Applesauce Weather by Helen Frost

applesauce-weather-51y2mlsxytl__sx336_bo1204203200_Applesauce Weather

Helen Frost, Author

Amy June Bates, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Aug. 9, 2016

Pages: 122

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Apples, Loss, Multigenerational families, Family relationships,  Storytelling

Book Jacket Synopsis: When the first apple falls from the tree, siblings Faith and Peter know that it’s applesauce weather. And that means Uncle Arthur should be here. But maybe he needs a little more time to grieve? This is the first year without Aunt Lucy, after all. When Uncle Arthur does finally arrive, it’s clear that something besides one of his fingers is missing. Where are the stories? Where’s that twinkle in his eye? With help from Faith’s love and patience, and sparked by Peter’s growing interest in the girl next door, Uncle Arthur might just have the start of a new story.

Why I like this story:

Written by award-winning poet, Helen Frost, “Applesauce Weather” is a heartwarming  story about the love and support of family following the loss of Uncle Arthur’s wife, Lucy. She gives a fresh, crisp feeling of a lovely fall weekend filled with family and traditions.

This is a perfect book to introduce older children and teens to a novel written in verse. The chapters are short and written in the alternating voices of Faith, Peter and Uncle Arthur. This allows readers to get to know the characters from three different viewpoints. There are also seven special verses of “Lucy’s Song” interspersed throughout the book that reveal snippets of the Uncle Arthur and Aunt Lucy’s life together and the great love they once shared. They reveal stories about the bench Uncle Arthur makes for Lucy that still sits under an apple tree and the day they carved their initials into a nearby tree.

Amy June Bates’ black and white pencil drawings have a charm about them and give the reader a peek at the characters and a strong sense of the vivid setting. The illustrations add a nice touch to the overall story.

Helen Frost is the author of Step Gently Out, Sweep up the SunAmong a Thousand Fireflies, Monarch and Milkweed, and six novels in poems for children and young adults. She was awarded a Printz Honor for Keesha’s House.

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

As a Boy

As a Boy 51ILRDzpuzL__SY382_BO1,204,203,200_As a Boy

Plan International Canada

Second Story Press, Nonfiction, Sep. 6, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Boys, Education, Choices, Gender Inequality, Poverty, Responsibilities, Diversity,

Opening: “As a boy, I will have choices from the day I am born. Some will be made for me…and some I will make for myself.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: All children should be treated equally, whether they are boys or girls. Boys have sisters, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers. They care about the choices that their mothers have, and the opportunities that their aunts are given. They want to see their grandmothers get the respect they deserve, and that their sisters have the same rights as their brothers.

Because boys love their sisters, they want them to go to school, just like they do. Because boys are sometimes given chances girls are not, they know that this is not right. And as brothers and sons, nephews and future fathers, they can help to make sure that all children have voices and choices.

Why I like this book:

As A Boy is an inspiring global story about boys and their families. Each page features breathtaking, expressive, and powerful photographs that will melt your heart and touch your soul. No matter how difficult lives can be, there are so many smiles on their faces and a glimmer of hope.

The minimal use of text is strong and conveys Plan International’s message “that boys are routinely given an education and choices that girls are not, and that this needs to change.”  The book allows boys to raise their voices in solidarity, to say that they too want the girls and women in their lives to be given equal opportunities to succeed in the world.”

I am a fan of Plan International books. They address tough issues and teach youth about how difficult life can be for children around the world. Since we are a global family, youth need to know that boys are treated differently than girls around the world. Their needs are put above their sisters. But, boys also face the burden and pressure of growing up quickly to be a man, to work, to support their families, to fight and to be brave.

As a Boy is a perfect companion book to Because I am a Girl: I Can Change the World, as well as The Way to School, both personal favorites of mine. Click on the titles to read my reviews. All three of these books are valuable resources for school libraries, so that children will have an understanding of what it is like to be a boy or girl in a third world country. Since so many children live in poverty, education is vital to their futures. Many times going to school involves hurdles and risks.

Plan International was founded in 1937. It is one of the world’s oldest and largest international charities, working in partnership with millions of people around the world to end global poverty. Not for profit, independent and inclusive of all faiths and cultures, Plan has only one agenda: to improve the lives of children. Proceeds from all the book sales are used to support programs benefitting children around the world.

Resources/Activities: This is an excellent classroom discussion book to talk about how boys and girls are treated differently around the world. Pair As a Boy with the other two books mentioned above, so students get a better look at the gender inequality. Ask students if the feel they are treated equally in their country of origin. Make a list. Ask the boys and girls how they would feel if they had to change places. And, celebrate gender equality with other children on the International Day of the Girl, Oct. 11, 2016.

The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

Seventh Wish51YFk8Hy66L__SX329_BO1,204,203,200_The Seventh Wish

Kate Messner, Author

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, Fiction, Jun. 7, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Magic, Wishes, Ice Fishing, Irish Dancing, Siblings, Family Relationships

Opening: “I’ve only seen the ice flowers once.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: When Charlie Brennan goes ice fishing on her town’s frozen lake, she’s hoping the fish she reels in will help pay for her dream: a fancy Irish dancing dress for her upcoming competition. But when Charlie’s first catch of the day happens to be a talking fish offering her a wish in exchange for its freedom, her world turns upside down, as her wishes go terribly — and hilariously — wrong.

Just as Charlie is finally getting the hang of communicating with a magical wishing fish, a family crisis with her older sister brings reality into sharp focus. Charlie quickly learns that the real world doesn’t always keep fairy-tale promises and life’s toughest challenges can’t be fixed by a simple wish.

Why I like this book:

Kate Messner’s charming coming of age book, The Seventh Wish, is appropriate for all middle grade students. Her imagery is beautiful as she cleverly weaves magic into the story with Charlie’s catching a talking fish that grants her wishes. The wishes may at first seem like an easy way to help herself and her friends, but she soon discovers that life’s challenges aren’t always easy. Especially when Charlie discovers her older sister has a drug addiction and overdoses.

Messner bravely addresses some meaty issues, like heroin addiction, in an age-appropriate manner. I know this has caused some controversy. But I believe it is an issue that siblings may face with older brothers and sisters. And as in any family health crisis, Charlie feels invisible when her parents’ focus shifts to concern about Abby’s addiction and Abby’s treatment. Because of Abby, Charlie dreams are put on hold as she has to adjust her life, make excuses to her science fair team and dance friends, misses an important Irish dance competition and can’t buy her new glittery costume. I know some families who would appreciate this book.

The story is character-driven, with Charlie narrating. Her voice is an authentic and typical of a middle grade girl and a younger sister. She loves school and is interested in her friends and boys. Her passion is Irish dancing and she’s working hard to move up to higher levels of difficulty. She overcomes her fear of the ice and spends a lot of time ice fishing on the pond with her neighbor, Drew, and his grandmother,  Mrs. McNeill, who bring some balance to Charlie’s life. She catches a lot of perch and realizes that she can earn enough money to buy her first real dance glittery Irish dress.

The strong plot is clever and engaging. In the first half of the story we really get to know Charlie and her relationship with her family and friends. After the fateful call about sister’s overdose, the second half  focuses on Abby and the family in crisis mode. The pace is fast-moving with many unexpected twists that will have reader fully engaged and surprised. This is an excellent book that will help teens to discuss drugs and addiction with family and teachers.

Kate Messner is a former middle-school English teacher and the author of All the Answers, Wake Up Missing, Eye of the Storm, Sugar and Ice, The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. and its e-book companion, The Exact Location of Home, Capture the Flag, Hide and Seek, and All the Answers. She has also written chapter and picture books. Follow Kate Messner at her website.

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

The Water Princess by Susan Verde

water-princess-61zdiscxojl__sy498_bo1204203200_The Water Princess: Based on the Childhood Experience of Georgie Badiel

Susan Verde, Author

Peter H. Reynolds, Illustrator

G.P Putnam’s Sons, Fiction, Sep. 13, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Clean water supply, Carrying water, Africa, Georgie Badiel,  Multicultural

Opening: “I am Princess Gie Gie. My kingdom…the African Sky, so wide and so close. I can almost touch the sharp edges of the stars.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: With its wide sky and warm earth, Princess Gie Gie’s kingdom is filled with beauty. But clean drinking water is scarce in her small African village, and despite her commands, Gie Gie cannot bring the water closer; she cannot make it run clearer. Every morning, she rises before the sun to make the long journey to the well, and every evening, after the voyage home, Gie Gie thinks of the trip that tomorrow will bring. And she dreams. She dreams of a day when her village will have cool, crystal-clear water of its own.

Why I like The Water Princess:

The Water Princess is Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds’ newest jewel. They have created an inspiring story based on the childhood of fashion model Georgie Badiel, who grew up in Burkina Faso, West Africa.  The opening is like a prayer. Princess Gie Gie opens her arms wide and extends them to the expansive African sky. She is the ruler of her own kingdom and she feels powerful. She tames wild dogs with a song, makes the tall grass sway when she dances, and makes the wind play hide-and-seek. No matter how hard she tries, she cannot bring water closer to her village.

Verde’s text is rich and beautifully crafted. The narrative is strong and lyrical. “Water come! Do not make me wake before even the sun is out of bed!” I demand. “Come, please,” I say. It reflects the long journey that she and Maman walk to and from the dirty water hole daily. It is no easy task. The brown water is  boiled for drinking and used to prepare the family’s meal. The rest is used to wash clothing and bathing.

Reynolds’s paintings are breathtaking. They capture the dark purple and gold of the African night sky and Princess Gie Gie’s regal appearance with beads in her braided hair. They highlight the dusty African landscape and deep earth tones. One of my favorite illustrations is a silhouette of the women and children parading single-file to the water hole.

The Water Princess will introduce children to the fact that clean water is not available to people living in other parts of the world. In the story Princess Gie Gie dreams of finding a solution. “Someday…”  And  Georgie Badiel (AKA Princess Gie Gie) never gives up on her dream to bring a well with clean water to her village. Badiel shows kids how one person can make a big difference in their community. With Ryan’s Well, Georgie is working to bring this vital source of life to others in her country. Learn more about the inspiration for the story and the Georgie Badiel Foundation. 

Resources/Activities: The story tackles the issue of global water problems. It is important to read the Author’s Note which is perfect for helping children understand that everyone needs clean water because of the illnesses that are related to contaminated water.  Georgie’s situation can also be compared to clean water problems in America, like Flint, MI.

Join illustrator Peter H. Reynolds, author Susan Verde and collaborator Georgie Badiel for the launch of The Water Princess on Saturday, September 17 at 11 a.m. at Blue Bunny Books in Dedham Square, Massachusetts.  Visit Verde and Reynolds at their websites.

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.

Be Light Like a Bird by Monika Schroder

Be Light Like a Bird41Q13tYaniL__SX353_BO1,204,203,200_Be Light Like a Bird

Monika Schroder, Author

Capstone Young Readers, Fiction, Sep. 1, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Grief, Bereavement, Mother and daughter, Moving, Family relationships, Friendships, Birdwatching, Nature

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Wren buries roadkill to make herself feel better. Her ritual begins after her father is killed in a plane crash and she never has the opportunity to say goodbye. Her mother tells Wren to pack up her belongings and forces her to leave their home in Georgia and drive north on I-75 in search of a new life. Their first stop is in Chattanooga, Tennessee, then Wapakoneta, Ohio, and finally Pyramid, Michigan, near the Canadian border. With each stop, Wren starts a new school. By the time they reach Pyramid, Wren is determined that this is where their journey will end. She’s tired of being the new girl in school and she wants a place to call home. Her mom finds a job in a retirement home and Wren and her mother work to build a new life. Wren has a good feeling about Pyramid. She discovers a magical place in a forest with a pond and a lot of birds.  She pulls out a bird-watching journal her father has given her and begins to record her sightings. Wren discovers that her perfect place is called Pete’s Pond and that a developer is planning to destroy the area and turn it into a landfill. When Wren teams up with Theo, a nerdy boy at school, to work on a public issue project, she finds the perfect partner in her effort to save Pete’s Pond. Wren begins to find herself, learn about community, forgive those who don’t deserve it, rediscover family, and decide her own direction.

Why I like this book:

Monika Schroder’s has written a sensitive and emotionally deep story about how Wren deals the tragic death of her father. Although the book is about loss, it is also about friendship, courage and embracing life. It has a quirkiness about it that is refreshing. I especially like Schroder’s expertly written prologue and first chapter, which draw the reader into the story from the get-go. The narrative is expertly written in Wren’s voice.

Readers will be captivated by Wren’s unconventional character. She is a strong spirit who loves bird-watching, deals with both her father’s death and a comatose mother, outsmarts bullies, and takes on a major environmental issue. Wren’s mother works two jobs, refuses to talk about her father, and emotionally abandons her daughter. Their complex relationship begins to unravel as secrets and betrayals are revealed. Theo, who is considered the class nerd, proves to be a very resourceful partner. He understands the pain of losing a parent and is a good friend. Together they grow and become a powerful voice in the community. Randle, a Chippewa Indian who owns a junkyard for cars, adds a special twist to the story.

This beautifully crafted story is multi-layered and filled with vivid imagery. Schroder uses roadkill as a symbolic image to show how both Wren and Theo deal with their sadness in losing a parent. I have never seen anything like it before and it works well in this story. Wren buries dead animals. Theo takes pictures of roadkill. Both are looking for a way to come to terms with their heartache and find closure. The plot is distinctly realistic and fast-paced. The ending is unexpected and satisfying.

This is an excellent classroom discussion book as there are many substantive topics that can be discussed: grief, bullying, peer pressure, protecting the environment, and ancient Native American burial grounds.

Monika Schroder grew up in Germany, but has lived and worked in American international schools in Egypt, Oman, Chile, and India. She moved to the US in 2011. She is the author of My Brother’s Shadow, Saraswati’s Way (my review), and a The Dog in the Wood. You can find out more about Schroder on her website.

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

Big Red and the Little Bitty Wolf by Jeanie Franz Ransom

Big Red 61GdGSYfgnL__SX398_BO1,204,203,200_Big Red and the Little Bitty Wolf: A Story About Bullying

Jeanie Franz Ransom, Author

Jennifer Zivoin, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Feb. 15, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-6

Themes: Animals, Wolves, Bullying, Fairy Tale, Courage

Opening: “There was only one path that led from where Little Bitty Wolf lived to where he went to school at Pine Cone Elementary. And that was a problem.”

Synopsis: Little Bitty Wolf has a big problem. He used to love to walk to school until Big Red Riding Hood moves into the neighborhood. Big Red is mean and she loves to tease and terrorize Little Bitty.  She hides behind trees and scares Little Bitty, trips him, pulls his tail and snatches his lunch basket. He tries to ignore her. He stands up to her and tells her to stop, but nothing works. What will he do? Little Bitty talks to his parents and to the school counselor, Mr. Know-It-Owl. He tries something totally unexpected to get Big Red to stop!

Why I like this book:

Jennifer Zivoin has penned a charming twist on the classic story of Little Red Riding Hood. The author turns the story topsy-turvy and Little Bitty Wolf is the target of taunting and bullying by a larger-than-life mean girl, Big Red.  Children will identify with the relentless teasing in this very original fairy tale. Little Bitty Wolf is an adorable  character with heart and determination. Kids will cheer for this little wolf as he attempts to reason and outsmart Big Red in order to get her to stop.  Jennifer Zivoin’s illustrations are richly textured, beautiful, lively and powerful!  The expressions on the faces of Big Red and Little Bitty are priceless. I like the teamwork between the author and illustrator.

Resources:  This is a perfect topic for the beginning of the school year and a way to engage students in a discussion about how they treat each other!  Big Red and the Little Bitty Wolf is an excellent resource for teaching children good emotional techniques and to stand up for what is right. The book includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers about how to spot the common signs that indicate their child is the victim of bullying, witnesses bullying or is the perpetrator of bullying.

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.  

Celebrate International Dot Day September 15ish

Celebrate International Dot Day September 15ish

dot_day_2012_v01It all began with a book.  The Dot. Written by Peter H. Reynolds in 2003.

And  a girl named Vashti, who claimed she couldn’t draw. Her teacher believed in Vashti and asked her to make a dot. She stabbed her dot on a piece of paper and handed it to her teacher.  Her teacher asked her to sign it. A few days later, Vashti saw her “dot” framed and hanging at the front of the class.

Thirteen years later, Vashti’s act of courage continues to inspire children worldwide. Around September 15ish, nearly 7 million  children from 139 countries will celebrate creativity, courage and collaboration as they participate in International Dot Day.

Iowa teacher Terry (T.J.) Shay, who held the very first Dot Day celebration in 2009, has been the motivational force behind this extraordinary annual event.

Each year teachers and students continue to take International Dot Day to a new level, using many ways to connect and partner with teachers and students in all 50 states and 131 countries. This is truly a global event where children are connecting the dots with each other around the world.

It’s not to late to sign up for International Dot Day. If you are a teacher, homeschooler or parent who wants to get involved in this powerful event, there is still time to enroll your students and children. Visit the International Dot Day site for all the information and resources you will need to get started, inspired and connected. Teachers, make sure you check out the special section Skype in the Classroom to learn how to connect with students from other schools.

Follow International Dot Day on:

Facebook: Share on the Dot Day Facebook page (facebook.com/InternationalDotDay)

Twitter: Connect on Twitter using (twitter.com/DotClubConnect)

Use the hashtags: #DotDay and #Makeyourmark

I encourage my author friends to check out the Celebri-Dots and submit your own special dot. To my KidLit blogging friends, please consider posting a dot on your website anytime before or after September 15ish. There are no right or wrong ways, only a lot of creative fun!

Join Peter H. Reynolds this Saturday, September 10, from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m., at Blue Bunny Books in Dedham Square, MA, to kick off the 8th annual International Dot Day week. Peter hopes there will be a lot of friends on hand to “Make their Marks” with him. Bonus points if you come wearing dots!

My 2016 Mark pat-dot-pat