The Remember Balloons by Jessie Oliveros

The Remember Balloons

Jessie Oliveros, Author

Dana Wulfekotte, Illustrator

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Aug. 28, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Aging grandparent, Memory, Family relationships, Balloons

Opening: I have lots and lots of balloons, way more than my little brother. “This one’s my favorite,” I tell him, pointing to the balloon filled with my last birthday party.

Publisher Synopsis:

James has a lot of balloons. They’re where he keeps his favorite memories of birthday parties, eating cake with chocolate frosting and riding a pony.

Grandpa has lived a long life and has the most balloons. Birthdays and long-ago summers, his wedding day, the birth of children and grandchildren, his favorite dog and special camping trips — Grandpa’s balloons hold so many great stories. James love to hear them all.

When Grandpa’s balloons start drifting away, so does his memory. James want to catch the balloons, but he can’t.  James now has to be the one share stories — to share his balloons with Grandpa.

Why I like this book:

What a treasure! Jessie Oliveros’ tackles the timely and difficult topic of memory loss in a sensitive way so that children will easily understand. With many seniors living older to see great- and great-great grandchildren, this is an important book for families to remember. This book is a treasure! A moving story about a girl trying to make sense of her grandmother’s memory loss.

Oliveros’ story is so beautifully written. We tend to hold our memories in things, and for James and his grandfather it is balloons. The balloon metaphor is ideal for children, because balloons hold many joyful memories.

Dana Wulfekotte’s black and white illustrations with splashes of color are perfect for this story. Children will see the racial diversity in the family, which the illustrator weaves into his illustrations. He also uses a lot of white space — space to breathe and collect your thoughts as you study each and every page.

Resources: The book alone is a great resource to talk with your children about aging, memory loss and family history. Encourage your children to interview their grandparents and journal family stories. Parents may want to check out the National Institute on Aging for additional information to help children understand Alzheimer’s.

Jessie Oliveros grew up watching Kansas sunsets. Her childhood balloon is sunflower yellow and filled with memories of chasing tornadoes, romping through the woods and fishing with her grandpa. After a fulfilling career as a registered nurse, Jessie hung up her stethoscope to grow children and stories. These days you can find her in the Texas hill country with her husband and their four kids. You can visit Jessie Oliveros at her website.

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair by Amy Makechnie

The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair

Amy Makechnie, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jun. 12, 2018

Pages: 336

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Brain injury, Memory, Family relationships, Moving, Farm life, Missing persons, Mystery, Friendship

Opening: “I was ten when Gaysie Cutter tried to kill me. It was just like her too — always leaving a bad first impression. Her idea of a welcome wagon came in the middle of July, during my first Iowa heat wave, which was as hot as you know what.”

Synopsis:

Ten-year-old Guinevere St. Clair is going to be a lawyer. She is the fastest girl in New York City. She knows everything there is to about the brain. And she wants to ride into her first day at her new school on a cow named Willowdale Princess Deon Dawn. Gwyn is definitely not the kind of girl you forget.

But that’s just what her mother has done — forgotten. Gwyn’s mother, Vienna, hasn’t been able to remember anything past the age of 13, since she suffered a hypoxic brain injury. Gwyn and her little sister, Bitty, don’t exist in Vienna’s mind. As Gwyn tells Vienna’s new nurse, “we’re practically orphans.”

Gwyn’s father is obsessed with solving the mystery of Vienna’s brain.  He moves his family from New York to Crow, Iowa, where he and Vienna lived as children. He hopes that going home to Crow and surrounding Vienna with familiar friends and family, will jog her memory and help in her recovery.

As soon as they arrive in Crow, Gwyn is hot on the trail of a different case — one she thinks can actually be solved. Farmer Wilbur Truesdale is missing and there’s only one person who could know what happened to him: her brand new next-door archenemy, Gaysie Cutter.

The more Gwyn goes looking for answers, through, the more questions she encounters — about Wilbur, about Gaysie, but also about the mother she’s never gotten the chance to know. Gwyn’s determined to hunt down the truth about everything, but what if the truth isn’t as simple as pointing the blame at someone? What if sometimes the most terrible things that happen aren’t actually anyone’s fault at all?

Why I liked this book:

Amy Makechnie’s debut novel is complex, heartbreaking and hopeful. Her great opening immediately draws readers into the story. The vivid setting, poignant narrative, suspenseful plot and extraordinary characters create and unforgettable experience for readers. Her storytelling is richly crafted and heartwarming.

Gwyn is a genuine and unique character with whom you feel an immediate emotional bond. She is smart, curious, imaginative and jumps to conclusions a little too quickly. Her mother’s hypoxic brain injury impacts Gwyn and forces her to grow up too quickly. The author beautifully weaves Vienna’s injury into the story as a part of Gwyn’s life experience — it’s hard to “not exist” in your mother’s eyes. In her pursuit to solve the mystery about Wilbur’s disappearance, Gwyn uncovers her mother’s past and realizes how much she is like her.

There is a cast of quirky secondary characters that add comic relief. There’s Gaysie, a giant woman who lives in a rundown house with a “backyard that looks like an art exhibit”and is known for burying dead things on her property. Gwyn become best friends with Jimmy, who is always up for an adventure, and Micah (Gaysie’s son), who likes to wear bright pink shorts, sparkling silver shoe laces and is a target for school bullies.  Gwyn’s dentist father, Jed, is devoted to his wife, and Nana, is protective and takes responsibility for everything that happens.

Teens looking for something new and creative, will find The Unforgettable Guinevere St Clair a suspenseful, powerful and entertaining read. The characters will stay with you long after you finish.

Makechnie’s story also touched me on a personal level. Like Gwyn’s mother, my brain was deprived of oxygen following an unfortunate mishap nearly 15 years ago. This is the first children’s novel I’ve read where a hypoxic brain injury is mentioned. It took me back to my injury and made me think about how difficult it was on my family, who was loving, patient and supportive during my years of recovery. Fortunately my children were grown. Brain injuries vary and each person has unique symptoms and outcomes.

Thank you Rosi Hollinbeck for reviewing and recommending this book to me on your wonderful website. 

Amy Makechnie grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, where shoe once tried to sail to the Mississippi River on a large piece of Styrofoam (she didn’t make it). The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair is her first novel. Amy nurtures her fascination with the brain and human body by teaching anatomy and physiology to high school students in a small New England town, where they dissect hearts and memorize long anatomical words. She is the mother of a wily flock of children, all of who provide daily inspiration for writing. You can visit her at her website.

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.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Snowflakes Fall

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Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Steven Kellogg, Illustrator

Random House Children’s Books, Fiction, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Snowflakes,  Grief, Renewal, Memory

Opening: “After the flowers are gone/ Snowflakes fall./ Flake/After flake/After flake/Each one a pattern/ All its own–/No two the same–/All beautiful.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: In Snowflakes Fall, Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan and award-winning artist Steven Kellogg, portray life’s natural cycle: its beauty, its joy, and its sorrow.  Her simple but powerful words gently convey the impact of loss and the healing power of memory.  This book is a tribute to the qualities that make each individual unique.

Why I like this book:  Patricia MacLachlan and  Steven Kellogg collaborate to create this beautiful, lyrical and inspirational book to honor and remember the community of Sandy Hook and Newtown, CT, who lost family members during the school shooting in Dec. 14, 2012.  In opening remarks, Kellogg, a former resident of the community,  says he hopes “to celebrate the laughter, the playful high spirits, and the uniqueness of the children of Sandy Hook and children everywhere.”  There is no mention in the story about the Sandy Hook incident. Instead, the book celebrates the individuality of children and compares them to snowflakes, with no two being alike.  It offers hope that when the world is dark, in the morning the “world shines” and the children will romp in the snow, build forts, go sledding, leave their footprints and make snow angels.  Kellogg’s illustrations are colorful, magical and uplifting.  Make sure you check out both the front and end pages because they add to the story.  Random House has made a donation to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund and donated 25,000 new books to the national literacy organization First Book in the community’s honor and in support of children everywhere.

Resources: Parents and teachers can use this book as a quiet book about the natural life cycles of birth and renewal.   It is an excellent book to help children work through grief and healing.  With winter quickly approaching,  it is a perfect time to encourage children to play in the snow, catch snow flakes on their tongues, follow animal tracks and make snow angels.  Visit Random House for a special list of activities, coloring pages and a teacher’s guide for Snowflakes Fall.

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.

Grandpa Green – Perfect Picture Book

Lane Smith, Author and Illustrator

Roaring Brook Press, May 2011, Fiction

Suitable for:  Ages 5 ad Up

Themes: Aging Grandparent, Memory, Family History, Art

Opening:  “He was born a really long time ago, before computers or cell phones or television.  He grew up on a farm with pigs and corn and carrots…and eggs.  In fourth grade he got chicken pox.  He had to stay home from school  So he read stories about secret gardens and wizards and a  little engine that could.”   A boy takes a walk through a beautiful green topiary garden his great-grandfather  has pruned and shaped into wonderful artistic memories of his life.  Grandpa Green is aging and his memory fading.  But not when he enters his garden; it remembers for him.

Why I like this book:  Wow!  Purchasing this book is like owning a wonderful treasure.  It will certainly become a classic.  The book explores aging, memory, the bonds of family history, and love.  It is a powerful book that parents will want to share with their children, especially if there are aging grandparents.  There is so much detail in Smith’s enchanting artwork.   Activities:  Use this book to talk with your children about aging and family history.  Encourage your children to interview their grandparents  and journal family stories.  Introduce your children to horticulture.  Visit a greenhouse, a botanical garden, an arboretum or topiary      garden in your community.  For more books with resources please visit Perfect Picture Books.

The following Grandpa Green book trailer is designed by David Taylor Design.

Grandpa Green