Powerful Art – The Girl Who Saved Yesterday by Julius Lester. Illustrated by Carl Angel. Book Review.

 Click on the cover to buy the book.

It was the illustrator, Carl Angel, who asked me to review this book. So I will start with the illustrations. They are double-page spread paintings that are worthy of an art museum. Dynamic, expressive, and insightful, they pull you into the page.

The story takes place in Africa. The trees, that have taken the little girl in and raised her, remind me a little of the Ents in Tolkien’s book. These ones, however, are more exotic and spiritual. The monkey, parrot, villagers, elephant, and the lion are vivid and realistic.

The heroine, Silence, is a beautiful young woman whose task is to save the village that abandoned her. You can almost feel the texture of her hair.

When she braves the mountain, going against the village rules, we have no doubt that she will succeed in her quest. Her long strides up the mountain, scythe in hand, show us Silence’s determination and fearlessness. When she speaks to the trees, she has almost achieved the status of goddess in her pose and sense of command. But then, Carl Angel softens her appearance when she uncovers the markers of the forgotten ancestors. At first she is shocked, then again Silence is determined to change things, and finally joyous.

Every detail in the pages of illustration contribute to this story. The girl, loved and raised by the trees, wears a dress patterned in leaves and an armband made of twigs. The sky changes to reflect what is happening in the story. The text is a fable, almost legendary, and Carl Angel’s illustrations frame it perfectly.

A little on the story… The villagers have forgotten their ancestors. Because of this, frightening things have been happening. Once the grave markers are found and the ancestors are honored, both night and day become times of peace and harmony.

The story ends with Silence returning to the trees that loved and cared for her. Although the villagers want to thank her and ask for her forgiveness, she does not return. She already knows her place in the universe.

There is much to discuss about both text and illustrations. An unusual, exceptional book.

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I was given a copy of this book for my Little Free Library in exchange for a book review.

The illustrator, Carl Angel, was interviewed on my blog February 22, 2017.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Late Winter Lottery Hopes. Recycled Sundays.

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I wonder if lottery ticket sales increase in late winter? I know I scan the list of winning digits with more than my usual desperation when the “Where the heck is spring?” blah’s set in. Did they pass a bill in the Senate when I wasn’t looking to add an extra week to winter every year until the entire population of Canada is insane with cabin fever? Those potential million-dollar numbers take on an extra gleam in March.

As I stumble over my ice pocked driveway, trying not to lose control and slide under my vehicle, I imagine walking barefoot over sundrenched beaches. I’d spend my winnings on a luxury liner cruise. Imagine sailing through the waves without the aid of an icebreaker in the lead.

Perhaps my sinking despair, while running the gauntlet of brain bashing roof icicles and ankle busting lumps of brown highway grit, explains my vehemence toward Clearing House Sweepstake envelopes. I snort resentfully at the suggestion to follow the “simple” instructions on how to enter. They go something like this.

Stick the “before February 15” silver circle on the back of the mailing envelope if you are mailing before this date unless you have received this during the month that begins with the letter M or ends with an R. If not stick the “before March 1” golden sticker on the front of the envelope. Paste the coin sticker on the coin voucher. If you are over 60 years of age, paste the golden years square on the order form, but only if you are ordering. If you are ordering more than six magazines, use the bonus page and paste the subscriptions in order of price.

Among the 6000 stickers enclosed, find the hidden picture of a car and stick it upside down on the left corner of the automobile entry form, unless you would prefer a van, in which case stick it to the bottom of your foot and dance the Old Soft Shoe. Do not confuse this sticker page with the information sheets on 42 other prizes.

Scratch off seven out of nine of the silver boxes, three out of four of the gold, and two out of six of the gray, unless your birthday is on an even number date, in which case reverse these instructions. Be sure not to scratch more than two in a row from left to right and three in a row from top to bottom except for the first and last rows, which may be doubled unless you scratch off a “stop here.” Use your left hand only.

Punch out the red dot if you are ordering. Punch out the red and yellow dots if you are ordering on a 14 day trial basis. Punch out the yellow and green dots if you are ordering more than four magazines. Punch out the purple if you are not ordering but would like to remain on our mailing list. Punch out the black if you live North of North Bay, unless your name rhymes with cat or gun. Punch out your boss if he or she is not paying you enough to afford any magazine subscriptions.

By the time I have punched, ripped, and licked, and stuck my way through their simple instructions, I feel they owe me a prize. Then I have to mail my entry. I struggle over ice coated snowbanks and through frozen puddles that give way and drop me into wet pits deep enough to entomb pharaohs. I spur myself on by chanting, “I am on the final list of winning numbers.” I have yet to pick up my convertible or take my Caribbean cruise, but I sure have a great selection of magazines. I wonder if the lottery store is open?

Published first in 1990 in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Helping Out a Friend – The Secret Path by Nancy Gee. Illustrated by Kathleen Newman. Book Review.

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Click here to buy The Secret Path

This picture book is a sequel to The Secret Drawer which was reviewed on this blog February 27, 2017.

As the story unfolds, we discover that not only the flying squirrels but all the creatures of the forest have become friends with Maddie, the lady with the sock drawer, and Kitty. They decide to go down a path to Maddie’s house and give her the good news. What good news is still to unfold.

Instead of taking their usual path, they take a shortcut. Sal, one of the flying squirrels falls down into a hole and is trapped by a rock on her foot. It starts to rain and Sal is in danger of drowning. Each animal tries to get to her but is unsuccessful. Sal tells them to get Kitty. The animals race to Maddie’s house and, with gestures, convince the lady and cat to follow them. Turtle has placed himself over the hole to redirect the water but Sal is almost completely submerged. Kitty pulls her from the hole, Maddie wraps her up in a pink fluffy slipper, and the next day we learn the important news. Sal and Al have a litter of kits.

The illustrations have improved. The animals look more like woodland creatures and less like stuffed toys that have gone through the laundry without an anti-static sheet.

Although simple, this is a good story for children. Unfortunately, the author has chosen to write in rhyme again. Although it has improved somewhat, the beat seems a little awkward. There are twisted sentences such as, ” From a distance your cries we hear,/And you’re in trouble, we do fear.” In order to make the rhyme work, the author also uses some unfamiliar vocabulary for children. “Go find Kitty, he’ll fix my plight.” Although this is improved over her last book, I still contend that the story could be much better told without rhyme. It interferes with the pace and emotional connection to the story. It repeatedly pulls the reader out of the narrative. I would be interested in seeing this author tackle a picture book without rhyme. I think her storytelling skill would then come to the forefront.

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March 27, 2017 Review of the Secret Drawer on this blog.

March 29, 2017 Flying Squirrel Secrets: Author Nancy Gee Three Random Questions Interview on this blog.

A copy of this book was generously donated by the author to my Little Free Library.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Dueling Parasols & Steampunk Mysteries: Author Jayne Barnard – Three Random Questions Interview

Jayne Barnard has written for children and adults in the genres of history, mystery, and lately alternate dimensions. Her fiction awards include Saskatchewan Writers Guild, Bloody Words, and Unhanged Arthur, as well as a shortlisting for the UK Debut Dagger. Her YA Steampunk Mystery, Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond, is a finalist for the Prix Aurora and the Book Publishing in Alberta Awards, and a winner of the eFestival of Words Award for Children’s Literature. Her special genre is steampunk.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Jayne. Tell us a little about yourself.

Jayne Barnard: I grew up on Canadian Forces bases in 6 provinces, 3 US states, and Europe. This exposed me to a lot of cultural differences quite early. I finished high school in Kapuskasing, ON, 300 miles from any city, immediately after living on a NATO base in Germany, where I could ride my bike to France any afternoon. Talk about culture shock.

Ferrante: Why did you choose to write steam punk mysteries? 

Barnard: Steampunk appeals to me because of the adventure elements, the sense that anything is possible. The fathers of Steampunk are H.G. Wells, A.D. Doyle, Jules Verne. Yet I also grew up reading Enid Blyton adventures, and Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, and other teenage sleuths. My Steampunk sleuth, Maddie Hatter, is barely out of her teens; she goes on adventures by airship and steam-carriage rather than in a blue convertible, but she’s as dedicated as Nancy Drew about solving the mysteries that fall into her path.

Ferrante: Your short stories have won several prestigious Canadian awards and honors. Did you begin with short story writing and then evolved into a novelist, or have you been writing short stories and novels side-by-side throughout your career?

Barnard: I won my first short fiction award in 1990 for a story, written for my daughter, about a princess solving a dragon problem by using arithmetic. Novel-writing came later, but I still return to short stories between the longer projects, often as a mental distancing technique between finishing a manuscript and beginning to edit. I had a post-apocalyptic short crime story published last month in Enigma Front: Burnt, and have a more traditional crime story coming out in The Whole She-Bang 3 this November, both written while I was editing longer works.

Ferrante: Do you approach writing a short story the same way as you do writing a novel?

Barnard: Since my B.A. in Theatre, I see every piece of writing like the scenes of a play. A short story has fewer scenes and charges onward to the end. A novel has more scenes and many rises and falls of tension before rising toward the climax. Novel scenes have to not only carry their own weight but also carry the pace appropriately for their place in the overall story.

Ferrante: Every now and then a writer introduces me to something new. This time it was parasol dueling. There seems to be no hitting or violence involved. I discovered you are a leading member of Madam Saffron Hemlock’s Parasol Dueling League for Steampunk Ladies. Could you explain what parasol dueling is?

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Barnard: Parasol dueling is, at its simplest, like playing rock-paper-scissors. Certain ways of holding one’s parasol beat other ways of holding it. The holds, or ‘figures,’ are based in the social uses of parasols from Victorian and earlier times, such as to pretend you don’t see someone you don’t want to talk to (called a Snub). World Parasol Dueling Championships are held in Calgary, AB every September; there are lovely photos and videos of that on the group’s Facebook Page

 [link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/539699522804809/ ]

Ferrante: I’m glad you explained that. I totally misunderstood what was happening.

I haven’t really read much steampunk. My misconception was that involved a lot of goggles, loud clanking steam-driven machines, black clothing, and dirigibles. However, I’ve seen a lot of other things on your sites such as royalty watching. Are there different types of steam punk? What is the quintessential definition?

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Barnard: There’s no single definition, but it’s rooted in the Victorian era. Canadians were part of the British Empire, so our Steampunk clothing reflects that. I write against a background of social class and the queen, also important to the British. Americans emphasize the Civil War and Wild West, more egalitarian. If a story uses petroleum technology instead of steam machines, it’s called Diesel-punk, and if it uses computing devices and internet-like communications, then it’s Cyber-punk.

Ferrante: Diesel-punk is a new term for me. The mystery genre has been popular for decades. Why do you think steampunk mystery is developing such a strong fan base?

Barnard: I think Steampunk mystery combines the enduring popularity of mystery with the endless possibilities of the adventure novel. Mysteries set on space stations or in fantasy universes are also very popular. I don’t think the classic crime novel will be displaced by cross-genre fiction; rather, they act as gateways to each other.

Ferrante: Give me a teaser about your latest work Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond.

Barnard: Miss Maddie Hatter is scraping a precarious living as a fashion reporter when the story of a lifetime falls into her lace-gloved hands. Baron Bodmin, an adventurer with more failed quests than fingernails, has vanished in circumstances that are odd even for him. As the last reporter to see the potty peer alive, Maddie has a chance to become an investigative journalist, no easy feat for a young lady in 1898. If she can locate the baron or the Eye of Africa diamond he was hunting, her career will be made. Somebody out there knows what happened, but nobody is talking….

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Click here for more information on Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond
Ferrante: As soon as I heard the title, I thought of the mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland. Is that suggestion deliberate?

Barnard: Alice in Wonderland is one of the Victorian era’s best-known fantasy tales, and for that reason it’s much admired by Steampunks. So yes, Maddie’s name is deliberate. The rest of Deadly Diamond owes more to the game of Clue which, while not a Victorian invention, is not far removed from some Victorian parlour games.

Ferrante: Your knowledge of high fashion clothing during the Victorian era is impressive. I see that you also sew your own costumes for special events. How have you learned to do this? How often do you dress up?

Barnard: I’ve always loved fabrics and playing dress-up; that’s partly why I went into Theatre in university. In costuming classes I learned fitting and sewing. Nowadays health issues keep me from acting, but Steampunk allows me to dress up every few months to improv the part of Madame Saffron, the alternate-Victorian professor of applied botany and parasol dueling.

Ferrante: The vocabulary in Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond is quite rich and the writing style is more formal than what young adults are used to reading. Who do you think are your most devoted fans?

Barnard: Girls 10-13, although fans range from 7 to 85. Our test readers said they loved the ‘juicy’ words like vindicated, precocious and copious. They mostly figured out meanings from context, and they were engaged enough that stopping to look up some words didn’t throw them out of the story.

Ferrante: Are you working on another steampunk mystery?

Barnard: Maddie Hatter and the Gilded Gauge comes out next April. It’s set in New York City in 1899, at the height of the Gilded Age of Vanderbilts and Astors and lavish mansions. Lots of scope for my love of fine fashions and furnishings, but the mystery gets dangerous really fast.

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Ferrante: If your life were literally flashing before your eyes, what are three moments or scenes from your past that you would expect to stand out?

Barnard:

  1. Acting the Three Witches’ opening from MacBeth at my Grade Five Halloween assembly, which set me on the acting path (and the corollary: seeing MacBeth performed at Stratford last spring).
  2. Visiting Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria when I was 12. It’s the world’s most fairy-tale of castles, and mad King Ludwig, who built it, took strong hold of my young mind.
  3. Having so many friends, new and from decades ago, show up to the launch for Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond to help celebrate that I had finally achieved my lifelong dream of a book with my name on it. The book made #1 on the Calgary fiction bestseller list for that week because of all those wonderful people.

Ferrante: If you were told that you could watch only one television show a week for the next 12 months, which show would you choose to watch?

Barnard: Funny you should ask that. Right now I’m re-watching Star Trek: The Next Generation – admittedly more than one episode a week – and marveling at the concise dialogue and tight plotting that goes into almost every episode.

Ferrante: I loved STTNG. I’m in awe of Patrick Stewart.

If you could wake up every morning, open your bedroom blinds, and look out a huge glass window at the perfect view, what would that be?

Barnard: Across a wide, sunlit bay to snow-capped mountains. It’s almost the view I get from my winter place on Vancouver Island, except that we can’t quite see the Comox glacier from our deck. Between that and the past year’s writing successes, I’m very close to living my dream.

Ferrante: That’s awesome. Good for you. Thank you for sharing your work with us. You’ve opened a whole new door for me. Best of luck with your new Maddie book.

Want to know more about Jayne and her work? Go to Clockworks and Crime.

Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond was reviewed on this blog on Monday, March 6, 2017.

NEW NEW NEW from Jayne Barnard

The book trailer for MADDIE HATTER AND THE GILDED GAUGE is now up on Youtube. Here’s the link if your readers want to check it out:

https://youtu.be/Jd-VVgFw6aM

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

Note: the three random questions are from “Chat Pack – Fun Questions to Spark Conversations”.

A Simple, Painless Strategy for Getting Your Child to Eat Accompanied by Unusual Illustrations – Zeke Will Not Eat! By Delin Colón. Book Review.

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Click here to buy Zeke Will Not Eat!

Although this is a picture book, Zeke Will Not Eat! is written for parents as well. Delin Colón , the author, has a background in clinical psychology.

Zeke is not interested in eating. He hates having his play disrupted for mealtime and in rebellion cries and pouts throughout the meal. His parents are concerned for his health. His father passes on a technique his father used with him. They arrange the food on the plate to represent a little town. Zeke pretends he is a giant and destroys the town by eating it. By making it a game and encouraging Zeke to feel as though he has power and control, the onus is off the parents to convince Zeke of the value of eating properly.

This strategy is definitely worth a try. No matter how well-meaning parents are, mealtime can easily become a battleground. It might be fun to take it even one step further and have the child help select the food and build the structure or village he is going to consume. There are also numerous ideas online for turning food into three-dimensional art.

I’m not sure if I would read this to the child before attempting this strategy or after. Parents know their children best.

The second component about this book that is definitely worth sharing, with children and adults alike, are the unique illustrations. Delin Colón, both the author and illustrator, has used an unusual style of cut-paper art. The same 150 paper shapes are arranged and rearranged to create pictures of Zeke in a variety of activities. Once you understand the creative and problem-solving effort that went into using this technique, the illustrations are worth a second look. Delin Colón has included instructions at the back of the text for parents to try out this novel endeavour with their child. However, I would reassure my child that they did not have to use all the shapes in every picture.

An introductory activity to this might be using tangrams. Depending on the age of the child, a bucket full of geometric shapes could work just as well.

This book is worth obtaining for either the valuable conflict-free strategy for dealing with picky eaters or the unusual illustrations.

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The author will be reviewed on this blog May 3, 2017.

Click on the picture to buy the Tangrams 28 Piece Set by Learning Advantage

Click on the picture to buy  Melissa & Doug Pattern Blocks and Boards

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Perfect Child’s Room. Recycled Sundays.

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In the pre-designer days, my sister and I shared a “make-do” bedroom that was also partitioned for my brother. It didn’t measure up to the brass beds and white bed spreads in the catalog.

When I got my own room, I was allowed to redecorate. An adolescent with a paintbrush is a dangerous thing, but I merely stained my nails blue and added pattern to the linoleum. The cracks still showed through the paint, since I hadn’t known about patching. Because I measured the window without considering gathers, the curtains barely met in the middle. I overcompensated for my disappointment by smothering the room in rock and roll posters. The tacks Swiss-cheesed  the walls.

After marriage, my husband and I rented a home. When we had eaten enough macaroni and cheese to save the down payment for a house, I began a quilt for my seven-year-old daughter. Each of the 20 one foot squares  had a detailed fabric painting. There was a tartanned Scottish lassie, a wooden  clogged Norwegian milkmaid, and a demure Chinese girl holding a Pekingese dog. So much for my battle against stereotyping!

We worked on our new home before moving in. I rolled the rose-mauve semigloss over the scuffed (and patched) yellow paint in what was to be my daughter’s bedroom. This time I wore gloves and used a floor tarp.

I bought a three-dimensional wall-hanging of Victorian misses, matching curtains and yards of material to edge the quilt. The white furniture had brass handles graced by roses. I was giddy with pride. My little girl’s room was not only pretty and feminine but a unique demonstration of her mother’s devotion.

I bought my four-year-old son Care Bear curtains and a bedspread. In the name of equality, I made a wall hanging of Bedtime Bear inscribed with embroidery that read, “Sweet Dreams”.

My son was ecstatic. My daughter stood in the doorway of her brother’s room and stated, “I sure hope mine is Care Bears too.”

My heart seized. Hastily, I drew her aside.

“Yours is very special. I finished the quilt I’ve been working on for months. (Get that? Months!) Everything is in shades of your favorite color.”

She nodded doubtfully. I threw open her bedroom door. “Ta da!”

“I like the Care Bears better,” she wailed and burst into tears.

Stab me through the chest with a garden fork! After a talk with her father (I could hear his pleading tone through the door), she thanked me. Over time, she stained the quilts with markers, juice and glue. A visiting hamster chewed it. Each mark was a drop of acid in my soul. Finally I asked the dreaded question. “If you could have any bedroom you want it, what would it look like?”

“Well, I do like my bedroom, (she had grown in diplomacy), but if I couldn’t have this one, I would love a bedroom with My Little Pony curtains, a big unicorn wall hanging, and a pink lace bedspread.”

Fourteen minutes of shopping could have given her a dream come true. Why hadn’t I asked her in the first place? I realized I had created a bedroom I would’ve loved as a child. Major embarrassment. Parenting books and classes hadn’t helped. The tartanned lassie smirked. I’m one of those mothers.

My daughter learned to appreciate her room as she grew, and has forgotten her initial reaction, but I haven’t. Whenever I become ambitious for her, I stop and remember. Am my stitching together future she wants, or something I thought I missed? The quilt is my reminder.

November 18, 1990.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Does a Bear Poop in the Woods? – Potty in the Potty Chair by S.J. Bushue and Deb McQueen. Book Review.

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 Click here to buy Potty in the Potty Chair

The book begins with a little girl sitting on the potty. The narrator asks, “Are you a big kid on the potty chair, reading a book with bottom so bare?” To which the girl replies, “Yes!” Considering what follows, it seemed as though this should have been the conclusion to the book.

From this point on, various children are asked if they are like animals who do not poop in the potty. For example, “Are you an elephant who goes potty in the zoo, leaving big heaps that make us say P.U.?” A horse drops huge piles, an alligator creates a mess in the swamp, a dog goes potty in the grass, a cat goes in the litter, and a goose goes by the pond where we step in it, a bird drops it from above, and a mouse leaves pellets everywhere. The book ends with, “Are you a big kid who goes pink and tink, using the potty chair when you sink the ink?” Sinking the ink is explained at the back of the book.

I like the fact that children learn about animals as they read this book, even if it is just about their poop. There are moments of humor such as when the Asian child steps in the goose’s poop.

The book is consciously diverse. The featured children are of a variety of races. There is even one African-American child with blue eyes.

Each page has four lines with an A B C B rhyme scheme. There are some unusual words such as romp, skitter, splatting, pellets, and route which may be difficult for a child of age 2 or 3. Some of the rhymes seem a bit of a struggle.

At the back of the book is a page with “Tips for Potty training success“. There is some good advice about staying positive and being encouraging. It is great that the author makes a point of stressing washing your hands, both the child and the adult.

“Quick and easy steps” explains the sink the ink strategy for potty training. There is a chart the child can use to record his or her successes. Copies are available on the website http://www.thelittlefig.com. There is also a jingle on the website which I felt could have been a little longer and more memorable.

The illustrations are bright, simple, outlined drawings. They fill the page completely. The text is superimposed on sky, wall or tree. All the children appear happy and interested in their surroundings.

All in all, I think this would be a positive and productive book to use when potty training a toddler.

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A copy of this book was generously donated by the author to my Little Free Library.

S.J. Bushue was interviewed on this blog November 16, 2016.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Snappsy the Alligator by Julie Falatko. Illustrated by Tim Miller. Book review. 

This is one of those books where the protagonist argues with the narrator. On the cover we see a picture of the alligator holding this book and saying that he did not asked to be in it. The narrator is at odds with  Snappsy all the way through. He describes everything Snappsy does and narrates inner dialogue and emotion for the alligator. This is hugely inaccurate.  At one point the narrator says the alligator is looking for victims when he’s really off to the grocery store. They argue back-and-forth until Snappsy hangs a sign on his door that reads “no narrators allowed.”

The narrator continues and Snappsy he feel so pressured to make his life more interesting that he plans a party. It is going well until the narrator, who turns out to be a hen, shows up with sandwiches. The guests eat and dance and have a good time, including Snappsy until the narrator/chicken announces, “We were really looking forward to Snappsy throwing parties like this every week.” To which the alligator responses, “Hey!”

I think many children will find the beginning of the story confusing. The exchange back-and-forth between the absent narrator and the alligator is tricky. There’s also no explanation for why it is a chicken who suddenly shows up in the story. Some of the humour is a little sophisticated for children so I would recommend this book for ages eight and up.

The pictures are cartoonish. Snappsy walks on his hind legs, lives in a house and behaves like a human being. There is no explanation for why he wears a fez on his head at home.

I am sure children who get this humour will enjoy Snappsy sparring verbally with the chicken.

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Other books where the character interacts with the narrator, writer, or illustrator.

Click on the covers for more information or to buy the book.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

     

    

Amazing Dog, Unparalleled Boy: Author Tracy Aiello Three Random Questions Interview

Tracy Aiello is a former first grade teacher, business owner, columnist and all-around storyteller. She is the author of the Miracle Dogs series.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Tracey. Why did you choose dogs as the focal point for a history series?

Tracy Aiello: I actually came up with the title first. While vacationing in Portugal, I had numerous encounters with dogs doing miraculous (read: human) feats. There were dogs playing a form of soccer, dogs obeying traffic signals, dogs in restaurants and taverns, all seemingly without owners informing their activities. My traveling companions and I started calling the dogs the “miracle dogs of Portugal,” and the name had a wonderful ring to it.

I started out my career as a first grade teacher and had a dream of writing a children’s book one day. Combine the perfect title with a passion for writing for children and the result is my book, Miracle Dogs of Portugal.

Ferrante: Would these books be considered fiction or nonfiction?

Aiello: As the “blurb” says, the books are “almost true” stories. They are based on historical events, with fictional detail added.

Ferrante: Your blurb says: Miracle Dogs of Portugal is the almost-true story of historical figure Henry the Navigator and the dog that saved his life – Milagro the Portuguese Water Dog. How did you learn about this event?

 

Ferrante: If I remember correctly, Henry the Navigator ushered in the age of discovery. Did this event take place when Henry was a child? How did you research it?

Aiello: After coming up with the title “Miracle Dogs of Portugal,” I stumbled upon the Portuguese Water Dog breed that helped sailors throughout Portuguese history. I knew the importance of Henry the Navigator to world history and, having been to Sagres, I knew Henry had established a school for the study of navigation in the seaside city.  My story married the two concepts, and I set out to write a book that taught children history and encouraged them to have courage and follow their dreams.

Henry established the school for navigation later in his life, I made him a child for the story. He also designed the boats that Christopher Columbus ultimately used to reach the Americas. I researched Henry the Navigator in the traditional ways – books, the internet. To understand Portuguese Water Dogs, I actually contacted the Portuguese Water Dog Clubs of America and met dogs in my area.

Ferrante: You’ve written the second book in this series, Miracle Dogs of the Missouri. I couldn’t find it on Amazon or Goodreads. Is it brand-new? Tell us a bit about it.

Aiello: I haven’t published Miracle Dogs of the Missouri as yet, but the story follows the same themes as Miracle Dogs of Portugal, with a child that follows his dreams and becomes an explorer.  It is the almost-true story of Meriwether Lewis, the leader, with William Clark, of America’s exploration of its west. The story unfolds as Lewis, as a child, learns the ways of the river and the native peoples with the help of a spunky Newfoundland. He comes to believe he could use the river to travel distances farther than any other man.

Ferrante: Why do you call these “miracle dogs”? Is there a religious component to these books?

Aiello: There are not outwardly religious themes, just miraculous meetings (with the dogs) that remind the characters (and us!) to have faith in themselves and follow their dreams.

Ferrante: Do you have the third book in mind for this series?

Aiello: Not specifically outlined, but I’d love to tell the story of a courageous female character that led the way, such as Amelia Earhart or Harriet Tubman.

Ferrante: You used to be a first grade teacher. Have you ever considered writing picture books for that age? What drew you to write early chapter books?

Aiello:I did set out to write a picture book, but my strength is telling a story through words, not images. I relied on my illustrator, Kent Barnes, to help visualize my story.

Ferrante: When did you begin writing books? Do you write every day? You have a process that you always follow?

Aiello: I started Miracle Dogs in 2004 and have been writing ever since. For many years I wrote in the early mornings, about 5:30 – 7:00, on various projects. My husband and I had our first child in February, 2016, so I have taken a writing sabbatical, to say the least!

Ferrante: Did you do anything differently from your first experience in creating Miracle Dogs of Portugal when writing your second book?

Aiello: Yes, since the age level was a bit older than I originally set out to write, I really catered Miracle Dogs of the Missouri to 2/3 grade readers.

Ferrante: Is there anything you’d like to share with us that I haven’t asked?

Aiello: One of the things I love most about being a published author is sharing both my story and the writing experience with children. I conduct writer’s workshops in elementary schools around the country, teaching children the “bones” of writing and encouraging creativity. Kids often think they hate writing, but with a little encouragement they come to realize how they come up with stories all the time!

three random questions

Ferrante: What is your favorite day of the week?

Aiello: Thursdays! Hopefully I’ve accomplished a lot for the week, have one more day to work and then I can rest and plan ahead.

Ferrante: What is something you always used to love to do that, during the last year or two, you feel like you’ve outgrown or lost interest in doing?

Aiello: I became a mom in February (2016), so everything in my life has changed. Now that our son is old enough to start participating in activities, I’ve actually regained interest in the things I loved as a child – such as libraries, swimming, children’s books and music classes – because we are experiencing these things together.

Ferrante: If you could get one thing back that was either lost or destroyed, what would it be?

Aiello: I don’t put much stock in possessions, but I do wish I could have many of my years back!

Ferrante: Wise answer. Thank you for chatting with me today. Good luck with your books and enjoy this precious time with your baby.

The Miracle Dogs of Portugal was reviewed on this blog February 20,2016.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Note: the three random questions are from “Chat Pack – Fun Questions to Spark Conversations”.