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Toby, Toby, Worry Free

Toby, the octopus, is apprehensive about riding his bike. He wants to ride it and play with his friends, but he is afraid. He is scared of falling, and that his friends might laugh at him when he does. This fear keeps him from learning to ride his bike and having fun with his friends. Toby’s fear shows by his tentacles getting all knotted up, and him not feeling well. His mom reminds him of his “can do” attitude, and together they work on building up his confidence so he can ride his bike and go on adventures with his friends.

Toby, Toby, Worry Free, written by Lucinda Grapenthin and illustrated by Kevin Gosselin, is a heartwarming picture book to help children work through fears and understand that it is okay to be scared sometimes. This well-written book helps children learn how to overcome their fears and anxiety. While reading this, the descriptions of Toby and his tentacles getting tangled up and tingling reminded me of my own children who have anxiety. I would have loved to have had this book to help them through some of these moments when they were little.

The “can do” approach is so simple that children quickly understand the concept. While more challenging to put into practice, the idea is easy to explain. Toby is portrayed in a relatable manner, both in the story and in the illustrations. This children’s book has a page for parents and caregivers at the end. It discusses the PAUSE approach to helping children with challenging behaviors, and it helps adults understand the strong emotions children experience but cannot express themselves.

Toby, Toby, Worry Free is a profoundly thoughtful children’s book that teaches kids how to deal with strong emotions and work through fears. It is also an excellent resource for parents and caregivers to better understand how to work with kids who cannot express themselves well.

Pages: 32 | ASIN : B09HCT1RVK

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Diversity and Inclusion, Seeking Acceptance

Tuula Pere Author Interview

The Only Blue Crow follows a lone blue crow that wants nothing more than to be included. What was the inspiration for your story?

I love birds! I often observe their lives, how they find a spouse, make a nest, and defend their space and their little ones. What intrigues me most are their songs! In this book, the blue crow misses many of these elements as he is too alone and feels miserable.

I’m a person with two opposite sides. I feel very happy and comfortable to be connected to other people and enjoy their company, but I also need a lot of private space and time. I have noticed that a balance of these spheres is vital to me.

Like many people, the crow in my book has too much loneliness. He has difficulties in finding his place and trusted friends. He also lacks the confidence of being what he is and compares himself to others to be accepted.

I have met many “lonely crows” in real life, and I’d like to encourage them! I would like to send my greetings to a special little boy whose mother I was talking to some years ago. She was worried about how her son would be accepted at school as he had a physical difference compared to the others. Until then, he had been happy with it, but now he was going to another environment with all new people and had already started to think more about it.

This discussion with that mother is still in my heart. With books like The Only Blue Crow, I try to make children and adults think about and express acceptance and empathy every day. It can make a big difference in many lives.

The art in this book is fantastic. What was the art collaboration process like with the illustrator Catty Flores?

Catty Flores is a wonderful artist and illustrator. We have been working together for many years. We communicate well, and we trust in each other’s professional skills. I am the author, and she wakes my stories alive in pictures!

Our first project together – ”The Survival Stories Series”– was published six years ago. She lived in New Zealand at that time, but the distance didn’t prevent us from working closely together. Modern technology and connections are amazing in connecting people!

Since then, we have made many other books – even series – together. It has always been smooth and positive. We have worked with many sensitive subjects like poverty, loneliness, illness. Welcome home, Pearl, from a series talking about the family life of a disabled child, was chosen even for to latest international IBBY collection of Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities, and they included the whole series in their exhibition.

We share a similar understanding with Catty about both the every day “tragedies” and the happy highlights. The message is: there is always a way, and there is always somebody to be by our side! There is a positive and fun way of encouraging children in our “Little Fears Series” and “I did it! Series”, which is important to both of us.

It’s always a pleasure for me to see Catty’s ideas for a new story and start developing the book together with her. I also admire her flexibility and ability to find new ways and styles for various stories.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

The Only Blue Crow is a book of diversity and inclusion, seeking acceptance and connection to others. It’s also a book of finding the strength in yourself, trusting your own wings, and discovering the world!

I feel strongly connected to the lonely blue crow in his search for happiness. My crow is a symbol of many ways of being different from others. I hope it gives comfort and encouragement for children and adults who suffer from discrimination or are left out for any reason.

In real life, many significant issues in society can cause problems – poverty, culture, religion, gender, to name a few. But even more, minor everyday things can start the difficulties – such as differences in a person’s looks, thoughts, taste, and behavior. It’s essential to understand that these experiences of being included or left out are very individual and personal. They are often secrets, and the others do not notice that something is wrong. Still, they can affect a person’s whole life!

My message is simple. We are individuals, and we should be accepted as individuals! But we also need the others around us. Tolerance and acceptance are crucial to making life happier for everybody.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

I’m always working simultaneously with several books. Stories are developing in my head, and texts are edited, translated, and illustrated by artists all the time. I love all the steps but working with the illustrator has a unique creative touch! ​

I just received the finished illustrations from Catty Flores for Noise All Over, which is the next book in my “Little Fears Series” this spring. And now, she has just started working with The Giant Legs, probably published before summer, too. These are books about various troubling situations that children meet, sometimes without the others noticing it. My message is that parents, relatives, teachers, and other adults close to children, can do a lot by listening and giving space to children. The little ones have deep feelings under the surface, too. After solving the minor problems and fears, life will be easier all along!

Another of my trusted illustrators, Andrea Alemanno, has just finished illustrating The Stone Garden, which has a unique atmosphere and mysterious visual interpretation. He could surprise me again, although we have worked together many years, too. I love layers of history and the present day, memories and plans, fantasy, and real life. The Stone Garden captures this all in Andrea Alemanno’s pictures.

There is no end to it when I talk about my following books! I am pleased to be inspired repeatedly and find fresh ways to express significant issues – even the most delicate ones – together with other artists. I have had a lot of time to think and write during these special times – suitable for an author! I’m glad to show the newest results soon and hope to meet readers in person again.

Author Links: Facebook | Website

There’s a blue crow who doesn’t know anyone like him. At times he feels terribly lonely.
“Luckily in my home valley there are blue flowers, blue butterflies and a blue sky,” he ponders. The blue crow feels even sadder when the new neighbors, black crows, mock him.
On the advice of a wise owl, the bird embarks on a journey across the sea. There are plenty of things to see. Will there also be other blue birds, and perhaps even another blue crow?

Lullaby of the Valley

Kaina is a grandmother from the valley, she has lived in the village of the valley all her life. Upon the mountain is another small village, and the people all use to be friends. Over time small disagreements broke out, and eventually, all the men decided to go to war with the other village. Families were separated as the men went off, and women and children could no longer shop in the markets or see friends they had from the other village. Everyone was sad or angry in these two villages.

Kaina is saddened at the direction her world has taken. One night she wanders down to the spring that rests between the two villages alone, where her dear friend Siran also arrives. Together they sing a lullaby each in their own language, but the melody and meaning are the same. Their voices reach out across the valley and mountain, and reach all the angry men and change starts to set in.

Lullaby of the Valley is an emotional and heartwarming picture book. The message of hate and distrust is presented in a gentle manner that children will be able to understand. Author Tuula Pere has written about this difficult topic eloquently and illustrator Andrea Alemanno has provided the haunting images to coincide with the topic. The lullaby is a beautiful message of peace and comfort. The two old women use the only tool they have, their voice, to calm the hate and anger in their world. Though from opposing villages, they work together to heal the wounds. The message of helping, loving, and friendship will teach children how even being small they can make a difference in their world.

Lullaby of the Valley will give children a chance to see how small things in life can make a big difference. I would recommend this picture book for all kids and their families, and as a useful story for teachers to show children that kindness can win over anger.

Pages: 30 | ASIN : B07HXGL58C

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The Only Blue Crow

A lone blue crow wants nothing more than to have friends. He tries to make friends with a flock of black crows and they do nothing but make fun of him. Discouraged, the blue crow sets off to find things that make him happy. When bluebells fail to lighten his mood, a wise owl calls him over. The owl tells him he should set out on a journey, that the world is large and perhaps he will find another blue crow on his search. So off the crow flies, hoping to find a reason to be happy and even some new friends.

The Only Blue Crow by Tuula Pere is a picture book that tackles the topics of loneliness, depression, and self-worth through the life of a blue crow. This crow is different from all the other birds he encounters and struggles with the reality that it seems no one will accept him for who he is. In the world today, this message is important as depression and fear of being different are impacting children at younger ages than ever. This thought-provoking story will guide young readers in realizing that different is not wrong or bad. The message of going out and finding those that appreciate you and not staying where you are unwanted is a powerful one.

Illustrator Catty Flores does an amazing job showing the emotions of the blue crow in her artwork. Children will be engaged with the whimsical watercolor style. The illustrations add depth to the story as young readers will be able to see the emotions on the blue crow even if they do not understand the words being used to describe his loneliness.

The Only Blue Crow is an inspirational read for young children. Teachers and parents will find this picture book is a great resource for introducing the tough topics of loneliness and inclusion.

Pages: 48 | ISBN : 9523573101

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The Big Cheese Festival

The Big Cheese Festival4 Stars

There are issues that plague all children as they grow up. Each child struggles with identifying who they are as a person, how they relate to other people and how to find out what they believe in. Children can be cruel to each other while they learn how to navigate the messy world of emotions. This can come out in the form of bullying. In The Big Cheese Festival the authors explore the concept of bullying and how it can impact the life of another. What may seem like funny and harmless words to one can truly hurt another. We’ve got a fantastical world of anthropomorphic mice, one of whom only has half a tail. He is named Stubby and due to the unkind bullying from his brother’s friend worries about whether or not he’ll find any worth in himself.

Bullying is a big issue to tackle. Some children’s books try to address this and drop the ball completely. Jackson and Raymond have bundled up the idea of bullying in their book. They take an obvious difference, like having half of a tail, and use it to illustrate how others might react to something so clearly different from the norm. It’s a cute book with the little mice getting ready for a festival. Cutter Mouse, who is friends with Stubby’s brother, is the perpetuator of the bullying. It is often someone close to the bullied who begins the abuse, which Jackson and Raymond have captured here.

While the story is simple and easy to either read or read to a child, there are a few areas in which it lacks. The mice all look exactly the same, in the same outfits. The girl mice have different hairstyles but the boy mice don’t have anything to separate who they are from each other. Different coloured outfits may have helped with this issue. The mice also don’t seem to express emotion. For a story about bullying and overcoming that, showing joy or sorrow would be necessary.

Stubby does stand up to the person who is making him feel poorly which is an important message to children. He doesn’t do it with violence or by calling Cutter names back. He uses his words. S. Jackson and A. Raymond know that children need to learn these skills to survive in this modern world. The Big Cheese Festival helps to make it less frightening and more relatable by creating a fun and entertaining world.

Pages: 37 | ASIN: B01H3S381O

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It’s Okay, I’m Watching

It's Okay, I'm Watching (Dear Grief Series Book 1)5 Stars

It’s Okay, I’m Watching, written by Chenee Gilbert, is a novel based around LaTrell Wiggins- a caring young girl who lives with her younger brother Daryl and her parents, Luis and Paulini. Tragedy strikes the family as Paulini’s life is taken by cancer. Grief-stricken, the family begins to process death in their own ways and learns that grief can appear in all shapes and forms. Meanwhile, LaTrell is beginning middle school which comes with the inevitable stage of life- puberty. During this confusing time, Luis, Daryl and LaTrell must come to terms with life without Paulini and the changing dynamics of their family environment.

It’s Okay, I’m Watching opens the door to conversation with those experiencing all forms of grief. LaTrell Wiggins, the main character, loses her mother to cancer whilst entering a vulnerable stage of her life- middle school and puberty. An easily relatable character, LaTrell’s journey shows how families can show strength in the face of terrible adversity.

It’s Okay I’m Watching discusses how our lives are enriched in traditions and questions the reader’s thoughts on what traditions they would pass on to others. It reminds the reader that time waits for no-one and unfortunately, circumstances are out of our control. Personally, it reminded me of the importance of holidays and the unique nuances that make my family my own and what traditions would be present in a memorial for my loved ones.

If you are looking for a companion after experiencing loss, look no further. It’s Okay, I’m Watching will help begin the healing processes and start the pathway to acceptance. This is done through discussion questions at the end of each chapter which helps the reader to reflect on their own circumstances.  It explores how grief is a reaction and a release of an array of emotions. Tragedy can strike anywhere at any time and you will be able to empathize with the characters and their journey.

One of my favorite characters is Shajuan Martinez, LaTrell’s friend. Sassy and confident; she tolerates very little. LaTrell discusses with her friends her grief counselling sessions and they begin to identify whether it is something they could benefit from. LaTrell’s other friend, Chandler, begins to acknowledge his own grief that he had been trying to mask. Her two friends shine a humorous side to LaTrell’s darkest days.

Teenagers experience loss and grief through death, break-ups and even loss of pets. Exposure to novels such as this will help them begin to understand the grieving process in an already confusing time of their life. It allowed me to normalize my own grieving processes and the impact these times had during my youth.

What I loved most about this novel is that it opens up the idea that grief isn’t restricted to those experiencing death and instead can be felt by those who are feeling alone, sad or missing someone. I would recommend this to anyone who is looking to understand their own journey in regards to grief and loss.

Pages: 110 | ASIN: B01MXKCY8R

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Paroxysm Effect

Paroxysm Effect4 StarsHuman beings can be the most destructive, manipulative creatures on the planet. Ashleigh Reynolds captures this with fierce elegance in her novel Paroxysm Effect. What begins with a futuristic world where people are chipped in order to control their emotions devolves into an end-of-the-world scenario that will have you guessing what Reynolds possibly dreams about at night. Our protagonist, Gemi, finds herself in the center of the world’s destruction as people all over begin to succumb to madness as the chips they have lived with for untold amounts of time begin to go haywire. Mild mannered receptionists are ready to dice their coworkers to pieces. Strangers in the streets are murdering others before anyone can fully grasp what is going on. Gemi tumbles out into the middle of this madness only to be rescued by the handsome Jaxton and his military band of unchipped soldiers.

In order to read this book, you must be comfortable with blood: because there is a lot of it. Between the savage beatings in the streets there follows the betrayal of friendships and the viciousness of angry, threatened women. Gemi is a fish out of water: she’s being pulled along for the ride as the military group tries to save themselves from the regular humans whose chips have malfunctioned. We learn that military members are not chipped in an effort to keep their emotions clear and functioning: they need the ability to make snap decisions. Gemi is considered a normal human from a society where chipping is commonplace. With the world going to hell around them, it’s no wonder that other members of the group look upon her with disdain and treat her like a parasite; all while waiting for her to go berserk so they can put her down.

The severity of the attacks seems to increase along with the page numbers. Reynolds is not afraid to show the ugliness that permeates the human soul. While human beings tend to pride themselves as refined and cultured, Paroxysm Effect shows how twisted and despicable they truly are.

With a quick pace and excellent story-telling, Reynolds isn’t afraid to push boundaries and ideals in her novel. For her debut into the literary world she certainly didn’t waste any time getting to the nitty gritty. You can feel the time and effort Reynolds put into developing her world and her characters. She sees the story all the way through; even with the massive twist at the end. While most twists tend to negate everything that happened before them, Reynolds instead uses her twist to full advantage and propels the tale along.

If you’re in the mood to have your mind played with while pondering the potential benefits of a behavior modifying chip, give Paroxysm Effect a read first and then determine how comfortable you’d be leaving your emotions, the very things that compile our personalities and make us who we are, in someone else’s dastardly hands.

Pages: 296 | ISBN: 1523449233

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Views from the Asylum

Views from the Asylum3 StarsViews from the Asylum follows a nameless protagonist as he spews, almost stream of consciousness style, what he deems to be “psychotic views” while dealing with the fallout of his own failed suicide attempt. The topics covered in his rants are wide-ranging and are anti-government. For example, he rails against the U.S. government and their actions, such as the war on drugs and military bases overseas. He states that several middle-east countries are in bad shape today because of American foreign policy.

The text is interrupted by poetic verses, some from published works of other writers, and some of the narrator’s own creation. They add depth to the text surrounding them, and it is a nice break.

The character describes himself as non-religious, but is surprised by a pleasant visit from a priest during his stay in the hospital. He analyzes all of his experiences with other humans throughout the text, but this interaction seemed to have an effect on his character.

One scene involves the character pulling a “Sherlock Holmes” on his doctor, analyzing her appearance and her surroundings to draw conclusions about her character. Through this the reader see’s the narrator’s intelligence and keen eye for observation.

In short, his character can be described by a sentence he speaks to his doctor. “I see no real progression in human nature, since it first started.” His inward looks at himself and at the societies of the world leave him wanting humans to wake up and act more enlightened. His frustration with this lack of enlightenment seems to be the biggest conflict for him.

Overall, it is interesting to follow the narrator as he tries to work his way through his feelings, emotions, and thoughts as he recovers from his suicide attempt. However, many of the ramblings on which he embarks do not help to develop the character, which is unfortunate. But his “psychotic views” do lead to some deep dialogue.

Pages: 157 | ASIN: B00GR5A6JC

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