Mananaland by Pam Munoz Ryan

Mañanaland

Pam Muñoz Ryan

Scholastic, Fiction, Mar. 3, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Refugees, Oppression, Loss, Underground movements, Adventure, Courage, Hope, Freedom

Synopsis:

Maximiliano Córdoba loves stories, especially the legend Buelo tells him about a mythical gatekeeper who can guide brave travelers on a journey into tomorrow.

If Max could see tomorrow, he would know if he’d make Santa Maria’s celebrated fútbol team and whether he’d ever meet his mother, who disappeared when he was a baby. He longs to know more about her, but Papá won’t talk. So when Max uncovers a buried family secret–involving an underground network of guardians who lead people fleeing a neighboring country to safety–he decides to seek answers on his own.

With a treasured compass, a mysterious stone rubbing, and Buelo’s legend as his only guides, he sets out on a perilous quest to discover if he is true of heart and what the future holds.

This timeless tale of struggle, hope, and the search for tomorrow has much to offer today about compassion and our shared humanity.

Why I like this book:

Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Mañanaland is a beautifully crafted novel that sweeps readers into a fantasy world that feels oddly familiar, but is set in the Americas, past or future.  The setting, the characters, the courageous plot and the gorgeous imagery are carefully intertwined and create a thrilling experience for readers.

Max’s family are masons who have built 200  bridges all over the country.  But there is a secret that links the bridges to people who need to escape from oppression to a neighboring country. Max discovers his Papá and Buelo are part of the underground network dedicated to helping people. I love the symbolism of the bridges they build.

Readers will admire 12-year-old Max and his brave resolve to take on a dangerous and arduous journey to help a young girl, Isadora, escape abuse and meet up with her sister in Mañanaland. His father and Buelo are gone and wouldn’t approve. Max may be inexperienced as a guardian, but he is smart, brave, and resourceful. He is determined to prove that he can responsibly and safely guide Isadora to Yadra, the next guardian. Yadra is a towering woman with long silver hair, who lives beneath a secret bridge. Max also hopes she may shed some light on his mother’s disappearance, which his Papá has kept a secret. Is his mother in Mañanaland?

The story parallels our world today with a timely and relevant message that will introduce readers to the refugee crisis, without pinpointing a location. The role of guardians is to help those who are seeking asylum because they are abused, marginalized, and oppressed by a dictator and his military. Many have lost  loved ones and families have been split. However, as Max learns along his journey, “Mañaland is not a destination. It’s a…way of thinking.” (Page 209)

The plot is dangerous with many harrowing moments. Ryan’s deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. She nicely pulls everything together in a realistic and satisfying ending.

Pam Muñoz Ryan is the recipient of the NEA’s Human and Civil Rights Award and the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award for Lifetime Achievement. Her celebrated novels –Echo, Esperazna Rising, The Dreamer, Riding Freedom, Becoming Naomi León, and Paint the Wind — have received countless accolades are are treasured by readers around the world. Ryan lives near San Diego, California, with her family.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library book.

 

The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story by Aya Khalil

The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story

Aya Khalil, Author

Anait Semirdzhyan, Illustrator

Tilbury House Publishers, Fiction, Feb. 18, 2020

Suitable for ages: 6-8

Themes: Quilt, Immigration, Egypt, Bilingual, School, Prejudice, Inclusion, Diversity, Friendship

Opening: “Kanzi, habibti, your’e going to be late to the first day of school,” Mama calls.

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Kanzi’s family has moved from Egypt to America, and she wants very much to fit in. Maybe that’s why on her first day in her new school, she forgets to take the kofta sandwich her mother has made for her lunch, but that backfires when Mama shows up at school with the sandwich. Mama wears a hijab and calls her daughter Habibti (dear one). When she leaves, the teasing starts.

That night, Kanzi wraps herself in the beautiful Arabic quilt her teita (grandma) in Cairo gave her. She writes a poem about her beloved quilt. It smells like Teita’s home in Cairo, and that comforts Kanzi. What she doesn’t know yet is that the quilt will help her make new friends.

Why I like this book:

The Arabic Quilt is a compassionate and feel-good book for immigrant children who are bilingual and starting a new school. They want so badly to fit in with and be accepted by the other children, even though they may dress a little differently and bring an ethnic lunch from home.

Kanzi’s teacher handles a difficult situation with such creativity. Kanzi writes a poem about her Arabic quilt and shares it with her teacher. The teacher asks Kanzi to bring her quilt to share with the other students. They think it’s cool and want to make a classroom quilt. The teacher invites Kanzi’s mom to teach the students how to write their names in Arabic for their quilt squares. Completed, the quilt is hung on the wall outside the classroom.

I love that this celebratory story of cultural traditions, acceptance, and inclusion is based on the author’s own childhood experiences, after immigrating to the US from Egypt. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it will put a smile on your face.

Anait Semirdzhyan’s lively and expressive illustrations are beautiful and full of details. Make sure you check out the Arabic names on the quilt.

Resources: This is an excellent classroom or school project that will help unite kids of all cultures.  Make sure you check out the Glossary of Arabic Words at the end with Arabic letters and English words derived from Arabic, like zero, algebra, candy, sugar and coffee.

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.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

I Am Love: A Book of Compassion by Susan Verde

I Am Love: A Book of Compassion

Susan Verde, Author

Peter H. Reynolds, Illustrator

Abrams Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Sep. 17, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Love, Compassion, Empathy, Gratitude, Kindness, Mindfulness

Opening: I put my hands on my heart and listen. And that is where I find the answer: I have compassion. I act with tenderness. I am love.

Book Synopsis:

Love means showing kindness, living with gratitude, and taking care of our minds and bodies. Letting our hearts lead the way can help move us closer to a better world.

Grounded in mindfulness and wellness, I Am Love asks readers to look inward when they feel afraid, angry, hurt, or sad. When a storm is brewing inside us and the skies grow dark, the transformative power of love lets the light back in.

Why I like this book:

Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds uplifting book will leave a smile in your heart. It celebrates love in all its forms and encourages readers to develop empathy and compassion towards others. Love is ever present when you help an older neighbor, listen with understanding, give a hug, face a fear and take care of yourself. The message is sincere and heartwarming.

Reynolds’ colorful illustrations have his trademark whimsical appeal and will resonate with children. They are expressive watercolors and contribute to the books celebratory mood. I love the yoga poses that emphasize self-care and wholeness throughout the story.

I Am Love, is the fourth book in the I Am Books, from this bestselling  team that created I Am Yoga, I Am Peace and I Am Human.

Resources: There is an Author’s Note and a page of Heart-Opening Yoga poses that will help children learn to “lead with our hearts by opening and expanding the front of the body.” These activities can be done at home or in school.

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.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Delivery Bear by Laura Gehl

Delivery Bear

Laura Gehl, Author

Paco Sordo, Illustrator

Albert Whitman & Company, Fiction, Sep. 1, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes: Animals, Bear, Pursing dreams, Courage, Being yourself, Empathy

Opening: Even as a tiny cub, Zogby knew what he wanted to be when he grew up.

Synopsis:

Delivering Fluffy Tail Cookies has always been Zogby’s dream job. One day he reads a job notice for a delivery animal in the grocery store window. But he’s a bear and all the other delivery animals are cute bunnies with fluffy tails. The manager is skeptical, but gives Zogby a one-day trial.

When Zogby rings a doorbell and sings the delivery song, he scares the customer again and again! Wearing bunny ears, whiskers, and a fluffy rabbit tail doesn’t fool his customers. Blinking back his tears he rides back to the factory singing the last verses from his song, “Please remember when you chew…You are special. You are you!”

Suddenly, Zogby has a BIG idea. When Zogby realizes it’s best to just be himself, he discovers a clever way to get the job done.

Why I like this book:

You can’t help but fall in love with Zogby. His customers — a rabbit, beaver, raccoon, porcupine and chipmunk — all yell a frightful “AAHHHHHH!” as they open the door and meet Zogby. Readers will commiserate with Zogby with each rejection and lost dream. But they will cheer this huggable bear as he picks himself up, sells cookies his way and realizes his dream.

Laura Gehl’s uplifting story is about learning to be yourself.  It has many teachable moments about empathy and compassion. This story is brimming with heart and connection.

Paco Sordo’s brightly colored illustrations really bring this story to life and showcase its message. The animals expressions and reactions are priceless. Take a good look at the lively book cover. Kids will love turning the pages. Great collaborative effort between author and illustrator. This book is a winner!

Resources:  This is a very useful discussion book for home and school — along with baked chocolate chip cookies. Ask children how they respond when they see someone who may not look or act like them — a homeless person, someone with a disfigurement or a child who is differently abled.  Are they curious? Are they frightened? Do they avoid the person? Are they friendly? Do they feel compassion?

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.

*Review copy provided by publisher.

Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans

Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans

Tina Cho, Author

Keum Jin Song, Illustrator

Little Bee Books, Historical Fiction, Aug. 14, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Korea, Hunger, Compassion, Kindness, Making a difference

Opening: Out in the countryside, across a bridge, to an island blanketed with rice fields, Appa and I ride. We reach a place where mountains become a wall. A wall so high, no one dares to climb. Beyond that wall and across the sea live children just like me, except they do not have enough food to eat.

Synopsis:

Yoori and her father (Appa) travel to the border of South Korea to help with a secret mission to feed the children of North Korea. Appa grew up starving in North Korea before he escaped. They arrive and meet many other volunteers who are eager to help.  They also are met by angry villagers who chant “Don’t feed the enemy.”

There is a lot of work to be done before nightfall. Rice is poured into smaller bags. Under the cover of darkness, large balloons are filled with helium and bags of rice are tied onto each tail. Appa and Yoori give their balloons a little push as they rise into the sky – Up! Up! Up!. It is a good night as 200 balloons are launched into the air and float over the mountains into North Korea. In the morning, hungry children and families will find rice from friends who care.

Why I like this book:

There is so much beauty in Tina Cho’s book. What a powerful fictionalized story based on true stories of South Koreans showing their kindness and compassion towards the starving children and families living under the heartless North Korean regime. Children hear about North Korea on TV, but don’t understand what is happening.

Cho’s language is lyrical with lovely imagery and a gentle rhythm — “I am a little grain of rice. How can I help?” and “The stars and moon hide under the rain clouds as two hundred balloons creep over the mountains like stealthy ninjas to fight hunger in the darkness of the night.” Keum Jin Song’s beautiful illustrations are hopeful and capture many touching moments. They are colorful and dramatic.

This is my favorite kind of story to share with children because it shows average kids doing something to make a difference for others less fortunate. It is a stark reminder that children can make a difference in their community and world. Rice from Heaven is the perfect medium to start a dialogue about a communist state. It belongs in every school library.

Resources: Encourage kids to write about a time they helped someone and how it made them feel. Look for  projects at school or in the community where kids can make a difference. Make sure you read the Author’s Note about participating in a rice balloon project, sponsored by North Korean refugees who live in Seoul. There are interesting facts about Korea (food, customs, lucky numbers), information about the Politics of the Korean Peninsula and facts on North Korea.

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.

*Purchased Copy

I Am Human by Susan Verde

I Am Human

Susan Verde, Author

Peter H. Reynolds, Illustrator

Abrams Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Oct. 2, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Making mistakes, Empathy, Compassion, Kindness

Opening: “I was born. A miracle! / One of billions / but unique!”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

I am Human.

But being human means

I am not perfect.

I make mistakes.

Being human means we are full of possibility. We learn, we dream, we are curious, we wonder at the world around us, and we make discoveries. But we also make mistakes, hurt others and can be fearful of trying new things.  Because I am human I can make choices.

I Am Human is a hopeful celebration of the human family. It affirms that we can make good choices by acting with compassion and having empathy for others and ourselves. When we find common ground, we can feel connected to the great world around us and mindfully strive to be our best selves.

Why I like this book:

I Am Human is a timeless treasure penned by Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. It is a realistic portrayal of what it means to be human, because we all make thoughtless choices and careless mistakes that hurt others and ourselves. Because we are human we can choose to be thoughtful, treat others with kindness, and lend a helping hand.

This uplifting story will leave a smile on your face. It will touch the hearts of both children and adults. It encourages readers to develop empathy and compassion towards others. We are individuals connected to billions of humans worldwide. This journey is one we make together.

Reynolds’ illustrations have his trademark whimsical appeal and will resonate with a global audience. They are expressive watercolors and contribute to the books celebratory mood.

I Am Human, is the third book in a wellness series from the bestselling team that created I am Yoga and I Am Peace.

Resources: The book includes a Guided Meditation for parents to use with children. Verde says that one of wonderful ways to share love and kindness with all humans is to practice a loving-kindness mediation. They are tools that will benefit children for a lifetime. And they are easy to use.

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.

*Copy is a Library book.

I See You by Michael Genhart

I See You

Michael Genhart, PhD, Author

Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Oct. 9, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Homelessness, Poverty, Child’s reaction, Empathy, Kindness, Social Justice

Synopsis: I See You is a wordless picture book that depicts a homeless woman who is invisible to everyone around her—except for a little boy. Over the course of a year, the boy observes the woman sitting at a bus stop bench, walking down the street, being barked at by dogs, rummaging through trash cans, receiving scowls from customers in a café, and shivering on a snowy bench in the winter. He is a witness to her life on the streets and all that she endures to survive. In a beautiful gesture of compassion, the boy acknowledges her through an exchange in which he sees her and she experiences being seen.

What I like about this book:

Michael Genhart’s wordless picture book is about heart, compassion and connecting with others. It is the a perfect medium to open the door for children and parents to begin a conversation about the many kinds of  homelessness. It also encourages children to study the detailed illustrations a little more carefully and use their imaginations to tell the story.  The boy is an inspiration and reminder of a child’s untainted generosity.

The emotion and candor captured by this story are beautifully brought to life in Joanne Lew-Vriethoff’s heartfelt and vivid illustrations. They are particularly important in evoking the necessary caring response from the boy and the annoyance of strangers.

Resources: In a Note for Parents, Educators, and Neighbors, there are discussion questions and additional resources about helping the homeless.  There is also a section on how children can get involved by making very simple Care Bags. There are many activities kid can do to help the homeless:  donate to local food pantries, donate clothing and toiletry items, books, clean toys to shelters. Visit Michael Genhart at his website.

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

Why Am I Here? by Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen

Why Am I Here?

Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen, Author

Akin Duzakin, Illustrator

Erdmans Books for Young Readers, Oct. 14, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Curiosity, Wonder, Compassion, Empathy

Opening: “I wonder why I am here, in this exact place. What if I were somewhere else — somewhere completely different from here.”

Synopsis: A child wonders why they are here, living the life they do. They could be on the other side of the globe living a very different life. Would they have been a different person? What if the lived in a city with millions of people? What if they lived in a place where there was a war and had to hide? What if they were a refugee on their way to an unfamiliar place? What if they lived where there were deserts, floods or earthquakes?  Is the child meant to live in some other place or are they right where they are supposed to be?

Why I like this book:

Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen has written a beautiful and quiet book for children who like to think big thoughts. It is a thought-provoking and contemplative story where the child imagines how different life would be if they lived in a variety of settings with a different family. The text is sensitive and powerful.

I fell in love with the book when Patricia Nozell reviewed it on her website, Wander, Ponder, Write. It would have been the type of picture book that would have touched my heart and tickled my curiosity as a child. Like the child in the story, I was introspective and pondered many of the same big questions.

The story is written in first person, with the child narrating. The story doesn’t identify the gender of the child. The child’s soft facial features, light brown skin and shaggy hair allows both boys and girls to identify with the character.

Akin Duzakin’s dreamy illustrations are rendered in pencil and soft pastels which soften the harsh realities of a world of homelessness, children working in an underground mines, war, refugees and natural disasters.  They evoke compassion from readers, but also convey warmth and hope at the end.

Resources: This is a good introduction book about the different lives children live in other parts of the world. It could lead to many interesting discussions between children and parents. It will also give kids a  better understanding of their place in the world.

The Very Fairy Princess: Valentines from the Heart

The Very Fairy Princess Valentines from 61caklR2VdL__SX496_BO1,204,203,200_The Very Fairy Princess: Valentines from the Heart

Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton, Co-authors

Christine Davenier, Illustrator

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Fiction, December 22, 2015

  • Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Valentine’s Day, Creativity, Compassion, Kindness, Friendship

Opening: “One of my FAVORITE days is coming up — Valentine’s Day! Fairy princesses are at their sparkly best making people smile, and what better way to do that than with a FABULOUS homemade card?”

Synopsis: Gerry makes home-made valentines for her classmates using glitter, sequins, glue and sparkly markers. Her mother gives her one of her father’s folders, to protect her valentines. When there is a mix-up in folders at home, Gerry needs to find another way to deliver her valentine message to her friends.

Why I like this book:

  • Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton have written a delightful reminder that gifts from the heart are meaningful, especially when delivered by a spunky and engaging character, Geraldine. Gerry believes she is a fairy princess because “the sparkle I feel inside tells me that it’s TRUE.” It is impressive how a special word like sparkle, can convey so much self-confidence to a child.
  • Gerry creatively personifies the power of compassion when she delivers her special sparkly message to each classmate. Her friends respond with surprise, kindness and generosity towards Gerry. This kind of authentic interaction between children just doesn’t get any better! Coming from Gerry, it is believable.
  • The book has a new format with bonus stickers and is perfectly suited for young readers. It is an excellent gift for Valentine’s Day.
  • Christine Davenier’s warm, expressive and whimsical pastel illustrations beautifully capture the compassionate tone of this timeless story of friendship for children.

Make sure you check out the other seven books and two Early Readers in the New York Times bestselling Very Fairy Princess series. The books hallmark self-confidence, creativity, problem-solving and radiate inner sparkle. They can be read in any order, but I encourage you to start with the very first book — that is where all the magic begins with Gerry, a passionate and memorable character. They are beautiful gift books. For more information, visit the Julie Andrews Collection and Emma Walton Hamilton’s website.

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The Hugging Tree by Jill Neimark

hugging-tree-coverThe Hugging Tree: A Story of Resilience

Jill Neimark, Author

Nicole Wong, Illustrator

Magination Press, Sep. 22, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Trees, Nature, Determination, Resilience, Hope, Compassion

Opening: “On a bleak and lonely rock / by a vast and mighty sea / grew a lonely little tree / where no tree should ever be.”

Synopsis: This is a story about a lonely little tree planting its roots on a high cliff above a beautiful and unforgiving sea. The tree basks in the spring and summer sunbeams and endures the raging storms and the cold winters. It thrives with the ebbs and flows of the sea.  It provides a home for a loon family. Over time the harsh environment begins to tear its exposed roots and weakens the tree. One day a boy discovers the tree high on the cliff. Everyday he brings rich soil and tends to the tree until it one day it fulfills its greatness.

Why I like this book:

The Hugging Tree is an inspiring story about a tree’s resilience to thrive and survive the harsh challenges of being the only tree at the top of a cliff. Jill Neimark’s poetic and rhythmic text sings off the pages as we follow a tree through its many seasons. The story is a beautiful metaphor of the natural world that children will understand and embrace as they face challenges in their daily lives.  It will introduce them to themes of resilience, determination and standing tall during difficult times.

The story is also a triumphant reminder of the inescapable connection between people’s actions and nature. The boy shows love and compassion in his tender care for the tree so that it begins to thrive and realize its full potential. It is also reminds children that they too can make a difference.

Nicole Wong’s watercolors are exquisite, lively and expressive and contribute significantly to the story. There is power in her illustrations of the stormy sea and windy coast, and sensitivity when the tree is ragged and barely standing. This is an exceptional pairing of art and text.

My Favorite Lines:

Soft gold sunbeams / kissed her crown, / warm as honey pouring down. / At night she raised her branches high / to greet the moon up in the sky.

“Mighty cliff, hold me tight. / Don’t let me blow away.” / “Little tree, with all my might, ‘ I’ll hold you close, / night and day.”

Now every day new people stop / to rest beneath the little tree / and dream the things we all dream of. / To love, to share, to give, to dare / to grow just where we are. /

And to this very day they come. / For on a splendid sunny rock / by a warm and bright blue sea / a great big hugging tree / grows just where she was meant to be.

Resources: There is A Note to Parents and Caregivers in the back pages, which is a perfect resource for parents, teachers and counselors helping children build resilience. It provides suggestions to help children talk about the challenges they face daily (i.e. bullying, disappointments, loss, etc.) and tools to cope. Make sure you also read Neimark’s remarks at the beginning of the book about the conception of The Hugging Tree. Visit Jill Neimark 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.

*Please Note: My website will be on hiatus until October 19.