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.

Zonia’s Rain Forest by Juana Martinez-Neal

Zonia’s Rain Forest

Juana Martinez-Neal, Author and Illustrator

Candlewick, Fiction, Mar. 30, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Amazon rain forest, Indigenous people, Wildlife, Nature, Environmental dangers

Opening: “Zonia lives with those she loves in the rain forest, where it is always green and full of life.”

Synopsis:

Zonia’s home is the Peruvian rain forest. It is her backyard and her front yard, her neighborhood and her playground. Every morning, it calls to her. Every morning, she answers: hello to the sloth family, greetings to the giant anteater, a run with the speedy jaguar…

One morning, the rain forest calls to Zonia in a different voice, a troubled voice. This is the story of that morning.

Why I like this book:

Zonia’s Rain Forest is a visual feast for the eyes and spirit. It carries a beautiful message that nature must be cherished and cared for. It is the perfect opening for discussion with children about the environment and the role the rain forests play in protecting our planet.

Zonia, is an Asháninka girl, who lives in the rain forest and loves to explore its many wonders.  Each morning, this joyful child dances and sings her way through the forest greeting all of her friends and cultivating goodness. Children will love following the Blue Morph butterfly that accompanies Zonia on her journey of transformation.  One morning she discovers that a patch of the forest has become victim to deforestation. It frightens her but she knows she must find a way to protect her home.

Juana Martinez-Neal’s book is a treasure. Her illustrations are exquisite and are created with acrylic colored pencil, pastel, ink and linocuts and woodcuts printed on handmade banana bark paper. The result is breathtaking and an important choice for Zonia’s story. She beautifully captures the lush green rain forest abundant with life. Zonia wears a cheerful yellow tunic, which accents her brown-skin and showcases her happy, sunny nature. Just look at that cover!

Zonia and her people are learning to live in harmony with their surroundings. But the rest of world is impatient and wants to develop the Amazon rain forest. Make sure you read the backmatter about The Asháninka People, with a population more than 73,000, A Few Facts about the Amazon, and Threats to the Amazon. The planet and their way of life is being threatened by greed and it impacts everyone.

Resources:  This is a perfect Earth Day read! Talk about the rain forest with your children or students. Encourage them to draw pictures of their favorite wildlife in the story. Encourage kids to get involved in projects for Earth Day, April 22. There are very simple things that can be done, like planting a tree in a home or school yard.

Juana Martinez-Neal is the Peruvian born daughter and granddaughter of painters. Her debut as an author-illustrator, Alma and How She Got Her Name, was awarded a a Caldecott Honor and was published in Spanish as Alma y cómo obtuvo su nombre. She also illustrated La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya, for which she won a Pura Belpré Illustrator Award, Babymoon by Hayley Barrett, and Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, which won a Robert E. Sibert Medal. Juana Martinez-Neal lives in Arizona with her family. Visit her online at her website.

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

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

Unicorn Island by Donna Galanti

Unicorn Island (Volume 1)

Donna Galanti, Author

Bethany Stancliffe, Illustrator

Andrews McMeel Publishing, Feb. 9, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Unicorns, Mythical creatures, Mysterious Island, Fantasy

Synopsis:

Beyond the mist lies a magical secret waiting to be discovered . . .

When Sam arrives in Foggy Harbor, population 3,230, all she can see is a small, boring town that’s way too far from home. And knowing that she’s stuck there all summer with her grumpy Uncle Mitch only makes things worse.

But when Sam discovers a hidden trapdoor leading to a room full of strange artifacts, she realizes Foggy Harbor isn’t as sleepy as it seems. With the help of a new friend, Sam discovers an extraordinary secret beyond the fog: an island of unicorns whose fates are intertwined with hers.

Why I like this book:

Donna Galanti’s Unicorn Island is a compelling contemporary fantasy that is full of wonder, mystery and tension.  It will captivate readers’ imaginations and lure them into a magical world of mythical beasts.

Samantha (Sam) is a curious and resilient protagonist who longs for a place to call home. She moves every six months because of her musician mother’s playing with new orchestras. With an upcoming European tour, she literally dumps Sam on Uncle Mitch’s door step in Foggy Harbor for the summer without asking him. Fortunately Sam quickly becomes best friends with the Tuck, the veterinarian’s son. Uncle Mitch is somewhat stern and elusive at first, but Sam’s first impressions may be wrong.

Galanti’s narrative is engaging and immersive,  Her plot is solid with elements of danger that will keep readers quickly turning pages. The story also has a strong element of realism. This is the first volume with five books to follow. Yes, it ends with some interesting cliffhangers.

Although Unicorn Island is for students 8-12, it will also appeal to younger readers (7-10) who aren’t quite ready for wordy and lengthy MG fantasy novels. The book has a large type face and includes many gorgeous colorful illustrations by Bethany Stancliffe, which add to the magic.  I believe this book would also appeal to reluctant readers and kids with dyslexia.

Make sure you check out the great backmatter at the end of the book. Galanti shares some history on unicorns, wyverns, veterinarians, the pirates of the Carolina’s and Ocracoke and Assateague Islands, where the wild horses and ponies roam free.

Epic partnered with Andrews McMeel, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, to release the series as an illustrated hardcover. The next 5 books in the series come out on Epic, a digital library this May. Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath the Sand (Volume 2), will be released in hardcover next winter.

Donna Galanti wanted to be a writer ever since she wrote a screenplay at seven years old and acted it out with the neighborhood kids. She attended an English school, housed in a magical castle, where her wild imagination was held back only by her itchy uniform (bowler hat and tie included!). She now lives with her family and two crazy cats in an old farmhouse and is the author of the middle-grade fantasy adventures Joshua and The Lightning Road and Joshua and the Arrow Realm.

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.

I Am A Bird by Hope Lim

 

I Am A Bird

Hope Lim, author

Hyewon Yum, illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Feb. 2, 2021

Suitable for ages: 3-7

Themes: Girl, Father, Bike ride, Stranger, First impressions, Judgement, Embracing similarities

Opening: “I am a bird. Every morning I fly like a bird on Daddy’s bike. “

Synopsis:

I am a bird. Ca-caw!  Ca-caw!

Each morning, a little girl and her dad ride their bike to school.  As they twist and turn through the city streets, the little girl sings her bird song for all to hear. But when the girl sees the strange woman in blue carrying her mysterious bag, she goes quiet until the woman is out of sight.

One day, when the little girl and her dad are running late, the girl discovers what the woman in blue does with her bag each morning. The surprising revelation transforms the girl’s fear of the stranger into a kinship to be celebrated.

Why I like this book:

Hope Lim’s heartfelt story has a big message for young children about first impressions. From the booster seat of her dad’s bike, the little girl flaps her arms and pretends she is flying. She sings to the birds and waves to the neighbors. But when she passes a women in blue, the little girl feels uneasy about her. The woman doesn’t smile or wave like the other neighbors. The girl wonders what she’s up to.  And remarks, “Daddy, I don’t like her.” The story encourages readers to look beyond their fear and differences and finds similarities.

Hyewon Yum’s colored pencil and gouache illustrations capture the beauty of a coastal town and the girls’ uneasiness. Yum’s depiction of the girl’s body language is priceless as she shows the little girl’s tight grip on her father’s shirt tales or hugging his back as they ride past the woman.  There is worry is in the girl’s eyes. Yum also shows the joy on the girl’s face when she finally discovers what the woman does everyday.  How quick we are to judge, make assumptions about people we see on the street.

Resources: Take a walk through a park with your child and talk about the people you pass along the way. Without judgement, try to imagine something positive about the people you pass. We are all so very different and it is our differences that make life interesting. Teachers may want to talk about differences and ask each child to say something about themselves that others don’t know.

Hope Lim is a debut children’s book author with a BA in English literature as well as an MA in conference interpretation. She got the idea for this book form her reactions to seeing a stranger in the park on her daily runs, then combined that idea with the joyful birdcalls her daughter made while biking to school with her father. Born and raised in South Korea, Hope Lim now lives with her family in San Francisco.

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.

Brother’s Keeper by Julie Lee

Brother’s Keeper

Julie Lee, Author

Holiday House, Jul. 21, 2020

Pages: 320

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: North Korea, Family life, Communism, Refugees, Freedom, Korean War

Synopsis:

North Korea, 1950. Twelve-year-old Sora Pak and her family live under an iron set of rules: No travel without a permit. No criticism of the government. No absences from communist meetings. Repeat slogans. Don’t trust your neighbors. Don’t speak your mind. You are being watched.

There is no hope for escape…until war breaks out between North and South Korea. Suddenly there is chaos, and everyone is fleeing. The Paks’ plan to get to freedom is simple: they will walk hundreds of miles from their tiny mountain village to the South Korean city of Busan.

But when a bombing changes everything, Sora must get herself and her eight-year-old brother, Youngsoo, to South Korea alone — across rivers, over mountains, around enemy soldiers and border guards, and even through Pyongyang itself, all while staving off frostbite and starvation. Can two children survive three hundred miles of war zone winter?

Why I like this book:

Julie Lee’s Brother’s Keeper is a powerful work of historical fiction that will transport readers to the Korean War in 1950 — also known as the “Forgotten War” — where millions of people lost their lives trying to flee to South Korea. It is a haunting and compelling story of danger, suffering, survival, taking risks and heroism.  It is also a story about family and home.

The setting is vivid and rich in detail. Sora’s family lives in a square-shaped farmhouse with a thatched roof hugging the house like “a mushroom cap.” Their home is surrounded by fields or corn and millet.  All of the homes in her village look the same, but the countryside is lush and the rivers are the center of activity. The communist (under Kim II Sung ) rule with a tight fist and there are rules to follow and neighbors who spy on each other in return for favors.

Sora is a smart, curious and compassionate sister to two younger brothers. She loves school, learning and dreams of going to college and living in America. Sora has a complicated relationship with her mother, who like most Korean women value their sons over their daughters. Sora is angry when Omahni insists that she quit school to watch her baby brother, Jisoo. She also has to learn to cook and care for a household, which will prepare her for marriage. She’s more like her Abahji and shares similar dreams of travel. Youngsoo is a sweet boy who lifts Sora’s spirit with his humor. And he’s always going to catch her a fish. He’s also small and more vulnerable. Protecting him is what she does.

When a bombing separates Sora and Youngsoo from their family, it becomes Sora’s responsibility to keep them alive. Does she return home, or push forward hoping to find her parents? Courageous and resilient, Sora, chooses the treacherous journey south with only a small map of Korea folded in her pocket. Death and danger lurk around every corner. They find abandoned homes overflowing with sleeping refugees; sparse food; lice infestations; frozen rivers that break up while crossing; bombings; broken bridges; sinking canoes; mountains to climb; kidnappers; violence at the Imjin crossing; cardboard houses; and a frightening box car ride to Busan.

Lee’s novel is also based on the harrowing journey her mother made during the Korean War. The author feels that stories like this deserve a place in American history because there aren’t many books about this “Forgotten War” and the resilient Koreans who fled to South Korea.  Many American soldiers lost their lives trying to liberate the country from communism.  This book is a story for teens and adults.

Make sure you check out the backmatter. There is an Author’s Note; photographs of the author’s mother, siblings and parents; a Timeline of the Korean War with historical information; and a glossary of Korean terms.

Julie Lee graduated from Cornell University with a degree in history. After working in market research in Manhattan for more than ten years, she decided to pursue writing full-time. Currently, Julie lives in Georgia with her husband and three children. When she is not spending time with her family, she is working on her next book while pursuing her MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Brother’s Keeper is her debut novel. You can visit Julie 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.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Don’t Hug Doug: (He Doesn’t Like It) Carrie Finison

Don’t Hug Doug: (He Doesn’t Like It)

Carrie Finison, Author

Daniel Wiseman, Illustrator

G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jan. 26, 2021

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Hugging, Individuality, Boundaries

Opening: “You can hug a pug. (Awww!)  You can hug a bug. (Maybe…) Or a slug (Ewww!) But don’t hug Doug. He doesn’t like it.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Some people love hugs. But lots of people don’t. And lots of people are somewhere in the middle.

So Doug wants you to read this book and then answer this very important question: Do you like hugs? Because everybody gets to decide for themselves whether they want a hug or not.

Why I like Don’t Hug Doug:

Carrie Finison has written a joyful and playful story about a boy who doesn’t like hugs. Doug thinks hugs are “too squeezy, squashy, squooshy and smooshy.”  Doug’s story can be used to help  empower children to make decisions about whether they want to be hugged and by whom.

It also is an important book to teach children about setting boundaries early on. I remember teaching my daughter the “tummy” test. If something like a hug didn’t make her tummy feel right, then it was important for her to follow her inner instinct and not engage.

The story is packed with humor that sets a light-hearted tone. “You can hug a valentine. (Sweet!) Or a porcupine (Not recommended,) But don’t hug Doug. He doesn’t like it.” It is upbeat and shows everything that Doug likes to do — play with his rock collection, draw with chalk, play his harmonica in a band, play baseball and interact with friends.

The book is beautifully crafted with rhyming text.  Children will enjoy the repetition! The narration is straightforward, with Doug commenting to hugging situations in cartoon-like bubbles: “I’m just not a hugger. “Seriously, no hugs.” “Thanks, but no thanks.” “Nope.” I especially love the double-page spread where Doug uses a bullhorn to shout “Who here likes hugs?” On the opposite page are a variety of diverse faces who share their preferences in cartoon bubbles.

Daniel Wiseman’s lively and expressive illustrations are delightful and contribute significantly to Doug’s entertaining but very important story.  Everything about this book is perfection.  It is an ideal gift book.

Resources: This book can be used at home or at school to discuss boundaries with young children.  Teachers can use this book to discuss consent and finding alternative ways to connect with each other.  And, I’m sure students will have a lot to say.

Carrie Finison usually likes hugs but sometimes prefers a wave or a high five. She writes poetry, stories, and books for kids, including the picture book Dozens of Doughnuts. She lives outside Boston with her husband, their son, and their daughter, and two cats who  allow her to work in their attic office. You can visit Carrie at her website.  follow her on Twitter @CarrieFinison.

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

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

New Handbooks for Teens – Friendship, Hero Journey, and Managing Anger

All three of these Magaination Press guides or handbooks are perfect for teens ranging from middle grade to high school. The books are expertly written yet accessible for readers. The friendly tone in each book will engage and empower readers with sound advice from experts. Educators, school counselors and caregivers everywhere need resources for teens that help them become their best selves.  All three of these books belong in every school library.

The Friendship Book

Wendy L. Moss, PhD, Author

Magination Press, Nonfcition, Feb. 16, 2021

Suitable for ages:  8-12

Synopsis:  Do you know what it takes to be a good friend and make new ones?

Take a peek inside to see how your friends can help you feel accepted and connected through your shared time together and ways to make sure you are giving back the same appreciation and support in your friendship, so you can be a good friend too!

Teens will read about the definition of a friend, how you can make sure you are ready to be a good friend and the complications and joys of having a best friend. The book starts with a quiz for teens about what they want in a friendship, followed by the results which gives them a starting point as they begin to read. Throughout the book, readers will learn about how other kids have made and kept friends even though a variety of situations: bullying, peer pressure, trust, competition, changing interests, mistakes and forgiveness, And more quizzes at the end of each chapter.

The Hero Handbook

Matt Langdon, Author

Magination Press, Nonfiction, Jan. 27, 2021

Suitable for ages: 9-13

Publisher’s Synopsis: Heroes inspire us to take chances, do hard things, and sometimes even change the world. Heroes are all around us, so how can you be the hero of your own story?

To become a hero, kids can surround themselves with supportive people, boost their self-esteem and self-awareness, find their passion, and have the courage make things happen. This book shows them how to be the hero of their own story and discover their own hero journey.

What makes a hero? Activists. advocates, allies, and friends. Sometimes heroes are our parents, teachers, or siblings. The truth is, heroes are inside everyone, and kids can and discover their inner hero, too!

The Hero Handbook guides you on your own hero journey, helps you identify your goals, and gets you powered up to achieve them. Get ready and GO make a difference in your world!

Zero to 60: A Teens Guide to Manage Frustration, Anger, and Everyday Irritations

Michael A. Tompkins, PhD, Author

Magination Press, Nonfiction, Nov. 10, 2020,

Suitable for ages: 12-18

Publishers Synopsis: High-performance cars can go from zero to  60 in just a few seconds. Anger can feel a lot like that. One minute you are calm, but the next, something sets you on a course to speed out of control. Getting to anger’s edge too fast can cause problems with friends, family school and event self-esteem.

The author offers tips and tricks to help stall anger and leave it by the side of the road. Teens will learn how to calm their body, derail thoughts that fuel anger, and learn how to communicate and de-escalate situations. The book contains teen-appropriate examples, strategies, fun exercises, journaling, a heads-up plan, and vivid illustrations that will help teens improve their relationships, boost self-esteem and manage their anger.

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 copies provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

Home for A While by Lauren H. Kerstein

Home for A While

Lauren H. Kerstein, Author

Natalia Moore, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Feb. 2, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Foster children, Belonging, Home, Emotions, Behavior, Trust

Opening: “Calvin clunked his suitcase up the steps of another house. THIS isn’t your home, his thoughts shouted. Nobody wants you, his feelings rumbled.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Calvin has lived in a lot of places, but he still hasn’t found his home. He’s afraid to offer his heart if he’s just going to move again anyway.

When he moves in with Maggie, she shows him respect, offers him kindness, helps him manage his emotions, and makes him see things in himself that he’s never noticed before. Maybe this isn’t just another house. Maybe this is a place Calvin can call home, for a while.

Why I like this book:

Home for a While is a sensitive book for foster parents to add to their book shelves. Foster kids need to see themselves in stories that may help them transition into a new home. It is scary time for children and they deal with BIG emotions. It’s not unusual for kids to want to protect themselves from disappointment, hurt and feeling let down. And like any child they act out and test their new foster parents.

Lauren Kerstein presents these challenges in a open and honest manner. Her story is full of heart and compassion. She alternates the dialogue between Calvin (red ink) and Maggie (purple ink), his new foster mom. When Maggie asks Calvin if she can give him a goodnight hug, he responds with a “NAH.” But follows with “Why do you want to hug me, anyway?”  This banter is repeated throughout the book. Maggie is a calm and stable foster mom and her responses and strategies open the door for Calvin to trust her. Actually this book is a moving read for any family and offers all parents some tips.

Natalia  Moore’s illustrations are colorful and lively.  She beautifully captures the interactions between Calvin and Maggie. Just look at that cover! And she incorporates loud, noisy words into her artwork, which children will enjoy.

Note: This book spoke to me because I have friends who had a daughter, but wanted more children. They decided to  become foster parents.  Their first foster child was a little girl.  Just as they were proceeding to adopt her, they were surprised to learn the birth mother had twin boys. Not wanting to break up the siblings, they said “yes.”  A few years later another sibling joined the family. They adopted all four siblings and their dream family is growing and thriving.

Resources: Make sure you read The Author’s Note, which provides important information about children in foster care or in temporary care with other family members.  There is valuable information on helping children deal with emotions.

Lauren Kerstein, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in working with children, adolescents, adults, and families. She is the author of Rosie the Dragon and Charlie picture book series and writes books for young adults. She has authored a textbook about Autism Spectrum Disorders. She lives in Englewood, CO. Visit Kerstein at her website, and on Facebook @Laurenkersteinauthor and Twitter @LaurenKerstein.

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.