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

Button Nose the Sad Little Bear by Gina Lobiondo. Illustrated by Brittany Wilder. Book Review.

 

Click on the cover to buy the book.

This picture book is in 8 x 10″ format. There is a lot of blue space on the cover and the title script is difficult to read. A bright and lively, larger picture of the bear and a clear, bold title would create more interest. Inside, we page through 11 pages before we get to the actual story. It begins,

“Once upon a time, in the time when your grandparents were small, a little bear was made. He had a soft brown body and sad, pouty little face and he was waiting for a home.”

This is a great start for a children’s picture book. We are immediately concerned that the bear might not find a home because he is pouty. We also wonder why he has that expression.

Button Nose is finally taken home to “Little Girl” who loves him and brings him everywhere. The toy is forgotten in a restaurant but, thankfully, the family comes back for him. When the girl is beginning to grow up, her mother sells Button Nose in a yard sale. His new owner ignores him and Button Nose misses the girl. Eventually he is sold to a collector and kept in a cabinet. He is deeply sad, but then one day the bear is sold again. To his surprise, his new owner is Little Girl, now grown up. She puts him in a place of honour on her bed and loves him completely.

The story ends here and the rest of the book is a 12 page photo gallery (one picture per page) of the actual Little Girl (Gina Lobiondo), her parents, her family, and Button Nose followed by 10 pages advertising the author’s other books. The story itself is 12 pages long out of a total of 45 pages. Environmentalists might find this wasteful.

The story is charming, a little like Toy Story in that toys just want to be loved and played with, or at least loved and not forgotten. I like the underlying message that love never dies and appearances, such as a pouty face, are not judge the same by everyone. Adults will find this book sweetly nostalgic.

The illustrations, set in an oval shape below the text, seem to be drawn with pencil crayon and pen. They are well done but I felt that the pictures could have been larger considering all the white space left on each page. Button Nose is also a difficult character with which to show any emotion but sadness. His expression never changes. It would be interesting to have him smile when Little Girl wasn’t looking. His emotional landscape is trapped in a pout. I think children would wonder, with concern, why the bear was pouty in every situation and with every person. I do think the packaging needs to be rethought as well.

Any preschool child with a special cuddle toy could relate to this story.

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

The author will be interviewed on this blog April 5, 2017.

Pegasus, A Dragon’s Tale will be reviewed on January 16, 2017

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Golden Rule by Sherrill S. Cannon. Illustrated by Kalpart.

 

As appears evident from the title of this book, it is the type of text one would use with Sunday school children or perhaps young schoolchildren. The premise seemed interesting. “Robert and Kait decide to look for the Golden ruler that their Mom has told them about, only to find out that she meant rule instead of ruler.” I thought there would be more of a search and more humor involved. This search takes three of the eleven pages. I had anticipated that the search would connect and lead into the value of the Golden rule but the two sections are completely isolated.

While searching, Kait asks Rob if it might be a ruler they can’t see. He thinks for a minute and realizes that it is a rule. Then suddenly he begins to explain it.

“It’s not a school ruler, or measuring tool…

It’s a rule that you live by, to give and to share,

A way to treat others to show that you care.”

From that point on the book explains how to treat others properly. It talks about thinking with head and heart, sharing, dealing with bullies, paying it forward, inclusion, and honesty.

The story is written in rhyme which is always difficult to do well. The rhythm and beat suit this style of book and are mostly consistent. For example:

The rule is treat others the way you would like

For them to treat you, and treat all just alike.

The rule is not something that money can buy.

It’s more of a way to help feel good inside.

And thinking of others is also a part

Of that rule, which means thinking with head and with heart.

The illustrations are reminiscent of old comic books but the characters have large heads and small bodies. The author has worked to be diverse. Of the eight children four are girls, and two are of African descent.

I believe this book is suited to a church or group library. It’s not the kind of book that a child will ask to hear again and again. I was hoping the message would be a little more subtle but these books do have their place.

I was given a free paperback copy of this book to donate to my Little Free Library in exchange for an honest book review.

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Click on the cover to buy a copy.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Who Would You Kill to Save Your Child? – Freya’s Child by P.J. Roscoe. Book Review.

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 Click here to buy Freya’s Child by P.J. Roscoe

There are three intertwining stories in Freya’s Child.

We have Einaar, Astrid and Inga, of Viking family trying to survive in a hostile culture. The beliefs, customs, behavior, and values of Vikings was fascinating. This was my favorite part of the book, well presented and interesting. I wish there had been more. I would have liked to get to know this family more intimately especially little Inga who seems more of a shadow child than a reality, even during her own time. I also found the events in these sections to be fast-paced and gripping.

In the present time, we have Katherine, an archaeologist, who has dreamt about Vikings since childhood. These dreams are so vivid she entertains the possibility of reincarnation. Here again, the author gives us delicious tidbits about life in a Viking village.

The third story is about a present-day family, Robert and Helen and their little daughter Cherry, short for Charlotte. I think the book would have engaged me more if we spent less time with this family, especially Helen whose behavior and thoughts became irritating after a while. In the first half of the book some of Helen’s vindictive and unforgiving behavior could be trimmed.

I don’t like to give too much of the plot away in a historical-suspense book. All three groups finally come together in a dramatic climax wherein the life of Cherry, the spirits of an entire Viking village, and the spiritual reunion of Einaar and Astrid with their daughter Inga are at risk.

It seems that this book is about a mother’s love for her child. But, in the end, in both circumstances, it is the father whose actions to protect his child bring him great loss. All four parents show tremendous courage and love for their daughters. It is nice to see girls treated as valuable, especially Inga. Even today, there are those who would judge her physical imperfection harshly.

The other theme that I found refreshing was the possibility that there is more than one type of afterlife. The Buddha said, “We make the world with our minds.” Perhaps we make the afterworld as well.

The author’s writing style is smooth and professional, in spite of the occasional typo. At times the situations or reactions seem clichéd or predictable but there is much that is original and rich as well. Helen seemed overblown at times, but then we have all met overly dramatic people who are probably not much different than this character.

Roscoe has created a compelling contemporary story with a rich historical background. She explores the intimate nature of family relationships with depth and empathy. An enjoyable read.

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The author will be interviewed Wednesday, February 15 on this blog.

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

My Blue is Happy by Jessica Young. Illustrated by Catia Chien. Book Review.

I love books for children about color. But there are so many written, it is difficult to find someone who takes a new approach. Jessica Young and Catia Chien have accomplished that splendidly.

The book consists mostly of two page spreads comparing the little girl narrator’s feelings about colors to those of other people. It begins with a young girl playing guitar on a rock, her feet dangling in the water, while a child with goggles leaps happily into the pool. The words are:

My sister says that blue is sad

Like a lonely song.

But my blue is happy

Like my favorite jeans

And a splash in the pool on a hot day.

We instantly realize that this little girl has a positive outlook on life. But she is not consistently optimistic. Her mother believes yellow is cheery like the yellow sun but hers is a wilting flower and a butterfly caught in a net. As we read, our interest deepens. Her responses to color are not predictable. Her red is brave, pink is annoying, brown is special, green is old, orange is serious, gray is cozy, and black is peaceful.

This book is a wonderful introduction to a discussion of how color affects our emotions, but more importantly, how our emotions and attitudes affect our interpretations of color. For smaller children, of course, it’s just a wonderful way to discuss the world of color around them.

The illustrations are fairly simple but reflect the tone of the child narrator. It would have been a completely different book if the illustrations had been ostentatious and serious. The casual illustrations keep the material straightforward and relatable for children.

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Click on the covers to buy the books.

More books about color.

   

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Meow,Tick, Tock – The Golden Owl (Clockwork Calico Book 1) by Linda Axe. Book Review.

Click here to buy The Golden Owl (Clockwork Calico Book 1)

The characters in this novel were endearing and worth investing in emotionally. The clockwork calico cat has been modified by the inventor Lionel Cogg to have several super qualities. But her most compelling qualities are her loyalty and compassion. This is a little superhero everyone can love. She even comes with an adorable sidekick, a mouse she spared named Emmitt who risks his life several times in her service.

When her friend (cats don’t have owners), Lionel Cogg, is kidnapped by his arch enemy Jameson Morcroft, Cali and the mouse rescues him. This is where the story really takes off. Cali discovers a plot to steal the golden owl from the museum. However, the thieves are nasty, clockwork spiders with super qualities of their own and she must face them alone.

There are wonderful moments of suspense where the reader cannot put the book down until he or she knows the resolution. There are also lovely moments of friendship, without becoming saccharin.

Lana Axe creates a believable and interesting world. Kelly’s modifications and the clockwork inventions are explained in detail without becoming tedious. However, I was surprised to suddenly learn that in this steam punk culture, the bank’s alarm system was powered by electricity.

Axe is a polished writer, however it would be advantageous for her to avoid using so many clichés such as, “the clock released with an audible click, music to Cali’s ears.” As well, she tends to overuse sentences beginning with “as” or “ing,” which can be wearying to the reader.

There are some very funny moments, especially with the mouse. Axe delivers with perfect timing.

I wish Axe had explained why Lionel surgically modified the cat. It is obvious in the story that both the cat and mouse are highly sentient beings able of interspecies communication. Although Kelly cannot speak to humans, I would be more comfortable if this intrusive procedure was consensual or as a result of repairs done to her damaged body from an accident or disease. Cali condemns Jameson Morcroft on suspicion that he would operate on other animals but gives no reason why she is affectionate and loyal to the inventor who risked an innovative and dangerous procedure on her. Maybe I missed this. But experimentation on animals makes me cringe.

However, there is much to recommend in this story. Middle grade readers and up will enjoy it.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages