Wish by Barbara O’Connor

Wish

Barbara O’Connor, Author

Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Aug. 30, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Separation, Dogs, Family Relationships, Friendship, Social Issues, Hope

Synopsis: Charlemagne (Charlie) Reese has been making the same secret wish every day since fourth grade. Charlie knows all the ways to make a wish, like looking at a clock at exactly 11:11, finding a four-leaf clover, spotting a shiny penny in the dirt, observing a black cat cross the road or blowing on a dandelion. But when she is sent to live with and aunt and uncle she barely knows in a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, it seems unlikely that her wish will ever come true. That is until she meets Wishbone, a skinny stray dog who captures her heart, and Howard a neighbor boy who proves surprising in lots of ways. Suddenly Charlie is in danger of discovering that what she though she wanted may not be at all what she needs.

Why I like this book:

Wish is a richly textured an emotionally honest story about separation. Charlie’s father is in jail. Her mother is depressed and unable to care for her. Barbara O’Connor weaves together a moving story about friendship, belonging and finding family.

Wish is told from Charlie’s viewpoint. The narrative is seamless and the plot is well-paced with just the right amount of adventure and tension to keep readers turning pages.  It is also a beautiful story that is filled with heart and teaches the power and bond of community. Add a dog and you have the perfect read for teens.

Charlie is a spunky and resilient character with a temper, which she believes she inherited. She later regrets the mean and hurtful things she says. At first she hates Colby, N.C., the hillbilly kids and the ugly house she lives in that sits on the edge of a cliff. But she also shows her compassion to people and animals who are worth caring about — even though they are different or may be a scrawny stray dog she names Wishbone.  Howard is a great balance for Charlie. He has one leg shorter than the other and has dealt with mean kids and teasing his whole life.  He is kindhearted and has learned to forgive and accept others for who they are — a big lesson for Charlie. She even tests Uncle Gus and Aunt Bertha with her outbursts, but their love and patience give Charlie a sense of belonging.

Barbara O’Connor was born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina. She has written many award-winning books for children, including How to Steal a Dog and The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester. Visit Barbara O’Connor at her website.

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

A Band of Babies by Carole Gerber

A Band of Babies

Carole Gerber, Author

Jane Dyer, Illustrator

Harper Collins, Fiction, Jun. 6, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 2-5

Themes: Toddlers, Music, Social Skills, Rhyme

Opening: “Play-group morning. Babies fret — not sure what to do just yet. In struts Benny — new in town. Babies’ frowns turn upside down.”

Synopsis: It was just an ordinary day at daycare…until Benny arrived. Benny is ready for action. He spies a box with drums and sticks. With a flute in hand, the fun begins as babies follow Benny out the door beating on their drums as they march down the street. He teaches all the babies how to put on a show. Toot! Whee! This is one musical band of babies you’ll have to see! This musical journey will have readers of all ages snapping their fingers and tapping their toes!

Why I like this book:

Carole Gerber has written a lively and humorous story for toddlers. Her rhyming and minimal text flows nicely and mimics toddler gibberish!  Babies hungry, want to eat. / “Walk!” says Benny. / “Find a treat.” She also uses a lot of fun words and sounds, that give Jane Dyer’s joyful color-pencil illustrations time to deliver their funny response.  The facial expressions are priceless. This band of babies will charm you from the first spread to the last — and create a little mayhem in between.  This book is the perfect bedtime read, as parents and toddlers giggle at the antics of this fun-loving band of musical babies.

Carole Gerber is a poet and author of nearly two dozen books for children.  Carole has also spent time as an English teacher, a journalism professor, a marketing director, a magazine editor, and a creative ad agency team member.  She lives in Columbus, Ohio, To learn more about Carole Gerber, visit her website.

Resources: Children love to play with musical instruments. Put a tub with drums, a flutophone, a kazoo, a harmonica, old pots and pans, and spoons.  It may get noisy, but your kids will enjoy expressing themselves as the dance and march around the room.

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 author provided me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Winner of … A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

I am delighted with how many of you expressed an interest in winning an autographed paperback copy of A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatrama. My husband did the drawing. I wish could give you each a copy, but there can only be one winner!  For those of you who want to read this uplifting novel in verse, you will find it in your library or can order it online.

Congratulations to SUE HEAVENRICH, who has two fun and interesting websites: Sally’s Bookshelf and Archimedes Notebook, where she reviews a variety of children’s books in all genres with a special focus on science and the environment.  I will send you an e-mail message to get your mailing address.

Saved by the Boats by Julie Gassman

Saved By The Boats: The Heroic Sea Evacuation of September 11

Julie Gassman, Author

Steve Moors, Illustrator

Capstone Press, Nonfiction, Aug. 16, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Terrorist Attack, September 11, Boats, Sea Evacuations, Civilians, Hope, Kindness

Opening: An arc of sky framed the city in brilliant blue. The bright, golden sun beamed with warmth. But just below, gray smoke swelled and snaked through the air. And, silently, white ash fell in a thick snowfall, coating the city.

Synopsis: September 11,  2011, was a dark day in U.S. history. Amid the chaos of the attacks, sea captains and crews raced by boat to the tragic scene. nearly 500,000 people on New York City’s Manhattan Island were rescued that day in what would later be called the largest sea evacuation in history. In this rarely told story of heroism, we come to understand that in our darkest hours, people shine brightly as a beacon of hope.

Why I like this book:

Julie Gassman’s powerful and inspiring story is based on her own personal experience of fleeing Manhattan by boat on September 11.  Impressively researched, the narrative is presented in a straightforward, honest and compassionate manner. This beautifully crafted story demonstrates the best of humanity during times of tragedy.

This is a little known story about how ordinary captains of tugboats, ferry boats and private boats responded to the Coast Guard call and sped to the harbor to help 500,000 people escape the suffocating blanket of ash and travel to safety in Jersey City. Their spectacular demonstration of heroism deserves recognition. Their biggest concern was the safety of the passengers even though they knew that on open water they could be easy targets. Yet they continued to sail back and forth rescuing people and then carrying rescue workers, water and other supplies on their return.

Steve Moors soulful illustrations capture the crush of people with bewildered and dazed facial expressions, which are contrasted by the busy rescue workers wrapping people in towels and washing faces. His pen and ink drawings of the people and city is shaded in an ashen color, with a bright blue sky in the background. Yet, his artwork conveys a sense of hope.

Most of the youth who will read this book weren’t even born yet. Saved by the Boats really demonstrates to readers that during times of tragedy, we come together as Americans to help each other. With the country dealing with two recent hurricanes, it is an excellent time to encourage children to look for the  acts of kindness and the heroic deeds of ordinary people as we help each other through a difficult time.  It is an important book for youth in Grades 3-6 to read.

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

Once I Was Very Very Scared by Chandra Ghosh Ippen

Once I Was Very Very Scared

Chandra Ghosh Ippen, Author

Erich Ippen Jr., Illustrator

Piplo Productions, Fiction, Jan. 12, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes: Animals, Stress, Trauma, Abuse, Scary Events, Hope

Opening: “Umm…Once I was very, very scared,” said Squirrel.

Synopsis: A little squirrel shares with his forest friends a very scary experience.  He discovers that he is not alone. All his furry friends share their scary moments, but they each react in different ways.  Turtle hides in his shell and gets a tummy ache, monkey is sad, dog growls and barks, rabbit wants to run and elephant doesn’t want to talk about it.  What will these friends do to feel calm and safe?

Why I like this book:

Chandra Ghosh Ippen has written a timely book for children who have experienced stressful and traumatic events, natural disasters, violence, and abuse. It is the perfect book to share with children who have family members involved in the aftermath of recent hurricanes. With the help of a cast of furry animal friends, the book encourages  children to talk about what happens to them when they are scared.

Once I Was Very Very Scared goes into details about the physical symptoms the animals experience when something scary happens — tummy aches, sadness, uncontrollable thoughts, hiding, running, and not wanting to talk about it.  With the help of a wise Porcupine, the furry friends begin to talk about how they feel inside when they are scared — angry, sad, ashamed, frustrated and embarrassed. The friends begin to learn new things to help them during scary times — talking to a parent, snuggling with Mom, listening to music, and playing with friends.

This books speaks to a common emotion of kids that they don’t always get to talk about.  Adults assume kids go on an forget an event like a fire, an accident, a tornado or a parental argument. They don’t.

Erich Ippen’s lively and expressive illustrations give life to the conversations between the animals.  They are richly textured, humorous at times and will appeal to children.

Resource: This is book is a perfect resource for parents, teachers, school counselors and therapists to use with children individually or as a group, depending upon the circumstances. For more information about the impact of stressful and traumatic events on children and how grown-ups can help, please visit the National Children’s Traumatic Stress Network.

Other Links:  The author has written Trinka and Sam and the Rainy Windy Day,  a three-part free coloring book disaster series great for home or classroom use. It is available in English, Spanish and other languages.

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 Time to Dance and a Book Giveaway

I reviewed A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman, when it was first released in 2014 by Nancy Paulsen Books.  It is a beautiful story written in free verse.  The author has sent me an autographed paperback copy (2015) to give away to one lucky reader. All you need to do is leave a comment below indicate your interest, follow my website, and be a resident of the US or Canada. I will announce the winner on September 13.  I have included part of my earlier review of this remarkable gem. The hardback copy is a permanent resident on my bookshelf.

Suitable for ages: 12 and up

Awards: ALA Notable Book, Booklist Editor’s Choice, Kirkus, other national and international awards

Themes: Dance, India, Amputee, Disabilities, Abilities, Loss, Courage, Recovery

Book Jacket SynopsisVeda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance–so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown up used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling.

But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.

Why I like this book: This inspirational and courageous novel is lyrical with each word carefully chosen.  Verse is the perfect medium. Padma Venkatraman weaves together a story about loss and resilience of a girl determined to dance once again her beloved Indian Bharatanatyam. This is not a story about disability, but one of ability. It is about finding the deeper spiritual meaning of the dance over the applause. “For my invisible audience of the One I begin to dance./ Colors blur into whiteness and a lilting tune that is and is not of the world resonates within and without me./ My body feels whole./In the beat of my heart I hear again the eternal rhythm of Shiva’s feet.”

Reading Venkatraman’s novel is an experience of India in all its beauty, cultural traditions, senses and sounds. If you listen closely you can hear the faint echo of a dancing rhythm. Thaiya thai. Thaiya thai.  I highly recommend this beautiful novel for tweens and teens who have faced challenges in their lives.  This book is a treasure!

Padma Venkatraman is a chief scientist and oceanographer by training and a writer by choice. She is the author of Climbing the Stairs and Island’s End, both multi-award winners.  Padma was born in India, but is now an American citizen. Visit Padma at her website. It has discussion questions and teaching resources.

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

Happy Dreamer by Peter H. Reynolds

Happy Dreamer

Peter H. Reynolds, Author and Illustrator

Orchard Books, Fiction, Mar. 28, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Imagination, Inspiration, Creativity, Day dreamer

Opening: “I am a Happy Dreamer. I’m really good at dreaming. Daydreams. Big Dreams. Little dreams. Creative Dreams.”

Publisher Synopsis: “While the world tells us to sit still, to follow the rules, and to color inside the lines, Happy Dreamer celebrates all those moments in between when the mind and spirit soar and we are free to become our own true dreamer maximus! In Peter’s signature voice and style, this empowering picture book reminds children of how much their dreams matter, and while life will have ups and downs, he enlists readers to stay true to who they are, to tap into their most creative inner selves, and to never ever forget to dream big!”

Why I like this book: Another original and inspiring story by Peter H. Reynolds that celebrates individuality and encourages readers to dream big and fulfil their potential.  Skillfully penned and illustrated, Happy Dreamer will delight readers of all ages. His text is lyrical and entertaining. His illustrations are energetic, joyful and transport readers into their creative inner selves. Reynolds’ urges children to be forward thinkers, believe, show the world who they are and dream with abandonment.  Midway through their book there is a magical four-page surprise to help children identify the type of dreamer they are.

Reynolds calls himself a dreamer. He was inspired to write Happy Dreamer after he discovered he could identify with many symptoms associated with ADHD. His original title for the book was Amazing Delightful Happy Dreamer (ADHD), which he shortened to Happy Dreamer. Reynolds doesn’t label the character, but shows his unique abilities.

Resources: The book is a beautiful resource for parents and teachers to use in the classroom.  It will lead to many interesting discussions as children identify their inner dreamer. Encourage children to share their dreams, write a paragraph or draw a picture about their big dreams. Make sure you check out the front and end pages for all of the wonderful detail.

Peter H. Reynolds is a New York Times-bestselling author and illustrator of many books, including The Dot, Ish, The North Star, Playing from the Heart, and Sky Color.  Around September 15th-ish, nearly 9 million children from 168 countries will celebrate creativity, courage and collaboration as they participate in the 9th year of International Dot Day. Visit the website to see how you and your classroom can get involved.