Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground by T.R. Simon

Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground

T.R. Simon, Author

Candlewick Press , Fiction, Sep. 11, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: Zora Neale Hurston, Jim Crow south, Slavery, African-Americans, Community, Friendship

Synopsis:

A powerful fictionalized account of Zora Neale Hurston’s childhood adventures explores the idea of collective memory and the lingering effects of slavery and the Jim Crow south.

“History ain’t in a book, especially when it comes to folks like us. History is in the lives we lived and the stories we tell each other about those lives.”

When Zora Neale Hurston and her best friend, Carrie Brown, discover that the town mute can speak after all, they think they’ve uncovered a big secret. But Mr. Polk’s silence is just one piece of a larger puzzle that stretches back half a century to the tragic story of an enslaved girl named Lucia. As Zora’s curiosity leads a reluctant Carrie deeper into the mystery, the story unfolds through alternating narratives. Lucia’s struggle for freedom resonates through the years, threatening the future of America’s first incorporated black township — the hometown of author Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960). In a riveting coming-of-age tale, award-winning author T. R. Simon champions the strength of people to stand up for justice.

Why I like this book:

T.R. Simon skillfully captures the spirit of famous writer Zora Neale Hurston in this gripping and haunting story of her fictionalized childhood. In alternating chapters, he addresses the harsh realities of race in Jim Crow’s south in 1903, and slavery in 1855. Both Zora and Lucia’s stories are masterfully woven together until they culminate into one profound story. The narrative is rich and poetic and the dialogue is suspenseful and humorous. The plot is gripping and dangerous. The book cover is stunning!

The story is set in Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated all black township in the United States. The historical facts about the town, with the only black mayor, is fascinating. It is out in the middle of nowhere. The black community lives peacefully together for many years enjoying their freedom, until trouble comes calling from some white men in a nearby town.

There are many multi-layered characters that are memorable. In the main story, Zora is bold, curious and an adventurous spirit. Her best friend Carrie knows that what ever problem or mystery they are chasing always “courts trouble.”  Old Lady Bronson, who wears soldier boots, lives in solitude, and is the town healer, seer, wise woman and “witch.” Mr. Polk is mute, but has a gentle spirit and a gift for working with horses. The 1855 story characters are very compelling. Prisca, the daughter of a plantation owner, who seems naïve to slavery at first. Prisca’s best friend is Lucia, who she treats as her sister, even though she is a slave. Lucia shares many of the same luxuries as Prisca and can read and write. The truth about Lucia is revealed when Prisca’s father suddenly dies, and she is torn away from Prisca to be sold. Lucia is angry and struggles to not lose herself in her hatred. Horatio is a kind stable boy who plays a significant role in the story.

Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground is stunning, heart wrenching and inspiring. Simon’s deliberate pacing and tension will keep readers fully engaged. There are many surprises for readers. It is an exceptional story, one I plan to read again.

Resources: Make sure you check out the biography of the remarkable Zora Neale Hurston and a timeline that chronicles her life, which are at the end of the story.

Greg Pattridge is the host for 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.

*Review copy provided by publisher.

My Grandfather’s War by Glyn Harper

My Grandfather’s War

Glyn Harper, Author

Jenny Cooper, Illustrator

EK Books, Fiction, Jun. 12, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Intergenerational relationships, Grandfathers, Vietnam War, Memories, PTSD

Opening: “This is my Grandfather. He came to live with us just after I was born. I call him ‘Grandpa’ but his real name is Robert.”

Synopsis:

Sarah loves spending time with her grandfather, but she knows that there are times when he is sad and keeps to himself. She senses his pain. Curious to find out the cause of her grandfather’s unhappiness, the child innocently asks him questions and unknowingly opens old wounds. Her grandfather is very open with Sarah and tells her about going to war in Vietnam. He tells her that his leg was hurt and that’s why he walks with a limp. But he also shares with her that some of his friends were hurt even more and some even died in Vietnam. He talks about the heat, the jungle and the chemicals that made many sick. He explains that the Vietnamese people didn’t want the soldiers there. When they came home from war no one thanked them for their service. Sarah discovers her grandfather’s sadness is a legacy of the Vietnam War and his experiences there.

Why I like this story:

Glyn Harper, a Professor of War studies, has written My Grandfather’s War to mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War’s longest battle, Khe Sanh.  It is a compelling story that sensitively tackles difficult topics about painful memories, PTSD, the legacy of war and the treatment of returning Vietnamese Veterans. It is a story brimming with heart. Harper’s goal is to get children “hooked on history.”

     Courtesy of the publisher.

Jenny Cooper’s illustrations are realistic and expressive. Yet her warm and soft palette of colors is soothing for children.  As Sarah’s grandfather talks about his time in Vietnam, Cooper shows Grandfather’s war memories of the jungle, battle, the reaction of the Vietnamese people to the soldiers presence, and the protests by Americans on opposite pages. The illustrations aren’t frightening and will encourage kids to ask questions about this “unpopular” war.

     Courtesy of the publisher.

There are no books for children about the Vietnam war, as Sarah discovers when she looks in her school library. This is the first book that I’ve seen that delicately explains the war in an age-appropriate manner for children. I am very excited to share this book because my brother, my cousin and many friends spent time in Vietnam, while I was in college dodging protests and the National Guard presence on campus. It was a confusing time for everyone. That’s why this book is an important addition to any school library.

Resources: There is a history of the Vietnam War at the end of the book. This is an opportunity to teach children about the complexities of war, and how it impacts and shapes people’s lives. You see it in the expressions of the grandfather and the people of Vietnam. There is also a Teachers Guide that can be downloaded from EK 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 website.

*Copy provided by the publisher.

International Dot Day – Sep. 10 -15, 2018 – #MakeYourMark #DotDay

HAPPY INTERNATIONAL DOT DAY — Sep. 10 -15, 2018


 

This week is the 15th anniversary of Peter H. Reynold’s international bestselling book, The Dot, about a girl named Vashti, who doesn’t think she can draw. Her teacher believed in Vashti and asked her to make a dot. She stabbed her dot on a piece of paper and handed it to her teacher. Her teacher asked her to sign it. A few days later, Vashti saw her “dot” framed and hanging at the front of the class.
Fifteen years later, Vashti’s act of courage continues to inspire children worldwide.

It is also the 10th annual celebration of International Dot Day, started by teacher T. J. Shay. Nearly 13 million students from 177 countries will be participating. Each year is bigger and better. It will be a fun  week for children worldwide to read The Dot in 12 different languages and braille, sing the Dot Song, use their imaginations to make their unique and creative dots, and share their masterpieces. Many classrooms have signed up to SKYPE and connect with each other in the U.S. and around the world. Make sure you visit Dot Central.

Authors have created Celebri-Dots. KidLit bloggers are making their marks today and all week. Please remember to post your dots on your websites, Facebook and Twitter using @DotClubConnect, #dotday and #makeyourmark. Check out Beth Stilborn’s website to read her Dot Day post and view her creative dot.

Follow International Dot Day on:
Facebook: Share on the Dot Day Facebook page (facebook.com/InternationalDotDay)
Twitter: Connect on Twitter using (twitter.com/DotClubConnect)
Use the hashtags: #DotDay and #Makeyourmark

My 2018 Dot

Happy International Dot Day from Children’s Books Heal!

One Good Thing About America by Ruth Freeman

One Good Thing About America

Ruth Freeman, Author

Holiday House Books, Fiction,  Mar. 21, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 160

Themes: Refugee, Immigration, Africa, Differences, Fitting in, New customs, Language, Foods, Friendships

Synopsis: Back home in Africa, Anais was the best English student in her class. Here in Crazy America she is placed in fourth grade and feels like she doesn’t know English at all.  Nothing makes sense. For example, how can you eat chicken fingers? Anais misses her family: Papa and grandmother Oma and big brother Olivier. Here in Crazy America she has only little Jean-Claude and Mama. So Anais writes lots of letters to Oma — in English because Oma insists. Oma has a friend who translate the letters and writes letters back to Anais.

Anais tells Oma how she misses her and that she hopes the fighting is over soon in the Congo. She worries about her father who is being tracked by government soldiers or rebels as he makes his way to a refugee camp in Kenya, and Olivier who is injured in a skirmish.

She tells Oma about Halloween, snow, mac ‘n’ cheese dinners and princess sleepovers. She tells her about the weird things Crazy Americans do, and how she just might be turning into a Crazy American herself. Over the school year, Anais begins to make friends, feel like she’s part of a community, and finds many good things about America.

Why I like this book:

It is always hard to be the new student in a new school, especially when you come from another country and struggle with the language, look different, eat strange foods, celebrate different holidays and leave  loved ones left behind. Ruth Freeman’s compelling and hopeful book explores differences and common grounds among cultures. She humorously captures Anais’ angst through first person narrative. The story is told in a series of letters that Anais writes to her grandmother, Oma.

After much whining about Crazy America, Anais promises Oma she will try to find one good thing she likes about America daily, whether it is sledding, tasting hot chocolate, backpacks, helpful school teachers, a close group of immigrant friends, and Christmas trees decorated with pictures. This is a good classroom or home practice for youth everywhere. Find something you like in your life daily and be grateful.

As Anais becomes more comfortable in her surroundings, readers will see her growth as she takes the lead and helps newly arriving immigrant children from Iraq, Libya and Somalia adjust to America. This is a timely story for readers as it reminds us that America is a nation of immigrants, where we must learn about each other and celebrate our differences.

Ruth Freeman grew up in rural Pennsylvania but now lives in Maine where she teaches students who are English language learners, including many newly arrived immigrants. She is the author of several nonfiction picture books and this is her first novel.

Greg Pattridge is the host for 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.

Copy: Library book.

No Peacocks! – Bird Talk with Harry – Book Giveaway

Book Review and Interview with Harry the Peacock 

Book Giveaway 

No Peacocks!

Robin Newman, Author

Chris Ewald, Illustrator

Sky Pony Press, Fiction, Sep. 4, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Peacocks, Behavior, Humor, Friendship, Teamwork

Synopsis:

Every day, Phil, Jim, and Harry are fed sunflower seeds by the staff who care
 for them at The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. But one day, they decide they’re sick of seeds. They make a break for the New York City streets in search of pizza or Chinese takeout. But everywhere they go, they’re told “No peacocks!”

So, they try to get an ooey, gooey, delicious meal closer to home. But 
how are they going to sneak into The Cathedral School’s dining hall and get their wings on the school’s world-famous mac ’n cheese? A little plotting, some stolen disguises, and help from the students, and the mission is a go!

Will the peacocks get their mac ’n cheese? Or will their cover be blown, forcing them to fly the coop? This fictional feathered tale was inspired by the real-life beloved celebrity birds living on the Cathedral grounds.

Why I like this book:

Three conniving peacocks with character and so much more. Robin Newman once again entertains readers with her masterful puns — this time bird puns — which will elicit some joyful giggles from children and encourage them to find more puns. The text is funny and the vocabulary rich.

Readers will cheer for these three proud and cocky friends as they plot to steal some of the school’s mac ‘n cheese. Phil, Jim and Harry are quirky, mischievous, and even devious in their pursuit of the cafeteria’s famous specialty. It is a perfect read-aloud at home or in the classroom!

Chris Ewald’s colorful and lively illustrations contribute to the fun-loving antics, hilarity and silliness of this dynamic threesome – Jim Phil and Harry.

I’ve got the inside scoop from none other than, Harry, one of the three resident peacocks.

The Scoop from the Coop: Bird Talk with Harry, the Peacock

This is the real Harry!  Photo courtesy of Robin Newman.

PT: It’s a pleasure to have Harry, the peacock, visiting the blog today. Harry is one of three resident peacocks living on the grounds of The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Harry, thanks for stopping by the blog. First, I have to tell you I’m a HUGE fan of peacocks.

Harry: Thank you! That’s very nice to hear. Peacocks have received a lot of bad press lately.

PT: Did you hear about the woman who was barred from bringing her emotional support peacock on an airplane?

Harry: Oh yes! Poor Dexter! Terrible! I bet if the woman had tried to bring her dog or cat on the plane instead of Dexter, it would have been a very different story. The P.C.L.U., Peacock Civil Liberties Union, has filed a suit against the airline. Phil, Jim, and I have also written letters to our peacock representatives in Washington, D.C.

PT: I have to say, when I think of city “pets,” I normally don’t think of peacocks. Is it rare to have peacocks as pets in Manhattan?

Harry: I’ve never met any other peacocks on the Upper West Side. So, I guess the answer to your question is yes.

PT: Do you get along with the neighborhood dogs?

Harry: That’s a “No” with a capital N! Dogs are the worst! They’re constantly chasing after us. I heard from the hawks, Norman and Madeleine, that a peacock who had lived at The Cathedral before Phil, Jim, and I arrived got into a terrible disagreement with a dog and sadly, it did not end well for the peacock.

PT: I’m so sorry to hear that. Now, the three of you are very much New York celebrities. You’ve been written up in a number of publications, including The New York Times, NY Daily News, Newsday, and Time Out NY. Is it hard being in the limelight all of the time?

Harry: Not at all. The tourists are wonderfully friendly (unlike the dogs) and they’ll often drop snacks on the ground.

PT: Everyone is raving about your new book, No Peacocks! by Robin Newman and illustrated by Chris Ewald. Can you tell me a little bit about it?

Harry: Phil, Jim, and I love to eat! Peacocks are omnivores by nature and will eat just about anything. The book is about our quest to get our wings on The Cathedral School’s famous mac ‘n cheese. The book is about friendship, teamwork, and for fun, has a mild sprinkling of fowl behavior.

PT: I have to tell you that when I took my five-year old daughter to Disney World, she had a blast dancing with a white peacock.

Harry: Peacocks do like to shake their tail feathers on the dance floor, especially Phil.

PT: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Harry. It’s rare that I get to interview such a New York City celebrity.  No Peacocks! is available in bookstores EVERYWHERE. You can also catch Robin Newman at The Warwick Children’s Book Festival on Saturday, October 6th, from 11 am – 4 pm. Her books will also be available at the Metro NY SCBWI table at the Brooklyn Book Festival for children’s day on Saturday, September 15th, 10 am – 4 pm.

No Peacocks! flew onto bookshelves September 4th. Give No Peacocks! a little book love by sharing it on Facebook and Twitter. It will help Robin Newman spread the word.

Book Giveaway: All you have to do is leave a comment below by midnight September 17 and indicate you’d like to win a copy of No Peacocks!, and be a resident of the U.S. Sharing this post on Twitter and FB will also boost your chances of winning. I will announce the winner on September 19.

Website: http://www.robinnewmanbooks.com
Twitter: @robinnewmanbook
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/RobinNewmanBooks/339179099505049

Robin Newman was a practicing attorney and legal editor, but she now prefers to write about witches, mice, pigs, and peacocks. She is the author of the Wilcox & Griswold Mystery series, The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake and The Case of the Poached Egg, and Hilde Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep. She lives in New York with her husband, son, goldfish, and two spoiled Cocker Spaniels, who are extremely fond of Phil, Jim, and Harry.

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.

*Book provided by the author.

Seed Savers – Treasure by Sandra Smith

Seed Savers – Treasure (Book 1)

Sandra Smith, Author

Flying Books House, Fiction, Jun 11, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Themes: Futuristic, Saving seeds, Growing gardens, Processed foods, Adventures, Friendship

Opening: “Clare walked faster, clutching the tiny packet to her chest. The sound of the footsteps behind kept pace. She darted down an alley she knew well – turning right, then left, then right again. Standing still her back against the wall, she listened. The footsteps had not followed her; she had lost them.” 

Synopsis: It is 2077.  Twelve-year-old Clare, her seven-year-old brother, Dante and best friend Lily live in a future where all food is processed and comes from stores or delivery trucks. It is round or square and is called Proteins, Sweeties, Vitees, Carbos and Snacks. Blueberry is just a flavor. Growing your own food is against the law.  And the Green Resourcing Investigation Machine (GRIM) is the government agency that bought out farmers and streamlined food production in the U.S. It also acts as a watchdog to stop people who work against them, like Ana.

Clare first hears about seeds at church, from Ana, an elderly woman who tells her about seeds and the old way of growing  food in gardens.  After a few secret meetings, Clare discovers that Ana is a seed saver, who wants to pass on her knowledge to young people. Ana gives Clare a packet of seeds to hide and keep safe. Clare shares her secret with Dante and Lily, and they are curious and excited to learn more about gardening. Soon Ana is tutoring the threesome after school about how seeds grow into plants that produce fruits and vegetables. They learn about the planting, growing and harvesting seasons.  Ana mysteriously disappears and GRIM discovers their forbidden tomato plant and arrest their mother. Clare and Dante flee.

Clare has heard of a place called “The Garden State,” (New Jersey) and with their bikes, a little money, and backpacks, the children begin a lonely cross-country journey that tests them both physically and spiritually. Will they succeed in their quest to find a place of food freedom? They discover an underground network of seed savers who hide and guide them along their journey. But can children make a difference, especially when GRIM is in hot pursuit?

Why I like this book:

Treasure is the first of five books in this dystopian series. It is a thought-provoking book that is  relevant for young people today. It challenges them to think about big issues — like consumers losing their ability to choose the kind of food they want to eat. It isn’t a scary book, but it carries a warning about what might happen if consumers aren’t vigilant. And our youth are the future consumers.

The plot is engaging in this fast-paced adventure. The setting is vividly drawn. The characters are realistic. Clare, Dante and Lily are curious and passionate characters who decide they want to help a cause that is important to them. They have a voice and they want to make a difference in their world, much like many students their age are doing today. It is a great way for teachers and parents to jump-start discussions about what matters to teens today.

Missing is the second book in the seed savers series and is told from Lily’s viewpoint, after Clare and Dante flee.  It is followed by Heirloom, Keeper and Unbroken.

Greg Pattridge is the host for 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.

Book: Purchased

Line and Dot by Veronique Cauchy

Line and Dot

Véronique Cauchy, Author

Laurent Simon, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Mar. 12, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Creativity, Imagination, Diversity, Cooperation, Respect

Opening: One day, Line met Dot…and they decided to play together!

Synopsis:

The story begins with a white Line and a black Dot. They begin to make bold and brand new things. It is so much fun that Line and Dot decide to invite their friends — big and small, young and old — the more the merrier. They bring with them more ideas. With so many new friends they realize that together they sky is the limit and they are empowered to create so much more. Soon they have built a large city.  But something is missing. Line and Dot have another big idea. They invite their friends who live in distant lands. They arrive from all of the corners of the world to their city. The lines and dots are a festival of color — blue, yellow and pink, black and white — and they create something very wonderful.

Why I like this book:

Line and Dot is a joyful and engaging book for young children and one that belongs in classrooms. It encourages creativity and imagination. It cleverly shows the importance of accepting differences, learning something new from others, and living peacefully while maintaining individuality, differences and diversity. With simple text and whimsical illustrations, this story demonstrates the importance of mutual respect and cooperation.

Resources: This is a great classroom resource with endless possibilities for use. Teachers can simply focus on creativity and imagination by encouraging children to draw a picture using line and dots. Put kids on teams and encourage them to work together to come up with an idea and paint or draw it with lines and dots. There are no right or wrong answers, just the fun of creating something together.

Véronique Cauchy was born in Normandy in 1969. She had a penchant for writing at a very early age…but instead she studied business, going from Paris to Berlin via Reims and Sacramento! An expert in international trade, she directed a human resources company in her native Normandy, but her life changed when she had children. She discovered children’s literature and threw herself into the crazy adventure of writing for  young readers.

*Copy provided by the publisher.

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.

Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees

Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees

Mary Beth Leatherdale, Author

Eleanor Shakespeare, Illustrator

Annick Press, Nonfiction, Apr. 11, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 10-12

Pages: 64

Themes: Boat refugees, Children refugees, Seeking asylum, Persecution, War, Natural Disasters, Courage

Publisher Synopsis:

The plight of refugees risking their lives at sea has, unfortunately, made the headlines all too often in the past few years. This book presents five true stories, from 1939 to today, about young people who lived through the harrowing experience of setting sail in search of asylum: Ruth (18) and her family board the St. Louis to escape Nazism; Phu (14) sets out alone from war-torn Vietnam; José (13) tries to reach the United States from Cuba; Najeeba (11) flees Afghanistan and the Taliban; and after losing his family, Mohamed (13) abandons his village on the Ivory Coast in search of a new life. But life is not easy once they arrive. It’s hard to fit in when you don’t speak the language. These child refugees face prejudice. Yet the five make it and lead successful lives.https://gpattridge.com

Stormy Seas combines a vivid and contemporary collage-based design with dramatic storytelling to produce a book that makes for riveting reading as well as a source of timely information. These remarkable accounts will give readers a keen appreciation of the devastating effects of war and poverty on youth like themselves, and helps put the mounting current refugee crisis into stark context.

What I like about this book:

This is a timely and powerful story about resilience and determination. The book doesn’t pull any punches. It is the true stories of five refugee children who face real danger as they escape by sea. One sails aboard an ocean liner and the other four drift in open, unseaworthy boats that are overloaded. There are no lifejackets or bailing cans. Food and water is scarce. They face stormy weather and pirate attacks at sea. The boat refugees leave with hope in their hearts of seeking asylum and freedom from persecution, civil war, drought and natural disasters. They arrive at their destinations ill and needing medical treatment. Some end up in detention or refugee camps.

Reading stories about immigrants that span 80 years, offers readers a greater insight into the current refugee crisis in the Middle East, South America and Africa. It is interesting to compare the past with current events. The stories of the past echo similar themes refugees face today — they are not welcome by many countries. They are ostracized and treated like prisoners. This is an excellent and current book for middle grade students and belongs in school libraries.

Stormy Seas features a beautiful collage design with historical fact sidebars, maps of each child’s journey, timelines, quotes from leaders, and refugee data that includes costs and how many boat people die at sea. This book format is perfect for reading true stories and for research projects. Readers will gain new insights into a social justice issues that date back 600 years. Make sure you read Introduction and the Brief History of the boat people which dates back to 1670 with the Huguenots leaving France for England seeking refuge from religious persecution.

Greg Pattridge hosts the 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.

What You Can Do With A Chance? by Kobi Yamada

What Do You Do With a Chance?

Kobi Yamada, Author

Mae Besom, Illustrator

Compendium, Inc., Jan. 10, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Taking a chance, Conquering fear, Risks, Courage, Opportunity

Opening: “One day, I got a chance. It just seemed to show up. It acted like it knew me, as if it wanted something.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:  What do you do with a chance? Especially one that seems too big or too wild or just out of reach?

Do you hold back? Do you act like you don’t care? Do you let it slip away?

This is the story of some remarkable chances and the child who doesn’t know quite what to do with them. But the more chance come around, the more the child’s fascination grows. And then, one day, a little courage makes all the difference in the world.

This is a story for anyone, at any age who has ever wanted something, but was afraid of wishing too much to get it. It’s a story to inspire you to embrace the chances that come into you life. Because you never know when a chance, once taken, might be the one to change everything.

What I like about this book:

This inspiring book challenges kids to find their courage, step outside of their comfort zones and take some risks. Chances are fleeting and may not appear in the same manner. It is a special book that is soulful and moving.

The tone of the text is simple and straightforward. The story takes children on a journey of self-discovery. Each step along the way, we can feel the child moving forward, holding back and finally taking the leap to victory over self-doubt and fear. Children will relate to this story

There is so much beauty in this book. Mae Besom’s pastel abstracts are wistful and wondering, yet carry the child’s raw emotions that culminate in excitement and exhilaration. The color yellow appears in the beginning of the story in a butterfly, and gradually explodes into yellow and gold as the child succeeds. Creative teamwork between author and illustrator.

Resources: This is a wonderful discussion book for home and classrooms. Taking a chance isn’t easy and Yamada opens the door for kids to explore the topic with the chances they have taken –riding a bike without training wheels, riding a roller coaster, singing a solo, writing a poem, and making a new friend.

Kobi Yamada is the award–winning creator of The New York Times best sellers What Do You Do With an Idea? and What Do You Do With a Problem?  He is the president of Compendium, a company of amazing people doing amazing things. He happily lives with the love of his life and their two super fun kids in the land of flying salmon where he gets to believe in his ideas all day long. He thinks he just might be the luckiest person on the planet.

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.

Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin

Where the Watermelons Grow

Cindy Baldwin, Author

HarperCollins, Fiction, Jul. 3, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Schizophrenia, Mental Illness, Family Relationships, Guilt, Courage, Farm Life, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis: When twelve-year-old Della Kelly finds her mother furiously digging black seeds from a watermelon in the middle of the night and talking to people who aren’t there, Della worries that it’s happening again—that the sickness that put her mama in the hospital four years ago is back. That her mama is going to be hospitalized for months like she was last time.

With her daddy struggling to save the farm and her mama in denial about what’s happening, it’s up to Della to heal her mama for good. And she knows just how she’ll do it: with a jar of the Bee Lady’s magic honey, which has mended the wounds and woes of Maryville, North Carolina, for generations.

But when the Bee Lady says that the solution might have less to do with fixing Mama’s brain and more to do with healing her own heart, Della must learn that love means accepting her mama just as she is.

Why I like this book:

Cindy Baldwin has penned a timely and important debut novel that will appeal to a large range of readers, especially teens who cope with a family member who has a mental illness. It will tug at readers’ hearts, but it’s an excellent portrayal of schizophrenia. And it is a good southern read about farm life in North Carolina. It reminds me a bit of The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.

Della’s story is timely, realistic and will resonate with teens who have parents or siblings with a mental illness. It will also promote understanding and compassion for other readers who may be their friends. It is nice to see a spotlight shown on schizophrenia and the toll it takes on a family because of its unpredictable nature.

Della’s first-person narrative is powerful and pulls no punches. When dealing with her schizophrenic mother, she never really knows who her mama is going to be. Will she be the loving mama who laughs, sings and tells stories? Or will she be the mama who leaves baby Mylie soaked, soiled and screaming in her crib? As her mother’s illness rapidly declines, Della realizes that no sickness in the world could make her mama’s love for her less real.

Like many youth in Della’s situation, she’s forced to grow up too quickly. She becomes the adult caring for her baby sister, cleaning the house, cooking and helping her father with the family produce stand. She blames herself for her mother’s “sickness.” It is her fault and she wants to fix her mama. She keeps secrets to protect her mother. And Della worries if she will inherit schizophrenia.

Baldwin has created a strong sense of community for Della and her family. There is her best friend Arden, her grandparents and a host of mother figures who love and support Della through the chaos. Other  “mamas” appear when she needs them the most.

Where the Watermelons Grow is richly textured, lyrical and impeccably researched. The theme may seem heavy, but it doesn’t overwhelm its targeted audience. I highly recommend this novel for middle grade teens and adults. To learn more about Cindy Baldwin, visit her website.

Resources: There is a Teacher’s Guide available on the publisher’s website that includes classroom discussion questions about mental illness, family relationships, guilt and personal responsibility. There also are extension activities related to things that occur in the book.

Greg Pattridge is the host for 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.