Birdie’s Bargain by Katherine Paterson

Birdie’s Bargain

Katherine Paterson, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 19, 2021

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Themes: Moving, Separation, Iraq War, Crisis of faith, Friendship

Opening: “If you are wearing a T-shirt that says in big capital letters I ♥ JESUS, you shouldn’t be standing in the middle of the street bawling your eyes out. But that is exactly what Birdie was doing.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

In a poignant and unflinching new realistic novel from the Newbery Medalwinning author of Bridge to Terabithia, a ten-year-old girl makes a deal with God for her father’s safe return from the Iraq War.

Birdie has questions for God. For starters, why couldn’t God roll history back to September 10, 2001, and fix things—so the next day was an ordinary sunny day and not the devastating lead-in to two wars? Daddy has already been to Iraq twice. Now he’s going again, and Birdie is sure he’ll die. At the very least, she won’t see him again for a year, and everything will not be OK. (Why do grown-ups lie?)

To save money, she, Mom, and baby Billy have moved to Gran’s, where shy Birdie must attend a new school, and no one but bossy Alicia Marie Suggs welcomes her. Doesn’t God remember how hard it was for Birdie to make friends at Bible Camp? Counselor Ron taught about Judgment there—and the right way to believe. Has Birdie been praying wrong? Why else would God break their bargain?

Readers of all faiths and backgrounds, especially children of military families, will identify with and root for the unforgettable Birdie, given inimitable voice by a master storyteller.

Why I like this book:

What a great opening (above). Katherine Paterson is known for her spectacular storytelling and great “first pages” that quickly draw readers into the story. You just have to know the “why” and keep on reading. But she’s also thoughtful and it shows in the depth of her characters, her plot and her glorious prose. 

Paterson’s keen sensitivity, compassion and penetrating sense of drama brings readers a moving story about Birdie’s father’s third deployment to the middle east and her fear for his safety. Separation is tough on military children and their families both emotionally and financially. Birdie’s mad at the world, refuses to go to the airport to say goodbye, and fears her dad’s luck has run out and  he won’t return home this time. So she is angry and has big questions for God — if there is a God. Readers will go through Birdie’s crisis of faith with her. 

Paterson creates realistic and memorable characters readers will love spending time with. Birdie is caring and resilient. She isn’t popular in her  new school and longs for a friend. She is befriended by Alicia Maria Suggs (Alice May) who claims to have a famous mother who is an actress. Their relationship is exhausting for Birdie. Alicia is bossy, obnoxious, and controls her. Birdie suspects something is seriously wrong at Alicia’s house and that her mother may be abusive. That would explain Alicia wearing make-up. So Birdie  has to make some hard decisions about how she can help Alicia. Thankfully she has Gran who is the rock in their family and is always ready to listen. She’s kind, patient and tough when she needs to be. Her teacher Mr. Goldberg is another kind and positive influence for Birdie.

I love that Birdie finds a diary her father gave her for Christmas. It’s been buried in an unpacked box. She calls is “Betsy Lou.” There’s a note inside from her dad that moves her. So she begins to write down all of the things that she’s doing so she can share everything he misses while he’s deployed. It also helps her count down the days until he returns. Readers will be able to explore Birdie’s deepest thoughts, anguish and fears. It helps Birdie cope during some challenging moments in the story. (Sorry, no Spoilers.) But readers are going to cheer for Birdie. 

Birdie’s Bargain is an excellent choice for middle grade libraries. 

Katherine Paterson, a two-time winner of the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award, has written more than thirty books, including Bridge to Terabithia, My Brigadista Year, and The Great Gilly Hopkins. A recipient of the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award and a former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, she lives in Montpelier, Vermont.

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 Impossible Patriotism Project

The Impossible Patriotism 9780142413913_p0_v1_s260x420The Impossible Patriotism Project

Linda Skeers, Author

Ard Hoyt, Illustrator

Penguin Young Readers Groups, Fiction, 2009

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes: Patriotism, School, Military Families

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

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

Why I like this book:

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

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

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

America’s White Table — Veterans Day

I reviewed America’s White Table for Veteran’s Day four years ago. Every year many people search my website to read about this tradition. I decided I would share it again. Enjoy!

America's White Table14673149America’s White Table is written by Margot Theis Raven and illustrated by Mike Benny for children of all ages.  I was delighted to find a book about this very simple, but deeply meaningful tradition observed by service members for over 40 years.  Few civilians are familiar with the symbolism.  It seemed the perfect book to share on Veterans Day.  Raven tells a moving story, and at the end  provides a detailed history of the origin of the White Table and how it became a symbol of caring for our MIA and POW service members after the Vietnam War.  Benny’s subdued pastel paintings add to the mood of the solemn occasion that transcends generations.

It is Veterans Day and Katie’s mother has invited her Uncle John for dinner.  She explains to Katie and her two sisters that they will  be setting a separate little table,  just like the ones that will be set in  Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy dining halls across America to honor the men and women who have served their country.  Mama gets out a white tablecloth,  a single empty  chair, a white plate, silver ware, a black napkin, an overturned glass, a white candle and a red rose in a vase tied with a red ribbon.  She explains the significance of each item on the table, and what it will mean to Uncle John.

Much to Katie and her sister’s surprise, they learn a special story about their favorite uncle from their mother.  Uncle John was on a rescue mission in Vietnam when his helicopter was shot down over enemy territory.  He was taken as a Prisoner of War (POW).  Uncle John found an opportunity to escape and carried his wounded friend on his back to safety.  He was a hero.

Katie and her sisters are in awe when they hear the story.  Katie stares at the little white table and feels there is something missing.  The girls come up with a special idea and surprise their uncle at dinner.  Uncle John is moved beyond words by their loving gesture.

This is an outstanding book that will touch the hearts of young and old alike.  It is a time to remember and honor those who are not with us.

Why is Dad So Mad?

Why is Dad Mad9780692420683_p0_v1_s260x420Why is Dad So Mad?

Seth Kastle, Author

Karissa Gonzales-Othon, Illustrator

Tall Tales Press and Kastle Books, Fiction, Mar. 14, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Military Families, PTSD, Anger, Family Relationships, Love

Opening: “Mom. Why is Dad so MAD all the time?”

Kastle Books Synopsis: Why Is Dad So Mad? Is a narrative story told from a family’s point of view (mother and children) of a service member who struggles with PTSD and its symptoms. Many service members deal with anger, forgetfulness, sleepless nights, and nightmares.This book explains these and how they affect Dad. The moral of the story is that even though Dad gets angry and yells, he still loves his family more than anything

Why I like this book:

  • Seth Kastle is a former Army combat soldier who suffers from PTSD following two tours served in the Middle East. I first saw him interviewed about this important book on the NBC Nightly News. 
  • Kastle has written this heartfelt picture book for his two daughters and other military families to help them understand the changes that occur when military members return from war.
  • The story narrative is told from the family’s point of view. The text is simple and straightforward, allowing for many questions and discussions between parent and child. The characters feature a family of lions, which is a gentle and less threatening way to portray a troubled family.
  • Kastle’s book is a labor of love for his family and for service members who want to start a dialogue with their children. There are many changes for military members returning from war and adjustments for the entire family. This book is a valuable resource that can encourage open and honest communications to help families get through some very tough times.
  • Karissa Gonzales-Othon’s illustrations are simply rendered in ink and pastels with a lot of white space. They help the reader focus on the lion’s emotions (angry roar) and his interactions between the lioness and the cubs.

Favorite Lines: “It’s Like Dad always has a FIRE inside his chest.  When he gets mad. The FLAME grows and grows really quickly. When he gets mad. It’s like the FIRE is in control of him.”

Note: Kastle has also authored a book Why is Mom So Mad?, which is scheduled for release in August 2015. He explains that there are very few books that “address the issues combat mothers face when they return to their families.”

Resources: Why is Dad So Mad is an excellent resource for families. First of all it helps children realize they aren’t the reason the parent is angry. The book helps children ask important questions and get answers. Dialogue between parent and child starts the healing process. Follow Seth Kastle at his website and on his Facebook page, Why is Dad So Angry, where there is a wealth of information for military 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 Perfect Picture Books.

Hero Mom

Hero Mom9781477816455_p0_v1_s260x420Hero Mom

Melinda Hardin, Author

Bryan Langdo, Illustrator

Amazon Children’s Publishing, Fiction, 2013

Suitable for Ages:  4-8

Themes:  Military Moms, Jobs, Military Families, Pride, Love, War

Opening“Our moms are superheroes.  My mom doesn’t leap over tall buildings — she builds them.”

Synopsis: The mothers in this book are heroes to their sons and daughters.  They fly helicopters, work with dogs to find missing people and dangerous objects, repair aircraft, trucks and tanks, heal patients,  and lead battalions.  They have two things in common.  They are American soldiers and they are moms.

Why I like this book:   This is a very positive and heartwarming book that introduces kids to the subject of what military Moms do while they are away serving our country.  It is very simple and emphasizes how proud the children are of the job their hero parents do to keep us safe.  Melinda Hardin has taken a tough subject of separation and put a positive spin on the subject.   I could easily see a military child taking this book to share at school.  Bryan Langdo’s pastel watercolors are friendly an engaging and capture a feeling of pride in each child.  Hardin also is the author of Hero Dad.  These are two great books to use in the classroom.

Resources:  Have children in class write thank you letters to deployed military soldiers.  All moms  and dads are super heroes.  Encourage the class to draw pictures about the jobs their parents do, regardless of whether or not they are military.  With Father’s Day around the corner, this would be a great activity.  Have children pack care packages for soldiers to show them how much you appreciate what they do.  I know it warms the hearts of soldiers to receive letters and packages from kids.  My grandson received care packages from school children.

Kirkus Review:  “An important message, delivered with effective straightforwardness and an abundance of heart.”

School Library Journal:  “The luminous watercolors make the difficult subject matter approachable for young children.

Hero Dad9780761457138_p0_v1_s260x420

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

Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops

God Bless Our Troops9781442457355_p0_v1_s260x420Don’t Forget, Gold Bless Our Troops

Jill Biden, Author

Raúl Colón, Illustrator

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes:  Children of Military Personnel, Soldiers, Family Relationships

Opening“Does Daddy Really Have to Go?” “Daddy is a soldier,” Natalie’s mom answers in a quiet voice. “Soldiers have to do hard things sometimes.” She runs her hand through Natalie’s hair. Her father takes Natalie in his arms. “Home is wherever I’m with you!” he sings softly.

Synopsis:  Natalie’s father has been deployed overseas for a year and she misses him. She and her brother, Hunter, are supported by a loving mother and Nana. They celebrate holidays and help Natalie bake cookies and pack care packages to send to her father and other soldiers. Friendly neighbors bring them food, help shovel the sidewalks and mow the lawn. Her church family prays every Sunday for the many soldiers, including Natalie’s father. When Natalie prays at bedtime, she tells Nana, “And don’t forget, God bless out troops.” E-mails and video chats with her Dad make things a little easier, but it still isn’t the same as having him home.

Why I like this book: Second Lady Jill Biden has written a sensitive book based on the experiences of her granddaughter, Natalie, when her father is deployed to Iraq. She chronicles Natalie’s life and the strong bond with her brother and mother, family, neighbors, church, school and community. Biden’s book is heartfelt and approachable for kids. Military children will quickly relate to Natalie and Hunter. Raúl Colón’s illustrations give a sense of tenderness and emotion as he uses soft watercolors and colored pencils to show for some very special moments in the story. This book belongs in every school library.

Resources: Jill Biden offers four detailed pages of back matter at the end of the book  She includes an author’s note, information about the military, and tips for how children and adults can reach out to military families.  She includes many creative ideas and projects for families and teachers to use this book at home and in the classroom.  She also lists special resources and websites for military children and families.

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

Personal Effects

Personal Effects9780763655273_p0_v1_s260x420Personal Effects

E. M. Kokie

Candlewick Press, Fiction,  Sept. 12, 2012

Suitable for Ages: 14-17

Themes:  War, Deployments, Dealing with Loss, Grief, Redemption

Synopsis:  Matt Foster is drowning in grief after his older brother, T.J., is killed in Iraq.   Matt has a rocky relationship with his father who is stoic and doesn’t know how to deal with his own feelings about T.J.’s death, let alone help Matt with his loss.  Matt has  a minefield of problems like failing classes,  getting into serious fights with kids, and expulsion from school.  When T.J.’s personal items are delivered by the military, his father stashes them away, daring Matt to go near them.   Shauna, his best friend, is the only person Matt confides in.  He fears his bully father, but knows that the only way he can understand what has happened to T.J. is by opening the sealed trunks without getting caught.  Matt finds stacks of letters T.J. has written to Celia Carson and photos.  At the very bottom is a letter sealed in an envelope to “Celia” that T.J. never got to send.  After reading each letter over and over, Matt decides he must travel from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin to deliver the letter and photos to Celia.   Together with Shauna, they plot his trip, calculate the cost, find where Celia lives and her place of employment, and find a cheap place for Matt to stay.  Shauna loans Matt her car.  In searching for answers about his brother in Wisconsin, Matt discovers he doesn’t know T.J. at all.

Why I like this book:  E. M. Kokie has written a courageous and beautiful debut novel that is complicated and compelling.  She delves deeply into the anger, pain, and grief of a 17-year-old trying to make sense of his brother’s death.  Matt wants to know the truth so he can find closure.  It leads him on a journey where he uncovers shocking truths about his brother he never imagined.  What Matt learns challenges him to honor T.J.’s memory, stand up to his volatile father, and take charge of his own life.  In many ways it is also a coming of age book that includes his relationship with Shauna.  There is no tidy ending and this book is as real as it gets.  You won’t easily forget Matt.  It is definitely a book for kids in high school and young adults.   Visit E.M. Kokie at her website and learn more about this author who writes “about teens on the cusp of life-changing moments, exploring issues of identity and self-determination.”

SPOILER ALERT:  Thought it important to include a quote from the author E.M. Kokie: “I think it is important to note that many LGBTQ service members  who served under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” policy, including over 13,000 military personnel who were discharged.” Matt’s story about how his brother lived a secret life is not uncommon.  Yet, T.J.  was deployed three times, served honorably and was killed in an explosion.  Make sure you read the author’s note at the end of the book.

Love, Lizzie: Letters to a Military Mom

LoveLizzie51oEU3AbzRL__SX285_Love, Lizzie: Letters to a Military Mom

Lisa Tucker McElroy, Author

Diane Paterson, Illustrator

Albert Whitman & Company, Fiction, 2009

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes: Military Families, Mothers and Daughters, Separation, War

Opening: “Dear Mommy,  I know that it’s only been three days since you went away, but I really, really miss you.  Can you come back soon?”

Summary:  Lizzie’s mother is a soldier who has been deployed overseas to serve her country, and Lizzie misses her a lot.   She and her mother write a lot of letters to help with their separation.  Lizzie keeps her up to date with every day happenings at home with her Daddy and brother.  She talks about school, winning a soccer game and attending the state finals.  Lizzie draws pictures of how she rearranges her room.  She also draws many detailed maps about changes in town, and trips she takes with her Dad and brother to visit grandparents.  Foremost in Lizzie’s mind are the questions “Are you staying safe, Mommy?” and “When will you be home?”

What I like about this book:  This book is a series of hand-written letters with child-like drawings.  The major focus is about how a child deals with a long separation from a parent, especially if the parent is on a dangerous assignment.   Lisa Tucker McElroy has written a compelling book that speaks for the many military children who silently serve at home and endure the long separations, anxiety, fear and concern for the safety of their deployed parent.  They want to know where their parents are, what they are doing, why they miss birthday parties, holidays and soccer tournaments.  Diane Paterson’s colorful and lively artwork is very appealing.

Resources:  The author has written “Tips from Lizzie and Her Mom on Handling Separation.”   A great activity is to encourage your child to create a memory box where they can save things they’ve done throughout the year.  The box can be a way of sharing their year with a returning parent.

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

Love You More Than You Know

Love You More9781598510553_p0_v1_s260x420Love You More Than You Know: Mothers’ Stories About Sending Their Sons and Daughters to War

Janie Reinart and Mary Anne Mayer

Gray and Company, Publishers, Non-fiction, 2009

Suitable for:  Adults, Parents, Grandparents

Themes:  Sending a Son/Daughter to War, Love, Faith and Courage

Awards:  2013 Best Cleveland Book

Opening“Mothers are not prepared to let go when their children grow up and become soldiers.”

Synopsis:  This book is a collection of 45 powerful true stories written by mothers who share a common bond of sending their sons and daughters to war and the anguish of waiting and praying for their safe return.   The idea for the stories was born out of the experiences of two authors who began writing their personal stories and sharing them with groups.  They began to receive letters from other mothers sharing their stories and messages from their children about life on the front line.  There are some families with several sons and daughters deployed at the same time.  Reading these stories shows their strength, courage, love, faith and resiliency in some challenging situations.

When Janie Reinart’s 22-year-old son Joe, an Army Specialist with the Ohio National Guard, was deployed to the Middle East in 2003 it was like “time stopped.”  “Night ran into day.  I took off my watch and put on a lapel pin with Joe’s picture inside the frame.  I wore Joe’s picture over my heart every day.”  She spent many sleepless nights, sometimes falling asleep near the computer waiting for a message that would arrive at 2 a.m.   Her son rode in a Humvee in convoys, which were easy targets.  He lost friends.  Like many of the stories I read, Janie found that the only way to deal with a deployment was by realizing she was not in control of the situation and surrendering to a higher power.  Joe returned home from his deployment in February 2005.  He completed six years of service and was honorably discharged.

Mary Anne Mayer’s son, Stan, enlisted in the Marines in 1999.  Then Sept. 11, 2001 changed the world and he was deployed.  She kept Stan’s leather jacket hanging on the back of the dining room chair.  And there was a vigil candle on her mantel, with Stan’s picture nearby.  Stan was part of a Mobile Assault Platoon (MAP), which executed offensive missions against the insurgents.  Stan’s Humvee was hit by a suicide bomber, but he miraculously survived, although he had injuries.  He carried his wounded brothers to safety.  That day he lost four friends and many were seriously wounded.   Mary Anne’s hands would “freeze on the steering wheel when she heard on the radio that 14 Marines from Stan’s unit had been killed.”  “We rushed home and sat by the phone, praying that it would not ring and fearful of the sound of cars coming up the driveway.”  Stan was not killed and eventually returned home.  But their lives had been changed forever.

Why I like this book:  This book is not about personal feelings about war, but rather the love and unrelenting pride the mothers feel for their sons and daughters.  This book is truly a labor of love and a must read for anyone who has sent a son or daughter to war.  There aren’t always happy endings.  It is also an important book for those wanting to understand the depth of a mother’s love.  This book meant a great deal to me because our 20-year-old grandson was a casualty of war in 2009, the year Janie and Mary Anne published this book.  I have always felt the children families at home are the heroes as they deal with long separations and wait for those e-mails, letters and phone calls, letting them know their loved one is okay.  They serve too!

You can visit Janie Reinart on her website Love You More Than You Know, where she shares stories about heroes, unusual reunions, military dogs, loss, victories and the daily lives military families.

Little Daisy’s Worst/Best Day

Daisy Worst Best Day20f252b73c66e1ed19c11e6846035df8_k1jc_aqq4Little Daisy’s Worst/Best Day

Kathleen Edick and Paula Johnson, Authors

Wee the People Publishing, LLC, 2012

Suitable for ages: 3 and up

Themes:  Moving, Leaving Family, Friends and Pets, Starting New Schools, Making New Friends

Opening “We’re at Grandma and Grandpa’s house today.  Mommy’s home packing; We’re moving away.  This is the Worst Day I’ve ever had.  I don’t want to move?  It’s making me sad.” 

Synopsis:  A sister and brother are moving far away and leaving behind their dog, Daisy, who they’ve had since she was a puppy.  One day an older couple comes to take Daisy home with them to their big farm.  It is Daisy’s WORST DAY ever.  She won’t eat, play, and ignores her new family.  Then one day the new owner feeds her a bowl of spaghetti.  And the farmer takes Daisy for a ride through the fields in the back of his truck.  Daisy discovers a whole new world of digging, exploring and chasing rodents.  At the same time the children learn similar lessons and make new friends.  And they keep in touch with their grandparents by writing letters until they are reunited during vacation.

Why I like this book:  This charming book is part of the “We Serve Too!” series written in verse for military children by two loving grandmothers, Kathleen Edick and Paula Johnson.  The characters remain the same in all four books.  Relocation and moving is a theme shared by both military and civilian children.  And this is a true story about the author’s real-life “Daisy Dog,” who comes to live on their farm when a family moves.  The authors are very clever to use Daisy to help children express their feelings about moving.  This beautiful story will help ease the fear and anxiety of moving.  It offers hope that things will work out.  The illustrations are colorful and show a lot of love and emotion.   Visit the Wee Serve Too! website.

And, I want to give a shout-out for the other three Wee Serve Too! books I’ve reviewed:  A Child’s Deployment Book, A Child’s Reunion Book, and The Homecoming Box.  These are quality books that have helped many military children through tough times.  I have donated all the of my books to my local library.  They were thrilled to receive them and ordered another set for the other branch.

Resources:  The authors have a free discussion guide that can be downloaded free from their website.  Just click on Little Daisy’s Worst/Best Day to get access to the guide.  This book  is a great tool for discussing a move with any child.

This book has been provided to me free of charge by the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review of the work.

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