A Common Thirst by Gary Boelhower

Gary Boelhower, Author

Sarah Brokke, Illustrator

Beaver Pond Press, Fiction, Oct. 27, 2020

Suitable for ages: 4-9

Themes: Goats, Sheep, Abundance, Drought, Sharing, Compassion 

Opening: “Not far from here, the land was divided into towering mountains and level plains.”

Publisher’s Synopsis

A Common Thirst is a story about the goats, who rule the mountains, and the sheep, who rule the plains. The melting snow in the mountains and the rain on the plains give the goats and the sheep all the water they need. But one year no snow falls and not a single rain cloud fills the skies. The streams become bone dry. The goats and the sheep decide to travel to each other’s kingdoms, searching for water and food. They realize their lands are dry as dust. Their common thirst challenges the goats and the sheep to find a new way to live together.

A Common Thirst helps children think about the earth-home we all share. When resources are scarce, we are often tempted to withdraw from one another and to horde what we have. Yet when we recognize our common needs and our common stories, we discover ways to share what we have. In the sharing, we find that life is richer than we could have imagined.

Through engaging, vibrant illustrations and lyrical prose, A Common Thirst provides children with a sense of the abundance of life and the challenge of finding new ways to be in community.

Why I like this book:

There is so much beauty in Gary Boelhower’s picture book. It is a quiet and contemplative story for children. The narrative is poetic, the theme inspiring and the message timely, especially for the noisy world we live in today. It will spark many lively and positive discussions about our differences and similarities, and how important it is to share — as the goats and sheep beautifully demonstrate. They realize they must change and work together if they want to survive.  Life is meant to be lived abundantly, but only if we live in harmony with each other and the planet. It requires effort, kindness, and compassion. I believe children today will take this message to heart because it is an opportunity to create a better world.   

Sarah Brokke’s illustrations are soft, lush and caressing. Her colored pencil details breathe life into the text. This gorgeous book will resonate with young readers and families for years to come. It is a treasure.

Author Quote: “In my dream world, the next generation of little ones will grow up with a deep sense of our common human family and what connects us to one another, across all the differences of nations, culture, races and religions.” The author has donated 100 books to Heart of America, a non-profit that provides books and other resources to needy families, schools and community centers.

Resources: The book is a beautiful tool to talk about love, empathy, and compassion for our human family. It is an opportunity to ask children if they’d offer share their lunch if they saw a student without one. There are many real-life variations of this question that could be asked. It is perfect for home and school. Teachers who teach character development won’t want to miss this book. 

Gary Boelhower, professor emeritus at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota, is an award-winning teacher, writer, and poet whose career has focused on wise decision-making and values-based leadership. For more about Gary, visit GaryBoelhower.com.

Sarak Brokke has garnered numerous awards for her widely exhibited work. She is the director of the art program and the Community Mural Initiative at the College of St. Scholastica. For more on Sarah, visit SarahBrokke.com.

*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

The Dragon in the Library by Louie Stowell

The Dragon in the Library (A Kit the Wizard Book 1)

Louie Stowell, Author

David Ortu, Illustrator

Walker Books, Fiction, Mar. 16, 2021

Pages: 200

Suitable for ages: 7-9

Themes: Library, Magic, Wizards, Dragon, Villain 

Opening: “Do you seriously want to spend the first day of summer vacation with a bunch of dead people?” Josh asked.

Synopsis:

Kit Spencer can’t stand reading. She’d rather be outside playing and getting muddy than stuck inside with a book. But when her best friends, Josh and Alita, drag her to the local library, Kit discovers that there is something magical when she opens a book and finds herself standing in the middle of a beautiful garden. And there is something very unusual about the librarian, Faith, who follows her into the book and uses strange words to get them out. Kit learns that she’s a wizard — and maybe the youngest wizard in the world. Kit’s response: “Wow.”  

Kit must keep her secret or she will put the entire wizarding world in danger. She can’t tell her best friends or the librarian will have to erase their memories. Too late. Josh and Alita have been eavesdropping outside the room and burst in begging Faith not to “wipe their brains.” They promise to keep the secrets of the library and the threesome embark upon a journey to help Kit protect the sleeping dragon hidden beneath the library.

Kit discovers using magic isn’t easy and spells can be tricky.  Kit has a big learning curve, but she must learn quickly because there’s a power-hungry businessman who will stop at nothing to get his hands on some magic of his own. With the help of her librarian mentor, her best friends Josh and Alita, and a cute dragon-dog hybrid, Kit will have to find a way to save the dragon in the library — and maybe the world.

Why I like this book:

I really love introducing this wizarding series to emerging readers who aren’t ready for Harry Potter and other MG fantasy books. Louie Stowell creates an exciting and appealing adventure story with magical creatures, diverse characters, and an engaging plot with unexpected twists. The storytelling is straightforward and the pacing is fast and humorous. 

The three diverse friends are lovable characters, but have very different personalities. Kit is a spirited character who is reckless and makes a lot of mistakes. She’d rather play in a graveyard than read a book. When Kit is asked to read to children during story time, it is torture! Josh and Alita are smart, avid readers. Josh is always taking notes and keeping things straight. Alita is good at organizing, especially when they decide to hold a peaceful protest to “Save the Library.” An unlikely group of friends, they do support each other and work well together. Faith, the wizard librarian, is believable and grounds the story. There are many laughable moments. 

David Ortu’s pen and ink illustrations are playful. They capture the characters personalities, their reactions to stepping into the pages of a book, and their encounters with magical creatures. Ortu shares just enough art to spark readers imaginations! 

I really found this book a charming and humorous chapter book. There is a second book in the works, The Monster in the Lake, and the author leaves a lot of room for adventure and Kit’s character growth. I think Kit’s going to be an amazing wizard. This is the perfect summer adventure for young readers looking to escape into a world of magic, libraries, spells, a dragon-dog, and an evil villain!

Louie Stowell started her career writing carefully researched books about space, ancient Egypt, politics and science, but eventually lapsed into making things up. She likes writing about dragons, wizards, vampires, fairies, monsters and parallel worlds. Stowell lives in London with her wife, Karen; her dog, Buffy; and a creepy puppet that is probably cursed. Visit Stowell at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by Walker Books in exchange for a review. 

Something Happened in Our Park by Ann Hazzard, Marianne Celano and Marietta Collins

Something Happened in Our Park: Standing Together After Fun Violence

Ann Hazzard, Marianne Celano and Marietta Collins, Authors

Keith Henry Brown, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fictions, Apr. 27, 2021

Suitable for ages: 5-9

Themes: Gun violence, Shootings, Anxiety, Neighborhood parks, Community life, Family life, Social Justice

Opening: “Something bad happened in our park last night,” said Miles’ dad. “Keisha was shot in the leg, but she’s okay. She’ll be home from the hospital tomorrow.”

Synopsis

When his cousin Keisha is injured in an accidental shooting at a local park concert, Miles is frightened and begins to act out at school. He can’t concentrate. Instead he draws scary pictures, which his teacher sends home with a note to his parents. Miles tells his parents he wishes there were no guns and wants to move away. “If it happened to Keisha, it  can happen to anyone.”

Keisha is in college and living with Miles and his family. A few weeks after Keisha returns home, she is watching Miles and his little brother, when they hear gunshots outside. Keisha freezes, but recovers and tells the boys they are safe inside. She suggests they draw a picture together. 

With help from friends and family, Miles learns to use his imagination and creativity to help him cope with his fears. People from the neighborhood and college want to do something positive. With a strong community behind him, Miles realizes that people can work together to reduce the likelihood of violence in their community.  

This important follow-up to the bestselling, groundbreaking and inspiring Something Happened in Our Town, by Celano and Hazzard,  is a much-needed resource for communities and schools in the aftermath of gun violence.

Why I like this book:

This book empowers readers. It is beautifully written for the entire family, because it includes the thoughts, concerns and actions of children, teens, parents and community members. They all speak their minds. Miles is scared and wants to move. His parents empathize, but they also share their wonderful memories of their home and community. Keisha is recovering, but she wants to do something about guns in the community. The mayor and the community work together to address the causes of violence and launch a “Peace in the Streets” spring festival.

I especially like that the story shows how getting involved with neighbors to take action and create change helps the characters, like Miles, deal with fear and anxiety. In the end, Miles makes his own special contribution.

The book narrative and language is age-appropriate and encourages questions and thoughtful discussions.  The illustrations are expressive, colorful and capture the tension and the strong community pride. I hope that Something Happened in Our Park receives a lot of book love because it is a powerful and relevant resource for classrooms and for families. The positive resolution empowers kids to turn fear into action and make a difference in their communities. Make sure your read the companion book, Something Happened in Our Town.

Resources: The book includes an extensive Reader’s Note with guidelines for discussing community gun violence with children. The book is an asset for parents and teachers to help kids express their feeling, develop coping strategies to increase safety and reduce anxiety. Sometimes the best medicine is getting together with others to create change. The authors also include sample responses to questions from children and conversation starter tips for parents.

Ann Hazzard, PhD., RBPP, Marianne Celano, PhD., ARBPP, and Marietta Collins, PhD, worked together for over two decades as Emory University School of Medicine faculty members, serving children and families in Atlanta. All three psychologists have been involved in community advocacy efforts focused on children’s behavioral health and social justice. Dr. Celano and Dr. Hazzard have developed and utilized therapeutic stories in individual and group therapy with children and teens. Dr. Collins is a faculty remember at Morehouse School of Medicine, providing psychological services to underserved adults, youth, and families.

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 Magination Press in exchange for a review.

 

Leonard (My Life As a Cat) by Carlie Sorosiak

Carlie Sorosiak, Author

Walker Books, Fiction, Apr. 13, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Cat, Alien, Immortal, Family, Friendship, Intergenerational relationships 

Synopsis:  

When 11-year-old Olive rescues a cat from flood waters, she doesn’t know that he’s an alien. Olive names him Leonard and takes him home. Leonard comes from a galaxy where the species don’t have bodies or individual personalities. They exist as one being. When they turn 300 years old, the members have the opportunity to visit planet Earth, become any creature they wish for one month and study the human race. 

Now Leonard’s dreams of living as a human and working as a park ranger at Yellowstone National Park are dashed.  Something goes wrong during his journey to earth and he finds himself covered in fur, with a long tail and unable to communicate. He’s frantic! He’s doesn’t know how to eat, sleep, purr/meow, bathe, walk or use a litter box.  Now he’ll never know what it is like to work as a park ranger, commune with nature, share his knock-knock jokes, hold an umbrella, eat cheese sandwiches, go to a movie theater, or host a dinner party. How will he get home if his rendezvous point with his species is 2,000 miles away and he only has a month to get there?

Olive is visiting her grandmother Norma for the summer at a beach house in South Carolina. While her mom and her new boyfriend travel, Olive worries about whether or not she will have to move to California after they return. Leonard trusts Olive and discovers a way to communicate with her (no spoilers).  Together they must figure out how to get from South Carolina to Yellowstone by the end of the month. As Olive teaches Leonard about the beautiful and confusing world of humans, he starts to realize how much he cares about her. He may have to choose between returning to his planet (where he is immortal) or remain on earth with his new human friend.

Why I like this book:

Leonard is so much more than an alien cat adventure. Carlie Sorosiak charms her readers with her unique and heartwarming tale about love, friendship and the meaning of home. Cat lovers will pounce on Leonard’s story, but so will other readers. The pacing is perfect and will keep readers fully engaged. . 

Leonard narrates the story. There are times Leonard is overwhelmed with all of the loud noises — pots and pans, garbage disposal, shower curtains — and misses the beauty and peacefulness of his planet. At other times he’s in awe of Olive’s tenderness and enjoys his adventures to the aquarium and the annual Save the Sea Turtle hatching event on Turtle Beach. He discovers he can communicate telepathically with Norma’s dog, Stanley, and the penguins at the aquarium. He surprised to discover cats dream and have feelings. But, he will never get used to disgusting hair balls.

I love the quirky characters. Olive is smart, energetic, wears baggy overalls, and loves reciting facts about about animals. “Did you know that three percent of Antarctic ice is penguin urine?” But she’s also lonely and longs for one good friend. She finds that friendship with Leonard. Grandma Norma is stiff, rugged, unconventional and a daredevil. She rides a motorbike. Q is Norma’s best friend — he wears a fish hat and Hawaiian shirts. He runs the aquarium where Olive and Norma help out. Q is the first to figure out Leonard’s identity and he becomes instrumental in helping Olive plan an RV trip to deliver Leonard to Yellowstone Park. He also nudges her to give talks at the aquarium.

Full of laughs and heart, Leonard is a story that will stay with you long after you finish the last page. Readers will identify with his unusual circumstance and wonder how they would respond — making this a fun discussion book. This is a perfect summer read.

Carlie Sorosiak is the author of the middle-grade novel, I, Cosmo as well as two novels for young adults, If Birds Fly Back and Wild Blue Wonder. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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.

*Review copy provided by Walker Books in exchange for a review.

 

 

The Not-So-Scary Dog by Alanna Propst

Alanna Propst, Author

Michelle Simpson, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Mar. 30, 2021

Suitable for Ages: 4 – 8

Themes: Dogs, Anxiety, Fear, Exposure therapy, Rhyme

Opening: “Oh Tommy, you’ve got mail, it’s from Joey down the street. An invite to his birthday bash, it sounds like such a treat!” 

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Eight feet tall and with teeth like swords! 

When Tommy is invited to a birthday party, he’s excited until he remembers his friend Joey has a big hairy dog that slobbers and barks a lot. Tommy is afraid of dogs and tells his mom he is too scared to go.  His mother shares her fear of dogs as a child and reassures Tommy that they will come up with a plan and take slow steps to help him overcome his fear. With her help, Tommy slowly learns to overcome his fear through exposure therapy. Together, they take small steps to get him comfortable with dogs, starting with pictures of cute little puppies and working through steps to eventually pet a big dog all on his own so that he will feel comfortable going to his friend’s birthday party.

Why I like this book:

Alanna Propst’s delightful rhyming picture book will be a welcomed addition to any home or school library.  The Not-So-Scary Dog will help children deal with just about any fear or phobia — animals reptiles, swimming, starting school, going to the doctor/dentist, riding in an elevator, or monsters under the bed.  They won’t avoid fun activities, sit on the sidelines and miss-out on the fun. Kids have active imaginations and Tommy’s are a bit exaggerated to make point of how fears grow over time. 

I remember my fear of certain dogs (Boxers and German Shepherds) as a child. I was bitten on my fanny when I was very young. It took years for me to overcome my fear of these two breeds. And I had a fear of snakes, although it didn’t stop me from running through cornfields and playing in the creeks. What were you afraid of as a child? Leave your answer in the comments section.

Michelle Simpson’s brightly colored illustrations showcase Tommy’s big imagination about big scary dogs. As the story progresses, her beautiful artwork is expressive and playful and compliments the story.

Resources: There is an excellent Reader’s Note at the end of the book that talks about exposure therapy and it’s many uses and benefits. There are suggestions and activities for parents and teachers to use with kids. There is also a series of questions to ask kids about the book to get them talking about Tommy’s fear. This will lead to kids talking about their fears. Share your own fears so your child doesn’t feel so alone or ashamed.  How did you overcame your fear? 

Alanna J. Propst is a psychiatrist who graduated from McGill University in both the Psychiatry Residency Program as well as the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Subspecialty Program, and has worked in inpatient, outpatient and emergency room settings. This is her debut picture books. She live in Montreal, Canada.

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 Magination Press in exchange for a review.

She Persisted: Claudette Colvin by Lesa Cline-Ransome and Chelsea Clinton

She Persisted: Claudette Colvin

Lesa Cline-Ransome and Chelsea Clinton, Authors

Gillian Flint, Illustrator (Interior illustrations)

Philomel Books, Non-fiction, Feb. 2, 2021

Suitable for ages: 6-9

Themes: Claudette Colvin, Segregation, Racism, Standing up for what is right

On March 2, 1955 15-year-old Claudette Colvin and her classmates bordered a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and paid their fare to the driver. Since there were no white people on the bus that spring afternoon, they were allowed to walk through the bus to the Black section without having to disembark and reenter through the back door. Claudette settled into a seat by herself while her classmates filled other seats. As the bus continued, white riders began to board and quickly filled the bus. In Montgomery, Alabama, if all the seats were filled in the white section, the Black passengers had to give up their seats. 

When a white woman demanded her seat, Claudette refused to move. It didn’t seem fair to Claudette that she’d have to give up her seat because of her color. When police boarded the bus and asked her if she was going to move, Claudette courageously said “It’s my constitutional right to sit here as much as that lady. I paid my fare…”  Police grabbed her arms and pulled her off the bus, shoved her into the back of their cruiser, and called her terrible names. To tune out their abusive language, she quietly recited the “Lord’s Prayer.”

Claudette was arrested and put in jail, where she continued to pray and tried to stand up to their racism. With support from Black leaders and a community who raised the money to hire a good attorney, Fred Gray,  Claudette went to trial. She was taking on Montgomery, whose bus laws and racist system of segregation were illegal, according to the Supreme Court. Claudette was found guilty by the white judge. Black people decided to not ride buses in protest and began to walk or carpool to work. In losing she ignited a revolution that would be picked up by Rosa Parks nine months later, when she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus.

Lesa Cline-Ransome has written an inspiring and compelling biography about Claudette, who is not been widely known for her brave stand against an injustice. She played an important role in the civil rights movement in Montgomery.  She met Rosa Parks at a youth NAACP meeting before her trial, so readers can only imagine that Parks had been inspired by Claudette’s courage.

The story-like text moves along at a quick pace, relating important information that readers will find appealing.  It is well-targeted for its intended audience. At the end, Cline-Ransom includes a section for readers about “How You Can Persist,” and additional reading about Claudette.  Gillian Flint’s expressive and simple pen and ink drawings  compliment the story for readers and give them a peek into her world.

Inspired by the #1 New York Times bestseller She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger comes a chapter book series about women who stood up, spoke up and rose up against the odds!   

Cline-Ransome is among a group of authors who have been invited by Chelsea Clinton to write chapters books for young readers about the childhood and lives of remarkable women. Clinton is calling it the “Persisterhood.” If you are looking for biographies of famous girls/women to inspire young readers, this series is perfect. There are 13 books about American women that are being released monthly through December. They include Harriet Tubman, Sally Ride, Virginia Apgar, Nelly Bly, Sonia Sotomayor, Florence Griffith Joiner, Ruby Bridges, Clara Lemlich, Margaret Chase Smith, Maria Tall Chief, Helen Keller and Oprah Winfrey.  

Lesa Cline-Ransom is the author  of many award-winning and critically acclaimed books for young readers including Not Playing By the Rules: 21 Female Athletes Who Changes Sports, Young Pele: Soccer’s First Star, Before She Was Harriet, Overground Railroad, Finding Langston and Leaving Lymon. She lives in the Hudson Valley region of New York with her family. Visits her online at her website. Or follow her on Twitter @lclineransome.

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. 

Louis by Tom Lichtenheld and Julie Rowan-Zoch

Louis

Tom Lichtenheld, Author

Julie Rowan-Zoch, Illustrator

HMH Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Oct. 6, 2020

Suitable for ages: 4-7

Themes: Boy, Teddy Bear, Underappreciated, Humor, Love

Opening: “From day one…things have gone downhill. I’ve been a pillow… a hankie…”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Louis the bear has had enough. He feels overlooked and underappreciated.  If he’s not being used as a hankie, he’s being hung out to dry — literally. This teddy can BEAR it no longer, so he’s sneaking away just as soon as he can!

Then again, there’s no use running off in the rain. Or during show-and-tell. Or when there are delicious snacks to be had. Maybe Louis has something to lose, after all…

New York Times best-selling creator Tom Lichtenheld and newcomer Julie Rowan-Zoch’s hilarious peek into a teddy’s secret life is salty and sweet, grumpy and tender, and a heartfelt tribute to those we cherish.

Why I like this book:

Tom Lichtenheld’s Louis is packed with kid appeal! His text is spare, but delivers bear’s grumpy comments with humor and fun wordplay. Most children have a beloved Teddy Bear or favorite comfort animal they drag around and love to death. How clever to tell the story from the bear’s perspective. Children will giggle at his comments.  But they just may think about how they treat their own favorite bear. Golly, aren’t bears and comfort animals meant to be loved and squeezed to death — literally?  Louis is a fun read aloud at bedtime or in the classroom. Will bear ever have a change of heart?

Julie Rowan-Zoch’s colorful and expressive illustrations are a nod to children that this bear is upset and had enough! Bear’s body language is priceless — the look of utter disgust at having his paw used as a hankie, tightly closed eyes as he’s poked with needles, the dismay at being left on the school bus, and the frowns and forehead wrinkles.  Rowan-Zoch’s creative use of white space make each adorable illustration pop. Make sure you check out the end papers.

Resources: Draw a picture of your own bear or favorite stuffed animal. Name three things you love most about your bear. What are three things you like to do with your bear?  Do you think your bear get’s lonely?

Tom Lichtenheld might seem a little old to have a teddy bear, but he’s a kid at heart and I like hanging out in his studio. To pay him back for many years of free crayons, a warm bed, and chocolate-strawberry cupcakes, I decided to let him write a book about me. You can learn about his other  — less interesting — books by checking out his website.

Julie Rowan-Zoch grew up collecting freckles and chasing hermit crabs in New York, and spent years slicing rich breads in Germany before waking up to 300 days of blue Colorado skies. If she doesn’t answer the door, look in the garden! Visit Julie online at her website or on Instagram @jrzoch. She has authored and illustrated a debut picture book, I’m a Hare, So There!

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

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.

Too Small Tola by Atinuke

Too Small Tola

Atinuke, Author, Onyinye Iwu, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Mar. 2, 2021

Suitable for ages: 7-9

Themes: Nigeria, Poverty, Family relationships, Community

Tola lives in “a run-down block of apartments in the megacity of Lagos, in the country of Nigeria,” with her older sister, Moji, who is very smart; her brother, Dapo, who is very athletic; and Grandmommy, who is very bossy. Tola may be small, but she finds that she has other abilities. 

In the first story, Tola accompanies Grandmommy to the market and balances a basket full of yams, vegetables, chili peppers, fish, football glue and diapers — on her head. It’s a long tiring walk, but she also manages to climb steep  stairs to their apartment without dropping anything. She discovers that she is strong.  She is also very clever with counting their money and makes sure Grandmommy isn’t being cheated by vendors.

In the next story, Tola wakes up very early and discovers that the electricity is off again and the faucets in the apartment aren’t working. There is no water for bathing or cooking.  She wakes her sister, Moji, and they grab empty jerry cans and head to the outside water pumps before a long line forms. They return and wake Dapo to grab more cans to gather water, although this time she runs into trouble.

In the final story Tola helps their tailor neighbor, Mr. Abdul, who breaks his leg in accident. Easter and the end of Ramdan feast of Eid is approaching, and Mr. Abdul isn’t able to ride his bike to measure his customers for new holiday garments. Tola is clever with numbers and measurements, so she offers to help. Dapo uses the bike to pedal Tola around the city. 

Award-winning children’s writer, Atinuke, is a master storyteller. She started her career as an oral storyteller of tales from the African continent. Today her stories are contemporary stories about life in Nigeria. Her stories are perfect chapter books for children 7-9. Each chapter lends itself to a short story, which will appeal to this age group.  In Too Small Tola, she shows the poverty of Nigeria, but also the strength and love of family and community. 

Readers will enjoy Onyinye Iwu pen and ink drawings that appear on every page and they show both the love and humor of the community. They will help readers visualize the story and help break up the text. A delightful read for kids preparing to move into middle grade books.

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.

*Review copy provided by Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.

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.

*Review copy provided by Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.

The Boy Who Grew A Forest by Sophia Gholz

The Boy Who Grew A Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng

Sophia Gholz, Author

Kayla Harren, Illustrator

Sleeping Bear Press, Biography, March 2019

Suitable for ages: 5- 8

Themes: Jadav Payeng, Forests, India, Environmentalism, Foresters, Conservation

Opening “In India, on a large river island, among farms and families hard at work, there lived a boy who loved trees. Trees meant shade, food and shelter for many.”

Book Synopsis:

As a boy, Jadav Payeng was saddened as he saw the deforestation and erosion of India’s Brahmaputra River region, the place he called home. He found dead snakes and feared that same thing would happen to the villagers. He shared his fears with the village elders who gave Jada 20 bamboo seedlings. He planted them on a sandbar, devised a watering system and brought rich soil to encourage growth. They trees flourished and became a healthy thicket. Jada wanted to do more, so he began cultivating the land — and planting more trees and plants.  What began as a small thicket of bamboo grew over the years into a 1,330-acre forest filled with native plants and wildlife. His story reminds us all the difference a single person with a big idea can make.

Why I like this book:

This is such a timely book for young people and a perfect Earth Day read. Young Jadav’s decision to try to make a difference in his community will inspire and empower young readers to get involved in conservation projects to protect the environment. The text is sparse and supported by rich, lush and stunning illustrations that move the story forward. Each two-page spread allows readers to pour over the artwork, ask questions and discuss Jadav’s conservation work. Today the entire forest has been named after Jadav “Molai” Payeng–Molai Forest.

Jadav’s story is an excellent read-aloud in classrooms. Jadav models that one child can make a difference. Hopefully it will inspire students to think about what they can do in their own communities to create a healthier environment for everyone.

Favorite quotes: “Only by growing plants, the Earth will survive.” Jadav Payeng

“The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is now.” – proverb

Resources: Make sure you check out the Author’s Note about Jadav’s ideas on reforestation and Plant a Forest of Your Own by growing and planting seeds. Great ideas and directions for home or school. Encourage kids to get involved in projects for Earth Day, April 22.

Sophia Gholz is a children’s book author and lover of trees. She grew up in northern Florida, surrounded by oak trees and longleaf pine forests. But Sophia’s favorite trees are the willows she encountered while visiting Australia as a child. Favorite aside, she believes that all trees are equally important. Today, Sophia lives by the beach with her family, where she spends he time researching, writing, and dreaming about faraway places. The Boy Who Grew a Forest is Sophia’s debut picture book. Visit Sophia at her website.

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Merci Suarez Can’t Dance by Meg Medina

Merci Suárez Can’t Dance

Meg Medina, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Apr. 6, 2021

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Themes:  Middle School, Friendship, Family, Love, Alzheimer’s, Latino, Dance

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Seventh grade is going to be a real trial for Merci Suárez. For science she’s got no-nonsense Mr. Ellis, who expects her to be as smart as her brother, Roli. She’s been assigned to co-manage the tiny school store with Wilson Bellevue, a boy she barely knows, but whom she might actually like. And she’s tangling again with classmate Edna Santos, who is bossier and more obnoxious than ever now that she is in charge of the annual Heart Ball.

One thing is for sure, though: Merci Suárez can’t dance—not at the Heart Ball or anywhere else. Dancing makes her almost as queasy as love does, especially now that Tía Inés, her merengue-teaching aunt, has a new man in her life. Unfortunately, Merci can’t seem to avoid love or dance for very long. She used to talk about everything with her grandfather, Lolo, but with his Alzheimer’s getting worse each day, whom can she trust to help her make sense of all the new things happening in her life? The Suárez family is back in a touching, funny story about growing up and discovering love’s many forms, including how we learn to love and believe in ourselves.

Why I like this book:

Meg Medina’s much anticipated sequel is a heartwarming and compelling novel that tackles big topics for Merci Suárez, who is now a seventh grade student at Seward Pines Academy. Medina’s narrative is engaging and immersive.  Her plot is classic middle grade tension and  — losing a BFF to a more popular crowd; a mean, rich-girl bully; racism; and the differences in culture and social status.  

Merci’s adventures in school paint a clear picture of a curious and resilient 12-year-old trying to make sense of who she is. She’s smart, has a good business head and is a talented photographer. She worries about her looks, is conscious about her changing body and dreads PE shower rooms. She can’t dance and doesn’t want to go to the big school dance.  She finds boy-girl relationships confusing. Is it scary or nice? She wants to know about holding a boy’s hand, kissing for the first time, dating, and breaking up. Medina also includes a very diverse cast of memorable characters: Edna who’s from the Dominican Republic, and Wilson who’s Louisiana Creole and Cajun, is differently-abled and wears a short ankle brace to straighten his leg when he walks. Merci’s friendship with Wilson, a math whiz, may mean a little more to her.

This richly textured Latino story is peppered with Spanish expressions from her Cuban-American family. Medina uses humor in this true-to-life story that is topsy-turvy, yet filled with heart. The Suárez family is a large multigenerational family that live in a group of three homes where all family members come and go, regardless of who lives where. Papi runs a painting business. The Suárez family is a close-knit family that work, cook and eat together, share childcare responsibilities, and support each other, even if money is tight. There is a lot of chaos at all times. Merci is often in charge of keeping an eye on her grandfather (Lolo), whose Alzheimer’s is rapidly progressing and babysitting her aunt’s active twin boys. And they all answer the call to help Tía Inez, when she decides to open a school of Latin dance.

Medina dedicates her book to “Merci fans who wanted to know what happened next.”  And fans will cheer for Merci, enjoy watching her grow and hope that Medina continues her story. Merci Suárez is a humorous and satisfying read.  

Check out the Teacher’s Guide, published by Candlewick Press.

Meg Medina is the author of the Newbery Medal-winning book, Merci Suárez Changes Gears, which was also a 2018 Kirkus Prize finalist.  Her YA novels Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, for which she won a 2014 Pura Belpre Author Award; Burn Baby Burn, which was long-listed for the National Book Award; and The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. The daughter of Cuban immigrants, she grew up in Queens, New York, and now lives in Richmond Virginia. Visit Meg Medina at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.