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

     

    

The Book of Heroines: Tales of History’s Gutsiest Gals by Stephanie Warren Drimmer. National Geographic Kids.

This is the kind of book you would leave on your coffee table and peruse on occasion. It is more of a resource book then a sit down and read book. This is not to say it isn’t interesting. It’s amazingly comprehensive and you’re sure to find someone you had not known about previously.

The chapters are roughly organized by theme, although gritty girls and legendary ladies tells little about who will be examined in that chapter. There are leaders and the wives of leaders, athletes, first to achieve, warriors, sports figures, fighters for peace, scientists, and entertainers. I was glad to see women from multiple cultures and races. I don’t think so much space should have been spent on goddesses and superheroes like Wonder Woman, although I love her.

It is up-to-date including a large spread on  Malala. Although the focus is on American women there is equal attention given to women from around the world over a large span of history. As a Canadian, I noted that they did not include Laura Secord who is considered a hero to us but not to the Americans.

There are fact bars and full pages of writing. It is chock full of photographs and illustrations.

In the  Outstanding Animals category, they include female dogs and other animals who have saved lives and those who have helped in the medical profession. However I think it is cold hearted and disrespectful to include victimized animals. Many of these animals did not have a choice. They weren’t heroes, they were casualties. Astro-dog, for example was sent into space by the Russians who did not have a recovery vehicle. This dog, described as having a calm personality was sent to her death. The book would have been far better to leave these unfortunate victims of man’s ambition out of the book. If they are going to include these poor creatures, then why not also talk about all the female animals that are used in medical research etc. Each year 100 million animals are killed in the United States alone in laboratories to test cosmetics and drugs and chemicals, for medical training, biology research, and sometimes just for curiosity. (Sadly, most results do little to explain how these drugs, etc. will behave in a human body.) Thousands more die in horrifying weapons testing. They may be heroes, but they didn’t volunteer. If you’re going to consider the unfortunate animals forced into space as heroes then every animal that dies so we can have beautiful eyelashes is also a hero. If you give this book to a girl, this topic should be discussed.

Setting aside that well-meaning but inappropriate section, this is a fabulous book to give to a girl or young woman. At the end of the text there is an afterward which says “your turn to be a heroine.” It includes daily deeds for girls such as “find more heroines, develop a heroine habit, stand out and imagine.” It encourages courage, independence, and ambition.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 A personal favourite.

 

Finding the Truth Can Be Life Threatening: Something Stinks by Gail Hedrick. Book Review.

Click here to buy Something Stinks!

Something Stinks has received the Outstanding Science Trade Book award. With awards being given out left, right, and center, it is refreshing to see a book that has definitely earned its accolade. It is a fiction book, but the reader learns a great deal about water pollution, especially with regard to industry.

Emily is determined to find out why fish are showing up dead on the river banks by her aunt and uncle’s home. Her small town is suffering from job loss, so Emily’s investigations are less than popular. She decides to focus on an exposé for the school newspaper. Whatever industry she points the finger at may mean disaster for the company and, subsequently, the workers.

To make matters worse, her lifetime best friend, Leanne, is pulling away and hooking up with Cynthia, who is rich, spoiled, and bossy. Throw in more complications: her research is pointing toward the textile factory that employees many townspeople, Cynthia’s father owns that factory, the editor of the school newspaper is dating Cynthia, and Leanne wants Emily to leave things alone because she is maxed out on family drama. When trying to obtain water samples, Emily breaks the law and finds herself, and her new friends, in deep trouble.

As Emily researches the reader learns about incidents that can cause the death of fish such as a rise in temperature, dyes leaking into the water, and pesticides used by farms or golf courses.

The book is written in a comfortable style, with believable dialogue and enough suspense to keep the reader engaged. The editing is flawless. Each character is distinct and realistic. Emily becomes the reader’s hero, and like her, we want the fish killings resolved.

This would be a great book for readers aged 8 to 14. As an adult, I wasn’t bored for a minute and read it in one sitting.

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The author was interviewed on this on blog December 14, 2016.

rThe Scent of Something Sneaky was reviewed on this blog on December 5, 2016.

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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