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The Magic Beads
by Susin Nielsen-Fernlund
Illustrated by Geneviève Côté
AGES: 7 & up
SIZE: 8.5 x 10.25
RIGHTS: NA English
PRICES: US $16.95, Cdn $17.95
HARDCOVER: 978-1-894965-47-7


"A talisman for anxious readers" 


- Best of the Year, Resource Links, 2007

- Canadian Children's Book Centre, Best Books for Kids and Teens Pick


CM Magazine

"Abuse, family breakups, moving away, abandoning possessions, living in an unfamiliar location, loss of privacy, financial hardship, and new beginnings are the realities for many children today. This storybook, The Magic Beads, provides a context for discussion with youngsters about sensitive issues in a non-threatening way."


"Trying to fit in as the new kid in a different school can be a challenging experience for many children, including Lillian. The butterflies she feels in her stomach on her first day steadily feel like larger animals churning around as the week progresses. The main culprit behind this anxiety is the upcoming Show and Tell: as the children bring in some rather impressive toys in preparation for the big event, Lillian grows increasingly worried because she has nothing comparable to bring in. She and her mom had to move suddenly to a family shelter because of her dad's bad temper, and they left all their belongings behind. Lillian's mother is saving every penny to rent an apartment and cannot afford to buy Lillian a new toy. Only when Lillian comes up with a creative solution to her predicament and comes to terms with her current living situation at the shelter do the butterflies go away.

The Magic Beads is an excellent example of a children's book that broaches a difficult topic - in this case, domestic violence - in a sensitive and age-appropriate manner. The expressive illustrations work effectively to communicate the conflicting emotions that the protagonist feels. Woven into the compelling story are some powerful economics lessons about scarcity, wants and needs, and the economics of conflict. This book offers a hopeful message that Lillian and her mother, who experienced extreme conflict at home and a change in living standards at the shelter, are able to find help and support as they transition to a new chapter in their lives." - Yana V. Rodgers, Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children 


Library Thing 

"Lily had to leave all of her toys behind when she and her mom moved into a domestic violence shelter. Consequently, she gets very worried about what she's going to bring for show and tell at her new school. A story that's both heartbreaking and hopeful." 

"One of the instruments that takes us to new learnings and new understandings" -Kristina Bellerose, Laurentian University in Sudbury, ON


Raising Global Citizens: 

"I find social justice tricky to talk about, in part because the term covers so much ground and in part because it challenges the kids assumptions that all people value each other regardless of colour, religion, socioeconomic status, language etc. But books always help and therese are a few we have enjoyed recently. And every time I close the cover of a book and look at my children I realize that my job is mostly to nuture the innate sense of justice and fairness and good that they were born with - to keep my own prejudices and assumptions and fears out of the way so that they can continue to grow in ways that will make all the difference. Recommended title: The Magic Beads."


CM Magazine

Lily's stomach is full of butterflies. Since her mother took her away from home to live in a family shelter, Lily has had to start attending a new school, and her class includes a "Show and Tell" activity. Lily only has until the end of the week to find something to bring to show her new classmates, but all of her toys have been left back at her home with her father who sometimes has a really bad temper. As the week wears on, Lily grows more and more nervous about showing something to the class, and the butterflies in her stomach grow into grasshoppers, rabbits, donkeys, and even buffaloes. When the time for Show and Tell comes, Lily only has one thing to show the class – her beads, which to her, are magic. But will the rest of the class think so?

internal art      The Magic Beads, written by Susin Nielsen-Fernlund, is the tale of a girl overcoming shyness. Lily is the new girl at school, with typical fears of wanting the other students to like her. But Lily's situation may not be the most typical. She has moved to a new city to stay at a family shelter with her mother because her father sometimes hurt her and hit her mom. This aspect of the story adds a unique element to an otherwise familiar tale, and it gives the story the potential for a much wider audience, by having both a plot line relatable to almost anyone set against the backdrop of a serious issue many may not know much about. This book also does a good job of portraying emotions in a creative and relatable way. Lily's nervousness is something to which nearly everyone can relate, and the expansion of the 'butterflies in the stomach' theme creates a wonderful visual and imaginative description of what nervousness feels like.

      The illustrations, done by Geneviève Côté, are crucial to this story. When Lily has butterflies, donkeys, and other strange creatures in her stomach, the illustrations show black, sketch-like animals all over the page, highlighting how scary the emotions Lily feels are. The illustrations also show Lily playing with her beads throughout the story, something that is not actually mentioned in the text until she brings the beads in for Show and Tell. The illustrations, however, always show her engaging with the beads, and when she starts to tell her class about them, previous images from earlier in the story are shown again, with the beads being magical. One example of this is when Lily can't watch t.v. because another boy in the shelter is already watching something. The original illustration shows Lily standing with her beads in a straight line, looking annoyed at the boy. When she is talking at Show and Tell, however, the illustration is shown again, but this time the straight line of beads is a wand, and the boy sitting in front of the t.v. has been turned into a frog.

      There seem to be two separate story lines going on in this book. On the one hand, there is the story of Lily being a new girl at school and being nervous about making a good impression with her classmates. On the other hand, however, there is the story of Lily and her mother moving to a shelter to get away from an abusive father/husband. Throughout the tale, it seems like these two plot lines struggle for prominence in the story, and thus the tale as a whole seems a little disjointed. The two story lines are tied together through the struggle for Lily to find something to bring for Show and Tell, but it does seem like neither plot is fully developed, which sometimes makes it hard to tell what the real purpose of the story is.

      The Magic Beads is a heartfelt tale of a girl overcoming her shyness at school. Although Lily's back story is complex and serious, her nervousness is something to which many children can relate, and by having the two story lines pulled together, this story could be a good way to begin to explore the topic of family life and abuse without overwhelming the reader. Neither plot line in this book seems completely developed, which means that this story should probably be read with other books on similar topics, but it is a nice tale with a happy ending that makes for an enjoyable read.