Introducing Super Sporty by Ellie Firestone. Booke Review.

This is an action-packed story interspersed with odd unnecessary moments, such as the first page and a half wherein the Sporty and Harley ride the elevator and have breakfast. It is the kind of tale that an unsophisticated reader might enjoy especially if they like space monsters, horses and superheroes. It is quite similar to the stories my junior grade students used to write for me.

The reader must have wide-open acceptance to the unexpected and the unpredictable. First of all, the horses talk and behave like humans, which is fine. Then suddenly the horses have hidden wings and fly. Okay. Then the new horses are actually disguised aliens. Then the good horses can shoot beams of light from their hooves (that is actually a force field) and from the other hoof, a pair of wings (to attach to the injured horse). It is hard to build suspense when there seems to be no limit to the abilities of the superhero. The reader has absolutely no doubt that the horses will defeat the aliens and prevent the invasion.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem with this book is the illustrations. I don’t mean to be cruel but they honestly seem like a child drew them. The horses are barely recognizable and there are visible marker lines. It would be better to take the illustrations out and put in a couple of photographs of horses Photoshopped to look like basketball players or pay someone to draw a few good pictures.

  

This book has potential and will probably be enjoyed by some readers but it needs editing and entirely new illustration.

I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Ah Ha! by Jeff Mack

 Click here to buy Ah Ha!

There are only two there are only two phrases repeatedly used in this clever book, “Ah ha!” and “Aahh!” but plot and emotion are clearly shown through the illustrations.

Frog is just trying to relax in the pond. A boy tries to catch him with a jar, and the turtle, alligator, and flamingo try to eat the frog. Every time he escapes some dire fortune, he finds himself in another life or death situation. The story goes full cycle. When the boy catches the frog in a jar at the beginning, the dog accidentally releases the frog. At the end of the story the frog is cornered by the three animal predators until the boy catches him in the jar again. As the boy carries him away, the frog utters a new phrase, “Ha ha!” The reader assumes that the frog’s situation is almost as bad as being eaten by the predators until the clever frog pushes the lid off the jar and escapes.

Young readers will find this book both suspenseful and humorous. Adults will appreciate the clever chain of events and the inventive use of vocabulary, or lack thereof. It is a book that must be read aloud with great expression. Both phrases, “Aahh!” and “Ah ha!” have different meaning, depending on the context.

Illustrations are double-page, full-color, and expressive. The cheeky personality of the frog comes through loud and clear as does his terror at almost being eaten.

While this is, at first glance, a light-hearted and clever chain of unlikely events, the book does bring home the message that surviving as a little frog is challenging and requires both wit and courage. It encourages discussion on the morality of capturing live creatures for amusement, courage and determination, the food chain, and the importance of never giving up. For an adult, this book is a gentle reminder that life is short and unpredictable. Live in the moment; take the opportunity when it is available to lie back and say, “Aahh!”

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Fun Video for Families – Never Send Callie

I found a picture book I had written as an example to my class when my students were working on their own picture books. I wrote and illustrated it about 25 years ago. The story was solid so I decided to make it into the video. Some of the pictures needed to be redone and I had to add more, however the originals were done with pastels and pencil crayons. It was a new experience for me using that Photoshop pen – a triangular pastel pencil. Anyway, I think it turned out pretty well. Just in time for Mother’s Day. Enjoy.

New Family Video: Callie has one simple errand, to buy a loaf of bread. But with so many distractions and a vivid imagination, this seems impossible. Is her mother’s patience going to run out? What will they have for lunch if Callie doesn’t deliver? A funny story about a forgetful child.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

Can I Bring a Giraffe on the Plane? By Lesley-Anne Caporelli. Edited by Amy E. Vaughn. Book Review

Click here to purchase Can I Bring a Giraffe on the Plane?

This 8 x 10 picture book is suitable for children aged one to beginning reader. It starts with Rajesh traveling by plane to visit his grandparents. His parents say he can bring one friend. “Which friend should Rajesh bring?”

The story proceeds through a list of animals proposed as possible traveling companions. “Can I bring a giraffe on the plane?” “No, Rajesh, you cannot bring a giraffe on the plane.” It continues with lion, dolphin, mouse, horse, and finally, bear. Rajesh is surprised when a new response comes, “Why yes, Rajesh, you can bring a bear on the plane!” The last page reads, “Bears are always allowed on planes!” The associated picture shows four children accompanied by their teddy bears.

This book is perfect for beginning readers as the pattern of question and answer is worded the same and repeated five times. The sixth time, the question is answered differently. My three-year-old granddaughter quickly mastered reading the text. Although the child is not actually reading, the behaviour of following the print from left to right and remembering what is on each page by referring to the illustration sets the foundation for actual reading later on. As well, the name of the animal is set in a different font. Observant children will quickly decipher the named animal in response to the picture. Word recognition will eventually follow.

The pictures are bright and simple, the kind one would find on a nursery room wall. The characters are expressive in their responses to what is happening. The lion seems a little odd as he appears to have hooves instead of paws.

There are humorous moments in the book as Rajesh imagines the reaction to specific animals. People are frightened of the lion. The plane would have to be flooded and the passengers would need to wear snorkels for the dolphin. The mouse would make the stewardess scream. The horse would take a lot of space but be well loved. Bees would follow the bear with a jar of honey.

Short and simple but engaging, this is sure to become a favorite for preschoolers who want to be able to read on their own.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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

Powerful Art – The Girl Who Saved Yesterday by Julius Lester. Illustrated by Carl Angel. Book Review.

 Click on the cover to buy the book.

It was the illustrator, Carl Angel, who asked me to review this book. So I will start with the illustrations. They are double-page spread paintings that are worthy of an art museum. Dynamic, expressive, and insightful, they pull you into the page.

The story takes place in Africa. The trees, that have taken the little girl in and raised her, remind me a little of the Ents in Tolkien’s book. These ones, however, are more exotic and spiritual. The monkey, parrot, villagers, elephant, and the lion are vivid and realistic.

The heroine, Silence, is a beautiful young woman whose task is to save the village that abandoned her. You can almost feel the texture of her hair.

When she braves the mountain, going against the village rules, we have no doubt that she will succeed in her quest. Her long strides up the mountain, scythe in hand, show us Silence’s determination and fearlessness. When she speaks to the trees, she has almost achieved the status of goddess in her pose and sense of command. But then, Carl Angel softens her appearance when she uncovers the markers of the forgotten ancestors. At first she is shocked, then again Silence is determined to change things, and finally joyous.

Every detail in the pages of illustration contribute to this story. The girl, loved and raised by the trees, wears a dress patterned in leaves and an armband made of twigs. The sky changes to reflect what is happening in the story. The text is a fable, almost legendary, and Carl Angel’s illustrations frame it perfectly.

A little on the story… The villagers have forgotten their ancestors. Because of this, frightening things have been happening. Once the grave markers are found and the ancestors are honored, both night and day become times of peace and harmony.

The story ends with Silence returning to the trees that loved and cared for her. Although the villagers want to thank her and ask for her forgiveness, she does not return. She already knows her place in the universe.

There is much to discuss about both text and illustrations. An unusual, exceptional book.

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I was given a copy of this book for my Little Free Library in exchange for a book review.

The illustrator, Carl Angel, was interviewed on my blog February 22, 2017.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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