Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin

Where the Watermelons Grow

Cindy Baldwin, Author

HarperCollins, Fiction, Jul. 3, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Schizophrenia, Mental Illness, Family Relationships, Guilt, Courage, Farm Life, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis: When twelve-year-old Della Kelly finds her mother furiously digging black seeds from a watermelon in the middle of the night and talking to people who aren’t there, Della worries that it’s happening again—that the sickness that put her mama in the hospital four years ago is back. That her mama is going to be hospitalized for months like she was last time.

With her daddy struggling to save the farm and her mama in denial about what’s happening, it’s up to Della to heal her mama for good. And she knows just how she’ll do it: with a jar of the Bee Lady’s magic honey, which has mended the wounds and woes of Maryville, North Carolina, for generations.

But when the Bee Lady says that the solution might have less to do with fixing Mama’s brain and more to do with healing her own heart, Della must learn that love means accepting her mama just as she is.

Why I like this book:

Cindy Baldwin has penned a timely and important debut novel that will appeal to a large range of readers, especially teens who cope with a family member who has a mental illness. It will tug at readers’ hearts, but it’s an excellent portrayal of schizophrenia. And it is a good southern read about farm life in North Carolina. It reminds me a bit of The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.

Della’s story is timely, realistic and will resonate with teens who have parents or siblings with a mental illness. It will also promote understanding and compassion for other readers who may be their friends. It is nice to see a spotlight shown on schizophrenia and the toll it takes on a family because of its unpredictable nature.

Della’s first-person narrative is powerful and pulls no punches. When dealing with her schizophrenic mother, she never really knows who her mama is going to be. Will she be the loving mama who laughs, sings and tells stories? Or will she be the mama who leaves baby Mylie soaked, soiled and screaming in her crib? As her mother’s illness rapidly declines, Della realizes that no sickness in the world could make her mama’s love for her less real.

Like many youth in Della’s situation, she’s forced to grow up too quickly. She becomes the adult caring for her baby sister, cleaning the house, cooking and helping her father with the family produce stand. She blames herself for her mother’s “sickness.” It is her fault and she wants to fix her mama. She keeps secrets to protect her mother. And Della worries if she will inherit schizophrenia.

Baldwin has created a strong sense of community for Della and her family. There is her best friend Arden, her grandparents and a host of mother figures who love and support Della through the chaos. Other  “mamas” appear when she needs them the most.

Where the Watermelons Grow is richly textured, lyrical and impeccably researched. The theme may seem heavy, but it doesn’t overwhelm its targeted audience. I highly recommend this novel for middle grade teens and adults. To learn more about Cindy Baldwin, visit her website.

Resources: There is a Teacher’s Guide available on the publisher’s website that includes classroom discussion questions about mental illness, family relationships, guilt and personal responsibility. There also are extension activities related to things that occur in the book.

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.

Mr. Mergler, Beethoven, and Me by David Gutnick

Mr. Mergler, Beethoven, and Me

David Gutnick, Author

Mathilde Cinq-Mars, Illustrator

Second Story Press, Fiction, Apr. 18, 2018

Suitable for Ages:5-8

Themes: Music, Piano teacher, Intergenerational relationships, Friendship, Loss

Opening: Not long after my family arrived from China, I went to the park with my father, whom I call Baba. Lots of people went there to play…it is where I met someone I will always remember.

Synopsis: Shortly after a girl and her family arrive from China, she and her father (Baba) meet an older gentleman in a park. They learn that Mr. Mergler has taught piano lessons to hundreds of students for over 50 years. Baba proudly shares that his daughter plays the piano at their church. Mr. Mergler asks her to sing her favorite song. He closes his eyes as he listens.  He hears music in a way that most of us can’t. When she finishes, Mr. Mergler recognizes the girl’s talent and offers to give her piano lessons. Their bond grows as she studies with him.  Her fingers fly over the ivory keys and she becomes lost in the magic of her music.  After many months of study, the girl learns that Mr. Mergler is ill. Mr. Mergler sends her a letter and a special gift.

Why I like this book:

This is a heartwarming multicultural and intergenerational story about a girl and her elderly music teacher. The author beautifully captures the affection and bond between teacher and student — and all of the hundreds of students who lives he’s touched. His walls are adorned with their photographs.

This story is inspired by the life of the wonderful and generous musician Daniel Mergler, who loved to teach children. It is a story that will inspire many classically trained young musicians. It is also a tribute to a quiet and kind man who was adored by his students. His story brought tears to my eyes as I reminisced about many of my favorite piano teachers as a child, teen and young adult. I am sure many adults reading this story with their children will recall their memories of favorite teachers.

Mathilde Cinq-Mars soft and whimsical illustrations carry their own melody with musical symbols woven into the delicate composition. They are exquisite and compliment the text.

Resources: Make sure you read the material about the lives of Daniel Mergler and Beethoven at the end of the story. They give insight into Mr. Mergler and are a good way to address music with children. Music can be made with many items. If you don’t have a piano, give children a harmonica, kazoo, bells, pots and pans to play with to encourage rhythm and fun.

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.

Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead

Bob

Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead, Authors

Nicholas Gannon, Illustrator

Feiwel and Friends Book, Fiction, May 1, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Family, Friends, Magic, Fantasy, Creature, Lost, Mystery

Synopsis:

It’s been five years since Livy and her family have visited Livy’s grandmother in Australia, which is under a severe drought. Now that she’s back, Livy has the feeling she’s forgotten something really, really important about Gran’s house.

It turns out she’s right.

Bob, a short, greenish creature dressed in a chicken suit, didn’t forget Livy, or her promise. He’s been waiting five years for her to come back, hiding in a closet like she told him to. During that time he learns to count to 987,654,321, six times; build a Lego pirate ship, 63 times; and reads and memorizes the dictionary. But Bob can’t remember who—or what—he is, where he came from, or if he even has a family. But five years ago Livy promised she would help him find his way back home. Now it’s time to keep that promise.

Clue by clue, Livy and Bob will unravel the mystery of where Bob comes from, solve a community problem, and discover the kind of magic that lasts forever.

Why I like this book:

Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead work their magic to create an enchanting and heartwarming story about a girl, Livy, and a little green creature, Bob. This will be a popular summer read inviting teens on an adventure to solve the mystery of Bob.

Livy is on a quest to discover exactly who and what Bob is, where he  comes from and how she returns him to his home and family. The story is told by Livy and Bob in alternating chapters. Stead wrote Livy and Mass wrote Bob. The storytelling is seamless with the tone of the text wistful and wandering, with a sense of urgency that there is much to discover.

The characters are lovable and relatable. Livy is a sweet 10-year-old girl struggling to feel comfortable in Gran’s home, a place she barely even remembers. She is troubled that she has forgotten Bob. How could she forget a little green zombie-creature? Bob is a kind-hearted and jovial and patient friend who tells  stories about the “old 5-year-old Livy” who wasn’t curious and took risks. He often refers to the “old” and the “new” Livy, when he wants to nudge her. There are many other memorable characters in this story, especially young Danny who has made his own discoveries about green creatures.

The plot is one big mystery with many subplots. Livy discovers that something peculiar happens to her whenever she leaves Bob for the afternoon to go with Gran into town — her memory of Bob fades. So she carries around Bob’s chipped chess piece in her pocket she can stroke and remember him. She also discovers that not everyone can see Bob.

I enjoyed the collaboration of these two celebrated middle grade authors, along with the entertaining illustrations of Nicholas Gannon, which contribute significantly to the story. It’s easy to lose yourself in Livy and Bob’s world because it is an inspiring story about the importance of family and friendship, with a sprinkle of magic. Even thought this story is rated for middle grade students, I believe it is a perfect read for fourth and fifth graders.

Resources: Visit Wendy Mass’ website, where readers will find a Book Club Guide, an Educator’s Guide and book trailers.

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.

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar


Lucky Broken Girl

Ruth Behar, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, April 2017; Puffin Books reprint April 2018

2018 Pura Belpré Award

Suitable for Ages: 10-12

Themes: Cuban-Americans, Immigration, Second languages, Injury, Trauma, Family relationships, Friendships, Multicultural

OpeningWhen we lived in Cuba, I was smart. But when we got to Queens, in New York City, in the United States of America, I became dumb, just because I couldn’t speak English. So I got put in the dumb class in fifth grade at P.S. 117. It’s the class for the bobos, the kids who failed at math and reading.

Synopsis: When Ruthie Mizrahi moves with her family from her homeland of Cuba to the bustling streets of New York, it’s a lot to take in. There are new sights, new sound, and a new language. But Ruthie is adjusting. She’s already mastering English and has made some new friends. In her neighborhood, she is  known as the Hopscotch Queen. And she dreams of getting a pair of “go-go” boots, like her friend Danielle.

After she and her family spend the day with old friends on Staten Island, Ruthie and her family are in a car accident on the way home. Ruthie’s leg is broken in several places and she ends up in a body cast that stretches all the way from her chest to her toes. Just when she was starting to feel like life in New York would be okay, she’ll have to lie in bed for eight months and be treated like a baby again. As Ruthie’s world shrinks because of her inability to move, her powers of observation and her heart grows larger and she comes to understand how fragile life is, how vulnerable we all are as human beings, and how a diverse group of friends, neighbors, and the power of the arts can sweeten even the worst of times.

Why I like this book:

This novel has heart, courage and hope. It’s uniquely diverse community of family, friends, neighbors, teachers, doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers will restore your faith in humanity. And readers will cheer Ruthie as she overcomes her fears and learns to walk again.

I especially like how Ruthie turns her anger and hate towards the boy who injured her into forgiveness and hope. She is relieved her parents won’t sue the boy’s family, because she realizes that they lost their son and are suffering. Ruthie concludes that people makes mistakes, but that doesn’t mean their bad.

It is a perfect book for readers recovering from a trauma or injury. As an adult I endured two traumatic injuries, so I understand how frightening this would be for a child. When Ruthie’s cast is removed after eight months, the real recovery begins on both physical and emotional levels. Ruthie is fearful and doesn’t feel safe outside of her bed.  She has to find her personal power again in a most remarkable way with the creative help and laughter of many memorable characters supporting her.

Lucky Broken Girl is based on the author’s childhood in the 1960s, as a young Cuban-Jewish immigrant girl who is adjusting to her new life in New York City when her American dream is suddenly derailed by a car accident that leaves her in a body cast. The interview with Ruth Behar at the end of the book is a must read. It will give readers greater insight into the story. Visit Behar at her website. There is a short video with the author. This is a great summer read!

Ruth Behar is an acclaimed author of fiction and nonfiction. Lucky Broken Girl, is her first book for young readers. She was born in Havana, Cuba, grew up in New York City, and has also lived in Spain and Mexico. An anthropology professor at the University of Michigan, she is the author of The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart, An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba, and Traveling Heavy: A Memoir in between Journeys, and other books about her travels, as well as a bilingual book of poetry, Everything I Kept/Todo lo que guardé. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and travels often to Miami and Havana.

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

Riders of the Realm #1: Across the Dark Water by Jennifer Alvarez

Riders of the Realm #1: Across the Dark Water

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, Author

Harper Collins Publisher, Fiction, May 1, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 417

Themes: Pegasi, Jungles, Giants, Survival, Trust, Loyalty, Freedom

Synopsis: Deep in the jungles of the Realm, the Sandwen clan live among deadly spit dragons and hordes of warring giants. But with their winged battle horses, they manage to keep their people safe.

Twelve-year-old Rahkki is a stable groom for the Riders in the Sandwen army, taking care of his brother’s winged stallion. The Sandwens believe they have tamed all the wild pegasi in their land, and turned them into flying warhorses to protect themselves from the giants. When a herd of wild steeds flies over their village, Rahkki and his clanmates are stunned. Who are these pegasi, and where have they come from?

Meanwhile, a small herd of pegasi have journeyed across a treacherous ocean to settle in a new, and free, land. Led by Echofrost and Hazelwind, the Storm Herd steeds are unaware that the Sandwens are ready to fight. But when the unthinkable happens, Echofrost and the rest of Storm Herd will have to come to trust the Sandwens, or both may not survive.

Opening: Every Sandwen child dreamed of riding. A winged horse, though most never would, and one would rather not.

Why I love this book:

Look at that gorgeous and engaging cover! What teen wouldn’t be drawn to this tantalizing novel?

Riders of the Realm: Across Dark Waters is a thrilling new fantasy by Jennifer Alvarez for the fans of her Guardian Herd series. They will not be disappointed! Riders of the Realm is a brand new journey into an unknown realm for 140 terrified pagasi who have fled Anok in treacherous search for a peaceful home and new life. Readers will be delighted to reunite with Echohfrost, Hazlewind, Graystone, Dewberry, Redfire and Shysong, and the other pegasi, who call themselves the Storm Herd. Her storytelling is magical and flows organically.

The setting and world-building is enchanting, but full of hidden dangers. Alvarez has created a matriarchal culture within the Sandwen seven clans ruled by a monarch queen. Storm Herd lands among the Fifth clan. The men in the clans are warriors. The flying steeds (Kihlari) are tame and are paired for life with a flyer, but they are trained for the military guard to protect the clans. There are huge ants, killer plants, spit dragons and giants who communicate by using sign language.

The plot is exhilarating with epic adventures, action, clashes between the wild and tame steeds, the evil Fifth clan queen, the capture of Echofrost and Shysong, and the warring giants. There is a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter that will keep readers fully engaged in this fast-paced novel.

We also meet Rahkki, a 12-year-old stable groom for his older brother, Brauk, who is a Rider. They have suffered a horrific family loss and take care of each other. When the wild flying herd glides high above their village, Rahkki is excited and his imagination soars as he wonders what else may live outside his world. Rahkki has no hope of ever being a rider, so he spends a lot of time with Echofrost. It is the perfect pairing, since both share a loss. And their relationship is crucial to the fate of both the realm and of Storm Herd. Loyalty, trust and friendship will lead them forward.

Alvarez expertly tells her story in the alternating voices of Echofrost and Rahkki, which offers a rich perspective and a lot insight into this compelling story. For Echofrost, being paired and ridden by a flyer, is unthinkable. For the tame Sandwen Pegasi being wild is an unimaginable. They are honored battle warriors and paired for life with a human.

Alvarez ends the book with a huge cliffhanger that will have readers imagining the future of the characters, the flying steeds and the realm. I predict this will be a favorite and cherished book by middle grade boys and girls. It is a perfect summer read! Readers will have to wait until February 2019, for the release of her second book in the trilogy, which will give new readers the opportunity to check out the Guardian Herd series.

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez is an active horsewoman. a volunteer for US Pony Club, and a proud mother of three children. She’s also the author the Guardian Herd series, fantasy novel starring wild pegasi. Alvarez draws on her lifelong love of animals when writing her books.  Visit Alvarez on her website.

Greg Pattridge is the permanent 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.

Review copy from the library.

Bye Bye Pesky Fly

Bye Bye Pesky Fly

Lysa Mullady, Author

Janet McDonnell, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, May 14, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Animals, Insects, Annoying behavior, Frustration, Tolerance, Friendship

Opening: Some days are good days. Calm, peaceful, and happy.

Synopsis: Pig is having a happy summer day thinking about the sunshine, rainbows and rolling around in a cool mud bath, until  Pesky Fly decides to BUZZ Pig’s nose and ears and follows Pig around the meadow. Suddenly Pig isn’t calm and peaceful anymore. He’s angry. What is a Pig going to do?  If he yells at the fly to go away, it will make matters worse. Running away doesn’t help. Pig wants to swat Pesky Fly, but he knows it isn’t a nice to hurt the fly. How is Pig going to solve this annoying situation.

Pig finds his happy space again and decides to ignore Pesky Fly. As Pig walks along the path whistling a happy tune, Pesky Fly continues to BUZZ Pig’s ears and lands on his nose. Pig takes a big risk and confronts Fly.  How will Pesky Fly respond? Will they be able to respect each other’s space and have a happy day together?

Why I like this book:

Lysa Mullady has written an empowering book that will help children learn to handle annoying situations. Children will absolutely relate to having a pesky fly buzzing in their faces or a classmate annoying them. This is a lovely analogy to someone invading your personal space — something kids may feel but not have the words to explain. It may not feel right and they back away.

I enjoyed how the story shifts from Pig’s to Fly’s perspective, which emphasizes empathy and compassion. Maybe Fly wasn’t buzzing to bully Pig on purpose, but wanted a new friend. This is a satisfying story with a feel-good ending.

Mullady’s engaging and witty text wraps itself creatively around Janet McDonnell’s cleverly exuberant and playful illustrations. The artwork is expressive, as you can tell by the cover. I like her use of white space. This book will elicit many giggles!

Resources: The book includes “A Note Parents and Caregivers” about helping children work through the frustrations and build positive friendships. This is a lively discussion book for home and school. The story teaches children social skills and working through problems together, with the hopes they can solve problems on their own.

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 an advance copy of the book.

The Art Garden by Penny Harrison

The Art Garden

Penny Harrison, Author

Penelope Pratley, Illustrator

EK Books, Fiction, Feb. 6, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes: Art, Creativity, Individuality, Self-acceptance, Friendship

Opening: More than anything, Sadie wanted to be an artist.

Synopsis: Sadie wants to be a painter, just like her best friend, Tom. She loves playing with color and finding shapes in unlikely places. But whenever Sadie picks up a paintbrush she makes a big mess. She spends her time working in the garden or playing with Tom, but, one day, Sadie gets a look at things from a different perspective–and makes a big discovery about herself and her own creativity.

What I like about this book:

Penny Harrison has written a playful story about a girl who wants to be an artist like her best friend.  Sadie’s fingers are very nimble at playing with color in baking and decorating cupcakes, arranging flowers, exploring patterns in nature, and planting flowers in pots. So why can’t she draw like Tom? The harder this determined protagonist tries to paint, she creates even bigger messes. Discouraged, she climbs to the top of a tree.  She stares down at a garden beneath her and sees something she hasn’t seen before. Sadie realizes that if she can’t draw her dreams there are many other ways to express herself.

The language is simple and lyrical. The pacing will keep readers in suspense. Prately’s colorful watercolor illustrations are lively and encourage readers to see the world through Sadie’s eyes. Make sure you check out the endpapers.

Resources: This book is an excellent read-aloud in the classroom. Teachers can encourage kids to name the many ways they enjoy expressing their creativity like baking, sewing beautiful clothing, planting beautiful gardens, trimming topiary bushes, knitting blankets, carving wooden figures, making pottery, designing buildings, birdwatching, quilting, music and dance. Children will enjoy sharing their ideas as they realize art is individual and all around them.

Penny Harrison is a children’s author, book reviewer, garden writer and lifestyle journalist. A professional writer for more than 20 years, she has contributed to a range of magazines, newspaper, and books, writing about everything from raising toddlers to raising chickens.

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.

My Friend, Mi Amigo by Kristin Tripathy

My Friend, Mi Amigo

Kristin Tripathy, Author

Denise Turu, Illustrator

Authors as Heroes Publishing, Fiction, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Bilingual story, Play, Zoo, Friendship

Opening: Hola!…Huh? / Hello!…Eh?

Synopsis: Interacting with others who don’t speak the same language can sometimes be challenging. However, when an English-speaking boy encounters a Spanish-speaking boy at the zoo, nothing can stop them from having an engaging and playful time…not even a language barrier. After all, friendship speaks louder than words.

What I like about this book:

This is a clever bilingual book for both English- and Spanish-speaking children. Kristin Tripathy features two boys visiting the zoo. Each double-spread page shows the boys visiting animals at the zoo with bubble comments highlighting their conversation. When one boy says, “Look! A gray elephant.” The other responds “Como?”  On the opposite page the Spanish-speaking boy says “Mira! Un elefante gris.”  This makes translation easy for children.

This is a book about friendship and the creative way two boys overcome a language barrier so that they  have a grand time exploring the zoo together. It has humor and a great theme.  Denise Turu’s large, colorful and bold illustrations compliment the story. Visit the author at her website, Authors As Heroes.  The book is also published in English and Hindi, which you will find by visiting the website.

Photos courtesy of Kristin Tripathy.

Resources: The book is a resource. Both English- and Spanish-speaking children will learn new vocabulary as it is simply presented in bubble comments. It definitely can be used in the classroom to teach both language and animals

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 author provided me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Phoebe’s Heron by Winnie Anderson

Phoebe’s Heron

Winnie Anderson, Author

Crispin Books, Historical Fiction, Feb. 5, 2018

Pages: 226

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Nature, Birds, Wildlife, Colorado, Conservation, Friendship, Courage

It is 1900. Twelve-year-old Phoebe Greer, her family and Nurse Daisy move from their home in Denver to a newly built cliff-top cabin in Ridge, at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The doctors recommend that the dry, fresh, clean air in the mountains may be the cure for her mother’s tuberculosis.

While Phoebe wants her mother to get well, she misses her busy city life in Denver (a dusty cow town) and her best friend Lisbeth, whose parents own Denver’s finest millinery store. The two girls have spent hours in front of the looking-glass parading with fancy feathered hats on their heads. They also have fun trying to teach the millinery shop parrot to curse.

Phoebe loves to draw. Her father gives her a sketchbook so she can explore her new surroundings. She follows Bearberry Trail which winds along Bear Creek and ends up at a breathtaking lake. There she meets a local boy, Jed.  However, Jed is a plume hunter, a commercial hunter of birds. He desperately wants to find a great blue heron, whose feathers are in great demand for women’s hats.

The two youth gradually become friends. Jed shows Phoebe the delights of the natural world in the Colorado Rockies, and their friendship deepens. They meet at a large flat rock in the lake, where she sketches and he catches large trout with his swift bare hands. Her views of living in the wild and nature begin to change her and blend nicely with her passion for capturing its beauty in her artwork. One day, Phoebe sees a magnificent great blue heron in the creek, which she sketches in her book. She does not tell Jed about spotting this bird, because she can’t bear the thought of this majestic creature losing its freedom even though it is “survival” for Jed.

Phoebe hears about the Audubon club that wants laws to protect birds from being killed for their feathers. Phoebe’s mother tells her that the movement has come to Denver and a chapter is forming. But Phoebe’s mother grows worse, and soon, things may change.

What I love about this book:

Winnie Anderson’s debut novel is wistful and poetic. Her beautiful words create vivid imagery of Phoebe’s new life on the mountain top. The setting is so appealing that it becomes a beloved character. The rich dialogue paints a picturesque view of Colorado in 1900.  You want to leap into the story and observe the untamed country with Phoebe and Jed.

This hopeful and heartwarming coming of age story is about a teen dealing with a sick mother, family relationships, friendships and her passion to draw everything around her. I enjoyed watching her transformation from a privileged Denver teen to a thoughtful one who observes and develops her own beliefs. The characters are authentic, most are good-hearted but others are privileged and snobby.  This creates a dilemma for Phoebe in her friendship, with Jed, when her father tells her to stay away from him.

Phoebe’s view about use of bird feathers in the women’s millinery business becomes unbearable for her.  She takes a stand with both of her friends, Lisbeth and Jed, and tells them she wants to work with the Audubon club to protect the birds. The author makes short references to the early Audubon Society throughout the book.

Phoebe’s story is loosely based on Sarah Orne Jewett’s “A White Heron,” written in 1886. This book will be of interest to birders, Audubon Society members, and anyone interested in the early conservation movement at the beginning of the 1900s. This is the sixth middle grade novel I’ve reviewed in the past year that includes birding and conservation. It is an excellent novel for teens interested in environmental and conservation issues. This is a thoughtful story to read as Earth Day approaches April 22.

Resources: There is a detailed “Author’s Note” at the end the delves more into the Audubon Society. This book is an excellent classroom discussion book because of the many themes.

Winnie Anderson holds an MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University, and has had stories published in various children’s magazines. This is her first novel. She lives in Baltimore, MD, and Evergreen, CO. Visit Anderson’s 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.

*The publisher provided me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Big, Brave, Bold Sergio — Baxter and Danny Stand Up to Bullying

Today I am sharing two new books about bullying, published by Magination Press. They both deal with different aspects of bullying and compliment each other well. They are both great classroom discussion books.

Big, Brave, Bold Sergio

Debbie Wagenbach, Author

Jamie Tablason, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Mar. 19, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Turtles, Animals, Bullying, Peer Pressure, Taking a stand, Kindness

Opening: Sergio liked swimming with the Snappers. He felt BIG when they scattered the minnows.

Synopsis: Sergio and The Snappers are the toughest turtles in the pond! Swimming with them makes Sergio feel Big, Brave and Bold! But soon he starts to notice how the other animals run and hide when the Snappers swim by; frogs flee, tadpoles tremble, and ducks depart the pond! Sergio doesn’t like it, and stands up to his friends, only to become the new target of the gang’s bullying, especially after he befriends some of the fish. But then something happens to one of the Snappers and Sergio has a choice to make.

Baxter and Danny Stand Up to Bullying

James M. Foley, Author

Shirley Ng-Benitez, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Mar. 15, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Animals, Bullying, Taking a stand,  Problem-solving, Friendship

Opening: Baxter the Bunny was the fastest animal in the forest. Danny the Bear was the best dancer.

Synopsis:  When Baxter, Danny and the rest of the forest animals are picked on by Buford Blue Jay and his bird friends, they have to figure out what to do. The piercing “screech, screech” of the Blue Jays was loud and their name calling was hurtful. With the support of all the forest animals and Queen Beth of the Bees, they all learn to stand up to Buford’s bullying in a positive way.

Why I like these bullying books:

Each book approaches bullying from a different perspective — the bully and the victims. In the first book Sergio is a bully until his conscience begins to bother him. He deals with peer pressure from the other Snappers and soon  becomes their target. In the second book the animals of the forest are the target of bullying by the Blue Jays. Working together helps empower the animals and gives them the confidence to take a stand.

Readers will identify with the name-calling, insults, threats, fear and anger. They will learn how to cope with peer pressure, assert themselves, build self-esteem, problem solve and find solutions that  work. I also like the emphasis on learning to have compassion.

Children will be delighted with the large, bold and expressive artwork. There is so much detail to explore. Both illustrators ably capture the lively action in the stories and compliment the authors’ text.

Resources: Both books include “Note to Parents and Caregivers” about how to prevent bullying, cope with peer pressure, become resilient and develop an attitude of kindness towards others. Theses are great discussion books for home or classroom reading.

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.

*I received a review copies of  Big, Brave, Bold Sergio and Baxter and Danny Stand Up to Bullying from the publisher. The opinions in this review are entirely my own.