Tortuga Squad: Kids Saving Sea Turtles in Costa Rica

World Turtle Day, June 16, 2016

Tortuga Squad 61KgIBV6yyL__SY427_BO1,204,203,200_Tortuga Squad: Kids Saving Sea Turtles in Costa Rica

Cathleen Burnham, Author and Photographer

Crickhollow Books, Photodocumentary, Jan. 3, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes: Sea Turtles,  Environmental rescue, protection and rescue, Youth activism, Costa Rica, Global kids, Diversity

Synopsis: It is May and a group of children in Costa Rica are tirelessly working to protect and save the lives of sea turtles on Parismina Island. They call themselves the Tortuga Squad, which means “turtle” in Spanish.  They are on the outlook for poachers who are watching the beaches for sea turtles that come ashore to dig deep holes and lay their eggs. They steal the eggs and kill the mama turtles and eat their meat for dinner.

Meet 6-year-old Bianca, who is patrolling the beach from a hidden bush. She recognizes the poacher, waits until the coast is clear, and races to her friend Christian’s house to get help for the trapped turtle. Melanie, Dylan and other children hear the cry for help and rush with Bianca and Christian to help flip the turtle back over and watch her escape into the sea.

The Tortuga Squad patrols the beaches every evening and works hard to protect turtles and their eggs. Humans are their greatest threat. The children build a hatchery to safeguard the eggs until they hatch. Once the turtles are ready for release, the Tortuga Squad clears the beach of crabs, birds, dogs and other potential threats. They want to make sure that every little leatherback baby turtle make it to the water on its first journey over the shallow reef and to the ocean.

Tortuga kid-releasing-turtleCompliments of Crickhollow Books

Why I love the Tortuga Squad:

  • Cathleen Burnham is on a mission to find, highlight and photograph children who are united in a cause to rescue and save endangered marine and animal life around the globe. Her true and inspiring story is a call to children worldwide that they don’t have to be adults to make a difference. The kids of Parismina Island are passionate young activists who care and want to be involved in protecting the turtles.
  • The Tortuga Squad is an engaging story for readers and is perfectly paced. Keeping turtle nests safe is a busy job for the squad and readers will enjoy the important mission. There is factual information about the variety of sea turtles that visit Parismina Island to lay their eggs on the dangerous beach: leatherback, hawksbill, loggerhead and green turtles. There is also a map of Costa Rica and Central America. The Tortuga Squad is a winner and an excellent discussion book for children, parents and teachers.
  • Every page of the book is filled with rich, beautiful and moving photographs that show the young  Tortuga Squad  activists in action. Burnham also captures every aspect of life in Costa Rica including family life, the market place, and travel by boat. Burnham devotes many double-page spreads to the delicate ecosystem and the gorgeous endangered species living there, including howler monkeys, sloths, pelicans, crocodiles and beautiful birds.

Resources: 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. There is a special teacher’s guide available for classroom use. Make sure you read the Author’s Note about sea turtles and the kids of Costa Rica. Check out the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries  website. They will observe Sea Turtle Week, June 13-17.

Cathleen Burnham is a journalist, writer and photographer. In addition to the Tortuga Squad, Burnham is the author of Doyli to the Rescue, the first “photodocumentary” book in a series of six forthcoming books for young readers that profile wildlife preservation efforts being undertaken by kids around the globe.

Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World

Rachel Carson 61AB358vSJL__SY446_BO1,204,203,200_Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World

Laurie Lawlor, Author

Laura Beingessner, Illustrator

Holiday House, Biography, Reprint, Aug. 31, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 6 – 9

Themes: Rachel Carson, Biologist, Environmentalist, Nature, Change

Opening: Early one morning in May 1922, young Rachel Carson discovered a secret place deep in the woods fragrant with pine needles. “Witchity-witchity-witchity!” called a yellowthroat.

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Once you are aware of the wonder and beauty of earth, you will want to learn about it,” wrote Rachel Carson, the pioneering environmentalist. Rachel found many adventurous ways to study nature. She went diving to investigate coral reefs and tracked alligators on a rumbling “glades buggy” through the Florida Everglades. She worked for the U.S. Fish and Service. However, one of the bravest things she did was to write and publish Silent Spring, a book pointing out the dangerous effects of chemicals on the living world. Powerful men tried to stop the publication of the book, but Rachel and her publishers persisted, and Silent Spring went on to become the book that woke up people to the harmful impact humans were having on our planet.

Why I like this book:

  • I love true stories about strong girls who find a passion, pursue it into adulthood, and end up changing the world. That’s exactly what Rachel Carson did. She is an inspiring role model for children, especially for girls. Her story is inspirational for children who love nature and want to help protect the environment.
  • Laurie Lawlor has written a beautiful and extraordinary biography that tells the story of a young Rachel Carson (born in 1897) whose love of nature is nurtured by her mother. Rachel’s mother encourages her to explore the family’s 65 acres of orchards and woods, watch the starry nights and recognize the melodies of favorite birds. Laura Beingessner’s warm and colorful illustrations are true to the time period of  the early 20th century.
  • Rachel attends college and graduate school at great sacrifice to her family. She becomes a biologist, travels the world, studies and writes about the oceans. She begins to notice disturbing trends and wonders how they are effecting the web of life. She questions the rising ocean temperatures, investigates the deadly impact of insecticides on birds, wildlife and people. Her discoveries lead her to write a courageous book that the average person can understand, Silent Spring, in 1962. Her mission to warn people of threats caused by humans creates a big commotion. Unfortunately, she didn’t live to see the positive environmental changes she made in the world.

Resources: This book is really best suited for older children in the third to fifth grades. Don’t miss the lengthy Epilogue at the end about what happens after the book is published. There are other listed resources. Visit a national, state or local wildlife, waterfowl or marine life refuge in your area. Many have youth programs. Visit the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge website. Check out the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a Conservation Kids page.

Liesl’s Ocean Rescue

Liesl's Ocean 51Go9YPulaL__SX348_BO1,204,203,200_Liesl’s Ocean Rescue

Barbara Krasner, Author

Avi Katz, Illustrations

Gihon River Press, Nonfiction, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes: Liesl Joseph, Jewish children and families, Refugees, MS St. Louis, Seeking Asylum, Cuba, America

Opening: “What fun we had last night,” Josef Joseph, said. “It was the best birthday yet.” “You’re very old now, Father, “Liesl said. “You’re 56!” Mother placed breakfast plates in front of them.

Synopsis: Ten-year-old Liesl and her family were enjoying breakfast when two uniformed men wearing Nazi swastika armbands burst into their home and arrested her father. That 1938 night in Rheydt, Jewish businesses were destroyed and synagogues were burned. It was called the “Night of the Broken Glass.” Liesl’s father was eventually released from jail.  Her family along with 1,000 Jewish refugees, fled Germany in May 1939, aboard the MS St. Louis ocean liner, for temporary asylum in Havana, Cuba and later in America. But when they approached the island that looked like a paradise to Liesl, the ship wasn’t permitted to dock. They were stranded for weeks sailing back and forth between Cuba and the United States not knowing if they’d be sent back to Germany.

Why I like this book:

Barbara Krasner has written a compelling story based on the true experiences of Liesl Joseph, a courageous and endearing 10-year-old, who is heroic in her own way. Despite her own fear, she does her best to keep up the spirits of the children aboard the ship. She plays games and reassures them things will turn out okay. Her father, a lawyer, is busy negotiating arrangements with the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Paris, for safe passage to other European countries.

I am drawn to Holocaust stories, especially those involving children. Liesl’s story is one I had a hard time understanding. Why would the United States deny these refugees a home away from the tyranny of Hitler? Since this is a story about a child’s experience, that question is not addressed. However the story delivers a powerful message for older children about remaining brave in the midst of fear and uncertainty.

Liesl’s Ocean Rescue is an excellent addition to any school’s Holocaust collection. Although this is a picture book, I believe it would also serve well as a chapter book for older children. My only negative comment is that I felt the story ended abruptly.

Avi Katz’s black and white illustrations are expressive and capture emotions ranging from the fear during the German raids to the anxious moments of the refugees aboard the ship.

Resources: Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end of the book to learn more about Liesl’s journey and fate. The author interviews Liesl Joseph Loeb at her home. Krasner also provides information on other resources to use with this story. There is a Teacher’s Guide at Gihon River Press.  Visit Krasner 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.

The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob: Into the Lead

Blue Olbrys.ITL.CVR.08-10-15.LRThe Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob: Into the Lead

Brooks Olbrys, Author

Kevin Keele, Illustrator

Children’s Success Unlimited LLC, Fiction, Apr. 19, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 6-10, Early Chapter Book

Themes: Ocean Journey, Marine Life, Environment, Nature, Facing Fears and Challenges, Setting Goals, Making Friends

Award: Academic’s Choice Smart Book Award

Opening: “On a beautiful isle in the Sea of Kerchoo, / there lived a small boy with a big job to do. / Blue Ocean Bob worked for Mary Marine. / He protected the sea life and kept the shore clean.”

Synopsis: One morning while Blue Ocean Bob is tying his boat to the dock, a jolt knocks him off his feet. An earthquake makes a deep crack in the ocean floor and creates an oil spill that endangers the marine life of Kerchoo. With the help of Marine Mary and Doc, the wise sea turtle, Bob faces a big challenge that requires him to temper his fear and dive with Mary to repair the damage. When they return he learns from Wallace Walrus that a great white shark has been beached because of the quake. With the help of his island friends they float the shark back into the sea.

Marine Mary puts Bob in charge while she travels to another island to aid with a problem.  Bob faces another challenge when some dolphins get caught in a net and he relies upon his sea friends to help with the rescue. The Island Council is pleased with Bob’s work, but Bob’s feels overwhelmed and realizes he needs some extra help. He finds an assistant in a Molly, who he meets at the shore.

Blue Ocean Bob photoB17Photo compliments of Brooks Olbrys

Why I like this book:

  • This is the third book in Brooks Olbrys’ The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob series. Olbrys has created a delightful and engaging sea adventure about Bob, a boy on a journey to pursue his dream of becoming a marine biologist and protecting the sea life and the ocean environment. Bob is an excellent role model for children.
  • The book is written in rhyme and is nicely paced. It is clever storytelling that will engage younger children who aren’t able to read alone. The plot is strong and packed with action. Each of the five chapters brings a new challenge for Bob. He learns to face his fear, develop a positive attitude, be courageous, and thoughtfully plan his missions. As he succeeds he becomes more self-confident and takes on more responsibility. Older readers will be drawn to Bob’s passion and enjoy the visit to the Sea of Kerchoo.
  • The characters are endearing, quirky, believable and faithful friends. Bob seeks advice from his mentor, Mary Marine, Doc, the wise sea turtle, Wallace the walrus, and Al the free-spirited dolphin. Xena is Bob’s lovable sidekick, always warning Bob about danger and adding some comic relief.
  • Readers interested in oceanography, marine life and protecting the environment, may want to check out the first two books in the series, The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob: A Journey Begins and The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob: A Challenging Job.
  • Kevin Keele’s rich and breathtaking illustrations of the marine life and Sea of Kerchoo fill every page and bring each chapter to life. Make sure you check out the end pages to view a map of the Island of Roses. The collaboration is a perfect marriage of art and text.

Resources: Parents and teachers can download a free Activity Guide on the Blue Ocean Bob website. You can also download iPhone and iPad apps. Endangered Species Day was celebrated May 20. Check out the National Marine Life Center where children can learn more about rehabilitation, adoption of rescued sea turtles and seals, and what they should do if they find stranded marine life.

Brooks Olbrys: Inspired by his son, Olbrys created this unique marine life series to share timeless achievement principles with children.  His over-arching theme is that “a positive attitude can help one overcome what at first may appear to be insurmountable obstacles.

The Stranded Whale

Stranded Whale51zH+DEwRZL__SY444_BO1,204,203,200_The Stranded Whale

Jane Yolen, Author

Melanie Cataldo, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, July 16, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Whales, Nature, Death, Anger, Grief

Opening:We were walking home from school, hurrying along the top of the dunes because Ma always hates when we’re late for supper.”

Synopsis: While walking home from school along the dunes in Maine, Sally and her brothers spot an enormous whale stranded on the beach. The siblings take off their sweaters, dip them into the cold briny water and rush back to wet down the whale. Realizing they need more help, Josh runs for help and returns with many people carrying buckets. The Coast Guard arrives and begins to help. But the tide is going out quickly and the whale is just too big. Time is running out.

Why I like this book:

  • Jane Yolen has written a touching story that will tug at your heart. The story is set in 1971 and it reminds me of lengthier picture books written at that time. Yolen carefully chooses her language. Her text is rich, lyrical and carries you like a poem. Melanie Cataldo’s uses muted tones in her oil and pencil illustrations. They contribute to the emotion and vulnerability of the story.
  • Because it is 1971, the three siblings don’t have modern cell phones to call for help. This adds to the tension because so much time is lost. Sally and her brothers have to rely upon their own resources to help the whale. Josh has to run a mile to find an emergency telephone. It takes a while before the town people and Coast Guard arrive with buckets to wet down the whale. They all try to push the whale back into the ebbing sea. There are no fire hoses or lifts. This is a nice contrast/comparison story for readers.
  • The story is narrated by Sally, who is brave and strong. While Josh is sad about the situation, Sally is mad at everything. She’s mad at the ocean for deserting the whale. She’s mad that they didn’t have a boat and long ropes to pull it into the sea. Sally is also compassionate and looks deeply into the whales eye and sees a tear. She continues wetting down the whale “one sweater, two sweaters at a time.” She tells the whale it is “beautiful and strong, how much she would miss it, whatever happened next.”
  • The ending is realistic. (Spoiler alert) Despite their efforts to rescue the whale, Sally and her brothers learn that not all living creatures can be saved. This is an important truth for children.

Resources: Yolen has an Author’s Note at the end. She talks about why she chose the setting and time frame. She also gives a lot information about how many whales are found on beaches annually and the many reasons for why they beach. There are many good discussion points for parents/teachers and children in this story.  Today is Endangered Species Day.  Make sure you check out the Endangered Species Coalition 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.

Blackbird Fly

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

Erin Entrada Kelly, Author

Greenwillow Books, Fiction, Mar. 24, 2015

Paperback Reprint Mar. 1, 2016, 320 pages

Suitable for Ages: 8-12 years

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

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

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

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

Why I like this book:

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

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

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

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

Playing from the Heart

Playing from the Heart 51ja1uzrNWL__SY495_BO1,204,203,200_Playing from the Heart

Peter H. Reynolds, Author and Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Apr. 12, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4 – 99

Themes: Music, Piano lessons, Creativity, Family relationships, Father and son

Opening: “The piano stood quietly in the living room for years. Until the day Raj first plunked and pushed the keys, delighted by every sound.”

Synopsis: A boy discovers the beautiful sounds he can make when he thumps the keys of the family piano. His father notices his son, Raj, has a gift for playing from his heart and signs him up for lessons. Raj begins to read notes, learn scales, studies hard and plays classical music. He practices  hard and becomes an excellent pianist over the years. One day he realizes that he doesn’t experience the joy he used to feel and stops playing. Years pass and Raj takes a job in the city. When he receives a call that his father is ill, he hurries home. His father makes a special request for Raj to play the music that first brought him joy.

Why I like this book:

Peter H. Reynolds’ newest treasure, Playing from the Heart, is a timeless story for both children and adults. He hopes that as children become more involved with a musical instrument, “they won’t forget their original joy” and learn to “bend a few rules.” The lyrical text sings from the pages. Reynolds’ illustrations are joyful, serious, emotive and lovingly rendered in black ink with splashes of color. His ample use of white space gives one a sense of freedom.

Playing from the Heart will touch a chord in both young and old who have played an instrument and given it up. I played the piano for years, took a break because of burn out, and returned to my lessons with  renewed enthusiasm. When my husband read Reynolds’ story it stirred up memories of giving up his trumpet in college.

The ending is endearing as Raj sits down to the piano and hopes his heart will remember the joyful melodies he played with such abandonment as a child. There’s heart, there’s love, and there’s a deep connection between father and son. Playing from the Heart is a winner!

Resources: Introduce your child to a musical instrument. It can be a simple as a kazoo, harmonica, drums or xylophone. Encourage your children to be creative and make their own music. If you have a piano, let them play without teaching them. According to  Reynolds, “Creativity thrives on bravery and originality. Let that flow and see where you go.” Visit the award-winning author and illustrator 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 Perfect Picture Books.