As a Boy

As a Boy 51ILRDzpuzL__SY382_BO1,204,203,200_As a Boy

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.

Tortuga Squad: Kids Saving Sea Turtles in Costa Rica

World Turtle Day, June 16, 2016

Tortuga Squad 61KgIBV6yyL__SY427_BO1,204,203,200_Tortuga Squad: Kids Saving Sea Turtles in Costa Rica

Cathleen Burnham, Author and Photographer

Crickhollow Books, Photodocumentary, Jan. 3, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes: Sea Turtles,  Environmental rescue, protection and rescue, Youth activism, Costa Rica, Global kids, Diversity

Synopsis: It is May and a group of children in Costa Rica are tirelessly working to protect and save the lives of sea turtles on Parismina Island. They call themselves the Tortuga Squad, which means “turtle” in Spanish.  They are on the outlook for poachers who are watching the beaches for sea turtles that come ashore to dig deep holes and lay their eggs. They steal the eggs and kill the mama turtles and eat their meat for dinner.

Meet 6-year-old Bianca, who is patrolling the beach from a hidden bush. She recognizes the poacher, waits until the coast is clear, and races to her friend Christian’s house to get help for the trapped turtle. Melanie, Dylan and other children hear the cry for help and rush with Bianca and Christian to help flip the turtle back over and watch her escape into the sea.

The Tortuga Squad patrols the beaches every evening and works hard to protect turtles and their eggs. Humans are their greatest threat. The children build a hatchery to safeguard the eggs until they hatch. Once the turtles are ready for release, the Tortuga Squad clears the beach of crabs, birds, dogs and other potential threats. They want to make sure that every little leatherback baby turtle make it to the water on its first journey over the shallow reef and to the ocean.

Tortuga kid-releasing-turtleCompliments of Crickhollow Books

Why I love the Tortuga Squad:

  • Cathleen Burnham is on a mission to find, highlight and photograph children who are united in a cause to rescue and save endangered marine and animal life around the globe. Her true and inspiring story is a call to children worldwide that they don’t have to be adults to make a difference. The kids of Parismina Island are passionate young activists who care and want to be involved in protecting the turtles.
  • The Tortuga Squad is an engaging story for readers and is perfectly paced. Keeping turtle nests safe is a busy job for the squad and readers will enjoy the important mission. There is factual information about the variety of sea turtles that visit Parismina Island to lay their eggs on the dangerous beach: leatherback, hawksbill, loggerhead and green turtles. There is also a map of Costa Rica and Central America. The Tortuga Squad is a winner and an excellent discussion book for children, parents and teachers.
  • Every page of the book is filled with rich, beautiful and moving photographs that show the young  Tortuga Squad  activists in action. Burnham also captures every aspect of life in Costa Rica including family life, the market place, and travel by boat. Burnham devotes many double-page spreads to the delicate ecosystem and the gorgeous endangered species living there, including howler monkeys, sloths, pelicans, crocodiles and beautiful birds.

Resources: To learn more about the amazing things children are doing to protect wildlife around the globe, visit the World Association of Kids and Animals (WAKA) and get involved. There is a special teacher’s guide available for classroom use. Make sure you read the Author’s Note about sea turtles and the kids of Costa Rica. Check out the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries  website. They will observe Sea Turtle Week, June 13-17.

Cathleen Burnham is a journalist, writer and photographer. In addition to the Tortuga Squad, Burnham is the author of Doyli to the Rescue, the first “photodocumentary” book in a series of six forthcoming books for young readers that profile wildlife preservation efforts being undertaken by kids around the globe.

Playing from the Heart

Playing from the Heart 51ja1uzrNWL__SY495_BO1,204,203,200_Playing from the Heart

Peter H. Reynolds, Author and Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Apr. 12, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4 – 99

Themes: Music, Piano lessons, Creativity, Family relationships, Father and son

Opening: “The piano stood quietly in the living room for years. Until the day Raj first plunked and pushed the keys, delighted by every sound.”

Synopsis: A boy discovers the beautiful sounds he can make when he thumps the keys of the family piano. His father notices his son, Raj, has a gift for playing from his heart and signs him up for lessons. Raj begins to read notes, learn scales, studies hard and plays classical music. He practices  hard and becomes an excellent pianist over the years. One day he realizes that he doesn’t experience the joy he used to feel and stops playing. Years pass and Raj takes a job in the city. When he receives a call that his father is ill, he hurries home. His father makes a special request for Raj to play the music that first brought him joy.

Why I like this book:

Peter H. Reynolds’ newest treasure, Playing from the Heart, is a timeless story for both children and adults. He hopes that as children become more involved with a musical instrument, “they won’t forget their original joy” and learn to “bend a few rules.” The lyrical text sings from the pages. Reynolds’ illustrations are joyful, serious, emotive and lovingly rendered in black ink with splashes of color. His ample use of white space gives one a sense of freedom.

Playing from the Heart will touch a chord in both young and old who have played an instrument and given it up. I played the piano for years, took a break because of burn out, and returned to my lessons with  renewed enthusiasm. When my husband read Reynolds’ story it stirred up memories of giving up his trumpet in college.

The ending is endearing as Raj sits down to the piano and hopes his heart will remember the joyful melodies he played with such abandonment as a child. There’s heart, there’s love, and there’s a deep connection between father and son. Playing from the Heart is a winner!

Resources: Introduce your child to a musical instrument. It can be a simple as a kazoo, harmonica, drums or xylophone. Encourage your children to be creative and make their own music. If you have a piano, let them play without teaching them. According to  Reynolds, “Creativity thrives on bravery and originality. Let that flow and see where you go.” Visit the award-winning author and illustrator at his 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.

Mother Bruce

Mother Bruce 61S+QYjJeoL__SY373_BO1,204,203,200_Mother Bruce

Ryan T. Higgins, Author and Illustrator

Disney Hyperion, Fiction, Nov. 24, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 2-5

Themes: Bears, Eggs, Goslings, Geese, Different families

Opening: “Bruce was a bear who lived all by himself. He was a grump.”

Synopsis: Bruce doesn’t like anything or anyone. The one thing Bruce likes to do is cook fancy recipes he finds on the internet. He comes across a recipe that calls for hard-boiled goose eggs. He takes Mrs. Goose’s eggs home to cook on his stove. To his surprise, the eggs talk back. “Mama!” He wants hard-boiled eggs, not goslings. He returns the goslings to their nest, but Mrs. Goose has flown south. What’s a bear gonna do?

Why I like this book:

Ryan Higgins has written a witty and playful story about a grumpy bear who has become MAMA to four goslings who trail him around — everywhere. This quirky bedtime book will elicit ROARS of laughter from children as they turn the pages to see what Mama Bruce’s tries next to get rid of the goslings. He’s stuck with them. Uh-oh! Bruce is becoming attached to them even though he maintains his grumpy demeanor throughout. This endearing story is about heart, connections and different families. It is character-driven with spare text and great pacing. Higgins’ bold and colorful illustrations are comical and will delight youngsters and adults alike. Mother Bruce is a winner! Visit Ryan Higgins at his website.

Resources:  Visit a local nature preserve or pond where children can watch geese. Talk about the migration of geese from the north to south. Geese lay their eggs in the north. When the eggs hatch, the goslings follow their first caretaker. Watch the DVD Fly Away Home, about a girl who adopts abandoned goslings and helps them fly south.

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.

One by Sarah Crossan

One 51QByvFKFeL__SX347_BO1,204,203,200_One

Sarah Crossan, Author

Green Willow Books, Fiction, Sep. 15, 2015

Pages: 388

Suitable for Ages: 14 -18

Themes: Conjoined twins, Sisters, High School, Family relationships, Love, Novel in free verse

Opening: “Here we are. And we are living. Isn’t that amazing? How we manage to be at all.”

Synopsis: Grace and Tippi are 16-year-old conjoined twins, connected at their hip. They have two heads, four arms, two hearts and two pairs of lungs and kidneys, and share two legs. They have been conjoined since birth and have beat the odds for survival. The twins love each other and are happy to be together. They can’t imagine risking a dangerous operation to be separated.

For Grace and Tippi, wearing the same skirt is normal. Linking their arms around each other helps them keep their balance as they each walk with one crutch. Listening to the other breath at night is comforting. Sharing the flu is worrisome.

Their parents shield Grace and Tippi as much as possible from the public and homeschool them. With donations running out and medical bills mounting, there is a strain on the family and the girls will have to attend high school in the fall. The best part of school is Gracie and Tippi’s friendship with Yaseem and Jon. They add some joy, support, adventure, and a lot of comic relief to the story.

Gracie is the first to notice something is happening to them and doesn’t want to admit it to Tippi. As the truth emerges, they are about to face a choice that could change their lives forever.

Why I like this book:

  • Sarah Crossan writes her compelling novel in free verse, which makes her story a more authentic, sensitive and beautiful read. The first-person narration by Gracie, the more introspective twin, is intimate and humorous, painful and breathtaking. The story is realistic and the characters believable.
  • The plot is a raw, gripping and engaging journey for Gracie and Tippi — and for readers. The twins’ health is fragile and doctors don’t know what to expect medically. However they embrace life with enthusiasm. Their friendship with school friends allow them to feel some normalcy and freedom to act like teens. Family life is challenging when both parents lose their jobs and they have to move. Gracie and Tippi know there is one big way to help their family with expenses — selling their story.
  • Crossan has done a remarkable amount of research, both medically and historically. The physiology of Grace and Tippi is “loosely based on the bodies of Masha and Dasha Krivoshlyapova” from Russia. Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end.
  • Although the target audience for One is teenagers, it is also a powerful novel for adults. It speaks to themes of love, family relationships, inner strength, resilience, tolerance and diversity.

Sarah Crossan is the author of the duology Breathe and Resist, as well as the acclaimed novel-in-verse The Weight of Water, which was short-listed for the Carnegie Medal. Visit Sarah Crossan at her website.