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

Mysterious Carvings in the Attic – Erasable by Linda Yiannakis.

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Linda Yiannakis is a speech-language pathologist who has loved helping children with reading and writing for over thirty years. She is a graduate of the University of Connecticut and the University of South Florida. When she’s not at work, she can be found at home waiting on her dog and being bossed around by a Siamese cat. Linda lives in the high desert of Albuquerque, New Mexico, with roadrunners and bobcats as some of her closest neighbors.

smallcovererasableClick here to buy Erasable

Could life be more unfair? Nine year old Ellie doesn’t think so. With her summer off to a terrible start, she stumbles across a mysterious carved chest in the attic. What she finds inside gives her the power to change her life exactly the way she wants it to be. But it’s not long before Ellie learns to be careful what she wishes for — and what she wishes gone.

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Imaginative and original – a beautifully written tale that blends magic and realism. Young people will easily identify with the spirited young heroine, Ellie, as she tries to solve the problem areas in her family and school life with the help of a magic gift. The vivid descriptions and unexpected plot twists will keep young readers fully engaged. Just wonderful!   K. Wilkins, Educational Consultant, UK

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Nine year old Ellie is frustrated and unhappy about the many unfair things in her life. She soon discovers a secret which allows her to enter a world of possibilities to solve her problems, only to find out that life is a lot more complicated than she thought. Suspenseful and entertaining right up to the very end! Excellent book for dealing with the concepts of temptation, fear, redemption, and patience.   Mary Kay Weeks, Instructional Consultant, IN

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Three cheers for Linda Yiannakis! She understands how children feel and she draws them in right from the first page. Her prose is simple enough for children to follow the story and interesting enough to keep them turning the pages with her rich vocabulary, plot action and realistic characters. Young readers will identify with the emotions and actions of the main character and join in the fun wholeheartedly. A magical journey from beginning to end.   Joan Lewis, Grade 3/4 teacher, CT

A reading from _Erasable_, a new book for the young and the young at heart, by Linda Yiannakis.

The author’s site.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

The Secret of Atalaya: A Carolina Cousins’ Mystery by Rhonda S. Edwards. Book Review.

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The cover of the book is intriguing and draws one into the story. It gives a promise of mystery and discovery.

The premise of this story is fascinating. The history of the Gullah slaves and the Florida Seminoles was new to me.

There are a few sections where the history of the area is related in interesting detail. The author has obviously done a great deal of research.

The editing, as far as spelling and punctuation, is flawless.

Unfortunately, there were some serious problems:

The germ of this story could have made for a fascinating mystery especially if the author had chosen to write it from three viewpoints, the modern viewpoint of the children discovering the relics, the historical viewpoint of the person who hid them in the 1930s,  (We never really find out why) and the historical viewpoint of the escaping slaves whose identity tags are found. We get a snippet of this on pages 39 to 42 when the author writes a few paragraphs from the point of view of Archer in the 1930s.

I would love to give everyone fours and fives but for my reviews to have any credibility, I have to be honest and forthright. I hope that I’m also being helpful. Read below for details on suggestions to improve this book.

The author was interviewed on November 2, 3016.

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

Areas That Could Be Improved

The book opens with a long page and a half of telling, basically an info dump. (Pages are 10 x 8 in size.) In the first one and a half pages, we are introduced to Eric, Aunt Savannah, dad, Ashley, mom who was also later called Winni, Katie, Cally, Nick Junior, Anne, grandma Prudence, and grandpa. Most of these characters are not essential to the story.

Here are some tips on how to deal with this.

http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/unnecessary-characters/

I was hoping this was a early pages mistake but it actually was stylistic. In most of the book, nothing much happens. There is too much unnecessary detail about things that have nothing to do with the mystery. For example here is a section from chapter 2.

Eric and his mom said goodbye to Ashley. Ashley not only worked as a cashier at a local grocery store, but had and rolled into summer courses at Northeastern community college. She would not be coming except for the occasional weekend visit.

None of that information is important. Neither is Ashley. Here are two excellent sites on dealing with info dump.

https://www.quora.com/What-are-ways-to-avoid-information-dumps-when-writing-the-first-chapter-of-a-book

https://ellenbrockediting.com/2014/07/03/novel-boot-camp-lecture-3-how-to-avoid-info-dumping/

Every arrival and departure is told in painstaking unnecessary detail such as, Eric jumped out to grab his MP3 charger that he had left earlier in the week. Then he checked to see if he placed the cooler in the back, closed the passenger door, and finished loading his mom’s car.

Halfway through the book we are still spending time on such things as this: Savannah grabbed her purse, Katie grabbed her book bag, and they moved to the door with Eric and Cally. “We’ll see you later. Buy, Jesse,” called Savannah and she closed the door behind her.

As they travel, the story turns into  family reminiscing and a history and geography lesson. We spend an entire chapter collecting seashells. By the end of Chapter 5 (out of 12), all we have done is seen a glimpse of Atalaya. Nothing about the “mystery” has unfolded. When readers see the word mystery in a book title, they have certain expectations. The mystery solvers need to be challenged, have goals and obstacles. Unfortunately, the actual mystery took about five pages.

http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/unnecessary-scenes/

On page 27 (out of 45) we finally get a hint of a mystery when Katie is overwhelmed by a feeling that there was a presence in the room. On page 29 the mystery finally begins. The children accidentally film a ghostly image in the master bedroom. They believe that there is a reason for it and a mystery to solve that is theirs alone. No one questions the existence of a ghost contacting them. We expect things to take off from this point on but on page 31 we pause for a trip to the beach where they pack two bottles of frozen water per person placed in an insulated bag. Since Eric and Katie didn’t care for water, Crystal Light tropical punch was added to some bottles before freezing. This helps everyone stay hydrated during the day.

Characters use unnatural dialogue such as 12-year-old Eric saying, Hey this thing has a built-in microphone and a memory stick so that you can transfer to a computer for emailing, printing, or sharing. This will be super to use when we go beachcombing, on the daytime tour of Atalaya or our trips to the educational center at the State Park.

I describe these not to embarrass the author, but to help others avoid these mistakes and, hopefully, help the author to avoid them in the future. Most writers have been guilty of many of these in early drafts. I know I have. The trick is to fix them before publication.

I recommend buying and using a couple of good books on plotting such as those mentioned here.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

If You See a Dragon – New Release

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If you saw a dragon, what would you do? Would you catch it and keep it as a pet? Would you sell it to the circus? There’s lots of exciting ideas to choose but which one would the dragon want? – A book that helps children develop empathy and kindness to animals. Half the profits go to animal rescue funds.

SAMPLE PAGES

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http://a.co/gWw1iRU

Stars for Sing the Planets: I’ll Remember That

If you are a elementary classroom teacher or a parent of a child who is developing an interest in space, these reviews are for you.

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To buy the book, click on this link-Sing the Planets: I’ll Remember That

Autumn Reviews

on October 31, 2016
Song, hand and body movements, mnemonics and more—Sing the Planets: An “I’ll That” Book by Bonnie Ferrante is sure to be a hit in the classroom and at home. This gem of a book is perfect for reaching readers and listeners of diverse learning styles.
Ferrante not only includes the sheet music for the song, she has also produced a YouTube video (you’ll find its web link in the book), making it easy for teachers and parents to get the kids singing and swinging, enthusiastically performing hand and body movements to the tune. Sing the Planets not only includes detailed information about the eight planets (explaining that Pluto is no longer listed among them), it presents information about the entire solar system and includes mythological details about the origins of the naming of the planets. The illustrations include photos taken by NASA and other space agencies. Ferrante not only makes learning about the planets easy to remember—she makes it memorable! I highly recommend Sing the Planets to elementary teachers, librarians and to parents as well.
~ Bette A. Stevens, author of award-winning picture book Amazing Matilda (Children’s Literature): The Tale of A Monarch Butterfly and other books for children and adults
on November 5, 2016
Many of us still remember the songs or verses we learned for learning the colors of the rainbow or the months of the year, or the number of days in each month. This book is a fun way for kids to learn the names of the planets by way of a song. At the beginning of the book is a link to a YouTube video where you can learn the song tune and the movements to the first verse. It is helpful to watch this upfront and then to read the book with your child, while learning the song together. The fun hand movements for the whole song are clearly explained in the book by way of images and are easy to follow. There is also a page of information on each of the planets with images as well as some other interesting information on the inner and outer planets. As an adult I even learned some new stuff! Children learn best by incorporating different learning styles and this book includes reading, listening, visual, movements and singing. Kids will never forget the planet names after this.
Recommended for all young children learning about the planets at school or at home.
on October 20, 2016
Through songs, this book offers a creative and fun method of learning about the planets in our solar system. It’s designed for children, and is to be used in tandem with the author’s youtube channel. The information is laid out in a very logical, straightforward manner. The readers will not only learn about scientific facts about our solar system, but also the meaning behind the planets’ names.

For kids who are really interested in astronomy, this book offers mainly general information (which makes sense given that the information is set to song). Be warned: Those of us who are still disappointed about Pluto no longer being classified as a planet will be reminded of that painful fact!

 

Author’s Blurb

Here is an active way to learn the order of the planets and have fun doing it. Children learn quicker and retain information longer, the more different learning styles are involved. This book uses music, rhyme, singing, pictures and movement to help students learn the order of the planets, the meanings of their names, their position, and their classification. The detailed illustrations demonstrate the movements accompanying the song which is roughly to the tune of Alouette. The particular notes are included with each movement as well as a full piece of music at the end of the book.

When teaching elementary school for thirty-three years, Bonnie Ferrante used this strategy effectively with several classes. Whether your child is learning about the planets for personal interest or for school, this book will provide the key facts and a successful method for learning them.

The first verse is demonstrated on youtube.