Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar

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Lindsay Eagar, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Mar. 8, 2016

Pages: 360

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Family relationships, Heritage, Magic, Grandfather, Dementia, Forgiveness, Understanding, Loss

Book Jacket Synopsis: While her friends are spending their summers having pool parties and sleepovers, twelve-year-old Carolina –Carol — is spending hers in the middle of the New Mexico desert, helping her parents move the grandfather she’s never met off his dying sheep ranch and into a home for people with dementia.

At first Carol keeps her distance from prickly Grandpa Serge, whose eyes are impossibly old and who chastises “Caro-leeen-a” for spitting on her roots. But as the summer drags on and the heat bears down, she finds herself drawn to Serge, enchanted by his stories about an oasis in the desert with a green-glass lake and a tree that gave the villagers the gift of immortality — and the bees that kept the tree alive.

When Serge weaves details of his own life into his stories and tells her to keep an eye out for the bees he is certain will return to the ranch and end the century-long drought, she chalks it up to dementia. But as the thin line between magic and reality starts to blur, Carol must decide for herself what is possible — and what it means to be true to her roots.

Why I like this book:

Lindsay Eagar’s heartfelt and sensitive intergenerational story is about finding and honoring your roots.  The language is strong and lyrical and captures the growing bond between Carolina (Carol) and Grandfather Serge. And there is an intermingling of Spanish and English that adds authenticity to the setting.

It also is a coming of age story for a 12-year-old Carol, who is the only family member interested in really getting to know her grandfather and is spellbound with his storytelling about a special tree that keeps the Spanish community safe, a girl who dares to leave and explore the world, and living forever.

The characters are realistic and believable. Carol is a curious, sweet, patient and reliable tween who is the only family member who respects and even admires her grandfather. She attempts to connect with him, even when he lapses into the past and mistakes Carol for her Grandmother Rosa. Grandfather Serge is a crusty old man who is battling dementia and won’t leave his run-down sheep ranch. He can spin a great story and Carol wants to hear them all.

The plot is original with moments of action and tension in the ravaged desert environment that will keep readers engaged. There are personality struggles that teens will relate to with Carol and her sister, Alta, and Carol’s father and Grandfather Serge. This magical story inside the story is beautifully written and one you won’t forget.  I LOVED The Hour of the Bees.  The ending is very satisfying and will capture  readers’ imaginations.

This is a helpful story for teens who have grandparents suffering with dementia. It gives them insight into ways of communicating and connecting with loved ones. It is also an interesting story to read, discuss and write about because of the many  layered themes.

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

Before Morning by Joyce Sidman

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Joyce Sidman, Author and Poet

Beth Krommes, Illustrator

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, Oct. 4, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes: City and town life, A child’s wish, Snow, Rhyme

Book Jacket Synopsis: There are planes to fly and buses to catch, but a small child wishes for a different sort of day. As clouds gather and heavy flakes fall, her invocation rises above the sleeping city. A too-busy world falls silent, and a family revels in the freedom and peace that snow brings.

Why I like this book:

Joyce Sidman’s breathtaking book is pure poetry for children and the young at heart. The text is spare and there are many wordless pages. It is a quiet story to curl up with, read slowly and study the detail on each page. There are busy scenes of people walking in parks, striding past shops, pushing strollers and riding buses. There are children arriving home from school, families eating together, and parents leaving for work. And there is a child who wishes for snow. Beth Krommes’ beautiful scratch-board artwork is a feast for the eyes.  The words and artwork perfectly support the theme.

Resources:  Make sure you read the author’s thought-provoking comment “On Wishes and Invocations” at the end of the book. Ask children what they wish for. Do their words have power?

Joyce Sidman won a Newbery Honor for her Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. She is today’s foremost nature poet for children. Two of her other books are Caldecott Honor books. She won the Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children for her award-winning body of work.

Beth Krommes is the Caldecott-winning artist of The House in the Night and other beautiful picture books, including Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow, and Blue on Blue.

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.

Beautiful by Stacy McAnulty

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Stacy McAnulty, Author

Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Illustrator

Running Press Kids, Fiction, Sep. 13, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-8

Themes: Girls, Defying stereotypes, Gender equality, Empowerment, Potential

Opening: “Beautiful girls…have the perfect look.”

Synopsis: “Every girl is unique, talented, and lovable. . . .Every girl is BEAUTIFUL.”

Much more than how one looks on the outside, true beauty is found in conquering challenges, showing kindness, and spreading contagious laughter. Beautiful girls are empowered and smart and strong!

BEAUTIFUL breaks barriers by showing girls free to be themselves: splashing in mud, conducting science experiments, and reading books under a flashlight with friends. This book will encourage all girls to embrace who they are and realize their endless potential.

Why I like this book:

There is everything to love about Beautiful.  It is not your stereotypical “sugar and spice” picture book about girls. These girls have substance and they aren’t afraid to get dirty and smelly.  They play sports, plant gardens, play pirates in ponds, study insects and tinker with gadgets. This story is a refreshing and more realistic portrayal of girls. They are happy and embrace themselves for who they are.

Although McAnulty’s minimal text describes the girls as graceful, having the perfect look, smiling sweetly, smelling like flowers and having a smart style, Lew-Vriethoff’s illustrations paint a different picture. Her bold and colorful  artwork is racially diverse and shows girls of different sizes wearing glasses and braces, or playing basketball in wheelchairs.

Beautiful celebrates girls for their individuality. It is a story about personal empowerment and it will encourage girls to realize their endless potential. It is uplifting and makes you smile at these independent little girls who play with abandonment. This also is a good book to share with boys.

Resources: This is a perfect classroom discussion book for all young children. Use Beautiful to start a conversation about how girls and boys see each other. Can girls put worms on hooks? Can boys jump rope? Talk about breaking gender roles. Ask children what it means to be beautiful.

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.

For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story

UN International Day of the Girl, Oct. 11, 2016

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Rebecca Langston-George, Author

Janna Bock, Illustrator

Capstone Young Readers, Nonfiction PB, Aug. 1, 2015

Suitable for ages: 8-11

Pages: 40

Themes: Malala Yousafzai, Educating girls, Children’s rights, Pakistan, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Courage, Hope

Forward: “This award is not just for me. It is for those forgotten children who want education. It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change….” Dec. 14, 2014, Oslo, Norway

Opening: “Malala’s own education started early. Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, ran a school in Mingora, a town surrounded by snowcapped mountains in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. From the time she could walk she visited classes. She even pretended to teach. Malala loved school.”

Synopsis: Few Pakistani families can afford to pay for the children’s education.  Others only paid for their sons’ educations. Mala grew up in a world where women were supposed to be quiet. Many parents believed their daughters should cook and keep house. Mala’s parents believed that girls deserved the same education as boys. She studied hard, could speak and write her native Pashto language and fluent English and Urdu. The Taliban leaders were against educating girls, intimidated school leaders, and ordered her father to close his school. But Malala Yousafzai refused to be silent in Swat Valley. She defied the Taliban’s rules. She spoke out for education for every girl. When schools closed she wrote a blog for the BBC and gave interviews. She was almost killed for her beliefs. This powerful true story of how one brave girl named Malala changed the world proves that one person really can make a difference.

Why I like this book:

Rebecca Langston-George powerfully communicates the story of Mala Yousafzai through her careful choice of words so that students are not frightened by her story, but are inspired. Malala is the voice of the many silenced girls who want to attend school. She is a selfless role model for girls everywhere.

I especially like how the book begins on a positive note with Mala receiving the Nobel Peace Prize and with excerpts from her speech. Readers will immediately feel the power in her words and her commitment to be the voice for equal education.

The setting is very realistic with an emphasis on Pakistani culture, community, family life, and traditions. It gives readers a strong sense of what it is like to live in a country where the rights of women and girls are suppressed. It is a story that needs to be told and can be used as a springboard for students to talk about the inequalities for girls and women worldwide.  Hopefully, readers will appreciate their education and not take it for granted.

Janna Bock’s beautiful illustrations make this story soar. She captures the love of a supportive family, the beauty of the Swat Valley with its lush valleys and beautiful waterfalls, the joy of Mala and the other girls studying together at school, the growing fear as the Taliban force girls and women to wear garments to cover their entire bodies and faces, and the danger everywhere. Bock’s illustrations made this book an emotional story that is filled with courage and hope.

Resources: This book belongs in every school library.  It will spark many lively discussions among students about the education of all students globally. For older students there is a page, “More About Malala’s Story” at the end of the book. It is the perfect book the United Nation’s International Day of the Girl, Oct. 11, 2016. This year’s theme is: Girls’ Progress = Goals’ Progress: A Global Girl Data Movement. It’s just not a day, but a movement where girls get involved. Also check out Day of the Girl – US. And, today the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced.

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.

As a Boy

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Plan International Canada

Second Story Press, Nonfiction, Sep. 6, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Boys, Education, Choices, Gender Inequality, Poverty, Responsibilities, Diversity,

Opening: “As a boy, I will have choices from the day I am born. Some will be made for me…and some I will make for myself.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: All children should be treated equally, whether they are boys or girls. Boys have sisters, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers. They care about the choices that their mothers have, and the opportunities that their aunts are given. They want to see their grandmothers get the respect they deserve, and that their sisters have the same rights as their brothers.

Because boys love their sisters, they want them to go to school, just like they do. Because boys are sometimes given chances girls are not, they know that this is not right. And as brothers and sons, nephews and future fathers, they can help to make sure that all children have voices and choices.

Why I like this book:

As A Boy is an inspiring global story about boys and their families. Each page features breathtaking, expressive, and powerful photographs that will melt your heart and touch your soul. No matter how difficult lives can be, there are so many smiles on their faces and a glimmer of hope.

The minimal use of text is strong and conveys Plan International’s message “that boys are routinely given an education and choices that girls are not, and that this needs to change.”  The book allows boys to raise their voices in solidarity, to say that they too want the girls and women in their lives to be given equal opportunities to succeed in the world.”

I am a fan of Plan International books. They address tough issues and teach youth about how difficult life can be for children around the world. Since we are a global family, youth need to know that boys are treated differently than girls around the world. Their needs are put above their sisters. But, boys also face the burden and pressure of growing up quickly to be a man, to work, to support their families, to fight and to be brave.

As a Boy is a perfect companion book to Because I am a Girl: I Can Change the World, as well as The Way to School, both personal favorites of mine. Click on the titles to read my reviews. All three of these books are valuable resources for school libraries, so that children will have an understanding of what it is like to be a boy or girl in a third world country. Since so many children live in poverty, education is vital to their futures. Many times going to school involves hurdles and risks.

Plan International was founded in 1937. It is one of the world’s oldest and largest international charities, working in partnership with millions of people around the world to end global poverty. Not for profit, independent and inclusive of all faiths and cultures, Plan has only one agenda: to improve the lives of children. Proceeds from all the book sales are used to support programs benefitting children around the world.

Resources/Activities: This is an excellent classroom discussion book to talk about how boys and girls are treated differently around the world. Pair As a Boy with the other two books mentioned above, so students get a better look at the gender inequality. Ask students if the feel they are treated equally in their country of origin. Make a list. Ask the boys and girls how they would feel if they had to change places. And, celebrate gender equality with other children on the International Day of the Girl, Oct. 11, 2016.

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

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Jewell Parker Rhodes, Author

Little, Brown and Company, Fiction, Jul. 12, 2016

Pages: 223

Suitable for Ages:  8-12

Themes: September 11, Terrorist Attacks, World Trade Centers, School, Family relationships, Homelessness, Divorce, Discrimination, Friendship, Community, Diversity

Opening: Pop groans. He’s having bad dreams again. I hear Ma trying to comfort him. My little sister, Leda, squirms. I whisper “Hush. Sleep,” and tuck the sheet beneath her chin. On the floor, Raymond’s arm clutches his pillow.

Synopsis: Dèja Barnes is beginning fifth grade in a new school. Her family has lost their apartment because her father is sick and coughs a lot, is depressed and angry, and can’t hold down a job. Her mother’s waitress job barely supports the family, so they are forced to move into a homeless shelter in Brooklyn. At Dèja’s new school, her teacher, Mrs. Garcia, asks students what is memorable about New York? The students shout out popular landmarks. Dèja feels dumb because all she has ever known is Brooklyn. Her teacher pulls out a poster of Manhattan with its tall buildings and the East River. She encourages the class to look out the window and compare the two. Dèja realizes that there are two very tall towers missing, but she doesn’t know why they are gone. Dèja embarks upon a journey to understand what happened on September 11 with her new school friends, Ben and Sabeen. What she discovers is that the events of the terrorist attacks have a far-reaching impact on those around her, including her classmates and family. She also begins to understand that the past and present are connected. It’s living history.

Why I like this story:

  • With the 15th anniversary of 9/11 approaching, Jewell Parker Rhodes has written a compelling and sensitive story of hope about a painful topic for a generation of children who weren’t born or were too young to understand this important chapter in America’s history. As Dèja wonders, “Before I was born” is ancient history. “Who cares?”
  • Dèja narrates the story. Her voice is real and honest. She’s African-American and has grown up too fast, looks after her younger brother and sister, and puts up a tough and mean front in order to survive shelter life. So Dèja can’t figure out why two students befriend her at school. Ben is Mexican-American and Sabeen is Turkish-American. The threesome work together on their 9/11 class project. Ben’s wears cowboy boots and is “nice in a dumb kind of way.”  His parents are divorced. His father is a veteran of the Iraq war. Sabeen is Muslim and wears colorful head scarves. She is smart and kind-hearted. The friendship that forms between the characters is well-executed. Dèja discovers she has friends who don’t care where she lives.
  • The plot is engaging, courageous and keeps readers fully invested in Towers Falling. I like how Dèja and her classmates learn how 9/11 affects them individually and as a part of a greater community — family, friends, classmates, school, city, state, and country. And the diverse heritage of the students at Brooklyn Collective helps readers develop a strong sense of what it really means to be an American.  The pacing for the story is exceptional. It doesn’t hurry the readers along and allows them time to digest the gravity of the terrorist attacks, the loss of lives and the impact on all Americans. It also shows that as a nation we are resilient, brave and hopeful during times of adversity.
  • Towers Falling is a book destined to become a very important teaching tool for educators. The novel not only deals with the tragedy, but also confronts homelessness in America, diversity, persecution, discrimination, PTSD, divorce, and veterans. This important novel belongs in every school classroom. There is a Teacher’s Guide for Towers Falling available on Jewell Parker Rhodes’ website.

 Jewell Parker Rhodes is the author of Ninth Ward, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book, Sugar, winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, and Bayou Magic. She is also the Virginia G. Piper Endowed Chair and Director of Arizona State University’s Piper Center for Creative Writing, and has written many award-winning books for adults.

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

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

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Thanhha Lai, Author

Harper Collins, Fiction, Feb. 17, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Vietnam, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture-shock, Diversity, Intergenerational relationships, Family relationships, Respect, Friendship, Vietnam War, History

Synopsis: Mai is a 12-year-old California girl eager to spend her summer vacation at the beach with her best friends. Instead, her Vietnamese parents have planned her summer for her. They want Mai to accompany her grandmother to Vietnam so she can meet a man who may provide her answers to her husband’s disappearance during the war and find some closure. Her parents also want Mai to learn more about her own roots, meet relatives and develop some bonds. Mai barely understands the language. Trapped in a remote village, Mai must find a balance between her two different worlds if she has any hopes of surviving Vietnam.

Why I like this book:

  • Thanhha Lai beautifully crafted a love story between a granddaughter and her grandmother, as they travel to Vietnam together. It is a powerful intergenerational novel for teens.  It is richly textured, emotional, honest and humorous.
  • Lai skillfully shows Vietnam as a land of many contrasts. Her setting is very realistic of Vietnam today.  Lai’s writing touches all the senses so that the reader smells, hears, sees, and feels the unforgiving heat, heavy rain, sticky moisture, nasty mosquito bites, pungent smells, toxic fumes, noises and seas of mopeds on the overcrowded streets of Hanoi.
  • This is touching character-driven story. Mai (Mia) is a head-strong, outspoken, humorous and compassionate protagonist. In the beginning, Mai’s constantly plotting her trip out of Vietnam. Every angry/whiny text message to her mother begins with “I want to come home.” As she settles into the gentle pace of life surrounding her, it is a joy to watch Mai deal with the culture shock and mature. She’s a trooper and her challenges turn into acceptance of her doting family and surroundings. Mai’s fragile grandmother has clung to the old ways and is proper. She is patient, tender, quiet-spoken. Her family is surprised by her strong resolve to track down important leads that may reveal the truth of her husband’s death. Mai’s cousin, Ut, is the complete opposite of Mai. She wears a buzz haircut, crumpled pants and t-shirts, and hangs out with her frogs. They become partners in crime that lead to many hilarious moments.
  • The plot is multi-layered, complicated, courageous and hopeful. Lai delves deeply into Mai’s loneliness, the shock of living in an unfamiliar culture and the courage that it takes for her to handle a difficult situation. There are unexpected surprises and a realistic and satisfying ending.
  • I enjoyed learning about modern Vietnam. The story is so detailed that it feels like you are walking with Mai as she experiences the homeland of her family. I loved this story.

Thanhha Lai is the author of the Newbery Honor and National Book Award-winning Inside Out & Back Again. Click [here] to read my review. She was born in Vietnam and now lives with her family in New York. Visit Lai at her website.

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