Mr. Quigley’s Keys by Barbara Gruener

Mr. Quigley’s Keys

Barbara Gruener, Author

Audrye Williams, Illustrator

EduMatch Publishing, Jun. 8, 2021

Suitable for ages: 5-10

Themes: Handyman, Deaf, School, Work ethic, Kindness, Empathy, Service 

Opening: “He’s almost heeeeere!” I called out cheerfully as soon as I heard the clanging cadence of Mr. Quigley’s keys.” 

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Adapted from the real-life story of an unsung hero, Mr. Quigley’s Keys invites you to walk in the work shoes of a beloved handyman as he quietly jingles through the school hallways, listening for ways to serve and connecting by heart.

Bask in the admiration and pride that the students feel for their Navy veteran, whose war injury left him deaf, and watch as his every move models the school’s keys to connection: love, perseverance, work ethic, empathy, goodness, and peace.

Spend a birthday in the cafeteria and experience the joy of receiving a Quigley creation, then savor the sweetness as the can-doer classmates turn the tables to thank their faithful fix-it friend. Turn the final page for a key twist that’ll wrap you up in a huge hug of gratitude and love.

What’s to love about this book:

Barbara Gruener has written an inspiring story that is full of heart, kindness, humor and connection. Her narrative is rich and lyrical. And to hear Gruencer read her book aloud is a special experience (video trailer below). Audrye Williams’s bright and cheery illustrations illuminate Gruener’s storytelling. This picture book belongs in every classroom because there are many themes that will lend themselves to important classroom discussions.

Mr Quigley’s Keys is based on the life of a beloved school maintenance man who spends his days interacting with students through his acts of kindness and compassion. Mr. Quigley is deaf, but that doesn’t interfere with his ability to connect with students. He is very sensitive to emotions, doesn’t mind tying a shoe lace, and makes sure every student has a hand-drawn card on their birthday.  

You can feel the students’ excited anticipation when they hear Mr. Quigley’s keys jingle in the hallway before he enters their classroom to help fix a problem. His keys are special, because each is engraved with positive traits that fit him perfectly. The students  love him so much they want to do something very special for his upcoming birthday. It’s a BIG surprise!

Mr. Quigley’s deafness touched me immediately. There are few books where deaf or hearing impaired children can see themselves represented. And to have Mr. Quigley as a role model is very special. His story reminded me of our daughter, who grew up with a hearing impairment and wore hearing aids. I noticed very early that she studied people, could sense their emotions and read lips from a distance. She perceived things at a rapid rate — long before most people. And I sensed that same special gift in Mr. Quigley and so much more. I can hardly wait to share this book with my grown daughter.    

Resources: Make sure you check out the end pages, where teachers and parents will find wonderful activities: Comprehension Curiosities, Key Character Questions, and Writing Prompts. There is a page with American Sign Language Alphabet and Numbers and New Vocabulary. There is a picture of Don Pittman, whose real-life story inspired this book. And there is a special message from the Quigley family. There are many themes that will lend themselves to important discussions at home and school.

Barbara Gruener is the author of the Corner on Character blog and the book What’s Under Your Cape? She is a beloved school counselor, speaker, mentor and coach who works passionately to influence school culture and climate change, while helping to foster healthy habits and nurture caring connections among school families and their stakeholders. She positively thrives on encouraging empathy. In addition to spending time connecting with family and friends, Barbara loves inspiring people to savor being in the moment as they unwrap the present with gratitude and hope. She and her husband live in Friendswood, Texas, where they raised their three children.

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.

Too Shy to Say Hi by Shannon Anderson

Too Shy to Say Hi

Shannon Anderson, Author

Hiroe Nakata, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Mar. 9, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Bashfulness, Anxiety, School, Friendship, Rhyme 

Opening: My dog and I walk every day, just the two of us. We pass some kids out playing ball — “Let’s GO Barnabus.”

Synopsis:

School is coming up and Shelli really wants to be less shy. At home, she relates more to her bashful pet fish who hides in his cave than she does to her outgoing dog, who wants to greet everyone in sight. Even her parrot squawks a “Hi! Hiiii! Hello!” Shelli wants to make new friends and meet new people, but she is just too shy to say hi!

“When I am back at school next week / I want to give it a go! / Will someone want to play with me? / There’s only one way to know.”

Why I like this book

Shannon Anderson has written a charming and helpful book for children who are bashful or painfully shy. Her rhyming text is snappy and upbeat as Shelli takes itsy bitsy steps to prepare for her first day at school, like practicing waving and saying “hello” into a mirror, 

I like how Shelli realizes that her shyness interferes with her ability to make friends. There are no adults in the background encouraging her or giving her suggestions. She’s very introspective and bravely figures out how to step outside of her comfort zone and ask Lupita if she can sit next to her in the classroom and play together during recess.  

Shelli’s journey is supported by Hiroe Nakata’s expressive and lively illustrations. My favorite illustration is the look of surprise on Shelli’s face when she first speaks to Lupita. You can see how proud she is of herself and relieved that she made the effort.

Making new friends may be tough for children. This is a great read aloud book for parents and teachers to have on hand for kids who are anxious in social situations like school. 

Resources: There is a Readers Note for parents and teachers about ways to work with children who are very shy and not interacting with friends or participating in activities they would really enjoy. 

Shannon Anderson has taught first grade through college level and loves to write books for child and teachers. In 20019, Shannon was named one of the Top 10 Teachers who inspired The Today Show. She was named the JC Runyon Person of the Year for her work writing and speaking about social and emotional issues for kids. She lives in Indiana. Visit Shannon at her website,  on Facebook @AuthorShannonAnderson and Twitter @ShannonTeaches.

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.

The Space We’re In by Katya Balen

National Autism Awareness Month, Apr. 1 -30, 2021 

The Space We’re In

Katya Balen, Author

Margaret Ferguson Books, Fiction, October 2019

Pages: 208

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Brothers, Autism Spectrum, Family Relationships, Coding, Loss, School, Friendship

Synopsis:

Frank is ten. He loves soccer, codes, riding his bike, and playing with his friends. His brother Max is five. Max on eats foods that are beige or white, hates baths, loud noises, bright lights and if he has to wear a T-shirt that isn’t gray with yellow stripes me melts down down down.

Max is autistic, and Frank longs for the brother he was promised by his parents before Max was born — someone who was supposed to be his biggest fan so he could be the best big brother in the world. Instead, Frank has trouble navigating Max’s behavior and their relationship. But when tragedy strikes, Frank finds a way to try to repair their fractured family, and in doing so learns to love Max for who he is.

Why I like this book:

Katya Balen has written an emotional and sensitive novel about a 10-year-old boy who deals with the challenges of living with a younger autistic brother who is the center of his parents’ attention. Narrated by Frank, readers will gain insight into how deeply affected he is by Max. He feels resentment, anger, and the fatigue of living in a home where he feels dismissed. They will also hear from a Frank who loves Max and is ashamed when he doesn’t stand up for him with school bullies.

The plot is distinctly realistic and then tension is palpable. There is a tragedy (no spoilers) and the story is so sad.  But don’t stop reading. Frank may be vulnerable, but he’s also determined and resilient. Readers will ride Frank’s roller coaster as his world spins out of control, but they will watch his relationship with Max slowly grow as he helps his family move forward in a very creative way.

I love the special bond between Frank and his mother. She keeps the family together, unlike her husband who has difficulty with the chaotic family dynamics. Frank and his mom create their own private way of communicating with each other. They silently tap Morse code messages into each other’s hands. His mother is also a talented artist, but stopped painting after Max was born.  Frank likes to draw and has inherited some of her talent, which is revealed at the end of the story at a time when he uses his talent to help his family heal.

Frank’s love of coding is important part of the story and I was thrilled that the author wrote each chapter title in the “cypher code.” Readers will have fun challenging themselves to break the code. Frank is also fascinated with “the golden ratio” that links space, nature, and people — the spiral galaxy, the swirl of a hurricane, a snail’s shell, and the shape of our ears.

Frank also has a strong relationship with his friends Ahmed and Jamie. They have a special wilderness spot they ride their bikes to and it is the perfect escape for Frank. In the woods they tear off their shirts, rub mud on their faces, swing on ropes, build a den, chase each other with chunks of mud, howl like wolves, and laugh and laugh and laugh!  Before they leave they always scratch ” 23 9 12 4″ (wild) into the earth and their initials, 10 (Jamie)  6 (Frank) and 1 (Ahmed).

This book is an important story for youth who are living with a sibling on the autism spectrum. It’s also a book for parents to read with their kids. It’s a complex situation for families, when they have a child that requires so much attention.  This book will help encourage discussions.

Katya Balen has worked in a number of special schools for autistic children. She now runs Mainspring Arts, a nonprofit that organizes creative projects for neurodivergent people. The Space We’re In is her debut novel. She lives outside of London with her boyfriend and their unbelievably lazy rescue dog.

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 book.

Fergus and Zeke and the Field Day Challenge by Kate Messner

Fergus and Zeke and the Field Day Challenge

Kate Messner, Author

Heather Ross, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Apr. 14, 2020

Pages: 51

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Classroom pets, Mice, School, Field Day, Competition

Opening: Fergus and Zeke always had fun in Miss Maxwell’s room. They did everything the children did.

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Fergus and Zeke love being the class pets in Miss Maxwell’s classroom. From science experiments to art projects, they do everything the students do. But on Field Day, none of the events are the right size for the small mice — the limbo is too easy, the high jump is too hard, and kickball is absolutely terrifying! So Fergus and Zeke create their own Field Day Challenge, with mouse-size tug-of-war, acorn throwing, and Hula-Hooping.

After all the fun and exercise, it’s time to go back to the classroom — but Fergus and Zeke are locked out! Will they be able to use their new skills to get inside in time for ice pops?

Why I like this book:

Best friends, Fergus and Zeke, are back for another adventure that is packed with humor and a lot mouse power. This is Kate Messner’s third book in her fun-loving Fergus and Zeke chapter book series for children who are learning to read on their own.

Kids will enjoy the suspense of these miniature-sized atheletes who can’t wait for Field Day. And despite their size, they are determined to compete with their classmates and find a creative way to to keep up with the class races. They may not be able to scramble beneath the teacher’s big parachute, so they create their own by using a recycled plastic grocery bag.

There are four chapters in the book with happy, expressive and colorful illustrations on each page — good for a lot of giggles. Make sure you check out the first two books, Fergus and Zeke and Fergus and Zeke at the Science Fair.

Kate Messner is passionately curious and writes books for kids who wonder, too. A former teacher, she has written more than thirty picture books, chapter books, and novels for young readers. She lives on Lake Champlain 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.

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

Snitchy Witch by Frank J. Sileo

Snitchy Witch

Frank J. Sileo, Author

MacKenzie Haley, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Sep. 10, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Tattling vs. Telling, Witches, School, Friendship, Halloween

Opening: It was a full moon at Camp Spellbound. Every year, witches from all over fly in on their brooms. It’s a hair-raising, fun time.

Book Synopsis:

Wanda Witch is a snitch. And Winnie and William and all the other witches at Camp Spellbound can only take so much! Will the snitchy witch find out on her own that she needs to stop snitching? Or will her friends need to use their magical powers to get Wanda to quit?

Why I like this book:

I love how Frank J. Sileo tackles the topic of tattling in a Halloween-themed story. There is a lot of fun word play and a great colorful cast of charachters.

Snitchy Witch is a story kids will understand whether they are the tattler or the teller. This is a perfect book to tackle social skills with children at home or in the classroom. Tattling can be hurtful to others and it can be isolating for the tattler. No one wants to be around a snitch.  It makes other kids angry. Telling is when something is not safe or in trouble.

Wanda is a spunky little witch who just won’t mind her own business. I enjoyed how the other little witches confront her on their own terms and share their feelings of anger and hurt. When Wanda continues to snitch, they cast a spell on her to teach her a lesson.

Oh moon so full, round, and bright. For witches who tattle, witches who snitch, tie their tongues, zip their lips! No witch shall squeal or tell on friends. This spell will be broken when the snitching ends!” 

MacKenzie Haley’s beautiful illustrations are lively, entertaining and colorful. Just look at that cover! She perfectly captures the snitching theme in a humorous tale of learning when it’s important to say something to a teacher/parent or try to work things out on your own.

Resources:  There is a Note to Grown-Up Witches at the end of the book about snitchy little witches. The guide will help little witches talk about the difference between “snitching” and “telling.” This is a great classroom exercise.

Frank J. Sileo, PhD, is a psychologist and the founder and executive director of The Center for Psychological Enhancement in Ridgewood, New Jersey.  He is the author of nine other award-winning children’s books, including Sally Sore Loser: A Story About Winning and Losing, Don’t Put Yourself Down in Circus Town: A Story About Self-Confidence, A World of Pausabilities: An Exercise in Mindfulness, Did You Hear?: A Story About Gossip, Bee Still: An Invitation to Meditation, and Bee Calm: The Buzz on Yoga. Visit  Sileo at his 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 the publisher.

Yes I Can!: A Girl and Her Wheelchair

Yes I can!: A Girl and Her Wheelchair

Kendra J. Barrett, Jacqueline B. Toner and Claire A. B. Freeland, Authors

Violet Lemay, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Nov. 20, 1018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Disabilities, Self-confidence, Abilities, School, Curiosity, Interaction, Kindness

Opening: This is Carolyn. Like many kids her age, Carolyn loves animals, castles, and building with blocks. She is helpful to her mom and dad and even to her baby brother.

Synopsis

Carolyn is a happy, energetic, caring first-grader who just happens to be in a wheelchair. She’s excited to start her new year of school and make new friends. The other students are curious about Carolyn because she uses a wheelchair. Some are accepting, while other kids are reluctant. Yes I Can! follows Carolyn on a typical day at home, at school, and even on a field trip! She can do almost everything the other kids can, even if sometimes she has to do it a little differently. The other kids become used to Carolyn and notice what she can do.

Why I like this book:

The authors have written a very uplifting story that focuses more on what Carolyn can do, than what she can’t do. Carolyn is very outgoing, social and wants to participate. And there are many things available to help children with disabilities adapt and participate.

I like how the teacher in the story handles Carolyn’s disability in her classroom. She makes sure Carolyn  feels included when she asks her to pass out papers, when she invites her to help with the morning song and when she makes sure she can accompany the class on a field trip.  This helps Carolyn feels less  isolated.

And the teacher has to deal with the other students’ curiosity.  Kids are naturally very curious about someone they may perceive as different. Some feel cautious and awkward. They don’t know what to say or how to act. And Carolyn’s teacher is very supportive, so that her school friends feel comfortable including her in school activities, recess, and lunch. The students hardly notice her disability.

The illustrations are expressive, warm and endearing. They show diversity which compliment the book’s theme.

Resources: The book includes a Note to Parents, Caregivers, and Teachers with more information on discussing disabilities with children and helping them to build positive, empathic relationships. I especially like the lists of questions with suggested answers that teachers can use.

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.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold

International Day of Peace, Sep. 21, 2018

All Are Welcome

Alexandra Penfold, Author

Suzanne Kaufman, Illustrator

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

Pages: 44

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Diversity, Inclusiveness, Classroom, School, Friendship

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

Publisher Synopsis:

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

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

Why I like this book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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