Helping Out a Friend – The Secret Path by Nancy Gee. Illustrated by Kathleen Newman. Book Review.

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Click here to buy The Secret Path

This picture book is a sequel to The Secret Drawer which was reviewed on this blog February 27, 2017.

As the story unfolds, we discover that not only the flying squirrels but all the creatures of the forest have become friends with Maddie, the lady with the sock drawer, and Kitty. They decide to go down a path to Maddie’s house and give her the good news. What good news is still to unfold.

Instead of taking their usual path, they take a shortcut. Sal, one of the flying squirrels falls down into a hole and is trapped by a rock on her foot. It starts to rain and Sal is in danger of drowning. Each animal tries to get to her but is unsuccessful. Sal tells them to get Kitty. The animals race to Maddie’s house and, with gestures, convince the lady and cat to follow them. Turtle has placed himself over the hole to redirect the water but Sal is almost completely submerged. Kitty pulls her from the hole, Maddie wraps her up in a pink fluffy slipper, and the next day we learn the important news. Sal and Al have a litter of kits.

The illustrations have improved. The animals look more like woodland creatures and less like stuffed toys that have gone through the laundry without an anti-static sheet.

Although simple, this is a good story for children. Unfortunately, the author has chosen to write in rhyme again. Although it has improved somewhat, the beat seems a little awkward. There are twisted sentences such as, ” From a distance your cries we hear,/And you’re in trouble, we do fear.” In order to make the rhyme work, the author also uses some unfamiliar vocabulary for children. “Go find Kitty, he’ll fix my plight.” Although this is improved over her last book, I still contend that the story could be much better told without rhyme. It interferes with the pace and emotional connection to the story. It repeatedly pulls the reader out of the narrative. I would be interested in seeing this author tackle a picture book without rhyme. I think her storytelling skill would then come to the forefront.

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March 27, 2017 Review of the Secret Drawer on this blog.

March 29, 2017 Flying Squirrel Secrets: Author Nancy Gee Three Random Questions Interview on this blog.

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

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

Does a Bear Poop in the Woods? – Potty in the Potty Chair by S.J. Bushue and Deb McQueen. Book Review.

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 Click here to buy Potty in the Potty Chair

The book begins with a little girl sitting on the potty. The narrator asks, “Are you a big kid on the potty chair, reading a book with bottom so bare?” To which the girl replies, “Yes!” Considering what follows, it seemed as though this should have been the conclusion to the book.

From this point on, various children are asked if they are like animals who do not poop in the potty. For example, “Are you an elephant who goes potty in the zoo, leaving big heaps that make us say P.U.?” A horse drops huge piles, an alligator creates a mess in the swamp, a dog goes potty in the grass, a cat goes in the litter, and a goose goes by the pond where we step in it, a bird drops it from above, and a mouse leaves pellets everywhere. The book ends with, “Are you a big kid who goes pink and tink, using the potty chair when you sink the ink?” Sinking the ink is explained at the back of the book.

I like the fact that children learn about animals as they read this book, even if it is just about their poop. There are moments of humor such as when the Asian child steps in the goose’s poop.

The book is consciously diverse. The featured children are of a variety of races. There is even one African-American child with blue eyes.

Each page has four lines with an A B C B rhyme scheme. There are some unusual words such as romp, skitter, splatting, pellets, and route which may be difficult for a child of age 2 or 3. Some of the rhymes seem a bit of a struggle.

At the back of the book is a page with “Tips for Potty training success“. There is some good advice about staying positive and being encouraging. It is great that the author makes a point of stressing washing your hands, both the child and the adult.

“Quick and easy steps” explains the sink the ink strategy for potty training. There is a chart the child can use to record his or her successes. Copies are available on the website http://www.thelittlefig.com. There is also a jingle on the website which I felt could have been a little longer and more memorable.

The illustrations are bright, simple, outlined drawings. They fill the page completely. The text is superimposed on sky, wall or tree. All the children appear happy and interested in their surroundings.

All in all, I think this would be a positive and productive book to use when potty training a toddler.

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

S.J. Bushue was interviewed on this blog November 16, 2016.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Snappsy the Alligator by Julie Falatko. Illustrated by Tim Miller. Book review. 

This is one of those books where the protagonist argues with the narrator. On the cover we see a picture of the alligator holding this book and saying that he did not asked to be in it. The narrator is at odds with  Snappsy all the way through. He describes everything Snappsy does and narrates inner dialogue and emotion for the alligator. This is hugely inaccurate.  At one point the narrator says the alligator is looking for victims when he’s really off to the grocery store. They argue back-and-forth until Snappsy hangs a sign on his door that reads “no narrators allowed.”

The narrator continues and Snappsy he feel so pressured to make his life more interesting that he plans a party. It is going well until the narrator, who turns out to be a hen, shows up with sandwiches. The guests eat and dance and have a good time, including Snappsy until the narrator/chicken announces, “We were really looking forward to Snappsy throwing parties like this every week.” To which the alligator responses, “Hey!”

I think many children will find the beginning of the story confusing. The exchange back-and-forth between the absent narrator and the alligator is tricky. There’s also no explanation for why it is a chicken who suddenly shows up in the story. Some of the humour is a little sophisticated for children so I would recommend this book for ages eight and up.

The pictures are cartoonish. Snappsy walks on his hind legs, lives in a house and behaves like a human being. There is no explanation for why he wears a fez on his head at home.

I am sure children who get this humour will enjoy Snappsy sparring verbally with the chicken.

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Other books where the character interacts with the narrator, writer, or illustrator.

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

     

    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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

Ida, Always by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso. Book Review.

 

Although Ida, Always features a polar bear couple, Gus and Ida, it is about death and grieving, not bears. Ida and Gus lived in separate cages in an unnamed zoo in the middle (Central Park) of a large unnamed city (New York).  Every morning, their cages were opened and they spent the day together, splashing in the water, playing ball, and listening to the heart-beat of a city they always heard but could never explore.

Ida became ill one day and Gus spent her last days caring for her and pampering her. After she died, the book does a beautiful job of illustrating Gus’s stages of grief. This book would be helpful for a child who is mourning. It is beautifully written, insightful, sensitive, and positive.

On the one hand, this is a wonderful book on the loss of a loved one but on the other hand, it sugar-coats the actual life of this bear.

In the wild, polar bears live 20-30 years. In a zoo, the average is 20.7 years.  In the zoo, Gus had two females, Lily, who died at age 17 and Ida who died at age 25. Gus, the actual bear developed obsessive behaviours, even before the deaths of his mates, and had to be given Prozac and a program of stimulation, which lessened but did not cure his depression. He was born in a zoo and sent to Central Park for breeding. He lived for 25 years, from 1988 to 2013. He died two years after Ida. Polar bears in the wild will mate with several females over their lives, If Gus had been a free born bear, he would have been able to choose several mates.  He quite likely would not have died without offspring. I don’t think choosing Gus as the lead in this story was the best idea.

Zoo breeding programs are controversial. In light of the immediate and escalating danger polar bears face in the wild, zoo bears may, easily within our lifetime, only exist in zoos. The life of a captive bear is neither as simple nor as rosy as this book shows. This book may help children to develop compassion for polar bears but the full story would even more.

Click on the covers to buy the books or learn more about them.

  

  

 

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Don’t Go Out in the Dark by Philip Cox. Book Review.

If you like suspenseful murder mysteries with a mixture of suspects and an interesting protagonist, you’ll enjoy this book. The plot has a variety of branches that crisscross and intertwine and finally lead to a satisfying conclusion. I don’t like to post spoilers which makes reviewing a suspense pretty tricky.

Jack’s ex-girlfriend has been killed while driving his car. Is it an accident? Is it murder? Was she the target or was he? Jack is investigating this without much support while trying to adjust to a divorce and weekend fathering.

The story involves a possible miracle cure, a broken relationship, a newspaper investigation, a murdered friend who may have been the wrong target, a sex offender, a Russian Mafia’s son with a grudge, a mysterious hitman for hire, missing files, and more. Cox keeps the mystery fresh with every chapter.

The book is easy to read and also shares some interesting information about cancer research. The character is likable and the violence isn’t over the top. The only question I have is, why that title? “Don’t Go Out in the Dark” sounds like a teenage horror book and not a classic intriguing murder story. The picture on the cover seems to be of a fire which I guess represents the crashed car but I think it doesn’t do this terrific book justice.

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Click on the cover to buy the book.

Interview with the author.

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Tip and Lulu: A Tale of Two Friends. Written and Illustrated by Lauren Isabelle Pierre. Book Review.

What immediately strikes you about this book is how the pictures seem to glow and the little meerkat and leopard exude personality plus.

Lulu is a lonely leopard. We are not told what happened to her family, simply that she is alone in the world. Every time she tries to make friends, the other animals run away in fear for their lives. On the way, we are exposed to various African animals.

One day she comes across three meerkats bullying a fourth. She steps out and defends him. Tip, the little meerkat, becomes a dear friend. Later, when they see the three bullies running for their lives from a secretary bird, they decide to help. Even though Lulu rescues them, the three meerkats still run away in terror. Lulu and Tip don’t mind. Their friendship is available when the others are ready.

I love this message. It would’ve been so easy to let the three bullies be eaten by the secretary bird. Instead, Lulu and Tip take the high road. They also accept that there is no reward for their kindness. Their friendship with each other is enough.

The story is told in rhyme, which is very difficult to pull off. It holds together fairly well with only a few awkward spots. I understand this decision to use rhyme for a heavy topic that has been addressed in so many ways. The cuteness of the animals also helps to keep the tone light.

Children will want Lulu to make friends and will empathize with Tip, the bully victim. This book will lead into a good discussion about forgiveness. At no point does Tip want to use Lulu, the leopard, for vengeance. This book is a nice counterpoint to all the comics, movies, and television shows which promote revenge.

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

    

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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