Miss Bee and the Do Bees: An Urban Teacher Romance by Cleo A. Lampos. Book Review.

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

This is a contemporary romance that will warm your heart and make you feel positive about your fellow man. I was interested in this book because it was about a teacher who worked with a special education class in a tough urban school.

Veronica Bagedonas works with 9 to 11-year-old Children, most with behavior disorders. She has the students call her Miss Bee and she calls her class the Do Bees. The year begins with her in tears upon receiving her class list which includes the two most infamous students. Fortunately, she is given some extra assistance in the form of a southern belle named Sunny who turns out to be far more competent with the class than Veronica expected. I was very pleasantly surprised that with only five students, she is assigned a full-time classroom assistant.

The class consists of a boy named Khalil who cannot stand to be touched and Juan who hides under his hoodie. Peter is an autistic boy who must have everything in his environment in balance and will only listen to only factual information, no stories. Clarissa, a bolter, likes to stir things up when she isn’t hiding behind her hair. Lastly, is Angelica a child who has experienced brain damage and whose mother expects miracles in the classroom.

It soon becomes apparent that Veronica, Roni, is lonely and somewhat envious of Sunny’s relationship with her Marine husband who is on deployment. Roni has legs like tree trunks and believes no man will ever find her desirous. In spite of this, she finds herself falling for firemen/paramedic Joe Milanovich who, unknown to her, is suffering from PTSD. Lampos writes with insight and realism about war vets trying to get their lives back together. There is a fair bit of reliance on Christianity but there are also other strategies for recovery.

Veronica is a highly skilled teacher and a compassionate person. We want, more that anything, for her to be appreciated and loved. I don’t want to tell you the whole story, but there are struggles, disappointments, sorrows, achievements, moments of terror and joy, and a realistic, satisfying ending. This is a lovely, gentle romance filled with wisdom and hope.

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The author will be interviewed on this blog on March 1, 2017.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

Inspiring Courage, Love, and Determination – Making Manna by Eric Lotke. Book Review.

Click here to buy Making Manna This is now the correct link. The price is $15.00 paperback.

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I thought I would read a chapter of Making Manna before sleeping but thirteen chapters later I was reluctant to close the book. It was only my aching eyes that made me stop. Eric Lotke is a master writer of character and situation. Not only do you care for these people, but you cringe and curse and cheer as they struggle through overwhelming events. This book is based on Lotke’s own experiences with the justice system and people struggling to survive in a cold, unfair, and prejudiced environment.

Making Manna opens with the story of Libby, a 14-year-old victim of sexual abuse by her father. It begins with the birth of her incestuously conceived baby. This is not the first time in the novel you will feel angry and frustrated at contemptuous behavior. But, equally throughout the book, you will be amazed and gladdened at the extreme kindness of strangers and mere acquaintances. Libby is but a child when she is forced out into the world with a newborn in her hands. We may not make the same choices as this fresh from the farm teenager but we cannot help but be in awe of her motherly love and determination. The story of her son, Angel, is bittersweet as well.

No one is an island, and so Libby finds support and love with another single mother, Sheila, and her daughter, Monet. However, things become frightening when the police virtually destroy their apartment in search of drugs. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys, just like in real life. The bonds these friends form are unbreakable and through this loyalty, hope survives.

Lotke writes in such a fashion that the reader loses herself in the story. She is no longer engaging with print on paper but living alongside real, admirable, and compelling characters. This is a page turner in a different sense. Yes there is enormous suspense as to how these people are going to survive in the face of such cruel and unwarranted adversity. But more than that, we want them to succeed. We want them to be happy. We want Angel to get the girl.

I cannot recommend this amazing story strongly enough.

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Eric Lotke will be interviewed on this blog April 12, 2017.

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Hilarious and Sweet – Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton. Book Review.

 Click here to buy Shh! We Have a Plan

This unusual book is surprisingly addictive. It is such a joy to come across something so unique.

The illustrations appear to be cut and paste, done mostly in blue, purple, and black. The only exceptions are the birds.

Four oddly shaped characters, three with tassels on their hats and the smallest with a pom-pom, set out to catch a wild bird. The three oldest have nets, a cage and “plans”. However, this is a clear example of the best laid plans…

The text has a clear pattern that the youngest child will easily repeat. It begins, “Look! A bird.” The littlest one says, “Hello, birdie.” The largest says, “shh.” The next says, “SHH!” The last says, “We have a plan.” This is repeated every time they spot a bird. Then they initiate their plan, which varies slightly from tiptoeing to climbing slowly to paddling slowly, all without success. Each time they count down, “Ready one. Ready too. Ready three… Go!” Whereupon, calamity falls upon the characters and the bird flies away.

After three disastrous attempts to capture a bird, the three older characters come upon the littlest one hand feeding them. They count down again only to be intimidated by the angry birds. They run away in fear. At this point, the reader thinks they’ve learned their lesson. But, the third character begins a new drama with, “Look! A squirrel.”

Children will be delighted with the building tension, the silly plans, and the escape of the birds. Parents can discuss with their child what might occur as the characters try to capture a squirrel. As well, the cruelty of caging a wild bird can be broached.

This book is hilarious. With each reading, child and adults can improve their expression and appreciation. It gets better each time. So much so that the adult doesn’t mind, “Read it again. Read it again.”

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Social Skill Wrapped in Hilarity: Bossy Flossy written and illustrated by Paulette Bogan. Book Review.

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Click here to buy Bossy Flossy

It is such a great feeling when I find a picture book that both my granddaughter and I enjoy. Bossy Flossy had turned us into Paulette Bogan fans by the third page.

Flossy butts heads with everyone, including her toys. The book begins with Flossy standing in the middle of her bedroom telling all her toys what to do. With one hand on her hip and the other pointing, she demands, “Sit up straight. Look at me. Listen to me. Pay attention. Do what I tell you.” She is bossy to her cat, her little brother, and even her mother.

Although flossy is a simple, cartoonish character, her big wild red hair, her dramatic gestures, and her expressive face make her a real person and a force to be reckoned with.

Flossy does not understand that she is being bossy. When she is sent to her room, she tells herself, “I’m not bossy. Mom is bossy. She always tells me what to do. She never listens to me. I’m just trying to tell her something.” We realize that Flossy doesn’t see herself the way others do. As well, we aren’t sure about her interpretation of her mother’s behavior. Maybe Mom is bossy. At times, it seems as though Flossie is trying to be helpful but is unaware of the effect her behavior has on others. She tells a classmate how to paint and then takes the press and draw the line on her artwork. She orders another classmate to wear a hat she has chosen to complete his dress-up costume.

When a new boy, Edward, joins her class, Flossy meets her match in the overbearing department. Frustrated, Flossie challenges Edward but he doesn’t back down. The argument escalates until they are both sent to timeout. There, they agreed to stop bossing others. They both improve and become great friends.

Although it might sound like a didactic book, it really isn’t. Bogan disarms us completely with humor and charm. Children might identify with Flossy’s problem but will find her behavior intriguing and silly. If you have an overly dominant child, I would avoid discussing bossiness immediately after reading this. It is such a delightful book, you wouldn’t want to spoil it. After reading it a couple of times, you might want to bring up the difference between being bossy and being helpful, taking turns, listening to others, and so on. In my home, “Bossy Flossy” has become a code that can make either my granddaughter or myself stop and think about how our words sound to the other person. Even if you don’t have a bossy member in your family, this book can be just pure fun to read.

The illustrations are interesting in that they appear to be drawn individually, cut out and arranged on the page. This could be a fun art activity to do with your child. You can both draw and cut out several different characters and then arrange them into different story scenes.

Highly recommended both for fun and value.

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An interview with the author, Paulette Bogan, will be posted on this blog, March 8, 2017.

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

L M N O Peas by Keith Baker. Book Review.

Click here to buy LMNO Peas

This is an adorable, funny alphabet book. It is difficult to come up with original ideas for the ABCs. Amazon.com listed 47,112 results in a search for alphabet books.  Keith Baker has designed a unique one using his Peas series.

The picture book’s large size emphasizes the tininess of the adorable little peas who are acting out each of the letters. For example, A has seven little peas with hoops climbing up the letter A that say, “We’re acrobat’s.” One lonely little pea is painting a tulip that is twice his size. Two other peas are conducting a spacewalk from a capsule (astronauts).

Children will enjoy finding the peas on each page and deciphering their occupation or hobby. The artist has cleverly incorporated the letters into the activities. For example the right side of the K is a river for kayakers. The book ends with, “We are peas from A to Z. now tell us, please… (Turn the page) who are you?

This book will definitely engage readers. The pictures post just enough challenge to keep both children and adults interested throughout. The fun thing is, peas are so easy to draw, that children could make their own response using their initials and their own hobbies or interests.

If the child is too young to draw the illustration, give their thumb in green fingerpaint and have them press on the “peas”. Then an adult can add the detail. Together, you can decide what to draw based on the letter. It can be simple. After, if the child wants, she can colour the letter with marker.

K peas B peas

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Top Ten Picture Books I Reviewed in 2016 – #1 to 3

 Click on the cover to buy the book.

#1 Priceless Penny by Lauren Kramer-Theuerkauf. Illustrated by James Sell.

The cover of this book catches your eye right away. It features a bright picture of a large eye dog, ears up, tongue hanging out, grin on her goofy little face. Then you notice that her left paw is deformed. When you open the book you see a beautiful illustration of a dog in a cage sleeping on her back.

If this story doesn’t put a lump in your throat, go to the author’s website and see the actual pictures of Penny and the other rescued dogs. This book has all the more punch when you realize it is basically a true story.

Not only does this book teach children to be compassionate to animals and accept them for the way they are, but I am sure that children are smart enough to draw a parallel into their own lives. There is so much valuable subject matter to discuss with your child after reading this book.
 Click on the cover to buy the book.

#2 Once Upon a Memory by Nina Laden. Illustrated by Renata Liwska.

The story lends itself well to a discussion of beginnings, changes, and cause and effect. The words are lyrical, even poetic. This beautiful book pulls you in and leaves you feeling that you have been touched by something precious.

 Click on the cover to buy the book.
#3 Today the Teacher Changed our Seats by Frances Gilbert. Illustrated by Ben Quesnel.

The paintings in this book have unique quality of expressiveness and subtle detail. The little green-eyed girl who is telling the story is not your picture perfect child. She has a turned up nose, big bushy eyebrows, and rather large ears which make her all the more lovable. Her emotion is transparently portrayed and we connect with her fear of not belonging in any group. The class is a diverse group of children and the teacher is African-American.

While this book can be used as an introduction to math groupings, it is also a good launching pad for discussion about inclusion and how we label people into certain categories. It is a short, simple book that carries a lot of weight.

The rest of the list, #4 to 10, is here.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Top Ten Picture Books I reviewed in 2016 – #4 to 10

 Click on the cover to buy the book.

#4 Pigs Aplenty, Pigs Galore! By David MacPhail.

So few writers can write well in rhyme that some publishers refuse to even look at rhyming books. It is a difficult style to accomplish but David MacPhail does it with finesse.

The message of forgiveness, inclusion, and unconditional love is humorously portrayed. Don’t be surprised if your child says, “Read it again” when you turn the last page.

#5 – A is for Africa written by Michael I. Samulak. Illustrated by Sswaga Sendiba.

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.

#6 – Once Upon a Pond by Peter Simon.

The author explains what is happening in detail, providing statistics such as “Over the many years since Europeans began coming to North America, Canada has lost more than 70% of its original wetlands.” He describes the importance of wetlands to wildlife and to clean water.

#7 – The Diggers are Coming! by Susan Steggall.

The author has given just enough information to hold a child’s interest and teach them some new concepts. The onomatopoeic word usage is wonderful and children will enjoy repeating some of the phrases. Highly recommended for boys and girls ages 2 to 7.

#8 – Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood. Illustrated by Meg Hunt.

Cinderella is a self-taught mechanic who wants to fix fancy rockets.

Cinderella is a redhead and the Prince is a man of color. The painted illustrations are large and bright. There is no mention of Cinderella’s physical appearance. In fact, the prince never saw her face as she wore her spacesuit through their entire first encounter.

This book has all the right messages and would make a great addition to a child’s book shelf.

#9 – Piggies in the Kitchen by Michelle Meadows. Illustrated by Ard Hoyt.

The story is delightfully suspenseful. At first the reader wonders if the piggies are up to mischief. Then the arrival of three different vehicles add a special twist. When the story ends “Happy Birthday, Mama! We love you!” The reader appreciates the piggies’ efforts to create a perfect surprise.

#10 – The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin. Illustrated by David Shannon.

CLICK ON THE COVERS TO BUY THE BOOKS

The top three picture books will be posted Dec. 31.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Top Three Middle Grade Books I Reviewed in 2016

#1 A Tunnel in the Pines by Lucia Greene.

 Click on the cover to buy the book.

As the situation unfolds, the reader is reassured that tragedy is on the way but how big and how final isn’t revealed until the end.

Lucia Greene is a polished, skillful writer whose words reel you in and keep you hooked to the very end. You care, deeply, about these kids and about the final outcome. The words flow so professionally that the reader is never conscious of the text but is, instead, completely immersed in the story.

#2 The Curious Cat Spy Club by Linda Joy Singleton.

 Click on the cover to buy the book.

The mystery is complex enough to keep a middle grade child turning the pages but not so complicated as to bore or clutter the storyline. Singleton does not overwhelm the story with social drama but still allows us to see the emotional makeup of each character. Along the way, readers learn important information about abandoned and abused animals.

#3 The Scent of Something Sneaky by Gail Hedrick.

 Click on the cover to buy the book.

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.

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

 

Top Three Young Adult Books I Reviewed in 2016

#1 Radical by E.M. Kokie.

This realistic contemporary novel is for mature young adults and up. I say that because it has some light lesbian sexual interplay. But it is a worthy read for any young adult especially those concerned about an upcoming societal collapse.

 Click the cover to buy the book.

#2 The Ugly Princess: The Legend of the Winnowwood by Henderson Smith.

The book is full of intrigue and exploits balanced by a coming-of-age experience sure to tug at your heart. Olive is such a wonderful protagonist that you may find yourself tearing up. Her animal sidekicks will make you smile and her love interest will make you hopeful.

 Click on the cover to buy the book.

#3 Zeros by Scott Westerfeld,  Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti. 

While the plot is clever and contains a few surprises, it is the characters and their development that holds the reader to the page. They each represent something people struggle with. Scam shows what happens when we speak thoughtlessly. Anonymous symbolizes how we all struggle to be truly seen by others and our desire to be remembered.

 Click on the cover to buy the book.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages