The River Boy by Jessica Brown

The River Boy

Jessica Brown, Author

Finch & Fellow Publishing Home, Historical Fiction, 2016

Pages: 148

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Montana Frontier, Abuse, Friendship, Adventure, Imagination, Courage, Hope

Synopsis:

Nine-year-old Clara is worried about spending a lonely and boring summer on her family ranch in Montana, which is two miles outside of town. It is 1909 and she lives with her parents and two older brothers on a ranch that her grandfather built after the civil war. Everyone pitches in to keep the ranch operating — weeding cornfields, planting gardens and caring for the livestock.

Feeling that “hollow” space inside her, Clara heads to her special place, the grassy banks of the river. There in the middle of her river, she spots a boy sitting on a big rock. Josiah invites her to join him and lends his hand. He asks Clara if she knows what the rock is here for?  “It’s for people who  know how be still,” says Clara. He smiles at her and at that moment, Clara knows they will be friends. Josiah is unlike anyone she has ever met before. He enjoys exploring nature,  is full of full of ideas and has a huge imagination. They decide to write a book together and hope to travel all over town and countryside to collect people stories.

As their adventure unfolds, Clara realizes that Josiah has dark secrets. He lives with his sister and father, who is an abusive alcoholic. Clara hopes that if Josiah can publish his book, he will be able to move to somewhere safe. They run an advertisement in the town newspaper and invite people to submit their stories. But they butt heads with the publisher, Dr. Lowell, who is furious and prints a retraction. It will take much gumption for Clara and Josiah to fight for their book. And there is a town full of people who each have a story to tell. The town’s folk come together and send their stories to Clara and Josiah and stand up to the arrogant Dr. Lowell. Ultimately Clara realizes that sometimes assumptions about people may not be correct and it may take time to look deeper to truly get to know what drives behavior.

Jessica Brown has penned an original novel about the power of a story to connect people despite all their differences. It is a heartwarming tale full of hope with believable characters you will love, rich dialogue, and vivid imagery appropriate to Montana in 1909.  The pacing is perfect with short chapters. Brown creates a satisfying and story about friendship and courage for young readers. It reminds you a bit of Sarah, Plain and Tall, one the author’s favorite childhood books.

Jessica Brown  loves to cook, hike, read, and go on road trips with her husband and son. She grew up in Texas and has since lived in Indiana, Boston, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, England, Ireland and New Zealand. Her graduate studies include English, creative writing and spiritual formation. She has written a memoir, The Grace to Be Human, which will be released this year. Visit Jessica at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the permanent 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.

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

Somebody Cares by Susan Farer Straus

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Somebody Cares: A Guide for Kids Who Have Experienced Neglect

Susan Farber Straus, PhD, Author

Claire Keay, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Mar. 14, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Child abuse, Neglect, Child safety, Diverse characters

Opening: There were times I felt good about being me. I did a lot on my own. I told myself, “‘I’m big. I can take care of myself.” But that’s not how I felt all the time. Lots of times I needed help and there was no help.

Publisher Synopsis: Useful to read with a caring adult, Somebody Cares is a book for children who have experienced parental neglect and have taken care of many things on their own. It helps them understand their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors and prepares them for changes in their families. Most importantly, Somebody Cares teaches children that they are not to blame and were brave to do so much on their own.

Why I like this book:

This is the first picture book I’ve read that deals with young children who feel dismissed or neglected by parents. Out of necessity many children have to prepare their own meals, go home to an empty house after school, care for younger siblings, are left at home alone when a parent goes out at night, and worry about parental substance abuse problems. These children are brave, courageous, and strong.  But neglect leads to loneliness, anxiety and behavior problems.  Neglect can be found in all socio-economic groups.

The author has written the narrative in first person, which is very effective. Children express their thoughts and feelings about what it’s like to be on their own. When neighbors and teachers ask them if they are okay, they clam up so they don’t make their parents mad or get in trouble. Help arrives when an adult calls a social worker, who intervenes and talks with the child and parents.  Things begin to change as they all work together.

The illustrator shows a diverse group of children throughout the book, thus eliminating any stereotypes. The illustrations are rendered in warm, colorful pastels. The author has written a must-needed book for children experiencing neglect. Children shouldn’t have to carry such a big burden alone.

Resources: This book is an important tool for grandparents, a caring adult, teachers, school counselors, and therapists to read with a child. In the story the children are encouraged to develop a “Safety Plan,” and a “Feel Good Plan” of deep breathing exercises and relaxation. There are fun after-school activities for kids. There is a “Note to Readers” at the beginning of the book. This book belongs in every school library and counselor’s office.

Favorite Quotes:

“Sometimes I thought everyone forgot about me. Sometimes I thought it was because I was bad.” 

“I thought this was the way it would be forever. Then something happened and things changed.”

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 Carpet Boy’s Gift

The Carpet Boy’s Gift

Pegi Deitz Shea, author

Leane Morin, illustrator

Tilbury House Publishers, Fiction, 2006

Suitable for:  Ages 7 -12

Themes:  Pakistan, Child Labor, Child Abuse, Carpet Factories

Opening/Synopsis: “Master says I have only two more months until my peshgi   (family debt) is paid back.  With that thought, Nadeem quickened his knotting of the scarlet weft threads on the loom and then beat them tightly into place with his panja.  I’m sure Master means it this time, Nadeem hoped.”  Nadeem dreams of being free, playing soccer with his little brother and going to school.  He works in a dimly lit carpet factory from “dawn to dusk” breathing the dust of the wool that makes many kids sick.  One day Nadeem meets Iqbal Masih, a boy who marches past the rug factories shouting “We are free.” Iqbal hands Nadeem some Freedom Letters abolishing child labor and urges Nadeem to pass them to the other children.  Before the master intervenes, Iqbal hands Nadeem a pen and tells him he can go to school now.  The next day Nadeem hands the Freedom Letters to all the children at the factory and bravely confronts the master.  He makes a very risky and courageous decision that changes his life forever.

Why I like this book:  Pegi Deitz Shea writes a very important story about the power of children working together to end child labor in Pakistan.   Her fictional story honors the legacy of a boy, Iqbal Masih, who risked his own life to free children from slavery so that they could attend school.  Iqbal escaped from a factory and attended a rally held by the Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF), an organization working to help bonded children.  He began to sneak into hundreds of rug factories so he could educate the other kids about their rights.   He became famous worldwide.  Leane Morin’s illustrations are beautiful watercolors that show a lot of emotion and are unique.  Each photo has a border with a special design –like a carpet border.

Resources:  There is a comprehensive section of backmatter full of resources for kids who wonder what they can do to about child labor around the world.  There is the true story of Iqbal Masih,  information about the United Nations and the work it does for the rights of all children, and UNICEF and its mission for children.   There are many kid-friendly sites listed  and a kid-to-kid global project that helps others.  You can also check out Reach and Teach for more classroom activities for this story.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.