Tony and His Elephants by Cathleen Burnham

Earth Day, April 22, 2017

Tony and His Elephants: Best Friends Forever!

Cathleen Burnham, Author and Photographer

Crickhollow Books, Nonfiction, Apr. 22, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Themes: Elephant Rescue, Sanctuary, Thailand, Environmental Conservation, Science, Nature, Kids Making a Difference

Opening: It was Songkran, Thailand’s New Year celebration. Crowds of cheering people waved flags. Songkran also was the hottest time of the year. All across Thailand, people celebrated with water fights. In the midst of the festivities were two little elephants: Baby Pumpuii and five-year-old Nam Cho. They were chained side by side.

Synopsis: Tony is an eight-year-old boy, whose family runs a small elephant sanctuary in northern Thailand. He becomes involved in the care of two young elephants, Baby Pumpuii and Nam Cho, rescued from an urban setting to a new life in the forests. But life in the wilds is not without its own drama and danger. Tony is quickly drawn into a deep and lasting relationship with these amazing and sensitive animals.

Why I like this book:

  • This is the third photodocumentary book by Cathleen Burnham featuring children involved in wild animal rescue activities. Her stories carry an inspiring and powerful message that you don’t have to be an adult to make a difference. Children like Tony are proof of how one small act of caring can have an important impact in helping wildlife in danger. It has become Burnham’s mission to share the stories of young environmental activists with other children.
  • Burnham’s book is a compassionate and well-crafted story. Her beautiful photographs document Tony’s life and work at the family elephant conservation center in northern Thailand. Tony mixes powdered elephant milk into a huge baby bottle and teaches Baby Pumpuii how to drink. He sleeps in a loft above the new elephants so that he can feed the baby four times a night. He climbs onto Nam Cho’s back and trains her in how to move forward, stop, and turn as he guides her along a dirt path into the jungle. They go for a swim in Mekong River. When a fire breaks out, Tony leads all the elephants to safety in the cool mountaintops, while his parents battle the fire.
  • Burnham’s book helps children understand and respect the interconnection between humans and all life. She introduces children to “cultural learning, language, animal facts, geography, and laws  intended to protect wild animals from black market trade or from being abused to serve human interests.” Like Tony, children worldwide will be inspired to do their part to make a difference in their communities.

Tony feeds Baby Pumpuii a bottle of milk.   Photo Courtesy of Cathleen Burnham

Favorite Lines: “These will be your elephants, Tony,” said his father. “Forever?” asked Tony. “Until the day you die, Tony, just like any mahout,” said his father.

It was the beginning of a lifelong bond. Tony, Nam Cho, and Baby Pumpuii would love and protect one another for the rest of their lives.

Resources:  Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end of Tony and His Elephants. To learn more about the amazing things children are doing to protect wildlife around the globe, visit the World Association of Kids and Animals (WAKA) and get involved. Check out The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, to learn about the retired circus elephants living in this safe 2,700-acre refuge in companionship with other elephants. For more ideas about how you can make a difference in your community, visit the Earth Day website.

*View Joanna Marple’s inspiring review of Tony and His Elephants on her  website.

Cathleen Burnham is a journalist, writer and wildlife photographer. In addition to Tony and His Elephants, Burnham is the author of Doyli to the Rescue, and the Tortuga Squad. They are the first three books in a series of six books that profile wildlife preservation efforts being undertaken by kids around the globe.

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

**I was provided with a copy of Tony and His Elephants in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Where Will I Live? by Rosemary McCarney

Where Will I Live?

Rosemary McCarney, Author

Photographs provided by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)

Second Story Press, Nonfiction, Apr. 4, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes: Children, Refugees, Immigrants,  Children of War

Opening: “Sometimes scary things happen to good people.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Every child needs a home. Children need somewhere safe where they can be happy, eat their meals with their family, play with their toys, and go to sleep at night feeling unafraid.

But many children all over the world have had to leave their homes because they are no longer safe. Because of war and conflict, they and their families have become refugees. For them life is hard and full of questions. In spite of everything, they find time to laugh, play and make friends. And most important,  they have hope that somewhere, someone will welcome them to a new home.

Why I like this book:

A timely and inspiring global story from Rosemary McCarney about what life is like for child refugees who are uprooted from their homes because of war.

McCarney’s use of minimal text directs the reader’s attention to the beautiful UNHCR photographs, which will melt your heart and speak to your soul. They show the remarkable journey the families make. The refugees walk, run, hike across deserts, and ride in carts and boats with the hope of finding a safe place to live. Many end up in refugee camps and tent cities in countries like Lebanon, Rwanda, Iraq, Niger, Hungary, Jordan, South Sudan, and Greece.

Where Will I live will help children appreciate the stability they have in their own lives and raise their cultural awareness of the plight of children worldwide. It addresses tough issues and belongs in every school library.

Proceeds from this book will be donated to refugee children’s programs around the world.

Resources: This powerful book will generate many classroom conversations about how difficult life can be for children around the world. Ask children about what it means to be a refugee. Where will they go if their home isn’t safe?  What will they eat? This is a great exercise in empathy. Children are compassionate, kind and want to help. Everyday they see other kids on the television news who are making a difference. Perhaps Where Will I Live will inspire readers and classrooms to find a way to help refugee families.

Rosemary McCarney is Canada’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and the Conference on Disarmament and past President CEO of Plan International Canada. She is the author of the internationally bestselling books: Every Day is Malala Day, Because I am a Girl: I Can Change the World, The Way to School and As A Boy.

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.

**I was provided with a copy of Where Will I Live in exchange for a fair and honest review.

My Kicks: A Sneaker Story! by Susan Verde

My Kicks: A Sneaker Story!

Susan Verde, Author

Katie Kath, Illustrator

Abrams Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Apr. 11, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 5-7

Themes: A boy out grows his sneakers, Buying new shoes, Old sneakers have stories

Opening: Mom looked down at my feet and shook her head. “Those shoes have seen their day!”

Book Jacket Synopsis: There’s nothing like an old pair of Kicks. Sneakers have stories to tell. There’s the wear and tear from the first time they rode on a skateboard…the splatters of paint from an art project…the sticky drips from a delicious Popsicle on a hot summer day.

So when a young boy needs to buy a new pair, he fears they won’t compare. But what if some new kicks mean he might jump higher or run faster? What if having bigger shoes to fill means that new memories are just around the corner?

My Kicks is a tribute to how our favorite things reveal who we are and where we’ve come from, and celebrates the excitement in growing up and moving on.

Why I like this book:

Susan Verde has written a rollicking story that will resonate with most children — replacing a dependable pair of sneakers with new ones. Although kids like getting new shoes, they also feel an attachment to favorite pair of shoes. The boy in the story doesn’t want to let go of his favorite red sneakers. “No way! No how!” His sneakers may be worn-out and smelly, but they have great stories to tell.

As he heads to the store with his mom he recollects how he learned to tie his shoes, splashes through puddles, finds his balance on a skateboard and climbs trees. Many memories are made with a good pair of sneakers. The message is simple, clever, and quirky, but will be appeal to both readers and parents. “Each pair represents a slice of life and transitioning from one stage to the next,” says Verde.

Katie Kath’s ink and watercolor illustrations bring this story to life. They are diverse, lively and expressive. The vibrant color will appeal to young audiences.  She also uses white space well to hone the readers’ focus on the boy’s journey. She captures the boy’s changing moods as he moves from reluctance to excitement at what he may do with his new yellow sneakers. Visit Katie Kath at her website.

Resources: Parents and children will enjoy reading this delightful story together. Reminisce about your own favorite pair of sneakers growing up. This is a great opportunity for parents and children to share their stories about their favorite pair of sneakers. Make sure you peek under the outside book jacket. Children will be delighted to find a shoe-tying guide on the cover.

Susan Verde is the author of The Museum, You and MeI Am Yoga and The Water Princess. She lives just steps from the ocean in East Hampton, NY, with her three children. Her favorite kicks are her silver metallic high-tops. Visit Susan Verde 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 Perfect Picture Books.  

*I received a review copy of  My Kicks from the publisher.  The opinions in this review are entirely my own.

The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk by Kabir and Surishtha Sehgal

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The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk

Kabir Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal, Authors

Jess Golden, Illustrator

Beach Lane Books, Fiction, Jan. 12, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-6

Themes: Transportation, India, Tuk Tuk, Nursery Rhyme, Multicultural

Opening: Tuk tuk wheels go / round and round, / round and round, round and round. / Tuk tuk wheels go / round and round, / all through the town.

Publisher Synopsis: This picture book brings an international twist to the beloved nursery rhyme, The Wheels on the Bus, by bringing you aboard a busy three-wheeled taxi in India! Anything can happen as the tuk tuk rolls through town—from an elephant encounter to a tasty treat to a grand fireworks display. And in the midst of all the action, one thing’s for sure: passengers young and old love every minute of their exciting ride as the wheels of the tuk tuk go round and round!

Why I like this book:

This mother and son writing team have created a clever multicultural spin on the popular children’s song “The Wheels on the Bus.” Children are introduced to Indian culture in this joyful story about the riders traveling around town in a three-wheeled motorized tuk tuk. Readers will get a taste of street life as riders hop on and off the packed tuk tuk, pay their rupees (money) to the wala (driver), greet each other with “Namaste,” stop for a cow that blocks the street, get sprayed with water by a roaming elephant, munch on papadoms (snacks) and “bobble-bobble-bobble all through the town.”

As you read the story out loud, you can’t help but slip into the melody of the song.  The language is lyrical and a delightful way to engage children using different words, “ching, ching, ching,” “squish, squish, squish,” and “om, om, om.” Jess Golden’s lively pastel illustrations are colorful, playful, expressive and encourage exploration. His quirky humor transports children to another country and shows the daily lives of the children and families who live there.  My favorite illustration is of the Yogi sitting cross-legged on top of the bus chanting  “om” as the tuk tuk driver waits for the cow to move.

I won “The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk” in a giveaway on Sue Morris’ blog, Kid Lit Reviews. Stop by Sue’s website!

Resources: Sing the “Wheels on the Bus” and then “The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk.” Talk about the differences in the type of  transportation, food, and dress.  This book lends itself to many discussions as children study the illustrations. Would they like riding in or driving a tuk tuk?  What would they do if a cow stopped the tuk tuk they are riding in?  Have them draw a picture of a tuk tuk.

Kabir Sehgal started his class newspaper in second grade and has written ever since. A bestselling author of several books, he is also a jazz bassist and Grammy-winning producer. One day he hopes to drive a tuk tuk through the streets of India. But for now he rides the subway in New York City.

Surishtha Sehgal was a university professor for many years and now enjoys reading to children during story time. She is the founder of a nonprofit organization that promotes social responsibility among students, and she serves on the boards of two universities and a national arts center. She loves sipping chai with her family in Atlanta.

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.

Cinderstella: A Tale of Planets Not Princes

Cinderstella: A Tale of Planets Not Princes

Brenda S. Miles and Susan D. Sweet, Authors

Valeria Docampo, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Oct. 17, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Gender Roles, Self-Confidence, Stepfamilies, Family Relationships, Dreams

Opening: Once upon a time there lived a  girl named Cinderstella. She had two stepsisters who made her work every day. But every night, Cinderstella climbed to her treehouse to be close to the stars.

Book Jacket Synopsis: Cinderstella has plans for her own happily ever after and a future princess she is not. She’d rather be an astronaut.

In this modern retelling of a beloved fairy tale, children are encouraged to pursue studies in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Cinderstella dares to be different, has a sense of curiosity, and knows what she wants. A universe of opportunities.

Why I like this book:

The authors have created a meaningful and entertaining retelling of the classic fairy tale, but with an inspiring twist. The text flows nicely and rhymes in places.  Cinderstella dreams of becoming an astronaut. While her stepsisters keep her busy sewing gowns for the ball, shining jewelry and styling their hair during the day, at night she studies the stars and planets and creates her own universe of dreams. She convinces her fairy godmother that she doesn’t want a gown and a carriage, but prefers a spacesuit and a rocket so that she can travel into space.

Cinderstella dreams big and steps outside gender specific pursuits. Refreshing. Her interest in science, technology and becoming an astronaut, should be encouraged in young children of either gender who show an interest.

Valeria Docampo’s colorful, lively and dreamy illustrations capture the wonder of what happens when you have a big dream. The authors and illustrator team up to produce a winning book for children.

Resources: There is a Note to Readers that provides suggestions for parents, caregivers, and educators to spark children’s interest in science and to encourage the pursuit of any career despite lingering stereotypes about what boys and girls can and should do.  This should help parents who may not know where to begin. Encourage kids to dream big. Take them outside to gaze at the stars. If you have a trunk of dress-up clothing for kids, add an astronaut costume. Use the book to help children draw their own space ship.

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.

Prince Preemie by Jewel Kats

Prince Preemie: A Tale of a Tiny Puppy Who Arrives Early

Jewel Kats, Author

Claudia Marie Lenart, Illustrator

Loving Healing Press, Fiction, Dec. 1, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes: Animals, Premature babies, Special Needs, Princes, Hope

Opening: The King and Queen were expecting a boy. Prince Puppy would be their first child. He was considered a miracle because he was the only puppy in the Queen’s womb.

Book Synopsis: The King and Queen of Puppy Kingdom are joyfully awaiting the arrival of their Prince. But the couple and their kingdom are thrown into upheaval when it is learned that Prince Puppy will arrive early, before his important crown is completed. How can they call him Prince without a crown? How will they solve their problem when their puppy is in an incubator and hooked up to feeding tubes and wires?

Why I like this book:

A premature birth can be a confusing and scary time for families as they deal with worry and joy at the same time. This inspiring story has an element of a fairy tale. It is a gentle way to help young children understand the early birth of a sibling and why the sibling must be taken care of in a hospital.  It can also be used to help prepare siblings for the day a new baby is ready to come home and join family life.  It is also a wonderful way to explain to a child their premature birth.

Claudia Marie Lenart’s adorable illustrations really make this story sing. I love her soft woolen sculptures as they add a dreamy and soothing quality to the story and add to the book’s appeal. Lenart is a fiber artist who pokes wool and other natural fibers, like alpaca, with a barbed needle to sculpt her soft characters and scenes.  This is the perfect medium for a fairy tale. Lenart will author and illustrate her first book in April: Seasons of Joy: Every Day is for Outdoor Play.

Resources: The book is a resource for parents to use with siblings. It helps parents answer simple questions for young children. And, it is a good book to use with a preemie child to discuss their early birth. Links to organizations that support preemie families: The Graham’s Foundation, Miracle Babies and the March of Dimes.

Jewel Kats has authored a dozen books-eight are about disabilities. Among  her books are Jenny and Her Dog Both Fight Cancer: A Tale of Chemotherapy and Caring and Hansel and Gretel: A Fairy Tale with a Down Syndrome Twist. Preemie Prince was her final gift to readers. Jewel Kats was the pen name of Michelle Meera Katyal, who passed away in 2016 as the result of complications of surgery. She too had a disability. Please visit her at her website to see her collection of books.

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.

Teacup by Rebecca Young

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Rebecca Young, Author

Matt Ottley, Illustrator

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Oct. 4, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Leaving Home, Sea, Immigrant, Hope

Opening: Once there was a boy who had to leave his home…and find another.

Synopsis: A boy has to leave his home and sets off on a journey into the unknown with a backpack, a book, a bottle, a blanket and a teacup filled with the earth from his homeland.  His life at sea changes daily. Some days the sea is gentle and other days it is rough and unforgiving. Some days the light is bright and some nights are so dark he wishes to see the stars. He listens to the call of the whales and watches changing cloud formations.  One day a sprout appears in his teacup. It grows into a tree that gives him shelter, apples to eat and branches to climb so he can search the horizon for land. The boy finally finds land and he makes it home. He is alone, until…

Why I like this book:

Rebecca Young has written an inspiring and timely tale with spare text, allowing readers to use their imaginations. The language is poetic and hints at the mystery and wonder of the boy’s journey. She doesn’t say why the boy has to leave his home, which leaves this book open for age-appropriate discussions about the reasons people leave their homes. The fact that the boy has to leave his home, makes readers wonder if the boy is an immigrant or refugee. Perhaps he is pursuing a dream. There are many possibilities. This story can also be used to discuss topics like moving, separation, divorce, and homelessness. This is book for all ages and the perfect bedtime story.  The conclusion is very satisfying and hopeful. Matt Ottley’s oil paintings are luminous and show the light and darkness, the loneliness and joy of the boy’s journey.

Resources: This is an excellent discussion book for home and school. Why did the boy leave his home? Ask children to identify reasons.  How did the boy feel sailing in the small rowboat  on the endless ocean? How would they feel sailing in a rowboat on the sea? Encourage them to use their imaginations and make up a short story or draw a picture about their ideas.

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.