Be Light Like a Bird by Monika Schroder

Be Light Like a Bird41Q13tYaniL__SX353_BO1,204,203,200_Be Light Like a Bird

Monika Schroder, Author

Capstone Young Readers, Fiction, Sep. 1, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Grief, Bereavement, Mother and daughter, Moving, Family relationships, Friendships, Birdwatching, Nature

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Wren buries roadkill to make herself feel better. Her ritual begins after her father is killed in a plane crash and she never has the opportunity to say goodbye. Her mother tells Wren to pack up her belongings and forces her to leave their home in Georgia and drive north on I-75 in search of a new life. Their first stop is in Chattanooga, Tennessee, then Wapakoneta, Ohio, and finally Pyramid, Michigan, near the Canadian border. With each stop, Wren starts a new school. By the time they reach Pyramid, Wren is determined that this is where their journey will end. She’s tired of being the new girl in school and she wants a place to call home. Her mom finds a job in a retirement home and Wren and her mother work to build a new life. Wren has a good feeling about Pyramid. She discovers a magical place in a forest with a pond and a lot of birds.  She pulls out a bird-watching journal her father has given her and begins to record her sightings. Wren discovers that her perfect place is called Pete’s Pond and that a developer is planning to destroy the area and turn it into a landfill. When Wren teams up with Theo, a nerdy boy at school, to work on a public issue project, she finds the perfect partner in her effort to save Pete’s Pond. Wren begins to find herself, learn about community, forgive those who don’t deserve it, rediscover family, and decide her own direction.

Why I like this book:

Monika Schroder’s has written a sensitive and emotionally deep story about how Wren deals the tragic death of her father. Although the book is about loss, it is also about friendship, courage and embracing life. It has a quirkiness about it that is refreshing. I especially like Schroder’s expertly written prologue and first chapter, which draw the reader into the story from the get-go. The narrative is expertly written in Wren’s voice.

Readers will be captivated by Wren’s unconventional character. She is a strong spirit who loves bird-watching, deals with both her father’s death and a comatose mother, outsmarts bullies, and takes on a major environmental issue. Wren’s mother works two jobs, refuses to talk about her father, and emotionally abandons her daughter. Their complex relationship begins to unravel as secrets and betrayals are revealed. Theo, who is considered the class nerd, proves to be a very resourceful partner. He understands the pain of losing a parent and is a good friend. Together they grow and become a powerful voice in the community. Randle, a Chippewa Indian who owns a junkyard for cars, adds a special twist to the story.

This beautifully crafted story is multi-layered and filled with vivid imagery. Schroder uses roadkill as a symbolic image to show how both Wren and Theo deal with their sadness in losing a parent. I have never seen anything like it before and it works well in this story. Wren buries dead animals. Theo takes pictures of roadkill. Both are looking for a way to come to terms with their heartache and find closure. The plot is distinctly realistic and fast-paced. The ending is unexpected and satisfying.

This is an excellent classroom discussion book as there are many substantive topics that can be discussed: grief, bullying, peer pressure, protecting the environment, and ancient Native American burial grounds.

Monika Schroder grew up in Germany, but has lived and worked in American international schools in Egypt, Oman, Chile, and India. She moved to the US in 2011. She is the author of My Brother’s Shadow, Saraswati’s Way (my review), and a The Dog in the Wood. You can find out more about Schroder on her website.

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

The Stranded Whale

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Jane Yolen, Author

Melanie Cataldo, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, July 16, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Whales, Nature, Death, Anger, Grief

Opening:We were walking home from school, hurrying along the top of the dunes because Ma always hates when we’re late for supper.”

Synopsis: While walking home from school along the dunes in Maine, Sally and her brothers spot an enormous whale stranded on the beach. The siblings take off their sweaters, dip them into the cold briny water and rush back to wet down the whale. Realizing they need more help, Josh runs for help and returns with many people carrying buckets. The Coast Guard arrives and begins to help. But the tide is going out quickly and the whale is just too big. Time is running out.

Why I like this book:

  • Jane Yolen has written a touching story that will tug at your heart. The story is set in 1971 and it reminds me of lengthier picture books written at that time. Yolen carefully chooses her language. Her text is rich, lyrical and carries you like a poem. Melanie Cataldo’s uses muted tones in her oil and pencil illustrations. They contribute to the emotion and vulnerability of the story.
  • Because it is 1971, the three siblings don’t have modern cell phones to call for help. This adds to the tension because so much time is lost. Sally and her brothers have to rely upon their own resources to help the whale. Josh has to run a mile to find an emergency telephone. It takes a while before the town people and Coast Guard arrive with buckets to wet down the whale. They all try to push the whale back into the ebbing sea. There are no fire hoses or lifts. This is a nice contrast/comparison story for readers.
  • The story is narrated by Sally, who is brave and strong. While Josh is sad about the situation, Sally is mad at everything. She’s mad at the ocean for deserting the whale. She’s mad that they didn’t have a boat and long ropes to pull it into the sea. Sally is also compassionate and looks deeply into the whales eye and sees a tear. She continues wetting down the whale “one sweater, two sweaters at a time.” She tells the whale it is “beautiful and strong, how much she would miss it, whatever happened next.”
  • The ending is realistic. (Spoiler alert) Despite their efforts to rescue the whale, Sally and her brothers learn that not all living creatures can be saved. This is an important truth for children.

Resources: Yolen has an Author’s Note at the end. She talks about why she chose the setting and time frame. She also gives a lot information about how many whales are found on beaches annually and the many reasons for why they beach. There are many good discussion points for parents/teachers and children in this story.  Today is Endangered Species Day.  Make sure you check out the Endangered Species Coalition 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.

Ida, Always

Ida, Always 51Aufwhsr8L__SY453_BO1,204,203,200_Ida, Always

Caron Levis, Author

Charles Santoso, Illustrator

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Feb. 23, 2016

Pages: 40

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Polar Bears, Best Friends, Illness, Grief, Loss, Hope

Opening: “Gus Lived in a big park in the middle of an even bigger city. Buildings grew around him and shifted the shape of the sky. Zookeepers poked in and out. Visitors came and went.”

Synopsis: Gus is a polar bear. He lives in a big park in the center of a city. Every day when he crawls out of his cave, his best friend Ida is always there to greet him. They play ball, splash in the water, chase each other, climb onto their favorite rock to gaze at the city and listen to the many noises around them. One morning Ida doesn’t come out of her cave. The zookeeper tells Gus that Ida is very sick and will die. Gus and Ida still have some time together to deal with the news. They stomp and howl, sniffle and cuddle, joke and giggle and wonder where Ida will go. Once Ida passes, Gus realizes that he will always carry their memories  together in his heart.

Why I like this book:

Caron Levis has written a tender, sensitive and hopeful book for children about illness, love and loss of a companion. The author’s gentle narrative and heartfelt honesty shows children the endearing friendship between the two polar bears, their reaction to Ida’s illness, the happy and sad moments they spend in their last days together, their curiosity about what will happen when Ida dies, and Gus’s adjustment to life without his best friend.

The text is lyrical and at times poetic as Levis depicts poignant moments between Gus and Ida. When Gus realizes that Ida is going to die, the simple text, “Don’t go, don’t go…DON”T!” is enlarged and emphasizes his pain and grief. I like the use of sounds in choice words.

For a child, the story of Gus and Ida easily opens a discussion about loss in their lives. Loss is a very important event for a child and they rarely have the opportunity to explore it honestly with adults.  This book can help children talk about the loss of a pet, a friend or a family member and translate that into their lives. This book belongs on every book shelf.

Charles Santoso’s illustrations are rich, warm and expressive. They beautifully capture the relationship between Gus and Ida and showcase the city skyline and the lush green zoo. The cover will melt your heart.

Resources:  There is an Author’s Note at the end. The story of Gus and Ida is inspired by the real-life polar bears, Ida and Gus, who lived together in the New York City’s Central Park Zoo. This book is an excellent resource for parents to talk about loss with their children.

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.

The Question of Miracles

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Elana K. Arnold, Author

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Themes: Miracles, Grief, Moving, Friendship, Oregon

Book Jacket Synopsis: Iris Abernathy hates life in Corvallis, Oregon, where her family has just moved. It’s always raining, and everything is so wet. Besides, nothing has felt right since Iris’s best friend, Sarah, died. There’s nothing Iris wants more than to see Sarah again.

When Iris meets Boris, a mouth breather with a know-it-all personality, she’s not looking to make a new friend, but it beats eating lunch alone. Then Iris learns that Boris’s very existence is a medical mystery — maybe even a miracle — and she starts to wonder why some people get miracles and other don’t. And if one miracle is possible, can another one be too? Can Iris possibly communicate with Sarah again?

Why I like The Question of Miracles:

  • Arnold has written a compelling and emotionally deep story about how 11-year-old Iris deals with the tragic death of her best friend. Although Sarah’s death is the sad story, the book is also about friendships and embracing life. It is charming, funny and thought-provoking.
  • The subject of loss and grief is realistically tackled with honesty and sensitivity. Sometimes Iris feels Sarah’s essence around her. She hears noises in a downstairs closet and wants to believe it’s Sarah. Iris wants to know if her friend is out there somewhere. Is she okay? Is she scared? Is she alone? Did it hurt to die? Iris asks many universal questions in her search for answers. She wonders why bad things happen to good people. Why do miracles happen for some people like Boris, and not for others?
  • The story is character-driven and the characters are memorable. Iris is searching to understand her friend’s death so that she can find joy in life again. Boris is intelligent, a bit socially inept and a die-hard Magic player. Boris eagerly helps Iris search for answers –even if it is means visiting a psychic and talking with priests. Iris’s mother is a genetic researcher who is busy with her work. Her father is a stay-at-home dad, who calls her “Pigeon,” bakes bread, plants a huge garden and raises baby chicks in an incubator. He adds stability and quirky humor to the story.
  • This is a very unique offering on grieving for teens. It is a refreshingly quiet book that doesn’t provide answers, but gives readers time to ponder big questions and their beliefs. This would make an excellent classroom discussion book.

Elana K. Arnold: The Question of Miracles is her debut for younger readers. She is working on another middle grade novel, A Long Way from Home. She is the author of young adult novels, Sacred, Burning, Splendor and Infandous.  Visit Elana Arnold at her website.

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

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Lost in the Sun

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Lisa Graff, Author

Philomel Books, Fiction, May 26, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 10 and up

Themes: Friendship, Loss, Guilt, Disfigured persons, Brothers, Remarriage

Book Jacket Synopsis: Everyone says that middle school is awful, but Trent knows nothing could be worse than the year he had in fifth grade, when he accidentally hit Jared Richards in the chest with a hockey puck out on Cedar Lake. (Who knew that Jared had a heart defect? And that one little hockey puck could be deadly?) Trent’s pretty positive his entire town hates him now, and can’t blame them. So for Trent, middle school feels like a fresh start. He may even join the baseball team, if he wants to.

If only Trent could make the fresh start happen. It isn’t until Trent gets caught up in the whirlwind that is Fallon Little — the girl with the mysterious scar across her face — that things begin to change. Because fresh starts aren’t always easy. Even in baseball, when a fly ball get lost in the sun, you have to remember to shift your position to find it.

Why I like Lost in the Sun:

Lisa Graff has written a compelling coming of age story about Trent, a sixth-grader who blames himself for Jared’s death, is wracked with guilt and doesn’t know how to handle the nightmares from the accident and the rage that burns inside him.

This novel speaks powerfully about deep emotional pain. The plot is complex, realistic and skillfully executed. It digs deeply into many themes that include recovery from a tragedy, a father’s remarriage and a new baby, the relationships between three brothers who play pranks on each other, and Trent’s friendship with Fallon, who also shares a different kind of scar.

The first-person narration by Trent is raw and honest. The characters are believable, vulnerable and memorable. It’s hard not to become attached to the characters in this story. Trent is sarcastic, moody, angry, sensitive and funny. Fallon is taunted by other kids at school about her scar, but is upbeat, wise and strives to be herself. In a way she is fragile like Trent, but her demeanor is opposite. They bond through watching baseball movies and searching for “continuity errors” in the movies. Trent and Fallon are an unlikely pairing, but they support each other on their journey towards healing in unusual ways. Trent’s brothers, Aaron and Doug, are pranksters and provide comic relief.

Although Graff’s novel is written for middle graders, young adults will be drawn to this authentic and emotionally driven story from a boy’s perspective. Visit Lisa Graff at her website.

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

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Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson

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Terry Lynn Johnson

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: Sled dogs, Alaska, Wilderness, Survival, Grief

Opening: All eight of my dogs are stretched in front of me in pairs along the gangline. They claw the ground in frustration as the loudspeaker blares. “Here’s team number five. Our hometown girl, fourteen-year-old Victoria Secord!”

Synopsis:  Victoria is a dogsled racer in Alaska. Since the recent death of her father, who taught her everything she knows about being a musher, she pours herself into training her dogs and preparing for the White Wolf Classic. On a routine run, she comes across Chris who is injured in a snowmobile accident. A fast-approaching blizzard catches Victoria by surprise and covers her sled trails. She finds herself lost in the frozen wilderness with little food or protection. Her real race becomes one of survival against time. Will she be able to save Chris and herself?

Why I like this book: This inspiring and gripping story by Terry Lynn Johnson, is a page turner. Johnson, who once owned  and raced 18 Alaskan huskies, knows how beautiful, peaceful and unforgiving the wilderness can be. Reading a novel based on Johnson’s knowledge and experience makes for great realistic fiction and a very vivid setting. Her plot is fast-paced with high-adventure, danger, courage and hope. Her main characters, Victoria and Chris, are well-developed. The story is narrated by Victoria, a fiercely independent, strong, brave, and smart teen coping with the tragic death of her father in the wilderness. She is determined to carry on his legacy as a musher. Chris, a city boy from Toronto, offers a bit of comic relief. Their relationship is full of tension, emotion and complexity. He steps up to the plate and works with Victoria in a race for their survival. Ice Dogs is a spellbinding story that will appeal to young readers. Visit Terry Lynn Johnson at her website where you can view a video, read interesting information, and check out her blog.  Johnson is a conservation officer in Whitefish Falls, Ontario, Canada.

A special thank you to Amanda at Born Bookish, who first introduced me to Ice Dogs. Click on her blog to read her review.

Missing Mommy by Rebecca Cobb

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Rebecca Cobb, Author and Illustrator

Henry Holt and Company, Fiction, April 2013

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Theme:  Death, Grief, Mother, Family Support

Opening“Some time ago we said good-bye to Mommy. I am not sure where she has gone. I have tried looking for her.”

Synopsis:  A young boy’s mother dies. He doesn’t understand what has happened or where she has gone. He searches for her and finds some of her clothing hanging in the closet. He feels scared and angry because he doesn’t think she is coming back. He worries that she left because he was naughty.  Daddy finds a way to help the boy and his sister keep their mother’s memory alive.

Why I like this book:  I really like that this story because  it is told from the boy’s viewpoint with a lot of simplicity and honesty. It is a touching and loving debut picture book written and illustrated by Rebecca Cobb. I am always searching for good grief books for children.  Missing Mommy deals with the pain, fear, and anger of the losing a parent, but is balanced with the loving support from family.  The artwork is childlike, as Cobb uses watercolors and crayons to create childlike simplicity for her young readers.

Resources: Missing Mommy will help spark a discussion about death and grief between children and parents.  It’s never too early to talk about death with children because they may first experience the death of a pet or grandparent. For further information visit Rebecca Cobb 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 with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.