The Big Adventures of Tiny House by Susan Schaefer Bernardo

The Big Adventures of Tiny House

Susan Schaefer Bernardo, Author

Courtenay Fletcher, Illustrator

Inner Flower Child Books, Fiction, Apr. 25, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Tiny Houses, Salvaged, Recycled, Travel, Home, Community

Opening: Once there was a farmhouse in a field of hay, / but while it lay sleeping, the acres gave way / to a bustling city whose bright, shiny towers / edged out the farmhouse, the fields and flowers.

Synopsis: An old farmhouse finds its once peaceful setting surrounded by a big city. People pitch in and dismantle the house, salvage the windows and doors, and build a Tiny House on wheels. It has a tiny front porch, a kitchen with cabinets, a loft for sleeping and a nook for reading. When Tiny is hooked up to Big Truck they can travel where ever they want. Tiny heads west to see the world and discover if he’s a real home.

They drive past farmlands, visit the big silver arch in St. Louis, join a parade in New Orleans, camp near the Grand Canyon, drive through the desert and wind through the Rocky Mountains. Traveling can be fun, but Tiny becomes lonely.  They meet friends like Shiny (an Airstream) and Buster (a converted school bus) who invite Tiny to the Tiny House Jamboree. Back on the road Tiny discovers Harmony, a village of tiny houses, and learns a very important lessons about the meaning of home.

Illustrations Courtesy of Courtenay Fletcher

Why I like this book:

Susan Schaefer Bernardo and Courtenay Fletcher have outdone themselves with The Big Adventures of Tiny House, which captures the spirit and heart of the tiny house movement in America. Tiny homes and communities offer an alternative for those seeking a simpler and less costly lifestyle change, friendship and community. And yes, there is a big annual jamboree.

There is a lot energy and playfulness in Bernardo’s rhyming text. “If you’re looking for adventure, just follow me / to the axle-hoppin’, wheel-stompin’ Tiny House Jamboree. / We’ll raise the roof with our ruckus! All our kin will be coming! / There’ll be ringing and singing and dancing and drumming!” The story has a rhythm to it and is fun to read out loud along with the “Beep! Beep! Honk! Honk!” The pacing is perfect and the storytelling is clever. The ending is satisfying and carries a very important message for children about the meaning of “home.”

There is a richness and charm in Fletcher’s bold and colorful illustrations that make this a beautiful book to read. If you look real closely at all the illustrations, kids will discover eyes peering out the windows as Tiny rolls along the road, celebrates the jamboree or is content in his new community. The author and illustrator team up to once again produce another winning book for children.

Resources: Have kids draw or design their own tiny house. What would they put inside the their house? How big would they make it? The Tiny House website also has a template of a tiny house that kids can construct and coloring pages.

Susan Schafer Bernardo and Courtney Fletcher have collaborated on Sun Kisses and Moon Hugs and  The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, which was read aloud by First Lady Michelle Obama and sent to the International Space Station as part of Storytime in Space!  They hope that Tiny Makes his dream come true and finds his ways to Mars.

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

*I was provided with a copy of  The Big Adventures of Tiny House in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Amina’s Voice

Hena Khan, Author

Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Fiction,  Mar. 14, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Pakistani and Asian Americans, Friendship, Peer Pressure, Family, Muslim Culture, Community, Prejudice, Racism

Opening: Something sharp pokes me in the rib. “You should totally sign up for a solo,” Soojin whispers from the seat behind me in music class. I shake my head. The mere thought of singing in front of a crowd makes my stomach twist into knots.

Book Jacket SynopsisAmina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American,” now that she is to become a citizen. Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with  these questions, her local mosque is vandalized, and she is devastated.

Why I like this book:

Hena Khan has written a timely and empowering novel about a young Muslim American girl, who finds her voice with the help of friends, family, and community.

Khan’s novel is multi-layered with many themes. The central theme of Khan’s book is about what it’s like to be a Muslim girl growing up in America. She takes her readers into a loving and strict Muslim family, where cultural traditions are at the center of their lives, from praying, studying the Quran and meal preparation, to the respect shown to visitors and the value of community.

The main characters are multi-dimensional and diverse. Amina is a kind-hearted, shy, and talented pianist and vocalist. Her best friend, Soojin, is Chinese and wants to change her name because no one knows how to pronounce it. Bottom line, she wants to fit in. This raises important questions for Amina. Would the popular kids like her better if she changes her name? How does she be true to her Muslim values and still be American? Many readers will identify with the angst of middle school as they navigate through those sensitive years. Amina’s story will also resonate with children of immigrants.

The language is carefully crafted and uplifting. The plot is realistic and leaves readers with hope even after the Islamic Center is attacked and vandalized. It is heartwarming to see how the community rallies behind the Muslim community by inviting them to use their churches and providing labor to rebuild the center. It beautifully demonstrates to readers the meaning of our common humanity. I know my community would come to the rescue of our Muslim neighbors. Verdict: This book belong in every middle grade library. It’s a treasure!

Hena Khan is a Pakistani American who was born and raised in Maryland. She enjoys writing about her culture. She is the author of several books, including It’s Ramadan, Curious George, Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, and Night of the Moon. You can learn more about Hena Khan by visiting her website.

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

Tony and His Elephants by Cathleen Burnham

Earth Day, April 22, 2017

Tony and His Elephants: Best Friends Forever!

Cathleen Burnham, Author and Photographer

Crickhollow Books, Nonfiction, Apr. 22, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Themes: Elephant Rescue, Sanctuary, Thailand, Environmental Conservation, Science, Nature, Kids Making a Difference

Opening: It was Songkran, Thailand’s New Year celebration. Crowds of cheering people waved flags. Songkran also was the hottest time of the year. All across Thailand, people celebrated with water fights. In the midst of the festivities were two little elephants: Baby Pumpuii and five-year-old Nam Cho. They were chained side by side.

Synopsis: Tony is an eight-year-old boy, whose family runs a small elephant sanctuary in northern Thailand. He becomes involved in the care of two young elephants, Baby Pumpuii and Nam Cho, rescued from an urban setting to a new life in the forests. But life in the wilds is not without its own drama and danger. Tony is quickly drawn into a deep and lasting relationship with these amazing and sensitive animals.

Why I like this book:

  • This is the third photodocumentary book by Cathleen Burnham featuring children involved in wild animal rescue activities. Her stories carry an inspiring and powerful message that you don’t have to be an adult to make a difference. Children like Tony are proof of how one small act of caring can have an important impact in helping wildlife in danger. It has become Burnham’s mission to share the stories of young environmental activists with other children.
  • Burnham’s book is a compassionate and well-crafted story. Her beautiful photographs document Tony’s life and work at the family elephant conservation center in northern Thailand. Tony mixes powdered elephant milk into a huge baby bottle and teaches Baby Pumpuii how to drink. He sleeps in a loft above the new elephants so that he can feed the baby four times a night. He climbs onto Nam Cho’s back and trains her in how to move forward, stop, and turn as he guides her along a dirt path into the jungle. They go for a swim in Mekong River. When a fire breaks out, Tony leads all the elephants to safety in the cool mountaintops, while his parents battle the fire.
  • Burnham’s book helps children understand and respect the interconnection between humans and all life. She introduces children to “cultural learning, language, animal facts, geography, and laws  intended to protect wild animals from black market trade or from being abused to serve human interests.” Like Tony, children worldwide will be inspired to do their part to make a difference in their communities.

Tony feeds Baby Pumpuii a bottle of milk.   Photo Courtesy of Cathleen Burnham

Favorite Lines: “These will be your elephants, Tony,” said his father. “Forever?” asked Tony. “Until the day you die, Tony, just like any mahout,” said his father.

It was the beginning of a lifelong bond. Tony, Nam Cho, and Baby Pumpuii would love and protect one another for the rest of their lives.

Resources:  Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end of Tony and His Elephants. To learn more about the amazing things children are doing to protect wildlife around the globe, visit the World Association of Kids and Animals (WAKA) and get involved. Check out The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, to learn about the retired circus elephants living in this safe 2,700-acre refuge in companionship with other elephants. For more ideas about how you can make a difference in your community, visit the Earth Day website.

*View Joanna Marple’s inspiring review of Tony and His Elephants on her  website.

Cathleen Burnham is a journalist, writer and wildlife photographer. In addition to Tony and His Elephants, Burnham is the author of Doyli to the Rescue, and the Tortuga Squad. They are the first three books in a series of six books that profile wildlife preservation efforts being undertaken by kids around the globe.

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

**I was provided with a copy of Tony and His Elephants in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Halito Gianna: The Journey Continues by Becky Villareal

Halito Gianna: The Journey Continues

Becky Villareal, Author

CreateSpace, Fiction, Dec. 27, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 7-11

Themes: Exploring family roots, Multicultural, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, Mystery

Opening: Halito means hello in Choctaw, but I didn’t find that out for a long, long time. At least that’s how it seems when you’re still in school and having to go every single day of the year!

Synopsis: Gianna is a fourth grader who came to America from Mexico. She is very interested in exploring her family’s roots.  Her teacher announces that the class will celebrate Halloween with a Book March and students are encouraged to wear a costume that matches a character in a favorite book. Gianna wants to dress as a Native American girl to honor her favorite book, The Rough-Faced Girl. While she searches her attic for costume possibilities, she discovers an old trunk that is full of old family pictures of Mexico, passports, and memorabilia. She realizes how much she doesn’t know her family history. Her mama tells her that her father was a soldier at Fort Bliss in El Paso and was shipped overseas. He didn’t return and her mother never knew what happened to him. Gianna decides that she’s going to find out. With the help of the social studies teacher, she learns how to search information about her father on veteran’s sites. With her new best friend, Aponi, who is Native American and speaks Choctaw, she begins to learn about her friend’s culture.  Aponi helps Gianna with her search, which takes a very unexpected turn. Will Gianna find her father and solve the mystery for her mother?

Why I like this book:

Becky Villareal has written a captivating chapter book about a girl interested in researching her family roots, finding answers about her father’s disappearance and learning something more about her own identity. Halito Gianna: The Journey Continues is the second book in the Gianna The Great series. It teaches young readers about genealogy, history, solving a mystery and tolerance for different cultures.

Gianna Saldana is a curious, determined and kind-hearted girl. She befriends Aponi, the new girl who is shy and self-conscious. Both characters are from different family backgrounds. Gianna’s mother is a single parent raising her daughter alone. Aponi is from a very large family, many living in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

The story is original and well-crafted, the plot is realistic and the ending will surprise and satisfy readers. It is an adventure story with a fun mystery to solve. Villareal incorporates both Spanish and Choctaw words throughout the story. The illustrations are colorful and cartoon-like. Verdict: This 37-page book will engage readers and is an excellent recommendation for reluctant readers.

Becky Enriquez Villareal is the author of Gianna the Great series. She was born in Dallas, Texas in 1954 to missionary parents. She grew up in several different Texas towns including McKinney. For twenty years she has taught early childhood in Dallas Independent School District. For the past ten years she has completed family research. The grandmother of three she enjoys writing and spending time with her family.

Resources: This is a wonderful discussion book for children and parents to explore their own family history. Answer your kids’ questions about your childhood and family life. Encourage them to interview their grandparents and great grandparents about their memories of family history so they have a sense of their roots.  They may be surprised about what they learn.  Visit Villareal‘s website, where kids can print out a variety of family trees and fill in their own family information.

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

Where Will I Live? by Rosemary McCarney

Where Will I Live?

Rosemary McCarney, Author

Photographs provided by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)

Second Story Press, Nonfiction, Apr. 4, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes: Children, Refugees, Immigrants,  Children of War

Opening: “Sometimes scary things happen to good people.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Every child needs a home. Children need somewhere safe where they can be happy, eat their meals with their family, play with their toys, and go to sleep at night feeling unafraid.

But many children all over the world have had to leave their homes because they are no longer safe. Because of war and conflict, they and their families have become refugees. For them life is hard and full of questions. In spite of everything, they find time to laugh, play and make friends. And most important,  they have hope that somewhere, someone will welcome them to a new home.

Why I like this book:

A timely and inspiring global story from Rosemary McCarney about what life is like for child refugees who are uprooted from their homes because of war.

McCarney’s use of minimal text directs the reader’s attention to the beautiful UNHCR photographs, which will melt your heart and speak to your soul. They show the remarkable journey the families make. The refugees walk, run, hike across deserts, and ride in carts and boats with the hope of finding a safe place to live. Many end up in refugee camps and tent cities in countries like Lebanon, Rwanda, Iraq, Niger, Hungary, Jordan, South Sudan, and Greece.

Where Will I live will help children appreciate the stability they have in their own lives and raise their cultural awareness of the plight of children worldwide. It addresses tough issues and belongs in every school library.

Proceeds from this book will be donated to refugee children’s programs around the world.

Resources: This powerful book will generate many classroom conversations about how difficult life can be for children around the world. Ask children about what it means to be a refugee. Where will they go if their home isn’t safe?  What will they eat? This is a great exercise in empathy. Children are compassionate, kind and want to help. Everyday they see other kids on the television news who are making a difference. Perhaps Where Will I Live will inspire readers and classrooms to find a way to help refugee families.

Rosemary McCarney is Canada’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and the Conference on Disarmament and past President CEO of Plan International Canada. She is the author of the internationally bestselling books: Every Day is Malala Day, Because I am a Girl: I Can Change the World, The Way to School and As A Boy.

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.

**I was provided with a copy of Where Will I Live in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla

The Someday Birds

Sally J. Pla, Author

Harper Collins, Fiction, Jan. 24, 2017

Suitable for Age: 8-12

Themes: Birding, Family Relationships, Road Trip, Injured Father, Autism Spectrum, Different Abilities, Hope

Opening: “My hands aren’t really clean until I’ve washed them twelve times, one for each year of my life. I soap-rinse-one-soap-rinse-two, open my palms to scalding water, and repeat.  I do it quick, so no one notices…”

Book Jacket Synopsis:  Charlie wishes his life could be as predictable and simple as chicken nuggets. And it usually is. He has his clean room, his carefully organized sketchbooks and colored pencils, his safe and comfortable routines.

But his perfectly ordinary life has unraveled ever since his war-journalist father was injured in Afghanistan. Now his life consists of living with Gram, trips to the hospital, and wishing things were back to normal.

When his father heads from California to Virginia for further medical treatment, Charlie reluctantly travels cross-country with his boy-crazy sister, unruly twin brothers, and a mysterious new family friend, Ludmila. Charlie loves birding. Along the way he decides that if he can spot all the birds that he and his father have hoped to see someday, then maybe just maybe, everything might turn out okay.

Why I like this book:

This is a heartwarming, compelling and hopeful debut novel by Sally J. Pla.  It is convincingly written  with skill and compassion. The family is in crisis mode. Charlie’s father has suffered a traumatic brain injury and is not responsive. It’s difficult for the siblings to deal with the unknown, especially since they’ve already lost their mother. Fortunately they have Gram to ground them.

The characters are rich, messy and real. Charlie narrates and guides readers through the trials of a 12-year-old who is trying to navigate a world that he doesn’t understand. His views are brutally honest and sometimes hilarious. Charlie’s voice makes this story sing. Kudos to the author for not labeling Charlie as being on the autism spectrum. His siblings treat him as their annoying brother with quirky behaviors and different abilities, like birding. Readers will cheer for Charlie as he steps outside his comfort zone, takes some risks and has a little fun. Gram is stern and loving, but amuses her grandkids with her sideways swearing with phrases like bee-hind, flipping heck and gosh-dang. Ludmila has an Eastern European accent and a painful story to share.

The setting is vivid and realistic with an adventurous cross-country road trip for the siblings with Ludmila behind the wheel of a camper, Old Bessie. They visit observatories, national parks, museums along their way. The plot is multi-layered with many themes. It is fast-moving with suspense, surprises and endearing moments. It is a story that celebrates family, heart, connection, love, humor and hope. Their  journey is one of healing and acceptance for everyone.

Even though this book is targeted towards middle grade readers, it is a book that would appeal to older teens and adults. This novel is a treasure! You may want to visit Sally J. Pla’s website.

Resources: April is World and National Autism Month. You may want to check out the following links for more information: Autism Society, Autism Speaks, Autism Acceptance Month, and the National Institute of Mental Health.

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

My Kicks: A Sneaker Story! by Susan Verde

My Kicks: A Sneaker Story!

Susan Verde, Author

Katie Kath, Illustrator

Abrams Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Apr. 11, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 5-7

Themes: A boy out grows his sneakers, Buying new shoes, Old sneakers have stories

Opening: Mom looked down at my feet and shook her head. “Those shoes have seen their day!”

Book Jacket Synopsis: There’s nothing like an old pair of Kicks. Sneakers have stories to tell. There’s the wear and tear from the first time they rode on a skateboard…the splatters of paint from an art project…the sticky drips from a delicious Popsicle on a hot summer day.

So when a young boy needs to buy a new pair, he fears they won’t compare. But what if some new kicks mean he might jump higher or run faster? What if having bigger shoes to fill means that new memories are just around the corner?

My Kicks is a tribute to how our favorite things reveal who we are and where we’ve come from, and celebrates the excitement in growing up and moving on.

Why I like this book:

Susan Verde has written a rollicking story that will resonate with most children — replacing a dependable pair of sneakers with new ones. Although kids like getting new shoes, they also feel an attachment to favorite pair of shoes. The boy in the story doesn’t want to let go of his favorite red sneakers. “No way! No how!” His sneakers may be worn-out and smelly, but they have great stories to tell.

As he heads to the store with his mom he recollects how he learned to tie his shoes, splashes through puddles, finds his balance on a skateboard and climbs trees. Many memories are made with a good pair of sneakers. The message is simple, clever, and quirky, but will be appeal to both readers and parents. “Each pair represents a slice of life and transitioning from one stage to the next,” says Verde.

Katie Kath’s ink and watercolor illustrations bring this story to life. They are diverse, lively and expressive. The vibrant color will appeal to young audiences.  She also uses white space well to hone the readers’ focus on the boy’s journey. She captures the boy’s changing moods as he moves from reluctance to excitement at what he may do with his new yellow sneakers. Visit Katie Kath at her website.

Resources: Parents and children will enjoy reading this delightful story together. Reminisce about your own favorite pair of sneakers growing up. This is a great opportunity for parents and children to share their stories about their favorite pair of sneakers. Make sure you peek under the outside book jacket. Children will be delighted to find a shoe-tying guide on the cover.

Susan Verde is the author of The Museum, You and MeI Am Yoga and The Water Princess. She lives just steps from the ocean in East Hampton, NY, with her three children. Her favorite kicks are her silver metallic high-tops. Visit Susan Verde 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 Perfect Picture Books.  

*I received a review copy of  My Kicks from the publisher.  The opinions in this review are entirely my own.