Tea For Ruby by Sarah Ferguson (The Duchess of York). Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. Book Review

 Click here to buy Tea for Ruby

If anyone has had experience drinking tea with the Queen, Sarah Ferguson would be one of them. So we are cleverly seduced into thinking Ruby is actually having Queen with her Royal Majesty Elizabeth II. This is reinforced when everyone she meets gives her advice on how to behave.

“I hope you won’t shout when you have tea with the Queen.”

“I hope you won’t interrupt when you have tea with the Queen.”

In spite of this relentless barrage of advice, Ruby excitedly shares her invitation with everyone she sees, the letter carrier, the soccer coach, the dance instructor, and more.

The tension builds and builds until finally the day arrives. Ruby wears her prettiest dress, a tiara, and carries a bouquet of flowers. Her parents drive her to a beautiful floral-lined path.

“Grandma?” says Ruby.

“My princess!” responds a woman in a semi formal dress draped with costume jewelry and a tiny fake crown.

On the yellow and green shuttered house is a banner reading Welcome to Tea at the Palace!

You might think that the reader would be disappointed to find out that Ruby will be having tea with a member of the family instead of royalty but this isn’t so. Children are delighted that Ruby’s grandmother has gone to so much trouble and they are sharing this special, memorable moment together.

On the last page is a note reading, “Dear Grandma, Thank you so much for inviting me to tea. I tried to use my very best manners. The tarts were with delicious but my favorite thing was just being with you! I love you, Ruby.” This exchange is better than 100 visits with the actual Queen. (No offense to Her Royal Highness.)

The illustrations are extensively detailed. Ruby tries on several gowns in preparation for her visit but her imagined outfits and surroundings are pure delightful fantasy. Little girls will love studying the formal costumes. Glasser has created a fascinating set of illustrations.

I was deeply pleased with this book and would recommend it to any parent or grandparent who loves to play Princess or tea with a child.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

A Fairy AND a Princess – The Very Fairy Princess: A Spooky, Sparkly Halloween by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton. Illustrated by Christine Davenier. Book Review.

 Click here to buy The Very Fairy Princess: A Spooky, Sparkly Halloween

This book is one in a collection of Very Fairy Princess books written by Julie Andrews and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton. Yes, I already reviewed one of her books, Dumpy to the Rescue, but it was so awful I thought I’d give her another chance.

In this book, she has taken two things that little girls love, fairies and princesses, merged them together and built a business of picture books, music, a television series, and even a writing course for authors. Her books are advertised as a #1 New York Times Best-selling Series. When scanning the list of books, you immediately realized that they are all written to help children in socially difficult situations such as the end of the school year, losing the class pet, and not being chosen to sing the solo.

In this particular story, Gerry, who is a princess with actual fairy wings, uses a white sheet to dress as an angel for Halloween. When her best friend, Delilah, wears a dentist uniform that becomes covered in ketchup, Gerry uses her ingenuity and generosity to save the day. She transforms her sheet into a tooth costume for her friend. Together they morph Gerry into the tooth fairy. The girls win a big box of chocolates for creative teamwork. I love the message that friendship and compassion are more important than looking good.

If the other books are like this one, I think they would be enjoyed by little girls and beneficial to their social development. The story was suspenseful; my granddaughter was quite concerned when Delilah’s costume was ruined just before the parade. The text is longer and the vocabulary is a bit more advanced than I would have expected for the target audience, but with adult assistance shouldn’t be a problem.

The pictures are created with soft pastels with a lot of pink and purple. The one thing I noticed was that in the classroom scenes I could only find one child of color. Perhaps Christine Davenier could be more conscious of diversity in her illustrations.

I will be reviewing other books written by celebrities in January. It will be interesting to see if celebrity authors develop a series of books like Julie Andrews or just a one-shot affair and if they have a message they want to spread.

By the way, this was about as “spooky” as a week old kitten.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Dumpy to the Rescue! By Julie Andrews Edwards and Emma Walton Hamilton. Illustrated by Tony Walton. Book Review.

 Click here to buy Dumpy to the Rescue! (My First I Can Read)

This is an “I Can Read Book”so I wasn’t expecting it to be big on plot. I was surprised to see it was published in 2004. It has the look of a much older book. I expected something a little less ‘traditional’ than an old red dump truck and a white male farmer with a white boy assisting him especially when you consider the diversity of children reading early books. Even the illustration style seem to be from the 1960s.

Dumpy is the farm truck. He brings hay for the cows, oats for the horse, chicks for the corn, but then can’t find the baby goat. As the farmer searches for the goat and feeds more animals, he discovers missing nuts, roses, milk, apples and even a hat. He finds baby goat in the barn full from all the food he has pilfered.

Just because the book is an early read, doesn’t mean it can’t have zest. Even with such a simple plot, the illustrations could’ve had punch and made children laugh. I honestly think most children would be bored stiff reading this.

When posting this review, I discovered there is a whole series of Dumpy books. Oh, well. Different tastes for different readers I guess.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Pain of Golfing – Recycled Sundays

I spotted a T-shirt the other day that read, “Those who can, golf. Those who can’t, golf anyway.” I imagine many of us can identify with that. I certainly can. I have golfed less than a dozen times, but last year I moved up a rank. Not because of a better score – I still reached the counting limits at most of the holes – because I now have my own clubs.

I’m hoping the close proximity of this athletic equipment might soak some awareness into my subconsciousness. So far, all I know is that the fat club is for teeing off, the putter is for the green near the hole, and some club in the middle is for everything else.

I’m always amazed at how serious people take a sport that is so charming. Basically, it’s one level up from schoolyard marbles. And how many other sports do you know that involves puppets? Oh, I know, the pros don’t call them that. Professionals say the little sockies over the clubs are supposed to protect them from banging against each other. In my case, that seems a little redundant. It’s okay to whack balls, tees, clumps of earth, and the occasional tree, but I mustn’t let them bang against each other.

I’ve seen these club socks come in various shapes and sizes. One woman had the entire Muppet set, I swear. I think perhaps they should worry more about the puppets banging together. What if they reproduce? Soon, there won’t be enough room in the bag for all the clubs, balls, tees, drinks, bug spray, sunscreen, tissues, rag, coin purse, sunglasses, scarf, and car keys. I can envision Animal and Piggy tossing things out at the bag every time a golfer turns her back.

Actually, I view the club socks as one more thing to lose. I can imagine myself retracing my steps, asking people if they’d seen my Lambchop or Grover. I often lose my tees, more often than my ball, and I swear the hole keeps moving.

How come, with one swing of my club, I can drive the tee inches into the ground, but after a dozen swings with a hammer, I still can’t drive a nail? I play most of the game as a “teetotaler.” If I’m more than a little out of whack that day, a bruise will start forming on the palm of my hand from slamming the ground instead of the ball. I know it’s cheating, but I’ve started to use the tee on most of my strokes. I figure the greens-keeper appreciates it. Better a few more dozen broken tees than divots.

An acquaintance once told me I could improve if I used the seven iron near the green and choked up on. By that point, I not only want to choke it, but hang, draw, and quarter it as well.

Occasionally I do have a decent game. Inevitably, then, the gods laugh and send thunder and lightning to celebrate. I’ve never considered a par four worth dying for or even having my belt buckle permanently fused to my belly button. But there are those who would play through if Noah started building an ark on the sixth hole. I prefer the safety of the club house where I discovered there are more golf magazines printed than bridal or homemaker issues combined. Unfortunately, my hands were too sore to turn the pages.

The Chronicle-Journal /regional Newspaper

May 2, 1993

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Is There Really a Human Race? By Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell. Book Review.

 Click here to buy Is There Really a Human Race?

I thought this book was going to be about race relations but it was actually a play on the words “human race”. It begins at a park where a little boy asks his mother, “Is there really human race.”

The next page reads, “Is it going on now all over the place? When did it start? Who said, ‘Ready, Set, Go’?”

He continues talking about warm-ups, coaches, practicing and training. He asks about location, participants, winners and losers, rules, and if they are all going to crash.

Then it reads, “Sometimes it’s better not to go fast. There are beautiful sites to be seen when you’re last. Shouldn’t it be that you just try your best? And that’s more important than beating the rest? Shouldn’t it be looking back at the end that you judge her own race by the help that you lend.” It continues in this theme until the last line says, “and make the world a better place for the whole human race.”

The words were clever, well paced, rhythmic, and important. The rhyming was flawless. The message was delivered beautifully.

The book was illustrated by Laura Cornell who used pencil and watercolor. The pictures were full of dynamic and zany movement. Many of the pages had stories within the illustrations. Some crowded double-page spreads took quite a while to absorb. She definitely got across the idea of the insanity of competition and pushing ourselves as fast as possible.

Inside the back cover is a “world yearbook” that features various pictures of children and their career choices such as tech support, circus clown, mud brick master, astronaut, career criminal, clog dancer and nuclear physicist. Every portrait is bursting with personality.

All in all, this was a wonderful surprise. Highly recommended.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Celebrity Writers – Do We Need Them?

Most of the books reviewed for the next couple of weeks are written by celebrities. This is my theme for July I was interested to see if celebrity written picture books were better because they could afford great editors and illustrators or worse because they were resting on their reputations.

The celebrities I have included are: Sarah Ferguson the Duchess of York, Jerry Seinfeld, Jamie Lee Curtis, Julie Andrews, Steve Martin, Billy Crystal, John Lithgow, and Will Smith. Some of the styles were entirely predictable, such as Jerry Seinfeld’s foray into Halloween memoir and Steve Martin’s zany alphabet. John Lithgow’s work was odd, not unexpected. Will Smith and Billy Crystal were sentimental and genuine. Julie Andrews wrote old-fashioned fantastical work. Jamie Lee Curtis was clever and deep. Sarah Ferguson was the most unpredictable after her little helicopter book was such a disaster. I think you’ll find some good reads and some books to avoid.

I was surprised there weren’t more in my public library as I felt as though we were being inundated with celebrity writing. Once I began researching, I realized most of them are written for adults and a lot are memoir. Perhaps this is a testament to the incredible difficulty of writing a good quality picture book.

I must admit I am not up-to-date on celebrities. I don’t read celebrity magazines. I seldom click on websites about the beautiful and famous. I don’t watch television shows where the rich and adored interview each other. So I googled who were the most famous people of 2016. There were a surprising number in the top 50 that I did not recognize. It will be interesting to see if any of these foray into writing. It seems to be a quick and easy way to make a buck, especially if you’re writing a tell-all. The sad thing is, the market is already glutted with more writers than readers and struggling authors have little chance of competing with brand names. Just how much of the pie do the ultra rich need to feel complete? Will Smith, for example, has been the highest or one of the highest-paid actors several years in a row. Does he really need the money from a picture book, one that could have been created by someone whose entire focus is writing?

How do you feel about celebrity authors? Do you think they are crowding the market and making it more difficult for beginning writers to be recognized? Do you feel their writing stands out in any way? I’d love to hear your opinions.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Poppa’s Goat written by Gary Hutchison. Illustrated by Gordon Court. Book Review.

This picture book tells the story of a grandfather who is fed up with the mess the paperboy makes delivering flyers. Instead of coming to the front door, the boy leaves the flyers on the front lawn where they blow all over the yard. Poppa’s granddaughter, Madeleine, comes to visit and misunderstands the phrase, “paperboy really gets his goat.”

Madeleine and Poppa build a box for the paperboy’s flyers and attach it to the fence in the front yard. Unfortunately, robins come and build a nest in the box so the papers wind up everywhere again. Madeleine and Poppa pick up the papers and create a papier-mâché figure representing the paperboy. The grandfather gives it to the dog who tears it to pieces. Funny and a little bit creepy at the same time.

Finally, the grandfather takes Madeline and their dog Stanley to a farm where they purchase a goat as a pet. Poppa specifically wants Little Goat to live in the backyard and eat the grass. But every Thursday, “he will go in the front yard and eat the flyers the paperboy puts on the ground. Goats love to eat paper.” The goat performs as expected. Madeleine and her grandparents celebrate with chocolate milk. The little goat curls up with the dog to sleep.

The illustrations are excellent. Gordon Court has an interesting angular style of drawing. Although the pictures are probably done on computer they feel close to hand drawn pen and ink outlines with color and shading.

The story is cute and funny and lends itself well to discussions of idioms, problem solving, and the raising of goats. On that last subject, please be sure to explain to the child that although goats love paper, giving it to them in great bunches as a regular diet is a bad idea. The paper has no nutritional value and a kid (baby goat) with a full stomach will not be able to eat his proper food to aid in growth. Eating too much paper can cause a blockage in the goat’s bowels, a major threat to his life. Flyers often contain toxic ink and full colored glossy pages are particularly poisonous. As well it looks like Poppa lives in the city where having a goat for a pet is not ideal. Be sure to explain to your child that this story is written just in fun.

The relationship between Madeleine and grandparents is positive and heartwarming. Perhaps you and your child could brainstorm as to how the two of them could solve this problem in a different way such as putting up a “No flyers please.” sign or hanging a paper box with a lid.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Author Timothy Gwyn Three Random Questions Interview

Timothy Gwyn writes science fiction stories and has recently finished his first novel, Avians.

Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome Timothy. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your novel, Avians. It is quite apparent that you are extremely knowledgeable about flying and can discuss gliders and airships with great expertise. Can you tell us a little about your experience with flying?

Timothy Gwyn: I first rode in an airliner, a Pan-Am Boeing 707, when I was six, and my brother took me up in a glider before I was eleven or so. I learned to fly when I was eighteen, and quickly took it up as a career. On the fun side, anytime I can get a ride in a balloon, a helicopter or a hovercraft, I’m having a good day.

Ferrante: I was very impressed with the world building in Avians. Both the environment and the social structure were unique and interesting. Can you tell us how you went about creating this fascinating world?

Gwyn: I wanted to write about aviation that was greener than the kind of flying I do, so I set out to create a world that had low technology, but needed flight. The lack of metals and complete absence of fossil fuels – both of which could stem from Celadon not having a moon – oblige the inhabitants to build gliders. Putting the settlements high on mountain sides makes them ideal for launching sailplanes, and also creates a scarcity of habitable land that leads to all sorts of social consequences.

Ferrante: You chose to write from the point of view of several women, most young teenagers. Why did you choose girls instead of boys as your protagonists?

Gwyn: I wanted a utopian society with gender equality, but that begs a fundamental question: if everything is so perfect, why would a fourteen-year-old run away from home? Because the landowners consolidate their grip on their property not just through trade alliances, but also with strategic marriages, and Raisa wants no part of that. Also, I wanted characters who were not the biggest or strongest, but who have to accomplish their goals despite that, by finding courage and determination within themselves.

Ferrante: I don’t want to give away too much of the book but I really want to know why you made Raisa anorexic. You make it quite clear why she refuses to eat and it suits the narrative perfectly but what was the impetus for your decision to give her an eating disorder? How did you research this?

Gwyn: I don’t like to apply the term anorexic to Raisa, because I’m sure she’s never heard the word. She would claim her reluctance to eat is a protest, a hunger strike. It seemed the perfect flaw for Raisa: she has no idea how privileged she is, and she is a rebellious and contrary character. But yes, her attitude towards food is distorted, and experience with anorexia in my own family shows through in some of her specific issues.

Ferrante: Because this is such a rich and well thought-out world, I could easily see you setting more books in it. Do you have any plans for a sequel or other novels that take place in this world?

Gwyn: I do! There are already two prequel short stories published: “Far Gone” at NewMyths.com is about the trip to Celadon, and “Freezer Burn” at Antipodean SF is about one of Raisa’s ancestors coming out of the long sleep. I’m working on the first sequel to Avians, in which bandits worsen a refugee crisis, and Mel and Raisa must work together in new ways to prevent a disaster. I’d like to create a series of novels that follow Raisa and Mel’s adventures as they mature in different ways.

Ferrante: You live in a fairly small town in northern Ontario, Canada. I know you belong to the NOWW, Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop, and that there is an active writing community in Kenora. What else do you do to connect with other writers, improve your writing skills, and gather feedback on your work?

Gwyn: Since attending my first workshops in Kenora, I’ve become a regular at conventions in Winnipeg, Ottawa, and now Calgary. I put a lot of work into an Odyssey online course one winter, and I also belong to a speculative fiction critique group in Winnipeg; I get a lot of mental writing done on the drive home.

Ferrante: What advice would you give to new authors who are writing their first science fiction book?

Gwyn: Make connections. Start with Beta readers. Then, if you can manage to get to a convention or workshop, put your brave face on and sign up for a Blue Pencil Café because those short critiques often go straight to the heart of the matter. Look into online courses such as Odyssey’s, because they teach you to critique. Follow the Prix Aurora Awards: enrolling to vote is just ten bucks each year and you get to read all the shortlisted works.

Ferrante: What you working on now? What are your future plans? Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers?

Gwyn: I’m working on that first sequel, Bandits, and roughing out some plots for later books. I have enough ideas to keep me going for many years. I have two blogs that can be reached through timothygwyn.com: Lake of the Woods Ice Patrol displays aerial photographs to chronicle the spring thaw in Kenora’s cottage country, and Timothy Gwyn Writes covers my adventures and misadventures pursuing writing and publication.

Three Random Questions

Ferrante: If you were a science-fiction character, who would you be?

Gwyn: Nausicaä from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. This Hiyao Miyazaki anime is perhaps my favourite movie ever. Princess Nausicaä is brave but pacifistic, and strives to understand nature to better her world. And she’s a pilot!

Ferrante:  The morning after a nuclear catastrophe, what would you be able to reinvent or re-create?

Gwyn: Coffee. There will be no civilization rising from the ashes until I have coffee. I’ll get around to building a printing press out of the slag and putting out a newspaper in the afternoon.

Ferrante: What kind of clothes would you absolutely never wear?

Gwyn: High socks, with or without shorts. I fold my socks down to below the shin. And flood pants: I’m still traumatized from my growth spurt in junior high. Captain Kirk’s uniform pants that end with a flare above the ankle make me cringe.

Ferrante: Thank you so much for participating in my interview series. It was a pleasure getting to know you.

Timothy Gwyn can be found through his website at www.timothygwyn.com, and Twitter @timothygwyn

Avians by Timothy Gwyn. Book Review.

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Timothy Gwyn has built a fascinating and completely believable world in his first 416 page young adult science-fiction novel. His expertise with flying gives authenticity to the events without overwhelming the reader with technical jargon. Girls whose lives are miserable may be able to escape by joining the avians, an aeronautical group of young women fiercely loyal to each other and in love with flying glider planes used for commercial delivery and rescue missions.

The girls are as unique as their reasons for joining. However, not everyone will make it through training. So many girls are washed out or killed that the older flyers don’t bother to learn their names until the recruits have proven themselves. Even experienced aviators can fall victim to an accident. Then, they may be “converted”, a mysterious and frightening prospect.

Gwyn juxtapositions two girls from the same household, Raisa, heiress to a rich and influential silk empire and Mel, a servant in her household who detests Raisa. Both girls wind up in the same squad. The opportunity to sabotage Raisa is not lost on Mel. It seems likely that only one of these girls will make it, but which one?

Girls and women are the heroes of this novel and, not for a moment, are they dependent on men to reach their true potential. The rivalries are genuine as is the sisterhood. Science fiction readers of all ages will enjoy this book but it will especially connect with those who are interested in flight or empowering young women.

Buy links

Barnes and Noble 

Amazon

Timothy Gwyn will be interviewed tomorrow on this blog.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Check-Up: Oldbridge Tales by Mark Daydy. Illustrated by Mike Daydy. Book Review.

Book buy link http://a.co/ixsNgfz

Because of the differences in terminology the author and the illustrator have created an American version and an English version of the story. The book still has a definitely British feel to it. For example the taxi is black, I learned recently that they’re called “black cabs” and the protagonist, Jake, who seems to be a delivery truck, is yellow like North American taxis.

The story is fairly simple. Jake has smoke coming out of his engine but is afraid to go for a check-up. His friend, Sylvester, follows him around town telling everyone that Jake needs to go for a check-up. Jake refuses to listen insisting that he is too busy. But when his engine begins to choke up he realizes the seriousness of the situation and goes to the garage. He learns that all he needs is a new air filter, a painless experience. The story ends with Sylvester starting to smoke and Jake bugging him to go for a check-up. It could be quite funny if it is read with suitable expression.

The cars are old-fashioned cars, I think from the 30s, I’m not a car person so I don’t know for sure. This gives the book a certain charm. The illustrations by Mike Daydy are computer graphics. He does a good job of giving the cars expression. I would suggest that he vary the point of view of the illustration as most of them are taken from above looking down at an angle.

I think the story has two messages, one for children and one for adults. For children, the story reassures them that going to the doctor is usually not nearly as dramatic as they expect. For adults, it’s a reminder not to ignore symptoms that could be warnings of something more serious and that checkups for breast cancer or prostate cancer should never be postponed.

Children who enjoy books about cars may not even realize this book is actually about taking care of our bodies and our health. This could be a good thing for some children who don’t like to talk about going to the doctor. Sometimes a covert approach is the best.

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages