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You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang

You Are (Not) Small
written by Anna Kang and illustrated by Christopher Weyant (Two Lions, $ 16.99, Ages 2-6).

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A plump, purplish bear-like creature is merrily blowing dandelion seeds across the opening page of this clever, humorous picture book. Enter one large, fuzzy orange-brown foot, stage right. “You are small,” says the new critter to the weed-clutching little one.

This innocent observation kicks off a spirited dialogue between the two. “I am not small. You are big,” purple critter retorts. But the larger one gestures to his pals, noting that he is one of many, all alike. Then more purple ones appear to back up their buddy as well.

Tempers flare, and the dialogue becomes an argument. (Sound familiar, parents?) There are pointed fingers, angry frowns, even insistent shouting. The size debate escalates until BOOM! A huge hairy paw crashes down, followed by diminutive pink critters with yellow parachutes. Fear not, the last line will guarantee laughs from every reader.

You Are (Not) Small is a short, simple book with text that could work as an easy reader, and illustrations that are engaging enough for the youngest picture book set. Readers of all ages will absorb the meta-message about keeping things in perspective and learning to appreciate differences without necessarily comparing them.

This is a great picture book for those who feel small or tall due to their relative ages or statures. It will spark fun conversations about the way we see ourselves and one another. The thickly-outlined, expressive animals are appealing in a Muppet-like fashion. They all share tiny round ears and large oval noses that make them appear to be related despite their differences in size. At just 91 words, this is a short and funny bedtime book choice with (not) a little kid appeal!

Click here for a very cool downloadable growth chart.

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

      Where Obtained:  I received a review copy from the publisher and received no compensation.  The opinions expressed here are my own.

Follow Your Heart

DorothyI’m so glad I recently broadened my book review horizons to include titles by Spanish publisher, Cuento de Luz, as I have enjoyed each and every title I’ve read so far. This publisher’s books deliver powerful messages in delightfully subtle ways.

Dorothy: A Different Kind of Friend ($16.95, Cuento de Luz, Ages 5-7) by Roberto Aliaga presents readers with a story about an unidentifiable furry animal girl who befriends a not-so-popular girl in town, named Dorothy. Dorothy is big, clumsy and very different than the others. The bully girls in town all hang out together and tease the protagonist when she hangs out with Dorothy, saying very cruel and hurtful things about her. Will those harsh words be enough to make the protagonist drop Dorothy as a friend? Read the book and you will find out for yourself.

There are so many children’s books about being bullied that it is impossible to keep up with all of them. But what sets this book apart is that the characters are unique and the message is delivered in muted tones, leaving the reader with a lot to think about. The illustrations by Mar Blanco are both colorful and adorable, highlighting the uniqueness of the characters. In the end, we must all follow our hearts, no matter what others tell us to do, and Dorothy: A Different Kind of Friend shows us the way.

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade

Simply, Superbly Staake

I’d heard the buzz about Bluebird by Bob Staake, but deliberately steered clear of reading anything before I laid eyes on my own copy. I didn’t want a single word to influence my opinion of a book that was 10 years in the making. Then my review copy arrived and I dove in. Certain to be an award-winner, Bluebird (Schwartz & Wade, $17.99, ages 4-8) is everything I hoped it would be and more.

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This emotion-packed picture book touched me the same way the 1956 film The Red Balloon did. I felt my eyes well with tears just like when I first watched the French classic as an elementary school girl in the late 60s. I’ve carried that movie with me over four decades and am confident Bluebird will have that kind of effect on children. Its moving message will stay with readers. Plus, reading this book feels so much more intimate and individual than watching a film and the artwork simply soars. Yes, it’s a book that has wings because as you read it and watch colors and tones change with the illustrations, your spirit lifts along with Bluebird and the boy he befriends. And though I said “read it,” it’s actually a wordless picture book with a most wonderful voice, one that shouts love and understanding. Great art can do that. Here are some of Staake’s Bluebird character studies:

bluebirdcharacterstudies

Friends come in all shapes and sizes and so do bullies. There are several bullies who torment a young boy at the beginning of the school year. He feels alone and ostracized until Bluebird appears and makes it hard not to notice his friendly gestures. Set in Manhattan, the different frames of the story depict the nameless boy and his new pal spending a great afternoon together playing and then sailing a boat in Central Park as new friendships are forged.

BLUEBIRE Interior Art

The huge smiles on the kids’ faces and the light airy feeling of grays and blues on the pages convey a newfound happiness and joy. Then the grays darken as the boy runs into the bullies.

(A Staake sketch of the bullies in Central Park)

Sketch from Bluebird

What happens next as Bluebird tries to help his friend may temporarily derail little ones, but that’s really the point. Bluebird is a conversation starter about friendship, loyalty and bullying. It’s also about loss and the healing power of community. I’m glad we waited 10 years for this powerful tale to take flight.

For more information and a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the book, visit FlyBluebird.com.

-Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Secrets of Love and Forgiveness

While there may be a lot of children’s books about bullying, Desmond and the Very Mean Word ($15.99, Candlewick, ages 6 and up) by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams with illustrations by A. G. Ford, stands out for several reasons.

First and foremost is that this story is based on a true account from the childhood of Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. Second is the book’s overriding theme of forgiveness as a way to free one’s soul of hate, hurt and bitterness.  Readers learn that “getting back” at someone who causes the hurt only breeds a vicious cycle of more hostility.

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Not every child bullied will be able to embrace this philosophy. Not every parent will agree with this approach, but it certainly warrants consideration and may serve as a good starting point for a conversation on racism in the 21st century.

In apartheid era South Africa, young Desmond, a black youth, is pedaling his shiny new bike (the only one in his township) and is harassed by several white boys who call him something cruel and hurtful. Desmond, quite shaken by the experience, arrives at Father Trevor’s office. Once in this caring man’s presence, the boy forgets his main purpose for the visit – to show the man who played such an important role in Desmond’s life the thing that was bringing him newfound joy – the bicycle. Instead Desmond shares his pain with Father Trevor who asks the youngster if he can forgive the mean boys for using such a mean, hurtful word.  “No! Never!” replies an angry Desmond.

Readers learn at the book’s end that Father Trevor (Huddleston), in addition to being a mentor to so many, was also a prominent and influential voice in the anti-apartheid movement. His dreams of peace and equality in South Africa, where he rose to the position of Archbishop, were eventually realized, but not without years of struggle. There were thousands of Desmonds being hurt daily, and this one particular Desmond could not erase the very mean word from his mind. It seemed to rear its ugly head everywhere. When Father Trevor shares the secret of forgiveness as a powerful way to heal hearts, Desmond realizes he is finally ready to forgive, and once doing so becomes free of all the hurt he’s been feeling.

Desmond and the Very Mean Word is ideal for a circle time discussion in elementary school during Bullying Prevention Awareness Month and for Social Science classes to use to explore apartheid and segregation.  The book’s message is a positive one especially when you consider the peaceful paths both Archbishops followed. Ford’s vivid artwork adds just the right combination of mood and locale to the story and helps make this book a truly enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

Both Sides of Bullying

The award-winning team of Jacqueline Woodson and E.B. Lewis tackles bullying from behind a bully’s eyes.

Each Kindness ($16.99, Nancy Paulson Books, ages 5-8), an exceptional children’s picture book written by Jacqueline Woodson with illustrations by E.B. Lewis, will touch you and your children in ways you hadn’t expected and that’s a good thing, a very good thing.

Asking us to walk in a bully’s shoes, in this case narrator Chloe’s, author Woodson takes us down a path of a child’s unkindness that is certain to strike a chord. How many of us have been in young Chloe’s position choosing not to befriend someone based on appearances only to regret that decision when it was too late? Can we imagine the pain the bullied child feels?

When a new student, Maya, joins Chloe’s class and is seated beside her, Chloe turns toward the window, ignoring Maya’s friendly smile. Why? Simply because her clothes were tattered. Though Maya makes many gestures to become friends with Chloe and the other kids, they continue to whisper about her second-hand clothing and ostracize her, never once thinking how hurtful those actions might be.

One day, well into the school year the teacher, Ms. Albert, gives a seemingly simple yet ultimately powerful lesson using a bowl of water and a small stone dropped in. She explains how kindness works. “Every little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.”  Unfortunately for Chloe she realizes too late that she, like that tiny stone’s ripples, could have had a positive effect on another person. Maya does not return to school and that chance is lost forever.

Though Maya’s family circumstances are never clearly explained, this worked for me and perhaps is deliberate. Maya becomes symbolic of all those vulnerable children often targeted by bullies whether it be for financial reasons, a disability or just not having the right clothing. Between its lyrical text and the marvelously moving watercolors, Each Kindness provides an opportunity for parents and educators to broach the topic of bullying from both the perspective of the bully and the bullied.  This meaningful and moving book is a must-have that is certain to make a difference in many a youngster’s life.

Today’s reviewer is Ronna Mandel.

The Power of Positive Thinking

Debbie Glade shares a book that helps children look on the bright side of life.

The Energy Bus for Kids: A Story About Staying Positive and Overcoming Challenges ($16.95, Wiley, Ages 4 and up) by Jon Gordon is an adaptation of the fable known as The Energy Bus. The story is about a boy named George who tells his bus driver about the bad day he’s had at school. The bus driver becomes George’s mentor and teaches him to believe in himself and to practice positive thinking to become stronger and happier. She tells him to:

  1. Create a positive vision
  2. Fuel your ride with positive energy
  3. No bullies allowed
  4. Love your passengers
  5. Enjoy the ride

George applies the rules to the best of his ability, but do they solve his problems? You’ll soon find out.

What’s great about this book is that it encourages children from a young age to practice positive thinking. Thinking positively (aka ‘seeing the glass half full’) creates a productive energy that can help children solve their problems, be kinder to others and just be happier overall. The bottom line is that we all make a choice to have the attitude we possess, so why not make it a positive one?

In addition to the great message, readers will enjoy the bold, colorful cartoon-like illustrations by Korey Scott that complement the story nicely and make it easier for young children to follow along. I think all elementary schools should have books like this to teach kids something that in life is just as important as reading, writing and arithmetic – and that, of course, is the power of positive thinking.

Bye-Bye Bully Bye-Bye!

Freda Stops a Bully, ($6.95, Charlesbridge Publishing, ages 3-6) written by Stuart J. Murphy and illustrated by Tim Jones, is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

How many of you remember the schoolyard bully? You know, the kid who made fun of maybe you, perhaps your friend, or maybe someone you didn’t know.  How many of you wish you’d known what to do about or say to that kid? With bullying incidences being highlighted more and more often these days, preparing our young children with strategies to seek help against bullying has become increasingly important.

As part of Stuart J. Murphy’s “I See I Learn” series, Freda Stops a Bully provides relatable, simple and straightforward tips to help young children handle a bully. The story centers on Freda who likes to wear her pink shoes and Max who calls her “funny feet.”  Freda and her friends try various methods to deal with Max and his name calling. As they try each of the methods, we see what works and what doesn’t. At 28 pages, the book is long enough to cover the story and short enough to keep young readers engaged.

Presented in fun, comic-style illustrations, the book features animal characters situated at home, school and the park. Freda seeks assistance from the primary adult figures in young children’s’ lives: parent and teacher. These familiar settings and adults will help young readers understand and relate to Freda’s predicament.

The end of the book features a review of the four “what to do about a bully” strategies and provides five discussion points/activities for a child to engage in with a parent/teacher. Useful both at home and in a classroom, Freda Stops a Bully provides a good starting point for helping children identify and deal with bullying.

Editor’s Note:  We all know that sadly, bullying is not limited to the playground. With summer around the corner, children may encounter similar situations at a camp, park, vacation getaway or even summer school. Use this book as a gentle way to approach the topic and begin a meaningful conversation.

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