Can You Say Peace? By Karen Katz. Book Review.

Although Peace Day was September 21, this gentle book fits well with my theme of war and peace for November.

This is a simple book that shows us how to say peace in different languages. It begins “Today is Peace Day all around the world. Children everywhere will wish for peace, hope for peace, and ask for peace. All around the world today, there will be many different ways to say peace.” From that point on each double-page spread has the name of the child and the country she lives in on the left with a full-page bright illustration. A close-up of the child’s face on the is right with the words on how to say peace in their language with a pronunciation guide. For example, “Meena lives in India.” features an elephant, women on a blanket working or sharing their food I’m not sure which, two women carrying food on the top of their heads, a goat, and palm trees. On the right, “Meena says shanti (SHAHNtee).

The countries featured are India, America, Japan, Australia, Mexico, Iran, Russia, China, France, Ghana, and Bolivia. The book ends with the powerful words, “All around the world, children want to go to school, to walk in their towns and cities, play outside, and to share food with their families. They want to do all these things and feel safe. No matter how we say it we all want peace.”

What an important message that those who suffer the most in our war-ridden world are those who are the most innocent and helpless. It is also an effective reminder to be grateful if we are some of the fortunate people to live in a country that is not being torn apart by war. We need to be grateful if we are able to go to school, play outside, and share food with our families while we feel safe. I wish this for all children everywhere.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

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The Reality Blur – Recycled Sundays

Children under the age of seven have always had difficulty differentiating between fantasy and reality. Television has blurred these lines by having stars act in commercials during their shows, or flipping characters from one show to another while maintaining their stage personas.

Adults too, may find it difficult to decide what’s real and what isn’t when viewing television. You can “Chase” down the “Hall” to turn on a “Petty” talk show which will “Shirley” give you your “Phil” of “Whoopee”. You can gorge yourself on husbands who beat their wives, wives who cheat on their husbands, moms who mistreat their kids, and all kinds of lovers of deceit.

You can watch men who wear dresses, or diapers, or devices, or nothing at all. See teens who shoot drugs and folks who shoot thugs. Watch men who were women, women who were men, and people who want to change all over again. There are those who can’t teach, won’t eat, eat everything in sight, or only eat food killed during a full moon night. See tough love and rough love than those without enough love. Boo folks who harass, molest and cheat. Cheer those who have class, protest and compete.

When you’re done feasting on the obsessed and depressed, indiscreet and deadbeat, perverted and psychotic, you might want to watch something a little less revealing – a good mystery. There’s “Mystery!” For those who like literary drama with a gasp. “Ancient Mysteries” are for the more tenacious. “In Search Of…” Is for global mystery buffs and if that’s not enough, there are specials like “Magic Circles.” There are “unsolved Mysteries” featuring missing cult figures wanted for setting their grade 12 science teachers on fire. “Missing Treasures” documents missing children while “Missing Persons” dramatizes them. It’s hard to keep the mysteries straight without a detective guidebook.

If you like suspense without mystery, there’s “Rescue 911” and “On Scene: Emergency Response” and “Emergency Call.” Some are documentary, some are drama, and some are docu-drama. If nothing else, they give the reviewer an appreciation of an ordinary day.

For SF buffs, Start Trek has cloned again. The premier of Deep Space Nine did not show at the scheduled time. I’ve never seen so many bullets scroll across the screen, not even when there’s a tornado warning. Was the network hoping these apologies would stop fans from powering up their modems, breaking into the network computers and messing with their reality? Next season, I’ll be watching for “Descendents of Data” – Men, Machine or Memorex?, “Deanna Troy’s Third Cousins Once Removed” – they can only sense itches and the onset of sneezes, “Klingon Clans in the 28th Century” – will they or won’t they be able to wear hats?, and “My Mother-in-law is a Ferengi” – you call this a bargain?

For a final mishmash of reality and fantasy, we can watch shows that interview these and other stars. We are promised an insight into the real person behind the camera. “John and Leeza from Hollywood,” “Celebrities Offstage,” “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” ” Entertainment Tonight,” “The Late Show,” and “Larry King Live” features television and movie personalities as themselves. Barbara Walters prides herself on digging out the hidden emotions of stars and even did a show on Hollywood party girls, talk about “real” people.

Thanks to the likes of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, these shows are becoming more like regular talk shows. As we watch these body-sculpted, speech coached, agented, surgically-altered, and hair-implanted stars, they reveal their “inner” selves. I suppose that’s the most difficult to groom. Is it real or is it public relations?

Chronicle-Journal/Times News, October 24, 1993.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Tyrannosaurus Drip by Julia Donaldson and David Roberts. Book Review.

 buy link Tyrannosaurus Drip

This is a prehistoric version of the Ugly Duckling. When the duckbilled dinosaurs egg is accidentally mixed in with the eggs in a tyrannosaurus’s nest, the duckbilled is raised as one of their own. He is mocked by the family for looking weak and having a mouth like a beak. He refuses to eat meat, dining instead on vegetation. When the family chants “Up with hunting! Up with war! Up with bellyfuls of duckbilled dinosaur!” The little duckbill sings the opposite.

The tyrannosauruses are eager to cross the river and fill their bellies with duckbilled dinosaur but this is impossible because they cannot swim. The little duckbill discovers he can and makes friends with the animals living on the other embankment. When a tree falls across the river, it is the little duckbill who saves the other duckbilled dinosaurs.

While this book is pro-planet-based diet, and I’m all for that, it seems a little harsh on the tyrannosauruses who are following their own natural instincts. In order to make their defeat more palatable the author has painted them as war crazy monsters. Fortunately, they are not killed in the end but simply washed out to sea. They were, after all, his parents for a while.

Children will enjoy the fact that the littlest duckbill is the one who saves everyone. In spite of being bullied, he has grown up with a positive and loving nature. In the end, he is welcomed into his new/original tribe.

Children who love tyrannosaurus rexes might not like their defeat but it is a funny twist of events. It shows that wits can overcome might. Children who find themselves surrounded by bigger, tougher siblings and neighbors may feel comforted by this unusual story.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Jurassic Dinosaurs – Recyled Sundays

Oh, those “terrible lizards.” They have captured our imaginations and our nightmares since O.C. Marsh and E.D. Cope uncovered 126 new species of dinosaurs. We’ve been awed by them in the Lost World, shuddered at their ferocious battles in One Million B. C. (actually an iguana and a baby alligator), and loved them as orphans in Baby. We’ve mutated them into The Creature from the Black Lagoon (aka another dateless Saturday night), Gorgo (a mother’s love), and Godzilla (Tokyo was too crowded anyway). Dinosaurs have been combined with cowboys, sailors, lost spaceman, and misplaced cave people. Now, we have Jurassic Park. Dinosaurs, scientists, children, and an infallible security system run by a glutton with a chip on his shoulder and 15 empty chip bags at his workstation.

No matter that humans and dinosaurs have never coexisted. We are compelled to examine and re-examine what would happen should these ancient rulers gather us into the meat and alternatives food group. Surely, after all we’ve learned about the fearsome unfathomable monsters, no one would ever want to clone one, much less an island full. As the expert on chaos theory said in response to the park owner’s statement that even Disneyland had difficulties went it first opened, “Yes, but if the Pirates of the Caribbean breakdown, they don’t start eating the tourists.”

We have reached the stage in my family where our children can watch many of the shows we watch. I do provide Parental Guidance when possible. Unfortunately, no one provides guidance for me. Jurassic Park is a good example.

We waited 65 million years for this movie and they still had to make us wait an extra three minutes. It goes to show, even dinosaurs can’t stick to a schedule. I was a little anxious about allowing my son to sit in the front row with his friends. I’ve heard the “frightening scenes” were rather intense. I should’ve been more concerned about sitting in the middle of the theater with a perfect view of the screen. I had nothing to hide behind when T Rex had a coward lawyer for breakfast.

I try not to cover my face during frightening scenes. Considering how much it costs to attend the movie, I want every visual penny’s worth. I did try to mute the impact though. First, I sank a little lower in my seat. The next scene, I pulled my knees up to my chest. Soon my hands were pressed against my temples, not covering my ears her eyes, but close by should I go on frightening scenes over. When a frightening scene was combined with extreme suspense, I sunk to the level of the spread fingers. That’s when I put my hands over my face at the horror of what might possibly happen in the next few seconds, but keep fingers spaced and I can see the screen and don’t miss what actually happens in the next few seconds. My entire body now looked a contortionist’s and should another 12 inch tooth appear, I would more than likely jump higher than the bloody ovi raptors. The “raptors” stole the show from the enshrined villain, good old Tyrannosaurus rex. Although raptor means “egg-stealer”, these clever clawers were out for prime kiddie crunch.

In the 1970s, scientists began to argue that dinosaurs were warm-blooded. Maybe, but the raptors and Rex is in Jurassic Park were definitely cold-blooded hunters. Dinosaurs ruled the earth for 140 million years. Humans have been here only between two and 5 million years. Scientists have argued long and hard over why dinosaurs became extinct – either asteroid collision, collapse of the ecosystem, or climate change. Jurassic Park, among other things, leaves the viewer with the firm impression that if dinosaurs had not disappeared from the earth, we wouldn’t be here.

The collapse of the ecosystem, hmmm. Would that be like the destruction of large natural habitats, deforestation, pollution, overhunting, overfishing…? Climate change, eh? Would that be like depletion of the ozone layer, the greenhouse effect,.. I wonder what powerful, dominant species is waiting next in line for extinction?

First published 1994 Chronical-Journal/Times News

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Smoot A Rebellious Shadow by Michelle Cuevas. Illustrated by Sydney Smith. Book Review.

Smoot, a shadow, is tired of the boring, depressing existence he is trapped in and breaks away from the boy who never laughs, leaps, or does anything wild. Free at last, Smoot skips in the park, rides the merry-go-round, climbs a tree and engages fully with the world. His actions inspire others shadows to also fulfill their dreams. As Smoot creates his adventure, the boy follows and watches.

Newly inspired shadows find the courage to perform in public, create fearsome and magical alter egos, and reached the clouds. Smoot becomes concerned that the shadows of wild animals may create havoc. Through creative thinking, Smoot persuades the shadows to return to their origins. When he returns to his own boy, the child has changed. He improved now laughs, leaps, and acts wild. Both their lives are changed.

This feels like a book written for adults more than for children. As a rule, it is adults who’ve lost the ability to laugh and leap. I would interpret the boy as representing adults and the shadow representing the forgotten inner child. Quite often there are things in our life that are beyond our control. But just as often our attitude determines our happiness. The boy in the story has disengaged from life. He’s forgotten that the simple joys are the sweetest.

Although children would enjoy this story, I think the parent reading it to them will actually get the most benefit.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Rejections – Recycled Sundays

A fellow writer was asked which magazine ran her articles and stories.

“Oh, I write mostly for rejections,” she joked.

The inquirer responded seriously, “I don’t think I’ve read that one.”

None of us have. That’s the problem. With the increase of multimedia entertainment, and the spiraling cost of books, publishers are far less likely to gamble with new writers. The buzzword is “marketability.”

To be fair, there seems to be more new writers than ever, many victims of unemployment. A popular or prestigious magazine may only have space to publish one out of hundreds of submissions. The competition for books may be even worse.

Take a look at what’s available in children’s books today. There are still incredible works of art and charm, like Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman, but they are competing fiercely against the “market-driven” fluff generated by Saturday, and daily, cartoons. Not only does every superhero, cutesy puppy, and valiant pony cartoon generate lunchboxes, stuffed toys, action figures, and clothing, but books as well. Many of these books have as much art, depth and originality as a cereal box.

Sadly the scene is not much different for adults. The public’s voracious appetite for talk shows has spilled over into writing. By the way, you’ll know they’ve run dry when they feature talk show host’s interviewing talk show hosts. Magazines run more sensational pieces than they used to as in “women who cheat on their husbands… And don’t feel guilty,” followed up by, “husband’s who know their wives cheat… And don’t feel angry.”

Spill your guts novels are rampant as in The Life Story of The Girl Door: Alcoholic, Sexual Compulsive, Self-mutilater and Collector of Hood Ornaments. Many of these are written with the same/and report style as a talk show.

Still there are editors and publishers who’ve managed to keep their standards intact. Swamped by submissions, they do not have time to personally critique a writer’s work. You may find it strange that and “emerging” writer will be happy to receive a private comment on a rejection form. The personal connection can be enough to spur a three-month rewrite. There are those, though, who find it painful because they still don’t know where to head.

For example, Lisa Powell’s fictional biography of Elizabeth Tutor has received the following rejections:

“This is indeed an outstanding historical and lives up to all the fine things you said about it… As I admired it, I didn’t feel we could do the right job with it in the current market.”

And another, “… There’s so much to admire here that it is with great regret that I’m returning the manuscript.”

And again, “this is a beautifully written and exquisitely researched historical on the Virgin Queen… It would probably be a high risk project in today’s market.”

“You should not be at all discouraged by the fact that we will not be making an offer for the book because this is an extremely publishable novel and a more commercial publisher, I’m certain, will positively leap at the chance to publish it.”

Lisa’s waiting for that leap, net in hand. Should any publisher give the smallest hop in her direction, she’s ready.

Some editors try to soften the blow with humour here’s one I received:

“Congratulations! You have been chosen to receive this beautiful hand-lettered rejection slip! We know you will be proud to add this attractive notice to your personal collection. For additional copies send your contributions to:… Note: in the event that your next contributions accepted for publication we cannot send you another card, and you will just have to be satisfied with money… Sorry – the editor.”

Satisfy me, already. I can take it.

Chronicle-Journal/Times-News, May 30, 1993

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Changing Focus

Since I’m finding it difficult to complete my own work, I’m going to focus on completing and publishing my novels and picture books in progress. I am going to post only once or twice a week for the next while.

The project I am in the process of uploading to Amazon is a new picture book called Monkey’s 100th Day.

Monkey is excited to learn that today is the 100th day of school. Just as he begins to feel overwhelmed, the teacher surprises him with the best counting activity of all. On his way home, he is proud to be able to use what he has learned in the classroom.

Celebrate with monkey as he explores 100 bricks, marbles, bubbles and more. Each page of 100 items can be clearly counted. There are extra challenges on several pages which require attention to detail. All of monkey’s activities can be copied by students (over several days). The book ends with thirty fun and engaging follow-up extensions for teachers to use with individuals, groups, or the entire class.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

A Poppy is To Remember by Heather Patterson. Illustrated by Ron Lightburn. Book Review.

This little Canadian book is a suitable introduction for very young children into World War One and the use of the poppy for Remembrance Day. The references to death are subtle but the child understands that war is terrible and takes many away from their families. It also reminds us to remember the wives and children who had to carry-on without a loved one and to remember the service people who returned home.

The last five pages are resources for adults. Two pages explain the story of the poppy in detail with some photographs. Three explain the event of Remembrance Day in Canada. These are both valuable resources for parents and teachers. As much information as the child is ready to receive can be shared.

In the note, the author mentions World War II as well.

The illustrations are gentle and subtle but get across the ideas of loss, fear, loneliness, and jubilation when peace finally arrives. Because this is told about Canadians, the soldiers are all white. However, there were thousands of non-white people who fought for the allies. I’m not sure how this could’ve been addressed. You might just want to mention it.

This is a good book for broaching a terrible and shocking subject for the very young and innocent.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages