The Summer We Found Baby by Amy Hest

The Summer We Found Baby

Amy Hest, Author

Candlewick Press, Aug. 4, 2020

Suitable for ages: 9 and up

Themes: Family, Friendship, Community, WWII, Secrets, Mystery

Synopsis:

On the morning of the dedication of the new children’s library in Belle Beach, Long Island, eleven-year-old Julie Sweet and her six-year-old sister, Martha, find a baby in a basket on the library steps. At the same time, twelve-year-old Bruno Ben-Eli is on his way to the train station to catch the 9:15 train into New York City. He is on an important errand for his brother, who is a soldier overseas in World War II. But when Bruno spies Julie, the same Julie who hasn’t spoken to him for sixteen days, heading away from the library with a baby in her arms, he has to follow her. Holy everything, he thinks. Julie Sweet is a kidnapper.

Of course, the truth is much more complicated than the children know in this heartwarming and beautifully textured family story by award-winning author Amy Hest.  The novel captures the moments and emotions of a life-changing summer — a summer in which a baby gives a family hope and brings a community together.

Why I like this book:

The Summer We Found Baby is heartfelt and genuine, especially as Amy Hest explores the idea of family, friendship and community. Set during World War II in a cozy little town on Long Island, it’s a short novel with a fast-paced plot that will keep readers happily engaged.

The narrative is told from three different viewpoints: Bruno Ben-Eli is a resident of Belle Beach, and Julie and Martha Sweet, the “summer people” who are visiting with their widowed father who seeks a place to finish his book.  The three-some each have their own unique spin on things, which makes solving the baby mystery even more interesting.

The characters are memorable. Bruno is worried about his brother and hasn’t quite figured out girls yet. Julie refuses to talk with Bruno because he reads a letter she’s written. Martha feels Julie is too bossy and finds a doating mother figure in Mrs. Ben-Eli, who happens to live next door.

And there is the big grand opening of the new Children’s Library, which Bruno’s mom is in charge of. Julie takes it upon herself to send an invitation of the library opening to a famous woman she admires. Will she accept the invite? This is a perfect summer read for teens.

Amy Hest is the author of many beloved books for young readers, including Remembering Mrs. Rossi, Letters to Leo, and the Katie Roberts novels. She is also the author of many picture books, indluing Kiss Good Night, When Jessie Came Across the Sea, and On the Night of the Shooting Star. She lives in New York City.

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

*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

Seed Savers: Heirloom by Sandra Smith

Seed Savers: Heirloom (Book 3)

Sandra Smith, Author

Flying Books House, Jan. 3, 2019

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Futuristic adventure, Gardening, Government, Politics, Family, Empowerment

Synopsis:

It’s late in the twenty-first century (2077) and large corporations have merged with U.S. government agencies to control the nation’s food supply. Not only is gardening and seed ownership illegal, but fresh food is unheard of by the masses who are fed the processed food groups of Vitees, Proteins, Carbos, Snacks, and Sweeties.

Thirteen-year-old Clare and her brother Dante have escaped to Canada where the old ways still exist. There that they make friends with the roguish Jason and learn the political history of their own country’s decline of freedoms.

Meanwhile, Lily, the friend who was left behind, begins a journey to find the father she never met—a former leader in the ill-fated Seed Savers rebellion of fifteen years earlier. From Florida to the Smoky Mountains, Lily follows the signs in search of her father and is helped along the way by the quirky characters she meets. Not to mention the attractive Arturo who shows up midway to “protect” her.

Heirloom seamlessly weaves the gentle agrarian story of Clare and Dante together with the swiftly-paced adventure of Lily and Arturo. Themes of family, empowerment, and politics meet in this futuristic tale nostalgic for the past. Heirloom is a hopeful dystopia in today’s current sea of post-apocalyptic literature.

Why I like this book:

Heirloom is the third novel Sandra Smith’s futuristic Seed Savers series.  It’s an engaging adventure from start to finish. Heirloom is a smooth transition from the second novel, Lily. Make sure you read Ana’s Prologue at the beginning.

Heirloom advances the stories of Clare, Dante, Lily (part Japanese) and Arturo (Mexican), in alternating chapters. The characters are all courageous and passionate about their mission to advance the seed saving mission. Lily has fled to search for her father in Florida with Arturuo joining her on her journey. Clare and Dante are learning about hybrid, heirloom, and open-pollinated seeds in Canada.

Teens will find this compelling series timely and thought-provoking. It challenges them to think about the global food supply — consumers losing their ability to choose the kind of food they want to eat, big corporations taking over small farms, and foods that are genetically modified. A lot of what happens in this series is based on fact, even though Smith says she changes the names of corporations.

This may be a fantasy novel, but it certainly has opened my eyes to a potential problem in the future.  And, I was very surprised to learn that there really are seed libraries, seed savers and a network of seed savers all over the world. Make sure you read The Author’s Note at the end.

Heirloom is followed by Keeper and Unbroken. Visit Sandra Smith at her website. This series reminds me a bit of The Giver by Lois Lowry.

Resources:  Click here at Flying Books House for discussion questions on the first two books in the series. They are perfect for classroom or book club use. May there be a day when all our food is processed and comes in the form of Proteins, Sweeties, Vitees, Carobs and Snacks? And check out the author’s note at the end of the book.

Sandra Smith is the author of the award-winning Seed Savers series. She has a Master’s degree in Teaching English and spent over twenty years teaching students of all ages English as a Second Language. As a child, Sandra worked on her parents’ berry farm and enjoyed eating from her mother’s tremendously large garden. She maintains that if you can’t taste the soil on a carrot, it’s not fresh enough. Today, she lives in the city with her husband, cats, and backyard hens. She grows a small, urban garden every summer. When she’s not gardening or turning tomatoes into spaghetti sauce, Sandra writes poetry or novels inspired by her garden.

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 author in echange for a review.

Grow Kind, Grow Grateful, Grow Happy by John Lasser and Sage Foster-Lasser

Grow Kind

Magination Press, Fiction, Mar. 3, 2020

Ages: 4-8

Synopsis: Blackberries for Keisha. Sunflowers for Mr. Carrol. Ripe tomatoes fo Ms. Stevens. Peppers and corn for Matt and Mitch. Potatoes for Dr. Thompson.

Kiko works hard in her garden. She grows, nurtures, cultivates and harvests her fresh fruits and veggies and shares her bounty with her friends, neighbors, and family. She shows readers how easy it is to be kind to others, and how kindness can create a happiness within themselves and with everyone around.

Grow Grateful 

Fiction, Oct. 15, 2018

Synopsis: Head off with Kiko on a camping trip with her class and how she figures out what being grateful is and what it feels like. Throughout the trip, Kiko discovers different things she appreciates about her family, friends, and experiences. The warm feeling of gratefulness can come from anywhere — a beautiful sunset, toasted marshmallows, help from a friend when you’re feeling afraid, or sharing kindness with others. Kiko grows grateful.

 

Grow Happy

Fiction, Feb. 13, 2017

Synopsis: Kiko is a gardener. She takes care of her garden with seeds, soil, water, and sunshine. In Grow Happy, Kiko also demonstrates how she cultivates happiness, just like she does in her garden. Using positive psychology and choice theory, this book shows children that they have the tools to nurture their own happiness and live resiliently. Just as Kiko possesses the resources needed—seeds, soil, water—to build a thriving garden, she also has the tools to nurture her own happiness—including social support, choices, and problem-solving skills.

What I like about this series of books:

This is a perfect time to share John Lasser and Sage Foster-Lasser’s charming series for children about cultivating kindness, gratitude and joy in their own lives, and sharing it with others. Children are learning very early that the world is a tough place in which to grow up. Giving kids the tools to get it done will be a tremendous boost. And these three books contribute to that effort in a delightful way.

The narrative flows effortlessly. “My name is Kiko. I grow kind. I will show you how, but first, I have a question for you.” Christopher Lyles’s cheerful and textured illustrations invite children to spend time pondering each theme! Happy and colorful, they fit the tone for each book.

Each book features a lovable protagonist, Kiko, who is of Asian heritage. She appears to be adopted because her parent are caucasian. The series features a cast of supporting characters that are diverse. She also guides children through her adventures.

Resources: Each book includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers with information that will help create opportunities to explore the social and emotional skills that are important to our overall well being: kindness, gratitude and happiness. In these books children will learn how to develop these skills within themselves and in their relationships with others.

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 copies provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

The True Gift by Patricia MacLachlan

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.

Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht

Pick a Pine Tree

Patricia Toht, Author

Jarvis, Illustrator

Candlewick, Fiction, Sep. 19, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Choosing  a Christmas tree, Nature, Decorating, Family traditions, Holidays

Opening: “Pick a pine tree from the lot — slim and tall, or short and squat. One with spiky needle clumps, scaly bark, or sappy bumps.”

Book Synopsis: One of the most beloved Christmas traditions begins each year with … picking out a pine tree! Then bringing out boxes stuffed with trimmings, string garlands from bough to bough, and finally turning on the twinkling lights. Once that’s all done it’s not just a pine tree anymore — it’s a Christmas tree!

Why I like this book:

Patricia Toht’s lyrical and rhyming text flows nicely and pairs beautifully with Jarvis’ joyful illustrations. It reminds children and parents of the magic and wonder of this time-honored family tradition. This story will become a favorite family read each year. It’s imaginative and will stir up so many memories.

I like that the family is interracial, with a white father and dark-skinned mother. Other characters helping in the festive activity represent different ethnicities.

Jarvis’ large, colorful digital illustration are done in pencil, chalk and paint. They are all double-page spreads that are filled with a lot of detail kids will enjoy exploring. The illustrations have a retro feel to them and illuminate the entire adventure. Once the tree is decorated, the page turn reveals the completed tree in all its splendor.

I would recommend giving this picture book to children before Christmas to give them ideas and increase their excitement. The book is filled with so much nostalgia, especially for parents who remember a time when we all had real trees.  This is also a great classroom book. Visit Patricia Toht at her website.

Resources: Every family has its own traditions for picking and decorating their Christmas tree. My favorite activity is to share a memory about many of the ornaments your family has collected over the years. The author also has some wonderful activities for decorating your Christmas tree on 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 website.

Edward’s Eyes

Edward's Eyes41gicCObHuL._SX371_BO1,204,203,200_Edward’s Eyes

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, 2007

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Family relationships, Baseball, Death, Donation of Organs

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Jake is part of an extraordinary family. He has a life filled with art, music, and long summer nights on the Cape. He has hours and days and months of baseball. But, more than anything in this world, Jake knows he has Edward. From the moment he was born, Jake knew Edward was destined for something. Edward could make anyone laugh and everyone think. During one special year, he became the only one in the neighborhood who could throw a perfect knuckleball. It was a pitch you could not hit. That same year, Jake learned there are also some things you cannot hold.”

Why I liked Edward’s Eyes:

  • Patricia MacLachlan’s unforgettable story is about family relationships, love, laughter and loss. It is a well-written story that is uplifting from the start. It may be about a loss, but is also realistic and inspiring. Some may feel the story is sad, but I experienced it with wonder and awe.
  • Edward’s Eyes is narrated by Jake, who is the youngest until Edward is born. From the first moment Jake looks into baby Edward’s beautiful dark blue eyes, he knows his brother is special. Jake becomes his brother’s teacher. Through Jake we get a sense of a very strong family (five children) that love, play, and raise each other. Edward grows into a a kind, friendly and thoughtful old soul. He seems to know things before anyone else, like his mother is going to have a baby girl and she’ll be named Sabine.
  • The characters are all memorable and well-developed. The pacing is perfect for this short novel and it has the right amount of tension, especially when tragedy unexpectedly strikes the family and community.
  • MacLachlan succeeds in creating an experience for young readers. The language is simple and not complicated. I love the emphasis on a family that supports and treats each other with respect. It’s also a good baseball story that includes community and Edward’s famous knuckleball pitch. And MacLachlan knows how to pack an emotional punch. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but this heartfelt story will tug at your heart, put a smile on your face, and fill you with hope.

Patricia MacLachlan is a Newberry Medalist for her book Sarah, Plain and Tall. I reviewed her powerful 2013 picture book about grief and renewal, Snowflakes Fall, which was dedicated to the families of Newtown and Sandy Hook, CT. I also reviewed Fly Away and The Truth of Me,  both middle grade novels about complicated family relationships.

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