The Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman

The Length of a String

Elissa Brent Weissman, Author

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, May 1, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: Adoption, Identity, Family relationships, Jews, African Americans, Holocaust

Synopsis:

Imani is adopted by a Jewish family. Now that she’s turning 13, she knows exactly what she wants as her big bat mitzvah gift: to find her birth parents. She loves her family and her Jewish community in Baltimore, but she has always wondered where she came from, especially since she’s black and almost everyone she knows is white.

When her mom’s grandmother–Imani’s great-grandma Anna–passes away, Imani discovers an old journal among her books. It’s Anna’s diary from 1941, the year she was twelve and fled Nazi-occupied Luxembourg alone, sent by her parents to seek refuge in Brooklyn, New York. Imani keeps the diary a secret for a while, only sharing it with her best friend, Madeline. Anna’s diary chronicles her escape from Holocaust-era Europe and her journey to America and her new life with a Jewish adoptive family. She continues to write to her sister Belle about the tall New York sky scrapers, shopping in supermarkets, eating Chinese food, modeling fur coats, and playing Chinese checkers, until news about her family stops. She fears the worst and puts down her pen.

Imani decides to make Anna’s story her bat mitzvah research project. She uncovers some important information about the war and Luxembourg. As Imani reads Anna’s diary, she begins to see her own family and her place in it in a new way.

Why I like this book:

The author skillfully weaves two stories, one from the present and another from the past, using characters that you will feel like you know intimately. This is a very different holocaust story because it focuses on the identity of Jewish and African-American girls (70 years a part) and their search for self, something that readers will find relevant. The setting, the unforgettable characters, and the plot create an engaging reading experience. The ending is unexpected and very satisfying.

You learn about Anna Kirsch and the painful decision her family makes in deciding which of their seven children to smuggle to America as the Nazi’s begin to occupy Luxembourg.  Anna is selected and separated from her identical twin sister, Belle, the other half of her heart. On the ship she begins to write Belle daily letters daily chronicling her journey so that she keeps their connection alive. Anna lives with  loving strangers, Hannah and Max, a Jewish family who open their hearts and home to her. Anna is essentially adopted, like Imani. She continues to write to Belle about her adventures until news about her family stops.

My children are adopted, each responding differently like Imani and her adopted El Salvadoran brother. Like Imani, my daughter had so many questions about her past. What were her ethnic roots? Who did she look like? Why was she adopted? Like Imani’s family, we ran a genetic DNA test for our daughter so she had a sense of her heritage. This eventually led to her finding two biological sisters this past year.  Now she has answers and it has brought her peace as an adult. We need more MG and YA books for adopted children who are trying to figure out who they are and need to see themselves in stories.

Elissa Brent Weismann’s novel is a captivating story that is a departure from her humorous Nerd Camp series. Her website includes teacher resources and curriculum for all of her books.

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

The Night Before the Fourth of July by Natasha Wing

The Night Before the Fourth of July

Natasha Wing, Author

Amy Wummer, Illustrator

Grosset & Dunlap, Fiction, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes: Independence Day, Celebration, Fireworks, Family

Synopsis: It’s the night before the Fourth of July and all across the United States people are getting ready for hot dogs and fireworks. Decked in red, white, and blue, a family heads to a parade, hosts a backyard BBQ with friends and family, dodges an afternoon thundershower, and of course, watches a fireworks show. The Night Before the Fourth of July captures all the fun, excitement, and pride of the best summer holiday!

Natasha Wing brings all the excitement and fun to life in the pages of this celebration of our nation’s history. The rhyming is fun and playful.  Amy Wummer’s illustrations are lively and colorful. This is the perfect book to introduce young children ages 3-5, to our joyful American birthday party, emphasizing family, diversity and tradition. This is the 20th book in “The Night Before…” series. Collect them all!

Resources: What are you going to do on the Fourth of July? Will you dress-up, attend a parade, go to a family picnic, and watch fireworks? Will you wave a flag? Adults will find the book will bring back a flood of  childhood memories they can share with their children.

Natasha Wing is the author of When Jackie Saved Grand Central: The True Story of Jacqueline Kennedy’s Fight for an American Icon, 2017. She has written nearly 25 books in her “The Night Before…” series which deal with Easter, Christmas, Father’s Day, Preschool, Summer Camp, Kindergarten and many more delightful holidays and celebrations. She was born in Connecticut and now lives in Fort Collins, Colorado. After graduating from Arizona State University, she worked in advertising. It wasn’t until 1991 that she decided to write children’s books. Luckily she sold her first book within six months and has been writing children’s books and articles ever since.  Visit Natasha 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 website.

Islandborn by Junot Diaz


Islandborn

Junot Díaz, Author

Leo Espinosa, Illustrator

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Mar. 18, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Immigration, Community, Culture, Memory, Diversity, Imagination, Belonging

OpeningEvery kid in Lola’s school was from somewhere else. Hers was a school of faraway places.

Synopsis: When Lola’s teacher asks the students to draw a picture of where their families emigrated from, all the kids are excited. Except Lola. She can’t remember the Island she left when she was just a baby. But with the help of her family and friends, and their memories — joyous, fantastical, heartbreaking, and frightening — Lola’s imagination takes her on an extraordinary journey back to the Island. As she draws closer to the heart of her family’s story, Lola comes to understand the truth of her abuela’s words: “Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.”

Why I like this book:

Junot Díaz has written a poetic and nostalgic story about Lola’s family immigrating from their home on the Island (likely the Dominican Republic) to build a new life in New York City.  Lola’s lively and exuberant curiosity leads her on an enchanting journey of discovery of self-discovery. She relies upon the memories of her family, friends and neighbors to help her imagine an Island and a culture that has bats the size of blankets, music, dancing, bright colors, sweet mangoes, beautiful beaches, tropical sunsets, hurricanes and a terrifying monster (dictator) who hurts the people. Leo Espinosa’s dazzling illustrations bring Lola’s Island to life. They are a beautiful celebration of creativity and diversity. Brown children will see themselves in the many different skin-tones. Beautiful collaborative effort between the author and illustrator. This book belongs in school libraries.

Junot Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic and immigrated to New Jersey. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Drown; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and This is How you Lose Her, a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award Finalist. Visit him 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 website.

Feel Better Books for “Little Worriers” and for “Little Tempers”

Today I am sharing  two Feel Better Books written by authors Holly Brochmann and Leah Bowen and illustrated by Shirley Ng-Benitez. Both books compliment each other and can be used together. They are written for children ages 3 to 6.

A Feel Better Book for Little Worriers

Magination Press, Fiction, Aug. 7, 2017

Themes: Worry, Anxiety, Rhyme

Opening: How’s it going today, / are you doing all right? / Are you fantastic, and happy and bright?

Synopsis: Worries can feel like a BIG problem to a LITTLE kid! This book helps little ones who are just beginning to recognize and identify their emotions to understand how worry feels and affects them. Do they feel butterflies in their tummies? Is their heart beating fast?  Worries differ for each child. Some children worry about going to bed, finishing homework, learning to swim, and speaking in front of the class.  And some worries can be important and protect them from harm.

A Feel Better Book for Little Tempers

Magination Press, Fiction, Mar. 19, 2018

Themes: Anger, Tempers, Rhyme

Opening: Is it one of those days / you feel misunderstood? / You’re huffy and puffy / and just plain not good.

Synopsis: Sometimes the LITTLEST kids can have the BIGGEST tempers! This books helps young children who are just beginning to recognize and identify their emotions understand how anger feels and affects them.  Are they clenching their fists?  Are they so mad they feel like they may explode? Readers are taught that it’s okay to get mad, if you know what to do.

Why I like these two books:

They are told in catchy rhymes that are joyful and fun to read out loud. The narration is gentle and calming and introduces the subject of worry and temper in a very simple and straightforward manner.  Each book first identifies the feelings of worry and anger through a diverse group of children doing a variety of activities. And then the children are introduced to activities like jumping up and down, spinning, stretching, wiggling, dancing, running, taking deep breaths and giving themselves a BIG hug.

The lively and expressive illustrations will charm children from the start. They are bold, colorful and perfectly capture each story.

Resources: Both books include a “Note to Parents and Caregivers” that gives information about recognizing worry and anger, and offers tools to help manage anxiety and anger. This is an excellent discussion book for home and at 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.

The publisher provided me with advanced copies of the books.

Krista Kim-Bap by Angela Ahn

Krista Kim-Bap

Angela Ahn, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, Apr. 18, 2018

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Pages: 158

Themes: Korean food, Culture, Family relationships, Fitting in, Friendships, Diversity, Multicultural

Book Synopsis: Krista and Jason have been best friends since preschool. It never mattered that he was a boy with reddish-brown hair and green eyes, and she was the “Korean girl” at school. And Jason has always loved hanging out with Krista’s family — especially for the food!

Now in fifth grade, everyone in Krista and Jason’s class is preparing their Heritage Month projects. But Krista has mixed feelings about being her school’s “Korean Ambassador.” Should she ask her sometimes grouchy grandma to teach the class how to cook traditional Korean kimbap?

With a new friendship pulling her away from Jason, and the pressure of trying to please her grandma, grade five is going to be interesting.

Why I like this book:

Angela Ahn has written a sweetly satisfying coming of age novel about an 11-year-old girl, who is a third-generation Korean-Canadian trying to fit in at school. The author creates a nice balance between cultural traditions, differences, family relationships and friendships.

Krista is a feisty protagonist who seems comfortable with herself. Somewhat a tomboy, she prefers jeans and t-shirts and wears her hair in a pony tail. She spends a lot of time with her best friend Jason, until she’s invited to a “Red Carpet” birthday party by a popular girl at school. This means Krista has to wear a dress and her older sister helps her modernize a traditional hanbok. Her outfit is a hit and the girls invite Krista to hang with them at lunch and after school. This cuts into time with Jason and she is torn between wanting to fit in, be true to herself, trust her instincts and be loyal to Jason.

There are many mouth-watering food scenes in this story and readers will learn about Korean dishes, like kimchi and kimbap, as Krista builds a relationship with her traditional grandmother. She asks her grandmother to teach her how to cook and be part her classroom family heritage project.

This story is perfect for diverse classroom settings. It is a fun, realistic and fast-paced novel that tackles interesting issues for a Korean-Canadian tween living in Vancouver. It’s a book worth reading!

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

The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds

The Word Collector

Peter Hamilton Reynolds, Author & Illustrator

Orchard Books, Fiction, Jan. 30, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Collecting words, Sharing, Individuality, Imagination, Kindness

Opening: Collectors collect things… coins…art…comic books.  And Jerome?

Synopsis:

Some people collect stamps. Some people collect bugs. Some people collect baseball cards. Not Jerome. He collected words. Printed words. Short and multi-syllable words. Words that roll off your tongue and feel good to say. Words that sing. Words that make you laugh. He organized and filled scrapbooks with his favorite words. One day he was carrying an armload of scrapbooks when he slipped.  His words went flying through the air and landed in a mess around him. He began stringing the words together and made a powerful discovery. Perhaps his words weren’t so mixed up.

Why I like this book:

Reynolds captures the magic of words in Jerome’s pure joy of sharing words with others. There is a charm in this book. There is kindness. The tone of the text is wistful and alluring, inviting the reader along Jerome’s magical journey of discovery and possibilities. This book fosters a curiosity for  words and a love of language! It is both empowering and heartwarming with a satisfying ending that will put a smile on a children’s faces. It is spindiddly!

Jerome is a child of color, but the story has nothing to do with his color or ethnicity. The supporting characters in the story are all diverse, which lends itself to inclusiveness. It is so important for children to see themselves in a story.

Reynolds’ pen and ink illustrations are playful and contribute to the joyful spirit of Jerome’s journey. Make sure you check out the endpapers.

Resources: After reading the book, look at the endpapers which are packed with words.  Reynolds urges children “Reach for your own words / tell the world who you are / and how you will make it better.”  Each word is strung together on separate pieces of paper.  Encourage kids to write four or five words that they like on separate index cards. They may be familiar, happy, caring, loud, funny and so on. Then ask them to share what the word means to them.

Peter Hamilton Reynolds is a New York Times bestselling author and illustrator of many books for children, including The Dot, Ish, and Happy Dreamer. His books have been translated into over twenty-five languages around the globe and are celebrated worldwide. In 1996, he founded FableVision with his brother, Paul, as a social change agency to help create “stories that matter, stories that move.” He lives in Dedham, Massachusetts, with his family. Visit Reynolds 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 website. 

Heal the Earth by Julian Lennon

Happy Earth Day, Apr. 22, 2018

Heal the Earth

Julian Lennon with Bart Davis, Authors

Smiljana Coh, Illustrator

Sky Pony Press, Fictions, Apr. 3, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-6

Themes: Nature, Environment, Conservation, Ocean reefs, Rain forest, Medicines, Green spaces

Opening: Welcome to our planet Earth.

Book Synopsis:

The magical White Feather Flier is back on a new adventure to heal the Earth! Use your imagination power to make it fly and take you on a great helping journey.

The Flier’s mission is to transport readers around the world, to engage them in helping to save the environment, and to teach one and all to love our planet. Just press a button printed on the page, and point the plane up in the air to fly, or down to land it!

Bring medicine to people in need!
Dive below the ocean to bleached coral reefs!
Visit the city to cultivate green spaces!
Help the rain forest return and give its animals a home!
Explore the planet, meet new people, and help make the world a better place!

An inspiring, lyrical story, rooted in Lennon’s life and work, Heal the Earth is filled with beautiful illustrations that bring the faraway world closer to young children.

Why I like this book:

It beautiful interactive book that speaks directly to younger children and empowers them to be part of the magic of healing and loving our planet and its inhabitants. The spare text is lyrical and skillfully written with vivid imagery. Smiljana Coh’s gorgeous illustrations will appeal to children’s senses. She includes a diverse cast of characters and children will see someone who looks like them.

Readers are asked questions and invited to join the adventure.  They will be encouraged to use their imaginations and push buttons at the bottom of the pages to transport them to areas of the earth that are in need of healing. They  see the problems that exist and then are given the opportunity to make a positive impact. Every time they succeed, they are congratulated for a job well done.

There is age-appropriate geographical information about the planet and how it is divided into continents. Kids are encouraged to touch each continent, say its name and pick the continent where they live.

The book includes words to a new, special poem written by Julian Lennon, specifically for Heal the Earth. It is a lovely addition to the book and could be a stand-alone-book.

A portion of the proceeds from book sales will go to support the environmental and humanitarian efforts of the White Feather Foundation, the global environmental and humanitarian organization that Lennon founded to promote education, health, conservation, and the protection of indigenous culture.

Resources: The book is a great way to approach the subject of caring for the earth, during Earth Day. It is a resource because it encourages children to discuss problems around the globe and ask a lot of questions about getting involved in preserving their planet.

Julian Lennon is a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, photographer, documentarian, philanthropist, and author of the New York Times bestselling children’s book Touch the Earth. Born in Liverpool, England, Lennon is an observer of life in all its forms developing his personal expression through his artistic endeavors. He hopes that his kids book trilogy will inspire and educate children to preserve our planet for future generations.

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.

Escape From Aleppo by N. H. Senzai

Escape From Aleppo

N.H. Senzai, Author

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, Fiction, Jan. 2, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Family, War, Refugees, Syria, Bravery, Survival, Hope, Freedom

Publisher Synopsis:

Silver and gold balloons. A birthday cake covered in pink roses. A new dress.

Nadia stands at the center of attention in her parents’ elegant dining room. This is the best day of my life, she thinks. Everyone is about to sing “Happy Birthday,” when her uncle calls from the living room, “Baba, brothers, you need to see this.” Reluctantly, she follows her family into the other room. On TV, a reporter stands near an overturned vegetable cart on a dusty street. Beside it is a mound of smoldering ashes. The reporter explains that a vegetable vendor in the city of Tunis burned himself alive, protesting corrupt government officials who have harassed his business. Nadia frowns.

It is December 17, 2010: Nadia’s twelfth birthday and the beginning of the Arab Spring. Soon anti-government protests erupt across the Middle East and, one by one, countries are thrown into turmoil. As civil war flares in Syria and bombs fall across Nadia’s home city of Aleppo, her family decides to flee to safety in Turkey. Nadia gets trapped and left behind when a bomb hits their home. She is alone and must find a way to catch up with her family.  There are many detours along the way and an old man tries to help her. Inspired by current events, this novel sheds light on the complicated situation in Syria that has led to an international refugee crisis, and tells the story of one girl’s journey to safety.

Why I like this book:

N. H. Senzai has written a timely story that explores the culture and history of Syria as it moves from normalcy to the harsh realities of civil war, as witnessed by Nadia. The author weaves chapters into the story depicting life before the war begins giving readers a feel for family and life in Syria. Nadia enjoys birthday parties, painting her nails, playing with her cat, watching Arab’s Got Talent and shopping in the markets.

Senzai’s powerful storytelling and vivid imagery draws readers into Nadia’s harrowing experience. Her journey is quite extraordinary as she befriends other Syrians along the way, an old man and two orphans. The elderly book binder, Ammo Mazen, promises to help Nadia reach the Turkish border, but it is a round about journey, with some unusual characters and missions involved. Just who is this mysterious Ammo Mazen? But he protects Nadia and the two orphans and navigates them around rebels groups, the Syrian Army, and ISIS fighters. As they journey across the Old City, readers catch a glimpse of Nadia memories of the colorful shops and a lively community, which is in stark contract to the crumbling city before her. There are many road blocks, but Nadia turns her fear into a strong determination to survive and reunite with her family.

This plot is gripping, suspenseful, heart-wrenching and hopeful. Readers will experience what it means to be displaced from their home, family and lifestyle. It raises questions for readers about how they would survive if everything they know is gone in a flash and they are thrust into a war-torn environment. Would they be able to survive?  This is tough and timely read for youth trying to grasp what they are seeing and hearing on television about this complicated and troubled country. They are able to  experience the human side of war through Nadia. This is a must read and belongs in school libraries.

N.H. Senzai is the author of the acclaimed Shooting Kabul, which was on numerous state award lists and an NPR Backseat Book Club Pick. Its companion, Saving Kabul Corner, was nominated for an Edgar Award. Visit the author at her website.

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

I Am Enough by Grace Byers

I Am Enough

Grace Byers, Author

Keturah A. Bobo, Illustrator

Balzer + Bray, Fiction, Mar. 6, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes:  Individuality, Love, Respect, Kindness, Diversity

Opening: “Like the sun, I’m here to shine.”

Book Synopsis: I Am Enough is an essential book for everyone — an inspiring lyrical ode to loving who you are, respecting others, and being kind to one another.

Why I like this book:  Grace Byers’ soulful book is a magnificent poem to girls encouraging self-esteem, individuality, respect and kindness. It empowers girls to be themselves and encourages them to realize their endless potential. Readers will learn how each day is filled with possibilities to dream, soar, love, use their voices, fail, succeed, disagree, and love.  The poetic tone of the text is celebratory, inviting the reader on an adventure of self-discovery and self-acceptance. Keturah Bobo’s expressive and vibrant illustrations showcase racial and cultural diversity and shows a girl playing jump rope in a wheelchair.  They compliment the uplifting and positive affirmation that “I am enough!” And that cover just draws you into the story. This is a perfect gift book.

Resources: This is an ideal discussion book. Ask girls what it means to be enough. Let this conversation evolve into what is uniquely beautiful about her and every other girl. Although written for girls, I believe boys will enjoy this book.

Grace Byers is an actor and activist who stars in Fox’s hit series Empire. As a multiracial young girl and a child of deaf adults, Grace was bullied throughout her childhood. This book was born out of her desire to empower young girls against the effects of bullying. In her spare time, she volunteers with the nonprofit anti-bullying organization Saving Our Daughters. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, actor Trai Byers.

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.

Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht

Pick a Pine Tree

Patricia Toht, Author

Jarvis, Illustrator

Candlewick, Fiction, Sep. 19, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Choosing  a Christmas tree, Nature, Decorating, Family traditions, Holidays

Opening: “Pick a pine tree from the lot — slim and tall, or short and squat. One with spiky needle clumps, scaly bark, or sappy bumps.”

Book Synopsis: One of the most beloved Christmas traditions begins each year with … picking out a pine tree! Then bringing out boxes stuffed with trimmings, string garlands from bough to bough, and finally turning on the twinkling lights. Once that’s all done it’s not just a pine tree anymore — it’s a Christmas tree!

Why I like this book:

Patricia Toht’s lyrical and rhyming text flows nicely and pairs beautifully with Jarvis’ joyful illustrations. It reminds children and parents of the magic and wonder of this time-honored family tradition. This story will become a favorite family read each year. It’s imaginative and will stir up so many memories.

I like that the family is interracial, with a white father and dark-skinned mother. Other characters helping in the festive activity represent different ethnicities.

Jarvis’ large, colorful digital illustration are done in pencil, chalk and paint. They are all double-page spreads that are filled with a lot of detail kids will enjoy exploring. The illustrations have a retro feel to them and illuminate the entire adventure. Once the tree is decorated, the page turn reveals the completed tree in all its splendor.

I would recommend giving this picture book to children before Christmas to give them ideas and increase their excitement. The book is filled with so much nostalgia, especially for parents who remember a time when we all had real trees.  This is also a great classroom book. Visit Patricia Toht at her website.

Resources: Every family has its own traditions for picking and decorating their Christmas tree. My favorite activity is to share a memory about many of the ornaments your family has collected over the years. The author also has some wonderful activities for decorating your Christmas tree on 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 website.