Brilliant Bea by Shaina Rudolph and Mary Vukadinovich

Brilliant Bea

Shaina Rudolph and Mary Vukadinovich, Authors

Fiona Lee, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Nov. 16, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Learning differences, Reading challenges, Dyslexia, Storytelling, School

Opening: “They say you imagination can take you anywhere. I remember when mine didn’t let me leave the classroom.”


Despite her struggles with reading and writing, Beatrice is a natural and brilliant storyteller. With help of a kind-hearted teacher, Beatrice uses an old-fashioned tape recorder to tell her stories in a whole new way. With her new approach, Beatrice is able to show her classmates who she really has been all along.

Brilliant Bea is an endearing story that demonstrates the power of expressing yourself and finding your unique strengths.

Why I like Brilliant Bee:

Shaina Rudolph and Mary Vukadinovich’s Brilliant Bea is an adorable and uplifting story that shows how a little girl discovers that learning differently from other students doesn’t define her. Even though reading and writing challenge Bea, she learns that she doesn’t need to feel embarrassed or afraid. She already expresses herself in many creative ways. 

Bea is a very expressive character. Like many children with dyslexia, Bea is very smart. She finds clever coping mechanisms and finds ways to distract the teacher with stories to avoid reading. Her teacher isn’t fooled and works with her. He recognizes she’s an excellent storyteller, so he hands her an old-fashioned tape recorder and encourages her to record her stories. 

I love how positive and supportive Bea’s parents are about her reading difficulties. Her mom says she “has a way with words.” Her dad says she’s a “real word slinger.” Her brother says she’s the “greatest storyteller on Earth.”  And once the kids in the class realize she tells good stories, they get involved in her adventures in a very fun and unique way.

Fiona Lee’s lively and colorful illustrations support the story plot and show a diverse group of characters. I particularly love her clever use of “sketches” on a white page to demonstrate Bea’s storytelling. 

The publisher uses a dyslexia-friendly Easy Reading font so that children with reading differences can read Bea’s story on their own. 

Resources: Make sure you check out the helpful Reader’s Note at the end of the story. There are wonderful questions that parents and teachers can use to begin a conversation with a child with dyslexia or other learning differences. This book is such a positive book to use with an entire classroom because it shows how they can support classmates with different learning styles.  

Shaina Rudolph is an author and educator in the Los Angeles area. She has worked alongside students with unique learning needs for the last 10 years. Shaina also co-authored All My Stripes: A Story for Children With Autism. Visit her @ShainaRudolph_ on Instagram.

Mary Vukadinovich has been working with students with language-based differences for the last 16 years. As a learning specialist in Los Angeles, Mary values the opportunity to teach diverse learners, including students with dyslexia. Mary believes all her students can be successful, and she is constantly inspired by how brightly they shine. Visit her at her @Mary_Vukadinovich on Instagram.

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.

Zora and Me: The Summoner by Victoria Bond

Zora & Me: The Summoner

Victoria Bond, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 13, 2020

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Zora Neale Hurston, Storyteller, African-American, Racism, Jim Crow South, Community, Loss, Grief


For Carrie and her best friend, Zora, Eatonville—America’s first incorporated Black township—has been an idyllic place to live out their childhoods. But when a lynch mob crosses the town’s border to pursue a fugitive and a grave robbery resuscitates the ugly sins of the past, the safe ground beneath them seems to shift. Not only has Zora’s own father—the showboating preacher John Hurston—decided to run against the town’s trusted mayor, but there are other unsettling things afoot, including a heartbreaking family loss, a friend’s sudden illness, and the suggestion of voodoo and zombie-ism in the air, which a curious and grieving Zora becomes all too willing to entertain.

In this fictionalized tale, award-winning author Victoria Bond explores the end of childhood and the bittersweet goodbye to Eatonville by preeminent author Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960). In so doing, she brings to a satisfying conclusion the story begun in the award-winning Zora and Me and its sequel, Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground, sparking inquisitive readers to explore Hurston’s own seminal work.

Why I like this book:

Victoria Bond captures the untamed spirit of the famous writer Zora Neale Hurston in this daunting story of her fictionalized childhood. In this final contribution to her celebrated trilogy, Bond deftly confronts the harsh realities of racism in Jim Crow’s south in 1905. Bond’s narrative is rich and poetic and the dialogue is suspenseful and humorous. The plot is haunting, gripping, and dangerous.

The story is set in Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated black township in the United States in 1887. The historical facts about the town, with the only black mayor, is fascinating. It is out in the middle of nowhere. The black community lives peacefully together for many years enjoying their freedom, owning their own businesses, and farming their own land. They have a church and pastor, a doctor, and a post office. All the children are enrolled in school. When trouble begins in 1905 with the lynching of a black fugitive followed by a series of other unsettling events, and the town of Eatonville is on edge.

The story is narrated by Zora’s best friend, Carrie, who knows that what ever problem or mystery the two friends may be chasing, always means trouble. Zora is a rambunctious and strong-willed character with a wild imagination. She loves telling stories and eventually begins to writing them down. Her sight, as Carrie notes, “is always set on the horizon.”

Other memorable characters include Old Lady Bronson, who is the town midwife, healer and wise woman.  Joe Clarke, who’s been Eatonville’s mayor for 18 years and also owns the general store, is anxious to expand the town.  Zora’s father, the boisterous Rev. John Thurston, pastor of the church, decides to run against the mayor. Zora’s mother, Lucy, is very ill and poor Chester Cools, a troubled soul. Mr. Calhoun is the kind school teacher who helps Zora during turbulent times. And Zora and Carrie’s friend Teddy Baker, is training to be a doctor with Dr. Brazzle.  All of the characters add intrigue to the story.

Zora & Me: The Summoner is both heart wrenching and inspiring. Bond’s deliberate pacing and tension will keep readers fully engaged. There are many surprises for readers. It is an exceptional story, that gives readers a “hint” of the famous author’s life. She inspired many black female authors, like Alice Walker, with her courage and strength, but didn’t benefit monetarily from all her writings.

Resources: Make sure you check out the biography of the remarkable Zora Neale Hurston and a timeline that chronicles her life, which are at the end of the story. And, read Carrie’s letter to her granddaughter at the beginning, as it will give you a snapshot of 1905 and her thoughts about Zora.

Amazon Review: “In the third and final volume of Zora and Me, readers are treated to a lustrous look at several facets of the anthropologist, folklorist, and novelist Zora Neale Hurston. . . . I sing the praises of what Victoria Bond has imagined and crafted here, both in deference to my aunt and as a way of honoring Zora’s legacy.” — Lucy Hurston, niece of Zora Neale Hurston

Greg Pattridge is the host for 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 exchange for a review.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

The Fantastic FLying Books174515865The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

William Joyce, author

Joe Bluhm, illustrator

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, 2012

Suitable for:  Ages 4-8

Themes:  Books, Love, Loss, Healing, Aging

Opening and brief synopsis“Morris Lessmore loved words.  He loved stories.  He loved books.  His life was a book of his own writing, one orderly page after another.  He would open it every morning and write of his joys and sorrows, of all that he knew and everything that he hoped for.”  One day there was a very bad storm that blew so hard that he lost his home and all the books he loved so much.  Not knowing what to do he started walking.  A lady drifted through the sky pulled by a bouquet of books.  The lady tossed down her favorite book and beckoned him to follow her to a strange building that housed books.  But the books in the building weren’t ordinary — they were extraordinary.   Many books required repair.  Morris started to restore and care for the books.  Some times he got lost in the books.  Morris shared the books with people.  And, once again he began to write in his own book.

Why I love this book:  The book is about life experiences — love, loss and healing.  Adults will enjoy this book.  It is a brilliant book that took William Joyce 13 years to write.  The book began as a tribute to a friend, but after Hurricane Katrina devastated  Joyce’s home state, his book was put on hold.  Joyce visited children in shelters and saw firsthand the healing power of books.  So the storm in the book is a combination of Katrina and the cyclone in the Wizard of Oz.   Joe Bluhm’s illustrations are stunning.  Bluhm uses brown hues similar to the opening of Oz, to give the stark effect of the storm in the book.  As Morris wanders, the book is full of colorful and expressive  illustrations.

Resources:  There are many themes that parents  and teachers can explore when reading this book with a children.   Since the idea grew out of Hurricane Katrina and the tragic losses, it would be a good time to discuss with kids what it means to lose everything and how you rebuild lives with the love and help of family and community.   Donated books were an escape for the kids of Katrina.  We’ve once again experienced devastation with Hurricane Isaac.  As a family you may want to donate to a reputable charity.   Another way to help displaced children in your community is to have your kids donate used books to local organizations.  The book also is about imagination and reading.  Be creative and encourage your kids to make a mobile of their favorite book cover titles to hang in their room, similar to the flying woman and the books.

Visit William Joyce at his website.  Joyce first won an Academy Award for his short film The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, then turned the film into this imaginative book.  I’ve include a short clip of the video, but the entire film is available on YouTube.   The book also is available as an iPad app.


To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Grandpa’s Tractor

In my last post I reviewed books about children learning the stories and traditions of their elders.  Now I want to share Grandpa’s Tractor, written by a  favorite illustrator and writer, Michael Garland.  His illustrations are bold, colorful, lively and spellbinding.   Each picture could stand alone.  As I sit and gaze at his first picture of Grandpa on his red tractor in a field at sunset, I can  feel the strange stickiness that clings to the grass as it cools at the end of the day, and hear the crickets begin their nightly song.   Children will delight in Grandpa’s story, and adults will reminisce about a time long ago.

Grandpa Joe and Timmy are on their way to visit the old farm where Grandpa Joe grew up.  Although the boarded-up farmhouse has been sold long ago, there was something special Grandpa Joe wanted to show Joey — a tractor that sat rusting in the tall weeds.   The site of the tractor floods Grandpa Joe with memories of when he was a boy and the tractor was new and bright red.   He takes Timmy on an imaginative journey about his life on the farm.  Grandpa remembers sitting on his dad’s lap and steering the tractor as they plowed the fields to plant corn or alfalfa to feed the cows.   Grandpa shows how the tractor is the center of farm life  as we pass through the seasons from planting, to harvesting, to hauling firewood for the winter and cutting down the perfect pine tree for Christmas.

Garland’s inspiration for Grandpa’s Tractor, came from an old rusty tractor near his home.  He passed the tractor for years before he began to imagine “a farmer getting off that tractor fifty years ago, and never getting back on.”   One day he knocked on the door of the farmhouse and met the farmer who had owned the tractor.  The farmer was happy to share the legacy of his tractor and life on the farm.

Garland’s books speak to children.  He is a versatile author and illustrator of many popular books including his latest Miss Smith Under the Ocean, Miss Smith’s Incredible Storybook, Miss Smith and the Haunted Library,  The Fourth of July, Snow Day,  Christmas City, The Mouse Before Christmas,  King Puck,  Mystery Mansion and Last Night at the Zoo.   He has a new release coming out Sept. 1,  Oh, What a Christmas.

Passing the Music Down, and The First Music

Passing the Music Down, by Sarah Sullivan and illustrated by Barry Root for children 4-8 yrs.    This engaging book is about traditions and the friendship that forms between a  boy and an old-time fiddle player living in Appalachia.  This true story is inspired by the relationship of two musicians, Melvin Wine and Jake Krack and the bond they form despite their 75-year age difference.  Melvin, a coal minor, was born and raised in West Virginia, where his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all been musicians.  They passed their music down through their families.   The author has done a lovely job of capturing the spirit and rhythm of Melvin and his music, through her lyrical text.  The illustrations are bold pastel paintings and capture the essence of the story.

A boy from Indiana travels with his fiddle all the way to the hills of Appalachia to hear the old man play his fiddle.  Eager to learn from the man, the boy asks him to “teach me all your tunes?”  For the boy wants to play just like the fiddler.   The fiddler listens to how the boy plays, and invites his parents to pay a visit at his farm where they  play some old-time tunes “older than the towns.”  The family moves nearby so the boy can study with the old man.  They settle deep inside the music creating a bond so strong that the man begins to share his stories with the boy.  The boy develops into a fine musician and travels with the old man playing at American Folk festivals.  As the boy grows into a man, he keeps his promise to the old man, to pass the music down.

The First Music, written by Dylan Pritchett and illustrated by Erin Bennett Banks for children 4-8 yrs.   Pritchett has had a fascination with African storytelling  for years.  He gives 200 storytelling performances a year.  He is the president of the National Association of Black Storytellers.  Prichett’s storytelling takes children to another level filled with rhythm and  sounds.   Again, another way to pass along the history and traditions.   Banks is a master in the use of texture in the oil paintings, which enhance this beautiful storytelling.

The animals living in the west African forest make many sounds.  There are Owls that hoot, hyenas that yelp, parrots that screech, monkeys that chitter and crocodiles that snort.  The frogs sit on their pads in silence.  Everyday more animals join in — an elephant, a crane, a buffalo, a lioness, a hawk — and they play and dance to the sounds each contributes.  The frogs listen and ponder.  Then one morning at day break, a new sound is heard in the forest — Reep-reep-ree!  The frogs have joined the chorus, and realize that when it comes to making music, everyone has something to offer.   And, that’s how every animal in the African forest helps keep the music alive.   This book is alive with sounds, so as you read the story to children, they too can become the chorus and experience the sounds.

My Selections:  I chose these book because in this busy world, our young people are not learning the traditions of their elders, whether it be music, family stories or history.   When meeting with author Greg Mortenson last fall, he commented that when he asked children in Pakistan and Afghanistan if they know their family stories, all their hands shot up.  When he asked the same questions of America students, only a few hands were raised.    So I mention these stories, hoping it will inspire you to share your family traditions and stories with your children.   Encourage them to talk with their grandparents and great-grandparents about their lives.