A Place to Call Home, Toby’s Tale by G. A. Whitmore. The Rescue Dog Tales. Book Review.

This story is told in first person from the dog, Toby’s, point of view. All the animals in the novel converse with each other much like those in Charlottes’ Web.

We follow the life of Toby, beginning with his grandparents. Toby is a pure white husky who has Wolf blood in him. Unfortunately, he is born to a breeder who plans on killing Toby and his sister because their unusual color will ruin his business. What follows is a repeatedly heartbreaking story. But, if you can push through to the end, Toby finally has the loving home he deserves.

This would be a terrific book for kids who love animals and dogs. It’s realistic and thought-provoking events will help the child to be more loving and responsible toward dogs and all pets.

The author, who provided the safe home for Toby, based this story in actual fact filling in the details using logic and imagination. She ends the book with discussion questions that would be suitable for classroom or for a parent to share with his or her child. Not only does this book teach kindness to animals but it brings up important topics such as personal responsibility, prejudice, and points of view.

Don’t be surprised if your child gets a little upset reading this. Although it is not gruesome, there are some seriously sad and infuriating moments with regard to how people treat animals. It is a valuable book that I highly recommend for ages 10 and up.

Click on the cover to buy the book.

The author will be interviewed tomorrow.

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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

Pioneer Alphabet by Mary Alice Downie. Illustrated by Mary Jane Gerber. Book Review.

I love a book that takes you further and further into the subject. This is the type of book that a child learning about pioneers can go back to over and over again and learn something new each time.

On first read, the text boxes at the bottom of each beautifully illustrated page contains several words that begin with the featured letter. For example, “A is for Abigail and Anna, my two sisters. Even though they are awful, I am making them an alphabet book.” “B is for Bangalore. I can do whirrlies with it. Abigail can only make it go up and down, and Anna can’t even do that.” As you follow the text through the book, you learn more about Zebadiah’s pioneer family and the work and play that encompasses their very full days.

For a more extensive understanding of pioneer life, each page has further details at back of the book. For example, it explains the A page like this: “Like other pioneer children, the twins, Abigail and Anna, lived in a log cabin in the woods with their family and household pet – Xersus the cat. They didn’t go to school, nor did they have television, computer games, or friends nearby. But even though they had many chores, they still managed to have fun – and get into trouble!”

Going through the third time, the reader can examine the illustrations above each full-page picture. This reminds me of the style of Jan Brett. For example, above the “A” page you can find an acorn, arrow, ark, animals, acts, and bill, and amethyst.

This would be a very valuable resource for teachers in primary grades. There is just enough information on each page to make for a comfortable first read. Children will enjoy trying to figure out the additional alphabet words above each picture. Further information at the back will be helpful to the teacher.

The illustrations are impressive and engaging. By the end of the book, the reader feels as though he or she knows this pioneer family and how their lives progress. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in pioneer life or for classrooms where North American pioneers are on the curriculum.

Other books where the frames extend the story or information. Click on the cover to buy the book.

PLEASE COMMENT IF YOU CAN THINK OF SIMILARLY ILLUSTRATED BOOKS OTHER THAN JAN BRETT’S.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Smoke by Catherine McKenzie. Book Review.

Buy link Smoke

This story focuses on two women who were once best friends, Elizabeth and Mindy. Elizabeth has been trying for years to get pregnant and when Mindy complains about her unwanted pregnancy, angry words are exchanged. The story begins when Elizabeth’s marriage is on the brink of collapse.

The plot focuses around an out-of-control fire that is threatening the town and very close to Elizabeth’s dream home. Elizabeth is an arson investigator and disagrees with her supervisor’s opinion on the cause of the fire. Was it teenagers or was it the homeowner? One teenager, Mindy’s son, refuses to say anything in his own defence when the son of the town diva accuses him of deliberately starting the fire.

The story is filled with all the drama of competitive shallow women. Neither Elizabeth nor Mindy belong in the social circle of money and exclusivity. The loss of their friendship for the last year has left them both vulnerable and lonely.

Elizabeth needs to cope with the dissolution of her marriage, her growing loneliness, conflict with her superior over the fire investigation, meddling in-laws, and the impending destruction of her home and possibly the entire town.

I found the sections on fire containment fascinating. One scene where a telephone was left behind to record the surging fire was particularly vivid and unsettling. I would have liked a bit more nitty-gritty about the experience for the firefighters.

This is the kind of novel that a book club would enjoy reading and discussing. McKenzie’s writing style is easy to follow and engaging. Her characters are relatable and the situations are believable. I appreciated the way she echoed the town’s drama with the expanding fire. The smoke pervaded the lives of the townspeople as the controversy grew. It provided a powerful echo of the interpersonal conflicts.

        

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

A is for Anaconda: A Rainforest Alphabet by Anthony D. Fredericks. Illustrated by Laura Regan.

This is not an alphabet book for preschool or kindergarten children. In fact, calling it an alphabet book could be misleading. It is, in fact, an extensive resource book for information about rainforests. For example, a is for anaconda. Most letters receive a two-page spread. The detailed and realistic illustration of the anaconda fills one page and two thirds of the other. A four-line rhyme is imposed on the picture. It reads:

A is for Anaconda,
its size – a scary feature,
It swims and slips through rivers deep,
and eats most any creature.

For such a short little poem, it packs a lot of punch.

But that is just the beginning. a text bar down the side of the page explains how the anaconda is the longest snake in the world. It tells us that anacondas belong to a group of snakes known as constructors and relates in detail how they kill. Then it adds a little tidbit adding that A also stands for Australia, home to some of the most distinctive rainforest animals and plants in the world.

The letters are represented as follows:
B is for Brazil and bromeliads (plants).
C is for canopy and chicle (a gum).
D is for dispensers. (I bet you never saw that coming.) It is also for deforestation.
E is for epiphytes (a plant) and endangered.

And so on.

It is great to see an entire two-page spread dedicated to the medicines we have received from rainforests and could receive in the future , if there’s anything left. Also included are the Yanomamo people. The last page is the most powerful.

Z is for the number zero.
I hope you’ll understand –
it’s all the species that are left,
if we don’t preserve this land.

It states such facts as “The number of fish species in the Amazon exceeds the number in the entire Atlantic Ocean.” And finishing off with, “By some estimates at least one and a half acres of rainforest are lost every second of every day.”

The last text before the ending bullets and answers to questions reads, “Some experts estimate that more than 130 plant, animal, and insect species are lost every single day due to rainforest deforestation (that’s about 50,000 species a year)! If deforestation continues at current rates, some scientists figure that nearly 80 to 90% of tropical rain forest ecosystems may be destroyed within the next 25 years.” (published in 2009)

Click on the picture to buy the book.

It is unfortunate that it doesn’t cite the biggest contributing problem – the massive intake of meat by an exploding population. According to my research, more than half of deforestation is done to create cattle ranches or, more often, to grow food to feed farm animals. The worst part is, the land can only sustain this for a few years and then they must move on leaving decimation behind them.

The fact “if deforestation continues at current rates” is misleading. The population of earth is presently at 7.5 billion people. Every day, meat producers are expanding their market into new countries and cultures. Because of this, and other more minor factors, the rate of deforestation of rainforests is increasing. Environmentalists and human rights advocates who have opposed cattle ranchers and big corporations have been murdered. Fewer people are willing to speak out. As a result, we will continue to the loose potential cures, trees that provide clean air, unique and wonderful animals, and stunningly beautiful ecosystems. For more information on this, watch the documentary Cowspiracy.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Apple Pie A B C by Allison Murray. Book Review.

This very simple alphabet book tells a cute story. It is done with woodblock prints using white, orange, yellow, red, black, and blue in bright chunks of color. It tells the story of a little girl leaving an apple pie on the table in front of a hungry beagle.

It begins, “A apple pie” while the girl is sprinkling sugar on the pie. “B bake it” shows the pie in the oven and the dog following the delicious smell. “C cool it”. The little girl and dog are staring at the apple pie cooling in the window. The story continues with the dog’s eagerness for pie building and building until he gets sent to his dog bed. Eventually, he sneaks back into the kitchen, pulls on the tablecloth, and gets the pie. Each step of the story is told with a single word or phrase beginning with the featured letter.

The drawings are very simple but expressive. Murray shows the dog chagrin, excitement, hunger, misery, and sneakiness with a simple adjustment of two lines, one for the mouth and one for the eyebrow. Small children will love this book while they are exposed to the bright capital letters.

A delightful discovery.

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Goodbye Days a Novel by Jeff Zentner. Book Review.

 
Goodbye Days buy link

Zentner understands survivor’s guilt at the deepest level. This is a story about the tragic deaths of three teenagers and the impact it has on the fourth friend and their families. Carver Briggs feels responsible for the death of his three best friends. He distracted the driver, Eli, with a text. Eli then crashed the vehicle and killed all the occupants. Each family responds differently to the deaths of their children and to Carver’s involvement.

But the story is really about Carver dealing with grief, death, fear and loneliness. Zentner describes a panic attack so vividly that you may catch yourself tensing in response. The only person who Carver can socialize with his the bereaved girlfriend of Eli, the driver. This raises complicated issues and feelings.

Blake’s grandmother, Betsy, asks Carver to spend the day reliving her special moments with her grandson, whom she has raised since four years of age. Carver, who is barely coping has mixed feelings about this event but agrees for the sake of the grandmother. This opens up a whole new can of worms with the other parents of the deceased teenagers.

The author stops the book from becoming a dirge by interspersing chapters of Carver’s silly, happy memories with his friends. But, the author also adds to the tension by raising the possibility that Carver will be sent to jail for his part in the deaths.

Zentner tells a story with great sensitivity and insight. The emotional depth portrayed by the protagonist and the other characters is realistic, insightful, and unforgettable. No matter whether you believe Carver contributed to the deaths or not, you will root for this young man in hopes that he can put his life back together. You will quickly become invested in the story and find yourself curling up in a corner and refusing to move until you are finished.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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.