Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Wishtree

Katherine Applegate, Author

Feiwel & Friends, Fiction, Sep. 26, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Trees, Wishes, Crows, Animals, Friendship, Tolerance

Opening: It’s hard to talk to trees. We’re not big on chitchat. That’s not to say we can’t do amazing things, things you’ll probably never do. Cradle downy owlets. Steady flimsy tree forts. Photosynthesize. But talk to people? Not so much.

Synopsis:

Red is an oak tree who is 216 rings old. Red is the neighborhood “wishtree.” Every May 1 people come from all over town to write their most private wishes on pieces of paper, cloth, and socks and tie them to Red’s branches. He holds their hopes and dreams in his limbs. Then, they whisper their wish. Red listens but never responds. It’s against the rules for a tree to speak to a human.

Along with her crow friend Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this “wishtree” watches over the neighborhood. Red has seen a lot of change over 200 years.

When a Muslim family moves in, Red observes how Samar and her family are treated by neighbors. Not everyone is welcoming.  Nasty threats are carved on his trunk, eggs are thrown, and ugly words shouted from passing cars.  More than ever, Red wants to fulfill Samar’s wish to find a friend. When Red learns the property owner may have some plans for him, he breaks some rules and ask his friends for help.

Why I like this book:

Katherine Applegate’s heartwarming middle grade novel is magical and conveys a message that is relevant today. It also reminds us of our common humanity.

The story is narrated by Red, a red oak tree, with compassion, concern, wisdom, and a sense of humor; no easy task for an author. Red’s branches and hollows are home to a birds and a furry cast of comical characters (owls, raccoons, opossums, skunks, cats and a crow) who live to together in harmony — most of the time. Red and his residents communicate openly with each other, but not with humans. Once a year Red is a wishtree for the town. Red’s world is vibrant and harbors a secret that needs to be shared.

Wishtree is a quiet and thoughtful read aloud with the entire family or in the classroom. It has a strong plot that with themes the encourage readers think about diversity, inclusion, acceptance, kindness and the true nature of friendship. It is a delightful mix that will keep readers turning pages. The story has Common Core connections.

For the next few months Greg Pattridge will be hosting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Thank you Greg for keeping MMGM active while author Shannon Messenger is on tour promoting her sixth book, Nightfall, in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, which was released November 7.

Pizza Mouse by Miachael Garland — PPBF

Pizza Mouse

Michael Garland, Author and Illustrator

Holiday House, Fiction, Sep. 5, 2017

Series: I Like to Read

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Mice, City life, Food

Opening: No one likes mice.

Synopsis: Life is a challenge for a city mouse. There are daily dangers and he has to survive dogs, cats, owls, and people. But when the whiskered hero of this story uncovers one of the greatest treats New York City has to offer a forager―a discarded slice of pepperoni pizza―the danger is all worth it! Now it’s up to the tiny Pizza Mouse to get the gigantic slice safely home to his family.

Why I like this book:

Michael Garland has written and illustrated a humorous book with very simple text and an engaging plot for children learning to read on their own. This city mouse narrates his story with a little bit of attitude and a lot of determination. After all, he has a family depending upon him for dinner. Mouse’s expressions are priceless. Garland’s digital illustrations are very expressive and a visual feast for children — messy trash spilling out of the can, running from a man with a broom, and darting the myriad of feet in the subway station. This story is fun and full of action as Mouse scurries about the big city. Garland’s early reader is inspired by the viral “pizza Rate” YouTube video.

Garland has published other early reader books, Big and Little Are Best Friends, Fish Had a Wish, Car Goes Far, Tugboat, and Lost Dog, which are appealing and create a positive experience or kids in preschool and kindergarten. Visit Michael Garland at his website.

Resources: Visit the Holiday House website for flashcards and activities.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book on author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit her website. 

Reena’s Rainbow by Dee White

Reena’s Rainbow

Dee White, Author

Tracie Grimwood, Illustrator

EK Books, Fiction, Sep. 30, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 years

Themes: Friendship, Dog, Inclusion, Deaf, Homeless, Differences

Opening: In Reena’s world, sounds scattered and scrambled and made no sense. But her clear blue eyes saw everything.

Synopsis: Reena is deaf and Dog is homeless, but they are so much more than that. At first Reena and Dog feel like they don’t belong. But when they are a team they help each other. Reena is very observant and doesn’t miss a thing. When they play hide and seek with the other hearing children in the park, Dog shows the kids the best hiding places and Reena always finds them.  Their special bond and friendship helps them discover that everyone is different and special in their own way.

Why I like this book:

Dee White’s endearing story is about Reena’s abilities and not her disability.

The bond between Reena and Dog is unbreakable and heartwarming.  They find each other’s strengths and work together as a team so that Reena interacts more easily with other hearing children.

Reena has skills and heightened senses that help her navigate her world.  She notices things other children don’t, like a branch that breaks and nearly injures another child. When playing hide-and-seek, she’s clever because she notices “eyes peeping through pampas,” and a” pink cardigan camouflaged in cherry blossoms.”

The is a beautiful story of inclusion that teaches children how to respect and celebrate their strengths and differences. The rainbow symbolically embraces the range of differences in our colorful human family. It is a heartwarming story that also shows children the importance of acceptance and friendship.

Tracie Grimwood’s soft, pastel illustrations are lively and add a joyful spirit to the special friendship between a girl and her dog.  This is a beautiful collaboration between author and illustrator.

Resources: The book is an excellent is an excellent resource. Learning about differences offers new experiences and fosters compassion in children. Ask children if they know anyone with a disability. Make a list of the disabilities or differences they have seen. It will help them realize that we’re all humans, even if we may need to wear hearing aids, use a walking device or wheelchair, have Down Syndrome or autism.

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

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Wish by Barbara O’Connor

Wish

Barbara O’Connor, Author

Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Aug. 30, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Separation, Dogs, Family Relationships, Friendship, Social Issues, Hope

Synopsis: Charlemagne (Charlie) Reese has been making the same secret wish every day since fourth grade. Charlie knows all the ways to make a wish, like looking at a clock at exactly 11:11, finding a four-leaf clover, spotting a shiny penny in the dirt, observing a black cat cross the road or blowing on a dandelion. But when she is sent to live with and aunt and uncle she barely knows in a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, it seems unlikely that her wish will ever come true. That is until she meets Wishbone, a skinny stray dog who captures her heart, and Howard a neighbor boy who proves surprising in lots of ways. Suddenly Charlie is in danger of discovering that what she though she wanted may not be at all what she needs.

Why I like this book:

Wish is a richly textured an emotionally honest story about separation. Charlie’s father is in jail. Her mother is depressed and unable to care for her. Barbara O’Connor weaves together a moving story about friendship, belonging and finding family.

Wish is told from Charlie’s viewpoint. The narrative is seamless and the plot is well-paced with just the right amount of adventure and tension to keep readers turning pages.  It is also a beautiful story that is filled with heart and teaches the power and bond of community. Add a dog and you have the perfect read for teens.

Charlie is a spunky and resilient character with a temper, which she believes she inherited. She later regrets the mean and hurtful things she says. At first she hates Colby, N.C., the hillbilly kids and the ugly house she lives in that sits on the edge of a cliff. But she also shows her compassion to people and animals who are worth caring about — even though they are different or may be a scrawny stray dog she names Wishbone.  Howard is a great balance for Charlie. He has one leg shorter than the other and has dealt with mean kids and teasing his whole life.  He is kindhearted and has learned to forgive and accept others for who they are — a big lesson for Charlie. She even tests Uncle Gus and Aunt Bertha with her outbursts, but their love and patience give Charlie a sense of belonging.

Barbara O’Connor was born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina. She has written many award-winning books for children, including How to Steal a Dog and The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester. Visit Barbara O’Connor at her website.

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

Once I Was Very Very Scared by Chandra Ghosh Ippen

Once I Was Very Very Scared

Chandra Ghosh Ippen, Author

Erich Ippen Jr., Illustrator

Piplo Productions, Fiction, Jan. 12, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes: Animals, Stress, Trauma, Abuse, Scary Events, Hope

Opening: “Umm…Once I was very, very scared,” said Squirrel.

Synopsis: A little squirrel shares with his forest friends a very scary experience.  He discovers that he is not alone. All his furry friends share their scary moments, but they each react in different ways.  Turtle hides in his shell and gets a tummy ache, monkey is sad, dog growls and barks, rabbit wants to run and elephant doesn’t want to talk about it.  What will these friends do to feel calm and safe?

Why I like this book:

Chandra Ghosh Ippen has written a timely book for children who have experienced stressful and traumatic events, natural disasters, violence, and abuse. It is the perfect book to share with children who have family members involved in the aftermath of recent hurricanes. With the help of a cast of furry animal friends, the book encourages  children to talk about what happens to them when they are scared.

Once I Was Very Very Scared goes into details about the physical symptoms the animals experience when something scary happens — tummy aches, sadness, uncontrollable thoughts, hiding, running, and not wanting to talk about it.  With the help of a wise Porcupine, the furry friends begin to talk about how they feel inside when they are scared — angry, sad, ashamed, frustrated and embarrassed. The friends begin to learn new things to help them during scary times — talking to a parent, snuggling with Mom, listening to music, and playing with friends.

This books speaks to a common emotion of kids that they don’t always get to talk about.  Adults assume kids go on an forget an event like a fire, an accident, a tornado or a parental argument. They don’t.

Erich Ippen’s lively and expressive illustrations give life to the conversations between the animals.  They are richly textured, humorous at times and will appeal to children.

Resource: This is book is a perfect resource for parents, teachers, school counselors and therapists to use with children individually or as a group, depending upon the circumstances. For more information about the impact of stressful and traumatic events on children and how grown-ups can help, please visit the National Children’s Traumatic Stress Network.

Other Links:  The author has written Trinka and Sam and the Rainy Windy Day,  a three-part free coloring book disaster series great for home or classroom use. It is available in English, Spanish and other languages.

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

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website. 

Blossom Plays Possum by Birdy Jones

Blossom Plays Possum: Because She’s Shy

Birdy Jones, Author

Janet McDonnell, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Jul. 17, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Anxiety, Bashful, Shy, School, Animals, Courage

Opening: Ask me my name? Want me to play? Call on me in class? I say nothing and hope no one will see me. I call that playing possum. It’s my way of being shy.

Synopsis: Blossom is a talented possum. She makes glitter headbands, plays the flute and recites to her  audience of stuffed animals.  But no one knows what Blossom can do because she is bashful and freezes up when other kids invite her to play. Playing possum isn’t the best way to make friends.  She wants to interact with the other kids, but she doesn’t know how. With the support and encouragement from her classmates and her teacher, Blossom learns to take some risks and have some fun.

Why I like this book:

Birdy Jones has created a believable main character in her story about an adorable possum who “plays possum” so that no one will notice her. Blossom is so shy around people that she freezes. Children will enjoy the fun wordplay with “possum.”

It is a realistic story about children dealing with common social anxieties. Many children will identify with Blossom, who is afraid of trying new things for fear of saying the wrong thing, being laughed at and making a mistake. This lovable possum will help kids talk about their own fears and anxieties and show them there is nothing wrong with being shy or making mistakes.

Janet McDonnell’s delightful and whimsical illustrations add a flare of drama and humor to the story as she shows Blossom playing possum — hanging upside down on the monkey bars or lying on her back with mouth wide open and all four limbs stiff in the air.

Resources: The book is an excellent resource for parents and teachers. There is a Note to Parents and Other Caregivers at the end of the book with more information and resources about overcoming shyness.

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

Birdy Jones loves to tell stories. Her debut book Mister Cool was named an Anti-Bullying Book of 2014 by Publisher’s Weekly.  She is a supporter of “We Need Diverse Books,” and stays engaged with hot topics that affect young readers today.

Mine! by Jeff Mack

Mine!

Jeff Mack, Author and Illustrator

Chronicle Books, Fiction, May 9, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 2-5

Themes: Mice, Animals, Possessiveness, Quarreling, Sharing, Friendship

Opening: Mine!

“Mine!” This one word is powerful when you add two mice, who find a large rock and each one declares ownership. A battle ensues with the two trying to outsmart each other by dangling tantalizing morsels of cheese from a fishing pole and bearing other gifts. As the stakes get higher for who will own the rock, a dump truck backs up with a load rocks to knock one of the mice off the rock. One victor is momentarily triumphant, while the other builds a rock fortress around his rock. A wrecking ball brings the rock wall tumbling down. In the final battle, the two mice both stand on top of the rock facing each other with fists raised and yelling “Mine! Mine! Mine!” at each other. And then something happens and they both are in for a big surprise!

This is the first time I’ve reviewed a picture book with only one word. Jeff Mack’s zany story is highly entertaining with great pacing. His bold and  colorful illustrations are expressive and show the building tension between the two mice, one blue and the other orange, as they try to outsmart each other. You have to love that cover!

This is a perfect read-aloud story for young children who are learning to share.  It is a clever book about sibling rivalry and one that will elicit giggles from children. It’s a great book for about learning how to solve problems. This book belongs in every pre-school classroom.

Jeff Mack has drawn since early childhood, when he would illustrate his own stories, particularly about monsters, robots and pinball machines. He has illustrated more than 30 children’s books, including Ah Ha! and Good News, Bad News, both of which he also authored. Visit Jeff Mack at his website.

** I won Mine! from Sue Morris’ website, Kid Lit Reviews. Check out her honest and objective reviews of the most recent book releases.