Penny and Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars

Penny & Jelly9780544280052-276x300Penny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars

Maria Gianferrari, Author

Thyra Heder, Illustrator

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, Jun. 14, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes: Sleepover, Dogs, Stargazing, Creativity, Solutions, Friendships

Opening: “Hooray!” said Penny. “Tomorrow is Sleepover Under the Stars Night, Jelly!”

Synopsis: Penny is excited when she receives an invitation to a sleepover under the stars from the recreation center.  She calls her four best friends to see if they are attending. Penny begins to make a list of what she needs: sleeping bag, pillow, PJs, book and Jelly. Then Penny realizes that the invitation says “no pets allowed.” She comes up with an idea to make a  pretend Jelly — out of paper, yarn, fleece, vegetables, marshmallow, cotton balls and clay. But, her creation just isn’t her beloved Jelly. Penny must find a solution.

Why I like Penny & Jelly:

Maria Gianferrari has written a perfect summer read for children about a determined girl and her devoted dog.  Slumber parties and outdoor sleepovers are a summer tradition for children. I especially like that this slumber party is about stargazing, a great activity for children to learn about constellations. Penny is a fun-loving character full of heart, who sports mismatched socks with every page turn. She’s imaginative, curious, enjoys picking out star constellations, and is resourceful in finding a solution to her problem. Thyra Heder’s  warm watercolor illustrations are cheerful, expressive and eye-catching. The characters are diverse.  I love the book cover. Verdict: This captivating story will be a popular summer read with children and parents as it lends itself to many discussions. Visit Penny & Jelly at their website.

Maria Gianferrari is also the author of Penny & Jelly: The School Show.

Mother Bruce

Mother Bruce 61S+QYjJeoL__SY373_BO1,204,203,200_Mother Bruce

Ryan T. Higgins, Author and Illustrator

Disney Hyperion, Fiction, Nov. 24, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 2-5

Themes: Bears, Eggs, Goslings, Geese, Different families

Opening: “Bruce was a bear who lived all by himself. He was a grump.”

Synopsis: Bruce doesn’t like anything or anyone. The one thing Bruce likes to do is cook fancy recipes he finds on the internet. He comes across a recipe that calls for hard-boiled goose eggs. He takes Mrs. Goose’s eggs home to cook on his stove. To his surprise, the eggs talk back. “Mama!” He wants hard-boiled eggs, not goslings. He returns the goslings to their nest, but Mrs. Goose has flown south. What’s a bear gonna do?

Why I like this book:

Ryan Higgins has written a witty and playful story about a grumpy bear who has become MAMA to four goslings who trail him around — everywhere. This quirky bedtime book will elicit ROARS of laughter from children as they turn the pages to see what Mama Bruce’s tries next to get rid of the goslings. He’s stuck with them. Uh-oh! Bruce is becoming attached to them even though he maintains his grumpy demeanor throughout. This endearing story is about heart, connections and different families. It is character-driven with spare text and great pacing. Higgins’ bold and colorful illustrations are comical and will delight youngsters and adults alike. Mother Bruce is a winner! Visit Ryan Higgins at his website.

Resources:  Visit a local nature preserve or pond where children can watch geese. Talk about the migration of geese from the north to south. Geese lay their eggs in the north. When the eggs hatch, the goslings follow their first caretaker. Watch the DVD Fly Away Home, about a girl who adopts abandoned goslings and helps them fly south.

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.

Peddles by Elizabeth Rose Stanton

Peddles 41x-wf3oC-L__SY497_BO1,204,203,200_Peddles

Elizabeth Rose Stanton, Author and Illustrator

Paula Wiseman Books/ Simon & Schuster, Fiction, Jan. 6, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Pigs, Barnyard animals, Dreams, Dancing, Friendship, Humor

Opening: “Peddles was just a pig. He lived on a farm with the other pigs, doing the usual pig things: eating and sleeping and oinking and rooting and wallowing and…”

Synopsis: Unlike the other barnyard pigs, Peddles sees life differently. He thinks about eating pizza, soaking in a bath tub, sitting on a toilet and going into space. The other pigs tease him, but Peddles’ dreams even bigger. One night he hears a joyous sound coming from the barn and watches humans stomping and twirling. He wants to dance. When he finds a pair of red boots in a bag of shoes, he tries them on, stands up, falls over on his back  and can’t get up. His friends step in and give him a nudge.

Why I like this book:

Elizabeth Rose Stanton has written a playful and adorable story about Peddles, a pig with big dreams. Peddles will charm you from the first to the last page. What child would not giggle at the sight of pig poop! And look at that cover!

This is a humorous story about self-discovery and friendship. Children will cheer for Peddles for his big ideas and seeing a life for its possibilities. They will ache when he falls down on his back and they will smile when his friends nudge him forward. Children will identify with Peddles and laugh at the unexpected ending. The text is spare with humorous and expressive illustrations that will melt your heart. This is a wonderful example of how Stanton’s colored-pencil and watercolor illustrations really show the story.

Elizabeth Rose Stanton is the author of Henny, a rollicking story about a chicken with arms. Visit Stanton at her website.

Ida, Always

Ida, Always 51Aufwhsr8L__SY453_BO1,204,203,200_Ida, Always

Caron Levis, Author

Charles Santoso, Illustrator

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Feb. 23, 2016

Pages: 40

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Polar Bears, Best Friends, Illness, Grief, Loss, Hope

Opening: “Gus Lived in a big park in the middle of an even bigger city. Buildings grew around him and shifted the shape of the sky. Zookeepers poked in and out. Visitors came and went.”

Synopsis: Gus is a polar bear. He lives in a big park in the center of a city. Every day when he crawls out of his cave, his best friend Ida is always there to greet him. They play ball, splash in the water, chase each other, climb onto their favorite rock to gaze at the city and listen to the many noises around them. One morning Ida doesn’t come out of her cave. The zookeeper tells Gus that Ida is very sick and will die. Gus and Ida still have some time together to deal with the news. They stomp and howl, sniffle and cuddle, joke and giggle and wonder where Ida will go. Once Ida passes, Gus realizes that he will always carry their memories  together in his heart.

Why I like this book:

Caron Levis has written a tender, sensitive and hopeful book for children about illness, love and loss of a companion. The author’s gentle narrative and heartfelt honesty shows children the endearing friendship between the two polar bears, their reaction to Ida’s illness, the happy and sad moments they spend in their last days together, their curiosity about what will happen when Ida dies, and Gus’s adjustment to life without his best friend.

The text is lyrical and at times poetic as Levis depicts poignant moments between Gus and Ida. When Gus realizes that Ida is going to die, the simple text, “Don’t go, don’t go…DON”T!” is enlarged and emphasizes his pain and grief. I like the use of sounds in choice words.

For a child, the story of Gus and Ida easily opens a discussion about loss in their lives. Loss is a very important event for a child and they rarely have the opportunity to explore it honestly with adults.  This book can help children talk about the loss of a pet, a friend or a family member and translate that into their lives. This book belongs on every book shelf.

Charles Santoso’s illustrations are rich, warm and expressive. They beautifully capture the relationship between Gus and Ida and showcase the city skyline and the lush green zoo. The cover will melt your heart.

Resources:  There is an Author’s Note at the end. The story of Gus and Ida is inspired by the real-life polar bears, Ida and Gus, who lived together in the New York City’s Central Park Zoo. This book is an excellent resource for parents to talk about loss with their children.

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.

Before I Leave

Before I Leave 51f0EHIqlrL__SY402_BO1,204,203,200_Before I Leave

Jessixa Bagley, Author and Illustrator

Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press, Fiction, Feb. 16,  2016

Suitable for Ages: 2 – 5

Themes: Moving, Hedgehogs, Anteater, Animals, Friendship, Saying good-bye, Hope

Opening: “I found out we’re moving. Mom said I needed to pack”

Synopsis:  Zelda’s hedgehog family is moving far away. They pack boxes and prepare for their move.  She doesn’t want to move away from her best friend, Aaron, the anteater. Before Zelda moves, she wants to spend one last day with Aaron doing all of their favorite things together as if nothing is changing. They play tetherball, swing together, sail in a boat, build forts and eat ice cream cones. They bid each other a sad farewell and Zelda isn’t so sure about her future…until she arrives at her new home.

Why I like this book:

Jessixa Bagley has packed many sweet and tender moments into this story, which is less than 100 words. Each phrase is short and perfectly communicates Zelda’s anxiety and sadness about moving away from Aaron in a touching way. The author balances the sadness with the determination of the best friends to make lasting memories with each other before they say goodbye. Bagley weaves in the notion that best friends can survive moving away in a hopeful and memorable manner.  The ending is endearing. With minimal text, Bagley cleverly tells the story through her beautiful watercolor illustrations. They are expressive, warm, colorful and show the two friends having fun together.

Resources: This story is a great resource for parents to help explain the concept of moving and saying goodbye to a friend. It is also a gentle way to help a child share their feelings. Visit Jessixa Bagley, author of Boats for Papa, 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.

Mountain Dog

Mountain Dog9781250044242_p0_v3_s192x300Mountain Dog

Margarita Engle, Author

Olga and Aleksey Ivanov, Illustrators

Henry Holt and Company, Fiction, 2014

Paperback Pages: 240

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Rescue dogs, Human-animal relationships, Family relationships, Foster care, Hispanic-Americans, Sierra Nevada

Opening: “In my other life there were pit bulls. / The puppies weren’t born vicious, / but Mom taught them how to bite, / turning meanness into money, / until she got caught.”

Book Synopsis: When Tony’s mother goes to jail for being cruel to animals, he is sent to live with a great-uncle he has never met in Sierra Nevada. It is a big move for Tony and different from his life in Los Angeles. Uncle Tio is a forest ranger and owns Gabe, a search-and-rescue dog (SAR). Tony learns the skills he needs to survive in his new environment. With the friendship of Gabe and the support from his uncle, Tony opens himself to a life and a future he never could have imagined.

Why I like Mountain Dog:

  • Margarita Engle writes a moving and sensitive novel that touches on historical facts that include immigration, unhealthy and healthy family relationships, cruelty of animals, and search-and-rescue dogs along the Pacific coast wilderness trails.
  • It is a beautifully inspiring story written in free verse, with alternating chapters in Tony’s and Gabe’s voices. The language is strong and captures Tony’s pain as he struggles with his complicated feelings about his mother and his new life. Gabe shares his upbeat insights into Tony and his unconditional doggy love. I believe it is a story that will appeal to both genders.
  • In many ways, this is a coming of age story for an 11-year-old boy who gets a real chance to experience family with his Tio and Gabe, as he settles into the search and rescue life of the community. The characters are realistic and memorable. There are friendships with Gracie and members of the Cowboy Church (which welcomes horses and dogs), and fellow hikers.
  • The plot is original with moments of action and tension in the vast wilderness that will keep readers turning pages. There is no tidy ending with Tony’s mother.  This is a very sensitive story about a boy who begins to dream, find purpose in his life, and heal.
  • Readers will also enjoy the facts woven into the story about the choice and training of SAR dogs, what to do if you get lost, and survival tips. Olga and Aleksey Ivanov’s black and white illustrations of the SAR dogs in action, bears and wildlife, wilderness treats, and paw prints contribute significantly to Tony’s story.

Resources: There is much back matter in the book from the author, who owns SAR dogs, which makes this a perfect classroom discussion book.  Margarita Engle is a Newbery Honor winner for The Surrender Tree and has written poems plus historical fiction works.  Visit Engle’s website where teachers can find activities for the classroom.

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

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Doylie to the Rescue: Saving Baby Monkeys in the Amazon

Doylie to Rescue 61yz1rq+bHL__SY427_BO1,204,203,200_Doylie to the Rescue: Saving Baby Monkeys in the Amazon

Cathleen Burnham, Author and Photographer

CrickettHollow Books, Nonfiction, April 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-10

Themes: Amazon rain forest, Global kids, Youth activism, Wild animal rescue, Baby monkeys, Conservation and protection

Opening: “The Yagua Indian man crept through the Amazon rain forest in Peru. He had been hunting a family of red howler monkeys for hours. If he was successful, his family would eat meat that day. If not, they would go hungry.” 

Synopsis: Doyli, a 10-year-old girl with a big smile, lives in the Amazon rain forest. With the help of her family, they rescue and protect orphaned monkeys from hunters and thieves, nurse them back to health and release them to the wild when they are ready.

Why I like this book:

Cathleen Burnham has written a powerful and  inspiring true-story that carries a very strong message for children that they don’t have to be adults to make a difference. Doyli is proof of how one small act of caring can have an extraordinary impact in protecting wildlife.

This book engages readers in Doyli’s rehabilitation work from the start. It also includes a fascinating glimpse of every day life in the Amazon rain forest. Doyli does household chores, collects drinking water from the river for the family, takes a bath in the river, and travels with her brother in a dug-out canoe to school where she studies math, Spanish, and science. After school, Doyli nurtures the orphaned monkeys back to health with a special diet and her love.

I especially like how the author doesn’t judge the Yagua Indian for shooting a monkey with a poison dart. He’s only trying to feed his family. The same hunter discovers the monkey he shoots has a baby, which he delivers to Doyli’s home the next morning. He knows the baby will be cared for and released back to its natural habitat — a kind of cycle of life story. The story also shows a dark side, where Doyli discovers a man selling a spider monkey in the marketplace. With the help of the police, the man is arrested and Doyli takes the spider monkey home.

Every page of the book is filled with lush, beautiful and touching photographs that really SHOW every aspect of Doyli’s life in the Amazon, the delicate ecosystem  and the gorgeous endangered species living in the rain forest. Readers will also devour all the factual information.

Resources: To learn more about the amazing things Doyli and other 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 the story behind the story of finding Doyli and her family.

Cathleen Burnham is a journalist, writer and photographer. Doyli to the Rescue is 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.

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.