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

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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

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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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Beautiful Moon: A Child’s Prayer

Beautiful Moon9781419707926_p0_v1_s260x420Beautiful Moon: A Child’s Prayer

Tonya Bolden, Author

Eric Velasquez, Illustrator

Abrams Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Nov. 4, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Prayer, Bedtime, City and town life, Compassion, Kindness

Opening: The amber orb floats, washing the night with a radiant glow. Stars hide. Only city lights glitter. It’s not a silent night. Car horns beep and blare. There is music in the air. And someone calls out, “I love you!”

Book Jacket Synopsis: A young boy wakes. He has forgotten to say his prayers.  Outside his window, a beautiful harvest moon illuminates the city around him and its many inhabitants. As the moon slowly makes its way across the heavens, the boy offers a simple prayer for the homeless, for the hungry and for others.

What I like about this book:

  • The narrative is simple and straightforward.  It is very inspirational, comforting and heartwarming, more than it is religious.
  • There is a balance of diversity.
  • The boy’s sincerity carries a powerful message. It is important for children to see how the boy focuses his prayers on social needs of today’s world before he focuses on his family, his teacher and his pet turtle.
  • This book will help parents have discussions with their kids about who is in need and who they may want to pray for.
  • Vasquez’s rich and beautiful illustrations are painted in oil. Each double-spread shows the moon in a different phase meaningful to the setting. As the boys prays for people with no homes, the sick to be healed or for wars to end, Vasquez highlights his prayers by showing a woman bundled up on a park bench, a man in a hospital bed and a soldier in a distant land.
  • This is a wonderful collaborative effort between the author and illustrator.

Tonya Bolden has written a number of highly regarded books for both children and adults. Maritcha: A 19th Century American Girl won a Coretta Scott King Honor Award and a James Madison Book Award. Her other books include Emancipation Proclamation, M.L.K. and Searching for Sarah Rector.

Eric Velasquez is the illustrator of numerous books, including My Uncle Martin’s Big Heart and My Uncle Martin’s Words for America, both by Angela Farris Watkins. He has received much praise for his work, including the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award and the Pura Belpre Honor for illustration.

Peace, Bugs, and Understanding

Peace, Bugs9781937006631_p0_v3_s260x420Peace, Bugs, and Understanding: An Adventure in Sibling Harmony

Gail Silver, Author

Youme Nguyen Ly, Illustrator

Parallax Press, Fiction, Dec. 9, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Anger, Sibling Rivalry, Mindfulness

Opening: Lily was having a picnic with her father and her little sister, Ruby, but it wasn’t much fun. Ruby was lying on the checkerboard.

Book Jacket Synopsis: Lily and her sister are having a picnic when Ruby spoils their game of checkers. Lily lashes out but soon gets absorbed in a wonderful book, the story of her great-grandfather Lahn’s encounter with a strong-looking frog-like creature called Anger. The precious old journal teaches Lily about Metta, a technique that has helped people transform anger into loving kindness for thousands of years.

Why I like this book:

  • Gail Silver, author of Ahn’s Anger, has written a positive and resourceful book for children and adults about transforming negative feelings. This book focuses on anger, but I believe it can be used with feelings of jealousy, frustration, anxiety, disappointment or any negative feeling that causes disharmony. It’s a book children and parents will want to read together.
  • Peace, Bugs and Understanding, introduces its readers to a very simple calming technique called “Metta,” which means loving kindness. Silver suggests “that when you practice Metta,  sit quietly and become aware of your own breath.” Once you calm yourself, you focus on the person you are angry with and wish for them “to be happy, be strong, be safe and live with peace.” 
  • This is a wonderful tool for children and adults to cultivate forgiveness towards others and even themselves. How can you be angry at someone when you are sending them kind, happy and loving thoughts?
  • The book is a story within a story. Therefore, Youme Nguyen Ly’s illustrations are colorful and warm watercolors in Lily’s world, but are gray and white pen and ink for Lahn’s journal.  The illustrations project a sense of calm that fits beautifully with the theme. This is a lovely collaboration between author and illustrator.

Resources: My favorite part of the book is a “Reader’s Guide” at the end that helps parents teach “Metta” to their children. There is also a page of discussion questions to use with children. This is also a book to pair with Ahn’s Anger, which I reviewed in 2013. You can visit Gail Silver and Youme Nguyen Ly at their websites.

Gail Silver is the founder of Yoga Child, a program that develops curriculum for school-based yoga and mindfulness programs. She is the author of Anh’s Anger and its sequel Steps and Stones.

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.

Leah’s Voice

Leah's Voice9781612442402_p0_v1_s260x420Leah’s Voice

Lori DeMonia, Author

Monique Turchan, Illustrator

Halo Publishing International, Fiction, 2013

Suitable for ages: 5-8 years

Themes: Autism Spectrum, Siblings, Differences, Compassion, Kindness, Special Needs

Opening: Logan stood at the window waiting with excitement. Her friend Abby was coming over for her very first play date. As soon as a car pulled in the drive, Logan yelled out, “She’s here!” 

Synopsis: Logan looks forward to a play date with her friend Abby. She introduces Abby to her older sister Leah. They play a board game and invite Leah to play. But Leah leaves the room after her turn. Abby is upset that Leah won’t stay and play. Logan explains that her sister is uncomfortable around new people. Abby tells Logan that “next time we’ll play at my house.” Logan is sad about how her friend treats Leah and wonders why she doesn’t like her. Logan thinks about the similarities and differences between her and Leah. Her mother takes them to a movie and Leah has a melt down and ruins the day. Logan is angry and confused. Her parents explain that Leah has autism and that’s why she doesn’t talk much and gets upset easily. Logan tries to be patient and focuses on what Leah loves best, drawing pictures.

Why I like this book: Lori DeMonia knows first hand the confusion and challenge for a sibling who has an autistic sister or brother.  It is a fictional story inspired by her daughters. The story is told with such simplicity that young children will be able to read and understand. Siblings don’t know how to explain it to their friends. They are embarrassed by their behavior and angry when they have meltdowns and ruin family outings. Leah’s Voice is an important story about accepting differences and treating others with respect and kindness. It is perfect for the classroom. Monique Turchan’s illustrations are colorful and lively. They beautifully capture the emotion of the story.

Awards:  2014 Temple Grandin Outstanding Literary Work of the Year award from the Autism Society of America, the Mom’s Choice Award, the New York Book Festival 2013 Honorable Mention Award,  and the London Book Festival 2013 Honorable Mention Award.

Resources: Visit the website for Leah’s Voice to  see Leah’s artwork and find printable pages. For information about autism visit the Austism Society website.