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

Halito Gianna by Becky Villareal. Book Review.

Click on the cover to buy the book.

Gianna could easily become one of your children’s favourite book characters. This is a determined, bighearted, independent, and opinionated girl. She is resourceful and clever.

At the beginning of this story, her class is told that they are to dress up as their favourite character from a book for Halloween. Gianna suggests the heroine of The Rough Faced Girl. If you are unfamiliar with this book, I reviewed it on this blog a while back. The protagonist of this story is a First Nations girl with a pure heart, much like Cinderella. It is a character suitable to Gianna who also lives her life with honour.

In the first book in the series, Gianna joined a genealogy club and learned about her mother’s immigration. In this book, she becomes determined to find out what happened to her father, a soldier who went overseas and disappeared.

In the midst of this quest, a new girl arrives at the school; she is from the Choctaw nation, in Broken Bowl, Oklahoma. Gianna takes her under her wing and transforms what could have been a terrifying and terrible day into a fairly good one. The students learn about the origins of the lacrosse and the Trail of Tears many First Nations people were forced to walk.

I don’t want to give away the whole story. It’s touching and inspiring. Because of this little girl, and her kindness to others and determination, she and her mother have a happy ending to this particular part of their lives. I have to admit, this little book put a lump in my throat. Share it with your child. You’ll both love it.

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Review of Gianna the Great

Interview with the Author Becky Villareal

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

Picture a Tree by Barbara Reid. Book Review.

Barbara Reid’s work never fails to astonish me. If you have not yet encountered her, you will be amazed at the illustrations she can create with plasticine. This book is another example of the sense of motion and vibrant character she brings to the page.

The book begins: “There is more than one way to picture a tree.” A girl stands beside a leafless tree imitating its shadow. The book continues with numerous detailed two page spreads examining how trees can be interpreted. They can be a drawing on the sky. They can be a game of dress-up wherein robins set ablaze the branches with their red breasts. They can create a tunnel over a road with their canopies meeting in the middle. She explores how trees are used by wildlife and humans alike. None of the trees are chopped down or destroyed. They are all admired and enjoyed as is.

There are vignettes featured on many pages that children can use to create their own stories.

In subtle and powerful ways, Reid uses trees to mirror and clarify our lives. The second last page shows a grandfather holding a bundled infant while a young child tickles its cheek. Through the window we can see two branches covered in snow. The text reads, “Every winter tree hold spring, sleeping like a baby.”

The book ends, “Picture a tree. What do you see?”

What a great jumping off point for discussion, artwork, science, hiking, or working in the garden.

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Click on the image to buy the product.

Other books by Barbara Reid.

 

Try it with your child.


  

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Wizard by Jack Prelutsky. Illustrated by Brandon Dorman. Book Review.

This book is a wondrous blend of poetry and illustration. The cover draws you in immediately. A wizard, with long white hair and beard, wearing a green robe raises his arms to a magical light above. In one hand is a crooked wand. Caught in the rays is a small green frog. The picture fairly glows with magic.

The illustrations inside are not a disappointment. They are all exquisite two page illustrations. They gleam with magical charm.

The story rhymes but not in that irritating singsong way that many picture books adapt. It feels as though you are reading a book of poetry, much like one of my favorite books by Prelutsky The Dragon’s Are Singing Tonight.

It begins:

“The Wizard, watchful, waits alone

within his tower of cold gray stone

and ponders in his wicked way

what evil deeds he’ll do this day.”

A ragged crow, sitting on a cobwebbed table filled with magical paraphernalia, watches the Wizard as he gazes out his tower window onto the small town. The reader is instinctively intrigued as to what wickedness is about to unfold.

This story is basically a vignette wherein the Wizard transforms a frog into a flea into a pair of mice into a cockatoo into chalk into a silver bell and back into the bullfrog. Children may find it upsetting that at the end he dispenses of the bullfrog in a cloud of smoke. The story ends:

“Should you encounter a toad or lizard, look closely…

it may be the work of the Wizard.”

Although the story is easy to understand, I would recommend it for school-age children and up. Younger children, especially those who believe in magic, may be disturbed by the events.

School-age children who love magic and wizardry will be captivated by this beautiful book.

Click on the cover of the book to purchase a copy.

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Other books written by Jack Prelutsky.

      

Other books illustrated by Brandon Dorman.

    

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

To Know the Sea by Frances Gilbert. Illustrated by Rhett Ransom Pennell. Book Review.

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 Click here to buy To Know the Sea

The first thing you will notice about this book is the dramatic and beautiful illustrations. On the cover you see the green eyed, black haired girl hugging a book and dreaming about tropical fish. She has a captivating expression.

The story begins with this little princess having a tantrum. Although the king and queen try their best to make her happy and the people of the court provide much unsolicited advice, no one can calm the little princess. There is no way around it. The princess wants to “know the sea.”

Everyone tries in humorous and disappointing ways to bring the sea to the little princess. Finally, Peter brings her all the books she would ever need to learn all there is about the ocean. The Princess is happy. Then, the day comes when she leaves to become a mariner.

This original story by Gilbert has the authentic ring of a fairy tale. Children will keep reading to find out what crazy scheme will be introduced and if the Princess ever meets the sea. The vocabulary is rich, sometimes lyrical, without slowing the pace.

The pages are filled with intriguing pictures that will slow the reader down to enjoy the gorgeous detail.

I love that the Princess stays true to herself and becomes a sailor. This is definitely a book I would happily give to a child, especially to a girl who might need encouragement to fulfill her own dreams.

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The author was interviewed here.

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

Other books your child might enjoy.

  

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

A Prickle of Porcupines. Think You Know Animal Groups? – Herds of Birds Oh How Absurd! by S.J. Bushue and Deb McQueen.

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Click here to buy Herds of Birds Oh How Absurd!

This is a bilingual picture book, English and Spanish. It begins:

“Cattle roam in herds, but not a covey of quail.

El Ganado Vaga en rebaῆos, pero no un grupo de perdices.

Cranes stroll in herds, but not a tower of giraffes.”

Readers learn that deer, dinosaurs, elephants, hippos, horses, kangaroos, llamas, moose, pigs, reindeer, seals, walruses, yaks, and zebras all travel in herds. But porcupines, flamingos, hamsters, alligators, butterflies, lions, toads, ferrets, geese, nightingales, dolphins, penguins, hummingbirds, and monkeys are identified by a different collective noun. I’ve always loved a flamboyance of flamingos and a prickle of porcupines but a charm of hummingbirds is a new term for me.

The vocabulary is quite rich even for children with English as a first language. However, adults reading to children whose first language is Spanish could concentrate on the names of the animals. Adults will probably not tire of this book very quickly as it would be an enjoyable challenge to learn all the collective nouns.

If you go to the website http://www.thelittlefig.com you will find a song to accompany the book. It’s an excellent sticky jingle, however, you must reinforce that the child not stop after the words, “Do we say herds of birds?” but continues on to sing, “No, how absurd. Birds don’t fly in a herd but a flock.” There are downloadable coloring sheets that match some of the pictures in the book. There is also a video of the book being read in Spanish.

The illustrations are created with solid chunks of color and black outlines. On some of the pages animals are behaving like animals, but on some the illustrator has chosen to emphasize the collective noun. For example the business of ferrets is taking notes on the stock market, working on the computer, and checking a watch while carrying a briefcase. Hamsters (horde) are hoarding buttons and spools of thread. The flamingo (flamboyance) is carrying a fancy fan and a feathered headpiece. The alligators (congregation) are singing hymns. In other pictures the animals are playing soccer, being flagged in for a landing, carrying an umbrella and wearing sunglasses, or evaluating each other’s jumps. This humorous illustration leads well into discussion.

Even without the second language, this is a valuable book to share with children from 3 to 10 years old.

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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

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