Dasher by Matt Tavares

Dasher

Matt Tavares, Author and Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 10, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Animals, Reindeer, Circus, Nature, Santa, Christmas

Opening: “Life was not easy for the reindeer family of J.P. Finnegan’s Traveling Circus and Menagerie.”

Synopsis:

Dasher is a brave little doe with a wish in her heart. She spends her days with family under the hot sun in a traveling circus, but she longs for a different life. Dasher listens to Mama’s story of a “magical place” where she and Papa were free to roam under the glow of the North Star, and yearns to go there. One night a strong wind opens the gate to the circus pen. Dasher knows this is her chance to escape, so she runs into the forest with the North Star as her guide.

It’s not too long before she meets a nice man in a red suit with a big sleigh. The sleigh is heavy with toys for children and is pulled by a tired horse, Silverbell. Dasher offers her help. She likes the idea of making children happy.  Santa attaches her harness and before she realizes it, she’s looking at the ground beneath her and the stars before her. And, soon, with the help of a powerful wish, Christmas will never be the same.

Why I like this book:

Matt Tavares has crafted an original new holiday tale that focuses on the origins of Dasher, Santa’s first reindeer. It is a visual journey that will delight children and the young at heart. It’s message is perfect for the holiday season.

Everything about Dasher is gorgeous and elegant. Tavares’ has beautifully designed his book with luscious illustrations that resemble paintings in muted and soulful colors. The illustrations are done in watercolor, gouache, pencil, and pastel.  Some pages have double-spreads with minimal text and others have artwork on one side of the page and the story printed on a pure white page. The story is a little longer, but I doubt children will mind at all. They will be holding onto every word of this magical story. The front cover and the illustrations are simply stunning.

Tavares’ story is also about family and the meaning of home. Dasher is the youngest reindeer in her family and is filled with a lot of heart. She has big dreams, a love of family and a wish for a better life for her family. After she helps Santa with the deliveries, Santa brings her to her new home of snow and cold air — the place in Mama’s stories.  Even though is wonderful, Dasher “misses her family and wishes they could be together” under the glow of the North Star. I won’t spoil the story.

This enchanting story is sure to become a Christmas treasure that you will look forward to reading aloud to your family each year.

Matt Tavares is the author-illustrator of Crossing Niagara, Henry Aaron’s Dream, There Goes Ted Williams, Becoming Babe Ruth, and Growing Up Pedro, as well as Zachary’s Ball, Oliver’s Game, and Mudball. He is the illustrator of “Twas the Night Before Christmas, Over the River and Through the Woods, Lady Liberty by Doreen Rappaport, The Gingerbread Pirates by Kristin Kladstrup, and Jubilee! by Alicia Potter. Most recently he wrote and illustrated the enchanting Christmas tale Red & Lulu.

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.
*Review copy provided by the publisher.

Birds of Paradise by Pamela S. Wight

Birds of Paradise

Pamela S. Wight, Author

Shelley A. Steinle, Illustrator

Borgo Publishing, May 1, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Birds, Overcoming fear and danger, Self-confidence, Bullying, Friendship

Opening: “Bessie and Bert are Birds — sparrows, humans call them. They just call themselves birds.” 

Synopsis:

Bessie and her brothers and sisters hatch from their shells, while their parents feed them fat bugs and  warn them about the danger that lurks around them. Thunderstorms and Blue Jays scare Bessie. But so do cats. When it’s time to fly from the nest, Bessie is hesitant to leave its security and needs some nudging from her mom. Still she stays close to the tree, afraid to explore the world around her.

Bessie meets Bert, a risk taker who finds joy in life. He dives for grass seed and soars high above the forest listening to the wind.  Bert is so busy enjoying life that he lets his guard down and nearly becomes dinner for a prowling cat. After he loses his tail to the cat, Bert is bullied by the other birds for his recklessness. Bessie and Bert become friends and encourage each other. Together they explore the world.

Why I like this book:

Pamela Wight’s Birds of Paradise is a heartwarming story for children about balancing fear with the simple joys of life.  And chirping sparrows are the perfect medium to tell a beautiful story of friendship and taking care of each other — all valuable life lessons. This is a story for all ages.

Wight is a lyrical author. Her captivating prose simply transport her readers. “Like the sunrise after a snowstorm?” Bert asks with excitement. “Or the flock of birds diving together in the summer sunshine?” 

Shelley A. Steinle’s illustrations are beautiful, lively and expressive. She depicts a variety of bird species with intricate detail. There is a lot to study on each page. Children will enjoy searching for the lady bug Steinle has hidden on each page.

Resources: Birds of Paradise will encourage children to observe birds in their own backyards. Summer is ending and birds are preparing for the winter. Some will migrate. Take a walk in the woods and listen to their bird chatter. Search the skies for the migrating bird formations. Draw a picture of what you observe.

Pamela Wight is a successful author of romantic suspense as well as the author of the illustrated children’s book, Birds of Paradise, enjoyed by readers ages 3 to 93. She earned her Master’s in English from Drew University, continued with postgraduate work at UC Berkeley in publishing, and teaches creative writing classes in Boston and San Francisco. The gorgeously illustrated book was a  finalist in the 2018 International Book Awards. Visit Wight 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.

*Review copy provided by the author.

Chasing Helicity Into the Wind by Ginger Zee

Chasing Helicity Into the Wind, Book 2

Ginger Zee, Author

Disney-Hyperion, Fiction, Apr. 23, 2019

Pages: 250

Suitable for Ages: 10-13

Themes: Weather, Storms, Meteorology, Storm chasers, Texas, Bed and Breakfast, Family relationships

Publisher’s Synopsis:

When fourteen-year-old Helicity Dunlap flies for Texas to spend time with her best friend Mia she hopes to leave the tragedies of the devastating tornado and flash flood back in Michigan — at least for a little while. Her responsibilities at Mia’s Aunt Suze’s beachfront bed and breakfast are pretty simple and leave her lots of time to enjoy hunting for sea glass, sunbathing, and exploring a summer romance.

But Helicity comes by her name honestly — Helicity means to spin — and her troubles from home follow her south. Her concerns about her older brother Andy intensify even though he shows up to surprise her in Texas.

And if there’s one place in the world that has weather to rival Michigan’s, it’s Texas. She and her friends go out for a day sail and get caught up in a derecho — a line of intense, widespread, and fast-moving windstorms — that once again turns her boat and life upside down. And there’s a hurricane brewing in the Gulf. She’ll have to face her fears and muster all her strength and knowledge to fight her way out of the nightmare.

Why I like this book:

Author Ginger Zee, chief meteorologist for ABC, has cleverly penned an ideal book for teens who like science and are fascinated by weather, storms and meteorology. I must admit one of my favorite movies is Twister, so when I saw Chasing Helicity Into the Wind, I was intrigued. This is the first novel I’ve read  about severe tropical weather that is gripping and packed with cool science and weather information. I learned about dangerous, fast-moving windstorms that form quickly over water, called “derechos.” This story is fast-paced and action-packed, which will please readers from 10-14.

The characters are convincing and vividly drawn. Helicity is a head-strong weather junkie and loves anything that has to do with meteorology. She is a determined survivor and not a victim, a mantra that she whispers to herself during difficult situations. Her brother, Andy and friend, Sam, join her in Texas. Andy is dealing with his own demons (pain killers) from the Michigan tornado. Sam is a stable partner in the story and a great balance for Helicity. It’s is fascinating to watch Helicity, Sam and Andy use their knowledge of storms, to identify a dangerous weather condition, take swift action and seek safety. Yes, there is melodrama and even a little romance.

The books ends with a huge cliff-hangar and I was bummed. So readers, beware, there will be a book 3. I plan to read the first book to better understand the series and the depth of Helicity, Adam and Sam’s painful memories of surviving the tornado and raging flood in Michigan, even though this book could be a stand-alone read.

Chasing Helicity Into the Wind is a perfect summer read with the unpredictable weather — tornadoes, storms, and potential upcoming hurricane season. Readers will learn a lot about the weather that may just keep them safe. It is also makes STEM subjects more exciting and relatable to readers.

Quotes: Pages 113-114

Suddenly, something on the horizon stole Helicity’s attention. She blinked, not sure what she was seeing at first. when she figured it out, her stomach lurched. “Sam,” she said urgently, “we need to find Mia and Trey and get to shore. Now.”

An ominous dark cloud sat like a hulking beast over the distant shore. But as frightening as it looked, the cloud wasn’t what had Helicity urging Sam to power up the motor and find their friends. It was the wind.

Ginger Zee is the Chief Meteorologist for ABC News, forecasting for and reporting on the nation’s weather from Good Morning America to World News Tonight. Zee has been on the ground before, during and after almost every major weather event and dozens of historic storms including Hurricane Katrina. She watched as the eye of Superstorm Sandy passed over Atlantic City and then covered the devastated Jersey Shore; she was there for the Colorado floods and wildfires; and the destructive tornadoes in Moore and El Reno, Oklahoma.

Zee’s dedication to science began at an early age, watching powerful thunderstorms rush across Lake Michigan. Her passion for meteorology brought her to stormchase in college at Valparaiso University where she earned her bachelor of science in meteorology. Throughout her career and especially in this book, Zee is dedicated to getting young people interested in science, respecting the environment and atmosphere around them.

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.

Salamander Sky by Katy Farber

Earth Day, April 22, 2019

Theme for Earth Day — Protect our Species

Salamander Sky

Katy Farber, Author

Meg Sodano, Illustrator

Green Writers Press, Fiction, Mar. 9, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Spotted salamanders, Migration, Nature, Environment, Rescue

Opening: “I watch the rain / slide down the glass / pitter, patter / drip, drop. / A flutter in my heart / of hope / that this is the day, / my day to help the salamanders.”

Synopsis: On a rainy day in early spring in the eastern regions of the U.S., warmer nights with steady rain bring the migration of thousands of spotted salamanders to ponds and pools.

April anticipates her chance to be part of one of nature’s most magical events — the migration of the spotted salamanders hiding beneath layers of earth and tree roots. They face many challenges in their journey, including roads and speeding cars. It can be a perilous crossing and April wants to help them to safety. Will you join April and her scientist mother in search of the spotted salamanders? They are fascinating creatures that can teach everyone a lot about the natural world.

Why I like this book:

Katy Farber’s poetic text has a lovely rhythm that encourages the girl’s excitement to help the spotted salamanders along their journey. It is a quiet and reverent book that will touch the hearts of children and inspire them to explore their own backyards, neighborhoods and communities for opportunities to help wildlife. Readers will share in April’s joy and loving efforts to increase the chances of survival for these mysterious spotted salamanders which matter to our environment. This book is an important tool in getting children involved in conservation.

Meg Sodano’s irresistible illustrations capture the wonder and adventure of April’s rescue mission. They create a hushed feeling with flashlights sweeping the road for little black bodies with yellow spots.  There is a special spread devoted to the development of the salamanders from egg to larvae to terrestrial adult. And there is a map showing states where there are spotted salamanders. Her illustrations are rendered with colored inks, crayon, water-soluble pencils and digital techniques.

Resources: Teachers, check out the Green Writer’s Press guide in the back of the book. It covers many school curriculum requirements including life cycles, wetland habitats, and human impact in these fragile environments. It is an excellent resource for science teachers, environmental educators and parents to inspire students to get involved in saving unnoticed species.

Katy Farber is a professional development coordinator, author, and blogger from Vermont. She writes about education, parenting, the environment and sustainability for various websites and publications. Her middle grade novel, The Order of the Trees (Green Writers Press 2015), was an Honor Book in the Nature Generation’s Green Earth Book Awards. Visit Katy 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.

*Book: Library Copy

The Queen and the First Christmas Tree by Nancy Churnin

 

The Queen and the First Christmas Tree: Queen Charlotte’s Gift to England

Nancy Churnin, Author

Luisa Uribe, Illustrator

Albert Whitman & Company, Nonfiction, Oct. 1, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-7

Themes: Christmas Tree, England, Queen Charlotte, History, Tradition

Opening: “Charlotte wasn’t like other princesses.”

Synopsis:

When Princess Charlotte left her home in Germany to marry King George III of England in 1761, she brought her family’s favorite Christmas tradition with her — decorating a yew bough with flowers and ribbons.

Years later, Charlotte became a queen devoted to charity and bettering the lives of families. She planned a Christmas Day celebration for more than one hundred children, rich and poor to mark the turn of the century. But she needed more than a yew branch to make the day special. She needed a tree decked with candles and paper baskets of treats. Though such a thing had never been seen before in England, Charlotte and her descendants would make the Christmas tree a cherished part of the holiday season.

Charlotte loved helping children so much she went on to build orphanages with cozy beds and loving caregivers. She also built hospitals for expectant mothers so more women would survive to care for their children. She had a love nature and spent long hours in the gardens of Windsor Castle.

What I like about this book:

The holidays are special time for gathering and sharing. This charming story will introduce children to the history of a cherished tradition — the Christmas tree — brought to England by a German princess.  Nancy Churnin’s richly textured story is light-hearted and will remind children and parents of the magic and wonder of decorating the family tree. Luisa Uribe’s illustrations are lively and joyful, but capture the simplicity of the early 1800s.

Queen Charlotte loved her own 15 children, but had a big heart for all children. She planned a party for 100 children to celebrate the new century in 1800. The children at court helped her cut string, and wrap nuts, fruit and toys in colored papers and hung them on a tree.  They added small wax  candles to light the tree. Charlotte was a queen focused on serving.

Resources: Make sure you read the two-page spread about Queen Charlotte at the end of the book and how this tradition continued with her children, including Queen Victoria. And check out Nancy Churnin’s website for a Teacher’s Guide and activities for children to share about what they do for others.  And talk about how early Christmas trees were decorated and how they are decorated today.

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.

*Review copy provided by publisher.

Emily, 10-Year-Old Champion of Rainforest Animals in Need by Cathleen Burnham

Emily, 10-Year-Old Champion of Rainforest Animals in Need

Cathleen Burnham, Author and Photographer

Crickhollow Books, Nonfiction, Sep. 15, 2018

Series: World Association of Kids and Animals

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Themes: Global Youth Activism, Nature, Rainforest, Animal Rescue, Baby Sloth, Endangered Wildlife

Opening: High in a tree in a rainforest in Costa Rica, a mother sloth slept, cradling her baby close to her. The mother was sleeping, but the baby was wide awake. 

Synopsis:

Meet Emily, a 10-year-old girl, who is active in a youth-led conservation program to save rain forest animals in western Costa Rica. She helps care for an orphaned sloth at an animal sanctuary by taking it for walks along a jungle path and participates in other activities to protect local wildlife and their environment.

When Emily arrives at a local youth program, Kids Saving the Rainforest (KSTR), she and her friends perform a play about teaching tourists to not feed wild animals human food. Bananas and cookies makes them sick. They play is a good way to practice when they encounter tourists. Afterwards, they grab garbage bags and enter the jungle to clean up trash, plastic bottles, gum wrappers and food packages that can make animals sick. They also sponsor blue rope bridges to help squirrel monkeys cross busy roads and stay away from dangerous power lines. Because of their work, the titi monkey populations are growing.

The story highlights the impact young people can have on protecting local wild animals and preserving natural habitats.

Like the earlier books in this World Association of Kids and Animals (WAKA) series (Doyli to the Rescue: Saving Baby Monkeys in the Amazon; Tortuga Squad: Kids Saving Sea Turtles in Costa Rica; and Tony and His Elephants, set in Thailand), the text and photos show a youngster deeply involved in caring for the well-being of baby wild animals in need of shelter, food, and lots of love.

Why I like this book:

Cathleen Burnham’s mission is to find, photograph and celebrate children who are united in a cause to rescue and save endangered wildlife around the globe. Her true and inspiring photodocumentary books are a call to children globally that they don’t have to be adults to make a difference. Emily and the youth of  western Costa Rica are passionate young conservationists trying to save rainforest animals through their organization Kids Saving the Rainforest (KSTR).

Burnham’s books inspire and empower children. Every page is filled with rich, beautiful and touching photographs that capture life in the Costa Rica rainforest and shows the delicate ecosystems and the gorgeous endangered species living there, including sloths, birds and a variety of monkeys. She also focuses on the dangers in the town of monkeys trying to cross the streets and shows the young KSTR activists engaged with tourists.

The conservation message is clear and blended into a glimpse of everyday life of child activists who are involved in inspiring small-scale, grassroots animal-rescue efforts. The story shows the impact young people can have on protecting local wild animals and preserving natural habitats.

Burnham continues to show that children can have a real impact on the world around them! Kids are not just the next generations of caretakers of our planet, they also can do things now to make a difference. The WAKA series are stories of kid power — real kids who inspire other kids to empathize with the wild world around them, to see how we are all connected on this planet, and to find ways to make a difference.

Resources: To learn more about the amazing things Emily and other committed children are doing to protect wildlife around the globe, visit the World Association of Kids and Animals (WAKA) and get involved. There is a special teacher’s guide available for classroom use. Make sure you read the Author’s Note about the story behind KSTR and the two nine-year-old girls who founded the organization. Burnham also encourages kids to ask themselves, “What do you care about most? What can you do to make a difference? Is there something you can do in your community?

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 of book provided by publisher.

Just Under the Clouds by Melissa Sarno

Just Under the Clouds

Melissa Sarno, Author

Knopf Books for Young Readers, Jun. 5, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-11

Pages: 225

Themes: Siblings, Family relationships, Loss, Homelessness, Shelter life, Belonging, Difference, Nature

Book Synopsis:

Always think in threes and you’ll never fall, Cora’s father told her when she was a little girl. Two feet, one hand. Two hands, one foot. That was all Cora needed to know to climb the trees of Brooklyn.

But now Cora is a middle schooler, a big sister, and homeless. Her mother is trying to hold the family together after her father’s death, but they are evicted from their home. Cora must look after her sister, Adare, who’s just different, their mother insists. Quick to smile, Adare hates wearing shoes, rarely speaks, and appears untroubled by the question Cora can’t help but ask: How will she find a place to call home?

After their room at the shelter is ransacked, Cora’s mother looks to an old friend for help, and Cora finally finds what she’s been looking for: Ailanthus altissima, the “tree of heaven,” which can grow in even the worst conditions. It sets her on a path to discover a deeper truth about where she really belongs.

Just Under the Clouds will take root in your heart and blossom long after you’ve turned the last page.

Why I like this book:

I am always searching for books on homelessness.  And Melissa Sarno’s, Just Under the Clouds, offers readers a different perspective of how we view the homeless in a raw, heartbreaking, touching and hopeful way. Not all homeless people live on the streets. It’s a reminder that anyone can unexpectedly find themselves in a similar situation. When Cora’s father dies, her family is eventually evicted from their home.

The story is more character-driven than it is about the plot. Yes, the family moves from run-down apartments to homeless shelters where their safety is always an issue. But this beautiful lyrical story focuses a variety of relationships between family, friends and school. Cora is courageous and resilient and shoulders the responsibility of her sister, Adare, who is born special — her brain is deprived of oxygen at birth. Adare is my favorite character, because she has a unique perception of the world. She has a soft-song voice, says hello to everyone, stares endlessly at the sky, spins in the rain and befriends cats and crows.

Cora’s relationship with a quirky friend, Sabina, offers a happy balance to the story. Cora’s mother is an artist, who has to give up her talent to take low-paying jobs to support the family. When her mother’s childhood friend, Willa, invites them into her classy apartment, Cora is hopeful she can finally stay in one place. But how long will her mother accept Willa’s help?

The one constant in Cora’s life is her father’s “tree journal,” which he left her. He loved to map out trees in their community. Cora picks up where he has left off and it helps her feel close to her dad. She maps the trees around her, draws pictures and records seasonal information. There is a lot of symbolism for Cora ash she searches for her own “roots.”

Just Under the Clouds has a heartwarming message about understanding the struggle of others. It is a story that will create empathy among readers. It should be required reading for youth because the face of homelessness is changing.

Melissa Sarno is a freelance writer and editor with and MFA in screenwriting. She lives in the Lower Hudson Valley of New York with her family. Visit her at her website and follow her on Twitter at @melissasarno.

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.

*Copy: Library

Heal the Earth by Julian Lennon

Happy Earth Day, Apr. 22, 2018

Heal the Earth

Julian Lennon with Bart Davis, Authors

Smiljana Coh, Illustrator

Sky Pony Press, Fictions, Apr. 3, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-6

Themes: Nature, Environment, Conservation, Ocean reefs, Rain forest, Medicines, Green spaces

Opening: Welcome to our planet Earth.

Book Synopsis:

The magical White Feather Flier is back on a new adventure to heal the Earth! Use your imagination power to make it fly and take you on a great helping journey.

The Flier’s mission is to transport readers around the world, to engage them in helping to save the environment, and to teach one and all to love our planet. Just press a button printed on the page, and point the plane up in the air to fly, or down to land it!

Bring medicine to people in need!
Dive below the ocean to bleached coral reefs!
Visit the city to cultivate green spaces!
Help the rain forest return and give its animals a home!
Explore the planet, meet new people, and help make the world a better place!

An inspiring, lyrical story, rooted in Lennon’s life and work, Heal the Earth is filled with beautiful illustrations that bring the faraway world closer to young children.

Why I like this book:

It beautiful interactive book that speaks directly to younger children and empowers them to be part of the magic of healing and loving our planet and its inhabitants. The spare text is lyrical and skillfully written with vivid imagery. Smiljana Coh’s gorgeous illustrations will appeal to children’s senses. She includes a diverse cast of characters and children will see someone who looks like them.

Readers are asked questions and invited to join the adventure.  They will be encouraged to use their imaginations and push buttons at the bottom of the pages to transport them to areas of the earth that are in need of healing. They  see the problems that exist and then are given the opportunity to make a positive impact. Every time they succeed, they are congratulated for a job well done.

There is age-appropriate geographical information about the planet and how it is divided into continents. Kids are encouraged to touch each continent, say its name and pick the continent where they live.

The book includes words to a new, special poem written by Julian Lennon, specifically for Heal the Earth. It is a lovely addition to the book and could be a stand-alone-book.

A portion of the proceeds from book sales will go to support the environmental and humanitarian efforts of the White Feather Foundation, the global environmental and humanitarian organization that Lennon founded to promote education, health, conservation, and the protection of indigenous culture.

Resources: The book is a great way to approach the subject of caring for the earth, during Earth Day. It is a resource because it encourages children to discuss problems around the globe and ask a lot of questions about getting involved in preserving their planet.

Julian Lennon is a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, photographer, documentarian, philanthropist, and author of the New York Times bestselling children’s book Touch the Earth. Born in Liverpool, England, Lennon is an observer of life in all its forms developing his personal expression through his artistic endeavors. He hopes that his kids book trilogy will inspire and educate children to preserve our planet for future generations.

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.

Phoebe’s Heron by Winnie Anderson

Phoebe’s Heron

Winnie Anderson, Author

Crispin Books, Historical Fiction, Feb. 5, 2018

Pages: 226

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Nature, Birds, Wildlife, Colorado, Conservation, Friendship, Courage

It is 1900. Twelve-year-old Phoebe Greer, her family and Nurse Daisy move from their home in Denver to a newly built cliff-top cabin in Ridge, at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The doctors recommend that the dry, fresh, clean air in the mountains may be the cure for her mother’s tuberculosis.

While Phoebe wants her mother to get well, she misses her busy city life in Denver (a dusty cow town) and her best friend Lisbeth, whose parents own Denver’s finest millinery store. The two girls have spent hours in front of the looking-glass parading with fancy feathered hats on their heads. They also have fun trying to teach the millinery shop parrot to curse.

Phoebe loves to draw. Her father gives her a sketchbook so she can explore her new surroundings. She follows Bearberry Trail which winds along Bear Creek and ends up at a breathtaking lake. There she meets a local boy, Jed.  However, Jed is a plume hunter, a commercial hunter of birds. He desperately wants to find a great blue heron, whose feathers are in great demand for women’s hats.

The two youth gradually become friends. Jed shows Phoebe the delights of the natural world in the Colorado Rockies, and their friendship deepens. They meet at a large flat rock in the lake, where she sketches and he catches large trout with his swift bare hands. Her views of living in the wild and nature begin to change her and blend nicely with her passion for capturing its beauty in her artwork. One day, Phoebe sees a magnificent great blue heron in the creek, which she sketches in her book. She does not tell Jed about spotting this bird, because she can’t bear the thought of this majestic creature losing its freedom even though it is “survival” for Jed.

Phoebe hears about the Audubon club that wants laws to protect birds from being killed for their feathers. Phoebe’s mother tells her that the movement has come to Denver and a chapter is forming. But Phoebe’s mother grows worse, and soon, things may change.

What I love about this book:

Winnie Anderson’s debut novel is wistful and poetic. Her beautiful words create vivid imagery of Phoebe’s new life on the mountain top. The setting is so appealing that it becomes a beloved character. The rich dialogue paints a picturesque view of Colorado in 1900.  You want to leap into the story and observe the untamed country with Phoebe and Jed.

This hopeful and heartwarming coming of age story is about a teen dealing with a sick mother, family relationships, friendships and her passion to draw everything around her. I enjoyed watching her transformation from a privileged Denver teen to a thoughtful one who observes and develops her own beliefs. The characters are authentic, most are good-hearted but others are privileged and snobby.  This creates a dilemma for Phoebe in her friendship, with Jed, when her father tells her to stay away from him.

Phoebe’s view about use of bird feathers in the women’s millinery business becomes unbearable for her.  She takes a stand with both of her friends, Lisbeth and Jed, and tells them she wants to work with the Audubon club to protect the birds. The author makes short references to the early Audubon Society throughout the book.

Phoebe’s story is loosely based on Sarah Orne Jewett’s “A White Heron,” written in 1886. This book will be of interest to birders, Audubon Society members, and anyone interested in the early conservation movement at the beginning of the 1900s. This is the sixth middle grade novel I’ve reviewed in the past year that includes birding and conservation. It is an excellent novel for teens interested in environmental and conservation issues. This is a thoughtful story to read as Earth Day approaches April 22.

Resources: There is a detailed “Author’s Note” at the end the delves more into the Audubon Society. This book is an excellent classroom discussion book because of the many themes.

Winnie Anderson holds an MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University, and has had stories published in various children’s magazines. This is her first novel. She lives in Baltimore, MD, and Evergreen, CO. Visit Anderson’s website.

Greg Pattridge is the host for  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.

*The publisher provided me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

I’m a Duck by Eve Bunting

I’m  a Duck

Eve Bunting, Author

Will Hillenbrand, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Mar. 13, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Ducks, Nature, Growing Up, Fear, Courage, Friendships

Opening: “When I was just an egg, I’m told, I left my nest and rolled and rolled.”

Synopsis: One day, an egg rolled out of a nest and right into a deep pond. Now that egg is a little duck, and the water is still very scary. Jumping into the pond at all seems impossible, never mind swimming in a line with all his brothers. “You’re a duck, and ducks don’t sink,” Big Frog points out. Practicing in a puddle helps a little, while backrubs and snacks from his mother help a little more. Big Frog offers to hold his friend’s wing and dive in together, but our little duck knows that some challenges need to be faced alone. Even when they are very scary!

I cannot swim, and that is bad. 
A landlocked duck is very sad. 

Why I like this book:

Eve Bunting’s endearing picture book will make a big splash with young children.  The catchy rhyme scheme is beautifully simple and appealing.  Children will easily relate to this adorable little duck’s fear about trying to swim. Many other water friends offer to help him, but the little duck is determined to conquer is fear his own way and on his own time. This book is overflowing with heart and kids will want to cheer for the little duck. Will Hillenbrand’s warm watercolor are soft and gentle.

Resources: This is a wonderful read aloud before bed or in the classroom. It offers kids an opportunity to open up and talk about their fears. It offers teachers an opportunity to encourage children to name their fears, make a list and talk about how they try deal with a fear.

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.
*Review copy provided by publisher.