Mr. Mergler, Beethoven, and Me by David Gutnick

Mr. Mergler, Beethoven, and Me

David Gutnick, Author

Mathilde Cinq-Mars, Illustrator

Second Story Press, Fiction, Apr. 18, 2018

Suitable for Ages:5-8

Themes: Music, Piano teacher, Intergenerational relationships, Friendship, Loss

Opening: Not long after my family arrived from China, I went to the park with my father, whom I call Baba. Lots of people went there to play…it is where I met someone I will always remember.

Synopsis: Shortly after a girl and her family arrive from China, she and her father (Baba) meet an older gentleman in a park. They learn that Mr. Mergler has taught piano lessons to hundreds of students for over 50 years. Baba proudly shares that his daughter plays the piano at their church. Mr. Mergler asks her to sing her favorite song. He closes his eyes as he listens.  He hears music in a way that most of us can’t. When she finishes, Mr. Mergler recognizes the girl’s talent and offers to give her piano lessons. Their bond grows as she studies with him.  Her fingers fly over the ivory keys and she becomes lost in the magic of her music.  After many months of study, the girl learns that Mr. Mergler is ill. Mr. Mergler sends her a letter and a special gift.

Why I like this book:

This is a heartwarming multicultural and intergenerational story about a girl and her elderly music teacher. The author beautifully captures the affection and bond between teacher and student — and all of the hundreds of students who lives he’s touched. His walls are adorned with their photographs.

This story is inspired by the life of the wonderful and generous musician Daniel Mergler, who loved to teach children. It is a story that will inspire many classically trained young musicians. It is also a tribute to a quiet and kind man who was adored by his students. His story brought tears to my eyes as I reminisced about many of my favorite piano teachers as a child, teen and young adult. I am sure many adults reading this story with their children will recall their memories of favorite teachers.

Mathilde Cinq-Mars soft and whimsical illustrations carry their own melody with musical symbols woven into the delicate composition. They are exquisite and compliment the text.

Resources: Make sure you read the material about the lives of Daniel Mergler and Beethoven at the end of the story. They give insight into Mr. Mergler and are a good way to address music with children. Music can be made with many items. If you don’t have a piano, give children a harmonica, kazoo, bells, pots and pans to play with to encourage rhythm and fun.

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.

Forever or a Day by Sarah Jacoby

Forever or a Day

Sarah Jacoby, Author and Illustrator

Chronicle Books, Fiction, Mar. 27, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-6

Theme: Time, Child’s experience, Love

Opening: If you look closely you can see it. You can almost touch it.

Book Jacket Synopsis:  What is it? It is a drumbeat. It is a wildly wagging tail. Perhaps it is a ghost. Sometimes people pay a lot of attention to it.  The more you try to hold it…the better it hides. Where does it go? Is it forever, or a day?

In a poignant conversation as elegant as a poem and as perfectly paced as a mystery, Sarah Jacoby captures the paradox of time. At once individual and universal, measured and unbounded, fleeting and eternal, time tells us how to live — and how to love.

Why I like this book:

Reading Sarah Jacoby’s Forever or a Day is an experience to savor with a child. It is a magical journey into the endless mystery of time.  Children and adults will ponder its meaning and what makes it so special, because you can blink and miss it. Time is fleeting and is the biggest riddle in life.

Jacoby’s book is a quiet and contemplative story. It would be a good way to practice mindfulness and appreciate living in a moment that will quickly slip away. It includes cherished moments of sharing breakfast with parents, visiting with loved ones, building castles in the sand, fishing from a peer, watching a sunrise or sunset.  And it is about love.

Jacoby’s prose is lyrical and heartfelt. Her stunning and soft watercolors capture a child on a journey with his family, a beautiful sunrise, shooting stars in the night sky, the lights of a city at night and the love of family. I highly recommend her timeless book for all ages.

Sarah Jacoby grew up wandering the woods outside of Philadelphia. She has since earned degrees in both English Literature and Illustration. She now draws for many people and places, including the New York Times.  Her illustrations have won awards from the Society of Illustrators (Gold Medal), American Illustration, Creative Quarterly, and Communication Arts.Learn more about Sarah Jacoby 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.

Breathe by Inês Castel-Branco

Breathe

Inês Castel-Branco, Author & Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Apr. 30, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 and up

Themes: Breathing, Stretching, Relaxation

Opening: “Mom, I can’t sleep!” / “Why not?” / ” don’t know… I’m nervous and I can’t stop thinking, thinking, thinking…”

Synopsis:

Do you know how to breathe? Do you really know how to breathe?

When a young boy can’t sleep, his mother teaches him how to breathe with his whole body. He learns new ways to move his body, notice his breath, and calm himself.

He can pretend he is a ringing bell, a cat, a rocket…any number of things! The activities combine controlled breathing, stretches, and visualization, and are an introduction to mindfulness and meditation that can be used to help induce sleep or just to calm the body and mind.

Why I like this book:

The story is a conversation between a boy and his mother when he can’t relax and go to sleep. The mother is a shadow in the background on the first page as she teaches her son how to breath properly. If you teach children how to breathe and relax at a young age, they will have tools to use throughout their lives. Focusing on breathing helps them to stop thinking and quiet their minds.

The book helps children learn to visualize and use their imaginations. The exercises the mother uses to guide the boy — floating on a wave, smelling roses, blowing up balloons, launching a rocket and breathing with vowel sounds — are shared at the end of the book with detailed information on how to do each exercise and how they help children work through fear and anxiety. This is a wonderful family activity.

Author Inês Castel-Branco’s illustrations are joyful, peaceful and simply beautiful. Readers will feel the positive energy flowing from the boy just by studying each illustration and the exercise he is attempting. Make sure you check out the end papers as they are filled with poses taught in the book.

Resources: Breathe is a picture book that helps children work through worries and fears by playful breathing, stretching and relaxation techniques.  There is a Note to Parents and Caregivers at the end that includes exercise techniques based on yoga, tai chi, chi kung and meditation.

Inês Castel-Branco founded Fragmenta Editorial in Barcelona with Ignasi Moreta, and so submerged herself in the fascinating world of the typography and layout of books. With the birth of their three children, Inês returned to making models (now of castles, zoos, and doll houses) and they discovered the marvels that can be made with recycled objects, which are explained on Ines’s Spanish blog, “Mama Recicla.” Their love of children’s books also grew, until they decided to start this collection. One morning during breakfast, she “saw” in her mind the book that you now have in your hands, and she once again took up her brushes and painted.

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.

*A copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

A Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker

A Stone for Sascha

Aaron Becker, Author & Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, May 8, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Pet, Death, Grief, Journey, Healing, Wordless picture book

Synopsis:

This year’s summer vacation will be very different for a young girl and her family without Sascha, the beloved family dog, along for the ride. After laying her dog to rest in the family’s backyard and showering the grave with flowers, the family goes on a camping trip. A wistful walk along the beach to gather cool polished stones becomes a brilliant turning point in the girl’s grief.  A major shift occurs in the story. There, at the edge of a vast ocean beneath an infinite sky, the girl uncovers, alongside the reader, a profound and joyous truth.

Why I love this book:

Aaron Becker’s breathtaking wordless picture book takes readers on an epic journey across the cosmos. This is a quiet and contemplative picture book. Readers will want to pour over all of the details in the dreamy illustrations of the girl’s extraordinary journey of healing that reaches beyond time and civilizations — because of one polished stone. A meteor strikes the earth, leaving a path of debris that is mined by ancient human workers. The golden stone is carved into a statue. During times of war the stone topples. It is carried away to serve other purposes and eventually ends up in the ocean where it is polished into a smooth stone by the churning waves and discovered by the girl. This is a book Becker hopes readers “will find comfort in stories that are older than our own and  inspire the reader to discover their own path.” Verdict: This book is a treasure.

Aaron Becker is the author of the award-winning Journey, Quest, and Return wordless picture book trilogy. A Stone for Sascha is a stand-alone book. Becker took care of a hermit crab for his pet merit badge in the Boy Scouts. When it died, he wasn’t too sad about it. But when lost Lily, his first cat, it was a different story altogether. Learning that love includes loss is a profound lesson that he’s learned from his animal companions over the years.

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.

Abracadabra! The Magic of Trying

Abracadabra! The Magic of Trying

Maria Loretta Giraldo, Author

Nicoletta Bertelle, Illustration

Magination Press, Fiction, Apr. 23, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Animals, New experiences, Fear, Practice, Setbacks, Courage, Perseverance

Opening: “Today was an important day at the little birds’ school. Today was the day they all learned how to fly!”

Book Synopsis:

All of the little birds have learned to fly…except one. Little Owl can’t do it! He is too afraid of falling. Blackbird, Robin, Sparrow and Hummingbird explain that it’s easy. All he has to do is say “abracadabra!”

At first, it doesn’t work, and Little Owl thinks the “magic” word is broken! But as he gets better and better, he realizes that the real magic is in himself. This book teaches children how to face challenges and keep trying, despite setbacks.

An empowering story of gradually overcoming fear that will resonate with young children. A great purchase for most collections.

Why I like this book:

Maria Loretta Giraldo’s engaging picture book realistically depicts how slow Little Owl’s progress may be, yet how rewarding it is when he overcomes his fear and succeeds in the end.  He glides through the sky and his self-confidence soars.

This story has a memorable cast of forest characters — the birds, a turtle, a mouse, hedgehog — who turn out to encourage Little Owl to take the leap and flap his wings. They offer suggestions and continue to support him. Each one tells him to say the magic word, “abracadabra,” but it doesn’t work.  No matter how many times Little Owl tries, he fails and crashes. But he doesn’t give up and keeps trying.

This book is a useful book for parents to have on hand when their child tries to do something new, like riding a bike or swimming. Some children may be afraid of failing, hurting themselves and don’t want to try. Like Little Owl, trying something new takes practice and perseverance, no matter the setbacks. It is so important to support a frustrated child. Practice takes time, but is well worth the effort.

Nicoletta Bertelle’s signature illustrations are colorful and whimsical and compliment the story. She is a long-term artistic partner with the author.

Resources: The book includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers with tips for encouraging kids to practice and persevere.

Maria Loretta Giraldo is an Italian children’s writer based in Verona, Italy. She is the author of more than 100 books published and translated all over the world. Nicoletta Bertelle has illustrated more than 80 books for many Italian and foreign publishers.

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.

A copy of this book was provided by Magination Press.

Sergeant Reckless by Patricia McCormick

Sergeant Reckless: The True Story of the Little Horse Who Became a Hero

Patricia McCormick, Author

Jacopo Bruno, Illustrations

Balzer + Bray, Historical Fiction, Sep. 12, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes: Horse, Korean War, Animal war hero, Marines

Opening: The small red mare whinnied for her supper.. But Korea was at war. Towns were shattered. Fields were scorched. And the racetrack was abandoned. No one paid attention to the hungry little horse.

Synopsis:

The inspiring true story of Reckless, the brave little horse who became a Marine.

When a group of US Marines fighting in the Korean War found a bedraggled mare, they wondered if she could be trained to as a packhorse. They had no idea that the skinny, underfed horse had one of the biggest and bravest hearts they’d ever known. And one of the biggest appetites!

Soon Reckless showed herself more than willing to carry ammunition too heavy for the soldiers to haul. As cannons thundered and shells flew through the air, she marched into battle—again and again—becoming the only animal ever to officially hold military rank—becoming Sgt. Reckless—and receive two Purple Hearts.

Why I like this book:

Patricia McCormick’s engaging picture book about a hungry little mare adopted by a group of Marines, will win the hearts of both horse and animals lovers, and historians. There aren’t many books written about the Korean War, which will add another layer of intrigue and interest. Reckless saved thousands of lives as she made 51 trips and carried 9,000 pounds of heavy ammunition up the hill into battle while shells rained down around her. She also enjoyed sneaking into one of the soldier’s tents to sleep and interrupting poker games. Reckless was the only animal to ever hold a rank. This story has a happy and satisfying ending.

Readers will be mesmerized by the illustration by graphic designer Jacopo Bruno. They are exquisite and at times life-like. Bruno’s format is reminiscent of a well-loved scrapbook.  Readers can’t help be drawn into the this little-known story of the love of a group of soldiers for this very determined, trusting, courageous, and loyal mare.

Resources: There is an author’s note at the end that talks about Reckless, the war and how the she lived out her days in a grassy compound at Camp Pendleton in California, and a real-life photograph of Reckless receiving her six medals.

Patricia McCormick is a former journalist and a two-time National Book Award finalist whose books include Cut, Sold, Never Fall Down, The Plot to Kill Hitler and the young readers edition of I Am Malala. She lives in New York. Visit McCormick 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.

The Night Before the Fourth of July by Natasha Wing

The Night Before the Fourth of July

Natasha Wing, Author

Amy Wummer, Illustrator

Grosset & Dunlap, Fiction, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes: Independence Day, Celebration, Fireworks, Family

Synopsis: It’s the night before the Fourth of July and all across the United States people are getting ready for hot dogs and fireworks. Decked in red, white, and blue, a family heads to a parade, hosts a backyard BBQ with friends and family, dodges an afternoon thundershower, and of course, watches a fireworks show. The Night Before the Fourth of July captures all the fun, excitement, and pride of the best summer holiday!

Natasha Wing brings all the excitement and fun to life in the pages of this celebration of our nation’s history. The rhyming is fun and playful.  Amy Wummer’s illustrations are lively and colorful. This is the perfect book to introduce young children ages 3-5, to our joyful American birthday party, emphasizing family, diversity and tradition. This is the 20th book in “The Night Before…” series. Collect them all!

Resources: What are you going to do on the Fourth of July? Will you dress-up, attend a parade, go to a family picnic, and watch fireworks? Will you wave a flag? Adults will find the book will bring back a flood of  childhood memories they can share with their children.

Natasha Wing is the author of When Jackie Saved Grand Central: The True Story of Jacqueline Kennedy’s Fight for an American Icon, 2017. She has written nearly 25 books in her “The Night Before…” series which deal with Easter, Christmas, Father’s Day, Preschool, Summer Camp, Kindergarten and many more delightful holidays and celebrations. She was born in Connecticut and now lives in Fort Collins, Colorado. After graduating from Arizona State University, she worked in advertising. It wasn’t until 1991 that she decided to write children’s books. Luckily she sold her first book within six months and has been writing children’s books and articles ever since.  Visit Natasha 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.

Festival of Colors by Kabir Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal

 


Festival of Colors

Kabir Sehgal & Surishtha Sehgal, Authors

Vashti Harrison, Illustrator

Beach Lane Books, Fiction,  Jan. 30, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 2-8

Themes: Holi, Indian Festival, Feasts, Dance, Family, Friends, Community, Multicultural

Opening: Guavas are ripening. Lotuses are blooming. And Holi, the Indian festival of colors, is almost here.

Synopsis: A brother and sister, Mintoo and Chintoo, are excited about the upcoming Indian spring festival of colors, Holi. They gather baskets of red hibiscus flowers, purple orchids, orange marigolds, and blue irises. They dry the flowers before they remove all of the petals.  Then they crush the petals into  fine powders. When the special day arrives, family, friends and neighbors dress in white and gather with their bowls of colorful powders. Everyone begins to toss the colors and shout “Holi, hai!”

Why I like this book:

Kabir and Surishtha Sehgal have created a visually appealing, joyful and celebratory book that introduces children to Holi, an Hindu festival of colors. The annual spring festival offers Indians “fresh starts, friendship and forgiveness.” It also introduces children to a different culture, home life and a strong sense of community. Everyone sings, dances and feasts during the celebration.

Children will learn about how dried colorful flower petals, will create vibrant colors of red, yellow, blue, and purple powders. They will also learn how to prepare the beautiful colorful powders.

Vashti Harrison’s illustrations are a feast for the eyes and senses. Her artwork communicates the sheer joy of the event! I especially like how she shows the diversity of skin-tones among the Indian community. Some are very light and others very brown.  This is something I noticed immediately because I have an adopted son from India who is very dark. He would see himself in this book.

Readers will learn from the book’s endnotes that Holi celebrates “inclusiveness, new beginnings, and the triumph of good over evil.” This book is a treasure and belongs in every classroom!

Resources: Use the book to create your own colorful powders from flowers in your yard. All the steps are in the book.

Kabir and Surishtha Sehgal are the authors of A Bucket of Blessings and The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk.

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.

Islandborn by Junot Diaz


Islandborn

Junot Díaz, Author

Leo Espinosa, Illustrator

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Mar. 18, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Immigration, Community, Culture, Memory, Diversity, Imagination, Belonging

OpeningEvery kid in Lola’s school was from somewhere else. Hers was a school of faraway places.

Synopsis: When Lola’s teacher asks the students to draw a picture of where their families emigrated from, all the kids are excited. Except Lola. She can’t remember the Island she left when she was just a baby. But with the help of her family and friends, and their memories — joyous, fantastical, heartbreaking, and frightening — Lola’s imagination takes her on an extraordinary journey back to the Island. As she draws closer to the heart of her family’s story, Lola comes to understand the truth of her abuela’s words: “Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.”

Why I like this book:

Junot Díaz has written a poetic and nostalgic story about Lola’s family immigrating from their home on the Island (likely the Dominican Republic) to build a new life in New York City.  Lola’s lively and exuberant curiosity leads her on an enchanting journey of discovery of self-discovery. She relies upon the memories of her family, friends and neighbors to help her imagine an Island and a culture that has bats the size of blankets, music, dancing, bright colors, sweet mangoes, beautiful beaches, tropical sunsets, hurricanes and a terrifying monster (dictator) who hurts the people. Leo Espinosa’s dazzling illustrations bring Lola’s Island to life. They are a beautiful celebration of creativity and diversity. Brown children will see themselves in the many different skin-tones. Beautiful collaborative effort between the author and illustrator. This book belongs in school libraries.

Junot Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic and immigrated to New Jersey. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Drown; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and This is How you Lose Her, a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award Finalist. Visit him at his 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.

Feel Better Books for “Little Worriers” and for “Little Tempers”

Today I am sharing  two Feel Better Books written by authors Holly Brochmann and Leah Bowen and illustrated by Shirley Ng-Benitez. Both books compliment each other and can be used together. They are written for children ages 3 to 6.

A Feel Better Book for Little Worriers

Magination Press, Fiction, Aug. 7, 2017

Themes: Worry, Anxiety, Rhyme

Opening: How’s it going today, / are you doing all right? / Are you fantastic, and happy and bright?

Synopsis: Worries can feel like a BIG problem to a LITTLE kid! This book helps little ones who are just beginning to recognize and identify their emotions to understand how worry feels and affects them. Do they feel butterflies in their tummies? Is their heart beating fast?  Worries differ for each child. Some children worry about going to bed, finishing homework, learning to swim, and speaking in front of the class.  And some worries can be important and protect them from harm.

A Feel Better Book for Little Tempers

Magination Press, Fiction, Mar. 19, 2018

Themes: Anger, Tempers, Rhyme

Opening: Is it one of those days / you feel misunderstood? / You’re huffy and puffy / and just plain not good.

Synopsis: Sometimes the LITTLEST kids can have the BIGGEST tempers! This books helps young children who are just beginning to recognize and identify their emotions understand how anger feels and affects them.  Are they clenching their fists?  Are they so mad they feel like they may explode? Readers are taught that it’s okay to get mad, if you know what to do.

Why I like these two books:

They are told in catchy rhymes that are joyful and fun to read out loud. The narration is gentle and calming and introduces the subject of worry and temper in a very simple and straightforward manner.  Each book first identifies the feelings of worry and anger through a diverse group of children doing a variety of activities. And then the children are introduced to activities like jumping up and down, spinning, stretching, wiggling, dancing, running, taking deep breaths and giving themselves a BIG hug.

The lively and expressive illustrations will charm children from the start. They are bold, colorful and perfectly capture each story.

Resources: Both books include a “Note to Parents and Caregivers” that gives information about recognizing worry and anger, and offers tools to help manage anxiety and anger. This is an excellent discussion book for home and at school.

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.

The publisher provided me with advanced copies of the books.