I Want to Be in a Scary Story by Sean Taylor

I Want to Be in a Scary Story

Sean Taylor, Author

Jean Jullien, Illustrator

Candlewick, Fiction, Jul. 11, 20017

Suitable for ages: 2-5

Themes: Monster, Scary story, Courage, Halloween

Opening: Hello, Little Monster. What do you want to do today? 

Publisher Synopsis: Our author would like to write a funny story, but his main character — Monster — has a different idea. He wants to be the star of a chilling, petrifying, utterly terrifying SCARY story. But scary stories . . . well, they can be very scary — especially for their characters! Particularly when they involve dark forests and creepy witches and spooky houses . . . Oh yikes and crikes, this is definitely not the scary story Monster had in mind! Maybe he wants to be in a funny story after all!

Why I like this book:

Sean Taylor has written a playful and clever story about the antics of a Monster who wants to star in a scary story, as long as he is the one doing the scaring. Taylor assumes the role of the narrator and commentator for Monster. The story is character driven and focuses entirely upon Monster. The text flows nicely as the narrator tries to help the Monster set the scene and select the characters. There is only one problem, the Monster doesn’t like dark forests, haunted houses, ghosts and witches.

This is a great example where Jean Jullien’s colorful, bold and creepy illustrations deliver a funny response, much to the delight of readers. The words and illustrations depend upon each other. Readers will focus on the hilarious facial expressions.  I Want to Be in a Scary Story is adorable and has a great ending. It is a perfect Halloween book for children.

Resources: Read the book again and have them help make up other stories for Monster. Give them paper and markers and let them make their own scary story. This is also a time to talk about what scares your child and what makes them feel safe.

Sean Taylor is an author, storyteller, and teacher who has written more than forty books for young children, including Don’t Call Me Choochie Pooh!, A Brave Bear and Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise.

*I won I Want to Be in a Scary Story on Mia Wenjen’s website, Pragmatic Mom. Visit her wonderful diverse children’s literature site.

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 her website.

Mari’s Hope by Sandy Brehl

Mari’s Hope (Book 3 in the Odin’s Promise Trilogy)

Sandy Brehl, Author

Crispin Book, Historical Fiction, Sep. 5, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Norwegians, WW II, Underground resistance, German occupation, Dogs, Bravery, Courage

Synopsis: Mari’s Hope is set in a small village in occupied western Norway during the final years of World War II.  Thirteen-year-old Mari has been assisting Dr. Olson for over a year, studying by day, and making home visits to treat villagers in the afternoons and evenings. She wears her hair in a long girlish braid so that the German soldiers ignore her activities. She also plays a role in her family’s efforts in the local resistance, despite ever-present dangers, especially from the a soldier named Goatman and from Leif, her one-time school friend, now a German collaborator.

Mari’s Hope delivers the dramatic conclusion to the middle-grade historical fiction trilogy begun with Odin’s Promise, awarded the 2014 Midwest Book Award for Children’s Fiction, and Bjorn’s Gift, published in 2016.

Why I like this book:

Sandy Brehl writes a powerful and authentic story about the harsh realities of Mari’s life in her village of Ytre Arna, under the watchful eyes of Germans. Brehl’s writing is a richly detailed and visual story of danger, bravery courage and hope. A lot of research went into this series.

The setting is realistic and readers will feel the bone-chilling cold as Mari trudges through snow and dark Norwegian nights to care for patients in their homes, dodges patrolling soldiers, maintains her strength on a daily diet of clear broth soup with a few bits of carrots or turnips, and makes some harrowing and risky trips for the resistance.

Great characters make a good story and Brehl has succeeded with Mari, a mature, intelligent, independent and caring character from the start. Her credibility grows as she proves her trustworthiness and takes on many dangerous missions. Leif, a childhood friend who joined the Germans, is a nice balance in the story. Leif watches out for Mari, but she doesn’t trust him. But who can you trust during war?

Brehl focuses on the strong sense of community that emerges among the Norwegian villagers as they stand strong against the invading Nazi troops, who have come as “Viking Brothers” claiming to protect their neutral Norway from the Allies. The plot is tense and dangerous as Mari’s parents, brothers and sister along with neighbors launch a very strong underground resistance to thwart the German plans — with some humor at times. They also help local Jewish members escape. There is also an overriding theme of love of family, love of community and love of country in this story.

New readers to this series will enjoy Mari’s Hope based on its merits. It is not necessary to read the first two books to understand the story. I know I will be catching up with the first two volumes of this exciting  trilogy. Below is a synopsis of the first two books.

Resources: Check out the Author’s Note at the end to learn how she beautifully weaves together fiction with historical and real-life events. There is also a glossary at the end the helps readers with Norwegian expressions. Visit Sandy Brehl on her website for more information about her trilogy.

Odin’s Promise is a story of the first year of German occupation of Norway in World War II as seen through the eyes of a young girl. Eleven-year-old Mari grew up tucked under the wings of her parents, grandma, and older siblings. After Hitler’s troops invades Norway in Spring 1940, she is forced to grow beyond her “little girl” nickname to deal with harsh new realities. At her side for support and protection is Odin, her faithful elkhound. As the year progresses, Mari, her family, and her neighbors are drawn into the activities of the Norwegian underground resistance.

Bjorn’s Gift is the second book in the trilogy and continues the exciting adventures of Mari, who faces growing hardships and dangers in her small village in a western fjord. German occupation troops and local Nazi supporters move closer to her family’s daily life, and her classmate Leif becomes active in the Norwegian Nazi youth party. Mari struggles to live up to her brother Bjorn’s faith in her, as she becomes more involved in risky resistance activities, trusting only her family and a few close friends. Across Norway, oppressive laws are imposed in the months from late 1941 to early 1943, with dire local consequences. Still, difficult decisions force Mari to admit that many things in life are not easily sorted into good or bad, and she begins to wonder if Hitler will ever be defeated and whether the occupation of Norway will ever end.

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

Jacqueline and the Beanstalk: A Tale of Facing Giant Fears

Jacqueline and the Beanstalk: A Tale of Facing Giant Fears

Susan D. Sweet and Brenda S. Miles, Authors

Valeria Docampo, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Sep. 12, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Facing fears and anxieties, Fractured Fairy Tale, Princess, Beanstalk

Opening: Once upon a time there lived a princess named Jacqueline. The royal knights protected her — from EVERYTHING! “Shields up! There mighteth be danger!”

 Synopsis: A princess named Jacqueline is surrounded by overprotective knights. They want to protect her from danger, but they’re not even sure if there is any danger! When Jacqueline climbs up a beanstalk, she meets a giant who is just as afraid of the knights! Soon Jacqueline shows them all that there is nothing to fear at the other end of the beanstalk.

What I like about this book:

The authors’ modern retelling of this humorous and enchanting classic fairy tale helps children face their fears, through a curious, adventurous, and fearless Princess Jacqueline.

The use of repetition by the knights is very effective. “Shields up! There mighteth be danger!” But the princess repeatedly responds, “But there might not be, and I can’t see…twirl…reach…”  This spunky princess feels smothered by helicopter knights who protect her. And this princess doesn’t like it one bit!

Puzzled by her knights fear, she slips away and climbs a beanstalk only meet a BIG giant who shouts “AHHHHH! Human! Different! Danger!” What’s a princess to do? You got it — coax the giant to climb down the beanstalk with her.  But how will her kingdom react? This princess has some serious challenges on her hands. I won’t spoil the ending.

Docampo’s illustrations are colorful, bold and gorgeous! She shows cowardly knights and a giant shuttering in fear. So much expression and emotion are poured into her inspiring illustrations. They are a feast for children’s  eyes.

Resources: There is a Note Parents and Caregivers at the end with worry-busting strategies and calming tools.  Many children struggle with worries and anxiety, so they will enjoy seeing the tables turned in this tantalizing fairy tale with the knights, giant and kingdom fearful. But the message won’t be lost and Jacqueline will be their hero!

*The publisher provided me with an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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.

Overboard: Survivor Diaries by Terry Lynn Johnson

Overboard: Survivor Diaries

Terry Lynn Johnson, Author

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, Jul. 4, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Themes: Whale-Watching, Boat Capsizing, Cold-Water Survival, Survival Skills

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Travis and his family are on a whale-watching tour off the coast of Washington when disaster strikes. The boat capsizes, throwing everyone into the ice-cold, chaotic waves. Separated from their families and struggling to stay afloat, Travis and twelve-year-old Marina must navigate the freezing ocean water. It will take all of their grit and knowledge to survive.

Why I like this book:

Terry Lynn Johnson has penned a fast-paced adventure series for children about survival in extreme elements. Overboard is the first book in the series, with Avalanche!, Lost! and Dust Storm! to follow.   Pen and ink drawings add to the drama at sea.

The plot is realistic, engaging and the tension palpable. Overboard focuses on Travis and Marina using skills they know after their site-seeing boat capsizes in icy waters and on shore until help arrives.  What do you do first? How much time do you have before hypothermia sets in? How do you stay calm? What skills do you need most?

I predict this series will have huge kid-appeal because the element of danger and the universal need to know what to do if you are unexpectedly caught in a situation where your life depends upon what you know.

This is an inspiring and important survival series for kids and families to read together. It is also an excellent classroom book that belongs in every school library.

Resources: At the end of the book are U.S. Coast Guard-approved cold-water survival tips.  Once you’ve read the book, Johnson has set up a survival game on her website. Make sure you play the game!

Terry Lynn Johnson, author of Ice Dogs, is a real-life survival expert. She is also the author of the Survivor Diaries Avalanche!, Lost! and Dust Storm! She has lived in northern Ontario, Canada, for more than forty years. She’s a conservation officer with seventeen years experience working in remote areas and cold-water environments, and has trained with the Canadian Coast Guard. Follow Terry on her website.

*The publisher provided me with an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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

A Different Pond by Bao Phi

A Different Pond

Bao Phi, Author & Poet

Thi Bui, Illustrator

Capstone Young Readers, Fiction, Aug. 1, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-8

Themes: Father and son, Fishing, Immigrants, Refugees, Vietnam

Opening: Dad wakes me quietly so Mom can keep sleeping.  It will be hours before the sun comes up. In the kitchen the bare bulb is burning. Dad has been up for a while, making sandwiches and packing the car. “Can I help?” I ask “Sure,” my dad whispers and hands me the tackle box.

Publisher Synopsis: Acclaimed poet Bao Phi delivers a powerful, honest glimpse into a relationship between father and son―and between cultures, old and new. A Different Pond is an unforgettable story about a simple event―a long-ago fishing trip. As a young boy, Bao Phi awoke early, hours before his father’s long workday began, to fish on the shores of a small pond in Minneapolis. Unlike many other anglers, Bao and his father fished for food, not recreation. A successful catch meant a fed family. Between hope-filled casts, Bao’s father told him about a different pond in their homeland of Vietnam.

The New York Times has said that Bao Phi’s poetry “rhymes with the truth.” Together with graphic novelist Thi Bui’s striking, evocative art, Phi’s expertly crafted prose reflects an immigrant family making its way in a new home while honoring its bonds to the past.

Why I like this book:

Phi first wrote the book as a poem. I enjoyed the spare and poetic language throughout this inspiring autobiographical story about his first-generation family who immigrated from Vietnam to a new life in Minnesota. Graphic novelist Thi Bui’s stunning and expressive illustrations capture the mood of this remarkable story.

Phi’s story is a beautiful and memorable story about the powerful bond between a father and son as they rise early in the morning to go fishing to feed his family. The story is multi-layered as the father works two jobs to support his family, adjusts to a new and unfamiliar culture and cherishes the time spends with his son. While they fish, the father is transported back to his memories of fishing with his brother in a different pond in Vietnam.  He talks about the war and how he and his brother fought together.

Resources: Talk with your children about your own family immigration stories. We are a nation of immigrants and we all have stories. Share family photographs. This is another poignant immigration story for teachers to use in their diverse classrooms.

*The publisher provided me with an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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 site.

Severn and the Day She Silenced the World by Janet Wilson

United Nations: International Day of the Girl Child, October 11

Severn and the Day She Silenced the World

Janet Wilson, Author

Second Story Press, Nonfiction, Mar. 14, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 9-13

Themes: Severn Cullis-Suzuki, Child Environmental Activist, UN Earth Summit in Rio, Speech

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Severn Cullis-Suzuki was one of a handful of children given the chance to speak at the closing of the very first Earth Summit in Rio d Janeiro, Brazil, in June of 1992.  It was a day that the media, world leaders and the world took notice. U.S. Vice President Al Gore was famously quoted as saying: “That was the best speech I heard all week!”

Politicians and environmentalists had gathered at the Summit to find solutions to problems such as air pollution and the shrinking rainforests. But for all their talk, they could find little to agree on. It took Severn’s clear, bright voice — challenging the adults of the world to take action — to bring home what was at stake.

As the daughter of environmentalists David Suzuki and Tara Cullis, Severn Suzuki loved that natural world. At age nine, she traveled with her parents to the Amazon and saw the terrible consequences of rainforest destruction on the land and for the indigenous tribes. Back home in Vancouver, she and her  friends were inspired to start the Environmental Children’s Organization (ECO). They raised money to buy water filters to clean the polluted drinking water for children in the rainforest. When they learned about the Earth Summit in Rio, they began a serious fund-raising campaign. They faced obstacles, but they also had a lot of community support. ECO wanted world leaders to hear from children about their concerns for their future — an auspicious goal for three of the ECO members attending.

Why I like this book:

Janet Wilson’s writes empowering and timely books about young people who see injustices around them and take action. Wilson focuses on ordinary children who are making major contributions in their communities and in their world. Severn and her four friends show kids that they don’t have to be adults to make a difference.

Although Severn’s story is nonfiction, it reads like a story. There are photos, the ECO newsletters, newspaper articles, Severn’s diary entries and the recorded seven-minute speech before the Earth Summit. Wilson worked closely with Severn to recreate her time in history.

Severn and her friends are passionate about their work with ECO. They learn how to work as a team  which contributes to ECO’s success. They set goals, choose their projects, develop plans, target key audiences with their message, and raise funds. These girls are committed to telling adults a truth they need to hear — a truth that flows directly from their hearts.

Most important, their work fuels their future environmental interests in high school and shapes their future career paths as activists in many different ways. Severn received the UN Environment Program’s Global 500 Award in Beijing and continued her role as an environmental activist speaking around the world. At Yale University she received her degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and from the University of Victoria in British Columbia she studied Ethnoecology. Her sister, Sarika, became a marine biologist. The other members of ECO also followed similar service paths.

Severn’s riveting seven-minute speech touched the hearts of the world leaders. Her message in 1992 is even more relevant today and continues to receive thousands of hits on YouTube 25 years later.

Resources: This is an excellent classroom book as it humanizes child activism. Make sure you read the Epilogue, Severn Says, Where Are They Now?, Useful Links, and a Glossary at the end of the book. “Today, youth all over the world continue to stand up and speak out for environmental, social, and intergenerational justice. They still want adults to listen and to change their way,” says Janet Wilson. Check out the United Nation’s International Day of the Girl Child website for resources, activities and events.

Janet Wilson is an author and illustrator of many children’s books. Severn and the Day She Silenced the World is part of Wilson’s “Kid’s Power” series. Her first book Shannen and the Dream for a School, won the First Nation Communities Read and was nominated for the Silver Birch Award. Wilson has also written a series picture book series about child activism: Our Earth: How Kids are Saving the Planet; Our Rights: How Kids are Changing the World; and Our Heroes: How Kids are Making a Difference.

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

A Good Trade by Alma Fullerton

A Good Trade

Alma Fullerton, Author

Karen Patkau, Illustrator

Pajama Press, Fiction, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Ugandan children, Poverty, Traveling for water, War

Opening: “In a small Ugandan garden, a single poppy blooms white in a sea of green. On a mat inside his hut, Kato wakes at the break of dawn.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Kato wakes early to begin his morning routine, a long barefoot trek beyond village gates through grasses, down a steep hill, and along fields dotted with cattle and guarded by soldiers. His destination is the village well, where he will pump a day’s supply of water into two jerry cans. Like very day, Kato lets the water splash over his hot tired feet before carrying his heavy load back home, where the day’s chores await him. But this is no ordinary day. The aid-worker’s truck has come, and in the back is something so special the little boy rushes home to look for something to repay the aid-worker for this unexpected gift for his village.

Why I like this book:

Alma Fullerton’s text is rich, spare and beautifully crafted. Her narrative is strong and lyrical as she shares Kato’s daily trip to get drinking water for his family. He is barefoot like the other children in his village. The water he collects is essential for cooking, drinking and bathing.

When Kato spies the aid worker’s truck that brings shoes to the village children, he hurries home with his water cans. He finds a white poppy and returns to give it to the aid worker as his expression of gratitude for her generous gift.

This important book shows children how difficult life can be for kids living in war-torn areas and in drought. For many children school isn’t an option because  their days are filled with chores. Fullerton’s story raises cultural awareness for the global plight of children like Kato. Young readers will appreciate the things they take for granted, like running tap water, shoes and transportation.  It addresses tough issues in a hopeful and age-appropriate manner and is an excellent read-aloud for the classroom.

Karen Patkau’s digitally rendered illustrations are colorful and lush. They work beautifully with the text and illuminate the message in the story.

Resources: This is an important story that will generate lively classroom discussions  about how difficult life can be for children around the world.  Ask children about how they would feel if they didn’t have a pair of shoes? Would they be able to walk barefoot every day to collect water from a well? How would they bath or wash clothing?  What will they eat? This is a great exercise in empathy.

Alma Fullerton is the award-winning author of the picture books A Good Trade, Community Soup and In a Cloud of Dust, When the Rain Comes. Check out my review of her most recent picture book, Hand Over Hand.  Visit Fullerton 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.