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.

How to Heal a Broken Wing

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Bob Graham, Author and Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, 2008

Suitable for Ages: 3-8

Themes: Birds, Compassion, Healing

Opening: “High above the city, no one heard the soft thud of feathers against glass.  No one saw the bird fall.  No one looked down…except Will.”

Synopsis:  When Will finds a bird with a broken wing lying on the pavement, he gently picks it up and takes it home to care for it.  His  parents help bandage the wing and Will  lovingly feeds and nurtures the bird back to health.  With rest and a little hope, the bird may fly again.

Why I like this book:  Bob Graham’s lyrical tory celebrates the compassion of a small boy for an injured bird.  Graham writes with such simplicity (text is under 75 words) and with double page spreads that show the story with contrasts and beautiful detail.  Many spreads have no words just rich illustrations done in pen, watercolor and chalk.   Children are loving by nature and like caring for injured animals.  They will enjoy pouring over the detail on each page to see if Will is able to save the bird. This is such a touching and uplifting story for children.  Bob Graham is a leading Australian author and illustrator recognized internationally for his work.

Resources:  Visit the Audubon website for activities and resources about birth watching, bird counting at home and at school.  You can even adopt a bird. They have a range of activities for all ages groups that fit the core curriculum.   Visit a pond to teach kids about water birds.  Observe migratory birds in the spring and autumn. Make bird houses, set up bird baths and make winter bird treats.

Every Friday authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  Although PPBF is on a summer break until September, you can still view a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Leah’s Voice

Leah's Voice9781612442402_p0_v1_s260x420Leah’s Voice

Lori DeMonia, Author

Monique Turchan, Illustrator

Halo Publishing International, Fiction, 2013

Suitable for ages: 5-8 years

Themes: Autism Spectrum, Siblings, Differences, Compassion, Kindness, Special Needs

Opening: Logan stood at the window waiting with excitement. Her friend Abby was coming over for her very first play date. As soon as a car pulled in the drive, Logan yelled out, “She’s here!” 

Synopsis: Logan looks forward to a play date with her friend Abby. She introduces Abby to her older sister Leah. They play a board game and invite Leah to play. But Leah leaves the room after her turn. Abby is upset that Leah won’t stay and play. Logan explains that her sister is uncomfortable around new people. Abby tells Logan that “next time we’ll play at my house.” Logan is sad about how her friend treats Leah and wonders why she doesn’t like her. Logan thinks about the similarities and differences between her and Leah. Her mother takes them to a movie and Leah has a melt down and ruins the day. Logan is angry and confused. Her parents explain that Leah has autism and that’s why she doesn’t talk much and gets upset easily. Logan tries to be patient and focuses on what Leah loves best, drawing pictures.

Why I like this book: Lori DeMonia knows first hand the confusion and challenge for a sibling who has an autistic sister or brother.  It is a fictional story inspired by her daughters. The story is told with such simplicity that young children will be able to read and understand. Siblings don’t know how to explain it to their friends. They are embarrassed by their behavior and angry when they have meltdowns and ruin family outings. Leah’s Voice is an important story about accepting differences and treating others with respect and kindness. It is perfect for the classroom. Monique Turchan’s illustrations are colorful and lively. They beautifully capture the emotion of the story.

Awards:  2014 Temple Grandin Outstanding Literary Work of the Year award from the Autism Society of America, the Mom’s Choice Award, the New York Book Festival 2013 Honorable Mention Award,  and the London Book Festival 2013 Honorable Mention Award.

Resources: Visit the website for Leah’s Voice to  see Leah’s artwork and find printable pages. For information about autism visit the Austism Society website.

Willow’s Whispers

Willow27606548Willow’s Whispers

Lana Button, Author

Tania Howells, Illustrator

Kids Can Press, Fiction, 2010

Suitable for Ages: 3-8

Themes:  Soft-spoken, Shyness, Bravery, Courage, Compassion

Opening: ” Willow’s words came out in whispers.  They were just too tiny to hear.”

Synopsis: Willow’s voice is very soft. She wishes her words would come out strong and loud so that everyone would notice her.  She is tired of sitting by herself at lunch, not being called on in class, playing by herself and getting the wrong juice at snack time because her teacher, Mrs. Post, and other children can’t hear her whispers. Her father is reassuring and tells Willow “one day your voice will wiggle its way out.”  One night she comes up with a plan and makes a magic microphone out of a cardboard tube and practices talking. When she uses her microphone at school the next day, everyone can hear her…until her magic microphone breaks. Is the magic gone? When it’s her turn to be a line leader will she find the courage to be heard?

Why I like this book: Lana Button has written a powerful and encouraging book for shy children.  I like how the font in the text becomes very tiny every time Willow speaks to exaggerate Willows painfully shy voice. I love that Willow is so desperate to have friends and participate in school activities, that she tries to find a solution to help herself. She makes the magic microphone and practices so that she can project her voice.  This is an excellent book to read in the classroom because many children will relate to Willow and it teaches them about compassion! Tania Howells simple digital characters are colorful, whimsical and show Willow’s longing to be heard. I especially love the cover where Willow is only half on the page emphasizing the book theme.

Resources: Click here to visit Lana Button’s website. Button suggests several resources to use with her book. Make magic microphones with children. All you need is a paper towel tube, markers, stickers, glitter, glue and construction paper. The author of The Crafty Crow shows how her students made microphones when they read Willow Whispers.  Button says this opens the conversation to whether the microphone was truly magic. Talk with children about how much courage it took Willow to speak up the first time, and how the microphone gave her the courage to do it.  As she practiced, it got easier. So in the end, she didn’t need it as she’d found her own voice.

Button says another effective teacher resource is creating a character map for Willow. It’s a terrific way to open discussion on how Willow feels, and what her struggles are. The children draw a picture of Willow and then add her character traits and her feelings in a web around her. Not only is this an effective language arts activity it’s a great activity for encouraging positive social relations with children and developing empathy. Here is an example of a teacher using a character map in class.
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Lana Button is also the author of a 2013 book, Willow Finds a Way, about bullying.
Willow Finds a Way9781771380850_p0_v1_s260x420
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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.

Lily and the Paper Man

Lily and Paper Man9781897187197_p0_v1_s260x420Lily and the Paper Man

Rebecca Upjohn, Author

Renée Benoit, Illustrator

Second Story Press, Fiction, 2007

Suitable for Ages: 4 and up

Themes: Homelessness, Hunger, Compassion

Opening“Shall we take the bus home today?”  Lily’s mother asks.  Lily peers from under her umbrella.  “Let’s walk.  I like the rain.”  She takes her mother’s hand to cross the street.  Her mother goes around the puddles.  Lily skips through them.

Synopsis:  During her walk home, Lily backs into a scraggly looking man who is selling newspapers.  His clothing is ragged and he is soaked from the rain.  Lily is frightened.  Her mother gives the man a dollar and thanks him for the paper.  Lily and her mother have many encounters with the man outside a favorite shop.  But as the seasons change, Lily begins to see him differently.  Winter arrives and she sees that his coat is thin and has holes.  The soles on his shoes reveal bare toes peeking through the ends.  He has no gloves or hat and his ears are red from the cold.  Lily is so concerned about the paper man, that the images of him on the street makes her toss and turn in bed — until she comes up with an idea.

Why I like this book:   There are very few children’s books about the homeless.   Rebecca Upjohn tells a compelling and heartwarming story about how a little girl makes a difference for one man.  Children by nature are compassionate and want to help, and this is a perfect book to talk about the many kinds of homelessness.  There is a lovely marriage between art and text in this beautiful story. Renée Benoit’s illustrations are vivid and evoke a lot of compassion from the reader.

Resources:  This is a good discussion book with kids.  What would you do if you saw some one in great need?  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 Rebecca Upjohn’s website where she has a teacher page of suggested activities and resources to use with children in the classroom.

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Perfect Picture Book Friday will go on vacation after today’s post.  It will resume in September.  I will cut back on my posts this summer, but will continue to post some picture books,  middle grade and young adult reviews.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.