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

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Click here to buy The Secret Path

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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

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Click here to buy Zeke Will Not Eat!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

     

    

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

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

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

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

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

Ferrante: Would these books be considered fiction or nonfiction?

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

three random questions

Ferrante: What is your favorite day of the week?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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

Ida, Always by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso. Book Review.

 

Although Ida, Always features a polar bear couple, Gus and Ida, it is about death and grieving, not bears. Ida and Gus lived in separate cages in an unnamed zoo in the middle (Central Park) of a large unnamed city (New York).  Every morning, their cages were opened and they spent the day together, splashing in the water, playing ball, and listening to the heart-beat of a city they always heard but could never explore.

Ida became ill one day and Gus spent her last days caring for her and pampering her. After she died, the book does a beautiful job of illustrating Gus’s stages of grief. This book would be helpful for a child who is mourning. It is beautifully written, insightful, sensitive, and positive.

On the one hand, this is a wonderful book on the loss of a loved one but on the other hand, it sugar-coats the actual life of this bear.

In the wild, polar bears live 20-30 years. In a zoo, the average is 20.7 years.  In the zoo, Gus had two females, Lily, who died at age 17 and Ida who died at age 25. Gus, the actual bear developed obsessive behaviours, even before the deaths of his mates, and had to be given Prozac and a program of stimulation, which lessened but did not cure his depression. He was born in a zoo and sent to Central Park for breeding. He lived for 25 years, from 1988 to 2013. He died two years after Ida. Polar bears in the wild will mate with several females over their lives, If Gus had been a free born bear, he would have been able to choose several mates.  He quite likely would not have died without offspring. I don’t think choosing Gus as the lead in this story was the best idea.

Zoo breeding programs are controversial. In light of the immediate and escalating danger polar bears face in the wild, zoo bears may, easily within our lifetime, only exist in zoos. The life of a captive bear is neither as simple nor as rosy as this book shows. This book may help children to develop compassion for polar bears but the full story would even more.

Click on the covers to buy the books or learn more about them.

  

  

 

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Tip and Lulu: A Tale of Two Friends. Written and Illustrated by Lauren Isabelle Pierre. Book Review.

What immediately strikes you about this book is how the pictures seem to glow and the little meerkat and leopard exude personality plus.

Lulu is a lonely leopard. We are not told what happened to her family, simply that she is alone in the world. Every time she tries to make friends, the other animals run away in fear for their lives. On the way, we are exposed to various African animals.

One day she comes across three meerkats bullying a fourth. She steps out and defends him. Tip, the little meerkat, becomes a dear friend. Later, when they see the three bullies running for their lives from a secretary bird, they decide to help. Even though Lulu rescues them, the three meerkats still run away in terror. Lulu and Tip don’t mind. Their friendship is available when the others are ready.

I love this message. It would’ve been so easy to let the three bullies be eaten by the secretary bird. Instead, Lulu and Tip take the high road. They also accept that there is no reward for their kindness. Their friendship with each other is enough.

The story is told in rhyme, which is very difficult to pull off. It holds together fairly well with only a few awkward spots. I understand this decision to use rhyme for a heavy topic that has been addressed in so many ways. The cuteness of the animals also helps to keep the tone light.

Children will want Lulu to make friends and will empathize with Tip, the bully victim. This book will lead into a good discussion about forgiveness. At no point does Tip want to use Lulu, the leopard, for vengeance. This book is a nice counterpoint to all the comics, movies, and television shows which promote revenge.

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

    

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on Earth! by Marie-Louise Gay. Book review

Gay does both the writing and illustrating for her books. In this story, rabbits are anthropomorphized and live like people. Roslyn decides she’s going to dig the biggest hole ever. Not e a mole hole. Not a rabbit hole. The biggest one on earth, possibly to China or to the south pole where she can meet a penguin.

Her father tells her she should probably bring a sweater. When she takes her shovel and sweater to the backyard, she spends some time choosing the perfect spot to dig. Not where it’s too rocky. Not too near the oak three.  Definitely not near father’s carrot patch. Unfortunately, finding the perfect site isn’t as easy as she thought.

Rosalyn upsets a worm’s home and is told to dig somewhere else. She upsets a mole who sends her away. Finally she upsets a dog when she uncovers his bone cupboard. Discouraged, she lays down in the bottom of the hole. She has given up.

But then her father comes out and exclaims, “This must be the biggest hole in the universe! Roslyn, are you down there?” His enthusiasm is contagious and soon they are both having lunch in the bottom of the hole. The last line reads, “She couldn’t wait to meet the penguin.”

This is a lovely story about resilience. Although Roslyn’s attempts to dig the biggest hole are thwarted by things beyond her control, with her father’s support, she is able to feel successful. It also reinforces the power of imagination.

Marie-Louise Gay’s illustrations are wonderful, as usual. Although many of her pages have large sections of white paper, they never lack for dynamics. Roslyn is an adorable little bunny whose two tiny eyes are somehow able to still convey a wide variety of emotions.

Most children can relate to wanting to dig the biggest hole. Perhaps they tried to stack the tallest tower or lay out the longest road. I’m sure you can think of more.

Don’t expect your child to not want to dig a hole after reading this book. Perhaps you could bring it to the beach along with a shovel and bucket.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Are We There Yet? A story by Caldecott Medallist Dan Santat. Book review.

 

This looks more like a graphic novel than a regular children’s picture book. It would be a good bridge book for children.

It follows a boy going to see his grandmother for her birthday complaining the whole drive about how long it is taking. He doesn’t notice the wild and crazy things happening around the car such as cowboy bandits robbing a train, pirates putting the car on the plank, a knight jousting with the car, and camels walking by as the pyramids are being built.

Eventually the child does reach his destination where in we are told, “So sit back and enjoy the ride. But remember, there’s no greater gift than the present.” Then we see the child asking at the birthday cake time, “Can we go now?” Message obviously not received.

Basically this book attempts to teach children to live in the present moment. By constantly waiting for something to happen or being anxious for something to end, we make time drag. Plus, you miss your life by not attending to it, such as this child missed the events happening all around him.

One odd thing about this book, when imaginary things start happening the book has to be turned up side down to read but then it writes itself in an odd moment. At first I thought upside down meant imagination but the bizarre events are carried on into the correct upright pages. So I’m not sure what the author was trying to achieve there.

The pictures are fabulous. The whole book has an orange feeling to it which blends well with the inside cover of the sun setting. We subtly feel the passage of time as the trip progresses.

I doubt kids will get the message, but the adults who read this book to them hopefully will. It’s something we all need to remember and practice.

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

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 A personal favourite.

 

My Two Grannies by Floella Benjamin. Illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain. Book review.


Alvina has two grandmothers that love her very much. Granny Vero is from Trinidad. Granny Rose is from Yorkshire. They both love their granddaughter and enjoy sharing stories about their childhood. When Alvina’s parents decide to go on a holiday, both grandmothers insist they should care for the little girl. They finally agreed to do it together.

Of course they argue constantly about who is going to tell her a bedtime story and what activity they will do next. The little granddaughter finds the solution, a simple but sensible one. In the end the grannies learn to know each other better and as well as providing a healthy, loving, and fun-filled atmosphere for Alvina.

The illustrations are full page drawings that clearly show the emotions and personalities of the characters.

This is a great book that shows how our differences and actually enrich our lives.

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

    

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Bye-bye butterflies! By Andrew Larson. Illustrated by Jacqueline Hudone-Verelli. Book Review.

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Charlie, a preschool child watches as numerous butterflies soar above the rooftop of the local school. He sees many hands waving goodbye and hears children calling out, “Bye-bye butterflies.” One child looks down at Charlie and his father and waves.

This event remains a mystery to Charlie until  he attends school himself. He discovers that each year children receive caterpillars. They feed them and watch them spin chrysalises. When they emerge as butterflies, they are released.

This is a lovely gentle story meant to encourage a love of nature. The pictures are composed of spaghetti arms and bobble heads with soft water colour and textured illustration. The relationship between the father and son, Charlie, who watch the initial butterfly release, is sweet. The story goes full circle because at the end Charlie is waving to a little boy who watches the butterflies release.

The back of the book has a selection of info boxes such as Are you a butterfly or are you a moth?  and So you want to be a butterfly scientist? as well as information on butterfly defense, the lifecycle, migration of the monarchs, and cool facts. Here the author refers to the chrysalis as a chrysalis while in the text itself it is called a cocoon. I prefer to use cocoon for moths and chrysalis for butterflies. That way there is no confusion for the children. A cocoon and a chrysalis are different.

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Cocoon (By Kerina yin at English Wikipedia (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

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I thought I should provide some authority for my position so here is a quote from “Reference” https://www.reference.com/science/difference-between-chrysalis-cocoon-a70033d993053639#

The chrysalis stage is also called the pupa stage, and is a phase of a butterfly or moth’s life between the larva stage, when the butterfly or moth is a caterpillar, and the adult stage. During this stage, butterflies form a chrysalis by secreting a hard protein shell around themselves. Moths on the other hand spin their cocoons out of a silk-like material. Butterflies can also secrete silk, but only enough to adhere themselves to the surface they make their chrysalis on.

I always thought growing a butterfly for release was a great activity to do with children until I researched it in 2006.

Here is information on that subject.

American Museum of Natural History

Butterfly Release: A Misguided Practice

Most butterfly farms sell only to exhibitions, educators and responsible collectors, who keep the adult butterflies in captivity. Breeding butterflies for release into the wild at special events poses serious risks to wild butterfly populations and is not endorsed by conservationists. (more)

As well

National Wildlife Federation

The National Wildlife Federation discourages releases of commercially obtained butterflies for a number of reasons, including:

Releasing butterflies can result in the possible introduction of species into areas where they are not native, possible carrying and spreading diseases at the same time.

Even if a species is native, a farmed population has a different genetic make-up than the population into which it is being introduced. This might result in negative effects on local populations.

Introductions are not the solution to dwindling butterfly populations. Habitat conservation and the elimination of pesticides from the food chain are better solutions.

also

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Butterfly releases could unleash problems for state wildlife. (more)

As well, many of the larva die in shipment. Many others don’t make it to the butterfly stage. So this seems to be an example to me of well-meaning but uninformed people. I would suggest instead that you provide a butterfly house and plant milkweed for the monarchs in your schoolyard.

When writing for children, it is vital that your information be up-to-date and ethical. This book was published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside in 2012. I know this information was available because I researched it six years earlier.

Because of the environmentally erroneous actions portrayed in this book, I would not recommend it.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Try one of these books instead. Click on the cover for information.