Blackbird Fly

Blackbird Fly 51bUN1QbdVL__SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Blackbird Fly

Erin Entrada Kelly, Author

Greenwillow Books, Fiction, Mar. 24, 2015

Paperback Reprint Mar. 1, 2016, 320 pages

Suitable for Ages: 8-12 years

Themes: Bullying, Outcasts, Filipino Americans, Family relationships, Friendships, Middle School, Music, Multicultural

Book Synopsis:  Twelve-year-old Apple Yengko believes that there are at least three interesting facts about every person on Earth. Unfortunately, her three IFs make her an outcast in Chapel Spring Middle School in Chapel Spring, Louisiana. She has slanted eyes, a weird Filipino nickname, and a weird mother.

When Apple is voted the third ugliest girl in school, her life quickly falls apart. The boys bark at her in the halls and rumors spread that she eats dogs for dinner. Music is her only escape. All she needs is enough money to buy a guitar, and then she’ll be able to change herself and her life forever. So what if her mother doesn’t understand and thinks she’s becoming too American. So what if her supposed best friends turn the other way…

It might be the Beatles and their music who save Apple, or Mr. Z (Chapel Spring Middle’s awesome music teacher) — or it could be two unexpected friends who show her that standing out in a crowd is better than getting lost in it.

Why I like this book:

  • This is a painfully realistic story by Erin Entrada Kelly about the impact of bullying on an Filipino-American teen who is trying to find her place in a Louisiana middle school. It is an emotionally honest novel about Apple, who feels like an outsider because of her ethnic background. Her best friends turn on her and their boyfriends put Apple on a secret Dog Log list of the ugliest girls at school. Teens who feel different and deal daily with cruelty in middle school, will find Apple a must read.
  • Apple is a strong, smart, quirky and likeable character who loves the Beatles, wants to play the guitar, and be the next George Harrison. Music is her only link to her deceased father. Her over protective mother forbids her to play the guitar or join the school swing choir at school. Apple is embarrassed by her mother who speaks with an accent, clings to old values and cooks Filipino foods. She becomes friends with a new boy, Evan Temple, who is self-assured and doesn’t care what others think of him. He accepts Apple for who she is and encourages her music. They befriend Helena Moffett, who is overweight, is on the Dog Log and has a secret weapon — a powerful singing voice.  Together, the three friends take on the bullies.
  • Kelly’s first-person narrative is extremely effective. The plot is courageous and stays true the theme of what it feels like to be an outsider. I love that Apple spreads her wings like her favorite Beatles song, Blackbird. The pacing is fast, which makes this novel a quick read. There are many unexpected surprises, including the ending which is happily satisfying. 

Erin Entrada Kelly grew up in south Louisiana. Her mother was the first in her family to immigrate to the United States from the Philippines.  Blackbird Fly is her debut novel. Visit Kelly at her website.

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

Since many of my reviews include diverse books, please check out Diverse Children’s Booksa brand new book-sharing meme designed to promote the reading and writing of children’s books that feature diverse characters. This community embraces all kinds of diversity including (and certainly not limited to) diverse, inclusive, multicultural, and global books for children of all backgrounds. Spread the word by using #diversekidlit on Twitter. Check out the logo in my sidebar.

Maya’s Blanket – La Manta De Maya

Maya's Blanket 61M7G-JNf9L__SX445_BO1,204,203,200_Maya’s Blanket/La Manta De Maya

Monica Brown, Author

David Diaz, Illustrator

Children’s Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, Fiction, Aug. 15, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Bilingual, Blanket, Creativity, Recycling, Family traditions and relationships, Love, Latino, Multicultural

Opening: “Little Maya Morales had a special manta that she loved very much. The blanket was blue and green, with purple butterflies that Abuelita had stitched with her own two hands when Maya was just a baby.”

Synopsis: Maya’s grandmother stitches a beautiful blanket for her as a baby and she loves her manta very much. The blanket becomes worn and Maya helps her Abuelita sew a new dress from the fabric. When Maya outgrows the dress, they make a skirt for her to wear. Over time the skirt is repurposed into a shawl, a scarf,  and a bookmark. One day Maya loses her bookmark and finds a creative way to keep alive the memory of her beloved manta.

Why I like this book:

Monica Brown’s heartwarming story celebrates family traditions, love, creativity, and recycling.  It is bilingual, written in both English and Spanish on double-spread pages.  The English text is sprinkled with Spanish words.

Children will delight in the use of repetition each time the blanket is made into another item and will chime along as you read, “So with her own two hands and Abuelita’s help, Maya made her falda (skirt) that was her vestido (dress) that was her manta into a rebozo (shawl) that she loved very much.” They will also have fun predicting what happens next.

This beautiful Latino story is based on a traditional Yiddish folk song about a coat that is remade into something else. In writing the story, Monica Brown honors both her Jewish and Latino heritage in her lyrical and lively storytelling. The ending is so charming, I won’t give it away.

David Diaz’s illustrations are richly textured, colorful, and bold. Each double-page spread conveys an energy that jumps off the pages. Children will enjoy watching Maya’s magical journey unfold through his artwork.

Resources:  There is a fun Author’s Note and Glossary of Spanish words in the back pages.  Children usually have a favorite blanket, stuffed animal or toy at home. Ask them share stories about their item. Encourage them to think about how they could reuse or recycle their favorite item into something else. Older children may want to write a story or a poem.

Monica Brown is the author of many award-winning picture books, including Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match. Visit Monica Brown at her website.

Written in the Stars

Written in the Stars9780399171703_p0_v2_s192x300Written in the Stars

Aisha Saeed, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction,  Mar. 24, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 14-17

Themes: Forced Marriages, Pakistani-American teen, Diversity,

Synopsis: Naila is a responsible and trustworthy daughter to her immigrant Pakistani parents. Steeped in cultural tradition, her parents allow her to attend a Florida high school, study subjects she likes, wear her hair how she wishes, dress like the other students and choose her career path in college. The only thing she is not allowed to do is date boys or choose a husband. Naila falls in love with Sajf, a Pakistani-American boy, during her senior year. She keeps her secret and meets Saif for lunch everyday. When Naila disobeys her parents and sneaks to the senior prom with Saif, her parents are outraged at her betrayal of trust and humiliated by their close-knit community. In attempt to help Naila understand her heritage, they pull her out of school, travel to Pakistan to visit relatives. Naila enjoys meeting so many family members and bonding with her cousin, Selma. Her vacation turns into a nightmare when her parents betray her, force her into an arranged marriage with Amin, and then leave Pakistan. She is alone living with a strange family, who see her as their ticket to America. Is this Naila’s destiny or is there any hope for escape?

What I love about Written in the Stars:

  • Aisha Saeed has masterfully written a bold, heart wrenching and complex cross-cultural novel that will be an eye-opener for many young readers. It is also beautiful love story between two Pakistani-American teens.
  • The setting is culturally rich for teens reading Written in the Stars. It is about Pakistani traditions, extended families living together, food preparations, small villages, the landscape, neighbors knowing everyone’s business, and shopping in local markets.
  • The first-person narrative with Naila offers greater depth into her character. Naila is a strong and determined protagonist. Her anger and pain are palpable, as is her desire to escape. All of the characters are well-developed, memorable and stay with you after you finish. The plot is suspenseful and brutal at times. The author shows much of the action, which is more powerful than words. The reader experiences Naila’s prison. Written in the Stars is a page-turner and I could not put it down. The ending is unexpected.
  • The author shares that although her own marriage was arranged by her parents, she wrote the book to shed light on the many arranged forced marriages.  I have never read anything like this powerful book, and I mean that as a compliment. Saeed sheds so much light on the problem of forced marriages in America and around the world. Although her characters are American-Pakistani, Saeed points out that “the issue is not limited to one particular culture or religion.”

Resources: There is a lovely Author’s Note at the end, along with resources for individuals needing advice, and a glossary. Visit Aisha Saeed at her website.

Aisha Saeed is a Pakistani American writer, teacher and attorney. Written in the Stars is her debut novel. She is on of the founding members of the We Need Diverse Books Campaign.

Imani’s Moon

Imani's Moon9781934133576_p0_v1_s260x420Imani’s Moon

JaNay Brown-Wood, Author

Hazel Mitchell, Illustrator

Charlesbridge Publishing, Fiction, Oct. 14, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Maasai tribe, Maasai mythology, Moon, Belief and doubt, Self-confidence, Determination

Opening: “Imani was the smallest child in her village.”

Book Synopsis: Imani may be the smallest child in her Maasai village, but she is big in heart. The more she hears the ancient stories of her people, the more she longs to do something great. Imani wants to touch the moon, like Olapa, the moon goddess of Maasai mythology. Despite the teasing from village children, Imani isn’t about to give up on her dream.

What I like about this book:

JaNay Brown-Wood’s heartwarming story is filled with hope, ambition and big dreams. Even though Imani is tiny, she is strong in spirit. She endures the teasing of the village children daily. But they don’t deter her. For Imani there are no limitations, only possibilities and dreams to touch the moon. This richly textured story is charming, magical and begs to be read repeatedly. Hazel Mitchell’s cover with Imani’s outstretched arms in front of the big moon is engaging and draws the reader into Imani’s story. Her vibrant watercolor and graphite artwork includes a lot of Maasai detail.  The night scenes of Imani and the moon are dazzling and magical. Great collaborative work between the author and illustrator.

Resource: There is a lovely Author’s Note about the culture of the Maasai people living on the plains of Tanzania and Kenya. Passing along stories and mythology is an important part of the culture. You may want to visit JaNay Brown-Wood at her website. She has a Teaching Guide available for teachers and parents.

Drum Dream Girl

Drum Dream Girl9780544102293_p0_v4_s260x420Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music

Margarita Engle, Author

Rafael Lopez, Illustrator

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Mar. 31, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes: Drummers, Music, Cuba, Gender equality, Diversity

Opening: “On and island of music / in a city of drumbeats / the drum dream girl / dreamed…”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Girls cannot be drummers. Long ago on an island filled with music and rhythm, no one questioned that rule — until the drum dream girl. She longed to play tall congas and small bongos and silvery, moon-bright timbales. She had to keep her dream quiet. She had to practice in secret. But when at last her music was heard, everyone sang and danced and decided that boys and girls should be free to drum and dream.

Why I like this book: Margarita Engle’s Drum Dream Girl is an inspirational and beautiful work of free-verse historical fiction. As you read this melodic poem out loud, you are drawn to the rhythmic beat of the text about a girl who made a difference. Millo Castro Zaldarriaga is so infused by the music and sounds around her, she can’t help herself.  When she walked under / wind-wavy palm trees / in a flower-bright park / she heard the whir of parrot wings / the clack of woodpeckers breaks / the dancing tap / of her own footsteps / and the comforting pat / of her own / heartbeat. When her sisters hear her drumming, they invite her to join their dance band. Her father says only boys can play drums, but relents and takes her to a teacher.

I applaud Engle for focusing on Zaldarriaga’s young life instead of her career. It is important for children to see how a 10-year-old girl dares to make a difference in 1932 and paves the way for Cuban women to become drummers. There is a historical note about Zaldarriaga and her musical career at the end of the book. Rafael Lopez’s creates his own magic with his vibrant, colorful and dreamy illustrations. His artwork beautifully compliments the story.

Resources: Children love music as much as they enjoy making things.  Make a drum or other musical instruments to encourage creativity and play. Visit the Kinder Art site for steps to make a variety of easy homemade drums.

Author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books (PPB) Fridays will be on hiatus this summer. This will be the last PPB review until September, although you will still be able to visit the link. I will continue to review books throughout the summer.

Never Say a Mean Word Again

Never Say Mean Word9781937786205_p0_v2_s260x420Never Say A Mean Word Again: A Tale from Medieval Spain

Jaqueline Jules, Author

Durga Yael Bernhard, Illustrator

Wisdom Tales, Fiction, May 7, 2014

Awards: 2015 Sydney Taylor Honor Books Award; 2014 National Jewish Books Award Finalist; 2014 Middle East Book Awards Honorable Mention

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Conflict Resolution, Justice, Fathers and sons, Friendship, Historical Spain

Opening: Samuel, the son of the grand vizier, walked into the castle courtyard wearing a flowing purple robe. His eyes were on the flowers and the fountains, not where he was walking. “OUCH!” Too late. 

Synopsis:  Samuel accidentally bumps into Hamza, the tax collector’s son. Samuel apologizes, but Hamza doesn’t believe him. Later that day, they are seated beside each other for lunch.  Samuel’s goblet slips out of his hand and stains Hamza’s shirt. Hamza is angry, calls Samuel mean names and won’t accept his apology. Samuel asks his father, the vizier, if he will punish Hamza. Instead the vizier tells his Samuel to “make sure Hamza never says a mean word to you again.”  How will Samuel deal with Hamza so he isn’t insulted again?

Why I like this book:

  • It is an inspiring multicultural tale of two lively boys, one Jewish and one Muslim, trying to solve their differences.
  • Jules’ story is inspired by a medieval legend about the Jewish poet Samuel Ha-Nagid, (993-1056) who was the vizier in Muslim Granada, a city in Spain. 
  • It explores the challenges of friendship across cultures and social status.
  • The ending is unexpected. Without realizing it, Samuel finds himself playing with Hamza daily. Samuel’s attempt to obey his father turns into an unexpected quest to make a friend out of his enemy.
  • The message of Samuel’s attempts to find a peaceful resolution to his differences with Hamza, is relevant today. Children will resonate with this timeless issue of making a bully into a friend.
  • Bernhard’s colorful and vivid illustrations capture the culture of this Medieval period. They are lively and show the tension and humor in the story.

Resources: There is a beautiful history about the Medieval legend and the history of Spain at the end of the book. This is a great book for teachers to use in the classroom to discuss peaceful ways to resolve conflict. Visit Jacqueline Jules’ website for information, a teacher’s guide and other materials to use with Never Say a Mean Word Again.

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.

The Olive Tree by Elsa Marston

Olive Tree9781937786298_p0_v1_s260x420The Olive Tree

Elsa Marston, Author

Claire Ewart, Illustrator

Wisdom Tales, Fiction, Nov. 1, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Olive Tree, Neighbors, Lebanon, Middle East, Sharing, Friendship, Peace, Multicultural

Opening: For many years the house next to Sameer’s had stood empty. “What a pity!” his mother often said. The family who lived there had gone away during the troubles, because they were different from most of the people in the village. But now, the long war was over, and they were coming back.

Synopsis:  Sameer leans on an old stone wall that divides the property between two families. Above him an ancient olive tree grows on the other side of the wall, but the best olives fall on his family’s property. He eagerly watches the family move back into their home and hopes that they have a boy with whom he  can play. But Muna doesn’t want to play with Sameer, or share her family’s olives. One night during a storm, lightning strikes the olive tree and it crashes to the ground. Even the stone wall is broken. Will the two children find a way to resolve their differences?

What I like about this book:

  • Elsa Marston’s The Olive Tree is a richly textured and realistic story about two Lebanese children who struggle to get along after a war, learn to share, and find friendship through adversity.
  • The narrative is simple and lyrical. There is tension between Sameer and Muna, who are from two different families with different backgrounds. When their beloved olive tree is struck by lightning, they work silently together to clear the broken branches from their yards. They move beyond their anger, reconcile and heal.
  • The symbolism is appropriate with the broken stone wall, the toppled tree, and the olive branch (a peace-offering.)
  • This book is a reminder that our actions toward peace and reconciliation are powerful and unifying. They do make an important difference in the lives of those around us.
  • Children will gain a glimpse into a contemporary Lebanon and its culture. Marston was in Lebanon at the outbreak of the war and after it was over.  She was moved to write this hopeful middle eastern story.
  • This healing multicultural book belongs in school libraries as it will encourage many interesting discussions among students.
  • Claire Ewart’s beautiful illustrations are warm and colorful watercolors that draw the reader into the story from the first page. Her artwork is expressive and supports the emotion and tension in the story.

Resources: Visit Elsa Marston’s website to learn more about The Olive Tree.  She has included some background information about Lebanon, the culture, the civil war and discussion questions for the classroom.  I especially like her role-playing suggestions.

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.