Oh, the Places You’ll Go! By Dr. Suess. Book Review.

 

I remember when this book first came out. Every principal and vice principal who had to MC a high school or elementary school graduation ceremony latched onto this book as a holy text. It was read to classes year after year and then continued to be spread by parents gifting it to their children. There is a reason it resonated so well.

Not only does this book contain sound advice for any young person heading out into the world but it serves as a reminder to us all of our possibilities and our challenges. It can be applied to the beginning of any new venture. I realized, because my granddaughter has a rather large vocabulary, that this book was suitable to read to her before beginning junior kindergarten. Although the message certainly wasn’t internalized on the first read through, the book launches well into discussion.

Everyone worries, whether they are beginning kindergarten, being promoted to the head CO, starting their own business, or leaving the nest, whether they will find their place and fulfill their potential. This book has a perfect combination of positive expectations and reality. “You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.” is followed with “except when you don’t. Because, sometimes you won’t.” Note the word sometimes. The door is wide open. The possibilities are there.

When children are inheriting a dying world with ecosystems being destroyed and pollution, including the dumping of nuclear waste, completely out of control. With wars on going and wars threatening. With obesity and heart attack hand-in-hand with poor diet and factory farming. With climate change bringing desertification, tornadoes and floods and who knows what else. With inner-city violence and the shadow of terrorism. On and on and on. Children need to have confidence and feel empowered but also realize that they will not be able to fulfill every dream or every goal.  Some things are beyond their control. What amazing discussions this book can trigger for any age.

I would say, don’t wait till university graduation or even high school graduation. Get this book into your child’s hands as soon they are able to comprehend it. Then again, you might want to save it for that moment of doubt when he’she faces difficult choices.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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The Three Grasshoppers by Francesca Bosca. Illustrated by Giuliano Ferri. Book Review.

This tall children’s picture book features three grasshopper friends, Charlie, Connor, and Carl. These talented musicians sing and play their instruments, write songs, and entertain the other grasshoppers. As winter approaches, they realize they have not stored enough food to survive the cold weather. Charlie tells the story of the grasshopper and the ants and the three friends agree that they must begin to store food.

Unfortunately, they are not harmonious workers and the three friends separate. Because they work so hard, they have no time for socializing or making music. When other grasshoppers approach Charlie to say how much they miss the music, he convinces them to work for him storing food. He preys on the grasshoppers’ fears and becomes a tyrannical overseer. Connor and Carl follow suit and soon there is room only for one more storage bin in the field.

The groups of grasshoppers argue over the remaining space and then begin to fight with weapons. Suddenly an elephant appears. Unaware, it is just about to crush all the storage bins when the three friends distract it away with music. Everyone celebrates the saving of the food supplies. Friendships are renewed and Charlie, Connor, and Carl promise to always work together and make music together.

What a meaty little story. Although not necessary, it is a good idea to familiarize the child with the original story of the grasshopper and the ants. This is a much more complex plot and there is much to be discussed about the theme. Here are some questions you could ask your child using vocabulary at her level.

  • Could the three grasshoppers have solved their differences and continued to work together?
  • Must they work so hard that they no longer have time for socializing or making music? Is there no middle ground?
  • Do you think the fact that they stop socializing and making music together impacted on their decision to fight with weapons for the last space? Do the arts have an influence on the way people treat each other? Do collaborative creations, such as writing and performing a piece of music, create bonds between the participants?
  • How do manipulators use fear to get others to work for them?
  • Are you familiar with the phrase, “putting all your eggs in one basket?” Was it wise for the grasshoppers to store all their food in one place?
  • Did you think little grasshoppers would be able to save colony from an elephant in another way?
  • What could the grasshoppers do differently next autumn?

I wondered about the choice of making a book 11.5″ tall by 8.25″ wide featuring ants but it worked well. The reader is brought down to the small ant world through the use of tall grass and flowers. The illustrations are done in soft colors, predominantly in browns, greens, grays, and white. Ferri gives the simple little ants revealing expressions and body language. To differentiate the three groups of ants, Ferri creates triangular, square, and round storage units. The jubilation illustrated on the last page is genuinely heart warming.

Highly recommended.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

World Elephant Day

Saturday, August 12 is World Elephant Day. In homage to these amazing beings I have made a video, for ages 8 and up, chronicling the lives of two Indian elephants. The story is a blend of the lives of several elephants. The events are common and factual. Elephant fans of all ages will appreciate this video. Here is the link. https://youtu.be/CtWMvggEW6I

 

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Ali the Inventor Saves the Garden! by Amire Makin. Book Review.

This was a unique and positive picture book. Ali is a boy who loves math and electronics and considers himself an engineer and inventor. He looks to be about 10 or 12 years old. Ali explains to the reader that electronics show how a thing really works. Math formulas solve electronic problems.

Allie goes out into the community to see who can he can help with his skills. He meets Mr. Maxwell whose vegetable garden is dying because the sprinkler system won’t work. Allie takes the electronic circuit board to his lab where he fixes it. While he works, he explains how to be safe using electronics. With the assistance of Mr. McCoy, he solves the timer problem using mathematics. This is pretty advanced formula work. Even though a child may not understand the math, they will be able to follow the story. Allie successfully repairs the sprinkler system.

The story ends:

“Friends, remember we used math to convert the time for minutes into seconds. We also used math to fix an electronic circuit so sprinkler system would work. Always use a grown-up when working with electronics. The ability to make a big difference is deep inside of you. Train your brain to solve problems in your neighborhood!”

I love that this young man showed how important, useful, and fun understanding math can be. He also demonstrated that we can use whatever our skills are to contribute to our society. He was socially engaged and responsible. This would be a great book to read to a child who says, “I’ll never use math in real life.”

The book showed people of diverse backgrounds. The illustrations were in the style of early comic books. Allie was a lovable protagonist, especially when he did his little victory dance.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Alphabet From A to Y with Bonus Letter Z by Steve Martin and Roz Chast. Book Review.

This unusual alphabet book begins
“Amiable Amy, Alice, and Andie
Ate all the anchovy sandwiches handy.”

If one only pays attention to the text, most of the book is lost. It is the cartoonish illustrations that make you think. There are three women sitting on a couch eating sandwiches (one assumes anchovy) while an alligator sits under the table, and an axe is propped up in the corner. The bookshelf holds atlases and an abacus. There are framed pictures of aces, an anteater, an angelic ape, and a suit of armor. On the base of the lamp is an acorn and the shade is covered with ampersands. There is a tube of Acne Away on the end table and a pile of books about things that begin with A on the coffee table topped by an apple. The women’s clothes have pictures of arrows, atoms, and broken dashes (I couldn’t figure that one out). There’s a bowl of almonds being stolen by ants.

Some pages are filled with similar styled illustrations. The concept reminds me of Graeme Base’s astonishingly unparalleled Animalia but much more quirky and casual.

Some pages are simple, like the letter H showing a rabbit with 107 faces of hunchbacks in his hair or K featuring two people kayaking across a wheat field.

There are a few pages that depend on speech bubbles instead of illustrations to render words that begin with the featured letter. This is not to say that every page needed to be cluttered. The letter Y humorously features a split page illustration of an unfortunate yeti as well as a few small things that begin with Y in the background. It reads, “Yesterday Yuri the yeti did yoga,/Today he spilled yogurt all over his toga.”

The good illustrations are what holds the reader’s interest as the text is less than impressive. “Excellent Edward, exceedingly picky,/Ate eggs with an eel whose earwax was icky.” Of course it is that kind of weird and wacky language that will intrigue a more reluctant reader. I can just imagine fourth-grade boys giggling over this book. I’m all for that.

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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

The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library by Linda Bailey. Illustrated by Victoria Jamieson. Book Review.

The Tiny Hero contains well-done black and white illustrations for each chapter.  There are 324 pages but the type is large and well spaced. This book is immediately engaging. Even though it is written for children ages seven to twelve, I was completely hooked.

The reader can’t help but love the little hero, Eddie, a tiny bug who braves the huge halls of the school, dodging a spider, a mouse, and lots of squishers (humans who stomp on bugs), in order to find his missing aunt.

Aunt Min is special. She has taught Eddie to read and told him many stories she overheard in the school library. These are books every child should experience from the works of Dr. Seuss to E.B. White. Avid readers will nod their heads with understanding whenever these books are mentioned. You may want to find those you haven’t read.

The novel supports reading and libraries at a time when many are shrinking or disappearing. Little Eddie reminds us of all the reasons we love a children’s library and why it cannot be replaced by a computer terminal.

The first quest for Eddie is to save his aunt and then protect his foolish little cousin who has followed him. The second one is to save the library from a substitute librarian (sister of a powerful administrator) who wants to board up its beautiful windows, remove all the books, and turn it into something less expensive. It seems an impossible task for a little bug to stop the demise of the beloved library when even the principal has trouble asserting himself but Eddie is committed and clever.

This endearing, suspenseful, and thoughtful book will connect with children and parents alike. There are acts of courage and sacrifice, a great deal of humor, subtle ethical topics, and tributes to our most cherished children’s books. I love how we see the world through the eyes of a small, defenseless creature who only wants to survive with his family. (A good discussion could follow about how some humans are “squishers” of small insects and how this contrasts with the compassion other people show to the small and defenseless.)

This book doesn’t touch on the topic of bullying but I believe if children are taught to show kindness to the smallest and most helpless, they are less likely to bully others or to be speciest. Little Eddie and his family are adorable ambassadors for compassion.

Highly recommended. Buy link http://a.co/bOOONR1

I was given a copy of this book for review.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

The McVentures of Me, Morgan McFactoid – Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow! by Mark S. Waxman. Book Review.

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This is a humorous novel written for Junior grade children.

Morgan is a loner, not by choice but because he doesn’t seem to fit into the social landscape around him. He has a special relationship with his grandfather, Poppy, who encourages Morgan’s experimentation and attempts to invent new things.

Unfortunately, Morgan’s school life is dominated by a bully named Buckholtz. The bully is jealous that Morgan is already shaving and continually threatens him. This culminates in a promise to beat Morgan and shave his face and head. Morgan decides to invent a product that will remove facial hair without shaving. He believes if his red whiskers disappear, Buckholtz, who is three years older, will not feel the need to pummel him. However, because of the storm, his formula is changed and Morgan discovers something that is worth even more money than a hair removal product.

In the midst of all of this, a beautiful, smart and popular girl named Robin moves across the street. Morgan is shocked by her friendliness and her ability to spout random facts like he does. But Robin has mixed feelings about Morgan and his invention. Things get even more complicated when investors begin to bribe, woo, and threaten Morgan. In the end, Morgan has to decide what he values most.

Kids will love the humor, ethos, bumbling affection, and random facts scattered throughout this book. Morgan is a lovable and relatable character. Morgan’s final decision is sure to spark some interesting conversations. Well recommended.

Buy link. 

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Only in Canada! From the Colossal to the Kooky by Vivien Bowers. Book Review.


buy link – Only in Canada!: From the Colossal to the Kooky (Wow Canada!)

This hefty, nonfiction 95 page book has a humorous approach to engaging the reader. Scattered throughout the book are the narrators, a Canada goose and the moose, dressed in full clothing and making comments, some helpful and some silly.

There are six chapters in the book. The first is “Amazing Facts about How Canada Was Bashed, Pummelled, Scrunched, and Scraped into the Shape It’s in Today”. The humour and hyperbole draw the reader in to learn about tectonic plates, the Great Lakes, earthquakes, volcanoes, ice and more.

Chapter 2 is “Naturally and Wildly Canadian”. The author promises to share the “weird, intriguing, obnoxious, badly behaved, and utterly improbable plants and animals that exist in Canada.” I was not at all surprised to learn that Canada has one million square kilometers of muskeg.” Just try digging anywhere in my neighbourhood. I was surprised to learn puffins have a regular beak underneath their big fancy one, which they drop off after they win the female. Hmmm. Typical.

The only thing I must warn you about is if you need reading glasses, make sure you have them when you open this book. It is jampacked with tiny print. You won’t want to miss any of the fascinating facts and crazy tidbits. I had heard of Gray Owl but not Billy Miner or Two-gun Cohen. There’s even a paragraph about the lines down the middle of the road.

Chapter 3 focuses on the arrival of people. Chapter 4 is about Canada’s modern growth such as the canals, bridges, and buildings. Chapter 5 is about our weather. Yes it does deserve an entire chapter of its own. Chapter 6 is about interesting Canadians and I’m sure you’ll find some you’ve never heard of before.

This is a fun and informative book that may engage children (and adults) in Canadiana who otherwise would not be interested.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Canada Celebrates Multiculturalism by Bobby Kalman. The Lands, Peoples, and Cultures Series. Book Review.

Canada Celebrates Multiculturalism (Lands, Peoples, & Cultures) buy link

The topics covered in this nonfiction book are:

  • Beginnings of multiculturalism
  • Celebrating Canada’s history
  • Heritage days
  • Caribana
  • Cross-cultural festivals
  • Harvest festivals
  • Christmas customs
  • New year celebrations
  • Religion
  • Holidays
  • Family days
  • Festivals
  • Recipes

It also Includes a Glossary and an Index.

This is a lot of things to tackle in such a small book of 32 pages. Basically, it just whets the appetite.

The beginnings of multiculturalism is a two-page spread, three-quarters of which is a photograph. In the text bar there is a short paragraph written on native cultures, French and British, more people came, and celebrating multiculturalism. At the bottom, in italics, is a caption for the picture that reads, “Many cultures can be found in Canada. People in this picture represent the Native, German, Ukrainian, Filipino, and Engine populations in Canada. Can you identify them by their costumes?” I’m not sure about the other cultures, but First Nations people do not like their regalia to be called a costume. This is a disrespectful term.

In the “Celebrating Canada’s history”, there are paragraphs on Canada Day, Victoria day, Labor Day, and Remembrance Day. It does mention the alternative holiday celebrated by the French Canadians in Quebec. There is a small text box below the fireworks picture and a sketch about Louis Riel. It is entitled “remembering a hero.”

Under heritage days, the author gives a short blurb on the powwow. The entire second part of the two-page spread is about African Canadians. Turn the page and you’ll find paragraphs on the national Ukrainian Festival, Fete National, Festival du Voyageur, Klondike Days, Oktoberfest, Highland games, and Icelandic Festival. The entire next double-page spread is devoted Caribana.

Under harvest vegetables, Canadian Thanksgiving is described. The Green Festival celebrated by the Iroquois, harvest fall fairs, and the wild rice harvest by the Algonquin, Cree, and Ojibwa are explained. There is a flashback about the order of good cheer. A short paragraph explains the Chinese Moon Festival.

For such a short book, it shares a great of information on unfamiliar holidays. Well worth a read or for stocking your class library.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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