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.

The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story by Aya Khalil

The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story

Aya Khalil, Author

Anait Semirdzhyan, Illustrator

Tilbury House Publishers, Fiction, Feb. 18, 2020

Suitable for ages: 6-8

Themes: Quilt, Immigration, Egypt, Bilingual, School, Prejudice, Inclusion, Diversity, Friendship

Opening: “Kanzi, habibti, your’e going to be late to the first day of school,” Mama calls.

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Kanzi’s family has moved from Egypt to America, and she wants very much to fit in. Maybe that’s why on her first day in her new school, she forgets to take the kofta sandwich her mother has made for her lunch, but that backfires when Mama shows up at school with the sandwich. Mama wears a hijab and calls her daughter Habibti (dear one). When she leaves, the teasing starts.

That night, Kanzi wraps herself in the beautiful Arabic quilt her teita (grandma) in Cairo gave her. She writes a poem about her beloved quilt. It smells like Teita’s home in Cairo, and that comforts Kanzi. What she doesn’t know yet is that the quilt will help her make new friends.

Why I like this book:

The Arabic Quilt is a compassionate and feel-good book for immigrant children who are bilingual and starting a new school. They want so badly to fit in with and be accepted by the other children, even though they may dress a little differently and bring an ethnic lunch from home.

Kanzi’s teacher handles a difficult situation with such creativity. Kanzi writes a poem about her Arabic quilt and shares it with her teacher. The teacher asks Kanzi to bring her quilt to share with the other students. They think it’s cool and want to make a classroom quilt. The teacher invites Kanzi’s mom to teach the students how to write their names in Arabic for their quilt squares. Completed, the quilt is hung on the wall outside the classroom.

I love that this celebratory story of cultural traditions, acceptance, and inclusion is based on the author’s own childhood experiences, after immigrating to the US from Egypt. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it will put a smile on your face.

Anait Semirdzhyan’s lively and expressive illustrations are beautiful and full of details. Make sure you check out the Arabic names on the quilt.

Resources: This is an excellent classroom or school project that will help unite kids of all cultures.  Make sure you check out the Glossary of Arabic Words at the end with Arabic letters and English words derived from Arabic, like zero, algebra, candy, sugar and coffee.

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 library copy.

Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem by Kate DiCamillo

Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem: Tales from Deckawoo Drive #5

Kate DiCamillo, Author

Chris Van Dusen, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Jun. 9, 2020

Suitable for ages: 6 – 9

Themes: School, Poetry, Metaphors, Arguement, Friendship

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Stella Endicott loves her teacher, Miss Liliana, and she is thrilled when the class is assigned to write a poem. Stella crafts a beautiful poem about Mercy Watson, the pig who lives next door — a poem complete with a metaphor and full of curiosity and courage.

But Horace Broom, Stella’s irritating classmate, insists that Stella’s poem is full of lies and that pigs do not live in houses. And when Stella and Horace get into a shouting match in the classroom, Miss Liliana banishes them to the principal’s office. Will the two of them find a way to turn this opposite-of-a-poem day around?

Why I like this book:

Kate DiCamillo’s sweetly satisfying chapter book speaks to children about everyday struggles that are inherhent with school and friendships. As the title eludes to, the theme in this story is anything is possible — even a pig that sleeps on a couch and a friendship with a boy, who metaphorically speaking, is an overblown balloon.

Stella is a spirited, imaginative and determined. She looks for the good in situations. Horace is smug and a know-it-all. When Stella and Horace are sent to principal’s office, Horace buckles in fear. Not Stella. She remembers that “in good stories, the characters face their fate with curiosity and courage” and leads the way. And throughout the story Stella reminds herself that surprises are everywhere and that anything is possible.

The story introduces children to writing poetry and using a metaphor in their poem. It becomes a game for Stella as she begins to see metaphors in everything around her.  The story is also peppered with a few large words like, absconder. The book has seven chapters with 85 pages, perfect for elementary students learning to read longer books.

Chris Van Dusen’s pen and ink illustrations are lively, expressive and entertaining. They are perfect for text.

Make sure you check out the first four books in the Deckawoo Drive series: Leroy Ninker Saddles Up,  Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon, Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln?, Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package.

Kate DiCamillo is the beloved author of many books for young readers, including the Mercy Watson and Tales from Deckawoo Drive series. Her books Flora & Ulysses, and The Tale of Despereaux both received Newbery Medals. Her first published middle grade novel, Because of Winn-Dixie, snapped up a Newbery Honor. The Tiger Rising, her second novel, also went on to become a National Book Award finalist.  She has almost 30 million books in print worldwide. She is a former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy from the publisher in 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.

Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord

Because of the Rabbit

Cynthia Lord, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Mar. 26, 2019

Pages: 192

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Rabbit, Rescue, New school, Feeling different, Special Needs, Friendship

Book Synopsis:

It is a powerful thing to rescue something. It changes both of you.

On the last night of summer vacation, Emma tags along with her game warden father on a call. They expect to rescue a wild rabbit that’s stuck in a picket fence, but instead they find a honey-colored little bunny, maybe someone’s pet. Emma convinces her father to bring him home for the night. She knows that rabbits can be lucky — and she needs all the luck she can get.

Because the next day, Emma starts public school for the very first time. After years of being homeschooled, she’s ready to ride the bus and eat in a cafeteria as a brand new fifth grader. More than anything, Emma wants a best friend, someone who’s always on her side.

But things don’t go as planned. On the first day of school, she’s paired with a boy named Jack for a project. He can’t stay on topic, he speaks out of turn, and he’s obsessed with animals. Jack does not fit in.

As Emma and Jack bond over her rescue rabbit, she worries that being seen with Jack will mean that’s she’s different, too. Will their friendship keep Emma from finding the best friend she’s meant to have?

Why I like this book:

A heart warming story about the bond between Emma and a rabbit that helps her face some major changes in her life. This sweet honey-colored rabbit nuzzles her neck and her worries melt away. She names him Monsieur Lapin, after a rabbit character in her deceased grandfather’s magical stories. Perhaps Pépère (grandfather) may be sending some rabbit magic and her life will be okay.

Lord writes characters with depth. I really enjoyed Emma’s relationship with her brother, Owen, and the clever banter between them that runs throughout the story. For example on Emma’s first day of school, Owen asks her, “So who’s ahead. Scared or Excited?” Emma responds, “excited has been training all summer for this day. Scared forgot to eat breakfast.”  Owen slides a rock into her hand that says, “Be Yourself,” and tells her to look at it when she needs it most. Their sibling relationship sealed Lord’s story for me, because it is such special and unusual. And Emma’s relationship with a classmate, Jack, who is on the on the autism spectrum, took time to develop and was well worth the outcome. Jack knows a lot of facts about rabbits and their relationship is sealed with their love of animals.

Each chapter of the book starts with a torn piece of notebook paper with a rabbit fact: “If a rabbit refuses food, it can quickly become an emergency,” or “Rabbits are the third-most surrendered pets to animals shelters, behind dogs and cats.” Fun tidbits readers will enjoy.

I enjoyed learning about at the end how Lord explains how her books begin from a tiny  “seed” of her real life and allows it to percolate over time until a story begins to form. And yes, she has rabbits.  Many of the characters in this story are based on family members, including her son who has a sensory issues. She beautifully weaves them into her story.

Cynthia Lord is the award-winning author of Rules, a Newbery Honor Book and a Schneider Family Book Award winner, as well as the critically acclaimed Half a Chance and A Handful of Stars. She made her picture-book debut with Hot Rod Hamster, which won several awards, including the Parents’ Choice Award, and is the author of the Shelter Pet Squad chapter book series. She lives in Maine with her family. Visit her 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.

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

Harbor Me

Jacqueline Woodson, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, Aug. 28, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 10 -12

Themes: School, Friendship, Diversity, Open-minded dialogue, Deportation, Racism, Loss, Empathy, Courage

Synopsis: It all starts when six kids are sent to a room for a weekly chat – by themselves, with no adults to listen in. At first they fear this new unfamiliar and wonder what on earth they’ll even talk about. But in the place they dub the ARTT (“A Room to Talk”), they discover it’s safe to discuss stuff they usually keep private.

A father has recently gone missing, and that starts a conversation about the things causing angst their lives, from racial profiling and fears of deportation to a deep yearning for family history and a sense of belonging. When the six of them are together, they find they can express the feelings and fears they usually hide from the world. And together, they can grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives.

With her always honest, lyrical writing, acclaimed author Jacqueline Woodson celebrates the power of friendship, open-minded dialogue and empathy. Harbor Me digs in deep to show how so many of America’s social issues affect today’s kids — and they creatively learn to forge their way in spite of them.

Why I like this book:

Jacqueline Woodson’s Harbor Me is a powerful and timely book that is soulful and moving. Her first-person narrative is intimate and perfect for this poetic story. The setting, the characters, the plot and the imagery are brilliantly intertwined to create an exceptional experience for readers. They will feel the awkward silence of being in an unfamiliar place with six diverse students with only one rule — to treat each other with respect. Otherwise, they can talk about anything.

Woodson’s focus on 5th and 6th graders is perfect, because it is such a transitional time in the lives of kids. They want to be cool, but still have an urge to play with Nerf water guns and American Girl dolls. The boys voices haven’t deepened. There are no boyfriend/girlfriend relationships. They are six students who develop a lasting bond because they are able to share their secrets, feelings and fears in an honest way. They become best friends.

The characters, two girls and four boys, are memorable. Their backgrounds differ, but each one has a story to share in a place with a group of friends where they feel safe and supported. Twelve-year-old Haley narrates. She is bi-racial and longs for a real family life. Her mother was killed in a car accident, her father is in prison and her uncle cares for her. Her best friend Holly is fidgety and has trouble censoring herself. Esteban’s father is an undocumented immigrant who is taken from his job. Esteban is desperate to find out news of his father’s whereabouts and what it means for his family. Ashton is the only Caucasian in the group and is bullied by older students who call him Ghostboy and Paleface. Amari hides behind his artwork, but shares his feelings about racial profiling. Tiago is from Puerto Rico and speaks Spanish and English. His puppy dies and he struggles with feeling at home in America.

This is a celebratory book of the human spirit for six young people coming of age. The plot is distinctly realistic, honest, brave and complicated. It tackles relevant topics young people deal with daily. During their Friday group discussions, they learn to be vulnerable, build trust, listen without judgement and be sensitive each others challenges — a recipe that allows kindness, empathy and freedom to blossom. I highly recommend this novel. It belongs in school libraries as it is an important classroom discussion book.

Jacqueline Woodson is the 2018-19 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. She received the 2018 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and the 2018 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. Her memoir Brown Girl Dreaming won the 2014 National Book Award and was a NY Times Bestseller. Her adult novel, Another Brooklyn, was a National Book Award finalist and an Indie Pick in 2016. Jacqueline is the author of nearly thirty books for young people and adults including Each Kindness, If You Come Softly, Locomotion and I Hadn’t Meant To Tell You This.  She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.

Greg Pattridge hosts the 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.

Book: Library copy.

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.

Blossom Plays Possum by Birdy Jones

Blossom Plays Possum: Because She’s Shy

Birdy Jones, Author

Janet McDonnell, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Jul. 17, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Anxiety, Bashful, Shy, School, Animals, Courage

Opening: Ask me my name? Want me to play? Call on me in class? I say nothing and hope no one will see me. I call that playing possum. It’s my way of being shy.

Synopsis: Blossom is a talented possum. She makes glitter headbands, plays the flute and recites to her  audience of stuffed animals.  But no one knows what Blossom can do because she is bashful and freezes up when other kids invite her to play. Playing possum isn’t the best way to make friends.  She wants to interact with the other kids, but she doesn’t know how. With the support and encouragement from her classmates and her teacher, Blossom learns to take some risks and have some fun.

Why I like this book:

Birdy Jones has created a believable main character in her story about an adorable possum who “plays possum” so that no one will notice her. Blossom is so shy around people that she freezes. Children will enjoy the fun wordplay with “possum.”

It is a realistic story about children dealing with common social anxieties. Many children will identify with Blossom, who is afraid of trying new things for fear of saying the wrong thing, being laughed at and making a mistake. This lovable possum will help kids talk about their own fears and anxieties and show them there is nothing wrong with being shy or making mistakes.

Janet McDonnell’s delightful and whimsical illustrations add a flare of drama and humor to the story as she shows Blossom playing possum — hanging upside down on the monkey bars or lying on her back with mouth wide open and all four limbs stiff in the air.

Resources: The book is an excellent resource for parents and teachers. There is a Note to Parents and Other Caregivers at the end of the book with more information and resources about overcoming shyness.

*The publisher provided me with an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Birdy Jones loves to tell stories. Her debut book Mister Cool was named an Anti-Bullying Book of 2014 by Publisher’s Weekly.  She is a supporter of “We Need Diverse Books,” and stays engaged with hot topics that affect young readers today.