Ship of Dolls

Ship of Dolls by Shirley Parenteau is a nominee for the 16-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

The year is 1926, and Lexie Lewis would like nothing more than going back to live with her mother, a singer and flapper who is always the life of any party. That party is currently far away in San Francisco. Lexie’s new stepfather doesn’t think this life is a place for a child, so Lexie is living with her grandparents in Portland. She’s not happy about the situation–especially since her grandmother is so strict–and she longs to be reunited with her mother.

At school, Lexie may have an opportunity to see her mother once again. Her class has been collecting money to send a Friendship Doll to Japan. Letters will be sent along with the doll on its long journey, first to San Francisco and then to Japan. The student who writes the best letter will get to accompany the doll on the first leg of the journey. Lexie is determined to win this all-important contest, travel to California, and be reunited with her mother…permanently.

But winning this contest is not as easy as one would hope. Lexie gets into a bit of trouble trying to get inspiration for her letter, and that trouble leads to even more as her little lies turn into big ones. Then there’s the matter of Louise Wilkins, Lexie’s rival at school. Louise is also determined to win this contest, and she’s willing to do anything to get her way.

As Lexie works on her Friendship Doll project, she continues to focus on being with her mom again. Sure, working on this project has brought her closer to her grandparents, especially her grandma, and maybe they’re so strict for a reason, but Lexie belongs with her mom. Right?

Lexie’s potential reunion with her mother is growing closer and closer, and, soon enough, Lexie faces an important decision. Should she go with her mom on whatever adventure is next, or should she stay with her grandparents in Portland? The answer may surprise even Lexie.

Lexie Lewis’ story is fictional, but it is based on an actual event…and one that I had never heard of. In the late 1920s, Dr. Sidney Gulick organized the Friendship Doll Project, which sent over 12,000 dolls from the U.S. to Japan in an effort to foster friendship and peace between the two nations. Japan reciprocated with fifty-eight Dolls of Gratitude sent to the U.S. While the two countries did eventually engage each other in World War II, the dolls of friendship were remembered years later, and some of them have been found, restored, and displayed in museums.

Aside from the interesting historical events in this story, I think Ship of Dolls is a good book for addressing concepts like honesty, friendship, forgiveness, and tolerance. Lexie, her grandmother, and even Louise grow throughout the course of the book, and it’s interesting to see how their interactions change–particularly in regards to the concepts listed above–as the story progresses.

If you’d like to promote Ship of Dolls in your classroom or library, feel free to use the book trailer below.

Anybody Shining

Anybody Shining by Frances O’Roark Dowell is a nominee for the 16-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Arie Mae Sparks wants just one friend to call her own. She’s hopeful that her cousin Caroline, who lives all the way in Raleigh, will respond to her letters one of these days–and be the friend she’s always wanted–but it’s not looking good at the moment. Still…Arie Mae keeps on writing, telling her cousin about everything happening in Bone Gap, North Carolina.

Though Arie Mae despairs of ever finding one true friend, newcomers in her little town may provide some hope. These new folks–who’ve arrived all the way from Baltimore, Maryland–have come to the mountains to learn about the nearby settlement school. Almost immediately, Arie Mae sees the potential for friendship in Tom, a boy who has a special shine about him.

Even though Tom has a bad leg and can’t do everything the other kids can, he and Arie Mae form a fast friendship. He doesn’t care at all that Arie Mae is not as fancy as his sisters or that her family doesn’t have as much as his. He simply wants to hear her stories and go on adventures with her.

Arie Mae is all for seeking adventure, but she soon learns that Tom has more difficulties than just a bad leg. His mother warns Arie Mae that her new friend has a weak heart and shouldn’t exert himself too much. Arie Mae worries about this, but Tom is determined to do just what he wants. What’s a friend to do?

Through her continuing letters to her cousin, Arie Mae reflects on her friendship with Tom, her feelings about his condition, her family and their life on the mountain, and all sorts of other things. She thinks about what makes her world so odd to some and so special to others. Can people be true friends when they see the world so differently?

Learn more about the power of friendship, reaching out, and overcoming differences when you read Anybody Shining by Frances O’Roark Dowell.

If you’d like to share this book with your students, here’s a short book trailer I created for Anybody Shining.

The Day the Crayons Quit

The Day the Crayons Quit, written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, is the winner of the 2015-16 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

One day, when Duncan takes out his crayons to do some coloring, he finds a bunch of envelopes in his crayon box. It seems his crayons have quit! Why, you ask?

Well…Blue, Red, and Gray are overworked and tired. Purple wants Duncan to stop coloring outside of the lines. Beige pleads his case that he is not “light brown” or “dark tan,” and he should get some of the work that is going to Brown. White and Pink are underused, and Black is only used to outline things. Green is pretty happy with his work, but he wants Duncan to decide if the sun is Yellow or Orange. (Those two are arguing about it and won’t speak to each other anymore.) And Peach–poor, naked Peach–is upset that Duncan peeled his paper off.

So, what is Duncan to do? He wants to color, and he wants his crayons to be happy. Find out how the crayons get back to work when you read The Day the Crayons Quit, a charming book that is sure to make you laugh and may just spark some creativity!

The Day the Crayons Quit is a great book to share with anyone who loves to color…and who doesn’t?! It would be an excellent gift for budding artists as well as art teachers. There’s so much potential here for making students think and for encouraging creativity.

Extra Credit

Extra Credit is about Abby, a girl in danger of failing the sixth grade. To be able to move on to junior high, she must go from failing to being on the honor roll, and she has to complete an extra credit project. Her project is to find a pen pal from another part of the world, create a bulletin board with all of their correspondence, and give an oral report on what she learned. Her pen pal is a girl named Amira. She’s from a village in Afghanistan. But Abby doesn’t realize that Amira isn’t the one actually writing the letters. They’re actually being written by Amira’s brother, Sadeed.

Sadeed is the best writer and reader of English in his school, so, when his teacher asks him to help Amira write letters to a girl in America, he reluctantly agrees. Soon, however, he looks forward to these letters, and even begins writing as himself in secret. He is fascinated by how life in America is both similar and different to life in Afghanistan. The people around him, though, do not share his fascination. When word spreads that he and his sister have an American friend, Sadeed is forced to face how different his world is from Abby’s. But are their worlds really so different? It seems that Abby is also dealing with some objections to her pen pal project.

Can two young people from such different worlds truly be friends? Can their similarities overcome their differences? And can Abby pass the sixth grade while learning a little something along the way? Read Extra Credit by Andrew Clements to find out!

I think that this book is an excellent way to highlight the similarities and differences between two cultural groups. Even though we come from different parts of the world, speak different languages, and have different traditions, we all, I hope, want to make our small parts of the world a better place. I think that comes with understanding and accepting those around us, and realizing that our differences don’t have to come between us. They can, in fact, make us stronger and more well-rounded and give us a sense of empathy for our fellow man.

Love, Aubrey

After a horrible car accident rips her family apart, Aubrey is left all alone.  She takes care of herself and her new pet fish, Sammy, and they seem to be okay alone.  At least for a little while.  When Aubrey’s grandmother realizes that eleven-year-old Aubrey is basically living alone, she steps in, and Aubrey finds herself moving from her home in Virginia to Gram’s house in Vermont.

Aubrey is not sure how she feels about this move and leaving her old life behind.  She doesn’t want a new room, a new school, or even new memories that don’t include her family.  How can Aubrey move on without her dad, her little sister Savannah, or her mom?

With the help of Gram, her new best friend Bridget, and writing a few letters about her feelings, Aubrey may have found a way to continue living her life while coming to terms with what happened to her family.  Even though she’s lost a lot, Aubrey realizes she doesn’t have to face the hard stuff alone.  She still has love, friendship, and memories of her family to see her through.  But will that be enough when she has to face the hardest decision of her life?  Read Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur to discover just how strong one girl can be.

I truly loved this book.  I cried at least once per chapter.  Aubrey’s journey was absolutely heartbreaking, and I think my heart broke a little bit right along with her.  Love, Aubrey is both devastating and heartwarming, and I think it will appeal to readers of all ages, especially those who’ve enjoyed such wonderful stories as Charlotte’s Web and Bridge to Terabithia.

If you decide to read Love, Aubrey, here’s a little warning:  Make sure you have a box of Kleenex handy.  You’ll need it.