The True Gift by Patricia MachLachlan

The True Gift

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Brian Floca, Illustrator

Scholastic Books, Fiction, 2013

Pages: 81

Suitable for Ages: 7-11

Themes: Christmas, Farm, Animals, Cow, Gift, Family, Community

Synopsis:

Lily and Liam look forward to spending a few weeks alone at their grandparents’ farm during the holidays. Their parents arrive a few days before Christmas. The children save their money all year long to purchase gifts at the only store in town. Liam carries his money in an old sock, along with his stack of books. Lily has her stash too.  It’s always the perfect trip for Liam and Lily. They love their grandmother’s cooking, walking to the lilac library, trimming the tree, and giving gifts.

When they arrive, Liam notices that White Cow is standing alone near the fence in the pasture. The donkey is missing and Liam is worried that White Cow is lonely. He talks to his grandpa, who says “it’s hard to tell about cows.” When Liam visits the cow in the barn, the cow nudges him and almost knocks him off his feet. White Cow follows Liam around the barn. He watches and waits for Liam’s visits every day.

Liam goes to the library to research cows and discovers that they are social animals. He  may be right about cows feeling lonely. Liam can’t think of anything but White Cow. He and Lily come up with a plan that will make their visit different this year. This holiday, Lily and Liam will find out the meaning of a special gift that comes in different forms.

Why I like this book:

This is a heartwarming and original story for all animal lovers. Patricia MacLachlan’s signature spare and elegant prose tells a warm family story with a classic holiday theme. It is a celebration of family and community and the true meaning of giving. Brian FLoca’s full-page, detailed pencil drawings add a special touch to this holiday story.

The plot is well-paced and the chapters are short for young readers. The characters are memorable. Lily narrates the story and is a thoughtful older sister. Liam is kind and compassionate and can’t bear the thought of White Cow feeling sad. Lily is a bit afraid of White Cow’s size, but shares Liam’s wish to do something . They work well together as a team. I don’t want to give the story away, but this is such a perfect example of children making a difference in the world. And, they have others willing to help.

This is an endearing holiday classic from a wonderful storyteller. Parents will want to include The True Gift in their holiday book collection. Older children will be able to read it on their own. This is a book worth reading for both young and old alike.

Patricia MacLachlan is the celebrated author of many timeless books for young readers, including Sarah, Plain and Tall, winner of the Newbery Medal. Her novels for young readers include Skylark, Caleb’s Story, More Perfect than the Moon, Grandfather’s Dance, Word After Word After Word, Kindred Souls, The Truth of Me, The Poet’s Dog and My Father’s Words; she is also the author of many beloved picture books, a number of which she cowrote with her daughter, Emily. She lives in Williamsburg, Massachusetts.

Greg Pattridge hosts 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.

*Purchased copy.

The Queen and the First Christmas Tree by Nancy Churnin

 

The Queen and the First Christmas Tree: Queen Charlotte’s Gift to England

Nancy Churnin, Author

Luisa Uribe, Illustrator

Albert Whitman & Company, Nonfiction, Oct. 1, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-7

Themes: Christmas Tree, England, Queen Charlotte, History, Tradition

Opening: “Charlotte wasn’t like other princesses.”

Synopsis:

When Princess Charlotte left her home in Germany to marry King George III of England in 1761, she brought her family’s favorite Christmas tradition with her — decorating a yew bough with flowers and ribbons.

Years later, Charlotte became a queen devoted to charity and bettering the lives of families. She planned a Christmas Day celebration for more than one hundred children, rich and poor to mark the turn of the century. But she needed more than a yew branch to make the day special. She needed a tree decked with candles and paper baskets of treats. Though such a thing had never been seen before in England, Charlotte and her descendants would make the Christmas tree a cherished part of the holiday season.

Charlotte loved helping children so much she went on to build orphanages with cozy beds and loving caregivers. She also built hospitals for expectant mothers so more women would survive to care for their children. She had a love nature and spent long hours in the gardens of Windsor Castle.

What I like about this book:

The holidays are special time for gathering and sharing. This charming story will introduce children to the history of a cherished tradition — the Christmas tree — brought to England by a German princess.  Nancy Churnin’s richly textured story is light-hearted and will remind children and parents of the magic and wonder of decorating the family tree. Luisa Uribe’s illustrations are lively and joyful, but capture the simplicity of the early 1800s.

Queen Charlotte loved her own 15 children, but had a big heart for all children. She planned a party for 100 children to celebrate the new century in 1800. The children at court helped her cut string, and wrap nuts, fruit and toys in colored papers and hung them on a tree.  They added small wax  candles to light the tree. Charlotte was a queen focused on serving.

Resources: Make sure you read the two-page spread about Queen Charlotte at the end of the book and how this tradition continued with her children, including Queen Victoria. And check out Nancy Churnin’s website for a Teacher’s Guide and activities for children to share about what they do for others.  And talk about how early Christmas trees were decorated and how they are decorated today.

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.

*Review copy provided by publisher.

Blended by Sharon M. Draper

Blended

Sharon M. Draper, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Oct. 30, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Racial identify, Blended family, Family Relationships, Divorce, Stepfamilies, Profiling, Violence

Publisher Synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Isabella’s parents are divorced, so she has to switch lives every week. One week she’s Isabella living with her lawyer dad, his girlfriend Anastasia and her son Darren, in a fancy Cincinnati house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her waitress mom and her boyfriend John-Mark living in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves.

Isabella has always felt pulled between two worlds. And now that her parents are divorced, it seems their fights are even worse, and they’re always about HER. Isabella feels even more stuck in the middle, split and divided between them than ever. And she’s is beginning to realize that being split between Mom and Dad is more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities.

Her dad is black, her mom is white, and strangers are always commenting: “You’re so exotic!” “You look so unusual.” “But what are you really?” She knows what they’re really saying: “You don’t look like your parents.” “You’re different.” “What race are you really?”

And when her parents, who both get engaged at the same time, get in their biggest fight ever, Isabella doesn’t just feel divided, she feels ripped in two. What does it mean to be half white or half black? To belong to half mom and half dad? And if you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?

It seems like nothing can bring Isabella’s family together again—until the worst happens. Isabella and Darren are stopped by the police. A cell phone is mistaken for a gun. And shots are fired.

Why I like this book:

Sharon Draper boldly takes on challenging topics in her new middle grade novel, Blended. Convincingly penned, it is a thoughtful commentary on divorce, family pressure, racism, identity, police violence and socioeconomic class issues.

Draper’s tackles a timely subject that is rarely addressed in middle grade books — how do biracial children feel about their mixed identity? Draper offers a vivid portrayal of Izzy/Isabella’s emotional landscape. Is she white or is she black? Which box does she check when she fills out paper work? Her first encounter with racism is at school when a student leaves a “noose” in her best friend’s (Imani) locker. It intensifies Izzy’s feelings and she struggles to define her identity. Draper’s first person narration works very well because Izzy’s voice is strong, honest and candid.

Izzy, a talented pianist who is preparing for a major recital, has another dilemma. She wants to really know what “home”  feels like. With her divorced parents competing for her time and attention, she is torn between two worlds fraught with bickering. It reaches a boiling point when both parents decide to get married and pick the same day for their weddings. When her mother is late for their “exchange day near the mall,” her father calls the police. Panicked they are going to arrest her mother, Izzy takes off running. Her desperate act knocks some sense into her parents who realize their selfish impact on Izzy’s life. Readers will identify with Izzy’s journey to seek wholeness. Draper challenges readers with the big question about what is home.

Blended is an exceptional story with a realistic plot and characters that will stay with you long after you put it down. Blended belongs in every school library.

Resources:  The publisher has included a Reading Group Guide available for classroom use.

*Library review copy.

Greg Pattridge hosts the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his fascinating  Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

The Polar Bear Wish (A Wish Book) by Lori Evert

The Polar Bear Wish

Lori Evert, Author

Per Breiehagen, Photographer

Random House Books for Young Readers, Sep. 4, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Polar Bear, Blizzard, Norway, Arctic, Woodland Animals, Friendship

Opening: Long, long ago, so high in the mountains and close to the stars that on clear nights you didn’t need a lantern, lived an adventurous girl named Anja.

Synopsis:

On a snowy winter’s eve, Anja’s wish to go to a special Christmas party is answered when her cousin, Erik, arrives with his dogsled. Erik has packed everything they need for the trip, including food and blankets in the event of an emergency. The excited children set out for the party with their husky pups, Birki and Bria.

Along their way they see foxes, a lynx and a bright red cardinal. Snow gently begins to fall, but by the time they leave the woods it is snowing so hard they can’t see their dogs pulling their sled. They are caught in a blizzard and are lost. Birki and Bria hear wolves howling in the distance and follow their sounds which leads them to shelter.

A baby polar bear who has lost his mama in the storm, comes to their tent looking for refuge. He looks scared, so the cousins invite him into the tent. The next morning they set out to find the baby polar bear’s mama. They travel across glaciers and through beautiful frozen fjords. Can Anja, Erik and their animal friends help the little bear find his mother?

Courtesy of Per Breiehagen

Why I like this book:

Lori Evert and her husband, Per Breiehagen, creators of the bestselling The Christmas Wish, have teamed up to create their sixth enchanting and richly textured Nordic Christmas tale starring their rosy-cheeked daughter, Anja. The Polar Bear Wish is a magical tale of friendship, bravery and believing. It will give children something to wonder about and keep that special feeling of magic alive in their hearts.

The setting is realistic and contributes to the fairy tale charm. Anja is bundled up in authentic 18th century Norwegian clothing and reindeer boots. She gets around on a dog sled and slender wooden skis with straps. Her rustic log house has an earthen roof covered with snow. The text is friendly and imparts information about nature and survival in the arctic.

Per Breiehagen’s photograph are so mesmerizing and enchanting that children and adults will want to study them to absorb the magic of each scene. He captures this beautiful story with his  breathtaking landscapes and playful scenes of Anja interacting with Birki, Erik, arctic animals and nature.

The Polar Bear Wish is perfect for lap reading in front of a fire or during holiday story time. It is a Christmas treasure. Check out The Christmas Wish website which will lead you to all of the six books along with many of the beautiful and endearing photographs from each book. The family hopes their books will inspire wonder, kindness, and a love for animals and nature.

Resources: Take children on a nature walk to explore the winter wonderland and the many wonders found in the fields, forests and frozen streams. Watch the cloud formations as they transform the landscape. Take along a camera and a journal and encourage kids to record birds and animals they see. Track animal footprints in the snow and make up stories. Make snow angels and build a snowman.

LORI EVERT is the author of The New York Times bestseller The Christmas Wish, The Tiny Wish, The Reindeer Wish, The Brave Puppy, and The Puppy’s Wish. She and her family created The Wish books together. They split their time between Minnesota and Norway.

PER BREIEHAGEN is an award-winning, internationally acclaimed photographer from Norway. His credits include National Geographic, Audubon, and The New York Times Magazine. He created the images for The Wish Books with his daughter, Anja, and wife, Lori Evert.

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.

*Review copy provided by the publisher.

Prince Not-So Charming Series by Roy L. Hinuss

Prince Not-So Charming: Once Upon a Prank (Book 1)

Roy L. Hinuss, Author

Matt Hunt, Illustrator

Imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, Fiction, Aug. 28, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Prince, Duties, Dreams, Being true to yourself,  Court jester, Humor

Book Synopsis: Turns out being Prince Charming isn’t a fairy tale; it’s more like a fart joke.

Prince Carlos Charles Charming is the youngest in a long line of Royal Prince Charmings. But he’d much rather grow up to be a court jester. He dreams of juggling fire while riding a unicycle instead of fulfilling his princely duty. And the word “duty” always make him think of a poop joke.

But when a dragon is spotted in the Somewhat Enchanted woods, Carlos is going to have to figure out how to be a true Prince Charming fast. Because it’s a slay-or-get-slayed world out there.

Prince Not-So Charming: Her Royal Slyness (Book 2)

Aug. 28, 2018

Book Synopsis: Prince Charming is supposed to rescue a princess―but she has other ideas.

The youngest in a long line of Prince Charmings, Carlos is juggling a lot. That is, he is spending his time juggling balls in the air―instead of doing his princely duties.

But now he has a terrifying mission: There’s a princess trapped in a tower―the Tallest Tower, on Witch Island, surrounded by Witch Lake. You don’t need me to tell you how scary that sounds.

But Carlos soon discovers that rescuing a damsel in distress requires a damsel who’s in distress. This princess doesn’t need to be rescued―and definitely doesn’t need a prince charming.

Prince Not-So Charming: The Dork Knight (Book 3)

Nov. 13, 2018

Book Synopsis: Prince Carlos figuring out how to be charming even when locked in mortal combat.

Prince Carlos Charles Charming has a secret: He’d much rather tell jokes than be a prince. But when you’re the heir to Faraway Kingdom, you don’t always get what you want.

Which is why Carlos has to learn how to joust.

Carlos is surprisingly great at jousting, from spearing haystacks to smashing watermelons. But when a tournament rolls around, suddenly Carlos realizes he has to actually point his lance at other people―and they’ll point theirs back!

Prince Not-So Charming: The Dork Knight shows it’s hard to live up to the fairy tale―and that the best way to win a contest can be embracing your own dorkiness.

Prince Not-So Charming: Happily Ever Laughter (Book 4)

Nov. 13, 2018

Book Synopsis: Prince Charming faces his greatest challenge yet, a fancy party.

Prince Carlos Charles Charming isn’t the princeliest of princes. But he might be the funniest.

Unfortunately, being hilarious won’t help much at a birthday party thrown by an evil queen with no sense of humor. And if Carlos, his pet dragon, and his friend Pinky don’t bring the right presents and fail to dance perfectly, the evil queen might declare war.

Can Carlos and his friends keep the party from turning into a disaster? Who are we kidding? The real question is: After starting a food fight, can they save their kingdom?

Prince Not-So Charming: Happily Ever Laughter is for every kid who worries about how to survive their next party.

Why I like this series:

Prince Not-So Charming is perfect series for middle grade readers (5-9) and for reluctant readers. Packed with fun poop jokes and word puns, Hinuss’ storytelling is quirky, highly entertaining and will tickle reader’s imaginations.

The stories are character driven, with a determined Prince Carlos who will not give up on his dream to be a court jester. He is a loveable prince who only wants to make people laugh and feel happy. He has zero interest in dragon slaying training, rescuing princesses who don’t want to be saved, jousting and attending fancy parties. In fact he’s afraid of heights and quick sand, and hates armor, helmets, swords, hatchets, bows and arrows and daggers. But he does like a good food fight. Prince Carlos has his own weapon — his wit.

Roy L. Hinuss’ hilarious illustrated series encourages kids to be themselves, use their imaginations,  pursue their own interests and conquer their fears and dorkiness. Prince Carlos learns that he’s not alone. There are dragons and princesses who harbor passions of their own and become unlikely friends and allies. And the dragon, Smudge and Princess Pinky, are characters that appear in each new story.

This light-hearted and wacky series will be a hit among young readers. The plots are clever and original  with the right amount of adventure and suspense that will keep kids engaged and turning pages.  Matt Hunt’s pen and ink illustrations contribute to this fun and upbeat story. The colorful and comical covers will surely draw readers to the books. Make sure you read the off-beat interview with Roy L Hinuss at the end of the second book.

Roy L. Hinuss is the authorized biographer of the Charming Royal Family. He is also fond of the occasional fart joke. When he isn’t writing about Prince Carlos Charles Charming’s many adventure in the Faraway Kingdom, he can be found cataloging his collection of celebrity toenail clippings.

Greg Pattridge hosts 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.

*Reviewed from purchased copies.

Terrific Toddlers Series – Boo-Boo! – Bye-Bye! – All Mine!

The Terrific Toddlers is a new series of books, written by Carol Zeavin and Rhona Silverbush and illustrated by Jon Davis. The  explore important topics for active and curious  toddlers ages 2-3 — injury, sharing and separation anxiety — all a big deal for little ones. They are perfect lap books for children when they seek comforting and support.

Boo-Boo!

Magination Press, Fiction, Oct. 30, 2018

JoJo likes to fun FAST! When she falls down and hurts her chin, her dad tries to help her boo-boo. But JoJo is scared! JoJo screams when Daddy tries to wash her boo-boo.  And she doesn’t want a Band-Aid! JoJo puts a Band-Aid on Daddy’s nose. Her dad helps her understand that boo-boos aren’t so scary. Boo-Boo! is a book for toddlers about small cuts and scrapes.  The book includes information about helping toddlers with minor injuries.

Bye-Bye!!

Magination Press, Fiction, Oct. 30, 2018

Sometimes It’s hard for JoJo, Kai and Ava to say goodbye to Mom and Dad! There are tears and anger. Even if it’s for a short amount of time, Mom and Dad reassure them not to worry because they will always come back. When their parents return there are hugs and kisses. Bye-Bye! is a book written for toddlers about separation. The story includes information about helping toddlers with saying goodbye.

All Mine!

Magination Press, Fiction, Oct. 30, 2018

Ava, Kai, and JoJo are playing with their toys at school, but they aren’t ready to share and take turns! Ava wants the fancy hat Kai is wearing and grabs it. The teacher offers Ava  a sparkly necklace. In the kitchen Ava is playing puts a carrot on a plate. JoJo grabs the carrot. Can the teacher help them out? All Mine! is a book written for toddlers and their caregivers about toddlers’ need to feel ownership, so they can better navigate this tricky time in their development when everything is “All Mine!”

What I like about this series:

The Terrific Toddlers  books are 12 pages long, perfect for short attention spans. Each book is 8×6 inches,  just the right size for toddlers small hands. This is a great go-to series when children are dealing with scary feelings that they don’t understand and have a difficult time communicating.  Everything is a big deal.

Carol Zeavin and Rhona Silverbush books are written in simple, childlike language which is reflective of children’s everyday realities. The Terrific Toddlers series is based on understanding the developmental level of young toddlers.

JoJo, Kai and Ava all appear in the series, lending a familiarity and continuity for toddlers. I like the diversity throughout the books and the emphasis on gender neutrality as the toddlers play together. The soft and soothing pastel illustrations Jon Davis by are expressive and playful.

Resources: Each book includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers about helping and supporting their toddlers through difficult moments.

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.

Lord of the Mountain by Ronald Kidd

Lord of the Mountain

Ronald Kidd, Author

Albert Whitman & Company, Fiction, Sep. 1, 2018

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Pages: 296

Themes: Family Secrets, Grief, Family Relationships,  Mountain Music, Self-discovery

Synopsis:

Nate’s family has a secret. And it’s wrapped up in a song. Ever Since Nate Owens saw a needle glide across a 78-rpm record, he’s been fascinated by the science and beauty of music. Before long, he is devouring Popular Science magazines and making his own crystal set radio.

It’s the summer of 1927 when Victor Records producer Ralph Peer comes to Nate’s hometown of Bristol,  Tennessee/Virginia, to audition “mountain music” singers and musicians. There’s no way Nate is going to miss the chance to get inside the studio and learn the mechanics of the recording business. He becomes friends with the technical team, the soon-to-become famous Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. The only problem is, Nate’s preacher father hates music and says it is evil — forbidding it in his home and his church. When he discovers that Nate’s been hanging around musicians and producers, he comes down hard. With nothing left for Nate at home, he decides to take off in search of answers to his family’s troubled past. He carries with him a picture of a grave site that says “Sweet Sister” on it.

Nate hops a train with the help of a man he meets, Bill. Bill quickly educates Nate about the rails — when to get on and off, how to  hide his possessions in his shoes, and the dangers he may encounter. He learns that the homeless are called “hoboes” and that they have “jungle” camps in towns near train routes. They offer a place to sleep, shared food, safety from the police and other thugs.

Nate ends up in Poor Valley, where the Carter Family lives. They welcome him into their home and Nate begins to work for the family. They travel around the mountains in search of songs they can record for Victor Records. Along the way Nate stumbles upon his own past and the secrets that have driven his father to religious fanaticism.

Set during the “big bang” of country music, this exciting historical novel tells of one boy’s journey of self-discovery at a moment when an entire region was finding its voice for the first time.

Why I like this book:

Ronald Kidd has written a captivating novel that cleverly weaves together a 13-year-old boy’s journey to discover the deep wounds that grip his father/family, and pursue his love of music and the science behind the recording industry. Wow, this novel is a treasure for readers who like historical fiction. I learned so much about  the birth of country music, which was known in the late 1920s as “mountain music!” A lot of research went into this novel.

The main characters and minor ones are multi-layered and unforgettable. You get a real feel for the musical details of the period and the fabric of the community –the Carters and hoboes included. Nate is a strong and determined character, not willing to accept his father’s fanatic rantings to his tent congregation. He’s driven by his passion for science and learning. His younger brother, Arnie, wants to be his father. Nate’s mother is gentle and seems to understand Nate’s father for reasons he can’t understand. His best friend Sue Dean, is a lovely balance to Nate, but she also has her secrets. Both their families are dysfunctional.

The setting is vivid and realistic. The plot is bold and adventurous with an ending readers won’t forget.  Readers looking for something new and creative will enjoy this book. This is a perfect book for school libraries.

What a pleasure it was to read Ronald Kidd’s novel. I look forward to catching up with his other novels.  As other’s have mentioned, this novel reminds you of Vince Vawter’s work.

Ronald Kidd is the author of 13 novels for young readers, including the highly acclaimed “Night on Fire” and “Monkey Town: The Summer of the Scopes Trial.” His novels of adventure, comedy, mystery, and American history have received the Children’s Choice Award, an Edgar Award nomination, and honors from the American Library Association, the International Reading Association, the Library of Congress, and the New York Public Library. He is a two-time O’Neill playwright who lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

Greg Pattridge hosts the 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.

*Review copy provided by publisher.

Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans

Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans

Tina Cho, Author

Keum Jin Song, Illustrator

Little Bee Books, Historical Fiction, Aug. 14, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Korea, Hunger, Compassion, Kindness, Making a difference

Opening: Out in the countryside, across a bridge, to an island blanketed with rice fields, Appa and I ride. We reach a place where mountains become a wall. A wall so high, no one dares to climb. Beyond that wall and across the sea live children just like me, except they do not have enough food to eat.

Synopsis:

Yoori and her father (Appa) travel to the border of South Korea to help with a secret mission to feed the children of North Korea. Appa grew up starving in North Korea before he escaped. They arrive and meet many other volunteers who are eager to help.  They also are met by angry villagers who chant “Don’t feed the enemy.”

There is a lot of work to be done before nightfall. Rice is poured into smaller bags. Under the cover of darkness, large balloons are filled with helium and bags of rice are tied onto each tail. Appa and Yoori give their balloons a little push as they rise into the sky – Up! Up! Up!. It is a good night as 200 balloons are launched into the air and float over the mountains into North Korea. In the morning, hungry children and families will find rice from friends who care.

Why I like this book:

There is so much beauty in Tina Cho’s book. What a powerful fictionalized story based on true stories of South Koreans showing their kindness and compassion towards the starving children and families living under the heartless North Korean regime. Children hear about North Korea on TV, but don’t understand what is happening.

Cho’s language is lyrical with lovely imagery and a gentle rhythm — “I am a little grain of rice. How can I help?” and “The stars and moon hide under the rain clouds as two hundred balloons creep over the mountains like stealthy ninjas to fight hunger in the darkness of the night.” Keum Jin Song’s beautiful illustrations are hopeful and capture many touching moments. They are colorful and dramatic.

This is my favorite kind of story to share with children because it shows average kids doing something to make a difference for others less fortunate. It is a stark reminder that children can make a difference in their community and world. Rice from Heaven is the perfect medium to start a dialogue about a communist state. It belongs in every school library.

Resources: Encourage kids to write about a time they helped someone and how it made them feel. Look for  projects at school or in the community where kids can make a difference. Make sure you read the Author’s Note about participating in a rice balloon project, sponsored by North Korean refugees who live in Seoul. There are interesting facts about Korea (food, customs, lucky numbers), information about the Politics of the Korean Peninsula and facts on North Korea.

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.

*Purchased Copy

Hank Zipzer: The Cow Poop Treasure Hunt

Hank Zipzer: The Cow Poop Treasure Hunt

Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver, Authors

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Nov. 13, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Pages: 144

Themes: Underachiever, Survival Camp, Comical, Adventure

Synopsis:

Underachiever Hank Zipzer goes on an unfortunate school camping trip in a comical, kid-friendly novelization of the popular BBC series based on Henry Winkler’s best-selling books.

What will it take for Mom and Dad to trust Hank to go to the mall unsupervised with his friends? Cooking a family dinner — er, disaster — doesn’t exactly say “responsible.” But what if Hank signs up for the school’s legendary survival camp and makes it through the whole weekend? Maybe he should factor in being teamed up with his nemesis, McKelty, in a leaky tent, not to mention a desperate search for a cell phone in a field of cow pies. . . . The amiable character originated by Henry Winkler — inspired by his own childhood — comes to life in a humorous adventure set in a font designed to boost readability for kids with dyslexia.

Why I recommend this book:

The title is a sure giveaway that this book is a hilarious adventure for reluctant readers. Many kids will identify with Hank, who really wants to prove that he is responsible and gain the trust of his helicopter parents, but somehow he can’t stay on task. He really tries, but is easily distracted. He also can’t resist a good prank and his antics get him in trouble. Hank is a well-developed character that readers will cheer because he is so real and lovable. This story has heart!

Hank’s best friends, Frankie and Ashley, accept Hank for who he is — you never know what’s going to happen when they are together. They are also a nice balance for Hank, even though he convinces them to sign up for the survival camp.  Papa Pete is the only one who seems to understand Hank and encourages his parents to “let go.”

This series offers hope to children who learn differently. Based on Henry Winkler’s own struggle with dyslexia as a child and teen, he has taken special care to make sure that the book has been set in a OpenDyslexic font that has been created to increase readability for readers with dyslexia.  He continues to invite readers to comment on the font so that improvements can be made. What a gift for children!

Greg Pattridge hosts 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.

*Review copy provided by publisher.

Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

Louisiana’s Way Home

Kate DiCamillo, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 2, 2018

Pages: 240

Suitable for Ages: 10-12

Themes: Grandmother, Curses, Abandonment, Forgiveness, Friendship, Humor, Hope

Synopsis:

When Louisiana Elefante’s overbearing granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave their Florida home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. Granny has told Louisiana about the family curse and how it has been passed down through generations of her family.

But this time, things are different. Granny never intends for them to return and says they have a “date with destiny.” Separated from her cat and best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. Once they cross the line into Georgia, Granny isn’t feeling well and Louisiana has to drive the car, with a minor mishap. With Granny howling in the back seat about her teeth, Louisiana is desperate  to find a dentist and takes an exit to Richford, Georgia.

After Granny’s teeth are all removed, Louisiana finds a place for Granny to recuperate. She is feverish and can’t eat. Louisiana finagles a room at a motel called the Good Night, Sleep Tight. While Granny heals, Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of this small Georgia town — including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy (Burke) with a crow on his shoulder. One day, Granny deserts Louisiana and drives out of her life. She leaves behind a letter that explains difficult truths about Louisiana’s life, making her wonder, “Who am I?” She worries that she is destined only for good-byes, but she is hopeful that maybe this town can break that curse.

Why I like this book:

Fans of Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale, will be thrilled with her latest novel about Louisiana Elfante’s story. It is gripping and haunting, heartbreaking and humorous. The plot is intriguing, especially the mystery about the terrible family curse. Readers will get to know Louisiana in a gentle and tender way. They will learn about her secrets and of her abandonment. Where there is pain, there is an opportunity for Louisiana to grow and find love. She is a resilient and spunky character worth getting to know and love.

I like DiCamillo’s first person narrative. Louisiana’s voice is strong and determined. She begins the first chapter with “I am going to write it all down, so that what happened to me will be known, so that if someone were to stand at their window at night and look up at the stars and think, My goodness, whatever happened to Louisiana Elefante? Where did she go? They will know.” It was a joy to experience the story narrative through Louisiana’s vulnerable and wise character.

DiCamillo is a gifted storyteller who challenges readers with big questions about what is home, family, forgiveness and belonging. There is so much to love about Louisiana’s story. It’s a winner! You can visit DiCamillo at her website.

Kate DiCamillo is the author of many books for young readers. Her books have been awarded the Newbery Medal (Flora & Ulysses in 2014 and The Tale of Despereaux in 2004); the Newbery Honor (Because of Winn-Dixie, 2001), the Boston Globe Horn Book Award (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, 2006), and the Theodor Geisel Medal and honor (Bink and Gollie, co-author Alison McGhee, 2011; Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride, 2007). She is a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Emerita, appointed by the Library of Congress.

Greg Pattridge hosts 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.

*Advanced reading copy provided by publisher.