Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

Harbor Me

Jacqueline Woodson, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, Aug. 28, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 10 -12

Themes: School, Friendship, Diversity, Open-minded dialogue, Deportation, Racism, Loss, Empathy, Courage

Synopsis: It all starts when six kids are sent to a room for a weekly chat – by themselves, with no adults to listen in. At first they fear this new unfamiliar and wonder what on earth they’ll even talk about. But in the place they dub the ARTT (“A Room to Talk”), they discover it’s safe to discuss stuff they usually keep private.

A father has recently gone missing, and that starts a conversation about the things causing angst their lives, from racial profiling and fears of deportation to a deep yearning for family history and a sense of belonging. When the six of them are together, they find they can express the feelings and fears they usually hide from the world. And together, they can grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives.

With her always honest, lyrical writing, acclaimed author Jacqueline Woodson celebrates the power of friendship, open-minded dialogue and empathy. Harbor Me digs in deep to show how so many of America’s social issues affect today’s kids — and they creatively learn to forge their way in spite of them.

Why I like this book:

Jacqueline Woodson’s Harbor Me is a powerful and timely book that is soulful and moving. Her first-person narrative is intimate and perfect for this poetic story. The setting, the characters, the plot and the imagery are brilliantly intertwined to create an exceptional experience for readers. They will feel the awkward silence of being in an unfamiliar place with six diverse students with only one rule — to treat each other with respect. Otherwise, they can talk about anything.

Woodson’s focus on 5th and 6th graders is perfect, because it is such a transitional time in the lives of kids. They want to be cool, but still have an urge to play with Nerf water guns and American Girl dolls. The boys voices haven’t deepened. There are no boyfriend/girlfriend relationships. They are six students who develop a lasting bond because they are able to share their secrets, feelings and fears in an honest way. They become best friends.

The characters, two girls and four boys, are memorable. Their backgrounds differ, but each one has a story to share in a place with a group of friends where they feel safe and supported. Twelve-year-old Haley narrates. She is bi-racial and longs for a real family life. Her mother was killed in a car accident, her father is in prison and her uncle cares for her. Her best friend Holly is fidgety and has trouble censoring herself. Esteban’s father is an undocumented immigrant who is taken from his job. Esteban is desperate to find out news of his father’s whereabouts and what it means for his family. Ashton is the only Caucasian in the group and is bullied by older students who call him Ghostboy and Paleface. Amari hides behind his artwork, but shares his feelings about racial profiling. Tiago is from Puerto Rico and speaks Spanish and English. His puppy dies and he struggles with feeling at home in America.

This is a celebratory book of the human spirit for six young people coming of age. The plot is distinctly realistic, honest, brave and complicated. It tackles relevant topics young people deal with daily. During their Friday group discussions, they learn to be vulnerable, build trust, listen without judgement and be sensitive each others challenges — a recipe that allows kindness, empathy and freedom to blossom. I highly recommend this novel. It belongs in school libraries as it is an important classroom discussion book.

Jacqueline Woodson is the 2018-19 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. She received the 2018 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and the 2018 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. Her memoir Brown Girl Dreaming won the 2014 National Book Award and was a NY Times Bestseller. Her adult novel, Another Brooklyn, was a National Book Award finalist and an Indie Pick in 2016. Jacqueline is the author of nearly thirty books for young people and adults including Each Kindness, If You Come Softly, Locomotion and I Hadn’t Meant To Tell You This.  She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.

Greg Pattridge hosts the 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.

Book: Library copy.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold

International Day of Peace, Sep. 21, 2018

All Are Welcome

Alexandra Penfold, Author

Suzanne Kaufman, Illustrator

Knopf Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jul. 10, 2018

Pages: 44

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Diversity, Inclusiveness, Classroom, School, Friendship

Opening: Pencils sharpened in their case. / Bells are ringing, let’s make haste. / School’s beginning, dreams to chase. / All are welcome here.

Publisher Synopsis:

Follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcomed with open arms. A school where kids in patkas, hijabs, and yarmulkes play side-by-side with friends in baseball caps or sitting in wheel chairs. A school where students grow and learn from each other’s traditions, share lunches, play hard at recess, share science projects, play musical instruments, and gather as a whole community to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

All Are Welcome lets young children know that no matter what, they have a place, they have a space, they are welcome in their school.

Why I like this book:

All Are Welcome celebrates inclusiveness and diversity, sending the message to children and parents that everyone is welcome in their school, in their class, and in their community.  Suzanne Kaufman’s joyful and lively illustrations remind kids that the world is a rainbow of color when cultures merge from every part of the world. There is a beautiful surprise in the book.

The text sings with Alexander Penfold’s simple rhymes and repetitive chant “All are welcome here,” which  will resonate with young children as they will pour over pictures of kids like themselves. Some with dark skin, light skin, red hair, and curly hair. Others wear baseball caps, hijabs, glasses, hearing aids, and sit in wheelchairs.  It is a place where diversity and compassion advance the culture of peace.

As a new school year begins, All Are Welcome is a must-have book for pre-schools and elementary schools everywhere. It demonstrates on how much fun children have together in the classroom, on the playground and in the lunch room. “Time for lunch – what a spread! /A dozen different kinds of bread. / Pass it around till everyone’s fed. / All are welcome here.” 

I first learned about this book from Pragmatic Mom’s website last summer. Check out the story behind the story of how the author started a movement with a poster.

Resources: I believe this book would be a wonderful discussion book for today’s UN celebration of International Day of Peace. It is a day for engaging kids in peace-building activities.  And what better way than to remind kids they live in a rainbow world. Encourage kids to talk about ways to create peace at school, their communities and in the world. Whatever you decide to do, remember to pause at noon, (no matter your time zone) for a Minute of Silence and think about how you will build peaceful relationships.

Alexandra Penfold is the author of Eat, Sleep, Poop (Knopf, 2016) and the forthcoming picture books The Littlest Viking (Knopf) and Everybody’s Going to the Food Truck Fest (FSG). She is also a literary agent at Upstart Crow, where one of her clients is author-illustrator, Suzanne Kaufman! Learn more about Alex on Twitter at @agentpenfold and Suzanne on her website  or on Twitter at @suzannekaufman.

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

Blossom Plays Possum by Birdy Jones

Blossom Plays Possum: Because She’s Shy

Birdy Jones, Author

Janet McDonnell, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Jul. 17, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Anxiety, Bashful, Shy, School, Animals, Courage

Opening: Ask me my name? Want me to play? Call on me in class? I say nothing and hope no one will see me. I call that playing possum. It’s my way of being shy.

Synopsis: Blossom is a talented possum. She makes glitter headbands, plays the flute and recites to her  audience of stuffed animals.  But no one knows what Blossom can do because she is bashful and freezes up when other kids invite her to play. Playing possum isn’t the best way to make friends.  She wants to interact with the other kids, but she doesn’t know how. With the support and encouragement from her classmates and her teacher, Blossom learns to take some risks and have some fun.

Why I like this book:

Birdy Jones has created a believable main character in her story about an adorable possum who “plays possum” so that no one will notice her. Blossom is so shy around people that she freezes. Children will enjoy the fun wordplay with “possum.”

It is a realistic story about children dealing with common social anxieties. Many children will identify with Blossom, who is afraid of trying new things for fear of saying the wrong thing, being laughed at and making a mistake. This lovable possum will help kids talk about their own fears and anxieties and show them there is nothing wrong with being shy or making mistakes.

Janet McDonnell’s delightful and whimsical illustrations add a flare of drama and humor to the story as she shows Blossom playing possum — hanging upside down on the monkey bars or lying on her back with mouth wide open and all four limbs stiff in the air.

Resources: The book is an excellent resource for parents and teachers. There is a Note to Parents and Other Caregivers at the end of the book with more information and resources about overcoming shyness.

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

Birdy Jones loves to tell stories. Her debut book Mister Cool was named an Anti-Bullying Book of 2014 by Publisher’s Weekly.  She is a supporter of “We Need Diverse Books,” and stays engaged with hot topics that affect young readers today.

The Impossible Patriotism Project

The Impossible Patriotism 9780142413913_p0_v1_s260x420The Impossible Patriotism Project

Linda Skeers, Author

Ard Hoyt, Illustrator

Penguin Young Readers Groups, Fiction, 2009

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes: Patriotism, School, Military Families

Opening: Caleb slumped in his chair. Mrs. Perkins had just announced the class project for President’s Day. “Make something showing patriotism? he mumbled. That was way too hard.

Synopsis:  Caleb is supposed to make create a project that represents patriotism for President’s Day.  The teacher plans to display their work for an upcoming Parents Night. Caleb doesn’t know where to begin. All the other kids have come up with ideas for crafts, poems, maps and costumes. Why should be bother with the project. His dad can’t attend Parent’s Night because he is deployed overseas. He wishes his dad was home to help him. When Caleb begins to think about his dad and what he’s doing for his country, he has an idea for his project.

Why I like this book:

Linda Skeers’ moving story is a timeless message about the men and women who serve our country. It is can be shared with children on President’s Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Veteran’s Day. Caleb’s idea for his project is very heartfelt and creative. The timing of Caleb’s delivery is perfect as he waits until after all the other children have made their presentations, leaving the readers in suspense.  Hoyt’s illustrations are ink and colorful pastels. They capture Caleb’s struggle and his pride at the end.

I also like the story behind the book. The idea for Skeers’ book came to her after she saw a balcony-decorating contest at her nephew’s apartment building. Not able to afford decorations, her nephew, who had just returned from an overseas deployment, hung his service uniform from his balcony with a sign that said: “I served my country.” He won.

Resources: This would be a great activity for children on President’s Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Veteran’s Day.  Ask them to draw a picture, write a poem or write a story about what patriotism means to them.

Billy’s Booger

billys-booger-9781442473515Billy’s Booger: A Memoir (sorta)

William Joyce (and his younger self) Author and Illustrator

Athenum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jun. 2, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Imagination, Books and reading, Authorship, Memoir, School, Contest

Opening:Once upon a time, when TV was in black and white, and there were only three channels, and when kids didn’t have playdates — they just roamed free in the “out-of-doors” — there lived a kid named Billy.”

Synopsis: Billy has a huge imagination and thinks about class rooms in tree houses, gravity shoes, jet packs and automatic page turners. He likes to draw on his math tests and homework, read comic books, study the newspaper “funnies,” watch monster movies and invents his own sports. His teacher and principal find Billy the most challenging student — ever. The librarian announces a contest to see which student can create the best book. Billy is excited and researches, writes and illustrates his masterpiece. He is living his dream! Perhaps this will be Billy’s chance to show his talent.

Why I like this book:

This inspiring and highly entertaining picture book is about the young William (Billy) Joyce. Readers are given a peek at the man Billy will someday be. Joyce’s richly painted and expressive illustrations give readers a sense of life in the 1960s.

This book is about Billy’s childhood.  Children will fall in love with Billy’s overactive imagination, unconventional antics and his determination to march to his own drum beat. It is also a story about Billy’s first attempts to write his first book, Billy’s Booger: The Memoir of a Little Green Nose Buddy. Who would have ever thought that his journey as an author would begin with a quirky book about a booger.

The original fourth grade book is inserted inside the book on manila paper. Billy’s story is packed with spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors which adds a certain charm to reading about the super booger that gives Billy amazing super powers in math. Children are going to cheer Billy’s wacky imagination and pour over the details of his book.

Joyce’s book carries a very strong message for children not to give up on their dreams and be true to themselves. It also emphasizes that not everyone will like your work (especially teachers and librarians,) but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an audience out there. There’s a great ending to this story, but you’ll have to read the book to find out.

Resources: Parents and teachers check out the suggestions and Activity Sheets for using Billy’s Booger in the classroom. I’d love to see this book in every school library.  I hope teachers and librarians use Joyce’s book in their lesson plans to encourage students to write a book about anything that inspires them. What a wonderful way to encourage children to dream big.

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 Way to School

WTS_backcover.inddThe Way to School

Rosemary McCarney with Plan International, Author

Second Story Press, Nonfiction, Sept. 1, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes: How children from around the world travel to school

Opening: “You probably enjoy going to school. Even if you have a bad day now and then, wouldn’t you miss it if you could never go? Did you know that lots and lots of kids around the world would love to go to school, but can’t?”

Synopsis: As the new school year begins, many children eagerly prepare for school. In America and Canada, most ride school buses, travel by car or walk.  But, children all over the world don’t have a yellow school bus picking them up each day. For many children, the journey to school is not very easy. It can be long, arduous and dangerous. They travel though earthquake and tsunami areas, wade or paddle across rivers, climb mountains and slippery cliffs, cling to ziplines that dangle over gorges, and ride dog sleds.

Why I like this book:

Rosemary McCarney has once again written a beautiful and remarkable book that will be an eye-opener for many children. I was surprised at the extreme dangers children face daily because they are so determined to attend school. They want to improve their lives and help their communities.

I like McCarney’s minimal use of text and her emphasis on the beautiful photographs that speak more than words ever could. Every photograph in this stunning picture book shows the commitment children are willing to make to go to school. This is a magnificent book for teachers to use in the classroom at the start of a new school year. It will jump-start many interesting discussions about extreme modes of transportation for children in third world countries.  It will also help children appreciate what they have. This book belongs in every school library.

1-zipline2

Photo Courtesy of Second Story Press

Resources/Activities: After reading the book and showing children each detailed photograph, ask them some lively questions: “What would you do to get to school?” “How important is school to you? Why do children in poor villages want to go to school?” Ask kids to choose one of modes of transportation in the book, draw a picture and write a paragraph about going to school by boat, dog sled or ziplines. Today is a National Day of Service. How will you be involved?

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.

Erik the Red Sees Green

Erik the Red9781480453845_p0_v1_s260x420Erik the Red Sees Green

Julie Anderson, Author

David Lopez, Illustrator

Albert Whitman & Company, Fiction, Oct. 15, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 2-7

Themes: Color Blindness, School, Friendship, Teamwork

Opening: “Erik the Red was a wonderful kid. Ask anyone. He wondered if fish got thirsty. He wondered why he couldn’t tickle himself…Sometimes he wondered what life would be like without a nickname, but from the day he was born he was Erik the Red.”

Synopsis: At school, everything seems to be going wrong for Erik.  In soccer, he kicks the ball to the wrong team. In class he messes up his reading homework and misses half the math problems written on the board. Erik is teased in art class when he draws a self-portrait and paints his own hair green. A trip to the doctor confirmed that Erik’s painting isn’t wrong — he is color blind.

What a like about this book: Julie Anderson’s book is an uplifting story about a strong and self-confident boy  who seems to do everything wrong, but doesn’t know why. Once he understands his visual issues, he takes charge and talks to his class about his color blindness and invites them to ask questions. Erik sees colors, but just differently. He says, “I like to think I am color vision quirky!” Because his color deficiency is diagnosed, his teacher makes black-and-white copies of math assignments. His parents and friends jump in with other solutions to help Erik in a positive way.  This is an excellent story about everyone working together to help Erik. Even young children will understand the language. David Lopez’s illustrations are colorful and create a happy atmosphere for Erik.

Resources:  The author has included a double-page spread of information about color vision deficiency. The book is a great resource for parents, teachers and children. Visit the Color Blind Awareness website, where you can actually experience color deficiency and learn about why it effects more men then women.

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.