family traditions

Opening:  “Elisabeth, Grandpa’s here,” Betsy’s mom called out.  A car pulled in to the driveway. Betsy came running with her Boo Bag.”

Synopsis: Betsy is going to a baseball game with her grandfather. She packs her baseball glove, score book, pencil and hat in her special bag.  Betsy puts on her cap and they head toward the city ballpark. They sit just behind home plate. Betsy is eager to work on her score keeping with her grandpa, who drills her and offers advice.  As the action begins, Betsy keeps track of the players, the foul balls, the strikes and the home runs.  When a batter hits a ball into the stands, Betsy grabs her glove and catches the grand slam home run ball.  She has a lot to share with her mother. But, her mother has a surprise to share with Betsy.

Why I like this book:

This is a heartwarming intergenerational story about a girl and her grandpa spending the day together at the ballpark.  What a perfect way to share family traditions about America’s favorite pastime — baseball.

Bancroft’s story celebrates everything there is to love about a baseball game — the sights, the smells, the sounds and the thrill of catching a ball in the stands.  Katherine Blackmore’s illustrations are warm, inviting, colorful and support the story. There are maps of the field with scorecard codes and separate squares detailing scoring information on the players.

The story focuses on teaching children how to keep score at a baseball game through the happy chitchat between Betsy and Grandpa.  The author provides fully illustrated scorecards at the end, which can be copied and used when a child watches a baseball game.

Resources:  Learning how to keep score is a great way for parents, grandparent and children to interact and have fun. The story itself will teach parents (if you don’t know) and children about keeping score.  Take your child to a local baseball game for a fun family outing and work together to fill out the scorecards. This is a great way to make family memories.  Click here for a free downloadable Educator’s Activity Guide.

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

Listen, Slowly 513tozBfREL__SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Listen, Slowly

Thanhha Lai, Author

Harper Collins, Fiction, Feb. 17, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Vietnam, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture-shock, Diversity, Intergenerational relationships, Family relationships, Respect, Friendship, Vietnam War, History

Synopsis: Mai is a 12-year-old California girl eager to spend her summer vacation at the beach with her best friends. Instead, her Vietnamese parents have planned her summer for her. They want Mai to accompany her grandmother to Vietnam so she can meet a man who may provide her answers to her husband’s disappearance during the war and find some closure. Her parents also want Mai to learn more about her own roots, meet relatives and develop some bonds. Mai barely understands the language. Trapped in a remote village, Mai must find a balance between her two different worlds if she has any hopes of surviving Vietnam.

Why I like this book:

  • Thanhha Lai beautifully crafted a love story between a granddaughter and her grandmother, as they travel to Vietnam together. It is a powerful intergenerational novel for teens.  It is richly textured, emotional, honest and humorous.
  • Lai skillfully shows Vietnam as a land of many contrasts. Her setting is very realistic of Vietnam today.  Lai’s writing touches all the senses so that the reader smells, hears, sees, and feels the unforgiving heat, heavy rain, sticky moisture, nasty mosquito bites, pungent smells, toxic fumes, noises and seas of mopeds on the overcrowded streets of Hanoi.
  • This is touching character-driven story. Mai (Mia) is a head-strong, outspoken, humorous and compassionate protagonist. In the beginning, Mai’s constantly plotting her trip out of Vietnam. Every angry/whiny text message to her mother begins with “I want to come home.” As she settles into the gentle pace of life surrounding her, it is a joy to watch Mai deal with the culture shock and mature. She’s a trooper and her challenges turn into acceptance of her doting family and surroundings. Mai’s fragile grandmother has clung to the old ways and is proper. She is patient, tender, quiet-spoken. Her family is surprised by her strong resolve to track down important leads that may reveal the truth of her husband’s death. Mai’s cousin, Ut, is the complete opposite of Mai. She wears a buzz haircut, crumpled pants and t-shirts, and hangs out with her frogs. They become partners in crime that lead to many hilarious moments.
  • The plot is multi-layered, complicated, courageous and hopeful. Lai delves deeply into Mai’s loneliness, the shock of living in an unfamiliar culture and the courage that it takes for her to handle a difficult situation. There are unexpected surprises and a realistic and satisfying ending.
  • I enjoyed learning about modern Vietnam. The story is so detailed that it feels like you are walking with Mai as she experiences the homeland of her family. I loved this story.

Thanhha Lai is the author of the Newbery Honor and National Book Award-winning Inside Out & Back Again. Click [here] to read my review. She was born in Vietnam and now lives with her family in New York. Visit Lai at her website.

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

Ouch! Moments: When Words Are Used in Hurtful Ways

Ouch! Moments51oze-lcWOL__SX399_BO1,204,203,200_Ouch! Moments: When Words Are Used in Hurtful Ways

Michael Genhart, Author

Viviana Garofoli, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Sep. 22, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Hurtful words, Microaggressions, Insults, Conduct, Caring, Empowerment

Opening: “When a bee stings, Ouch! That hurts! Catching a finger in a closing door hurts a lot. Ouch! Hearing a mean thing or ugly word hurts too. That is definitely an Ouch moment!”

Synopsis:  Sometimes kids use hurtful words to put down another child. They can be said by a child when they are trying to be funny, “oink goes the pig” or “he throws like a girl.” They can be used by kids to have power over other kids to make them feel small. Ouch moments happen quickly and other kids don’t know what to do. When these moments occur, the perpetrator, the victim and the bystanders need help. Readers will be encouraged to be caring and take a stand.

Why I like this book:

Michael Genhart introduces readers to “ouch moments” that are usually directed towards a child that is different. His thoughtful book will help parents, teachers and children recognize mean, ugly, and hurtful words.  The language is simple, hopeful and ideal for kids. The characters are believable. Children will learn strategies that will empower them to stand up to insults and hurtful language. This is a book that all children can identify with because they have been on both sides, as the perpetrator and receiver. Genhart also helps kids to recognize their own hurtful language in a way that doesn’t shame. Many times they repeat something they’ve heard from someone else. Viviana Garofoli’s illustrations are colorful, expressive and compliment the story.

Resources:  This book is a resource for home and in the classroom. It is great resource for school teachers at the beginning of the school year to talk with kids about hurtful language and share their  “ouch moments.” There is a Note to Parents and Caregivers about microaggressions, and strategies for talking to children about hurtful language, discrimination and bias.

The Great Good Summer

Great Good Summer 51pFkPl3l2L__SX334_BO1,204,203,200_The Great Good Summer

Liz Garton Scanlon, Author

Beach Lane Books, Fiction, May 5, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Runaways, Mothers and daughters, Absent mother, Family and Faith, Adventure, Friendship, Forgiveness

Pages: 213

Opening: “God is alive and well in Loomer, Texas, so I don’t know why Mama had to go all the way to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida to find him, or to find herself, either.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Ivy Green’s summer has gone all topsy-turvy since her mama ran off to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida with a charismatic preacher who calls himself Hallelujah Dave.

Hallelujah Dave, for goodness sake.

Ivy’s been left behind with her daddy and with the painful mystery of her missing mama. It’s no wonder she starts to lose faith in nearly everything she’s always counted on.

Meanwhile, Ivy’s friend Paul Dobbs is having a crummy summer too. The Space Shuttle program’s been scrapped, and Paul’s dream of being an astronaut look like it will never get off the ground. So Ivy and Paul hatch a secret plan to set things right and maybe, just maybe, reclaim their faith in the things in life that are most important.

Why I like this book:

Liz Garton Scanlon’s emotional and heartfelt story is a timely story for teens with realistic issues like parental betrayal and abandonment. It is also a lovely coming of age story as Ivy Green is pressed to rely on her own inner resources and an unwavering faith to track her mother from Texas to Florida. She sets off on a secret adventure with her best friend, Paul Dobbs, who is logical and obsessed with science and space. While their mission is to find Ivy’s mother and bring her home, they also plan to visit the Kennedy Space Center.

The plot is strong and complex, deftly interweaving the lives of two very good friends, Ivy and Paul. It is packed with so much suspense (one-way bus tickets, thugs that steal Ivy’s money, a jail visit) that it moves along rather quickly. The text is smart and polished. And, you have to love that cover!

Ivy is a strong and smart character, with a believable voice. She is the perfect narrator because she doesn’t hold back. She’s not afraid to ask tough questions, weave a few lies, stand up to her father, tell people off,  handle the truth and learn to forgive. Paul is the opposite of Ivy. He’s a dreamer, but offers a level-headed balance to Ivy’s impatience. Their friendship is honest and moving.

I was concerned the book would be heavy on a debate between religion and science, but it turns out that’s not what the story is about. The discussions between Ivy, who has faith and Paul, who only believes in science, add for some really great conversations that tie everything together at the end.  And it opens room for discussions among readers. The story does give readers a sense of Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie. Verdict: This is an excellent summer read for tweens and teens.

Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of many celebrated picture books, including Happy Birthday, Bunny!, Noodle & Lou, and All the World. The Great Good Summer is her first novel. Visit her at her website.