The Dog Who Made Exploration Possible – The Miracle Dogs of Portugal by Tracey Aiello. Illustrated by Kent Barnes. Book Review.

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Click here to buy The Miracle Dogs of Portugal

Everyone knows Christopher Columbus but how many people know the true father of exploration, Henry the Navigator. This book details Henry’s relationship with the ocean as a child. He believes the sea is his friend and calls to him. During a storm, he slips away from his parents and convinces Diego Garcia, a fisherman, to take him out on the water. Diego owns a prize Water Dog named Milagro, which means Miracle.

Milagro, nicknamed Millie also has a special relationship with the sea. She speaks with the seahorses, the turtles, and even the tuna. When Henry falls overboard into the ocean, the courageous dog leaps into the water. The dog speaks to the sea creatures and Henry speaks to the ocean. The waves stop and both dog and Henry are rescued.

Upon returning to shore, Diego discovers that Henry’s parents are the king and queen. When they discover the dog saved their son’s life, they insist that he live with them in the castle but Henry says no. She is a prize water dog; she belongs with the sea. The king decrees that all Milagro’s descendents shall be named Portuguese Water Dogs and shall protect kings and fishermen.

When Henry grows up, he sails to Africa and India and inspires and assists such explorers as Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, and Ferdinand Magellan. He builds a school where he teaches his students to navigate with the stars and listen to the sea. He is the spearhead of the Age of exploration.

Portuguese Water Dogs help fishermen for hundreds of years and become highly prized pets and working dogs.

The author has a talent for description that helps us empathize with the protagonist. “Henry ran down the cobbled road. He ran and ran, ignoring his heavy coat and pants as they grew soaked, forgetting about his cold hands in the rain seeping down his neck.”

Tracy Aiello has used a clever and interesting strategy to engage children in the study of history. Most children love dogs and also using Henry as a young boy for the protagonist guarantees kids will connect with this story. This book is the perfect size for children who are between picture book and early chapter book.

The left side of the page is full text and the right is illustration. The illustrations are done by Kent Barnes. They are loosely drawn cartoon type pictures with odd white outlines as though they have been cut out and paste it on the page. Prince Henry has a hairstyle that reminds me of Beavis of Beavis and Butthead. The backgrounds are minimal, generally a wash of color. I would have liked the illustrations to have some flavour of the time period.

A great book for children who like dogs or are interested in true adventure.

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The Author will be interviewed on this blog on March 15, 2017.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

Wise and Beautiful – If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson. Book Review.

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 Click here to buy If You Plant a Seed

This stunningly beautiful book, with full color photographic-like illustrations, portrays animals realistically yet gives them human personalities.

A rabbit and mouse plant a tomato seed, a carrot seed, and a cabbage seed. They care for the garden until the plants are fully grown. When they harvest their work, five birds show up and stare at them, expecting the rabbit and mouse to share. At this point, you might expect this to become a Little Red Hen clone but it is so much more.

Through the exceptionally expressive illustration, Nelson shows the argument between the creatures which explodes into an all out food fight.

Afterward, mouse thoughtfully examines the cherry tomato and then offers it to the birds. The birds then use their flying ability to spread hundreds of seeds across the field. They help the mouse and rabbit care for the garden until the plants mature. Harvest time provides a wider variety of vegetables in plentiful quantities.

The sparse words are profound and exquisite.

“If you plant a tomato seed, a carrot seed, and a cabbage seed, in no time, with love and care, tomato, carrot, and cabbage plants will grow. If you plant a seed of selfishness, in a very short time, it will grow, and grow and grow into a heap of trouble. But if you plant a seed of kindness, in almost no time at all, the fruits of kindness will grow, and grow, and grow, and they are very, very sweet.”

This remarkable little book uses nature to illustrate our karmic consequences. We may think we are only planting vegetables but, by our actions, we are planting our lives.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Is There More to Mutilated Pelicans Than Angry Fishermen? – Tangled Lines by Bonnie J. Doerr. Book Review.

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Click here to buy Tangled Lines: Paradise in Peril

Bonnie J. Doerr has written a polished, exciting and important book. Tangled Lines deals with the destruction of natural habitat and cruelty toward pelicans, all in the name of profit. Doerr’s research is impeccable. The portrayal of the culture and community of Big Pine Key, Florida is realistic and believable. The reader is given an insight into the daily struggle of fishermen, the risks taken by Cuban immigrants to reach the United States of America, exploitation of the natural world, the senseless slaughter of wild creatures, and the courageous and giving nature of volunteers trying to protect endangered wildlife and the environment.

As well as a fascinating glimpse into this world, the author creates a realistic and touching story of unrequited love. Kenzie Ryan, the hero, has developed romantic feelings for her comrade in environmental protection but he, Angelo Sanchez, just wants to be friends. In turn, Angelo has fallen for a wealthy and beautiful girl from an influential family who also happens to be a good person. There is also a budding romance between Kenzie’s friend Ana and an older boy, who seems oblivious to her wheelchair. The complications and emotions of teenagers in relationships is shown with tact, understanding, empathy, and a sense of humor.

This book is an “eco-mystery”. As such, clues are given as the true reason behind the slaughter of pelicans unfolds. Kenzie and Angelo take great personal risk in order to protect the vulnerable animals. The suspense escalates to a satisfying climax wherein some people are showing to be worse than anticipated and some are shown to be better.

This book was 400 pages, but it flew by quickly. The editing was perfect. The pace was comfortable. The characters were likable and made us care about their future. The mystery was educational and worthy of our attention and time.

Although this book is written for middle grade children, young adults and adults would find it interesting and enjoyable. Highly recommended.

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

Bonnie J. Doerr was interviewed on this blog Wednesday, February 8, 2017.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Happy Happy Holidays. Felices, Felices Dias Festivos. By S.J. Bushue and Deb McQueen. Book Review.

 

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

Obviously, this is a bilingual book. It is part of a series featuring So Big, a mammal, and Little Bit, a frog. It is basically an explanation of the major American holidays in both English and Spanish. For example, on the first page it reads, “New Years Day, January 1st” and then at the bottom of the page “el Día del Aῆo Nuevo el primero de enero.” So Big is wearing a diaper and a party hat and blowing a noisemaker as he carries an hour glass. Little Bit is jumping into the air and wearing a party hat and carrying a spinning noisemaker. Confetti fill the air and there is a balloon that reads Happy New Year. The characters’ clothing changes as they explain each holiday.  It was great to see some variation in cultural holidays listed.

The book features the following holidays:

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • Groundhog Day
  • Valentine’s Day
  • Presidents’ Day
  • Mardi Gras
  • Patrick’s Day
  • April Fools’ Day
  • Easter Sunday
  • Earth Day
  • Cinco de Mayo
  • Mother’s Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Flag Day
  • Fathers’ Day
  • Independence Day
  • National Grandparents’ Day
  • Labor Day
  • Native Americans’ Day
  • Columbus Day
  • Halloween
  • Veterans Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Hanukkah
  • Christmas
  • Kwanzaa

At the back of the book there is a list of the holidays with two or three sentences explaining their significance and practice. I had to laugh when I read the blurb on Fathers’ Day. “Fathers’ Day recognizes the contribution that fathers and father figures make to their families. The day is often symbolized by cooking out, gifts, homemade cards and ugly ties.”

As a resource for Spanish speaking immigrants, this book would be wonderfully helpful. I can also see it being used by people who are learning Spanish as a second language.

I did not know that Native Americans Day and Columbus Day were celebrated at the same time. Interesting. I also noticed there is no apostrophe on Veterans Day.

If you go  here you can listen to the book being read aloud in Spanish. There are also coloring pages. You will find a four-line song here that can easily be adapted for a classroom game.

This is a useful and informative book for Spanish speaking children, and adults too, who want to learn about American holidays, cultures, and traditions.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Sophie and Scottie’s Adventures of the Monarch Mystery by Cindy C. Murray. Book Review.

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Reader’s Favorite 2016 International Book Award, Silver Medal in the Children – Adventure category.

 Click here to buy Sophie and Scottie’s Adventures of the Monarch Mystery

(The Adventures of Sophie and Scottie Book 1)

The premise of this middle grade novel was intriguing. Their adventurous Aunt Jill sends Sophie and Scottie a picture frame. Like the one in the Narnian Chronicles, The Dawn Treader, this one transports them away from home but instead of going to a magical land, they go to Mexico to solve the mystery of the missing Monarch butterflies. 

The two girls, twin Sophie and Scottie are a bit clichéd although it is nice to see female heroines. They demonstrated clever problem solving.

The author created some interesting characters. The villain was cool as was his strategy for capturing the butterflies. The girls were determined and clever. At one point they each develop special powers that were useful and humorous. The girls didn’t spend any time gushing over boys or getting into drama. The gecko monkeys were funny and clever. The book had an upbeat tone throughout.

The missing Monarch butterflies was an intriguing topic to choose. The message about protecting our environment, being kind to animals, being dependable, and being responsible for your choices are important ones. Perhaps an appendix about the real problems Monarchs are facing would have benefited the readers.

I do think, however, that  this book would have benefited from more edits. A number of small problems can accumulate into one large one – pacing.

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To read an interview with the author go to my previous blog on Wednesday, October 19, 2016.

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

*****

How another edit could have improved this book:

 I am going to go into detail in the hope that I can help  writers edit these common problems out of their work. These problems are not unusual. The lengthy detail is here to make it clear and helpful to writers. Not all of these problems occurred every time, just enough to make a reader conscious of the text and a little distracted.

The dialogue was unnatural at times. This makes the reading slow down. Here is an example.

“I can feel something very strange in your pack. I know that Diego was just in it to get us some snacks, but let’s open it and see what this object is.”

This site can explain it in more detail. https://marshahubler.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/todays-writers-tip-stilted-or-unnatural-dialogue/

The dialogue tags were sometimes overly explicit or odd and detracted from the reading. For example:

“Youallmustescapenow!” It was Chewy who was commanding them to climb up the ladder.

“Dr. Drake! Dr. Drake!” Both girls were chanting in a loud whisper as his hotel room door opened.

… Jinx said as if he were cheering.

Here’s a good site on that subject. http://theeditorsblog.net/2013/12/04/another-take-on-dialogue-tags/

When something dramatic happened, the prose sometimes dragged. For example:

As the sergeant started yelling at the guards to stay at their assigned post while he unlocked the smaller iron gate to get out of the cave, everyone could hear an ear-deafening roaring sound.

You’ll notice that the writer often used the passive voice. That is a pace killer.

Meanwhile, Scottie was looking up at the top of the iron doors with the two sides close together.

She used began to or started instead of getting to the point

“Ah, ha!” Diego shouted to himself and quickly began to get out of the harness.

Suddenly, Diego turned and began to sprint as fast as he could on the trail.

“Quickly removed the harness” and “sprinted” would have kept the energy high.

Writers must show and not tell.

Sophie began to walk on the weedy trail, she felt as if this wasn’t the right way, but decided to give it a try. Heck, Sophie wasn’t even sure what to look for on the trail anyway. She stopped and unrolled Maptrixter to study it. She could see the trail that she was walking on, but nothing else was showing up on the map. After walking a few more yards, Sophie decided to turn around and head back to camp. I can’t believe I’m doing this, she thought. I’m usually the one to stay back and watch everyone else explore or try new things first. As she turned around, Sophie heard a swooping noise and started to duck out of the way when, all of a sudden, she felt something on her shoulder.

As well there are unnecessary details about chores and sheep which do nothing to further the plot. There’s too much set up. I didn’t feel that the story started until almost the middle of the book. Focus on the mystery and build the suspense.

Here’s a great site that addresses a lot of these pacing problems. http://hollylisle.com/pacing-dialogue-and-action-scenes-your-story-at-your-speed/

There is much that is good in this book. It’s too bad it wasn’t given over to a meticulous editor for another look before publishing. It would have been even better.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Perfect Merge of Two Cultures: A is for Africa written by Michael I. Samulak. Illustrated by Sswaga Sendiba. Book Review.

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Click here to buy A is for Africa

I love when I discover a unique and interesting picture book. A is for Africa stands alone in my experience. There is a fascinating story of the creation of this book especially as it pertains to the ethnic gorgeous illustrations. I love how the author totally avoided any misappropriation by involving an African artist in his project. The account is worth reading and will be available on my blog interview with the author, Michael I. Samulak, January 11, 2017. As a Canadian, a retired elementary school teacher, and a grandmother to two girls of Anishinabe heritage, I am highly conscious of the cultural appropriation of the indigenous people. It is difficult to walk that line between cultural appropriation and appreciation. Samulak showed respect and admiration for the African people by hiring a Ugandan artist, Sswaga Sendiba, whose work he had admired.

Each page features a batik style of illustration that was popular in the 60s in North America. Batik uses wax and paint to create one-of-a-kind pictures. If you tried to copy Sendiba’s work, in all likelihood the wax would not behave in the same way. It is a detailed and difficult process as I remember. Personally, I could never control the flow of the wax well enough to make anything recognizable. Sendiba had been doing this style of artwork for 10 years when Samulak connected with him.

Samulak chose animals, landscape, people, and items representational of Uganda for each letter of the alphabet. Read, orange, and yellow a predominant colors throughout the book giving the reader the sensation of hot, dry savannas. It begins, “A is for Africa. Africa is an awesome land, as we soon shall see. It is home to many amazing animals, people, and trees.” Both the artist and the writer prove that claim.

This is the kind of book that adults enjoy as much, possibly more, then the children. It is definitely the kind of book you should share together as it will arouse many questions from children unfamiliar with African animals. Although Samulak shares some unusual information, he encapsulates it in a form children would find interesting. For example, “C is for cheetah. Swift is a cheetah, so it is said both near and far. Running at top speed, these cats can keep up with your car.” Instead of saying the giraffe is the tallest land animal, he writes, “G is for giraffe. The giraffe is the gentle giant of the land. She stands head and shoulders above every animal or man.” He features some animals children may be unfamiliar with such as the Ibis, kob, pygmy chimpanzee, tilapia fish, crowned Crane, and yellow mongoose.

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As well, you can purchase and A is for Africa Coloring Book because of the batik style, this is not your typical coloring book. I would recommend using soft pastels or pencil crayons in order to imitate the painted look of the original illustrations. Marker might work if they could blend easily. Watercolor would be perfect but it would bleed through to the picture on the other side. This should be an interesting variation for adults who have adopted the coloring book craze.

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Click here to buy A is for Africa: Coloring Book

A follow-up activity for a classroom would be to assign a letter to each student and have them do a batik picture for their own country.

As a parent, you could have your child do their first initial with things they like to begin with the same letter. For very small children, just doing the letter is enough challenge. Draw it with pencil and have them squeeze the glue over top.

Here are two great pages that will show you how to do batik safely with children using glue instead of wax.

That Artist Woman

The Artful Parent

I will be reviewing Michael I. Samulak’s newest book, A Wonderful Day!, on January 30, 2017.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

Silent Comix by Robbie Charters. Book Review.

Silent Comix was a neat idea – set of stories told entirely in pictures. This concept would be useful for working with people who have English as a second language. It might also generate sequential story-telling with younger children.
Unfortunately, I found the pictures difficult to understand. After discussing them with others, all but one incident was made clear. However, we agreed that the pictures were often too rushed, even messy, and difficult to discern.

There some clever and funny moments in the story and I believe the “text” has potential but the book needs easier to understand drawings.

Perhaps a second edition?

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Sabotage or Bad Luck? The Scent of Something Sneaky – by Gail Hedrick. Book Review.

 

Click on the picture of the cover for more information or to buy the book.

 

 

 

This 200 page chapter book is suitable for readers at the grade 4 to 8 level. In this mystery, 14-year-old Emily Saunders has gone to work at a bed and breakfast for the summer. With her friend Mary, the owner’s granddaughter, and a boy named Alex, they begin to suspect something is foul and not just the smell from the septic tank.

Mary’s grandmother, Gigi, is a widow trying to keep her establishment afloat but misfortune keeps happening. A guest trips on a loose board and falls, injuring his head. The beneficial bacteria in the septic tank dies making the entire area smell like a cesspool. Bees set up a hive in the attic and sting Alex. And then, a fire begins in the carriage house. How much bad luck can one woman have without sabotage being considered?

Finally, Emily is able to convince her friends, Mary and Alex, that something is going wrong. She suspects the creepy birdwatcher who keeps popping up in the oddest places. But how can the three of them find evidence and why would someone want to ruin Gigi’s business?

The suspense and the pace increase steadily throughout this well-written book. The teens are likable, believable, and brave. There are surprises and twists but nothing that doesn’t logically fit in the story. The plot holds together very well and when the mystery is solved, the reader will be satisfied.

The only thing I didn’t get was the significance of the cover. **Edited – The author was kind enough to explain in the comments. I should have got that!

This is a great book by Gail Hedrick for young people who enjoy reading about smart and courageous teens solving crimes.

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

The author will be interviewed on this on blog December 14, 2016.

Something Stinks will be reviewed on this blog on February 26, 2017.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Does the New Kid Always Get Bullied? – Malcolm Devlin and the Shadow of a Hero by Michael Ferrari. Book Review.

Click here to buy Malcolm Devlin and the Shadow of a Hero

Malcolm Devlin and the Shadow of a Hero begins with a riveting and heartbreaking chapter. Malcolm and his parents are a circus family. Mom stands in the middle of a centrifuge while dad drives around her at top speed on a motorcycle. Malcolm is never afraid as he firmly believes his mother’s love is unconditional and his father is invincible. As a result, Malcolm is protected and loved completely. What happens in the first chapter completely shatters Malcolm’s belief in personal safety and security.

When Malcolm’s father is killed being a hero, we understand the title of the book and the motivation of the protagonist. The reader is quickly invested in Malcolm’s well-being and wants to know what will happen to him.

Fatherless, and living with a mother who has lost her glow, Malcolm lives in constant fear. His coping mechanism is to separate himself from society and try to be invisible to the bullies that inevitably dog his life. When his mother sets up her traveling flea market in the theatre of a small town, Malcolm is targeted by three dangerous, violent bullies. The leader of this trio is the grandson of the harsh and manipulative mayor. Malcolm seems doomed.

Just when things seem the most hopeless, in walks a mysterious gypsy woman with a magical trade. She promises it will help him live without ever being lonely or afraid, the two most dominant emotions in his life. What unfolds is humorous, touching and suspenseful.

The only time this book did not feel believable was during the fire scene but that is probably because I have been researching this topic recently for my own work.

This is the kind of book that would translate easily onto the big screen. There are laugh out loud scenes that would be even funnier to watch. Although some things are little clichéd, it doesn’t matter because the character of Malcolm is so well-rounded and lovable that we buy everything at face value. The author has a talent for atmosphere and characterisation. Readers 10 years old and up will find time flying by as they enjoy this wonderful book.

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

My First Travel Books: The Seven Natural Wonders of the Earth by Anna Othitis. Book Review.

 Click on the cover to buy a copy of this book.

The book begins with the seven flags of the countries where the natural wonders are located. It then shows up world map marking the special places.

The first natural wonder featured is the spectacular Northern lights or aurora borealis in the Arctic. The yellow airplane featured in the travel book series is superimposed on a altered photograph.

The book is written in rhyming couplet of varying syllable counts:

  • Look at the flaming lights shining high in the sky, 12 syllables
  • like beautiful colored party ribbons they stretch and curve as we fly. 16 syllables
  • Waving like dancing figures, jumping left to right, 12 syllables
  • they show off their brightness in the darkness of night. 12 syllables
  • Clashing together, the colors so bold. 10 syllables
  • Blue, green, pink and red story is told. 9 syllables

Unfortunately, when a book rhymes the reader automatically tries to read rhythmically which doesn’t work if the syllabication varies. This is a book that would be better told in prose or free verse without the rhyming. Fortunately, the author breaks away momentarily while she expands upon the information about the northern lights. She then includes a list of questions on the material previously presented  which would help children solidify what they have read.

Readers also visit the Grand Canyon in the United States, Paricutin Volcano in Mexico, The harbor of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, and Mount Everest in the Himalayas. The information is very interesting. I knew nothing previously about the volcano in Mexico. It might have been worth noting that Everest is in question as the highest mountain for several reasons.

There is one photograph for each of the seven wonders. They look as though they have gone through some strange PhotoShopping.  I think clearer pictures would have been advisable and perhaps two or even three for each wonder.

This is an interesting topic for children and adults alike. Using the gimmick of flying around the world with Angelic Airlines and Captain Frankie will give children a sense of inclusion. As well continuing with this format might encourage them to read more books in the series. I like the boarding pass included at the end for the next trip. I think it would’ve been cool to have one at the beginning, perhaps one that could be cut out and played with.

All in all, children and adults who are interested in travel and the world around them will enjoy this book.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages