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.

Just Under the Clouds by Melissa Sarno

Just Under the Clouds

Melissa Sarno, Author

Knopf Books for Young Readers, Jun. 5, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-11

Pages: 225

Themes: Siblings, Family relationships, Loss, Homelessness, Shelter life, Belonging, Difference, Nature

Book Synopsis:

Always think in threes and you’ll never fall, Cora’s father told her when she was a little girl. Two feet, one hand. Two hands, one foot. That was all Cora needed to know to climb the trees of Brooklyn.

But now Cora is a middle schooler, a big sister, and homeless. Her mother is trying to hold the family together after her father’s death, but they are evicted from their home. Cora must look after her sister, Adare, who’s just different, their mother insists. Quick to smile, Adare hates wearing shoes, rarely speaks, and appears untroubled by the question Cora can’t help but ask: How will she find a place to call home?

After their room at the shelter is ransacked, Cora’s mother looks to an old friend for help, and Cora finally finds what she’s been looking for: Ailanthus altissima, the “tree of heaven,” which can grow in even the worst conditions. It sets her on a path to discover a deeper truth about where she really belongs.

Just Under the Clouds will take root in your heart and blossom long after you’ve turned the last page.

Why I like this book:

I am always searching for books on homelessness.  And Melissa Sarno’s, Just Under the Clouds, offers readers a different perspective of how we view the homeless in a raw, heartbreaking, touching and hopeful way. Not all homeless people live on the streets. It’s a reminder that anyone can unexpectedly find themselves in a similar situation. When Cora’s father dies, her family is eventually evicted from their home.

The story is more character-driven than it is about the plot. Yes, the family moves from run-down apartments to homeless shelters where their safety is always an issue. But this beautiful lyrical story focuses a variety of relationships between family, friends and school. Cora is courageous and resilient and shoulders the responsibility of her sister, Adare, who is born special — her brain is deprived of oxygen at birth. Adare is my favorite character, because she has a unique perception of the world. She has a soft-song voice, says hello to everyone, stares endlessly at the sky, spins in the rain and befriends cats and crows.

Cora’s relationship with a quirky friend, Sabina, offers a happy balance to the story. Cora’s mother is an artist, who has to give up her talent to take low-paying jobs to support the family. When her mother’s childhood friend, Willa, invites them into her classy apartment, Cora is hopeful she can finally stay in one place. But how long will her mother accept Willa’s help?

The one constant in Cora’s life is her father’s “tree journal,” which he left her. He loved to map out trees in their community. Cora picks up where he has left off and it helps her feel close to her dad. She maps the trees around her, draws pictures and records seasonal information. There is a lot of symbolism for Cora ash she searches for her own “roots.”

Just Under the Clouds has a heartwarming message about understanding the struggle of others. It is a story that will create empathy among readers. It should be required reading for youth because the face of homelessness is changing.

Melissa Sarno is a freelance writer and editor with and MFA in screenwriting. She lives in the Lower Hudson Valley of New York with her family. Visit her at her website and follow her on Twitter at @melissasarno.

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*Copy: Library