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The Safe Return by Ashley Wheelock and Arwen Evans, illustrated by Abigail Gray Swartz

There were two entrants to my Chilren’s Book Review Lottery. This week I’ll be sharing with you my thoughts on The Safe Return by Ashley Wheelock and Arwen Evans, illustrated by Abigail Gray Swartz.

Through staccato text, The Safe Return brings readers along on a group bike ride in which they can feel the whoosh of the wind and the flap of handle bar streamers as feet kick, balance, roll, and peddle.

Sneakers pound the pavement like a chorus of drums; their rhythm broken by the drrring of a bicycle bell. The story feels and sounds like a typical bike ride with a group of friends, but like everything else today it’s far from what we used to, only a year ago, think of as typical.

The children practice bicycle safety by strapping on their bicycle helmets, safely stowing a much loved stuffed bunny in his own basket and riding with parental supervision. But then the safety measures we’ve had to accept and use on a daily basis since March of 2020 come into play.

The children all wear masks that cover their mouth and nose as does the bunny and throughout their ride they practice social distancing. When a bicycle mishap occurs social distancing is maintained and when the bunny is lost and emotions are high, it is still practiced and maintained. The Safe Return is a great book to read to children in order to demonstrate best practices in as natural a way as possible.

The illustrations of the book use both a warm and cool palette which matches the warmth of the friendly outing as well as the practical need for and safe use of Covid-19 safety protocols. The illustrator does a beautiful job of conveying emotion through the characters’ eyes and through their body language. As a teacher for the visually impaired blind, I often work with students to improve their scanning skills in order to locate hidden pictures within complex spreads and the illustrator has done that within the book too!

The active prose is blended with imagery. The phrase, kick, balance, roll sets the book’s journey in motion. The use of numbers within the book is great for practicing basic numerical and mathematical concepts with children and those numbers propel the forward motion of the story and the bicyclists. There’s also a basic physics lesson within the book, that kids and parents will relate to. The imagery which is sprinkled throughout the text conveys an awareness the riders have of the beauty, the community, the friendship, and love surrounding them, as well as the precautions they need to use to protect themselves and others. There is so much that readers will take away with them from reading this book even it’s title, The Safe Return holds a duality of meaning that I think its readers will enjoy.

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books, children's books, cover illustration, Jennifer Bricking, middle grade books, Nancy Paulsen Books, Padma Venkatraman, Puffin Books, reviews, support an author, THE BRIDGE HOME

THE BRIDGE HOME by Padma Venkatraman Winner of Children’s Book Review Lottery!

There were two entrants to my first ever Children’s Book Review Lottery which allowed me the happy instance to be able to review both books. After making out slips for both books and folding them over, all that was left to do was to pick which to review first. Thank you to my son for humoring his mom and picking the first book. THE BRIDGE HOME was his selection.

THE BRIDGE HOME is the story of Rukku and Viji, two sisters, who leave home because of domestic abuse and their struggles to find “home” with all its attached meanings. The story of their journey to survive is woven through with tender moments of joy, love, friendship, compassion, and gratitude. I found the story both heartbreaking and hopeful. Yes, it sounds like, looks like and is an oxymoron, and its quite a good one.

I identified with the character’s of both girls although they and their perspectives were very different. Viji is a realist who holds onto a dream that gives her hope. Her assumed role as caregiver to Rukku, although she’s younger by a year than Rukku, gives her purpose. Viji is constantly on guard against the world and worried about their survival, but devotion to her sister allows Viji to send Rukku off each night with a story to dream on. The nightly story began with Once upon a time two sisters ruled a magical land and ended with Viji and Rukku always together.

Rukku, who is intellectually disabled, lives within the moment, and because of that capacity she can appreciate and find beauty and joy even in the difficulties of the girls’ everyday existence. Rukku finds her purpose when she comes across a stray dog, Kutti and develops confidence in herself when she and Viji meet up with two homeless boys, Arul and Muthu, who share with the girls all they’ve learned about how to survive on the streets. Through their immediate acceptance of her as equal, she becomes comfortable within her own skin. Her worth is further validated when her skill at beading necklaces gains them money enough to buy food and supplies for their tent-home.

The binding friendship which is formed between Viji and Rukku and Arul and Muthu develops so naturally that I as a reader quickly accepted them into Viji’s and Rukku’s story. Arul holds a strong belief in Christianity. It helps him accept day after day of hardship. His spirituality is in opposition to Viji’s atheistic perceptions. Though both are firm in their beliefs and argue their points, they are still able to accept each other’s different beliefs and later in the story share an understanding of each other’s beliefs.

I found myself completely engrossed in Viji, Rukku, Arul, Muthu and Kutti’s story. I had listened to it once after attending a Highlights Webinar that Padma had co-moderated. I enjoyed Padma’s reading of it and could almost hear the different voices she used to express each character’s personality within their dialogue when I read it in print this time. I highly recommend listening to and reading THE BRIDGE HOME. It’s a book that can be read and immediately re-read.

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“Children’s Book Review Lottery” One Day Left to Enter!

#SupportanAuthor #WriteaReview

Entries for this, my first ever, “Children’s Book Review Lottery” need to be in by midnight on Sunday, September 13th 2020.

The following Monday I will be selecting at random one entry to purchase and review. Entrants can be picture books, early chapter, chapter books, or middle grade books. At the end of the month I will post my review to Amazon, Goodreads, WordPress, Twitter and Instagram (story). As KaylaAnn offered in her blog kaylaannauthor.wordpress.com, I will only post a review if I feel comfortable giving it 3 stars or more. If I feel that the book deserves less than 3 stars, I will send my review directly to the author and ask if they still want me to post it on Amazon (only).

All that’s left for you to do is to enter. Just leave the title of your book, a link to it and a compelling blurb in the comments at the end of this post. In order for your entry to qualify you need all three requirements. I will let you know personally if your book has been chosen.

You have to be in it to win it!

Looking forward to reading your books!