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.”

Synopsis:

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

Synopsis:

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.

Applesauce Weather by Helen Frost

applesauce-weather-51y2mlsxytl__sx336_bo1204203200_Applesauce Weather

Helen Frost, Author

Amy June Bates, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Aug. 9, 2016

Pages: 122

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Apples, Loss, Multigenerational families, Family relationships,  Storytelling

Book Jacket Synopsis: When the first apple falls from the tree, siblings Faith and Peter know that it’s applesauce weather. And that means Uncle Arthur should be here. But maybe he needs a little more time to grieve? This is the first year without Aunt Lucy, after all. When Uncle Arthur does finally arrive, it’s clear that something besides one of his fingers is missing. Where are the stories? Where’s that twinkle in his eye? With help from Faith’s love and patience, and sparked by Peter’s growing interest in the girl next door, Uncle Arthur might just have the start of a new story.

Why I like this story:

Written by award-winning poet, Helen Frost, “Applesauce Weather” is a heartwarming  story about the love and support of family following the loss of Uncle Arthur’s wife, Lucy. She gives a fresh, crisp feeling of a lovely fall weekend filled with family and traditions.

This is a perfect book to introduce older children and teens to a novel written in verse. The chapters are short and written in the alternating voices of Faith, Peter and Uncle Arthur. This allows readers to get to know the characters from three different viewpoints. There are also seven special verses of “Lucy’s Song” interspersed throughout the book that reveal snippets of the Uncle Arthur and Aunt Lucy’s life together and the great love they once shared. They reveal stories about the bench Uncle Arthur makes for Lucy that still sits under an apple tree and the day they carved their initials into a nearby tree.

Amy June Bates’ black and white pencil drawings have a charm about them and give the reader a peek at the characters and a strong sense of the vivid setting. The illustrations add a nice touch to the overall story.

Helen Frost is the author of Step Gently Out, Sweep up the SunAmong a Thousand Fireflies, Monarch and Milkweed, and six novels in poems for children and young adults. She was awarded a Printz Honor for Keesha’s House.

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