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Janine. by Maryann Cocca-Leffler

JANINE.
Written and illustrated by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-7)

Janine_CVR.jpg

 

Janine “is one of a kind” and this delightful picture book full of expressive dialogue and artwork, about a special little girl, portrays her uniqueness thoughtfully and unabashedly. I’m so glad this book’s been written because, while there are a spate of books that deal with kids who feel different, Cocca-Leffler knows first hand about children with disabilities and their differences. Janine. is actually based on her experiences raising her special needs daughter, the titular Janine. While Janine certainly marches to the beat of her own drummer, and adults reading the story might find her quirkiness quite charming, one particular classmate in the book certainly does not. That lack of empathy, along with Janine’s authenticity, is the basis for this tale.

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Interior artwork from Janine. by Maryann Cocca-Leffler, Albert Whitman & Company, ©2015.

Here’s just a snippet from the book’s very brief description of Janine, because for the most part, Cocca-Leffler lets Janine’s words move the story forward and that works so well.

She reads the dictionary
when others are playing
and listens when no one
thinks she is.

That’s how Janine overhears that a private party is being planned by this self-proclaimed “cool kid” and she’s not on the list of guests.

“Janine. You are STRANGE!
You have to
CHANGE!”

Kids with NLD (nonverbal learning disorder/disability), Asperger’s or high functioning Autism, often may be hyper verbal with amazing memories as Janine is depicted, but can often be lacking in social skills. This can make it difficult fitting in with their typically developing peers. Plus, kids can be cruel and insensitive at this age, like the bully who tells Janine she’s not invited to her party. NOTE: I love the illustration that immediately follows the bully’s nasty pronouncement above. One classmate in a red baseball cap who seems to like Janine, tosses his invitation after witnessing the bully’s hurtful behavior.

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Interior artwork from Janine. by Maryann Cocca-Leffler, Albert Whitman & Company, ©2015.

Ever resourceful, Janine decides to throw her own party …

“and EVERYONE is invited!”

And guess, what? Everyone except the bully wants to go!  With a happy ending like that, it’s easy to see why this book about kindness, and inclusion should be in every classroom and school library. It’s important to note, however, that not all real life situations have such positive outcomes; all the more reason why making available picture books about children with disabilities should be the goal of every school district and school librarian. The sooner we start the conversation about the importance of diversity, whether it’s race, gender or differing abilities, the sooner that bullies will wield less power in the classroom and on the playground and a more tolerant, accepting generation will emerge.

Be sure to read the jacket flap of this book to learn more about Cocca-Leffler’s inspiration for the story and Janine’s commitment to being a “role model to children and adults, encouraging them to focus on abilities, not disabilities.”

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Visit www.JaninesParty.com, created by Cocca-Leffler and Janine as a resource for parents, teachers and students.

Click here to download a Janine. coloring page.

Throwback Thursday: Olinguito Speaks Up/Olinguito alzo la voz by Cecilia Velástegui

Olinguito Speaks Up/Olinguito alzo la voz by Cecilia Velástegui
with illustrations by Jade Fang 
(Libros Publishing, 2013, $19.99, Recommended for ages 4 and up)

Olinguito-Speaks-Up-cvr.jpgThe recent discovery of the Olinguito, a new species of mammal resembling “…a cross between a cat and a furry teddy bear …” prompted Ecuadorian author Cecilia Velástegui to write a contemporary children’s fable about respect for others and for the world’s wildlife.

Shy Olinguito helps forgetful Tómas, an ancient Galapagos tortoise, recall how he ended up far from his native island and in Ecuador’s cloud forest. Due to Tómas’ memory loss and confusion, the other animals think his stories are “tall tales” and tease him. Olinguito finds the other animals treatment of Tómas disrespectful and sets out to help Tómas prove the truthfulness of his stories. With Olinguito’s support, Tómas reveals the twists and turns that took him from his island home to the cloud forest.

While the story focuses on its moral: “honor our elders and cherish our wildlife,” Velástegui uses the fable to gently point out the threats to the diverse wildlife referred to in her story. Through the long-lived and widely traveled Tómas, Velástegui hints at mankind’s devastating impact on the nature. In his narrative, Tómas refers to several “friends” who are now “gone” or “rarely seen” such as the Pinta Island (Galapagos) Tortoises, the Galapagos Petrel, and the cloud forest’s Harlequin Frogs.

Despite the dismay readers will experience over the loss of the many and striking species, the book ends on some positive notes: Olinguito shows young readers the importance of respect for others and the natural world and of standing up for friends who are being bullied or teased. Again, through Tómas, children will learn that some species, such as the Galapagos Pink Land Iguanas, are thriving and that other new species, such as the Galapagos deep sea catshark have been discovered.

Additional front and end material includes a brief note on the discovery of the olinguito, a “Facts/Datos” page, a colorful map of South America dotted with cheerful symbols marking significant cultural, historic, and wildlife locations, and photos of an olinguito and a giant tortoise.

As the book is bilingual, the layout consists mostly of two page spreads. On the left are the English and Spanish versions of the story. The right side features an accompanying illustration. Occasionally, illustrator Fang takes advantage of the expanse of the two page spread to create an illustration that floats across both pages. The illustrations contribute to the story, realistically capturing characteristics of the animals in the misty and diffused light of the cloud forest.

Primarily a fable, use this picture book with younger children as bibliotherapy for social and/or emotional issues around respect, aging, friendship, teasing and bullying. This book could be used with older children to introduce them to South American geography and ecosystems, threatened or extinct or new animal species, and the effects of exploration, colonialism, and development on the natural world and indigenous people. Needless to say it could also be used with children as a springboard for writing their own fables.

Visit the Olinguito Speaks Up website for more author info, facts, and a book trailer.

The author won First Place in Adventure Fiction at the International Latino Book Awards for her adult novel Missing in Machu Picchu.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 6-9), with illustrations by Patrice Barton, is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

The Invisible Boy book cover

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig with illustrations by Patrice Barton, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013.

Parents, how many times have you volunteered in your child’s school and noticed an invisible boy? They’re not easy to see, I know. Like Brian, the main character in Ludwig’s touching and thoughtfully written new picture book, The Invisible Boy, they fly under the radar in schools all over the world.

Illustrator Barton’s drawn Brian in muted grays and white although everyone else is in color. Unlike Brian’s imaginative artwork (wonderfully rendered in kid-style by Barton) depicting Super Brian, he’s not a superhero “with the power to make friends” wherever he goes. Nope. Kids like Brian are the last ones chosen for sports teams, they don’t get invited to parties, in fact other kids don’t even think of the Brians as having feelings. They’re often overlooked in the classroom because they’re quiet and so well-behaved. Typically the teacher has to devote his or her time to dealing with the whiners and the yellers.

The Brians in schools everywhere tend to slip between the cracks like the Brian in this tale. So when a new boy named Justin comes to school and eats Bulgogi with chopsticks, he’s a perfect target for ridicule by the others. “There’s No Way I’d eat Booger-gi” says one nasty kid who, of course, gets a laugh. I thought I’d cry when Ludwig wrote of Brian, “He sits there wondering which is worse – being laughed at or feeling invisible.”

And while Brian may frequently get ignored, he’s smart. So smart that he puts a note in the cubby of new boy Justin, with a drawing of himself eating Bulgogi, “Yum!” The two boys hit it off at recess, but it’s clear Justin’s already made another friend, Emilio, who says it’s his turn to play tetherball. But Justin is kind and doesn’t leave to play with Emilio without first complimenting Brian’s artwork. When Brian wants to partner with Justin on a special project, Emilio holds Justin back. “I’m already with Justin,” says Emilio. “Find someone else.” I could feel my grin spreading when the image of Brian begins to shift from grays and white to greens and blues when Justin tells him the teacher says the special project group can have three people in it. As the friendship grows, and Emilio accepts Brian, too, a once lonely boy becomes visibly happy and colorful.

The Invisible Boy includes important back matter with questions for discussion that parents and teachers can use to prompt kids about the topic of bullying. There’s also recommended reading for adults and kids. With bullying being so prominent in the news, it’s great to have a resource like The Invisible Boy to enlighten youngsters about the pain and heartache of being ignored or ostracized.

  • 2013 Junior Library Guild Selection
  • Starred Review, School Library Journal
  • Featured in USA Today
  • Back-to-School Read Pick by Scholastic Instructor
  • 2013 NAPPA Gold Medal Winner

 

 

National Disabilities Month and National Anti-Bullying Month

I could not let October end without mentioning this delightful picture book that brings the whole point of National Disabilities Month and National Anti-Bullying Month home.

13293234281Written sensitively by Robert Kroupa with stunning, detailed illustrations by Hannah E. Harrison, Just Like You ($16.99, Seven Legs Press, ages 4-8)  is a meaningful story of two friends – Henry, a deaf mouse and Boris, a disabled spider. Together with all of nature’s other creatures, these pals inhabit Piney Forest but live alone in a little tin cottage. Teased and goaded constantly because of their differences, Henry and Boris find comfort in each other’s company, but deep down wish for acceptance.

When a raging fire begins to wreak havoc on the lives and homes of the very creatures who mock and bully Henry and Boris, they don’t hesitate to find a creative way to alert everyone of the danger. Because of their heroics, the two are welcomed into Piney Forest. Finally, their wishes come true. The friends are appreciated for who they really are and all they have to offer!

“Because now we all see

that it really is true.

You are just like us,

and we are

Just

Like You!”

Proceeds from the sale of this book will be distributed to a pre-selected charity. Buyers can choose from the following: HollyRod Foundation, PACER Center, Art of Elysium and the Starkey Hearing Foundation. Find out more at http://www.JustLikeYouFoundation.org.
Ronna Mandel reviewed Just Like You.

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