The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli

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The Warden’s Daughter

Jerry Spinelli, Author

Alfred A Knopf, Fiction, Jan. 3, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Themes: Growing up in a prison, Motherless, Grief, Coming of age, Courage

Opening: “It’s a BIRDHOUSE NOW. It used to be a jailhouse. The Hancock County Prison…It looks like a fortress from the Middle Ages…The prison was a city block long. It was home to over two hundred inmates, men and women, from shoplifters to murders. And one family. Mine. I was the warden’s daughter.”

Synopsis: Cammie O’Reilly lives in an apartment above the entrance to the Hancock County Jail in Pennsylvania with her father, the warden. She’s twelve years old and motherless. Her mother was killed in a tragic accident when she was a baby.  Cammie spends much of her time mad at the world and heaven.  She searches for mother figures in the only women she knows — the inmates she spends her mornings hanging out with in the women’s exercise yard. They are not ideal candidates, like the  flamboyant shoplifter named Boo Boo. But she settles on trying to make the family’s housekeeper, Eloda Pupko, her mother figure. Eloda understands Cammie better than anyone. She see’s Cammie’s torment, knows she is headed for trouble, and helps her grieve in an unexpected way.

Why I liked this book:

Spinelli’s novel will tug at reader’s heart-strings from the first page. This compelling and emotionally deep novel is a coming of age story about a troubled teen who has never really dealt with the tragic death of her mother — a mother she never had the chance to know. Instead she’s grown up in an odd and cold atmosphere not meant for a child. And she yearns for the warmth of a loving relationship with a mother and family. The subject of grief is realistically tackled with honesty and sensitivity.

Spinelli’s novel is fast-paced, tightly plotted, and the tension palpable. It will keep readers engaged. The story is driven by a cast of colorful characters who are dealing with their own demons. They add for many somber and humorous moments to the story. Cammie’s narrates the story with her strong voice, fiery personality and a determination that earns her the nickname Cannonball. She’s in danger of lighting the fuse, as her anger reaches a boiling point over the summer.

Readers will enjoy exploring the prison fortress and life behind bars, visiting the death tower with its dangling noose and hanging salamis, spending time in the prison exercise yard and meditation area, and walking the forbidden outside deck.

Jerry Spinelli is the author of many books for young readers, including Stargirl; Love, Stargirl; Milkweed; Crash; Maniac Magee, winner of the Newberry Medal; Wringer, winner of a Newbery Honor; Eggs; Jake and Lily; and Knots in my Yo-yo String, his autobiography.  Visit Jerry Spinelli at his website.

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

1-2-3 A Calmer Me

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Colleen A. Patterson and Brenda S. Miles, Authors

Claire Keay, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Sep. 22, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Anger, Emotions, Calmness

Opening: I am happy, but sometimes I feel mad and VERY frustrated! Like the other day when I let go of my balloon. I felt s-o-o-o mad!

Synopsis: A girl becomes angry when she lets go of her balloon. Her friend tells her it’s okay to feel mad, but there is something she can do to feel better. He shares with her a rhyme he uses to calm his body and mind. “1-2-3 a calmer me. 1-2-3 I hug me. 1-2-3 relax and b-r-e-a-t-h-e…1-2-3 a calmer me.” When she discovers it melts her angry feelings, she begins to use the technique when someone takes away her favorite crayon, when she has to stop playing and eat dinner, and when she loses a race.

Why I like this book:

I was delighted to discover Colleen A. Patterson and Brenda S. Miles’ book which helps children with relaxation and mindfulness when their emotions spin out of control. We need more books like this to use at home and at school to help upset kids regain control so that they don’t act out in a harmful way. Claire Keay’s illustrations are rendered in warm and comforting pastels and capture the emotion of the story.

1-2-3 A Calmer Me introduces readers to a very simple rhyming mantra to help them stop their negative reaction, calm their anger, frustration or disappointment and replace it with a very easy technique.  In the first action of the mantra the girl wraps her arms around herself and gives herself a big, tight hug. Then she counts again and slowly breathes in and out and relaxes her body. In the last action she slowly releases her hug and lets her arms dangle by her side. She feels the relaxation.

Resources: The book includes a “Note to Parents, Teachers and Other Grown-Ups” with more information about the steps of the “1-2-3” rhyme, and advice for working through the steps with your child.

Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket

September 2015 is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

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Sally Loughridge, Author and Illustrator

Maine Authors Publishing, Fiction, Aug. 1, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8, Parents

Themes: Children with a seriously ill sibling, Cancer, Exploring feelings, Jealousy

Opening: “Just before Daniel was born, his grandmother made him a soft blanket that danced with brilliant stars. His mother wrapped him in the blanket when they brought him home from the hospital. It was just right, with room to grow. His father called it Daniel’s Starry Night Blanket.”

Synopsis: Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket is a story about a boy whose older sister, Kate, is diagnosed with cancer. He is sad and worried that Kate is so sick and not interested in playing with him anymore. His parents include him in the hospital visits for Kate’s chemotherapy, but he soon tires of going. Daniel is upset that his parents cook Kate’s favorite foods. When Kate receives cards and gifts, Daniel is angry that he doesn’t receive anything. His Dad takes Daniel to a ball game and spends “special” time with him. Daniel begins to find quiet projects that he and Kate can do together. Daniel wants to do something special for Kate and comes up with a secret plan and asks his grandmother to help.

Why I like this book:

Sally Loughridge has written a compassionate and sensitive story for families who are dealing with a child diagnosed with cancer and the challenges for siblings. Daniel is representative of all siblings dealing with confusing feelings of sadness, anger, fear and jealousy. For children like Daniel, it can be a roller coaster ride.

Daniel has the support of his parents and grandmother to help guide his journey through the highs and lows of a Kate’s cancer treatments. With their support Daniel is able to participate more fully in Kate’s care. It is significant when Daniel wants to share his special blanket with his sister forever– a signal of his own progress, growth and maturity. He asks his grandmother to help with his secret plan for Kate. I won’t spoil the secret. The soft watercolor illustrations are expressive, emotive and compliment the story. I highly recommend this book for families who have a seriously ill child.

Resources: The book can be used in many ways to support young children during a siblings illness. It is a valuable resource for parents, therapists and counselors working with children and families. Loughridge includes two pages of suggestions and activities about ways to use Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket. Visit Sally Loughridge at her website.

Awards: Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket has received the  2016 Best Book Awards Finalist (Children’s Picture Books Soft Cover Fiction), Gold Medal Winner in the 2016 Literary Classics International Book Awards for the Picture Book/Preschool Category. It was also a finalist in the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards in two Categories, Children’s Books 0 to 5 and Children’s Books 6 and Up. The book was awarded the 2015 Gold Medal in the Lifestyle Emotions and Feelings Category of the Gelett Burgess Book Awards program and an Honorable Mention in the Children’s Books Category of the 2015 New England Book Festival.

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.

Why is Dad So Mad?

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Seth Kastle, Author

Karissa Gonzales-Othon, Illustrator

Tall Tales Press and Kastle Books, Fiction, Mar. 14, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Military Families, PTSD, Anger, Family Relationships, Love

Opening: “Mom. Why is Dad so MAD all the time?”

Kastle Books Synopsis: Why Is Dad So Mad? Is a narrative story told from a family’s point of view (mother and children) of a service member who struggles with PTSD and its symptoms. Many service members deal with anger, forgetfulness, sleepless nights, and nightmares.This book explains these and how they affect Dad. The moral of the story is that even though Dad gets angry and yells, he still loves his family more than anything

Why I like this book:

  • Seth Kastle is a former Army combat soldier who suffers from PTSD following two tours served in the Middle East. I first saw him interviewed about this important book on the NBC Nightly News. 
  • Kastle has written this heartfelt picture book for his two daughters and other military families to help them understand the changes that occur when military members return from war.
  • The story narrative is told from the family’s point of view. The text is simple and straightforward, allowing for many questions and discussions between parent and child. The characters feature a family of lions, which is a gentle and less threatening way to portray a troubled family.
  • Kastle’s book is a labor of love for his family and for service members who want to start a dialogue with their children. There are many changes for military members returning from war and adjustments for the entire family. This book is a valuable resource that can encourage open and honest communications to help families get through some very tough times.
  • Karissa Gonzales-Othon’s illustrations are simply rendered in ink and pastels with a lot of white space. They help the reader focus on the lion’s emotions (angry roar) and his interactions between the lioness and the cubs.

Favorite Lines: “It’s Like Dad always has a FIRE inside his chest.  When he gets mad. The FLAME grows and grows really quickly. When he gets mad. It’s like the FIRE is in control of him.”

Note: Kastle has also authored a book Why is Mom So Mad?, which is scheduled for release in August 2015. He explains that there are very few books that “address the issues combat mothers face when they return to their families.”

Resources: Why is Dad So Mad is an excellent resource for families. First of all it helps children realize they aren’t the reason the parent is angry. The book helps children ask important questions and get answers. Dialogue between parent and child starts the healing process. Follow Seth Kastle at his website and on his Facebook page, Why is Dad So Angry, where there is a wealth of information for military families.

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.

Peace, Bugs, and Understanding

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Gail Silver, Author

Youme Nguyen Ly, Illustrator

Parallax Press, Fiction, Dec. 9, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Anger, Sibling Rivalry, Mindfulness

Opening: Lily was having a picnic with her father and her little sister, Ruby, but it wasn’t much fun. Ruby was lying on the checkerboard.

Book Jacket Synopsis: Lily and her sister are having a picnic when Ruby spoils their game of checkers. Lily lashes out but soon gets absorbed in a wonderful book, the story of her great-grandfather Lahn’s encounter with a strong-looking frog-like creature called Anger. The precious old journal teaches Lily about Metta, a technique that has helped people transform anger into loving kindness for thousands of years.

Why I like this book:

  • Gail Silver, author of Ahn’s Anger, has written a positive and resourceful book for children and adults about transforming negative feelings. This book focuses on anger, but I believe it can be used with feelings of jealousy, frustration, anxiety, disappointment or any negative feeling that causes disharmony. It’s a book children and parents will want to read together.
  • Peace, Bugs and Understanding, introduces its readers to a very simple calming technique called “Metta,” which means loving kindness. Silver suggests “that when you practice Metta,  sit quietly and become aware of your own breath.” Once you calm yourself, you focus on the person you are angry with and wish for them “to be happy, be strong, be safe and live with peace.” 
  • This is a wonderful tool for children and adults to cultivate forgiveness towards others and even themselves. How can you be angry at someone when you are sending them kind, happy and loving thoughts?
  • The book is a story within a story. Therefore, Youme Nguyen Ly’s illustrations are colorful and warm watercolors in Lily’s world, but are gray and white pen and ink for Lahn’s journal.  The illustrations project a sense of calm that fits beautifully with the theme. This is a lovely collaboration between author and illustrator.

Resources: My favorite part of the book is a “Reader’s Guide” at the end that helps parents teach “Metta” to their children. There is also a page of discussion questions to use with children. This is also a book to pair with Ahn’s Anger, which I reviewed in 2013. You can visit Gail Silver and Youme Nguyen Ly at their websites.

Gail Silver is the founder of Yoga Child, a program that develops curriculum for school-based yoga and mindfulness programs. She is the author of Anh’s Anger and its sequel Steps and Stones.

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.

Anh’s Anger – Perfect Picture Book

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Gail Silver, Author

Christiane Kromer, Illustrator

Plum Blossom Books, Fiction 2009

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes:  Handling Anger, Grandfathers, Mindfulness

Opening:  Anh was in the living room building a tower, the tallest tower he’d ever built.  His grandfather was in the kitchen making dinner.  “Anh” Grandfather called out. “Dinner is ready.”  

Synopsis:  Anh is building a block tower when his grandfather calls him for dinner.  He wants to keep playing — just one more block.  Anh erupts into anger and knocks down his tower.  When he says hurtful things, his grandfather tells Anh to go to his room and sit with his anger.  In his bedroom, Anh meets his anger in the form of a hairy, red creature.  They talk, howl, spin in circles and beat the ground with their hands.  Anh is so exhausted he’s ready sit and be still with his anger.

Why I like this book:  Gail Silver has written an enchanting book for both children, parents and teachers.  It is based on the teachings about mindfulness and Buddhism by Thich Nhat Hanh.  It encourages parents to stay calm and caring when their child has a melt down.  It helps children find ways of handling their own anger in a safe place.  This is an excellent book to teach children coping skills that they can use throughout their lives.  Christiane’s beautiful and lively Asian illustrations are mixed-media artwork that include paper and silk collages with realistic brush and pencil drawings.  You can visit Gail Silver  and Christiane Kromer at their websites.

Resources:  Encourage children to draw pictures about what their anger looks like.  Then ask them to draw a picture of what their anger look like when they calm down?

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post 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.