A Band of Babies by Carole Gerber

A Band of Babies

Carole Gerber, Author

Jane Dyer, Illustrator

Harper Collins, Fiction, Jun. 6, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 2-5

Themes: Toddlers, Music, Social Skills, Rhyme

Opening: “Play-group morning. Babies fret — not sure what to do just yet. In struts Benny — new in town. Babies’ frowns turn upside down.”

Synopsis: It was just an ordinary day at daycare…until Benny arrived. Benny is ready for action. He spies a box with drums and sticks. With a flute in hand, the fun begins as babies follow Benny out the door beating on their drums as they march down the street. He teaches all the babies how to put on a show. Toot! Whee! This is one musical band of babies you’ll have to see! This musical journey will have readers of all ages snapping their fingers and tapping their toes!

Why I like this book:

Carole Gerber has written a lively and humorous story for toddlers. Her rhyming and minimal text flows nicely and mimics toddler gibberish!  Babies hungry, want to eat. / “Walk!” says Benny. / “Find a treat.” She also uses a lot of fun words and sounds, that give Jane Dyer’s joyful color-pencil illustrations time to deliver their funny response.  The facial expressions are priceless. This band of babies will charm you from the first spread to the last — and create a little mayhem in between.  This book is the perfect bedtime read, as parents and toddlers giggle at the antics of this fun-loving band of musical babies.

Carole Gerber is a poet and author of nearly two dozen books for children.  Carole has also spent time as an English teacher, a journalism professor, a marketing director, a magazine editor, and a creative ad agency team member.  She lives in Columbus, Ohio, To learn more about Carole Gerber, visit her website.

Resources: Children love to play with musical instruments. Put a tub with drums, a flutophone, a kazoo, a harmonica, old pots and pans, and spoons.  It may get noisy, but your kids will enjoy expressing themselves as the dance and march around the room.

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.

Blackbird Fly

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Erin Entrada Kelly, Author

Greenwillow Books, Fiction, Mar. 24, 2015

Paperback Reprint Mar. 1, 2016, 320 pages

Suitable for Ages: 8-12 years

Themes: Bullying, Outcasts, Filipino Americans, Family relationships, Friendships, Middle School, Music, Multicultural

Book Synopsis:  Twelve-year-old Apple Yengko believes that there are at least three interesting facts about every person on Earth. Unfortunately, her three IFs make her an outcast in Chapel Spring Middle School in Chapel Spring, Louisiana. She has slanted eyes, a weird Filipino nickname, and a weird mother.

When Apple is voted the third ugliest girl in school, her life quickly falls apart. The boys bark at her in the halls and rumors spread that she eats dogs for dinner. Music is her only escape. All she needs is enough money to buy a guitar, and then she’ll be able to change herself and her life forever. So what if her mother doesn’t understand and thinks she’s becoming too American. So what if her supposed best friends turn the other way…

It might be the Beatles and their music who save Apple, or Mr. Z (Chapel Spring Middle’s awesome music teacher) — or it could be two unexpected friends who show her that standing out in a crowd is better than getting lost in it.

Why I like this book:

  • This is a painfully realistic story by Erin Entrada Kelly about the impact of bullying on an Filipino-American teen who is trying to find her place in a Louisiana middle school. It is an emotionally honest novel about Apple, who feels like an outsider because of her ethnic background. Her best friends turn on her and their boyfriends put Apple on a secret Dog Log list of the ugliest girls at school. Teens who feel different and deal daily with cruelty in middle school, will find Apple a must read.
  • Apple is a strong, smart, quirky and likeable character who loves the Beatles, wants to play the guitar, and be the next George Harrison. Music is her only link to her deceased father. Her over protective mother forbids her to play the guitar or join the school swing choir at school. Apple is embarrassed by her mother who speaks with an accent, clings to old values and cooks Filipino foods. She becomes friends with a new boy, Evan Temple, who is self-assured and doesn’t care what others think of him. He accepts Apple for who she is and encourages her music. They befriend Helena Moffett, who is overweight, is on the Dog Log and has a secret weapon — a powerful singing voice.  Together, the three friends take on the bullies.
  • Kelly’s first-person narrative is extremely effective. The plot is courageous and stays true the theme of what it feels like to be an outsider. I love that Apple spreads her wings like her favorite Beatles song, Blackbird. The pacing is fast, which makes this novel a quick read. There are many unexpected surprises, including the ending which is happily satisfying. 

Erin Entrada Kelly grew up in south Louisiana. Her mother was the first in her family to immigrate to the United States from the Philippines.  Blackbird Fly is her debut novel. Visit Kelly at her website.

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

Since many of my reviews include diverse books, please check out Diverse Children’s Booksa brand new book-sharing meme designed to promote the reading and writing of children’s books that feature diverse characters. This community embraces all kinds of diversity including (and certainly not limited to) diverse, inclusive, multicultural, and global books for children of all backgrounds. Spread the word by using #diversekidlit on Twitter. Check out the logo in my sidebar.

Playing from the Heart

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Peter H. Reynolds, Author and Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Apr. 12, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4 – 99

Themes: Music, Piano lessons, Creativity, Family relationships, Father and son, Love

Opening: “The piano stood quietly in the living room for years. Until the day Raj first plunked and pushed the keys, delighted by every sound.”

Synopsis: A boy discovers the beautiful sounds he can make when he thumps the keys of the family piano. His father notices his son, Raj, has a gift for playing from his heart and signs him up for lessons. Raj begins to read notes, learn scales, studies hard and plays classical music. He practices  hard and becomes an excellent pianist over the years. One day he realizes that he doesn’t experience the joy he used to feel and stops playing. Years pass and Raj takes a job in the city. When he receives a call that his father is ill, he hurries home. His father makes a special request for Raj to play the music that first brought him joy.

Why I like this book:

Peter H. Reynolds’ newest treasure, Playing from the Heart, is a timeless story for both children and adults. He hopes that as children become more involved with a musical instrument, “they won’t forget their original joy” and learn to “bend a few rules.” The lyrical text sings from the pages. Reynolds’ illustrations are joyful, serious, emotive and lovingly rendered in black ink with splashes of color. His ample use of white space gives one a sense of freedom.

Playing from the Heart will touch a chord in both young and old who have played an instrument and given it up. I played the piano for years, took a break because of burn out, and returned to my lessons with  renewed enthusiasm. When my husband read Reynolds’ story it stirred up memories of giving up his trumpet in college.

The ending is endearing as Raj sits down to the piano and hopes his heart will remember the joyful melodies he played with such abandonment as a child. There’s heart, there’s love, and there’s a deep connection between father and son. Playing from the Heart is a winner!

Resources: Introduce your child to a musical instrument. It can be a simple as a kazoo, harmonica, drums or xylophone. Encourage your children to be creative and make their own music. If you have a piano, let them play without teaching them. According to  Reynolds, “Creativity thrives on bravery and originality. Let that flow and see where you go.” Visit the award-winning author and illustrator 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 Perfect Picture Books.

Echo

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Pam Munoz Ryan, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Feb. 24, 2015

Winner of the 2016 Newbery Honor

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: Harmonica, Music, Destiny, Nazi Germany, Pennsylvania orphans, Mexican-Americans, WW II, Japanese-Americans, Family relationship

Opening: “FIFTY YEARS BEFORE THE WAR TO END ALL wars, a boy played hide-and-seek with his friends in a pear orchard bordered by a dark forest.”

Synopsis: Otto runs into the forbidden forest to hide from his friends. He becomes lost and is rescued by three sisters who are imprisoned in a circle of trees by a witch’s spell. The sisters are musical and they each impart a different tune into Otto’s harmonica. He promises to help free them by carrying their harmony out into the world and passing the harmonica along to other musicians who will add their musical gift. Decades later, the harmonica graces the lives of three children who are living in horrific situations: Friedrich, who has a birthmark and doesn’t fit in 1933 Nazi Germany; Mike and his little brother Frankie, who are finding a way to survive a deplorable orphanage during the depression in Pennsylvania; and Ivy, a Mexican-American girl in California, whose brother is a soldier and her family is caring for a farm left by a Japanese family who is sent to an internment camp.

Each child is already musically talented and they become linked together as destiny places Otto’s  harmonica into their hands. They each recognize that the harmonica is powerful and like no other instrument they’ve heard before. Playing it brings each of them courage, hope and joy during dire times. The thread that binds them together comes together in a magnificent ending.

Why I like this book:

  • Pam Munoz Ryan literally sweeps me off my feet with her thrilling and brilliant storytelling.  Her writing is polished, her narrative inspires one to believe in the power of music to heal and change lives, and her plot is complex.
  • Ryan thinks outside the box as she writes her masterpiece, Echo. Although there is an element of fantasy in Echo, I am delighted that the book is a great work of historical fiction that will engage many teens. It focuses on Hitler’s Nazi Germany, the Great Depression, Mexican-American itinerate farmers, World War II, and the anti-Japanese sentiment in America.
  • The author led me to care about four very different and memorable characters in a very human way. The book begins and ends with a fairy tale with Otto’s encounter with three mysterious sisters. The novel is told in three parts, each devoted to Friedrich, Mike and Ivy’s stories. The children face dire challenges as they struggle to keep their families together: rescuing a father from prison, protecting a brother in an orphanage, and dealing with poverty, discrimination and keeping a family together. The author builds tension and momentum by leaving their stories unfinished, until the story comes full circle.
  • I am a musician, so the idea of a harmonica infused with the melodious spirits of the three sisters  captivated me and I wondered how it would play out in the story. Each of the three children add their own energy and wisdom to the harmonica as they play it and pass it along. The thread that ties their destiny together is revealed at the end in a resounding crescendo that is spellbinding and beautiful. This novel captures my heart and I will read it again.

Pam Munoz Ryan is the author of over thirty books. Her most recent novels include the award-winning The Dreamer and Esperanza Rising. She is the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Human and Civil Rights Award and the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award for multicultural literature. You may visit Ryan at her website.

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

Drum Dream Girl

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Margarita Engle, Author

Rafael Lopez, Illustrator

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Mar. 31, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes: Drummers, Music, Cuba, Gender equality, Diversity

Opening: “On and island of music / in a city of drumbeats / the drum dream girl / dreamed…”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Girls cannot be drummers. Long ago on an island filled with music and rhythm, no one questioned that rule — until the drum dream girl. She longed to play tall congas and small bongos and silvery, moon-bright timbales. She had to keep her dream quiet. She had to practice in secret. But when at last her music was heard, everyone sang and danced and decided that boys and girls should be free to drum and dream.

Why I like this book: Margarita Engle’s Drum Dream Girl is an inspirational and beautiful work of free-verse historical fiction. As you read this melodic poem out loud, you are drawn to the rhythmic beat of the text about a girl who made a difference. Millo Castro Zaldarriaga is so infused by the music and sounds around her, she can’t help herself.  When she walked under / wind-wavy palm trees / in a flower-bright park / she heard the whir of parrot wings / the clack of woodpeckers breaks / the dancing tap / of her own footsteps / and the comforting pat / of her own / heartbeat. When her sisters hear her drumming, they invite her to join their dance band. Her father says only boys can play drums, but relents and takes her to a teacher.

I applaud Engle for focusing on Zaldarriaga’s young life instead of her career. It is important for children to see how a 10-year-old girl dares to make a difference in 1932 and paves the way for Cuban women to become drummers. There is a historical note about Zaldarriaga and her musical career at the end of the book. Rafael Lopez’s creates his own magic with his vibrant, colorful and dreamy illustrations. His artwork beautifully compliments the story.

Resources: Children love music as much as they enjoy making things.  Make a drum or other musical instruments to encourage creativity and play. Visit the Kinder Art site for steps to make a variety of easy homemade drums.

Author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books (PPB) Fridays will be on hiatus this summer. This will be the last PPB review until September, although you will still be able to visit the link. I will continue to review books throughout the summer.

Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin

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Chieri Uegaki, Author

Qin Leng, Illustrator

Kids Can Press, Fiction, Aug. 1, 2014

Winner: Asian/Pacific American Award Picture Book Winner 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Violin, Talent Show, Practice, Teasing,  Self-confidence, Courage, Individuality

Opening: “When Hana Hashimoto announced that she had signed up for the talent show and that she would be playing the violin, her brothers nearly fell out of a tree.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: When Hana announces that she’ll be playing violin in the school talent show, her brothers laugh so hard they nearly fall out of a tree. But Hana doesn’t let that stop her — she practices and practices, inspired by memories of the time she spent in Japan with her ojiichan, a professional violinist. But when the day of the performance arrives, will she be able to overcome a sudden case of nerves?

Why I like this book: This is a charming and creative story from author Cheri Uegaki. Hana is a sensitive, yet spunky and determined character. Many children will easily relate to the teasing from siblings, the jitters of performing in a talent show, and the courage to try anyway. No matter how much Hana’s brothers think she is “loopy,” she practices and perseveres despite everyone’s doubts.  She remembers listening to her ojiichan (grandfather) play the sounds of chirping crickets, squawking crows, plucking rain, and squeaking mice. These memories help Hana to find her own way of playing her violin and making the performance her very own. Kids will cheer for Hana. Quin Leng’s illustrations are warm, whimsical, playful and capture the personality of each character and the tone of the story.  Her pencil and digitally colored illustrations include details of both Hana’s Japanese and American life.

Resources: Introduce your child to music, take them to a children’s symphony so they can hear the various instruments. Encourage them to try an instrument in their school music program. Let them decide what instrument they would like to play. Encourage young children to play a harmonica, drums, a kazoo, or a marimba.

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.

Father’s Chinese Opera

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Rich Lo, Author and Illustrator

Skyhorse Publishing,  Inc., Fiction, Jun. 3, 2014

Suitable for ages: 3-8

Themes: Chinese opera, Acrobatics, Father and son, Perseverance

Opening: “Father was the band leader and composer of the Chinese opera in Hong Kong.  Sometimes I sat on top of the instrument cases and watched the actors onstage.”

Book Synopsis: The Chinese opera is anything but boring. Songs, acrobatics, acting, and costumes make the opera a truly spectacular show to behold. Spending a summer backstage at his father’s Chinese opera, a young boy yearns to be a part of the show. Rehearsing his acrobatic moves day and night with the show’s famous choreographer, the boy thinks he is soon ready to perform with the others. But the choreographer doesn’t agree. Upset, the boy goes home to sulk.  What will he do next? Will he give up?

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Artwork Compliments of Rich Lo

Why I like this book: This autobiographical story is based on Rich Lo’s childhood. His father, Lo Tok, was a famous opera composer in China before the family immigrated to the United States in 1964. The author is the child backstage longing to be a performer. This dramatic, expressive and colorful art form will be new to many readers. The story is narrated by the boy who is determined to become an acrobat. The text is simple so that the illustrations showcase the action in the story. It is a realistic story that encourages children to practice hard and not give up on their dreams. The boy’s disappointment turns into determination, perseverance and success. Every page is filled with colorful, evocative and detailed watercolors which highlight the traditional costumes, make-up, and dramatic action of the performers. Lo’s book is an inspiring tribute to his father and culture, and an introduction for children to the beautiful traditions in Chinese opera.

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Resources: Make sure you check out the “Author’s Note”about Chinese Opera at the end of the book.  There is also detailed information about the author’s father, Lo Tok, who was a famous opera composer and great musician. He shares the family’s struggles to immigrate from Communist China, and what it was like for his father being “a renowned writer of poetry and music to being illiterate.” The author lists other reading resources about Chinese Opera. Visit Rich Lo at his website for more information. Children can make their own Chinese Opera masks if they click [HERE] on the First Palette website.

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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.