Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya – A Review

Here is another beautifully written picture book by Donna Jo Napoli: MamaMitMama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya, which was illustrated by Caldecott Honor Award winner, Kadir Nelson. Awards abound:

  • winner of the Anne Izard’s Storytellers’ Choice Award
  • winner of the Frances and Wesley Bock Book Award
  • Black-Eyed Susan Book Award list, Maryland Association of School Librarians
  • Elementary California Readers list for 2013
  • starred review KIRKUS
  • starred review PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
  • nominated for the NAACP Image Award
  • Best Books of the Year list ESSENCE magazine
  • Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People
  • Amelia Bloomer Project Recommended List
  • used as the focal point for the Maryland Artist/Teacher Institute, summer 2013

Ms. Wangari, the subject of this book, was the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize recipient. She loved the trees of her native Kenya, planted them one by one, and inspired women throughout the country to also plant native trees. The trees provide fruit, firewood, animal fodder, medicine, thorns to keep out predators, stakes for gardens, and timber for building. Even the roots of one particular tree filters water in nearby streams. Trees that had disappeared from the countryside were replanted. Kenya was transformed, one tree at a time, by this extraordinary woman who valued each one for the gifts it provides.

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The Wishing Club: a story about fractions – A Review

WishingCluI recognized the name of the award-winning author, Donna Jo Napoli, and noticed the subtitle, so I was intrigued. Though I have a sister who taught mathematics and five brothers who have accounting degrees, the math gene skipped over me. Or maybe, I only got a fraction of one. I had to see if the story would help kids like me who struggle with math. I wish this great picture book had been around when I was in grade school! The illustrations, by Anna Currey of Bath, England, are delightful and help the reader to visualize what’s going on with the characters and the fractions. All becomes quite clear!

A child wishes for a dollar, but only gets a quarter. His brother and twin sisters start wishing on the star each night, and each one receives a fraction of what is asked for: half a cookie, 8 marbles instead of a bag of 80 (1/8). What is going on here? The children begin to see a pattern: Joey is two-he gets 1/2 of his wish, Petey is four-he receives 1/4, the girls are eight, they get 1/8. They do an experiment and find out that 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/8 = 1! They decide to wish for something together and choose a pig! In the morning, Momma has a surprise for them: (1) little pig–a whole pig, with all its parts.

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Waiting for Mama – A Review

In a very unusual twist, this story was first published in 1938, in a newspaper, in North Korea, by Lee Tae-Jun, who became one of Korea’s truly beloved authors. The present edition is a lovely picture book, complete with poignant  illustrations by Kim Dong-Seong, and a bilingual text, copyrighted in 2007, in Switzerland and the United States.
1492888 A very young child walks alone to the streetcar station to wait for his mother. It is a cold winter day and his nose is already red. As each trolley arrives, he asks the driver if his Mama is coming. The driver says he doesn’t know the boy’s mom, rings his bell, and continues on his way. One kind driver moves the child back from the edge of the platform and tells him to wait there. The wind blows hard, snow comes. The little boy stops asking, but continues to wait and wait. In the last two-page spread, near the center, we see the child walking home, holding his mother’s hand.

The illustrations show us the people as they would have been in 1938 when the story was first written. We see Koreans in traditional clothing, carrying babies on their backs, using handcarts or bikes, balancing packages on their heads, or sitting on their heels while waiting for the streetcar. So this is a period piece, with delicate drawings that create a world different from the one we know, but which draw us into the world of this little boy. All children will relate to the feelings portrayed of a child waiting, waiting, waiting for his parent.

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The odds are staggering

This past Thursday, Kathy Temean, former NJ SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Regional Advisor, posted on her blog answers to a question she’d posed to eighteen literary agents in a survey she conducted. Her question: “How many queries did you receive from writers over the last year? What is the percentage of writers you accepted?”


  • 1,000 last 6 months, added 4 new clients — 3 from queries.
  • 7,000 annually — added 1 new client.
  • 300 queries a month / 3600 – 4000 a year.  Accepted less than 1%.
  • Over 9000 queries. Accept less than .01%.
  • 600 submissions through system. Added 2 — One from last year’s NJ SCBWI’s June Conference.

As a writer, who keeps abreast of agent preferences, requests, and query protocols, as one who submits carefully crafted queries and many times revised and polished manuscripts / sample pages, I knew very well that the odds of acceptance are narrow. These numbers took my breath away.

I quadruple my congratulations to those who have signed with an agent! Then I take a deep breath and continue writing with courage and perseverance in hand, while a voice in the back of my mind asks if my stories will ever be traditionally published. After so many years of reading about the craft of writing, reading in my genres, classes, conferences, workshops, working with writing mentors, is this a fool’s journey? Maybe writers have always been fools. I’ve been called worse.

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Oh No, George! – A Review

Chris Haughton‘s picture book, Oh No, George! tells a tale all children (and adults) who love dogs, and have tried to train a puppy, will recognize. But it is far more than that.

Harry Oh No, George!has to go out. He asks his dog, George, if he’ll be good. Of course, George will. George hopes he’ll be good. He wants to, of course. Until he sees a cake. “What will George do?” Then there’s the cat to play with, and dirt in the flower pot to dig in . . . “Oh No, George!” George is sorry, he tries to make amends. Harry accepts the toy George brings him and suggests a nice walk. George sees people having a picnic . . . with a cake. What will he do? “George goes straight past. Well done, George!” Then, there’s dirt. . . and a cat . . . and a trash can full of enticing odors . . . “What will George do?”

A simply told tale about temptation and the effort to resist, in bold color and well chosen text, Oh No, George! is a great picture book. Children can relate to the dog and his failures and successes because, well, sometimes there’s a cookie . . . or mommy’s lipstick . . . or an empty wall & some crayons . . . and they’ve all heard, “Oh No!” and hopefully, “Well, done!”

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The Center of Everything – A Review

The Center of EverythingLinda Urban  is a true storyteller. In this middle grade novel, Ruby Pepperdine finds the center of everything in the circle of her grandmother’s hug. She has a wonderful extended family, a very best friend, and the security of knowing that all is as it should be–until her world is thrown off its axis when grandmother Gigi dies. As Ruby grieves, she wishes she had responded differently when Gigi tried to tell Ruby something in her last moments. And so the sixth-grader embarks on a private quest. She makes a wish that she might somehow relive those precious minutes so she can listen, as she should have, to what grandmother Gigi wanted to say. Everything depends on the town’s Bunning Day celebration and Ruby’s part in it, but she can’t tell anyone of her wish. She feels so alone with her grief, her questions . . . and then, what if . . .  what if there is no should? As the story unfolds, Ruby makes a new friend, almost loses her best friend, and discovers that Mom and Dad are still grieving, too. She’s not alone, after all, as everything comes together in the end.

Starred reviews:

  • The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
  • Kirkus
  • Booklist
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half a chance – A Review

Cynthia Lord, a Newbery Honor Award winner, has given us a middle grade novel that is half a chancesure to be loved by readers young and old. Who wouldn’t understand a child’s hesitation about moving, starting over at school, making new friends . . . and at the same time, be intrigued about living near a lake for the first time? Lucy is plopped down in this unfamiliar setting with her mom, while Dad takes off on another photography assignment across the country. But this is so much more than a story about moving . . .

Lucy loves photography and wishes her dad would look at her work and give her a true assessment of her talent. When she hears that Dad is to be the judge of a photography contest for kids, she decides to enter. But will she use her own name? Would it be fair if she enters under another name?

Lucy makes friends with Nate, a boy next door, and gets to know his grandmother. Sadly, Grandma Lilah is struggling with serious memory loss and confusion. She remembers the loons on the lake, though, and sends the children out on kayaks to check on the loons and their eggs. Lucy and Nate also check off items on the contest list as they take pictures of things that represent wonder, at the crossroads, texture . . . When Lucy snaps a shot just as panic flashes in Grandma Lilah’s eyes, she knows she’s captured a “moment,” as her dad would say, something that tells a story, that portrays deep emotion. But can she use this picture? What will Nate and his family feel if it’s published as a winning photo?

Lucy struggles with more than one dilemma as she moves through the summer with her new friend and her camera. This story raises questions and draws the reader along as Lucy weighs options and difficult choices in the context of art expression and meaningful relationships.

I hope this book receives the acclaim and honors it deserves. Thank you Ms. Lord for a book readers won’t ever forget!

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