Monthly Archives: May 2016

Tucky Jo and Little Heart by Patricia Polacco

Tucky Jo and Little Heart by Patricia Polacco

Today’s pick for Perfect Picture Book Friday is Tucky Jo and Little Heart


Written/Illustrated by: Patricia Polacco

Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman (2015)

Suitable for ages: 7-10

Themes/Topics: compassion, courage, empathy, friendship, loyalty, Philippines, WWII

Brief Synopsis: This story is based on true events that took place during WW II. In her author’s note, Palacco states she listened to veterans who told stories about the war. She was inspired by the experiences of a soldier from Kentucky, Johonnie Wallen (Tucky Jo), and a Filipina child (Little Heart), he met while serving in the Pacific. Polacco tells the remarkable story of how they met, became friends, and decades later, as if by fate, were reunited in the USA.

The book is heavy in text, filled with southern expressions and dialect written in the voice of Johonnie. Although the author takes great care to show the horrors of war in a way children may understand, I  am recommending it for older readers rather than pre-k to grade 2 audience.

Johonnie (Tucky Jo) joined the military when he was 15 years old earning him the nickname Kentucky Kid. His unit is shipped to the Philippines, where they are told to build an airstrip.  When out clearing a path in the jungle, Johnnie is bitten badly by bugs. While looking for water to cool his bites, he meets a little girl from a nearby village who shows him how to treat his bug bites with the leaves of a local plant. He returns the kindness with a chocolate bar. He tells her his name and she repeats ”Tucky Jo”. Unable to speak her language, he calls her Little Heart because of a heart shaped birthmark on her arm. He looks forward to Little Heart’s visits in the jungle but one day she didn’t show up. Johonnie went to the village to look for her and learned she was traumatized after witnessing the death of her mother, and the capture of the young men in her village including her brother and father. As a result, the villagers were starving. Tucky Jo found a way to feed them. After he learns his unit would be leaving and the area bombed, Tucky Jo is able to convince the military to evacuate the people. After he saw the Army helicopters whisk them away, Johonnie figured he’d never see Little Heart again.

Fast forward to the USA when an aging Johonnie goes to the Veteran’s Hospital and they are reunited! And the story continues to tug at your heartstrings.

Why I like this book: As a member of a military family I enjoy picture books that tell stories specific to our experiences. Having lived in the Philippines, I once helped feed a local child brought to the military base who was injured in the jungle. Life in the military can be so rewarding but alas is not without risk. Which reminds me; May 30, 2016 is Memorial Day. On that day, we honor those who left home to serve but did not return home. This story is about a veteran who served not only his country but all of humanity and was fortunate to return and live a long life. Some would say it’s more appropriate for Veteran’s Day. But I highly recommend it for any day a teacher, parent, librarian or caretaker is interested in sharing about how one young man’s triumphant spirit, courage, and kindness brought hope and salvation to people in desperate need of help.

Below is a photo of Johonnie Wallen. I have not found one of Ms. Zaballa (Little Heart) but if you read the Epilogue in the book, you will learn all about the wonderful life she led and her joy of finally reconnecting with her Tucky Jo.



Read the obituary written about Johonnie Wallen by his daughter here

The National WW II Museum is located in New Orleans. If you are ever in the area, do visit.

The Homeschool Mom blog has lessons and videos about WW II for elementary aged students.

Friends of the WW II Memorial has detailed lesson plans here.

See this Scholastic page for loads of resources.


For more of today’s reviews, see author Susanna Hill’s blog here.


Happy reading!

Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood

Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood

Today’s pick for Perfect Picture Book Friday is Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay


Written by: Susan Hood

Illustrated by: Sally Wern Comport

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (2016)

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Resilience, Poverty, Compassion, Courage, Community, Creativity, Paraguay, Music

Brief Synopsis: This is the true story of Ada Ríos and the start of The Recycled Orchestra from the small town of Catuera in Paraguay. Catuera isn’t like most places, it is part of a landfill made of trash. Poverty surrounds the people who live there and so does crime. As one can imagine, Ada and her parents worry about their future. Her grandmother took care of Ada before she was old enough for school while her parents worked. Her abuela loved to sing to Ada. Her whole family loved music. One day Ada’s grandmother saw a sign at the chapel from a music teacher named Favio Chávez offering free music lessons. She signed Ada up. But many children showed up for lessons and there only three guitars and two violins to share. Ada dreamed of playing the violin, but knew she needed an instrument of her own to practice. Her family had no money to spend on such a luxury. Then Señor Chávez had an idea. He knew of a band that made its own instruments so he asked a ganchero, a carpenter named Nicolás Gómez to help. With much experimentation, soon there were enough instruments, made from trash, for anyone who wanted to learn to play! Ada finally got a violin, made from recycled trash, of her very own. Readers follow Ada and her fellow musicians through their plight to learn to play these instruments all the way to their success taking the stage for audiences to hear them perform.

Opening pages:  “Ada Ríos grew up in a town made of trash.

Every morning at dawn, Ada heard the first garbage trucks rumble and roll down the road to Cateura. Beep, beep, beep! Backing into the landfill, they tipped their loads up and up and-CRASH! The trash came tumbling down-fifteen hundred tons each day.” 

Why I like this book: I spent last week in Paraguay. Music is a very important part of the culture. Although I did not see any musicians from Cateura play, I was fortunate to see a young man play a Paraguayan harp. And young women perform traditional dances. I am thrilled Susan Hood has shared this story of The Recycled Orchestra.

Families live in poverty all over the world. The story, Ada’s Violin, allows readers to empathize with their lives and witness their fight against such undesirable conditions. In this story we are witnesses to the power of courage, community, and creativity to overcome insurmountable odds.



There is an author’s note that tells more about Ada, her family and the orchestra. She also adds url’s for websites and videos.


See the 60 Minute segment The Recyclers: From Trash Comes Triumph here.


For more of today’s reviews, see author Susanna Hill’s blog here.

Happy reading!