The Remember Balloons by Jessie Oliveros

The Remember Balloons

Jessie Oliveros, Author

Dana Wulfekotte, Illustrator

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Aug. 28, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Aging grandparent, Memory, Family relationships, Balloons

Opening: I have lots and lots of balloons, way more than my little brother. “This one’s my favorite,” I tell him, pointing to the balloon filled with my last birthday party.

Publisher Synopsis:

James has a lot of balloons. They’re where he keeps his favorite memories of birthday parties, eating cake with chocolate frosting and riding a pony.

Grandpa has lived a long life and has the most balloons. Birthdays and long-ago summers, his wedding day, the birth of children and grandchildren, his favorite dog and special camping trips — Grandpa’s balloons hold so many great stories. James love to hear them all.

When Grandpa’s balloons start drifting away, so does his memory. James want to catch the balloons, but he can’t.  James now has to be the one share stories — to share his balloons with Grandpa.

Why I like this book:

What a treasure! Jessie Oliveros’ tackles the timely and difficult topic of memory loss in a sensitive way so that children will easily understand. With many seniors living older to see great- and great-great grandchildren, this is an important book for families to remember. This book is a treasure! A moving story about a girl trying to make sense of her grandmother’s memory loss.

Oliveros’ story is so beautifully written. We tend to hold our memories in things, and for James and his grandfather it is balloons. The balloon metaphor is ideal for children, because balloons hold many joyful memories.

Dana Wulfekotte’s black and white illustrations with splashes of color are perfect for this story. Children will see the racial diversity in the family, which the illustrator weaves into his illustrations. He also uses a lot of white space — space to breathe and collect your thoughts as you study each and every page.

Resources: The book alone is a great resource to talk with your children about aging, memory loss and family history. Encourage your children to interview their grandparents and journal family stories. Parents may want to check out the National Institute on Aging for additional information to help children understand Alzheimer’s.

Jessie Oliveros grew up watching Kansas sunsets. Her childhood balloon is sunflower yellow and filled with memories of chasing tornadoes, romping through the woods and fishing with her grandpa. After a fulfilling career as a registered nurse, Jessie hung up her stethoscope to grow children and stories. These days you can find her in the Texas hill country with her husband and their four kids. You can visit Jessie Oliveros at her website.

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair by Amy Makechnie

The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair

Amy Makechnie, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jun. 12, 2018

Pages: 336

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Brain injury, Memory, Family relationships, Moving, Farm life, Missing persons, Mystery, Friendship

Opening: “I was ten when Gaysie Cutter tried to kill me. It was just like her too — always leaving a bad first impression. Her idea of a welcome wagon came in the middle of July, during my first Iowa heat wave, which was as hot as you know what.”

Synopsis:

Ten-year-old Guinevere St. Clair is going to be a lawyer. She is the fastest girl in New York City. She knows everything there is to about the brain. And she wants to ride into her first day at her new school on a cow named Willowdale Princess Deon Dawn. Gwyn is definitely not the kind of girl you forget.

But that’s just what her mother has done — forgotten. Gwyn’s mother, Vienna, hasn’t been able to remember anything past the age of 13, since she suffered a hypoxic brain injury. Gwyn and her little sister, Bitty, don’t exist in Vienna’s mind. As Gwyn tells Vienna’s new nurse, “we’re practically orphans.”

Gwyn’s father is obsessed with solving the mystery of Vienna’s brain.  He moves his family from New York to Crow, Iowa, where he and Vienna lived as children. He hopes that going home to Crow and surrounding Vienna with familiar friends and family, will jog her memory and help in her recovery.

As soon as they arrive in Crow, Gwyn is hot on the trail of a different case — one she thinks can actually be solved. Farmer Wilbur Truesdale is missing and there’s only one person who could know what happened to him: her brand new next-door archenemy, Gaysie Cutter.

The more Gwyn goes looking for answers, through, the more questions she encounters — about Wilbur, about Gaysie, but also about the mother she’s never gotten the chance to know. Gwyn’s determined to hunt down the truth about everything, but what if the truth isn’t as simple as pointing the blame at someone? What if sometimes the most terrible things that happen aren’t actually anyone’s fault at all?

Why I liked this book:

Amy Makechnie’s debut novel is complex, heartbreaking and hopeful. Her great opening immediately draws readers into the story. The vivid setting, poignant narrative, suspenseful plot and extraordinary characters create and unforgettable experience for readers. Her storytelling is richly crafted and heartwarming.

Gwyn is a genuine and unique character with whom you feel an immediate emotional bond. She is smart, curious, imaginative and jumps to conclusions a little too quickly. Her mother’s hypoxic brain injury impacts Gwyn and forces her to grow up too quickly. The author beautifully weaves Vienna’s injury into the story as a part of Gwyn’s life experience — it’s hard to “not exist” in your mother’s eyes. In her pursuit to solve the mystery about Wilbur’s disappearance, Gwyn uncovers her mother’s past and realizes how much she is like her.

There is a cast of quirky secondary characters that add comic relief. There’s Gaysie, a giant woman who lives in a rundown house with a “backyard that looks like an art exhibit”and is known for burying dead things on her property. Gwyn become best friends with Jimmy, who is always up for an adventure, and Micah (Gaysie’s son), who likes to wear bright pink shorts, sparkling silver shoe laces and is a target for school bullies.  Gwyn’s dentist father, Jed, is devoted to his wife, and Nana, is protective and takes responsibility for everything that happens.

Teens looking for something new and creative, will find The Unforgettable Guinevere St Clair a suspenseful, powerful and entertaining read. The characters will stay with you long after you finish.

Makechnie’s story also touched me on a personal level. Like Gwyn’s mother, my brain was deprived of oxygen following an unfortunate mishap nearly 15 years ago. This is the first children’s novel I’ve read where a hypoxic brain injury is mentioned. It took me back to my injury and made me think about how difficult it was on my family, who was loving, patient and supportive during my years of recovery. Fortunately my children were grown. Brain injuries vary and each person has unique symptoms and outcomes.

Thank you Rosi Hollinbeck for reviewing and recommending this book to me on your wonderful website. 

Amy Makechnie grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, where shoe once tried to sail to the Mississippi River on a large piece of Styrofoam (she didn’t make it). The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair is her first novel. Amy nurtures her fascination with the brain and human body by teaching anatomy and physiology to high school students in a small New England town, where they dissect hearts and memorize long anatomical words. She is the mother of a wily flock of children, all of who provide daily inspiration for writing. You can visit her at her website.

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 a library copy.