Ah Ha! by Jeff Mack

 Click here to buy Ah Ha!

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

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

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

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

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

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth. Book Review.

If you enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time or House Rules you will love this book. Told from the points of view of Perry and his sister and caretaker Justine, the book focuses on the strong bond between siblings whose mother abandoned them as children and whose father recently died. I don’t want to talk too much about the story. It is basically about relationships and how we assume things about the other person that may or may not be true.

Both the major characters are engaging, complex, and selfless. I read this book in one night as I could not put it down. I loved both Justine and Perry. Both have big hearts, protective natures, a sense of humor, and courage.

We are never exactly told that Perry has autism but Justine repeats a speech that sums up his challenging life in a single paragraph, “My brother has a brain condition that causes him to feel anxious or different places and circumstances. He has trouble with people – mixing with them and communicating with them – and it sometimes results in inappropriate behaviors. I appreciate your understanding and patience.” It sounds so simple, but it is incredibly complex. Perry struggles with all his strength to behave appropriately and to be a good brother in spite of his brain condition.

When Justine takes Perry all the way from Australia to Canada, her brother must cope with sensory overload, the vastly unfamiliar, and breaks in his routine. Her reason for doing this opens a whole new Pandora’s box.

This is a story about sibling love, a broken family, redemption, sacrifice, and devotion. This book was a well deserving Governor General Award Finalist. A beautiful book that will seize your emotions and tug at your heart. I highly recommend it for all ages.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Second Jezebel by Peter Mowsbray. Book Review.

 

 

It is interesting that I should receive this book for review just as one of my favorite television series, Reign, is ending. I was interested to know what would happen to Catherine de Medici later in life. The portrayal of Catherine, the second Jezebel, is much harsher in the novel than the television series. I suspect the book is more true to life as the research seems extensive and detailed.

The novel begins with the slaughter of the Huguenots and is quite difficult to read through. Be prepared for a lot of gore and savagery. We learn that Catherine is responsible for the massacre and that her motives questionable . She is of the strike first and worry about the consequences later mindset.

The book is a thorough recount of the actions of Catherine and her less than likable children. Their brutish, selfish ambition and thoughtless extravagance is stunning. Although hated by all of France, Catherine does seem to be the only one in her family who truly cares about the country. Not from a sense of patriotism or responsibility but for the preservation of her family and Royal position.

At times I had difficulty keeping the characters organized in my head and was grateful for the cast of characters listed in the front of the book. But even though I sometimes lost the thread of who was who, the story was fascinating and occasionally cringe worthy. The villains far out numbered the heroes.

Although I prefer a book with a protagonist I can admire, the story of Catherine de Medici and her repellent family was compelling in a different way. One wonders how any country survived at all with rulers like these. Admittedly, Catherine’s machinations were brilliant and she had a much better understanding of diplomacy than those in power.

Peter Mowbray writes with authority and sensory detail. He gets into the head of a severely dysfunctional woman and somehow manages to make us feel sympathy, if not empathy, for her. Aside from the occasional punctuation error, the book is flawless and professional. If you like historical fiction written with power and accuracy, you will enjoy this book.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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

Experience Speaks. Everybody Has a Story… By Audrey N Lewis. Book Review.

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This is a collection of short stories for adults. It is also interspersed with poetry, which I will not address. This review is based solely on the short stories.

The first one, “The Closet”, features an unusual child, Lexi, who is both a genius and a victim of bullying. From the day she is born, she struggles to connect with others. Fortunately, her mother loves her in spite of her nonstop screaming and increasingly antisocial behaviour. I sympathize greatly with mothers who have children with chronic illness autism, or other conditions which make connection challenging. This mother does an admirable job of loving her daughter in spite of the difficulties. It reminds me a little of We Need To Talk About Kevin without the bow and arrows but this mother is warmer.

In the second story, “Fading Frost”, a brilliant artist named Megan is incarcerated in a mental institution against her will by her father. I don’t know where or when this exactly took place but today, at least in Canada, there are review boards and safety procedures to prevent this kind of thing. However, it was fairly common up to even the 60s. The loyalty of her friends and her determination to survive intact make for a compelling story.

The third story, “Girls Night”, examines a strained relationship with an older sister, Miranda. While the sisters have good moments, on the whole Miranda is demanding and unappreciative. Her younger sister wants more from the relationship. It is also a story about memories. In the end, she finds what she needs with her mother. I loved the symbolism of the stains.

The fourth story, “Saying Goodbye”, considers the unexpectedness of death and how we react to it.

Although the stories tackle rather grim subjects and pull us deeply into the darkness of the characters, there is always a ray of hope. These characters are not quitters. In spite of their circumstances and, often their lack of support, they forge forward through life doing their best to cope with what is thrown at them.

Audrey N Lewis’s writing style is eminently readable. Her characterization is adept.

I would say that the lack of dialogue can make the stories demanding of focus. I found, in order to thoroughly enjoy them, I would read only one a day.

I found this collection intriguing.

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Click here to buy Everybody has a story….These are ours

The author will be interviewed on May 17, 2017 on this blog.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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

 Click on the cover to buy the book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

A Simple, Painless Strategy for Getting Your Child to Eat Accompanied by Unusual Illustrations – Zeke Will Not Eat! By Delin Colón. Book Review.

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Click here to buy Zeke Will Not Eat!

Although this is a picture book, Zeke Will Not Eat! is written for parents as well. Delin Colón , the author, has a background in clinical psychology.

Zeke is not interested in eating. He hates having his play disrupted for mealtime and in rebellion cries and pouts throughout the meal. His parents are concerned for his health. His father passes on a technique his father used with him. They arrange the food on the plate to represent a little town. Zeke pretends he is a giant and destroys the town by eating it. By making it a game and encouraging Zeke to feel as though he has power and control, the onus is off the parents to convince Zeke of the value of eating properly.

This strategy is definitely worth a try. No matter how well-meaning parents are, mealtime can easily become a battleground. It might be fun to take it even one step further and have the child help select the food and build the structure or village he is going to consume. There are also numerous ideas online for turning food into three-dimensional art.

I’m not sure if I would read this to the child before attempting this strategy or after. Parents know their children best.

The second component about this book that is definitely worth sharing, with children and adults alike, are the unique illustrations. Delin Colón, both the author and illustrator, has used an unusual style of cut-paper art. The same 150 paper shapes are arranged and rearranged to create pictures of Zeke in a variety of activities. Once you understand the creative and problem-solving effort that went into using this technique, the illustrations are worth a second look. Delin Colón has included instructions at the back of the text for parents to try out this novel endeavour with their child. However, I would reassure my child that they did not have to use all the shapes in every picture.

An introductory activity to this might be using tangrams. Depending on the age of the child, a bucket full of geometric shapes could work just as well.

This book is worth obtaining for either the valuable conflict-free strategy for dealing with picky eaters or the unusual illustrations.

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The author will be reviewed on this blog May 3, 2017.

Click on the picture to buy the Tangrams 28 Piece Set by Learning Advantage

Click on the picture to buy  Melissa & Doug Pattern Blocks and Boards

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The New Small Person by Lauren Child. Book Review.


This book does an excellent job of telling the story from the point of view of the older sibling. In the beginning Elmore Green is an only child. He’s very proud of his room and he is the centre of his parents’ lives. He likes to watch his own television shows, eat his jellybeans, and lay out his toys just so. But when his younger sibling arrives he is no longer the centre of everyone’s attention. The small person demands a different channel on his little television, messes up his toys and even licks his jellybeans. Eleanor is told to accommodate the child because he is just small.

When the new small person gets bigger, he starts to emulate Elmore and follow him around. Eventually he is moved into the same room which Elmore detests this because now he has no escape. But, one night Elmore has a nightmare. The younger sibling hugs and comforts him and helps him to fall back asleep. After that they start to experience more commonalties and Elmore sees his sibling in a new light.

The children are dark skinned with curly hair while the parents’ friends are a mixture of skin colors. The drawings are simple but cute with no backgrounds and cross into double page spreads with words around them.

I think this is a realistic and helpful story for children expecting a younger sibling to arrive. At the beginning, and there will be problems and he will have frustrations. As the younger sibling grows, he will become more involved in the older sibling’s life and, hopefully, they can find common ground. I like that the older sibling was never mean and had patience in spite of his frustration and worry.

I think this book would be helpful for preparing an only child for the arrival of a sibling. Much discussion would need to follow, especially addressing the fears of being replaced. At the end of the story, we see that the older child is accepting and inclusive, but does have limits. No eating his orange jelly beans. Parents need to have open communication with the older child about acceptable boundaries and how to create them. I love the gentle tone of this book and the drawings are endearing without being overly sweet. Lauren Child’s book have never disappointed me.

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

  

  

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

An Independent Woman- Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond by Jayne Barnard. Book Review.

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Click here to buy Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond

Jayne Barnard has written a classic “Who Done It?” placed in the setting of a steam punk universe. Her extensive knowledge of Victorian times comes through clearly in details of clothing, behaviour, social class, and environment creating a tangible sense of the time period. She has blended this beautifully with steam punk culture. The author explains steam punk, as well as diesel punk and cyberpunk, in an interview on this blog here https://bferrante.wordpress.com/2017/03/22/author-jayne-barnard-three-random-questions-interview. Basically, steam machines are predominant. This includes dirigibles for cross Atlantic travel. Mix these two together and you get a recipe for a fun, unique mystery.

The major character calls herself Maddie Hatter in order to travel incognito as a reporter. She is in reality, the daughter of a rich and powerful Steamlord but prefers to make it in the world on her own mettle. However, in order to survive, she is forced to file fashion columns on a steady basis to pay her bills.

“She spent the afternoon composing a weeks worth of articles centred on Lady HH’s new Easter bonnet. This immense edifice of wire, linen, and lilies was worthy of a public Cathedral, and would be seen in one on Easter Sunday in London.”

The men of her era do not take her seriously and don’t hesitate to claim her detecting results as their own. Some young women reading this may be surprised as to how women were invisible in male social circles, especially women of the lower class.

Maddie is brave, clever, independent, and determined. We wish she would get the recognition she deserves but know that the best possible outcome is that she will be able to continue to live independently and pursue her dream of becoming a famous byline reporter. Not using her real name, of course. Since this book is the beginning of the series, we may yet hope that she will be justifiably rewarded for her courage and intelligence.

There is a list of cast members inspired by the game of Clue (Professor Plumb, Colonel Muster, Sir Ambrose Peacock) and the bigger-than-life explorers of the time period. Barnard uses a rich vocabulary which gives the text a Victorian quality. There is a missing trunk with a tribal mask holding a possibly magical massive diamond. There is an empty dirigible crashed far from its planned route. There are missing documents. Etc. I don’t like to say much about the plot of a mystery as it is too easy to accidentally include spoilers.

Hidden in the light-hearted text, the reader periodically comes across an absolute poetic piece of writing.

“She could look out over the desert below, its rocky outcrops and sloping dunes tinted blue by a waxing moon that shimmered over crests and lined each sandy windrow in purple shadow. Concerns of the civilized world were as ants beneath the weight of mere survival down there; up here, too, her worries faded before the vast empty majesty of the land and sky, the whisper of the night-time breeze teasing the sand into new patterns for the next morning. A bird warbled, alone in the immensity.”

Her description takes the writer to another world filled with sensations.

“In a very short time, Maddie, Clarice, and Nancy were walking down the gangplank to the Venetian aerodrome. The greeny-gray waters of the Grand Canal murmured four floors below, but the gangplank was wide and the side-rails sturdy oak. Their trunks, bags, and hat boxes followed in a veritable parade of porters. Mist kissed their cheeks, too delicate to be called rain, but leaving a slick over the vast, flat rooftop with its contra-dance of passengers, porters, and luggage. At the last step, the men in majordomo’s livery of black and teal – the Aquatiempe colors, Maddie recognized – lay in wait for them. A phalanx of one-wheeled automatons stood behind him, their armatures ready to take the load from the porters. Steamer trunks would be towed while smaller boxes were piled on their polished platforms. The ladies, the majordomo indicated with a bow and an outstretched hand, would be conveyed across the terminal and a teacup-shaped, auto-steering steam-carriage, painted and upholstered in teal with black accents.” And it continues.

If you enjoy lighthearted mysteries with unusual flavour, then this is a book for you.

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The author, Jayne Barnard, will be interviewed on this blog on Wednesday, March 22, 2017.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

My Two Grannies by Floella Benjamin. Illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain. Book review.


Alvina has two grandmothers that love her very much. Granny Vero is from Trinidad. Granny Rose is from Yorkshire. They both love their granddaughter and enjoy sharing stories about their childhood. When Alvina’s parents decide to go on a holiday, both grandmothers insist they should care for the little girl. They finally agreed to do it together.

Of course they argue constantly about who is going to tell her a bedtime story and what activity they will do next. The little granddaughter finds the solution, a simple but sensible one. In the end the grannies learn to know each other better and as well as providing a healthy, loving, and fun-filled atmosphere for Alvina.

The illustrations are full page drawings that clearly show the emotions and personalities of the characters.

This is a great book that shows how our differences and actually enrich our lives.

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

    

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages