She Persisted: Oprah Winfrey by Renee Watson

She Persisted: Oprah Winfrey 

Renée Watson, Author

Gillian Flint, Illustrator

Philomel Books, Nonfiction, Dec. 21, 2021

Suitable for ages: 6-8

Themes: Oprah Winfrey, African American, Woman in television, Actress, Activist, Philanthropist, Biography

Synopsis:

When Oprah Winfrey was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, on January 29, 1954, her young parents named her “Orpah” after a woman in the Bible. But people repeatedly mispronounced her name, so she just decided to be Oprah. 

Her family expected that she would grow up to be a maid, like her grandmother. But Oprah was very smart and was reading by age 3. She lived the first six years of her life on a small farm with her grandparents while her mother moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to find work. Oprah loved telling stories to everyone, especially the chickens and piglets. She also loved memorizing scriptures and entertained her family by repeating the pastor’s sermons. 

When she was six, Oprah joined her single mother and a baby sister in Wisconsin. But life was hard and her mother sent her to live with her father in Tennessee when she was eight. Her father was strict, limited her TV time and made sure she studied. The first time she saw Diana Ross on TV, she dreamt of being on TV one day. At 16 she had the good fortune to work at a radio station, and she later became Nashville’s first Black television host. The rest is history as she worked hard and landed her own show in 1984. She never gave up on her dream. 

Why I like this book:

Young girls will be thrilled with Renée Watson’s sparkling and inspiring chapter book about Oprah Winfrey. 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, Renée Watson includes a section for readers about “How You Can Persist,” and additional reading about Oprah Winfrey.

Each  of the six chapters begin with a quote from Oprah’s beloved Maya Angelou, instead of a title. For example the first chapter opens with Every Person Is Born with Talent.  Gillian Flint’s expressive and simple pen and ink drawings compliment the story for readers and give them a peek into Oprah’s early 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!   

Renée Watson 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 a perfect choice. 

There are 14 books about American women released monthly in 2021 and 2022. They include Harriet Tubman, Claudette Colvin, Sally Ride, Virginia Apgar, Nelly Bly, Sonia Sotomayor, Florence Griffith Joiner, Ruby Bridges, Clara Lemlich, Margaret Chase Smith, Maria Tall Chief, Helen Keller, Oprah Winfrey and Coretta Scott King. I believe there are more books being written.  This is complete series belongs in every school library. 

Renée Watson is a New York Times bestselling author, educator, and activist. Her young adult novel Piecing Me Together received a Coretta Scott King Award and Newbery Honor. She is the author of several books for young readers, including Ways to Make SunshineSome Places More Than Others, and Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills. Her work has received international recognition and an NAACP Image Award nomination in children’s literature. She has given readings and lectures on the role of art in social justice at many renowned places, including the United Nations Headquarters, the Library of Congress, and the U.S. Embassies in Japan, Korea, and New Zealand. Renée grew up in Portland, Oregon, and currently lives in New York City. Follow her on her website, Twitter @reneewauthor and on Instagram @harlemportland.

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 purchased copy. 

Where Snow Angels Go by Maggie O’Farrell

Where Snow Angels Go

Maggie O’Farrell, Author

Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Nov. 16, 2021

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Pages: 72

Themes: Snow Angel, Illness, Family, Friends, Fable, Magical

Opening“Have you ever woken suddenly, in the middle of the night, without knowing why?”

Book Jacket Synopsis:  One night, Sylvie wakes up and is astonished to see, standing beside her bed, a figure in white with enormous feathery wings.  Is it possible that something extraordinary has happened? Could this be the angel she made last winter in the snow? 

The snow angel has returned to her, with a very important mission: to save her life. Sylvie is ill and the snow angel awakens her mother. He assures Sylvie that she will forget all about him as soon as she goes to sleep, but somehow, she doesn’t. Sylvie then tries everything she can think of to bring him back to earth, but nothing works. Until one winter’s day, when Sylvie looks around and wonders whether her friends and family have their own protective angel. How can she convince her Snow Angel to help with this monumental task?

Why I like this book:

Maggie O’Farrell’s is a modern fable/fairy tale that will fill kids with wonder. It is a cozy bedtime read aloud that reminds me a bit of the books that were read to me as a child. The narrative is a bit lengthy, but lends itself to the author’s beautiful lyrical prose. I love that the story began with a bedtime story she made up for her own children. Where Snow Angels Go will lead to many meaningful discussions.

Sylvie is a compassionate and selfless character who wants to make contact with her snow angel after she recovers from a lengthy illness. Sylvie faces some other dangerous challenges and she senses the snow angel is with her in different forms. She realizes that the snow angel is her protector and she wants to make sure that her family and other children have protectors. This story will warm your heart.

The cover on the book is stunning. The swirls around Sylvie are in silver, adding to the book’s appeal. Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini’s dreamy illustrations are magical and capture the wonder in O’Farrell’s story. I have many favorite scenes, but I love the ones of Sylvie with her snow angel. Children will enjoy pouring over the pages.

Resources/Activities: Winter is here, a time of adventure for children. After the next snow, go outside with your children and make your own snow angels.  Take pictures of your snow angels. You may even want to draw pictures.

Maggie O’Farrell was born in Northern Ireland. She is the author of nine books for adults, one of which won the Costa Novel Award. Where Snow Angels Go is her first book for children. She lives in Edinburgh with her three children, many cats and a mysterious tortoise.

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 Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.

 

Misty the Cloud: A Very Stormy Day by Dylan Dreyer with Alan Katz

Misty the Cloud : A Very Stormy Day

Dylan Dreyer with Alan Katz, Authors

Rosie Butcher, Illustrator

Random House, Fiction, Oct. 12, 2021

Suitable for ages: 3-7

Themes: Clouds, Storms, Weather, Emotions

Opening: Clare stepped into the batter’s box. She looked up and smiled. “Perfect weather for our game! Not a single cloud in the sky”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

When Misty the Cloud wakes up feeling stormy, nothing seems to make her day better! And Misty’s grumbly mood affects everyone when her big emotions cause a thunderstorm to rumble across the sky.

But with help from friends and family, Misty accepts that sometimes she’s just going to be a little stormy—and it will always pass.

Read the first book in a sky-high series about how to deal with good days, bad days, and everything in between!

TODAY Show co-host and meteorologist Dylan Dreyer launches a new picture book series featuring Misty—a little cloud with big feelings! The author combines her extensive weather knowledge with her experience as a mom in this very special social-emotional learning franchise.

Why I like this book:

An adorable book for children about  a little cloud named Misty, who doesn’t quite know how to handle her big emotions when things don’t go her way.  Misty wakes up grumpy, but when her friends Scud, Kelvin and Wispy are too busy to play sky tag, Misty’s mood becomes stormy. Very stormy! She yells and lightening and thunder boom. Her mood ruins Clare’s baseball game. 

A perfect story to encourage kids to talk about and learn better ways to control their emotions when they are unhappy and angry. Through Misty,  they see how emotions can impact other people. And they learn a little bit about the weather. Rosie Butcher’s beautiful illustrations enhance the storyline.  Just look at that cover! Young children will love looking at each illustration.  

Resources: Dylan Dreyer includes Some Weather Facts and Fun at the end. She also includes weather activities at the end. It is also a great way for parents and teachers to talk about dealing with big emotions. Encourage kids to draw a picture of a cloud that depicts their mood and put their name on it.

Dylan Dreyer is a meteorologist for NBC News, a co-host of the 3rd Hour of Today, and the host of Earth Odyssey with Dylan Dreyer. She’s covered hurricanes with 130 mph winds, but she loves a nice breeze when she walks her dog, Bosco. She’s stood out in six-foot snowstorms (which is taller than her!), but she loves to go sledding with her sons, Calvin and Oliver. She’s watched roads turn into rivers during strong thunderstorms, but she loves to splash in puddles. She’s traveled the country (and has been to 49 states!) and the world…she’s even been to the North Pole! She loves the weather and thinks the world is a fascinating place. She lives in New York City with her husband, Brian; their sons, Calvin and Oliver; and their dog, Bosco. Find her on Instagram and Twitter at @DylanDreyerNBC.

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. 

They Only See the Outside by Kalli Dakos

They Only See the Outside

Kalli Dakos, Author

Jimothy Oliver, Illustrator

Magination Press, Poetry, Mar. 23, 2021

Suitable for ages:  7- 10

Themes: Poetry, Emotions, Bullying, Name calling, Illness, Death, War, Immigration, Separation 

Kalli Dakos has written a beautiful collection of poetry that explores what kids feel on the inside that can’t be seen from the outside. The poems focus on everyday experiences that range from body image, the death of a pet or friend, and homework, to friends moving away, living in a wheelchair and the difficulties of being a refugee.

Kids will relate to each poem in some manner. They are written in free verse, which makes them fun and contemporary. The poems nudge kids to explore their own feelings about each subject. Oliver’s sensitive and expressive illustrations complement the poems and make them relatable. 

I Will Never Crumble

I’m in a wheelchair.

My dad is too.

I want to ride a bike.

I want to hike.

I want to run in the wind. 

I want to play soccer.

But I can’t.

I ask my dad, 
“why me?  Why us?

My dad says,

“Why NOT Us?

Life is unfair,

but we must go on anyway…

They Only See the Outside is a perfect tool for teachers, parents and counselors. The poems can be read aloud and discussed. The poems will introduce kids to writing free verse. Encourage kids to write their own poems about something they are feeling inside. And they can be humorous. Writing can help draw out feelings and make them easier to talk about. I highly recommend this book!

Kalli Dakos is a children’s poet and educator. She visits schools across the United States and Canada to encourage children and teacher to write about their own lives. She has written many collections of school poems that include six ILA/CBC Children’s Choice Selections, such as If You’re Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand. She lives in Ottawa, Canada, and has an office in Ogdensburg, NY. Visit here 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 Magination Press in exchange for a review.  

The Genius Under the Table by Eugene Yelchin

Please note that this will be my last review of 2021!  I will return on Jan. 3, 2022.  Enjoy your holidays!

The Genius Under the Table: Growing up Behind the Iron Curtain

Eugene Yelchin, Author and Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Memoir, Oct. 12, 2021

Suitable for ages: 10-15

Pages: 208

Themes: Soviet Union, Family, Communal living, Poverty, Surveillance, Talent, Memoir  

Opening: “The first time I saw real American tourists, they hopped out of a tourist bus in Red Square in Moscow and cut in front of us in line. “Nice manners!” my mother shouted. “We’ve been freezing our butts off for hours and they just breeze in like that?”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Everyone in communist Russia is keeping secrets — including Yevgeny. By day, he longs to become an athlete, like his brother, or a dancer, like his mother’s beloved Mikhail Baryshnikov, an icon with secrets of his own. By night, however, Yevgeny’s world comes alive on the underside of his grandmother’s heavy oak table, where he uses his father’s stubby pencil to sketch out all the drama, confusion, and difficulty of life in the USSR. Grappling with the looming threats of surveillance and poverty — an armed with only his pencil and a tendency to ask difficult questions — Yevgeny is on a quest to understand his society, in a tale heartbreaking and hilarious in equal measure.

Why I like this book:

Eugene Yelchin has written a witty and dark memoir about life in the Soviet Union in the 1960s-1970s. He lived in Leningrad as a child, which makes his story even more believable for readers. And it reads like a piece of fiction. Yelchin’s artwork graces nearly every page of the story, perfectly complementing the text. 

Life is hard in the Soviet Union. Extended families live in communaka (communal) one-room apartments. They share the bathroom, hallways and kitchen with other dwellers. Food is rationed. Many books and artwork are banned. There are paid spies in every communalka. Everything about life is based on rules. Freedom of speech is forbidden. Antisemitism is still prevalent.

The only way to succeed and get out of poverty is to have a talent, like Yevgeny’s brother, Victor, who is a talented ice skater and athlete. I was fascinated at how the USSR used talent as a secret weapon against the United States during the Cold War. Yevgeny doesn’t appear to have a special talent. His mother wants him to be a great ballet dancer like Baryshnikov. But he DOES have a talent that even he’s not aware of.

I especially enjoyed how Yelchin weaves the famous Baryshnikov (and his defection) into this story. Yevgeny’s mother works at the Vaganovka Ballet Academy for where Baryshnikov studied dance as a child. She has an interesting relationship with the artistic world. She takes Yevgeny to see her beloved “Misha”  dance at the Kirov Ballet Theater, where they stand in the wings and watch him perform. (And, yes there is a secret backstory about his mother and ballet.)

Yevgeny’s father is a committed communist and has a deep love for poetry — much of which is banned in the USSR because poetry tells the truth. In the USSR it is dangerous to tell the truth or criticize the government. Artists who survived learned to make art by the rules. Readers will learn about how people keep secrets, especially about family members. They even cut pictures of loved ones out of photographs. And Yevgeny really wants to know what happened to his grandfather, but his grandmother remains silent.

I was drawn to this story because I’ve always been fascinated with Russian history and political science and studied Russian in college in the 70s. There are no tidy endings to this story, as Yelchin’s memoir represents his family’s experience of living behind the Iron Curtain.

Eugene Yelchin is the the coauthor and illustrator of the 2018 National Book Award finalist The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, cowritten with M.T. Anderson. He is also the author and illustrator of the Newbery Honor Book Breaking Stalin’s Nose, and the recipient of a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Tomie dePaola illustrator Award. Eugene Yelchin lives in Topanga, California, with his family.

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.

Where’s Waldo? Santa Spotlight Search By Martin Handford

Where’s Waldo? Santa Spotlight Search

Martin Handford, Author and Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Activity Book, Sep. 24, 2021

Suitable for ages: 5-10 +

Themes: Santa, Holidays & Celebrations, Interactive Adventures, Activity Books

Publisher’s Synopsis

Christmas is coming, and Santa with it—if you can only find him! Luckily, Waldo fans have a cool wand to help them spotlight the jolly old guy in the dark.

Shake your sleigh bells, pull on your holiday sweater, and join in the festive madness! These night-time scenes are bustling with Santas getting ready for Christmas Eve. With the help of a magic slider to light up one spot at a time, can you find some very specific Santas—like the one whose stocking is threadbare? Or the ones who are slimmer than most? And by the way, where are Waldo and all his friends—Wenda, Odlaw, Wizard Whitebeard, and Woof? Featuring super-challenging searches as well as puzzles and games, Santa’s Spotlight Search promises many hours of merriment for seasoned Waldo fans and new followers alike.

Why I like this book:

Who doesn’t love Waldo? He’s timeless and full of good cheer in this edition. He brings back fond memories of sharing the Waldo books with my daughter, many years ago. And, yes adults will enjoy this holiday book.

It is the perfect travel book to take along on long car and plane trips to visit relatives. There are hours of fun in searching for all the different Santa’s. 

The magic slider is an interesting addition to the Waldo books.   There are special dark windows in the book that are illuminated when the child inserts the slider tool — it lights up just like a spotlight and challenges readers. It’s a lot of fun!  Perfect holiday gift book!

Martin Handford, the man behind the mind-boggling Waldo books, began his career as a freelance illustrator specializing in drawing crowd scenes. Handford’s Where’s Waldo? books have been immensely successful, selling more than 72 million copies worldwide in over 50 countries and 30 languages, including Egyptian, Korean and Hebrew. Each Waldo picture takes Martin several months to draw.” I can’t tell you how pleased I am that Waldo has taken on a life of his own,” he says. “I’d like to inspire children to open their minds to explore subjects more, to be aware of what’s going on around them. I’d like them to see wonder in places that may not have occurred to them.” Martin Handford lives in England.

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

**With the holidays approaching, this will be my last PPBF post in 2021.  I will resume my PPBF reviews Jan. 7, 2022.

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

The Christmas Pig by J. K. Rowling

The  Christmas Pig

J.K. Rowling, Author

Jim Field, Illustrator

Scholastic Inc., Fiction, Oct. 12, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8 and up

Themes: Boy, Stuffed toy, Family relationships, Magic, Adventure, Christmas

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Jack loves his childhood toy, Dur Pig. DP has always been there for him, through good and bad. Until one Christmas Eve, something terrible happens — DP is lost.

But Christmas Eve is a night for miracles and lost causes, a night when all things can come to life…even toys.

So Jack and the Christmas (DP’s irritating replacement) embark on a breathtaking journey through the magical Land of the Lost. With the help of a talking lunch box, a brave compass, and a winged thing called Hope, the set out to rescue the best friend Jack has ever known from the terrifying, toy-crunching Loser…

From one of the world’s greatest storytellers comes this heartwarming, page-turning adventure about one child’s love for his most treasured thing, and how far he will go to find it. With dazzling illustrations from renowned artist Jim Field, The Christmas Pig is destined to become a beloved classic for the whole family.

Why I like this book:

Another thrilling and magical adventure from J.K. Rowling about a six-year-old boy and his love for his  stuffed pig. The story is meant for middle grade readers, but it feels like a family story that can be read a few chapters at bedtime. Younger children will identify with the beloved stuffed pig and older readers will enjoy the magical journey into the Land of the Lost, where both good and bad is present. Jim Field’s full-page illustrations are lively and expressive and give readers a sense of the various lands Jack and the Christmas Pig travel through to search for DP.    

The story features a family with real life issues. Jack’s parents are splitting up and Jack and his mother are moving into a new home closer to his grandparents. He has to leave behind his friends and start a new school. His mother meets someone new, Brenden and his teenaged daughter Holly. When they become a blended family, tension erupts and that’s how DP is lost. 

There is a sweet relationship between Jack and DP. DP is a well-worn pig with a long history with Jack.  DP is no longer pink and puffy, but kind of limp and gray, with bent ears and buttons that replace his eyes. He’s been dropped in puddles, buried in sand on the beach, and lost all over the house. Due to all of his adventures, DP has a smell about him that Jack likes. And he’s always been there for Jack when he needs his tears wiped or is scared.  DP always seems to know exactly how Jack is feeling.

A master storyteller, Rowling’s world building is amazing and imaginative. Her plot is enchanting, dangerous, and humorous. It will keep readers fully engaged. There is a large cast of unusual, lovable, quirky and unforgettable characters. The ending is a heartwarming surprise. There are 58 chapters in the book, but they are short. Jim Field’s full-page illustrations are lively and expressive and give readers a sense of the various lands Jack and the Christmas Pig travel through to search for DP.

J.K. Rowling is the author of the seven Harry Potter books, which have sold over 500 million copies, been translated into over 80 languages, and made into eight blockbuster films. She has also written three short companion volumes for charity, including Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which later became the inspiration for a new series of films, also written by J. K. Rowling. She then continued Harry’s story as a grown-up in a stage play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which she wrote with playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany. In 2020, she returned to publishing for children with the fairy tale The Ickabog.  She’s received many awards and honors for her writing. She also supports a number of causes through her charitable trust, Volant, and is the founder of the children’s charity Lumos. She lives in Scotland with her family.

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 purchased copy.

 

 

The Robin and The Fir Tree by Jason Jameson

The Robin & The Fir Tree

Retold by Jason Jameson, Author and Illustrator

Templar Books (Imprint Candlewick), Fiction, Nov. 21, 2021 (US edition)

Suitable for ages: 4-10

Pages: 64

Themes: Fir Tree, Robin, Animals, Friendship, Folktale, Legends, Holidays

Opening: “Long ago, in the North, there stood a forest. The trees of the forest grew tall and old, and many animals made their homes in and beneath them.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

In a forest far away from the hustle and bustle of town grows the Fir Tree. The meadow he lives in is beautiful and serene, but the Fir Tree yearns for the excitement of the outside world. His friend the Robin brings him gifts and tells him stories of the places she’s been, the people she’s flown over, and the many things men construct out of wood.

The Fir Tree dreams of adventure and wishes to be something more. He imagines a new life as a ship’s mast, traveling the world by sea. When men come to the meadow with axes one day and cut him down, the Fir Tree is eager to be chosen for a new purpose. But the Robin worries. What will become of her strong, beautiful friend? In a lyrical story of friendship and rebirth, Jason Jameson brings a Christmas classic to beautiful new life.

The retelling of the little Fir Tree is both beautiful and heartbreaking. He lives in a magnificent meadow that is peaceful and surrounded by a wide variety of trees that change colors with the seasons, as his needles remain green.  And there are creatures large and small, including his friendship with Robin, who decorates his home with roses in the Fir Trees branches. But the Fir Tree is not content with everything remaining the same and longs to know what lies beyond the meadow. 

When the Fir Tree is selected for the town Christmas tree, he’s excited that people will be able to admire his beauty. But, his moment of glory is short-lived. Robin is a true friend and stays with his friend through the rest of the story. It is a sad story, but it also is a story of rebirth.  And the ending is hopeful.  

This is a beautifully packaged book with a heavy cover that is decorated in gold. The first letter of each new page is ornately designed. Jameson’s illustrations are stunning, with much detail for young readers to explore. This is a holiday book families will treasure for years to come. It also makes a perfect holiday gift.

Resources: This story is perfect to read after families decorate their trees.  If read in the classroom, teachers may want to compare Hans Christian Anderson’s story with this new retelling. It may make for some interesting discussions.  And, it would be interesting to ask kids to think about the message in this story. Have they ever felt like the fir tree?

Jason Jameson studied animation at the Royal College of Art and has more than fifteen years of experience in character development, design, and animation direction. He is the cofounder and creative director of Unanico Group, an award-winning media company, and has produced and animated several short films. He lives in London.

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 Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.

A Donkey Called Mistletoe by Helen Peters

A Donkey Called Mistletoe

Helen Peters, Author

Walker Books, Fiction, Sep. 14, 2021

Suitable for ages: 7-9

Themes: Donkey, Rescue animals, Intergenerational relationships, Holidays

Publisher’s Synopsis:

What better time than the Christmas season for aspiring vet Jasmine Green to find a new home for her elderly neighbor’s gentle donkey?

When Jasmine Green and her best friend, Tom, visit their neighbor Mr. Hobson to help him with some chores, they discover that he is selling his farm and moving to a nearby assisted living facility. Because Mr. Hobson won’t have a home for his beloved donkey, Mistletoe, anymore, he is planning to send him to a faraway sanctuary.

Jasmine doesn’t want to see them separated, so she hatches a plan to keep Mistletoe at Oak Tree Farm, where Mr. Hobson could visit him whenever he liked. But caring for a donkey is lots of work (as Jasmine’s parents often remind her), especially with her mischievous younger brother around.

When the school nativity play encounters a mishap, Jasmine realizes she may have the perfect understudy right in her backyard. From author Helen Peters and illustrator Ellie Snowdon, this latest book in the Jasmine Green Rescues series offers a heartwarming tale of multigenerational friendship and holiday spirit.

Why I like this book:

A Donkey Called Mistletoe is a charming new tale for the Christmas season. It is a story that will warm the hearts many animal lovers. It is also a story about rescuing animals, intergenerational relationships, and life on a working farm. Readers will enjoy the human-animal bond between the characters and the rescued animals. A young boy, Harrison, who is probably on the autism spectrum, develops a very close bond with the donkey that is beneficial and helps soothe him. So touching to see the donkey as a therapy animal.  

The characters are all memorable. Jasmine is a spunky but compassionate protagonist who would fill the farm with any animal needing help. She’s a hard and responsible worker and readers will learn a lot of detail about taking care of animals — especially the donkey who needs daily grooming.  And there is a lot of poop to be scooped up daily.

I enjoy sharing really good chapter books that help kids transition to middle grade books. And this one is a wonderful series for animal lovers! Ellie Snowdon’s pen and ink illustrations are lively, appear on most pages and give readers a better sense of the action. I also like the fun map at the beginning of the story that shows where all the animals live at Oak Tree Farm. 

There is a quiz at the end of each book that will encourage kids to talk about the story, especially their favorite parts. I highly recommend this book and the many other books in the Jasmine Green Rescues series: A Duckling Called Button, A Piglet Called Truffle, A Collie Called Sky, A Kitten Called Holly, A Goat Called Willow and A Lamb Called Lucky.

Helen Peters is the author of numerous books for young readers that feature heroic girls saving the day, including the Jasmine Green Rescues series. She grew up on an old-fashioned farm surrounded by family, animals, and mud. Helen Peters lives in East Sussex, England.

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 Christmas Owl by Ellen Kalish and Gideon Sterer

The Christmas Owl

Ellen Kalish & Gideon Sterer, Authors

Ramona Kaulitzki, Illustrator

Little Brown and Company, Fiction, Oct. 5, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Owl, Rockefeller Christmas Tree, Rescue center 

Opening:  “Once in a little town, in a little front yard, lived a little owl, high in the branches of a very big tree.” 

Synopsis:

When Little Owl’s home is cut down by people saying it will make a beautiful Christmas tree, she’s not sure she wants anything to do with Christmas, whatever that means.  Hiding in its branches, the rope traps Little Owl.  The tree is loaded on a truck and she rides for hours until it reaches the Rockefeller Center.

A worker finds the owl her and calls a woman named Ellen at Ravensbeard Wildlife Center who takes Little Owl, who is hungry and dehydrated.  Ellen, whose house is merrily decorated for the holiday and filled with birds who need someone to care for them. Surrounded by kindness and helpful new friends, Little Owl begins to wonder if Christmas might not be such a bad thing after all…

Why I like this book:

A beautiful book that is based on a true story that captivated the country in November 2020. This charming story is cowritten by Ellen Kalish, caretaker of the real owl found inside the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. 

Told in the voice of Little Owl, children will enjoy hearing about his long journey on the truck to NYC, being discovered in its branches and his rehabilitation with Ellen. Ramona Kaulitzki’s illustrations are simply stunning. Just look at the cover!  They compliment the story and kids will have fun pouring over the gorgeous artwork and telling the story themselves.

There is so much compassion in this story. Make sure you check out the end pages. There is a special Note from Ellen Kalish about her work to rescue and rehabilitate her first love — birds.  There is a close up picture of the owl she named “Rocky.” On the opposite page is The Real Story of Rockefeller, with a photo of Ellen releasing Rocky back into the wild. And at the front of the book you can see a map of Rocky’s journey to NYC.

Resources:  Go for a walk in the woods with your parents and listen to all of the winter birds living there. You might just hear an owl hoot.  Visit a bird rehabilitation center near you.  Introduce your kids to the annual Christmas Bird Count December 14 – Jan. 5, 2021,  and The Great Backyard Bird Count in February. Visit the Audubon website for a list of count circles near you.  And visit the Sonoma Birding website and the eBird website to do your own bird count any day of the year and track your counts. 

Ellen Kalish is the executive director of Ravensbeard Wildlife Center, a rehabilitation and educational center that focuses on rescue and release for wild birds. She served on the board for the New York State Wildlife Rehabilitation Council and is the recipient of the William R. Ginsberg Stewardship Award from the Woodstock Land Conservancy. Ellen has released thousands of birds back into the wild, but every releas is special. She invites you to visit her online at Ravensbeard.

Gideon Sterer is the author of From Ed’s to Ned’s, Not Your Nest!, The Nigh Knights, and The Midnight Fair, among others. Gideon grew up in the woods of upstate New York, where his parents owned a little zoo i which he would run around after-hours and let the animals out. He now lives in the Hudson Valley and invites you to visit him online at his website and @gideonsterer

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.