P is for Princess: A Royal Alphabet by Steven L. Layne and Deborah Dover Layne. Illustrated by Robert and Lisa Papp. Book Review.

Sleeping Bear Press has numerous alphabet books with the same style. There is a four line poem about the featured letter superimposed on a full-color glossy picture. There is an accompanying text bar down the side. I have favorably reviewed some of these books. I picked up this one because my granddaughter is Princess crazy and I wanted to know if this would have some things we could share. The title is a little misleading. I thought it was going to be about princesses but it is actually about royalty. Princesses are only a minor part. It talks about King’s, Queens, emperors, Czars, and royal objects.

The book is a mishmash of fiction and nonfiction. It begins with sleeping beauty whose actual name is Aurora in the fairytales. I was expecting it to be Anastasia, the historical Princess. The letter B features a royal mouse king and queen and discusses “belle of the ball.” C is for Cinderella. D is for Diana, Her Royal Princess the Princess of Wales. The pictures feature historical figures, fairy tale people, and children playing dress-up. I think it would’ve been better if it had either focused on historical or fictional royalty.

The text box is fairly dry considering who might be drawn to this book. Unlike many of Sleeping Bear Presses other books, this one cannot be used as a resource book or teaching text. A factual, consistent approach for historical figures or a fun, imaginative approach for fictional characters would have made this book more useful.

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

  
  

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

They’re Recycling Aliens, Sequel to Ants in Space by G J Griffiths. Book Review.

The first thing that struck me about this book was the amazing illustrations. The second thing was that the author began the story by writing in the passive verb tense. Action stories, and I assume this is one, should always be written using active verbs. You want the reader to feel that the story is alive and present. This continues throughout the book and noticeably slows the pace.

The gist of the story is that ant sized aliens have come to earth to harvest Teflon from landfill site for use on their home planet. The children decide to join them for an adventure. They are shrunk down to ant size and flow into the home planet. Unfortunately, it is under attack. Children who like aliens, Star Wars, Minecraft, and spacecrafts will enjoy this story.

The writing is charming albeit a little wordy. His description of the toddler coloring is both humorous and endearing. The book is mostly text with the occasional full-page colored illustration. I found it a little confusing to see the illustrations before I had read the relevant text and would recommend that several of the pictures be moved to later pages.

I love that fact that the little girl, dressed as the Princess, introduces the concept of kindness as an antidote to war. Her speech is inspiring and wise.  She also spoke about caring for the planet instead of destroying it and moving on. (Ironic since earthlings are determined to destroy earth.)

The plot is suited to children around eight-years-old but the vocabulary and scientific concepts are much higher. This book might be best shared by a parent with his or her child.

I was given a free e-book copy in exchange for honest review.

Buy link They’re Recycling Aliens: Return to Antanesta (Kweezy Caploza Tales Book 2)

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

R is for Race: A Stock Car Alphabet by Brad Herzog. Illustrated by Jane Gilltrap Bready. Book Review.

If you have a reluctant reader in your house who enjoys stock-car racing, this is the book for him or her. The alphabet is simply a way to organize the material and not the main feature of this text. Each page has a full-page illustration or a double spread featuring something to do with modern or historical stock-car racing. There is a short four-line rhyme accompanying each letter. But, the most additional information is found in a text bar down the side.

For example, “A is early auto races held so long ago. What was so speedy then now seems rather slow.” The text box accompanying this page talks about the first auto race in America taking place in Illinois on Thanksgiving Day in 1895. It compares it to the speed of cars 14 years later. It adds more about A is for Bobby Allison who won the Daytona 500 three times.

The illustrations are realistic and detailed. Beady has had much experience with cars and racing and this shows in her careful and engaging work. Illustrations capture various viewpoints from inside the actual vehicle to the crew pit to the spectators.

The information in the text bars reveals tidbits about the need of stock-cars from tachometers to tires. It explains the rules, talks about famous racers like Dale Earnhardt, examines the cars, mentions several important racing venues, and explores the evolution of the sport.

This book is sure to become a favorite of stock-car young fans.

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

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

  

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

A B C I Like Me! by Nancy Carlson. Book Review.

The alphabet is not the focus of this book. It is basically about seeing ourselves in a positive light. An anthropomorphic pig accompanied by a mouse and a frog (oddly the only one not wearing clothes) goes through the alphabet reciting something wonderful about herself. For example, “I am Awesome, Brave, and Cheerful. I have big Dreams.”

The pictures are brightly colored and fill most of the page with a simple phrase or sentence below. Gigantic smiles are plastered on everyone’s face.

Most of the things the pig mentions are attainable by preschoolers. They would enjoy connecting with the pig’s abilities. It might be fun to make a follow-up book of the child’s interests, talents, and quality. Inevitably, some would be the same but, with an adult’s help, some should be unique to the child. For example, B could be for building wonderful block towers, D could be for love to dance, and L could be for listen well to a story.

The book is just long enough for a toddler’s attention span. This would be a great book for a child who tends to self criticize, worry, or compare himself unfavorably to peers or friends.

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 B C Letters in the Library by Bonnie Farmer. Illustrated by Chum McLeod. Book Review.

This book goes through the letters of the alphabet relating them to things in the library such as dictionaries , encyclopedias, volunteers, and story time. H is the librarian going sh. T is the teacher going tsk at loud teens who shrug in response.

There is no story and the tone is generally serious. I was hoping for a bit of humor. We found this book rather dull and a bit stereotyped. I can see a librarian using it to introduce children to the library but there must be other, more fun books out there to choose from.

 The pictures are quite nice with skinny body people who have large heads with tiny eyes. They are imposed on a white background. It is unfortunate that the artist did not introduce a story line, something more compelling, or at least something humorous. This is an okay alphabet book but rather lackluster.

Click on the cover to buy the book.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Little Book of Big Fears by Monica Arnoldo. Book Review.

The book begins:

  • Everyone has fears,
  • some silly, some twisted.
  • So you don’t feel alone,
  • here are some listed…

I was rather excited at this point to learn a fear for each letter of the alphabet but unfortunately that’s not how the book is structured. The letters of the alphabet stand for the names of the children and the fears they experience have nothing to do with the letter. For example C is for Claire who recoiled from legumes. D is for Drew who hid from raccoons. Oddly A and B are missing from my copy of the book and there doesn’t seem to be any torn out pages.

Some of the fears are a little too suggestively illustrated. For example the child who is afraid of snakes has good reason to be. She is sitting on a picnic blanket with her doll and teddy bear and six snakes, several of which are bigger than her, are coming towards her. It is not clear whether this is her imagination or actually happening.

The book ends:

  • Everyone has fears,
  • some big, something very small.
  • it’s normal to get scared sometimes –
  • it happens to us all.

I think this makes the book worthwhile in that it reassures children that everybody has fears. Unfortunately none of the children overcome their fear and there are no afterwords about overcoming fears.

There is also another note at the ending that reads:

  • Learn from the missing letters –
  • to them you must look.
  • They were gutsy and brave
  • and so not in this book.

So that explains where the B is but I still don’t know where the A is. I confess I didn’t notice that the G was missing. This is an interesting touch but I don’t think it is worth having letters missing from the alphabet when you’re reading the book to a child. Perhaps those letters could have been included at the end with an explanation of how to be gutsy and brave.

The illustrations are good but, as I mentioned, some are a little disturbing. “Q was for Quinn, horrified by needles.” She is in the waiting room of the dentist’s office. The dentist is holding up huge needle which is amplified when the child sees it through the aquarium. Also in the aquarium is a set of dentures. I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to intensify a child’s nervousness about the dentist. The fearful children are well drawn and the pages are filled with frightening detail.

I would expect the intended purpose of this book was to reassure children that everyone has fears. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if they would find it reassuring for disturbing. It would be an okay book for children who don’t frighten easily but not for the sensitive child.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel. Book review.

This is a humorous alphabet book which actually goes through the letters several times. The first thing you notice is that there are two fake bites out of the book that go completely through the cover and pages in the middle.

When you open the cover, it has a list of words for ate or destroyed such as ate, bit through, chewed, dined on, engulfed, and so on. It ends with, “What a bad kitty.”

A fun followup with a class or child (over eight years of age) would be to pick a common action word for their pet, such as play, or person, such as say, and create a list like the “ate” list inside the cover. If you get stuck, use google or word to find synonyms.  For example:

Play: act, bounce, caper, dally, entertain, fiddle…

Say: announce, bellow, converse…

Turn the page and you see dirty footprints clawed furniture and broken items scattered around the living room. There is also a doodle on the wall of an angry cat and the cat’s tail is disappearing out of sight.

Then the story begins, “She wasn’t always a bad Kitty.” It goes through the alphabet of food the author tried to give the kitty when she ran out of cat food. Basically the alphabet is vegetables such as asparagus, beats, cauliflower, dill, eggplants and so on. On each page the cat makes a horrific sound and face in response to the beans vegetables and spices. I am not crazy about this section. It’s hard enough to get kids to like healthy food when they are bombarded with advertisements for unhealthy food without denigrating it in their reading. Explain carefully that cats have a strong hunting instinct and are carnivores.

At this point kitty becomes bad and begins to destroy the house in alphabetical order. “She ate my homework. Bit grandma. Clawed the curtains. Devoured my new book.” And so on.

When the author returns with new cat food, listed in alphabetical order again, the cat experiences joy and hunger at the offered entrées. They are “an assortment of anchovies, buffalo burritos, chicken cheesecake, a donkey named Dave, elephant eggs, fried rice, etc. This would be acceptable if the illustration didn’t actually show a dead buffalo wrapped in a burrito or a dead lizard wrapped in lasagna. My granddaughter and I found these pictures disturbing and disgusting.

At this point the kitty decides to be good again. He “Apologized to grandma. Bought me new toys. Cleaned her cat box. Drove me to school.” Etc. These pictures are very funny.

In the end the author tries to reward the kitty by bringing a wonky looking dog into the home and saying, “You can go to the park together and you can share your food with him.” At this point the kitty makes that angry face again.

Children can have fun imagining or listing destructive actions the cat engaged in next. Or, things he did to the dog (avoiding extremes). A for ate the dogs treats. B for hid the dog’s bones.  C for carried away his ball. Etc.

This is an hilarious and inventive book that will engage readers. I have qualms about reaction to healthy food (for people) and the whole animals in the cat’s food but, other than that, it’s a fun book for children who are ready for higher level alphabet books.

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

        

 

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages