The True Gift by Patricia MachLachlan

The True Gift

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Brian Floca, Illustrator

Scholastic Books, Fiction, 2013

Pages: 81

Suitable for Ages: 7-11

Themes: Christmas, Farm, Animals, Cow, Gift, Family, Community

Synopsis:

Lily and Liam look forward to spending a few weeks alone at their grandparents’ farm during the holidays. Their parents arrive a few days before Christmas. The children save their money all year long to purchase gifts at the only store in town. Liam carries his money in an old sock, along with his stack of books. Lily has her stash too.  It’s always the perfect trip for Liam and Lily. They love their grandmother’s cooking, walking to the lilac library, trimming the tree, and giving gifts.

When they arrive, Liam notices that White Cow is standing alone near the fence in the pasture. The donkey is missing and Liam is worried that White Cow is lonely. He talks to his grandpa, who says “it’s hard to tell about cows.” When Liam visits the cow in the barn, the cow nudges him and almost knocks him off his feet. White Cow follows Liam around the barn. He watches and waits for Liam’s visits every day.

Liam goes to the library to research cows and discovers that they are social animals. He  may be right about cows feeling lonely. Liam can’t think of anything but White Cow. He and Lily come up with a plan that will make their visit different this year. This holiday, Lily and Liam will find out the meaning of a special gift that comes in different forms.

Why I like this book:

This is a heartwarming and original story for all animal lovers. Patricia MacLachlan’s signature spare and elegant prose tells a warm family story with a classic holiday theme. It is a celebration of family and community and the true meaning of giving. Brian FLoca’s full-page, detailed pencil drawings add a special touch to this holiday story.

The plot is well-paced and the chapters are short for young readers. The characters are memorable. Lily narrates the story and is a thoughtful older sister. Liam is kind and compassionate and can’t bear the thought of White Cow feeling sad. Lily is a bit afraid of White Cow’s size, but shares Liam’s wish to do something . They work well together as a team. I don’t want to give the story away, but this is such a perfect example of children making a difference in the world. And, they have others willing to help.

This is an endearing holiday classic from a wonderful storyteller. Parents will want to include The True Gift in their holiday book collection. Older children will be able to read it on their own. This is a book worth reading for both young and old alike.

Patricia MacLachlan is the celebrated author of many timeless books for young readers, including Sarah, Plain and Tall, winner of the Newbery Medal. Her novels for young readers include Skylark, Caleb’s Story, More Perfect than the Moon, Grandfather’s Dance, Word After Word After Word, Kindred Souls, The Truth of Me, The Poet’s Dog and My Father’s Words; she is also the author of many beloved picture books, a number of which she cowrote with her daughter, Emily. She lives in Williamsburg, Massachusetts.

Greg Pattridge hosts 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.

*Purchased copy.

Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans

Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans

Tina Cho, Author

Keum Jin Song, Illustrator

Little Bee Books, Historical Fiction, Aug. 14, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Korea, Hunger, Compassion, Kindness, Making a difference

Opening: Out in the countryside, across a bridge, to an island blanketed with rice fields, Appa and I ride. We reach a place where mountains become a wall. A wall so high, no one dares to climb. Beyond that wall and across the sea live children just like me, except they do not have enough food to eat.

Synopsis:

Yoori and her father (Appa) travel to the border of South Korea to help with a secret mission to feed the children of North Korea. Appa grew up starving in North Korea before he escaped. They arrive and meet many other volunteers who are eager to help.  They also are met by angry villagers who chant “Don’t feed the enemy.”

There is a lot of work to be done before nightfall. Rice is poured into smaller bags. Under the cover of darkness, large balloons are filled with helium and bags of rice are tied onto each tail. Appa and Yoori give their balloons a little push as they rise into the sky – Up! Up! Up!. It is a good night as 200 balloons are launched into the air and float over the mountains into North Korea. In the morning, hungry children and families will find rice from friends who care.

Why I like this book:

There is so much beauty in Tina Cho’s book. What a powerful fictionalized story based on true stories of South Koreans showing their kindness and compassion towards the starving children and families living under the heartless North Korean regime. Children hear about North Korea on TV, but don’t understand what is happening.

Cho’s language is lyrical with lovely imagery and a gentle rhythm — “I am a little grain of rice. How can I help?” and “The stars and moon hide under the rain clouds as two hundred balloons creep over the mountains like stealthy ninjas to fight hunger in the darkness of the night.” Keum Jin Song’s beautiful illustrations are hopeful and capture many touching moments. They are colorful and dramatic.

This is my favorite kind of story to share with children because it shows average kids doing something to make a difference for others less fortunate. It is a stark reminder that children can make a difference in their community and world. Rice from Heaven is the perfect medium to start a dialogue about a communist state. It belongs in every school library.

Resources: Encourage kids to write about a time they helped someone and how it made them feel. Look for  projects at school or in the community where kids can make a difference. Make sure you read the Author’s Note about participating in a rice balloon project, sponsored by North Korean refugees who live in Seoul. There are interesting facts about Korea (food, customs, lucky numbers), information about the Politics of the Korean Peninsula and facts on North Korea.

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.

*Purchased Copy

I Am Human by Susan Verde

I Am Human

Susan Verde, Author

Peter H. Reynolds, Illustrator

Abrams Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Oct. 2, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Making mistakes, Empathy, Compassion, Kindness

Opening: “I was born. A miracle! / One of billions / but unique!”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

I am Human.

But being human means

I am not perfect.

I make mistakes.

Being human means we are full of possibility. We learn, we dream, we are curious, we wonder at the world around us, and we make discoveries. But we also make mistakes, hurt others and can be fearful of trying new things.  Because I am human I can make choices.

I Am Human is a hopeful celebration of the human family. It affirms that we can make good choices by acting with compassion and having empathy for others and ourselves. When we find common ground, we can feel connected to the great world around us and mindfully strive to be our best selves.

Why I like this book:

I Am Human is a timeless treasure penned by Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. It is a realistic portrayal of what it means to be human, because we all make thoughtless choices and careless mistakes that hurt others and ourselves. Because we are human we can choose to be thoughtful, treat others with kindness, and lend a helping hand.

This uplifting story will leave a smile on your face. It will touch the hearts of both children and adults. It encourages readers to develop empathy and compassion towards others. We are individuals connected to billions of humans worldwide. This journey is one we make together.

Reynolds’ illustrations have his trademark whimsical appeal and will resonate with a global audience. They are expressive watercolors and contribute to the books celebratory mood.

I Am Human, is the third book in a wellness series from the bestselling team that created I am Yoga and I Am Peace.

Resources: The book includes a Guided Meditation for parents to use with children. Verde says that one of wonderful ways to share love and kindness with all humans is to practice a loving-kindness mediation. They are tools that will benefit children for a lifetime. And they are easy to use.

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.

*Copy is a Library book.

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. 

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.

I See You by Michael Genhart

I See You

Michael Genhart, PhD, Author

Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Oct. 9, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Homelessness, Poverty, Child’s reaction, Empathy, Kindness, Social Justice

Synopsis: I See You is a wordless picture book that depicts a homeless woman who is invisible to everyone around her—except for a little boy. Over the course of a year, the boy observes the woman sitting at a bus stop bench, walking down the street, being barked at by dogs, rummaging through trash cans, receiving scowls from customers in a café, and shivering on a snowy bench in the winter. He is a witness to her life on the streets and all that she endures to survive. In a beautiful gesture of compassion, the boy acknowledges her through an exchange in which he sees her and she experiences being seen.

What I like about this book:

Michael Genhart’s wordless picture book is about heart, compassion and connecting with others. It is the a perfect medium to open the door for children and parents to begin a conversation about the many kinds of  homelessness. It also encourages children to study the detailed illustrations a little more carefully and use their imaginations to tell the story.  The boy is an inspiration and reminder of a child’s untainted generosity.

The emotion and candor captured by this story are beautifully brought to life in Joanne Lew-Vriethoff’s heartfelt and vivid illustrations. They are particularly important in evoking the necessary caring response from the boy and the annoyance of strangers.

Resources: In a Note for Parents, Educators, and Neighbors, there are discussion questions and additional resources about helping the homeless.  There is also a section on how children can get involved by making very simple Care Bags. There are many activities kid can do to help the homeless:  donate to local food pantries, donate clothing and toiletry items, books, clean toys to shelters. Visit Michael Genhart at his website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the links to Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Saved by the Boats by Julie Gassman

Saved By The Boats: The Heroic Sea Evacuation of September 11

Julie Gassman, Author

Steve Moors, Illustrator

Capstone Press, Nonfiction, Aug. 16, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Terrorist Attack, September 11, Boats, Sea Evacuations, Civilians, Hope, Kindness

Opening: An arc of sky framed the city in brilliant blue. The bright, golden sun beamed with warmth. But just below, gray smoke swelled and snaked through the air. And, silently, white ash fell in a thick snowfall, coating the city.

Synopsis: September 11,  2011, was a dark day in U.S. history. Amid the chaos of the attacks, sea captains and crews raced by boat to the tragic scene. nearly 500,000 people on New York City’s Manhattan Island were rescued that day in what would later be called the largest sea evacuation in history. In this rarely told story of heroism, we come to understand that in our darkest hours, people shine brightly as a beacon of hope.

Why I like this book:

Julie Gassman’s powerful and inspiring story is based on her own personal experience of fleeing Manhattan by boat on September 11.  Impressively researched, the narrative is presented in a straightforward, honest and compassionate manner. This beautifully crafted story demonstrates the best of humanity during times of tragedy.

This is a little known story about how ordinary captains of tugboats, ferry boats and private boats responded to the Coast Guard call and sped to the harbor to help 500,000 people escape the suffocating blanket of ash and travel to safety in Jersey City. Their spectacular demonstration of heroism deserves recognition. Their biggest concern was the safety of the passengers even though they knew that on open water they could be easy targets. Yet they continued to sail back and forth rescuing people and then carrying rescue workers, water and other supplies on their return.

Steve Moors soulful illustrations capture the crush of people with bewildered and dazed facial expressions, which are contrasted by the busy rescue workers wrapping people in towels and washing faces. His pen and ink drawings of the people and city is shaded in an ashen color, with a bright blue sky in the background. Yet, his artwork conveys a sense of hope.

Most of the youth who will read this book weren’t even born yet. Saved by the Boats really demonstrates to readers that during times of tragedy, we come together as Americans to help each other. With the country dealing with two recent hurricanes, it is an excellent time to encourage children to look for the  acts of kindness and the heroic deeds of ordinary people as we help each other through a difficult time.  It is an important book for youth in Grades 3-6 to read.

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

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Wolf Hollow 61UonXDCtXL__SX333_BO1,204,203,200_Wolf Hollow

Lauren Wolk, Author

Dutton Children’s Books, Fiction, May 3, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 10-13

Themes: Bullying, Mean girls, Lies, Courage, Family relationships, Community, Tolerance

Awards: Newbery Honor Book, NPR Best Book, Booklist Best Book, Kirkus Reviews Best Book, School Library Journal Best Book

Prologue: “The year I turned twelve, I learned how to lie.  I don’t mean the small fibs that children tell. I mean real lies fed by real fears — things I said and did that took me out of the life I’d always known and put me down hard into a new one.”

Synopsis: It is 1943. Eleven-year-old Annabelle McBride lives on a farm in a small, western Pennsylvania town, with her parents, two brothers, grandparents and Aunt Lily.  Annabelle leads a quiet, ordinary and carefree life, going to school everyday, doing her farm chores, supervising her younger brothers, and helping her mother cook meals in the kitchen. Then one fall morning a very mean-spirited girl named Betty Glengarry moves to Wolf Hollow and changes everything for Annabelle and the community. Betty is cruel and manipulative and easily spots the victims of her bullying through their weaknesses. For Annabelle, Betty threatens to harm her brothers if she doesn’t comply with her demands. Annabelle suffers many beatings on the path to school, until a quiet WW I veteran, Toby intervenes. Betty turns her vengeance on the kind-hearted recluse, and Toby becomes a target of her heartless and ruthless attacks. There are other victims too. As tensions mount, Annabelle’s goodness is her inner strength to do what is right.

Why I like this book:

Lauren Wolk’s debut novel, Wolf Hollow, is gripping and haunting, heartbreaking and beautiful. The setting, the characters, the plot and the gorgeous imagery are so brilliantly intertwined that they create an extraordinary experience for readers. One that you will remember for a long time. You learn about Wolf Hollow and its history of capturing and killing wolves. You feel the silence as you walk the path with Annabelle and ponder its darkness. You experience an extended family living under one roof preparing meals together, canning peaches and baking fresh bread in the oven. And you see contradictions in people who are frightening and neighbors who spread gossip at lightening speed.

The characters are multi-layered and complex. Annabelle is kind-hearted to her very core. She is resilient and courageous. I loved experiencing the story narrative through her innocent and wise character.  She learns how to lie to protects others. Betty Glengarry is vicious and cruel. She knows how to use her charm to manipulate an entire community. Annabelle, who knows Betty’s contradictions, wants her to leave. I want her gone. Yet, as a reader I hope for her redemption and wonder about her vulnerabilities.  What made her so ruthless that she could break a quail’s neck, throw a rock and blind another student, string wire across the road to hurt Annabelle’s brother, and falsely accuse Toby of throwing her in a well?  Was she bullied herself? Even though she’s a bad apple, you worry for her safety. Toby is my favorite character. He’s a gentle man who goes to war, struggles with the atrocities he’s seen, becomes a recluse and wanders into Wolf Hollow. Toby is a quiet presence and his words are few.  He lives in a smoke house and walks the hollows. People think he’s odd, but he is a rare soul who is decent to his very core.

Wolk refrains from sharing all the detail about her characters leaving the reader to decide some things for themselves. The plot is riveting and full of tension. Her deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. Like Annabelle, I found myself contemplating different scenarios. It is a story that will haunt you because of its depth, contradictions and unspoken truths. When I completed the Wolf Hollow, I was convinced I had been there. It is a story that will stay with you because of the profoundly human characters and the untidy ending.

This is an excellent discussion book for teachers to use with middle grade students. There are so many themes that can be explored.

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

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson

If You Plant a Seed 511V106f+0L__SY498_BO1,204,203,200_If You Plant a Seed

Kadir Nelson, Author and Illustrator

Balzer + Bray/Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, Fiction, Mar. 3, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Animals, Nature, Planting and Growing, Sharing,  Seeds of kindness, Generosity, Friendship

Opening: “If you plant a tomato seed, a carrot seed, and a cabbage seed, / in time, / with love and care, /  tomato, carrot and cabbage plants will grow.”

Synopsis: Rabbit and mouse, plant seeds in their garden. They patiently tend to their garden and watch the rain and sun do their magic. As the fruits of their labor begin to pay off they do their happy dance and marvel at the sweetness of their bounty. When five birds appear from the sky, rabbit and mouse try to protect their vegetables from their winged friends.  The birds stare them down (illustrations are priceless) and pandemonium breaks out, until mouse gives the birds a peace-offering. Because of mouse’s act of generosity, the birds return with seeds of kindness and friendship reigns.

Why I like If You Plant a Seed:

Kadir Nelson’s If You Plant a Seed is a timeless story for the entire family that will charm you from the first double-spread to the last. His spare and clever text makes this story an easy book for kids to read alone or to a sibling. It shows children what happens when you are selfish and hoard your bounty. And it teaches them what happens when they are kind and share with others — friendships form. These are values they will easily understand. The cover is gorgeous. Nelson’s beautiful, oversized oil paintings are breathtaking! Facial expressions are dramatic, expressive and humorous. The vegetables look so real, that you want to reach out and take a bite of a carrot or tomato. If You Plant a Seed has heart, humor, connection and friendship. It  is a treasure! Visit Kadir Nelson online at his website.

Kadir Nelson won the 2012 Coretta Scott King Author Award and Illustrator Honor for Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. He received Caldecott Honors for Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine and Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, for which he also garnered a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and won an NAACP Image Award. Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange won a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. Nelson’s authorial debut, We Are the Ship, was a New York Times bestseller, a Coretta Scott King Author Award winner, and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor book. He is also the author and illustrator of the acclaimed Baby Bear.

The Very Fairy Princess: Valentines from the Heart

The Very Fairy Princess Valentines from 61caklR2VdL__SX496_BO1,204,203,200_The Very Fairy Princess: Valentines from the Heart

Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton, Co-authors

Christine Davenier, Illustrator

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Fiction, December 22, 2015

  • Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Valentine’s Day, Creativity, Compassion, Kindness, Friendship

Opening: “One of my FAVORITE days is coming up — Valentine’s Day! Fairy princesses are at their sparkly best making people smile, and what better way to do that than with a FABULOUS homemade card?”

Synopsis: Gerry makes home-made valentines for her classmates using glitter, sequins, glue and sparkly markers. Her mother gives her one of her father’s folders, to protect her valentines. When there is a mix-up in folders at home, Gerry needs to find another way to deliver her valentine message to her friends.

Why I like this book:

  • Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton have written a delightful reminder that gifts from the heart are meaningful, especially when delivered by a spunky and engaging character, Geraldine. Gerry believes she is a fairy princess because “the sparkle I feel inside tells me that it’s TRUE.” It is impressive how a special word like sparkle, can convey so much self-confidence to a child.
  • Gerry creatively personifies the power of compassion when she delivers her special sparkly message to each classmate. Her friends respond with surprise, kindness and generosity towards Gerry. This kind of authentic interaction between children just doesn’t get any better! Coming from Gerry, it is believable.
  • The book has a new format with bonus stickers and is perfectly suited for young readers. It is an excellent gift for Valentine’s Day.
  • Christine Davenier’s warm, expressive and whimsical pastel illustrations beautifully capture the compassionate tone of this timeless story of friendship for children.

Make sure you check out the other seven books and two Early Readers in the New York Times bestselling Very Fairy Princess series. The books hallmark self-confidence, creativity, problem-solving and radiate inner sparkle. They can be read in any order, but I encourage you to start with the very first book — that is where all the magic begins with Gerry, a passionate and memorable character. They are beautiful gift books. For more information, visit the Julie Andrews Collection and Emma Walton Hamilton’s website.

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