Kindness Comes Back: Pegasus, A Dragon’s Tale by Gina LoBiondo. Illustrated by Stephanie Zuppo. Book Review.

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A dragon’s egg is found by two royal bears who hatch it and raise the baby dragon until he is old enough to leave on his own. Years later, when the kingdom is under attack and the two bears have been taken prisoner, the dragon, now fully grown, appears. At first he doesn’t recognize the little bears, but they prod his memory until he frees them. He scatters the enemy and carries the bears home. He remains in the kingdom as their guardian against future threats.

Although the plot is fairly common, the book has lovely messages such as kindness comes back to us in unexpected ways. United friends can stand against the strongest bullies. Wild animals should be released into the wild to choose their own way.

When initially releasing the dragon, the King says, “We don’t know how big he’ll get and besides, he’ll be better off in his own. Perhaps he will find another of his own kind and have a family.” I was expecting him to return with the family but there is no indication as to what happened to him in his absent years. It felt a little sad to have him spending the rest of his days as the only dragon in the kingdom.

The formatting is inconsistent. Some paragraphs are indented in some are not. There doesn’t seem to be a reason for the choices.

The illustrations by Stephanie Zuppo appeared to be computer graphics which can be beautiful but, in this instance, seem blurred and even muddy at times. The characters of the three Bears and the dragon are drawn well. The same facial image of Princess Kameela and Prince Dayshawn are used on several pages. On page 11, for example, the bears are frowning with their eyes closed similarly to the picture on pages 8, 9 and 13. Several other pages have identical expressions of an O shaped mouth. Readers need more facial detail and expression in a children’s picture book. There is also a problem with proportion as the dragon’s size seems to change on different pages.

This story is 25 pages long with about 40 to 50 words per page. It would suit a child whose reading level is between picture books and beginning chapter books.

The author, Gian LoBiondo, will be interviewed on this blog on April 5, 2017.

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Adopting a Fluffy White Kitten, Maybe. Recycled Sundays.

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I have three cats but I’m still a normal person. I’m not a victim of feline reproduction since I’m adamant about neutering. I’m a victim of innocence.

My daughter, my son and I went to buy a sweet white kitten, the fluffy heart-tugging kind they show in toilet paper commercials. It was for my daughter, a cat-aholic if there ever was one. It would be a low maintenance pet and we’d feel good for having saved an animal from euthanasia. Unfortunately, all the ivory colored kiddies were gone. My daughter asked to see a gray female that was caged with the black and white male. The woman in charge met us at the counter with both kittens.

“One for me!” cheered my son.

I protested in vain. The woman promptly dumped both in my arms explaining that they were littermates who hadn’t been separated since birth. A single kitten would be lonely. The pair would play more and be physically and emotionally healthy. The kittens looked up with their huge trusting eyes. My children stared pleadingly. The woman smiled and offered two for the price of one. Ten eyes, waiting. I was a goner.

The black and white kitten we named Patch was the friendliest. He also had ear mites, which required swabbing both cats twice a day for two weeks. There aren’t enough pillows or oven mitts in the world to stave off a panic kitten. My husband and I looked like we’d wrestled with thorn bushes.

They did keep each other company, for almost a year. Then Misty developed into an aloof, “don’t bug me, that’s if you can find me” cat. Patch was constantly rebuffed. In a sickeningly weak moment, I decided to get him another playmate and take the pressure off Misty. I waited until another white kitten was up for adoption.

I made it clear to the children that this was to be my kitten. The white kitten was fluffy and plump. It had one blue eye and one pink. Pink eyed white cats are sometimes deaf. I clapped my hands and made silly noises, but the cat did not respond. It was either hearing-impaired or very dull.

“Look at this one, Mommy,” called my son as he watched the loose kittens through the viewing window.

I was doomed from the first glance. A black and white kitten, one ear up, one ear down, was bouncing sideways across the floor. He stopped to tumble with a tabby, and then tried to crawl up the wall to the window, meowing frantically for attention.

“He’d make a good playmate for Patch,” said my son.

The moment the scruffy little fellow was put in my arms, he twisted around and licked me.

“He’s rather ratty looking,” I protested. “Why is he scratching his ear so much? I hope he doesn’t have ear mites.”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” said the woman. “We put down any that have ear mites.”

My children’s eyes widened. They looked from me to the kitten in horror. It’s always the eyes that get me.

“We’ll take him,” I sighed.

He didn’t have ear mites but Virgil’s done more than his share of damage and had more than his share of trips to the vet. He gives new meaning to the word pest. He’s also funny and affectionate. Patch and the kids love him. So now, we have three cats, none of them white.

September 9, 1990

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Miss Bee and the Do Bees: An Urban Teacher Romance by Cleo A. Lampos. Book Review.

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

This is a contemporary romance that will warm your heart and make you feel positive about your fellow man. I was interested in this book because it was about a teacher who worked with a special education class in a tough urban school.

Veronica Bagedonas works with 9 to 11-year-old Children, most with behavior disorders. She has the students call her Miss Bee and she calls her class the Do Bees. The year begins with her in tears upon receiving her class list which includes the two most infamous students. Fortunately, she is given some extra assistance in the form of a southern belle named Sunny who turns out to be far more competent with the class than Veronica expected. I was very pleasantly surprised that with only five students, she is assigned a full-time classroom assistant.

The class consists of a boy named Khalil who cannot stand to be touched and Juan who hides under his hoodie. Peter is an autistic boy who must have everything in his environment in balance and will only listen to only factual information, no stories. Clarissa, a bolter, likes to stir things up when she isn’t hiding behind her hair. Lastly, is Angelica a child who has experienced brain damage and whose mother expects miracles in the classroom.

It soon becomes apparent that Veronica, Roni, is lonely and somewhat envious of Sunny’s relationship with her Marine husband who is on deployment. Roni has legs like tree trunks and believes no man will ever find her desirous. In spite of this, she finds herself falling for firemen/paramedic Joe Milanovich who, unknown to her, is suffering from PTSD. Lampos writes with insight and realism about war vets trying to get their lives back together. There is a fair bit of reliance on Christianity but there are also other strategies for recovery.

Veronica is a highly skilled teacher and a compassionate person. We want, more that anything, for her to be appreciated and loved. I don’t want to tell you the whole story, but there are struggles, disappointments, sorrows, achievements, moments of terror and joy, and a realistic, satisfying ending. This is a lovely, gentle romance filled with wisdom and hope.

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The author will be interviewed on this blog on March 1, 2017.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

Inspiring Courage, Love, and Determination – Making Manna by Eric Lotke. Book Review.

Click here to buy Making Manna This is now the correct link. The price is $15.00 paperback.

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I thought I would read a chapter of Making Manna before sleeping but thirteen chapters later I was reluctant to close the book. It was only my aching eyes that made me stop. Eric Lotke is a master writer of character and situation. Not only do you care for these people, but you cringe and curse and cheer as they struggle through overwhelming events. This book is based on Lotke’s own experiences with the justice system and people struggling to survive in a cold, unfair, and prejudiced environment.

Making Manna opens with the story of Libby, a 14-year-old victim of sexual abuse by her father. It begins with the birth of her incestuously conceived baby. This is not the first time in the novel you will feel angry and frustrated at contemptuous behavior. But, equally throughout the book, you will be amazed and gladdened at the extreme kindness of strangers and mere acquaintances. Libby is but a child when she is forced out into the world with a newborn in her hands. We may not make the same choices as this fresh from the farm teenager but we cannot help but be in awe of her motherly love and determination. The story of her son, Angel, is bittersweet as well.

No one is an island, and so Libby finds support and love with another single mother, Sheila, and her daughter, Monet. However, things become frightening when the police virtually destroy their apartment in search of drugs. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys, just like in real life. The bonds these friends form are unbreakable and through this loyalty, hope survives.

Lotke writes in such a fashion that the reader loses herself in the story. She is no longer engaging with print on paper but living alongside real, admirable, and compelling characters. This is a page turner in a different sense. Yes there is enormous suspense as to how these people are going to survive in the face of such cruel and unwarranted adversity. But more than that, we want them to succeed. We want them to be happy. We want Angel to get the girl.

I cannot recommend this amazing story strongly enough.

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Eric Lotke will be interviewed on this blog April 12, 2017.

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

#Booksarenotfree

I don’t think people realize the effort and time that goes in to producing a good book. Six months to six years. This article is bang on.

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There is a growing trend in society to believe that books should be free or heavily discounted and we have all been guilty of feeding into it. I pick up freebies but I am also happy to pay for the books I want. Maybe I can’t get all the ones I want but hey isn’t that just life? I see lots of clothes I like and I might be able to pick up a new dress for a special occasion or a new pair of jeans because my old ones have holes in where no self-respecting forty-something wants holes but I can’t buy every item that my heart desires. Certainly not on my non-existent income as an author. Just as well I have a full-time job that stops me from being a starving artist languishing in a garret with only bread and water to sustain me. My day-time job takes…

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The Best of Two Cultures: Author Michael Samulak Three Random Questions Interview

Michael Samulak is a picture book author, full-time youth minister and educator.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Your first book, A is for Africa, was inspired by a trip to Uganda. You worked with a local artist, Sswaga Sendiba, to create the illustrations. Tell us about that experience.

Samulak: I was traveling back and forth to Uganda in 2006 and 2007 for church and humanitarian related needs.  I took three trips, each about a month long over that time period. My dear wife had to hold down the fort while I was working and traveling in those days.  We had one child at the time and even moved just before one of those trips!  (Yes, I am married to the most wonderful woman in the world)

What I saw and experiences during this time in my life was so enlarging and inspiring in itself that I was looking for a way to share the beauty and wonders of that land and people with the youth in my circles of influence back home.  

During an off day I would try to explore the local scene whenever possible to take in and explore as much as possible.  On one of those days I happened by a batik painting of Mr. Sendiba in a local market area, I believe.  The piece caught my attention from across the road.  I bought it instantly.

Later in the day I noticed a similar Batik at another shop on the other end of the strip and I thought it must be by the same artist.  I hustled over to the shop owner and began to pepper them with questions about the piece and the artist. Sswaga would come by from time to time and sell them a few pieces if the shop could take on more. 

In the end, she was willing to take my local contact and promised to give it to Swaga the next time he came around. I purchased three more of his batiks from that shop, scribbled down the number of my host family and sent up a little prayer.

With one week to go in that first trip I got the call that changed everything.

We arranged a time and place to meet and with just a few days before my flight was to leave, had set in place a plan to illustrate various African wildlife, nature scenes, and of the native people that I would try to incorporate into an alphabet book or maybe even reading series that I had already been working on.  When I told him that I would need at least 50 pieces of his work to have a chance of being able to put a finished product together, I think he almost fainted.  I was more than happy to be able to support him and his work, even if I wasn’t able to complete the project.

Over the course of the next two years of researching, rewrites, tweaking, and more traveling, I was able to have Sswaga illustrate what I thought would be necessary to bring the project to life.  At the end of my last trip in 2007 I had almost 100 pieces from him that I eventually chose from for the final picture book.

Whew…like I said in the beginning, a story in itself, but it think that covers the basics.

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 Click here to buy A is for Africa

Ferrante: I’m sure you made a wonderful difference in Sswaga Sendiba’s life. It’s awesome that you used an African artist and batik is such a unique medium for picture book illustration.

Two years later, you created a coloring book based on this picture book. Considering the adult coloring craze that is happening right now, will this picture book be suitable for all ages?

Samulak: The coloring book was produced almost because of demand; With each classroom visit I did once the original was published, the teachers would talk about the different ways they were intending to follow-up with my presentation. 

In terms of adult application – easy answer is, “Yes”.  I have definitely had many adults purchase the coloring book: teachers who wanted it for the classroom, animal lovers, artists, doodlers, etc. 

Ferrante: How serendipitous that this newest craze fits so well with your book.

A review of A is for Africa appeared on my blog on December 26, 2016.

Your latest work, A Wonderful Day, which is a Mom’s Choice Award winner, is based on a trip to the zoo. Tell us what inspired this.

Samulak: My works are often inspired and revolve around my own children and our experiences of this beautiful world and the adventures we have together.  The zoo has always been a favorite for all the kids during their younger years, so I felt it would be a very relatable subject as an early reader.

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 Click here to buy A Wonderful Day!

Ferrante: Tell us about the illustrations.

Samulak: My publisher for the book paired me with the creative mind of Louise Charm Pulvera. Mr. Pulvera was one of a few illustrators that TATE gave me samples of based on my manuscript.  I believe it was a perfect fit and Mr. Pulvera helped to bring the whole written script to another level of life.

A Wonderful Day will be reviewed on this blog on January 30, 2017.

Ferrante: Is there an author or illustrator with whom you would love to consult?

Samulak: My two heroes of the author/illustrator world are Tomie Depaola and Patricia Polacco.  To spend anytime, anywhere, in any form or fashion with those masters of the world of words would be mind-blowing to say the least.  I think if such a dream-come-true would ever happen, I would enter into a state of suspended animation and be lost for words.

Ferrante: LOL. I’ve always loved Tomie Depaola’s version of Strega Nona.

Why have you chosen picture books over any other style of writing?

Samulak: As an early childhood educator I have a special place in my heart for picture books.  I feel that picture books are a unique platform to enable the delivery of a message, provoke feeling, translate experiences, make connections, and overall draw one into new worlds and ideas that can often otherwise be out of reach.

I believe that picture books are, generally speaking, many peoples’ introduction to literacy in a form that is beautiful and captivating while also being a genesis of knowledge and experience.  Many times these books can be a driving force for our children to be exposed to new ideas or concepts; even expanded in exploring deeper connections and/or feelings to the world around them. 

Ferrante: It’s a great responsibility to make picture books that are worth the parents investment in time and money and due right by the children. Do you have a favorite children’s picture book?

Samulak: Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco.  I found this book in my early years as a young educator seeking to change the world and help my students with their own love for literacy.  It rocked my world. I knew if I could be so moved and touched by a story, how could it not impact those in my classroom.  That book helped me to establish my “measuring stick” for quality:  If I love it…the kids will love it.

Ferrante: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

Samulak: I love coffee, chocolate, traveling, and my family.  They all are great influences in my life and sources of constant inspiration. 

three random questions

 

Ferrante: If you could open your own retail store, what type of merchandise would you sell?

Samulak: Coffee and chocolate.  I love them both equally so I could not choose between them if I was deciding which to have on the shelf.  You would have a balance for parent and child with a wonderful selection of stimulants and sweets.  There would be a great space for reading and conversation, obviously, that would have to be open at all hours whenever the inward cravings came a’calling.

Ferrante: I guessed that from your previous answer. <smile> If you had to describe your personality in terms of a zoo animal, which animal would you choose?

Samulak: It would be hard to choose one, but I’ll say, the beaver.  Soft and cuddly; always busy, yet never finished with his work; trying to be helpful to the environment around him while at the same time enjoying the fruits of his labor; and with a big fat flat tail that sticks out like a sore thumb…but eventually, to those who truly know him, find that it is actually his unique instrument of that labor of love which characterizes him.

Ferrante: If you could walk into any painting and actually experience the moment or scene that it depicts, which painting would you choose to enter?

Samulak: It is interesting that you ask this question.  I think I have already had dreams about the entering into the masterpiece by Van Gogh, A Starry Night.  This piece has often been a source of inspiration and help to me over the years.  I actually just want to know if it is a mountain or a mountain of fire that is licking the heavens and overshadowing that little village on that eternal evening.

Ferrante: Thank you Michael for your detailed and interesting answers. What a fascinating journey you have gone through for the creation of A is for Africa. Best of luck with both your books and all your future endeavors.

 

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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

Hilarious and Sweet – Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton. Book Review.

 Click here to buy Shh! We Have a Plan

This unusual book is surprisingly addictive. It is such a joy to come across something so unique.

The illustrations appear to be cut and paste, done mostly in blue, purple, and black. The only exceptions are the birds.

Four oddly shaped characters, three with tassels on their hats and the smallest with a pom-pom, set out to catch a wild bird. The three oldest have nets, a cage and “plans”. However, this is a clear example of the best laid plans…

The text has a clear pattern that the youngest child will easily repeat. It begins, “Look! A bird.” The littlest one says, “Hello, birdie.” The largest says, “shh.” The next says, “SHH!” The last says, “We have a plan.” This is repeated every time they spot a bird. Then they initiate their plan, which varies slightly from tiptoeing to climbing slowly to paddling slowly, all without success. Each time they count down, “Ready one. Ready too. Ready three… Go!” Whereupon, calamity falls upon the characters and the bird flies away.

After three disastrous attempts to capture a bird, the three older characters come upon the littlest one hand feeding them. They count down again only to be intimidated by the angry birds. They run away in fear. At this point, the reader thinks they’ve learned their lesson. But, the third character begins a new drama with, “Look! A squirrel.”

Children will be delighted with the building tension, the silly plans, and the escape of the birds. Parents can discuss with their child what might occur as the characters try to capture a squirrel. As well, the cruelty of caging a wild bird can be broached.

This book is hilarious. With each reading, child and adults can improve their expression and appreciation. It gets better each time. So much so that the adult doesn’t mind, “Read it again. Read it again.”

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Determined, Funny, & Opinionated: Gianna the Great by Becky Villareal. Book Review.

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Click here to buy Gianna the Great

This is an early chapter book with intermittent, small cartoonish illustrations. I wondered how the author was going to interest children in a story about finding her genealogical roots. But, the first sentence showed me she knew her target audience. It begins, “I was nosey.” The top half of the page shows a girl with brown pigtails, round red-framed glasses, pencil in her hand, her eyebrows raised, her mouth open, and her finger pensively touching her cheek.

The little girl, Gianna, tells the story in first person. She is a funny, insistent child with a lot of spark. Her thoughts are often judgmental, even snide, but she treats others with respect. I think the character is realistic and honest.

The story follows Gianna as she develops an interest in her family tree. We learn that there is no father’s name on her birth record which her mother dismisses as a mistake. Her teacher finds her mother’s baptism certificate and explains that in Mexico that is when children receive their full name. He also shows her a border crossing record and a picture of Gianna’s grandmother.

When Gianna shows the documents to her mother, her mother cries with happiness. The story ends with Gianna saying, “I can find out more Mama! Lots more!”

This would be a fabulous book to introduce to a child who is going to research her family tree. It reminds us that immigrants often lose contact with their family and their roots. Whether a child’s family crossed the border from Mexico into the United States, flew in as a refugee of war, or sailed over the ocean decades ago for a better life, there was always loss along with the gain.

Even if a family has been living in the same country for several generations, it is surprising how few children, and even adults, don’t know their grandmother’s maiden name or their family’s roots. When I researched my family tree in the 1980s, everything was done by mail (for a price) or by searching through books and microfiche. Now, entire lineages are available for free online as well as immigration documents, ships’ passenger lists, birth and death certificates, and more. You would have to help your child understand the difference between an original or primary document, a secondary source, and indirect evidence.

Although this is a niche book, it serves its purpose well. An adult could read it to a child in twenty minutes. Or, a child with third grade reading skills could manage it on their own.

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Click here to get FREE family tree charts to print for your child.

Choose from 2 to 5 generations, adoptive family, birth and adoptive family, with a wide variety of backgrounds, in color or black and white.

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The author was interviewed on this blog, January 4, 2017.

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages