Welcome to KidLit Gems!

Join us in a coffee-style chat about favorite children’s books and the elements that make them shine.


Text  & Illustrations © 2014, Mike Wohnoutka



Age Range:
2-5 years

Grade Level:

Holiday House

Minnesota Book Award Finalist, 2015

A Scholastic Book Club Selection


Who wants to play?
Little Puppy and the Big Green Monster

This picture book scored a triple hit with me through text, illustrations, and a behind-the-scenes meeting with the author-illustrator. And it’s hard to say which tickled me the most!

Speed bump warning: This isn’t a book to read quickly. Take your time and enjoy the journey as Little Puppy searches for a playmate. Each page only employs a few perfectly chosen words to set the pace, establish mood, and visually break up the page. Read it aloud, letting your voice play with the changing fonts.

Next, savor the illustrations. Note how the monster’s appearance bursts the prior restraint of the color palette. Appreciate the variety of size and angle perspectives. Most of all, giggle with the spot-on facial expressions that carry the true joy of the story. And don’t overlook the mini-story in those fantastic end papers!


DSCN0531800Now for the part you won’t see: I had the pleasure of chatting with Mike Wohnoutka at the 2015 Minnesota Book Awards. He was every bit as animated as Monster (in a good way), and just as friendly and enthusiastic as Little Puppy.  DSCN0534800And talk about optimism! His writing advice? Don’t give up. Just like Little Puppy, don’t ever give up. Whether you’re four or forty-four, that’s advice we can all use.



Found you!
Little Puppy and the Big Green Monster

When I first read this story, I envisioned  Mike Wohnoutka in boxing gloves doing a slow motion victory dance to the Rocky theme. Wohnoutka already had a winner by writing a picture book about the unconditional love and playfulness of a puppy, but when he created a big green monster to receive these gifts, he scaled the top of the writing staircase.

For those of us who can’t illustrate, we’re a little jealous that he can write such sparse text and his illustrator gets it. (I know. It helps that his illustrator is him.) Watch for some of the artistic details that make his pages especially endearing: the personalized mailbox, the picket fence, Little Puppy’s tail language, a rubber ducky, and more rubber duckies . . .

As a puppy owner/mom/wife/relative/friend, I’ve been too busy, too lazy, too mean, too boring, and often a big green monster of sorts, but my furry friends’ charming dispositions rarely changed. Little Puppy and the Big Green Monster reminds me how much I miss my pets and how I’d be a better human if I was more like Little Puppy.

And forty-four, Lou? I hope you were talking in dog years.



KEM Diamond

We want to hear from you!
What children’s books would you recommend?

Missed Opportunity

My husband and I caught our breath at the bottom of the sidewalk. Before us loomed our last and toughest hill of this bike ride and we knew we needed to peddle fast and build up speed to make it to the crest. Plus, we didn’t want to run over the couple coming toward us, especially since the woman was clearly expecting and their two dogs on leashes zigged and zagged across the path.

They moved to a lawn and waved, so my husband took off. I raced to catch up, peddling faster and faster, then slower and slower and slower. Any slower and I’d start rolling backwards. I stood up on my peddles as I passed the couple.

“Hello,” I said, pretending to be as fit as my athletic husband. Really, I was quoting The Little Engine That Could in my head. I think I can. I think I can. I think I–“WHOA!” CRASH!

My left foot slipped off the pedal and I fell with a clatter.

While his sympathetic wife gasped, the man ran to me. “Are you okay?”

Embarrassed, I stood without checking my wounds. “Yeah, I’m okay. Thank you.” I hastily pushed my bike the rest of the way up the hill and rode past my husband. “Let’s go home.”

Once there, we assessed my bruises and cuts and my husband said. “I’ve seen that couple before.”

That couple? Oh, yeah. They were such a blur. Would I know them if I saw them again?

That’s when I realized that I acted like a jerk. Not because I fell off the bike, but because I missed an opportunity to express humility and gratitude. My bike acrobatics offered the perfect chance to allow others to be the best version of their heroic selves–and for me to be the best version of my thankful self.

One day we could’ve reminisced, “Remember how we first became friends? You fell off your bike and did that cool, slow-motion fall, with the quirky, high-pitched scream?”MyBike

“Yeah! And you let your dogs lick my scrapes clean while YOU went into labor and we helped deliver your baby right then and there. That was so nice of you to name her ‘Grace,’ after me.”

“It was the least we could do. You were bleeding and all.”

Sigh . . .

Sometimes we miss opportunities, when pride goeths AFTER the fall.


Welcome to KidLit Gems!

About favorite children’s books and the elements that make them shine.

September’s theme: Empowering Youth

NameplateAnnasGemII AM MALALA
The Girl Who Stood Up For Education
And Was Shot By The Taliban

Text © 2013 by Salarzai Limited
Written by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb 


12 and up

to Adult

Brown and Company, a Division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Awards: Non-Fiction Book of
the Year, National Book Awards

Once I had asked God for one or two extra inches in height, but instead he made me as tall as the sky, so high that I could not measure myself. So I offered the hundred raakat nafl that I had promised if I grew.

Malala Yousafzai is the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for good reason.  Inspired by her passionate educator father and her political hero, Benazir Bhutto, she spoke out as an advocate for millions of education-deprived girls when she knew it could cost her her life. Then she got shot in the head at point-blank range on her school bus. Yet she continued to express her defiance against intellectual oppression from her hospital bed and continues to this day. In my eyes, she is the Nelson Mandela/Martin Luther King of the right to education.

In I Am Malala, you’ll learn why Malala doesn’t wear earrings; what she thought about  9-11; how she treats her impoverished peers; what a “ghost school” is; what she means when she says the music stopped; why Operation Silence and the death of some surprisingly vocal women enraged the Swat Taliban; who Gul Makai and Asia Bibi are; what IDP means; how Malala became friends with former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown; why Birmingham is significant to her (not Alabama, but England); and how Malala and her family survived an earthquake, the biggest exodus in Pashtun history, government corruption, and the attempted-indoctrination of a brain-washing radio dictator, Fazlullah (Fazal Hayat).

Some book reviewers have expressed that they wanted less history and more emotional content. Granted, if you’re looking for all emotion and no history, this book might not be for you. But if you want to learn and be inspired, the backstory will explain how and why so many Pakistani’s came to accept jihad. And you’ll marvel all the more at the extraordinary courage of the story-tellers: 1.) a still-threatened Pakistani school girl who forgave her would-be-assassin and 2.) a busy foreign correspondent who managed to translate the good, the bad, and the ugly of Malala’s complex life to a culturally diverse world in strike-while-the-gun-is-hot hyper speed.

Thank you, Little, Brown and Company, for spreading Malala’s story. I commend you for your courage and vision.

The United Nations designated November 10 Malala Day. Let’s celebrate Malala-style: “Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”

We human beings don’t realize how great God is. He has given us an extra extraordinary brain and a sensitive loving heart. He has blessed us with two lips to talk and express our feelings, two eyes which see a world of colors and beauty, two feet which walk on the road of life, two hands to work for us, a nose which smells the beauty of fragrance, and two ears to hear the words of love. As I found with my ear, no one knows how much power they have in their each and every organ until they lose one.
~ I Am Malala

~ Anna

“My year with Malala,” The Sunday Times, 13 October 2013 by Christina Lamb

Note that there is also a Young Reader’s Edition of I Am Malala, co-written by Patricia McCormick.

He Named Me Malala Official Trailer 1 (2015) – Documentary HD from Movieclips Film Festivals & Indie Films

GEM Ruby

We want to hear from you!
What book would you recommend to empower youth?


Welcome to KidLit Gems!

Join us in a coffee style conversation about favorite children’s books and the elements that make them shine.

This month’s theme: Empowering Youth

Text © 2013, Trudy Ludwig
Illustrations © 2013, Patrice Barton



Age Range:
6-9 years

Grade Level:
First- Fourth

Alfred A.
for Young
an imprint of
Random House


  • 2013 Junior Library Guild Selection
  • Starred Review, School Library Journal
  • School Library Journal Best Picture Books 2013 Selection
  • Scholastic Instructor Recommended Back-to-School Picks 2013
  • USA Today Recommended Back-to-School Picks 2013
  • 2013 NAPPA Gold Medal Winner
  • The Children’s Book Review Best Picture Books 2013 Selection
  • Missourian October Book Buzz Pick 2013
  • Winter 2013-2014 Kids’ Indie Next List Selection
  • Oregon Spirit Book Awards 2013 Short List Selection
  • International Reading Association Teachers’ Choices 2014 Selection
  • Kentucky Bluegrass Award 2015 Master List Selection



When the bell rings for recess, Micah and J.T. take turns choosing kids for their kickball teams. The best players get picked first. Then the best friends of the best players. Then the friends of the best friends. Only Brian is left, still waiting and hoping.
~ The Invisible Boy

I admit it: As a teacher, I sometimes lecture. I preach. I cajole. And in doing so, I risk losing my audience. Trudy Ludwig, however, spins a sweet story to sneak in her lesson of inclusiveness. In The Invisible Boy, Brian always seems to fly under the radar: Never picked for group work, never invited to parties, never really noticed despite his artistic talent and friendliness. It takes a new student’s arrival to change the class dynamics so Brian finally stops being so—invisible.

I’m normally a text-focused reviewer, but Patrice Barton’s illustrations really step up to enhance this story. When Brian feels sidelined, he’s drawn in black and white, contrasting wonderfully next to his colorful classmates. Each time he’s actually noticed or interacts with others, color starts to blossom on his cheeks. It’s a simple but effective technique to catch our eye and evoke sympathy for Brian. The ending is that much more satisfying when we finally get to see Brian in full, blessed color like the other kids.

Whether you’re hoping to teach inclusiveness, celebrate quiet talents, or just enjoy a story with heart, check out The Invisible Boy and feel your own color start to blossom.

~ Lou




Brian looks at the floor, wishing he could draw a hole right there to swallow him up.
~ The Invisible Boy

Everyone wants to be noticed. That’s why Nathan talks in his outside voice, why Sophie is a drama queen, and why the teacher can’t see past Nathan and Sophie. All of them are competing to be heard. But Brian has a bigger problem. He’s too introverted to demand attention. He’s the invisible boy.

Haven’t we all felt invisible?

Author Tracy Ludwig offers a solution, but it requires a risk. This risk entails looking outside of ourselves. Ludwig reminds young readers, old readers, introverts, and extroverts that happiness is accessible when we share the good that is within.

Illustrator Patrice Barton makes kids like Brian visible with humor and gentleness. Her images don’t reprimand, pity, or condescend. I like to imagine that her other tenderly-drawn characters, like those in Mine and I Like Old Clothes are the family members of Brian and his class–all on their own journey of acceptance.

The Invisible Boy and Ludwig’s other psychologically smart stories, like Confessions of a Former Bully and Gifts From the Enemy offer creative resources to replace isolation, exclusion, and aggression with companionship, empathy, and kindness. Children love Ludwig and her stories, because she understands. Parents and teachers, and counselors love Ludwig and her stories, because she empowers.

Who’s invisible in your life? Is it you? You’ll find a friend in The Invisible Boy.

~ Anna


KEM Diamond

Watch for my gem next week!

We want to hear from you!
What empowering children’s book do you recommend?


Welcome to KidLit Gems!

Join us in a coffee-style chat about favorite children’s books and the elements that make them shine.

August’s theme: Survivor Stories


Text & Illustrations © 2010, Linda Sue Park





Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

New York Times Bestseller

Booklist Starred Review


  • 2011 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award (NY)
  • 2012 Black-Eyed Susan Award Nominee (MA)
  • 2012 Flicker Tale Children’s Book Award (ND)
  • 2012 Great Lakes Book Award Nominee (MI)
  • 2012 Kentucky Blue Grass Award Nominee
  • 2012 Maine Student Book Award Nominee
  • 2013 Golden Sower Award Nominee (NE)
  • 2013 South Carolina Association of School Librarians Award Nominee
  • 2013 Young Hoosier Book Award Nominee (IN)

Later, he would learn that at least a thousand people had died trying to cross the river that day, drowned or shot or attacked by crocodiles.

How was it that he was not one of the thousand? Why was he one of the lucky ones?

A Long Walk to Water cleverly alternates two points of view in the third person, as both main characters, “walk to water” in Southern Sudan. Tween readers’ will anxiously flip to the next chapter as Nya endures her daily routine and Salva faces lions, soldiers and travels abroad. Both Nya and Salva are BRAVE warriors, the kind that keep going when faced with adversity. Park herself bravely narrated this true story about Salva’s Dut of Lou-Ariik’s experience during Sudan’s civil war using objective tone, simplistic vocabulary and a rich setting. I can’t wait for my children to join Salva on his journey from Southern Sudan to America, and to learn what hope and generosity can accomplish.

~ Kristi

The walking began again. Walking–but to where?

No one knew anything for sure. Where was Salva supposed to go?

Not home. There is still war everywhere in Sudan. Not back to Ethiopia. The soldiers would shoot us. Kenya. There are supposed to be refugee camps in Kenya.

Nothing stops Salva Dut. Not starvation. Not lions. Not crocodiles. Not bullets. In A Long Walk to Water, based on Dut’s experience as the leader of almost 1500 “Lost Boys of Sudan,” Linda Sue Park shares Dut’s story of perseverance and triumph through two sets of adolescent eyes, over a decade apart. Salva, an 11-year-old boy from 1985 Sudan walks to escape death. Nya, an 11-year-old girl from 2008 Sudan walks to find life. The two converge at the base of what Nya calls “the iron giraffe”–a life-giving deep-water well. United by hardship, Salva’s hardship brings empathy. Nya’s hardship brings gratitude.

This well will quench more than thirst. It will bring forth new crops and opportunities for education and work. This gut-wrenching and significant account makes me want to grow up to be like Salva. Or, more fittingly, like Linda Sue Park, telling the stories of other Salva Duts so more people, like me, can be inspired to greater heights of empathy, gratitude, and giving.

~ Anna

How we can help: Water For South Sudan

KEM Sapphire

Watch for Lou’s gem next week!

We want to hear from you!
What is your favorite survivor story for youth?


Welcome to KidLit Gems!

About favorite children’s books and the elements that make them shine.

August’s theme: Survivor Stories

Text © 2011, (Reprint Edition 2013) Thanhha Lai





Harper, an imprint of Harper-

New York Times Bestseller





  • National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, 2011
  • Newbery Honor, 2012
  • Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Honor for Older Children, 2012
  • ALA Notable Children ‘s Book 2012, Middle;
  • Booklist 2011 Editors’ Choice, Books for Youth, Fiction, Middle Reader
  • Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books of 2011
  • Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Books 2011, Fiction
  • SLJ Best Books of 2011, Fiction
  • Booklist Lasting Connections of 2012, Social Studies
  • Notable Children’s Book in the English Language Arts, 2012
  • CCBC Choices, 2012
  • Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2012, World History & Culture

 Current News

Every Friday
in Miss Zinh’s class
we talk about
current news.

But when we keep talking about
how close the Communists
have gotten to Saigon
how much prices have gone up
since American soldiers left,
how many distant bombs
were heard the previous night,
Miss Xinh finally says no more.

From now on
will be for
happy news.

No one has anything
to say.

March 21


This loosely autobiographical middle grade masterpiece ranks right up there with  Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood; Sold; A Long Walk to Water; and The One and Only Ivan. Like the aforementioned stories, Inside Out & Back Again offers readers an opportunity to live another’s real life experiences in different skin in different cultures and different parts of the world. And these stories aren’t your run of the mill grind–but encounters with tribulation, hope, and survival. And, like Sold and The One and Only Ivan, the experiences are delivered through intimate first person, present tense verse.

War leaves Thannha Lai’s ten-year-old protagonist, Hà, and her three older brothers fatherless. Through Hà, Thannha brings us into parts of her own world as a citizen of Saigon, then a boat refugee, and an immigrant to Guam, Florida, and Alabama. In her homeland Hà feels smart, secure, and fearless. In America Hà feels dumb, lonely, and afraid.

Her discoveries made me laugh out loud:

. . .

I look up

Jane: not listed

sees: to eyeball something

Spot: a stain

run: to move really fast

Meaning: ______ eyeballs stain move.

And clutch my chair:

. . .  Everyone knows the ship
could sink,
unable to hold
the piles of bodies
that keep crawling on
like raging ants
from a disrupted nest.

And cry:

. . . What if
father is really gone?

From the sad look
on their faces
I know
despite their brave guesses
They have begun to accept
what I said on a whim.

Capturing such a comprehensive, novel in so few words is an exceptional feat. Many people live harrowing lives that will go unnoticed. Cultures and parts of the world will go unshared. But thanks to the talent and dedication of author Thanhha Lai, we can experience a taste of her life–as one smart, young, female Vietnamese survivor, because she’s discovered the perfect formula for translation.

If you like this KidLit Gem, you’ll also love Thanhha’s newest New York Times sensation, Listen, Slowly.

~ Anna

Thanhha Lai, Inside Out & Back Again Reading, 2011 National Book Awards

GEM Ruby

Watch for Kristi’s pick next!

We want to hear from you!
What’s your favorite survivor story for children?


Welcome to KidLit Gems!

Join us in a coffee-style chat about favorite children’s books and the elements that make them shine.

This month’s theme: Survivor Stories

Text © 2010, Edwidge Danticat
Illustrations © 2010, Alix Delinois



Age Range:
4-8 years

Grade Level:
3rd Grade

an imprint of Scholastic Inc.

Kirkus, starred review


.. when the earth shook again and again, I was afraid. And sometimes I cried, because I missed Manman and Papa and my little sister, Justine. But in my mind, I played.
~ Eight Days: A Story of Haiti

Haiti’s 2010 earthquake didn’t end happily ever after, yet it’s the subject of an inspiring picture book. In Eight Days: A Story of Haiti, author Edwidge Danticat introduces us to Haitian daily life through Junior, a fictional boy pulled from the rubble after eight long days.

As we wait for Junior’s rescue, day by day, the story focuses on pre-earthquake Haiti. We daydream with Junior about his favorite, wonderfully ordinary activities—flying kites, eating sweet mangos, and helping Papa sweep up at work. Through his eyes, we feel the simple joy of jumping in puddles, racing bicycles around statues, and singing in the church choir. The text resonates with a child’s voice and word choices, letting us peek into a far-away culture full of light and joy despite unimaginable challenges.

The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed or troubled, read Eight Days for a dose of hope, happiness, and humility.

~ Lou

EightDaysBeginningFourthDay ___________________________________________________________________

But then Oscar felt really tired and went to sleep. He never woke up. That was the day I cried. ~ Eight Days: A Story of Haiti

How often does news of natural disaster cause a knot in your stomach and a lump in your throat? Do you wonder how such global challenges affect children? Can you comprehend the anxiety felt by child survivors, like the Haitian children who worried for their families and loved ones after the January 12, 2010 earthquake? Edwidge Danticat could. Her own five-year-old had questions. Danticat wanted her daughter and other children to know that hope, memories, and imagination can survive disaster. That’s why she wrote Eight Days: A Story of Haiti.

Danticat wrote about struggle, determination, and loss through a small survivor named Junior. Through this creative format, kids can understand and accept, without feeling overwhelmed by sadness or despair. Alix Delinois’ beautiful, bright, colorful illustrations keep Haiti and its culture alive as it was and can be again.

Power in a picture book: If you want to assure children or yourself that it’s okay to talk about sad things–and that perseverance, empathy, and compassion can overcome tragic circumstances, look no further than Eight Days: A Story of Haiti.

~ Anna


KEM Diamond

Watch for my gem next!

We want to hear from you!
What’s you favorite survivor story for children?