Tony and His Elephants by Cathleen Burnham

Earth Day, April 22, 2017

Tony and His Elephants: Best Friends Forever!

Cathleen Burnham, Author and Photographer

Crickhollow Books, Nonfiction, Apr. 22, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Themes: Elephant Rescue, Sanctuary, Thailand, Environmental Conservation, Science, Nature, Kids Making a Difference

Opening: It was Songkran, Thailand’s New Year celebration. Crowds of cheering people waved flags. Songkran also was the hottest time of the year. All across Thailand, people celebrated with water fights. In the midst of the festivities were two little elephants: Baby Pumpuii and five-year-old Nam Cho. They were chained side by side.

Synopsis: Tony is an eight-year-old boy, whose family runs a small elephant sanctuary in northern Thailand. He becomes involved in the care of two young elephants, Baby Pumpuii and Nam Cho, rescued from an urban setting to a new life in the forests. But life in the wilds is not without its own drama and danger. Tony is quickly drawn into a deep and lasting relationship with these amazing and sensitive animals.

Why I like this book:

  • This is the third photodocumentary book by Cathleen Burnham featuring children involved in wild animal rescue activities. Her stories carry an inspiring and powerful message that you don’t have to be an adult to make a difference. Children like Tony are proof of how one small act of caring can have an important impact in helping wildlife in danger. It has become Burnham’s mission to share the stories of young environmental activists with other children.
  • Burnham’s book is a compassionate and well-crafted story. Her beautiful photographs document Tony’s life and work at the family elephant conservation center in northern Thailand. Tony mixes powdered elephant milk into a huge baby bottle and teaches Baby Pumpuii how to drink. He sleeps in a loft above the new elephants so that he can feed the baby four times a night. He climbs onto Nam Cho’s back and trains her in how to move forward, stop, and turn as he guides her along a dirt path into the jungle. They go for a swim in Mekong River. When a fire breaks out, Tony leads all the elephants to safety in the cool mountaintops, while his parents battle the fire.
  • Burnham’s book helps children understand and respect the interconnection between humans and all life. She introduces children to “cultural learning, language, animal facts, geography, and laws  intended to protect wild animals from black market trade or from being abused to serve human interests.” Like Tony, children worldwide will be inspired to do their part to make a difference in their communities.

Tony feeds Baby Pumpuii a bottle of milk.   Photo Courtesy of Cathleen Burnham

Favorite Lines: “These will be your elephants, Tony,” said his father. “Forever?” asked Tony. “Until the day you die, Tony, just like any mahout,” said his father.

It was the beginning of a lifelong bond. Tony, Nam Cho, and Baby Pumpuii would love and protect one another for the rest of their lives.

Resources:  Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end of Tony and His Elephants. To learn more about the amazing things children are doing to protect wildlife around the globe, visit the World Association of Kids and Animals (WAKA) and get involved. Check out The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, to learn about the retired circus elephants living in this safe 2,700-acre refuge in companionship with other elephants. For more ideas about how you can make a difference in your community, visit the Earth Day website.

*View Joanna Marple’s inspiring review of Tony and His Elephants on her  website.

Cathleen Burnham is a journalist, writer and wildlife photographer. In addition to Tony and His Elephants, Burnham is the author of Doyli to the Rescue, and the Tortuga Squad. They are the first three books in a series of six books that profile wildlife preservation efforts being undertaken by kids around the globe.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers share 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.

**I was provided with a copy of Tony and His Elephants in exchange for a fair and honest review.

First Snow By Bomi Park

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Bomi Park, Author and Illustrator

Chronicle Books, Fiction, Sep. 6, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 2-5

Themes: Snow, Snowmen, Snow Angels, Inspirational

Opening: “Shhhh, listen… do you hear something? Pit, pit, pit against the window. Glistening, floating in the night.”

Synopsis: A little girl awakens to the sound of snow flakes pit patting against her window.  She quickly dresses in her boots, coat, scarf and hat and sneaks outside to the quiet hush of the snow flakes falling. She begins to roll a small snowball, which grows bigger and bigger as she wanders across the town, along rivers, through the woods, past a bear, and into an open area where a group of children are busy building snowmen and enjoying a magical day in the snow.

Why I like this book:

This enchanting and quiet book by Bomi Park captures the joy and magic a child experiences in a first snow of the season. The minimal text flows nicely, giving the black and white pencil illustrations (with a splash of red) time to draw readers deeply into the journey of a little girl rolling her snowball across town. Park’s dreamy illustrations show the simple wonderment of the story and allow readers time to imagine themselves playing in the new snow. She also uses a lot of white space and many wordless pages in this small book designed for small hands. First Snow is a perfect bedtime snuggle book. Verdict: This book will be a winner with toddlers and young children for many years to come!

Resources: When the first big snow arrives, take a walk, catch snowflakes on your tongue, build a snowman, and make snow angels. Enjoy the experience.

Bomi Park was born and lives in South Korea. First Snow is her debut picture book. It was first published in South Korea. A student of piano, psychology, and architecture, she discovered that drawing was a perfect way to communicate love to her family and friends.

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.

Before Morning by Joyce Sidman

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Joyce Sidman, Author and Poet

Beth Krommes, Illustrator

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, Oct. 4, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes: City and town life, A child’s wish, Snow, Rhyme

Book Jacket Synopsis: There are planes to fly and buses to catch, but a small child wishes for a different sort of day. As clouds gather and heavy flakes fall, her invocation rises above the sleeping city. A too-busy world falls silent, and a family revels in the freedom and peace that snow brings.

Why I like this book:

Joyce Sidman’s breathtaking book is pure poetry for children and the young at heart. The text is spare and there are many wordless pages. It is a quiet story to curl up with, read slowly and study the detail on each page. There are busy scenes of people walking in parks, striding past shops, pushing strollers and riding buses. There are children arriving home from school, families eating together, and parents leaving for work. And there is a child who wishes for snow. Beth Krommes’ beautiful scratch-board artwork is a feast for the eyes.  The words and artwork perfectly support the theme.

Resources:  Make sure you read the author’s thought-provoking comment “On Wishes and Invocations” at the end of the book. Ask children what they wish for. Do their words have power?

Joyce Sidman won a Newbery Honor for her Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. She is today’s foremost nature poet for children. Two of her other books are Caldecott Honor books. She won the Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children for her award-winning body of work.

Beth Krommes is the Caldecott-winning artist of The House in the Night and other beautiful picture books, including Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow, and Blue on Blue.

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 Brave Little Puppy by Lori Evert

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Lori Evert, Author

Per Breiehagen, Photographer

Random House Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Sep. 13, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 2 – 5   Board Book

Themes: Nordic Christmas Tale, Lost puppy, Nature, Animals, Friends

Opening: “This is Anja’s puppy. His name is Birki.”

Synopsis: In this Nordic Christmas tale, Anja’s puppy is very curious. When Anja takes Birki for a ride in the basket of her sled, she doesn’t notice that her puppy falls out when she hits a bump. Brave and adorable Birki is lost and must find his way back to Anja. He sets off in the deep snow to follow Anja’s trail. Birki makes many new woodland friends on his journey — a polar bear, a wolf, a squirrel, a lynx and reindeer — who help him find his way to Anja.

Why I like this book:

Lori Evert and her photographer husband, Per Breiehagen, are back with another wintry 18th century Nordic adventure with their daughter, Anja, and her puppy, Birki. This tale is a board book for small hands. With simple and engaging text appropriate for young children, The Brave Little Puppy is a visual treasure, perfect for reading aloud and sharing at bedtime. Award-winning photographer Breiehagen captures the breathtaking and enchanting snow-covered landscapes, the wildlife and the touching moments between Anja and Birki.  This is another beautiful collaborative holiday offering by this husband-wife team, and their daughter Anja.

The Brave Little Puppy is the fourth book in The Wish Book series: The Christmas Wish, The Tiny Wish and The Reindeer Wish. Click on The Christmas Wish website to view enlarged photos from all the books. The three books will be made into a movies, starting with The Christmas Wish in 2017.

Resources: Visit Random House Kids for more information about The Wish Books.  Children can select their favorite photos from the books and send holiday e-cards to friends and family. They can download  and print selected photographs from the books and make their own holiday cards and ornaments. There is a video and other special activities for 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.

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The Adventures of a Girl and Her Dog by Dagny McKinley

The Adventures of a Girl & Her Dog

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Dagny McKinley, Author

Ostap Stetsiv, Illustrator

Brigham Distributing,  Fiction, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: A girl and her dog explore nature

Opening: These are the adventures of a girl and her dog / That played together in rain, snow and fog / Nature was their home / high in the mountains / Away from / cities, subway, planes, cars and trains.

Synopsis: A girl and her dog explore the mountains with abandonment. With no adults to restrict their explorations, they can roam through fields full of flowers, cross streams, climb trees, dig in the earth, splash in streams, watch bears, dodge bee hives, laugh, scream, and get dirty. When the girl and her dog visit the city, they have to look hard for natures’ beauty in the flowers living in the cracks of the sidewalks and in the bird’s nests sitting in gutters.

Favorite Verse: “The girl’s soul lived in the mountains / where trees grow into the clouds / Where there are rocks, there are birds / but nothing loud.”

Adventures-snow…in the Snow

Brigham Distributing, Fiction, 2015

Opening: These are the adventures of a girl and her dog / Who play together in the snow, sleet and fog / Who love to wander where no one else goes / In temperatures of five, ten, even twenty below.

Synopsis: A girl explores the winter wonderland with her dog.  As the snow begins to fall, they relish the possibilities all around them. They watch the clouds transform the landscape and find stories in the tracks left by cougars, foxes, and rabbits. While the temperatures dip, bears, marmots and chipmunks, hibernate in dens. The girl and her dog dance in the snow, run without a care, dig caves in the snow, make snow and dog angels, and watch the sun set. The world changes around them, each day they explore.

Favorite Verse: “Together they set off through the white / as light as a feather / That dances around their feet / like sugar and glitter.

Why I like this series: Dagny McKinley has written a charming series about the joy found in the changing seasons. Children will love the delicious rhyming and words choices. They will delight in romping through the natural world with the girl and dog, feel the peace and tranquility as they explore the mountains and navigate the quiet, winter snow-covered woodlands. The author is clever not to name the girl or dog, as it allows children to imagine that they are the ones having this grand adventure. Ostap Stetsiv’s illustrations are colorful, whimsical and show the wonder on the girl’s face.  The warm, bright colors of summer and cool colors of winter, highlight the different seasons. Exquisite images! Nice collaborative work on this heartwarming series for children and adults.

Resources: Take children on a nature walk to explore the many wonders found in the fields, forests and streams.  Since autumn is here look at the colorful leaves on trees and talk about the life cycles.  Take along a camera and a journal and encourage kids to record birds and animals they see. In the winter, kids can track animal footprints in the snow, make snow angels and build a snowman.

Dagny McKinley has lived many places, but found a home in the expansive granite landscape of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. McKinley stays current on environmental issues, women’s issues and is an avid animal rights supporter. She believes all lives are interconnected and each person, landscape and insect has something to offer and teach.  She is the author of The Springs of Steamboat: Healing Waters, Mysterious Cave and Sparkling Soda, and  Wild Hearts: Dog Sledding the Rockies – written while working as a dog sled tour guide for three years. Visit Dagny McKinley 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 Perfect Picture Books.

Deep Roots: How Trees Sustain Our Planet

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Nikki Tate, Author

Orca Book Publishers, Nonfiction, Feb. 9, 2016

Pages: 48

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Trees, Forests, Ecosystems, Green Lungs, Water Cycle, Fuel, Shelter

Opening: “No matter where you live, even if it’s in a big city, chances are you won’t be far from a tree or two. It’s a good thing we find trees all over the place.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Where is the tallest tree in the world? What is a corduroy road? What does a carbon sink do? Why is the baobab called the Tree of Life?

Trees provide us with everything from food, fuel and shelter to oxygen and filtered water. Deep Roots celebrates the central role trees play in our lives, no matter where we live. Each chapter in Deep Roots focuses on a basic element — water, air, fire and earth — and explores the many ways in which we need trees to keep us and our planet healthy and livable.

Why I like this book:

Nikki Tate has written a beautiful nonfiction photo journey for readers to learn about the role of trees in maintaining a vibrant ecosystem, as well as providing food, fuel and shelter.  The story is shown through gorgeous photography, personal stories and facts. The author explains “why trees just might be our best friends, barometers of how we are looking after our planet, and our partners as we move forward to create a healthier world.”

Tate’s book is an inspiring environmental treasure for tree-loving middle grade students who want to plant, study and celebrate their tall green friends.  Every page has a suggestion for youth to “Try This!” activities. There are four chapters that show how trees interact with the four forces of nature — earth, air, water and fire — and how important this relationship is to the balance of the entire planet.

Deep Roots is a welcomed addition to any school library as educators are looking to provide current resources for students about climate change and environmental issues. The Orca Footprints series, has created an exceptional library of books for students.  See other titles below.

Interesting facts from Deep Roots:

  • Earth: Sometimes called the lungs of the planet, trees are critical for producing oxygen, cleansing both air and runoff water of pollutants and feeding the soil when they die.  They also provide food for both humans, animals and insects. Their roots loosen soil and allow water to penetrate the ground, where it can be stored for drier weather.
  • Air: Trees are very busy. Through their leaves and needles they breathe in carbon dioxide (CO2) that clean out car exhaust and other pollutants. Then they breathe out life-sustaining oxygen for human and animal species.
  • Water: When trees suck up water from the soil they release the extra water in the atmosphere.  When enough water has been “breathed out” by the trees, it condenses into clouds and then falls as rain around the planet.
  • Fire: Forest fires can be terrifying,  but they are a normal part of the life cycle of some types of forest. The ash provides nutrients to the soil. It thins out forests so surviving trees grow taller and seedlings can sprout.

Nikki Tate is the author of more than thirty books, most of which are for children and teenagers. She splits her time between Canmore, Alberta, and Victoria, British Columbia. For more information visit Nikki Tate.

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

Be Light Like a Bird by Monika Schroder

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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.