Radical by E.M. Kokie – Book Review

Click here to buy Radical

This realistic contemporary novel is for mature young adults and up. I say that because it has some light lesbian sexual interplay. But it is a worthy read for any young adult especially those concerned about an upcoming societal collapse.

Bex, short for Rebecca, is a 16-year-old obsessed with survival in the upcoming chaos. She is a gay young woman who is not yet come out but her clothes and hair and demeanour mark her as someone different. Her parents do not accept her as she is and her mother is driven to change her and make her fit in with her idea of a daughter.

Bex loves guns. This concept is so foreign to me I thought I might have trouble connecting, but the author, E. M. Kokie, smoothly brings us into the world of rifles, hand guns, bows and arrows, and more. Whether or not we believe in society’s eminent collapse and the necessity of strategic preparation, we understand how deeply Bex does.

The author deftly steers us in one disastrous direction and then presents us with another, more surprising but also more logical, disaster. Bex, who has done nothing but train to prevent ever becoming helpless or under the control of another, finds herself in exactly that situation. For the sake of her family, she endures the unendurable. She must make the most difficult decision of her life. The consequences will change her future and all her relationships forever.

Seldom does a book ever keep me up to three in the morning reading but by the time I was halfway through, I was committed to finishing it. Bex may be as different from me as morning is from night, but I wanted this girl to survive intact and couldn’t sleep not knowing what was going to happen to her. There are no happy endings in real life but the author leaves us with hope for a better life for a courageous, loyal, young woman who was never given a break.

I received this book as a free Goodreads Giveaway.


Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages


Purple, Green and Yellow by Robert Munsch. Illustrated by Hélène Desputeaux.

Click here to buy Purple, Green and Yellow (Munsch for Kids)

I had to squeeze in one book review about markers and so I will end with the giant of children’s picture book writers, Robert Munsch. In Purple, Green and Yellow he latches onto a subject familiar to us all, children who just can’t stop coloring on the walls or the floors or themselves.

Brigid wants washable coloring markers like all of her friends use. Her mother buys her 500. She is bored with these after a week and then demands markers that smell like all of her friends use. Her mother buys 500 for her. After a week she is bored and asks for the “super-indelible-never-come-off-till-your-dead-and-maybe-even-later like all of her friends use. She feels completely entitled to this because she has not written on the walls, floors, or herself. Her mother buys 500 for her.

When she becomes bored, she colors her fingernails, her hands, her face, and then her entire body. Of course, none of the markers will wash off. Brigid, however, is a smart girl and seems to come up with a viable solution. But things spiral out of control in a typical Munsch way.

As with most of his books, Munsch’s zany exploration of markers is meant to be taken lightly. The humor builds up to a slightly shocking and laughable ending. I do believe that this book could be subtly used to tackle some important topics. The book brooches the subjects of craving, consumerism, deceit, and entitlement.

Hélène Desputeaux’s brightly colored illustrations, which seem to be done with markers, suit the text well. There is a gleeful insanity about the hundreds of markers surrounding a bored child. This is one of Munsch’s humorous books about defiant children that actually carries a good message as well.



Click here for ideas for an insane number of free activities to do with markers.


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Click here to buy more kinds of markers than you ever imagined.


Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Online Picture Book Critique Group

I’m starting an online group for feedback of picture books in progress. I have 7 interested participants. I would say 6 is the ideal number.



CRITERIA FOR CRITIQUES (You may find this helpful trading critiques, analyzing your own work, or when reviewing a book.)

Your picture book can be submitted to the group twice, once in the early stages and once when you feel it is (almost) ready for publication. In your email sharing the link or manuscript, you should include an introductory note with the following information:

Word length (600 is recommended but 2-800 is the acceptable range).

What age group is this book for?

* * * * *

Please use the following questions for your critique. Your answers can be a phrase or a paragraph. Some answers may be very short and some may be quite detailed. The easiest way is to type them in below each question. Be honest but respectful. Accept the author/illustrator’s creation; don’t try to make it into your book. Also, please keep religion out of the feedback.

  1. Does the book have an intriguing or inviting beginning? Does the author get immediately to the point of the story or does she/he waste time on background information? Does the first page set up the entire story?
  2. Is the book easy to read aloud? Does the vocabulary make you stumble? Is the language flat?
  3. Is there a main character children can connect with or find interesting? Is that character dynamic and active? Does this character show change or growth?
  4. Is the story direct and focused? Can you summarize it in one or two sentences? (This is valuable for the author to see how others have interpreted his/her work.)
  5. Does the vocabulary and sentence structure suit the situation, mood, and theme? Is it interesting? Is it enriching?
  6. Does the vocabulary suit the age level? Some challenging vocabulary in books that are not “I Can Read” style is encouraged.
  7. Is the book well paced? Are there slow parts? Are there parts that jump and feel missed?
  8. Does the author show and not tell? Is there too much explaining?
  9. Is the book diverse? Could there be children from different races? Are girls featured as well as boys? Are there stereotypes?
  10. Is every word crucial? Are the nouns and verbs strong? Has the author avoided explaining things that can be shown in the illustrations?
  11. Does the author ignite the reader’s senses?
  12. Does the passage of time suit the story? Is it conveyed clearly?
  13. Is there a clear beginning, middle, and end? Is the ending satisfying and logical? Would it make a child say, “Read it again”?
  14. Does the story activate your imagination or thoughts? Does it stimulate visualization? Do you find yourself predicting or thinking about the situation? Do you continue to think about the book after you are finished?
  15. If this story is written in rhyme, is it necessary? Is the story better without rhyme? In order to maintain the rhyming, did the author write unnatural or awkward sentences? Is the beat maintained throughout? Does the rhyming structure change for no reason? Is the rhyming innovative or is it predictable?
  16. If there is a moral, does the text sound preachy? Does the author allow the child to use insight to glean the message? Is the tone upbeat and hopeful?
  17. Does the child gain something from reading this book? Emotionally? Intellectually? Socially? Does the book provide something new to the child? Information? Viewpoint? Interpretation? Awareness?

If illustrations are included, answer the following questions.

  1. Does the illustrator vary the point of view? Do they choose a point of view suitable to the accompanying text?
  2. Is there a unifying link in the pictures or do they seem disconnected?
  3. Is the style of illustration consistent throughout? Does it suit the story line?
  4. Does the choice of colors suit the story mood, action, character or setting? Do they enrich the story?
  5. Is the page size suitable for the age group in the story and for the illustrations?
  6. Do the text and illustrations flow together well? Does the type font suit the story?
  7. Is the composition satisfying? Does the page show enough to the reader? Does the page appear cluttered and confusing?
  8. Do the pictures add to the story or are they redundant?
  9. Are the characters illustrated in a way that reflects what is written in the text?
  10. If the book is set in a certain time period, country, or culture, have the illustrations captured that correctly?
  11. Do you enjoy looking at the pictures? Do they draw your attention? Are they satisfying?
  12. Are the illustrations diverse? Are there children from different races, cultures, and abilities? Are girls featured as capable as boys? Are there stereotypes?

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Author Karen Cioffi – Three Random Questions Interview

Karen Cioffi is an author, ghostwriter (for children’s books), freelance writer, and editor. She is also the founder and manager of Writers on the Move, a marketing group of authors who cross-promote to generate visibility, build authority, and boost sales.


Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Karen. Thanks for being here. You are both a published children’s author and a ghostwriter. Can you explain what a ghostwriter does?

Karen Cioffi: Hi, Bonnie, first I’d like to thank you for interviewing me. I’m thrilled to be here.

Yes, I’m both a published children’s author and a ghostwriter. Interestingly, at one point, the ghostwriting seemed to just take off and it’s put my own work on the back burner.

A ghostwriter writes content for a person or company, called a client. The client pays the ghostwriter for the content. In my case, I write children’s stories for clients. It may be a picture book, chapter book, or middle grade book. Usually, the client has sole ownership of the finished product and it’s the client’s name that appears as the author. The ghostwriter’s only compensation is monetary, usually.

I mentioned ‘usually,’ because there are times when a client requests a partnership in authorship or a percentage of any monies made from the book in lieu of a full monetary payment to the ghostwriter.

Putting it simply, a ghostwriter is a writer for hire.

Ferrante: What is the most common problem you encounter with writers seeking your assistance? Where do they seem to have the most difficulty?

Cioffi: To be honest, I don’t really have any problems with my clients. They all have a deep desire to have a children’s book in their own name and they’re very appreciative of the work I do for them.

Of all the clients I’ve worked with over the years, there was only one who didn’t understand that after numerous revisions and edits you eventually need to end the story. While revising and editing is necessary, you have to come to a point where you say, “Okay, it’s done.”

In regard to my clients, I think they seem to have the most difficulty in understanding what happens next. In other words, after the story is written, then what.

They’re not sure if they should self-publish or traditionally publish and how to go about either. So, along with writing the story, I also give them some ‘next step’ advice.

Ferrante: You have written a lovely children’s picture book entitled Days End Lullaby. It includes music to the words. Have you written other songs?

Click here to buy Day’s End Lullaby

Cioffi: I’ve written two songs. The first, which is Day’s End Lullaby, was written because my first child wouldn’t sleep. I’d walk our hallway, back and forth, with her in my arms and just came up with the lyrics and melody. Then it became our family lullaby.

Then when my first grandson was born, I was inspired to write another song, I Love You So.

Ferrante: Your other book, Walking Through Walls is a children’s middle-grade fantasy adventure, set in 16th century China. What drew you to this topic? Have you been to China? What research did you do to prepare for writing this novel?

WTW cover with seal web size
Click here to buy Walking Through Walls

Cioffi: Walking Through Walls is based on the ancient Chinese tale, Taoist Master and the Lao Mountain. I happened to meet a Chinese nonfiction author in an online critique group. He knew I was a children’s writer and gave me a rough outline of the tale.

When I read the outline, I loved the morals and values the story dealt with: laziness, selfishness, greed, and deception. This drew me in. The story was too complex for a children’s picture book, so I started writing it as a chapter book. Then it evolved into a middle grade story.

I’ve never been to China, but would love to visit one day. To get the right ‘flavor’ for the story, I did a lot of online research, such as the culture, the time period, the agriculture, and so on.

Ferrante: How long do you usually work on a book? Do you have any tips to share?

Cioffi: Walking Through Walls took me about two years to get it where I felt it was ready to submit. Nowadays though, my process is quicker. With practice and experience comes confidence and skills – this makes writing easier. When working on my clients’ books, I usually write a simple middle grade story within two to four months. Picture books take me two to four weeks.

As far as writing tips, I’d say read, read, and read. Analyze the stories. Notice how the story evolves. Notice how it holds your interest and engages you. Then write, write, write. Along with this, there’s an old copywriting tip: write the actually text of ‘good’ content. This though is only for writing practice. You obviously would never use the content of others in any other fashion.

Ferrante: You have a fabulous blog for writers, http://karencioffiwritingforchildren.com/blog/. Where do you find your inspiration for posts? Do you have a favorite that you think every writer should read?

Cioffi: Thank you so much, Bonnie. I’m honored that you mentioned my blog. I find inspiration for my posts from just about everywhere. It could be from a book, an interview, an article in a magazine, other blogs, or social media. I subscribe to a number of blogs, so information and inspiration comes right to my inbox. J

I kind of feel that if a topic is interesting and helpful to me as a writer, it will be helpful to others also.

I also write posts on my own writing experiences and what I see my clients dealing with and needing help with.

I actually do have one article I wrote in particular that I think every new writer or ‘wanna be’ author should read:

Self-Publishing: 3 Tips to Help You Avoid the ‘I Want It Now Syndrome’

three random questions

Ferrante: What is your favorite saying or quotation?

Cioffi: I have a lot of favorite quotes, but narrowing it down to two, they are:

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

(Not sure of the original author of that quote.)

“It’s not what you’ve done that matters – it’s what you haven’t done.”

~ Mark Twain

If I had to choose between those two, I’d pick the first quote.

Ferrante: If you were a professional artist, what would be the theme of your drawings or paintings?

Cioffi: That’s an easy one. If I were a professional artist, my theme would be mountain and water (lakes, oceans, islands) scenes. I love this type of nature – it’s calming.

Ferrante: If you won $2 million tomorrow, what are the first three things you think you would do or buy as soon as you had the check in your hand?

Cioffi: As a former accountant, my first thought would be I wouldn’t get two million. J Possibly one million. And, one million doesn’t go very far.

But, assuming I actually received two million, the first thing I’d do is put $1 million towards my family’s home mortgages. Then, I’d set up savings for my grandchildren. Then, I’d buy a small lake front home (something I’ve dreamed of for a long time).

Thank you again, Bonnie, for affording me this opportunity!

Ferrante: You’re most welcome. You have provided some important information for writers here today. Thank you for participating.

Walking Through Walls  will be reviewed on this blog on October 28, 2016.

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Little Red Writing by Joan Holub. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Book Review.

Click here to buy Little Red Writing
Once upon a time, in pencil school, a teacher named Ms. 2 told her class, “Today we’re going to write a story!” So begins a story about writing a story.

Each pencil decides to choose a topic according to his pencil top. Little Red wants to go on a journey through the school, meet unusual characters, be brave, and save the day. Her teacher tells her that it is okay to wander a little bit but stick to her basic story. Don’t get lost.

This is great advice as children do tend to ramble on and go everywhere when writing stories. (I was a grade school teacher for thirty-two years and occasionally wanted to jump out a fifteen story window after reading meandering, pointless page after page of creative writing.) They will spent an entire page explaining how characters greet each other. Occasionally, beginning adult writers will do the same thing.

She learns it is important to get drawn quickly into the action. Some description is good, too much description is bad. Avoid run on sentences.

The story begins to parallel the traditional fairytale of Little Red Riding Hood. A monstrous pencil sharpener takes the place of the Big Bad Wolf. Little Red is clever enough to escape his clutches but when she arrives at the principal’s office, there he is. Her cries for help attract Mr. Woodcutter, the janitor, but he faints at the sight of the monstrous pencil sharpener. Little Red uses her last red noun, dynamite, to save the day. All the pencils share their stories.

This would be a great book to read to a class that is about to write individual stories. It is probably not the kind of book a parent would read to a child, unless you are homeschooling.

The illustrations are done with watercolor, pencil and collage. It is an 11 x 8″ hardcover book filled with colored pictures. There are writing tips here and there throughout the text. Things could be pulled from the book and put on charts for students’access.

Little Red Writing is a clever way to introduce or review the topic of story writing. I do think, however, more guidelines could have been presented throughout the story or as an appendix.



Make a story book online for free by clicking here.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt. Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. Book Review.

Click here to buy The Day the Crayons Came Home

This is a sequel to The Day the Crayons Quit and, I believe, a much better book. The story begins with a postcard from a maroon crayon that has been marooned by Duncan in the couch. The next postcard is from Pea Green who is changing his name and running away. The book continues with postcards from various crayons who gripe about Duncan’s treatment of them. On one page a tan, or perhaps burnt sienna crayon, tells his horror story of being eaten by a dog and puked up on the rug. One clever page is textured by the glow in the dark crayon that has been left in the basement. There are jokes about believing camels and pyramids are in New Jersey, stinky socks, a crayon being stuffed up the cat’s nose by a baby, thinking the Amazon rain forest has snow ski hills, and using Brown crayons to make bear poop. Basically, the silly toilet humor kids love. In the end, all the crayons are reclaimed by Duncan and provided with a Crayon Fort of their very own.

Children will easily relate to the crayons misadventures and may even be able to tell you some original disasters of their own. For example, leaving crayons on the front dashboard of the car only to have them melt into the heating system. The following winter, smelling crayons every time the heat was turned on. I’m sure you have some of your own.

The pictures are a combination of photographs and crayon scribbles. It is a clever, silly book and should not be used to entice a child to take care of his crayons. It should be used to make a child laugh until the milk he is drinking comes out of his nose.



Click here to find 35 unusual things to do with crayons free online.


Click on image to buy  

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Author Frances Gilbert – Three Random Questions Interview

Frances Gilbert, a British born writer of children’s stories and psychological mysteries, spent many years as a special educator in language and literacy. Frances loves to write about the twists of time, the moodiness of landscape and the ambiguity of relationships. She writes from her home in Connecticut and retreats to her cottage in the Scottish Highlands for inspiration.


Bonnie Ferrante: You have seven books listed on Amazon. How long does it take you to write one? How many edits do you do?

Frances Gilbert: For most of the children’s books, which are short and quite poetic, I usually keep a ‘video’ version in my mind for several months before I sit down to type the text … I play with editing in my mind rehearsing vision, rhythm and flow … so the actual sit down and type is quick … some outside event or remark usually prompts me to set the words down. I use the same process for the longer stories, but type them up in chunks, ruminating on each between committing to print.  I rarely change text once it is typed but do edit for typos, punctuation… for the shorter books I prefer no capitals and no punctuation, just short lines … how words look on the page is important to me, I sometimes refuse words because I think they don’t look attractive in the line.

Ferrante: So visuals are as important to you as sound. That’s interesting that you are able to hold that in your mind for so long without taking notes.

You have used at least four different illustrators for your books. How do you connect with them? Do you work in collaboration?

Click here to buy Elephant Blue

Gilbert: Artists are so important for a children’s book … I have been fortunate to work closely with them … I almost always meet with them to discuss my vision for the book, before and during the process … for instance in Teacher I wanted a poignant look, long pony tails, and specific clothing detail … the artist usually submits pictures on the computer and we discuss … I find the artists contribute a great deal to the overall mood of the text and they often have very shrewd insight into how they work the pages to complement the text … two artists I found locally, one I met at a book show and one was introduced by a publisher… I am very particular about background color and text arrangement … so far it works well and I love my artists.

Ferrante: That’s wonderful. The illustrations are as important as the words.

In addition to your picture books, you have a suspense novella for adults, Where is She Now? Will you be writing any more?

Click here to buy Where Is She Now?


Gilbert: I have just published Village Dream, and the e-book She Should have Come for Me is available from Amazon  … I like writing the short novella length in that suspense genre and  I will do more .. I am challenging myself to try a traditional locked room mystery, but I have a very feeble brain for that kind of plotting and clue making! It is hard work.

Click here to buy She Should Have Come for Me


Click here to buy Village Dream

Ferrante: Do you organize your work differently for a picture book compared to a novel?

Gilbert: No, I use the in the mind rehearse and imagine technique for both. I can hear and see the whole setting which is helpful when it comes to writing the scenes.

Ferrante: Today the Teacher Changed Our Seats is a picture book that incorporates math. What was the impetus for this book?

Gilbert: The math aspect was really peripheral, the book is about belonging or feeling comfortable in the classroom … it is for younger children and I drew on my teaching experiences in the early grades for content and grouping seemed a good vehicle.

Click here to buy Today The Teacher Changed Our Seats

Ferrante: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Gilbert: I write best when it is raining, white noise for the mind.  I wish I could illustrate my own books then the process of turning ideas to books would be seamless.  I write to be read aloud, rhythm, proximity and voice are so important. I believe reading aloud and bonding with the reading voice are vital precursors to reading success for children.

three random questions

Ferrante: If you could have a 30 minute show each weekday morning, what type of show would you have?

Gilbert: Latin roots, big words and glorious texts that combines the two … magically supported by visual images and music… a children’s show that would pull even reluctant readers into language … with great voices doing the reading and maybe the ability to zap interactively when certain words or roots are used … Wii for literature?

Ferrante: If you could swallow a pill that would stop anything of your choice from ever happening again – anything except keep you from getting sick – what would the pill permanently end?

Gilbert: Personally, my inability to sing in tune or remember music … on a humanitarian level bias and judgement.

Ferrante: If you could have any object in the world completely to yourself for one day, what would you choose?

Gilbert: A hot tub.

Ferrante: LOL. Maybe to celebrate your next book. Thank you so much for your time and interesting responses.

Today the Teacher Changed Our Seats will be reviewed on October 14, 2016.

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

New Video for Parents AND Little Free Library Launched Successfully


A new video has been posted to youtube. Teach your child counting to 5 “on the cheap”. It uses multiple learning styles, the outdoors, and simple free or inexpensive materials. The emphasis is on play and being active.


Yesterday I opened my Little Free Library to the public. If you’re a STTNG fan, you’ll appreciate that my number1 patron was named Ryker.🙂 I remembered to ask the first two families to sign the guest book. Then I remembered my camera for the next few. Then I barely remembered my name. It was great to meet new people, old and young, in the neighbourhood. It was also lovely to have Lisa Laco from CBC come by with a bag bursting with adult books to donate.








Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt. Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. Book Review.

 Click here to buy The Day the Crayons Quit

Duncan finds a stack of letters in place of his crayons. It begins with a letter of complaint from red who is overworked. Purple is frustrated that Duncan doesn’t color within the lines. Beige is fed up with being in second-place. Gray is tired of coloring huge animals like whales and elephants. White has been ignored. Black is bored with being an outline. Green is happy with his lot in life but wants the argument between yellow and orange to be settled. Yellow insists he is the color of the sun which orange contradicts. Blue has enjoyed being the favorite color, but he needs a rest. Pink wants to be used by more than Duncan’s little sister. Peach is embarrassed by his nakedness.

So Duncan creates a picture with everyone’s desires in mind and receives an A+ for creativity from his teacher.

On the left side of each two-page spread is a printed letter from the crayon. On the right side is an example of Duncan’s coloring using the crayon. All the pictures are created using crayons.

The story and the illustrations are simple but engaging. What carries the story is the individual characterization of each color. Everyone has their own voice, cross, whining, resentful, angry and more. Kids will find the naked humor funny.


Here’s a link to a helpful site on the benefits of coloring.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Crayon Road by Jini Jeong. Illustrated by In Gahng. Book Review.


Click here to buy Crayon Road

Crayon Road is a very simple picture book in which children explore lines. Five crayons, red, green, yellow, orange, and blue, draw various lines and ask the reader, “What will go on this road?” When the crayons make a straight road, cars and trucks go on it. When they make a hilly road, bikes go on it. When they make a wavy line, a ship goes on it. When they make a long long track, a train goes on it. When they make a road with a bend, the crayons go on it to your house.

What a great way to introduce the importance of line in art to the very youngest child. Some children are loath to draw because what they imagine is not what they are physically capable of creating. A fun and encouraging follow-up to this book would be a duel art activity. The child can draw any kind of line he or she likes, and the adult could add something that would go on that road. The adult could expand to nonroad lines such as castle tops.

Or, try the reverse. Cut out numerous vehicles from magazines ahead of time. The adult draws a road and the child picks a picture to glue on that road.

Young children will enjoy the short, simple format of this book. The pattern is predictable and will encourage child participation. While it may seem overly short so an adult, I feel this is the perfect length for a two-year-old learning the concept of representational art.

The illustrations are bright, a combination of pen and ink, collage, crayon, and possibly computer-generated images of crayons. The pictures have a three-dimensional feeling.

As a follow-up, it’s never too early to introduce experimental art techniques such as dribble painting and gluing long thin strips of paper cut into different line shapes. Of course, don’t forget to use those beautiful, fat crayons as well.

Click image to buy.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages