Sweet Pea Summer by Hazel Mitchell

Sweet Pea Summer

Hazel Mitchell, Author & Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Apr. 13, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Family, Gardening, Nature, Intergenerational relationships, Separation, Health 

Opening: “Mom had to go into the hospital, so Dad was taking me to Grandpa and Grandma’s house for summer vacation.”

Publisher’s Synopsis

A young girl must stay with her grandparents while her mother is in the hospital. At first, it’s hard at first to focus on anything but missing and worrying about her mom. But then Grandpa suggests that she help out in his garden. And what a garden it is! There are rows and rows of vegetables and all kinds of flowers, but the most beautiful of all are Grandpa’s sweet peas. Maybe, Grandpa suggests, she can take care of them over the summer and enter them into the flower show.

Nothing seems to go right with the sweet peas. No matter what she does, the flowers keep dying. Until finally, the mystery is solved—but will the sweet peas bloom in time for the show? If only her mother were there . . .

With warm, child-friendly illustrations and a simple narration, author-illustrator Hazel Mitchell tells a timeless story about holding on to hope in hard times and finding the strength and determination to see it through. A brief author’s note at the end offers a bit of history and a few details about sweet peas for aspiring gardeners.

What’s to love about this story

Hazel Mitchell has written and illustrated a book that is full of heart and joy. It is a timeless story about a girl finding hope during a challenging time in her life. Readers aren’t told what is wrong with her mother, so it leaves this story wide-open for discussion about short parent-child separations.  

The intergenerational relationship between the girl and her grandfather shines. He puts her in charge of the sweet pea garden and shows her how to remove old seedpods, tie stems to canes, weed and water the plants with his secret formula. The girl takes pride in her work.

When there is a problem with the sweet peas, it is the girl who researches gardening books, wraps the plants with blankets, and shades the plants from the sun with her Grandma’s umbrellas. When nothing makes a difference, she puts on her thinking cap and discovers why the blooms are fulling off and dying.

Mitchell’s warm and happy illustrations capture an English countryside with cottages surrounded by low stonewalls, friendly neighbors chatting, and children walking dogs. And grandpa’s garden is a wonder to behold for any child eager to help. Mitchell’s artwork is plump with details that kids will enjoy. This book is a perfect gift book and summer read.  

Resources: Encourage kids to help in the flower or vegetable garden, if you have one. If you don’t have a garden, pick out some flower pots and grow tomatoes plants or flowers, including sweet peas. Make sure they know all about what they are planting and put them in charge of watering and weeding.  At the end of the book, Mitchell includes a special note about Sweet Peas. 

Hazel Mitchell is the author-illustrator of Toby, as well as the illustrator of numerous books for children. Originally from Yorkshire, England, she now lives in Maine.

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.

 

Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away by Meg Medina

Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away

Meg Medina, Author

Sonia Sánchez, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Sep. 8, 2020

Suitable for ages: 5-7

Themes: Best friends, Moving, Separation, Memories,

Opening: “Evelyn Del Re is my mejor amiga, my número uno best friend. “Come play, Daniela,” she says, just like she always does. Just like today is any other day.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Evelyn Del Rey is Daniela’s best friend, her mejor amiga. But after today, everything will be different. After today, Evelyn won’t live in a mirror-image apartment across the street. Today Evelyn Del Rey is moving away.

The two girls spend on last afternoon together in Evelyn’s apartment, playing among the boxes, until the apartment is empty and it’s time to say their goodbyes. They promise to visit and keep in touch, and, though they will be apart, they know they will always be each other’s first best friend, their número uno.

Why I like this book:

Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away is a touching story of about two best friends playing one last day together. They hide in big empty boxes, romp through the apartment, spin in circles, and hide from the adults.  As the house slowly empties everything familiar begins to disappear. They chat about how the many ways that they will keep in touch and seal their promise with heart stickers they press upon each other’s cheek.  A lovely reminder that best friends will always remain in our hearts even when they are separated by distance.

In Medina’s heartfelt story, she shows how the girls deep bond is mirrored with their similar apartments directly across the street from each other. And Sonia Sánchez’s glorious and emotive illustrations show a string that is strung from one bedroom window to the other — a reminder of their best friend heartstring connection. There is beauty and love on every page. This joyful account of friendship will charm readers.

Resources: Make sure you check out the teacher’s guide, activity guide and free coloring pages at Candlewick.

Meg Medina is the author of the Newbery Medal-winning book Merci Suárez Changes Gears. She is also the author of the award-winning young adult novels and the picture books Mango, Abuela, and Me, illustrated by Angela Dominguez, which as a Pura Belpré Book, and Tia Isa Wants a Car, illustrated by Claudio Munoz, which won the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award. The daughter of Cuban immigrants, she grew up in Queens, New York, and now lives in Richmond, Virginia.

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 copy provided by Candlewick in exchange for a review.

All the Impossible Things by Lindsay Lackey

All the Impossible Things

Lindsay Lackey, Author

Roaring Brook Press, Fiction, Sep. 3, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Foster Families, Separation, Addiction, Rescue Animals, Friendship, Magic

Book Synopsis:

Red’s inexplicable power over the wind comes from her mother. Whenever Ruby “Red” Byrd is scared or angry, the wind picks up. And being placed in foster care, moving from family to family, tends to keep her skies stormy. Red knows she has to learn to control it, but can’t figure out how.

This time, the wind blows Red into the home of the Grooves, a quirky couple who run a petting zoo, complete with a dancing donkey, a goat that climbs trees and a giant tortoise. With their own curious gifts, Celine and Jackson Groove seem to fit like a puzzle piece into Red’s heart.

But just when Red starts to settle into her new life, a fresh storm rolls in, one she knows all too well: her mother. For so long, Red has longed to have her mom back in her life, and she’s quickly swept up in the vortex of her mother’s chaos. Now Red must discover the possible in the impossible if she wants to overcome her own tornadoes and find the family she needs.

Why I like this book:

Lindsay Lackey’s debut novel speaks powerfully of Red’s deep anger and hurt, which takes the form of strong winds and tornadoes when she loses control of her emotional pain. Her story is as captivating and healing as it is heartbreaking. I

The plot is complex, realistic and skillfully executed. It digs deeply into many themes that include 10-year-old Red’s loss of her “Gamma” three years earlier, her mother’s drug addiction and imprisonment, and her unsuccessful placements in several foster homes. She has a fresh start when the Grooves, welcome her into their home. They have a farm and petting zoo full of rescue animals.

The characters are believable, vulnerable and memorable. Red is somewhat detached at first and finds a healing bond with Tuck, a 400-pound tortoise. She makes friends with a Hawaiian boy, Marvin, who is really into sharing his culture and helps Red with a special project. Red is surprised to find kindred spirits in Celine and Jackson, a middle-aged couple who immediately love her. They support Red in her desire to leave the foster care system and be reunited with her mother, Wanda. And they are there for her when she realizes that they are her forever family.

There is a tad of magic in this story. Both Red and her mother’s power stir up wind storms, has both a magical and emotional quality about it. And, Celine’s ability to make the stars sing when she and Red gaze into the heavens at night. Red hears their songs an finds they soothe her. It really isn’t explained, but I was okay with the wonder of it all. And the fabulous cover shouts magic and will attract readers.

Lindsay Lackey has trained as an opera singer, worked in children’s and teen services at a public library, and worked for a major publishing house in publicity and marketing. All the Impossible Things is her debut novel. Visit Lindsay 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.

On Snowden Mountain by Jeri Watts

On Snowden Mountain

Jeri Watts, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 10, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 208

Themes: Mental illness, Separation, WW ll, Abuse, Mountain community, Friendship

Book Synopsis:

Ellen’s mother has struggled with depression before, but not like this. With her father away fighting in World War II and her mother unable to care for them, Ellen’s only option is to reach out to her cold, distant Aunt Pearl. Soon enough, city-dwelling Ellen and her mother are shepherded off to the countryside to Aunt Pearl’s home, a tidy white cottage at the base of Snowden Mountain.

Adjusting to life in a small town is no easy thing: the school has one room, one of her classmates smells of skunks, and members of the community seem to whisper about Ellen’s family. She worries that depression is a family curse to which she’ll inevitably succumb, Ellen slowly begins to carve out a space for herself and her mother on Snowden Mountain in this thoughtful, heartfelt middle-grade novel.

Why I like this book:

Jeri Watts has written a richly textured story with a heartwarming narrative about the bond of family, community and their connection to each other. I meandered my way through this story which culminated in a satisfying ending that left me feeling hopeful for Ellen, her family and friends.

The characters are colorful. Ellen is resilient even though her mother is lost to a spell of deep sadness within and her father overseas serving his country. This Baltimore city girl has a lot to get used to living with lively Aunt Pearl — no indoor plumbing, no electricity and outhouses.  Aunt Pearl is a strong woman who speaks her mind. She is stern on the outside and creates a safe space (with structure and hard work) for Ellen, but on the inside she is a generous soul. Ellen develops a friendship with a creative and sensitive boy, Russell Armentrout (Skunk Boy) can’t read or write because he is forced to trap skunks by his drunk and abusive father. Russell teaches Ellen about the nature around her and the special traits of animals. Ellen teaches him to read and count. She also meets other memorable characters who impact her life like Moselle Toms, the town gossip and troublemaker and Miss Spencer, the school teacher.

Watts introduces the reader to some heavy topics: parental separation, mental illness (depression and bipolar disorders), alcoholism, physical and emotional abuse (both child and spousal).  Both Ellen and Russell form a bond as they confront the issues of their parents. These are timely and important issues that many readers will easily identify with. This is an excellent discussion book for students.

Favorite Quotes:

She was right. It was “very different” from Baltimore. There were no streetlights, so velvet darkness wrapped around us that night — a dark of such depth I felt it cloaking me so tightly that I was strangling in it.  So soft, so smooth — and yet so deep as to swallow you.”

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.

You Weren’t With Me by Chandra Ghosh Ippen

You Weren’t with Me

Chandra Ghosh Ippen, Author

Erich Ippen Jr., Illustrator

Piplo Productions, Fiction, Feb. 12, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Separation, Fear, Understanding, Love, Healing

Book Synopsis:

Little Rabbit and Big Rabbit are together after a difficult separation, but even though they missed each other, Little Rabbit is not ready to cuddle up and receive Big Rabbit’s love. Little Rabbit needs Big Rabbit to understand what it felt like when they were apart. “Sometimes I am very mad. I don’t understand why you weren’t with me,” says Little Rabbit. “I worry you will go away again.” Big Rabbit listens carefully and helps Little Rabbit to feel understood and loved. This story was designed to help parents and children talk about difficult separations, reconnect, and find their way back to each other.

What I like about this book:

Chandra Ghosh Ippen’s timely book addresses  a wide variety of painful situations in which a child is separated from a parent: divorce, military deployments, parental incarcerations, parental drug abuse and immigration-related separations. Indeed it is a treasure!  We need more stories like this to help jump-start the important conversations about challenging separations between children and parents. Only then can healing begin.

The animals characters make this book a perfect choice in dealing with tough issues. It isn’t a happy homecoming story, as both Little Rabbit and Big Rabbit have to learn to deal with their feelings and get use to each other. Little Rabbit is angry that Big Rabbit left, worries he/she may leave again and doesn’t trust it won’t happen again. The author gives Little Rabbit time to share his concerns before Big Rabbit responds and they find a way to reconnect.

Ippen’s illustrations are rendered in soft pastels and are priceless. The text is minimal with the illustrations carrying much of the story. There is an occasional burst of color that signals the feelings being shared. I especially like the physical distance and space between the rabbits throughout the story.  Little Rabbit needs time and space until trust is established again.  Slowly they move closer to one another. And the facial expressions are spot on for the feelings being communicated. Great collaboration between the author and illustrator.

Resource: This book is a resource due to the way it is written. It will encourage many important discussions. I think it would be fun to take some of the expressive illustrations and have children fill in their own dialogue.

Chandra Ghosh Ippen combines her love of story and cute creatures with her training in clinical psychology. She is the author of Once I Was Very Very Scared. She has also co-authored over 20 publications related to trauma and diversity-informed practice and has over 10 years of experience conducting training nationally and Internationally.

Erich Ippen Jr. was always interested as a boy to drawing cartoons and character designs. In his professional career, he has created visual effects for movies like Rango, Harry Potter, The Avengers, Star Wars and many other films. He is also a singer, songwriter, music producer and founding member of the local San Francisco band, District 8.

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 author.

Terrific Toddlers Series – Boo-Boo! – Bye-Bye! – All Mine!

The Terrific Toddlers is a new series of books, written by Carol Zeavin and Rhona Silverbush and illustrated by Jon Davis. The  explore important topics for active and curious  toddlers ages 2-3 — injury, sharing and separation anxiety — all a big deal for little ones. They are perfect lap books for children when they seek comforting and support.

Boo-Boo!

Magination Press, Fiction, Oct. 30, 2018

JoJo likes to fun FAST! When she falls down and hurts her chin, her dad tries to help her boo-boo. But JoJo is scared! JoJo screams when Daddy tries to wash her boo-boo.  And she doesn’t want a Band-Aid! JoJo puts a Band-Aid on Daddy’s nose. Her dad helps her understand that boo-boos aren’t so scary. Boo-Boo! is a book for toddlers about small cuts and scrapes.  The book includes information about helping toddlers with minor injuries.

Bye-Bye!!

Magination Press, Fiction, Oct. 30, 2018

Sometimes It’s hard for JoJo, Kai and Ava to say goodbye to Mom and Dad! There are tears and anger. Even if it’s for a short amount of time, Mom and Dad reassure them not to worry because they will always come back. When their parents return there are hugs and kisses. Bye-Bye! is a book written for toddlers about separation. The story includes information about helping toddlers with saying goodbye.

All Mine!

Magination Press, Fiction, Oct. 30, 2018

Ava, Kai, and JoJo are playing with their toys at school, but they aren’t ready to share and take turns! Ava wants the fancy hat Kai is wearing and grabs it. The teacher offers Ava  a sparkly necklace. In the kitchen Ava is playing puts a carrot on a plate. JoJo grabs the carrot. Can the teacher help them out? All Mine! is a book written for toddlers and their caregivers about toddlers’ need to feel ownership, so they can better navigate this tricky time in their development when everything is “All Mine!”

What I like about this series:

The Terrific Toddlers  books are 12 pages long, perfect for short attention spans. Each book is 8×6 inches,  just the right size for toddlers small hands. This is a great go-to series when children are dealing with scary feelings that they don’t understand and have a difficult time communicating.  Everything is a big deal.

Carol Zeavin and Rhona Silverbush books are written in simple, childlike language which is reflective of children’s everyday realities. The Terrific Toddlers series is based on understanding the developmental level of young toddlers.

JoJo, Kai and Ava all appear in the series, lending a familiarity and continuity for toddlers. I like the diversity throughout the books and the emphasis on gender neutrality as the toddlers play together. The soft and soothing pastel illustrations Jon Davis by are expressive and playful.

Resources: Each book includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers about helping and supporting their toddlers through difficult moments.

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.

Wish by Barbara O’Connor

Wish

Barbara O’Connor, Author

Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Aug. 30, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Separation, Dogs, Family Relationships, Friendship, Social Issues, Hope

Synopsis: Charlemagne (Charlie) Reese has been making the same secret wish every day since fourth grade. Charlie knows all the ways to make a wish, like looking at a clock at exactly 11:11, finding a four-leaf clover, spotting a shiny penny in the dirt, observing a black cat cross the road or blowing on a dandelion. But when she is sent to live with and aunt and uncle she barely knows in a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, it seems unlikely that her wish will ever come true. That is until she meets Wishbone, a skinny stray dog who captures her heart, and Howard a neighbor boy who proves surprising in lots of ways. Suddenly Charlie is in danger of discovering that what she though she wanted may not be at all what she needs.

Why I like this book:

Wish is a richly textured an emotionally honest story about separation. Charlie’s father is in jail. Her mother is depressed and unable to care for her. Barbara O’Connor weaves together a moving story about friendship, belonging and finding family.

Wish is told from Charlie’s viewpoint. The narrative is seamless and the plot is well-paced with just the right amount of adventure and tension to keep readers turning pages.  It is also a beautiful story that is filled with heart and teaches the power and bond of community. Add a dog and you have the perfect read for teens.

Charlie is a spunky and resilient character with a temper, which she believes she inherited. She later regrets the mean and hurtful things she says. At first she hates Colby, N.C., the hillbilly kids and the ugly house she lives in that sits on the edge of a cliff. But she also shows her compassion to people and animals who are worth caring about — even though they are different or may be a scrawny stray dog she names Wishbone.  Howard is a great balance for Charlie. He has one leg shorter than the other and has dealt with mean kids and teasing his whole life.  He is kindhearted and has learned to forgive and accept others for who they are — a big lesson for Charlie. She even tests Uncle Gus and Aunt Bertha with her outbursts, but their love and patience give Charlie a sense of belonging.

Barbara O’Connor was born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina. She has written many award-winning books for children, including How to Steal a Dog and The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester. Visit Barbara O’Connor at her website.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.