Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘reviews of books for young people

Happiness is the theme of Isoscles’ Day by Kevin Meehan and The Caterpillar That Became Enlightened by Darryl Diptee. In the first, a dog named Isoscles finds happiness when rescued from neglect and abuse. In the second, a caterpillar named Sumi finds happiness not in the world around her but within herself.

My favorite part of Isoscles’ Day is the inspiration behind the picture book. Isoscles and his sister lived the first few years of their life not being allowed inside and being isolated from people. When his owners abandoned the dogs, Isoscles was separated from his sister but adopted by the author. For the first time in his life, Isoscles was introduced to a warm house and loving people. My second favorite part are the illustrations. Many are so realistic that they look photographs, while others are so whimsical that they made me laugh. I enjoyed seeing Isoscles happy. My final favorite part is the theme. Isoscles’ Day is about one special day in his new life. We see the food, toys, and friends that Isoscles likes. Adults could easily use this picture book as a model to show young readers how to create a book about a day in the life of their pet.

Unfortunately, Isoscles’ Day disappointed me in a couple of significant ways. The first way is that the plot tells me nothing about the background of Isoscles except in the end pages. Rip out those end pages and all that’s left is a somewhat bizarre story of a dog told by a random parade of animals. Did the author think that the real story was too serious for children to understand? The other way Isoscles’ Day frustrated me is that the author tries so hard to be funny that at times the story is cartoonish. For example, at one point a frog says, “You are too big to walk on this thread. Would you like to wear my thimble instead?” Again, I have to wonder why the author chose to tell a sweet story in such a fantastical way.

There is much I appreciated about The Caterpillar That Became Enlightened. For starters, there is a traditional plot with problems and solutions. Sumi starts out her life by eating leaves like all the other baby caterpillars, but soon finds herself wondering if there’s more to life than just food. She finds a tree and decides to explore it, despite her peers who warn her that the last caterpillar to climb the tree was never seen again. Another aspect of The Caterpillar That Became Enlightened that impressed is how the author simplifies a complex idea and simplifies it for younger readers. Most everyone has at some point in their life found themself dissatisfied with life, despite how rich their life might be with people and possessions. In this picture book, Sumi climbs to the top of the tree and for a while is happy, but then once again finds herself dissatisfied because she’s looking for externals to make her happy.

The Caterpillar That Became Enlightened is about the deeper forms of happiness. For Sumi, peace is found by taking deep breaths and clearing her mind, which allows her to feel interconnected to everyone and everything in the world. I’m also not sure what the point of having Sumi turn into a butterfly is, unless to show that people who are content are transformed. Even if I don’t completely agree with the way Sumi found happiness, the author does share an important message in an entertaining format.

The Ginger Kid by Steve Hofstetter is the inspiring memoir of a misfit who became a popular comedian. I related to Hofstetter’s awkward adolescence and applaud his message to aim high. The Ginger Kid is a notable addition to the young adult nonfiction.

Steve grew up an unhappy teen. He was a shy poor redhead who spent most of school years being bullied. He had very few friends and his first date was with a girl who simply wanted the prestige of having a boyfriend. In addition to being a nerd, Steve didn’t excel at sports or academics. He also spent many years being the brunt of jokes instead of making others laugh. His family often wasn’t helpful either. His parents never got anything done on time and they often fought. Steve could have easily ended up a nobody.

The teen years weren’t kind to me either. I was shy and introverted. Although somehow I mostly escaped being bullied, I had a highly sensitive personality and so the smallest criticisms wounded me. My friends and I were on the fringe of our peers, perhaps because we were average in sports, academics, looks, and everything. Like Steve, one of my passions was writing, which didn’t win me any favor among my peers either. Being the only child of a single father made me different, which also negatively impacted my social acceptance. Unlike Steve, by the end of high school, I still didn’t know who I wanted to be.

In his high school graduation speech, Steve credited a positive mindset, hard work, and the right people for preparing him to face the world. One of those right people was a high school teacher. Mr. Mikkelson gave automatic points to those students who showed that they had read and understood the assigned material. In addition, he allowed Steve to choose baseball as the focus of his main economics paper, because he knew Steve would take the work seriously. Thanks to Mr. Mikkelson, Steve started to succeed in school as a student. Another one of those right people was his brother. David gave him this sage advice: “Most people live their life in the middle. They don’t go far down, but they don’t go far up either. The further you go toward this top line, the further you will also go towards the bottom line. You decide if it’s worth.” Steve kept this advice in his mind when he applied for improv, which taught him many life lessons, and ultimately helped him find his place in life.

Even as an adult, I still at times wonder if aiming high is worth it, and it helps to know that others have faced this quandary. One Sunday earlier this fall, my husband and I took our therapy cat to Home Depot on a shopping trip. As I walked into the store wearing a “proud pet mom” shirt and pushing a cat stroller, I experienced strong misgivings. I wondered whether everyone who saw me would dub me a “crazy cat lady”. Then I thought about Steve’s decision to always aim high. Sure, there were peers who ridiculed him and disliked him, but there were also peers who enjoyed his presence and who had his back. The reality is that no matter what path Steve choose, there would always be places where he didn’t fit but also places where he would. Similarly, when I take my therapy cat in public, there will be people who roll their eyes but there will also be those who will stop to say hello and even feel better because they got to pet Rainy.

Everyone gets scared and everyone experiences rejected. How one handles these feelings can make a huge difference in who one will become in life. Most of the readers of The Ginger Kid won’t end up becoming famous like Steve, but they might find themselves inspired to do improv or to follow some other dream that will positively change their life. Such is the power of a good book!

Nature and animals are themes that run through the following three books. The latter two also contain a message about finding oneself in the world.

Sunny Day Point and Match by Rosie Wingert is a colorful and sturdy board book that gives parents a fun activity to do with their toddlers. Together families can talk about objects, sounds, seasons, and more. Items to find on the page are illustrated at the top. Inside the cover are a list of other ideas for how parents can use the book, including matching shapes, finding favorite colors, counting related objects, and making sounds from nature. One parent told me that Sunny Day helped their son learn memory and matching skills by age one!

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae is a fun story with an inspiring message. Gerald was a tall giraffe whose knees were crooked and whose legs were thin. Unfortunately, while he was good at standing tall and munching shoots off trees, he wasn’t so good at dancing. This was a big problem for the giraffe at the annual dance. The solution is contrived, but readers will find hope in Andreae’s message about self-esteem. In addition, the bold artwork exudes a party vibe and the rhyming text has a lively style that will young readers will enjoy.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate should be on every animal lover’s list of must-read books. The plot drew me into another world, that of a gorilla who lives in a glass-enclosed display in a mall. Ivan fills his days drawing bananas, watching television, and talking with friends. I loved how Applegate integrated the theme of friendship and of hope. Ivan seems content until a kidnapped baby elephant joins the mall menagerie and his friend Stella becomes sick. Slowly he’s forced to remember his past, and to fight for a better life for himself and his friends. Finally, the short paragraph’s written from Ivan’s perspective are mesmerizing. I quickly found myself loving this easygoing gorilla, who has unique ways of expressing himself.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Kids. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2018.

There are books that one should buy the instant they’re published. They are the books that become frayed and worn from multiple rereads. At the same time, their stories are so heartwarming one must tell every reader about them. These rare and special books will live on in our hearts and as such deserve a place on everyone’s shelves. Such a book is The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn.

The Kissing Hand was inspired by a true event. Penn had the fortune “to witness a mother raccoon in the wild giving comfort to her newborn cub by opening his tiny hand, nuzzling his paw, and leaving her scent within his grasp.” She then watched the cub place his palm to his face, making in her words “that first important connection with his mother.” A true storyteller, Penn recounted that experience to her first son, then her second son, and later to her daughter. She also sold the story to Humpty Dumpty Magazine. When her final child entered kindergarten, Penn decided to rewrite the story in picture book form–for which the literary world should be grateful.

Any adult can weave tales to entertain a child for a few minutes, but it takes talent to write a story that will become a keepsake, and Penn has that gift. The Kissing Hand starts with the simple but captivating line: “Chester Raccoon stood at the end of the forest and cried.” Immediately I wanted to know why Chester is unhappy. Turns out Chester doesn’t want to go to school, but wishes to stay home with his toys, his friends, and his mom. Instantly I felt a connection. Rare is the child or adult who hasn’t wanted to stay home surrounded by everything and everyone who is familiar, instead of embracing a strange and potentially uncomfortable new situation. At first his mom simply tries to reassure Chester by holding his paw and telling his that he’ll find new toys, make new friends, and experience new adventures. While these actions are a start, she’s a smart enough mom to know that something else will be needed, and so she shares with Chester the secret of the kissing hand.

The colorful illustrations are by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak. Harper is a self-taught artist from England who approached Penn back in the days before the internet to ask if she needed an illustrator. Penn loved her drawings and gave her the manuscript for The Kissing Hand. Leak is an American printmaker whose hand-pulled original etchings have won her recognition throughout the United States. Together the two artists have enhanced Penn’s story with tender and pleasant artwork.

SoCal Public Relations surprised me with a 25th anniversary edition of The Kissing Hand. On the front inside is a presentation page, a page for special memories. On the back inside is a letter from the author, a sheet of The Kissing Hand stickers, and a code for a free download of Letters to Chester. The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn will become a keepsake.

 

I always enjoy a new novel by Kathryn Erskine. The Incredible Magic of Being is no exception. In this middle-grade story, Erskine has once again given a fresh approach to the themes of diversity, family relationships, and of loss and grief.

As with many of Erskine’s characters, Julian has a unique way of looking at the world. Through chapter titles, narrative, and the Facts and Random Thoughts sidebars, Julian’s love of science shines in both serious and humorous ways. For example, the first chapter is called Black Holes and Messier Objects. In this chapter, Julian compares his sister to a black hole. Anyone who has met an explosive teen with sympathize. At the same time, I can’t help but laugh when Julian shares that his sister at times makes a noise like an orangutan, wears earbuds and sunglasses even inside, and has moods that spook him. And then I feel sad again when Julian compares himself to a Messy Object. This isn’t a reference to a messy room but to an object that gets in the way.

Family relationships are an integral part of The Incredible Magic of Being. The changing dynamics between Julian and his sister Pookie will feel real to anyone who has a sibling. The two used to be like magnets. Pookie would even read to Julian when he had nightmares. Now the two have drifted apart. At times, the two quarrel such as during the car drive to their new home in Maine. Pookie tells Julian to stop kicking her backpack. Julian’s mom takes his side, asking him to stop jiggling his feet and to instead take calm breaths. When she calls him a freak, Julian chooses to touch Pookie’s backpack and inwardly hopes that she won’t notice. At times, Julian still tries to connect with his sister. When their parents assign them both chores to prepare for the family’s new Bed and Breakfast venture, Julian asks Pookie to work together with him. Because she hates the Bed and Breakfast, Pookie refuses to do even her own chores,  and so Julian elects to do all the chores to keep the peace. The enmity continues until their neighbor has a heart attack and they need each other.

Despite the fact their neighbor could prevent their family from building a Bed and Breakfast by the nearby lake, Julian feels sorry for Mr. X who has lost his wife and is now completely alone. At first Julian acts like an obnoxious child in his insistence that Mr. X needs to have him as a friend. Just as much, Mr. X acts like a grumpy old man who has no time for anyone or anything because of his age and grief. Through a series of twists and turns, a magical relationship develops between these two strong characters of very different ages. For example, in Julian’s mind, Julian’s desire for a dog and Mr. X’s need for a companion can be met, if Mr. X adopts a dog but allows Julian to care for it. Except then Mr. X surprises Julian by asking that he teach his dog and himself water safety, something that Julian doesn’t want to do due to being afraid of water, drowning, and death.

There are many more features to The Incredible Magic of Being that I’ve left out such as the relationship between Julian’s lesbian parents. It shows the realistic struggles that every couple faces in attempting to stay connected, raise children, and find a meaningful place in the world. Then there’s the slightly paranormal undertone, which leads to a surprisingly revelation. I encourage you to read The Incredible Magic of Being and experience Erskine’s memorable writing for yourself.


Allisons' Book Bag Logo

2018

I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.

Categories

Archives

Best Friends Network Partner

Blog Paws

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 124 other followers