Can Silence Save Yesterday? – Illustrator Carl Angel Three Random Questions Interview

Carl Angel is a visual artist who does commercial illustration and children’s  books illustration. He also creates paintings exploring personal themes.


Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Carl. What is your latest book about?

Carl Angel: The Girl Who Saved Yesterday is about a girl named Silence, who is sent by the trees to save Yesterday. She doesn’t know what her task is, only that it is important. Returning to the village that cast her out, Silence recognizes her purpose: to join the dead with the living in an act that celebrates their memory.

Click here to buy The Girl Who Saved Yesterday

Ferrante: What did you use to illustrate it?

Angel: Acrylic and color pencil


Ferrante: Did you collaborate with the author?

Angel: I was not directed by the author in terms of how I should approach the imagery. I was able to do that myself based on how incredible the text was, but because the text was so rich, the challenge was to come up with imagery that added to that richness and create something bigger than the sum of its parts.


Ferrante: Are you self-trained or university trained?

Angel: I’ve been drawing since I was a kid, but I did seek further instruction at a couple of art schools in northern California – California College of the Arts and Academy of Art University, respectively.

Ferrante: When did you first develop an interest in illustration?

Angel: Since I had read illustrated classic books and comic books as a child. I loved mythology and fantastic imagery (still do). I actually used to draw on the walls of our house when I was three years old before my dad would bring home some paper from his office for me to draw on.


Ferrante: Who is your favourite illustrator?

Angel: That’s a hard one, because I have many, and I like seeing how the style of the illustrator relates to the era in which the work was created. However, if I were forced to be trapped on a desert island with only one illustrator’s work, it would have to the work of Howard Pyle. 


Ferrante: If you could go anywhere in the world to practise your art, where would you go and why?

Angel: Italy, just for the sheer artistic brilliance of both aesthetic and spiritual inspiration. Food’s not bad either.

T73 JY AW 2-3A

T73 JY AW 2-3A

Ferrante: What is the most important thing you have learned about illustrating books?

Angel: That illustrated books are needed more than ever.  While I love video and am a total cinephile, a powerful still image that is well crafted deserves to be visually savored and appreciated. It’s why museums are built; to reflect and meditate on something beautiful.

Ferrante: What advice do you have for other illustrators?

Angel: Love what you do and realize that visual narrative is a huge part of culture, and that you are part of something important.

three random questions

Ferrante: What is something you really enjoy doing that is a chore or a bore for many people?

I actually enjoy cooking and cleaning, especially while listening to music. I find it meditative and since I’m working mostly at home, I like that environment to be as organized as possible. Doesn’t always work out that way, of course…

Ferrante: If you could design any new ride or attraction for Walt Disney World, what would it be?

I would probably design a virtual reality experience that would put you through the life experience of an inspirational historical figure.

Ferrante: What is one item you own that has virtually no monetary value but has such sentimental value that you would not sell it for anything?

I have a dog-eared copy of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces that reminds me of what I strive for in terms of my ambition as a storyteller.

Ferrante: Thank you, Angel, and thank you also for lengthening your answers at my request. You’re a man of few words but those words are profound. I think you also tend to speak through your amazing artwork. Best of luck with all your future endeavors.

Click on the cover to buy Howard Pyle His Life His Work 

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Girl Who Saved Yesterday will be reviewed on this blog on March 27, 2017.

Note: the three random questions are from “Chat Pack – Fun Questions to Spark Conversations”.

Courageous Women, Fairies & Viking Ghosts: Author P.J. Roscoe Three Random Questions Interview

P.J. Roscoe is an award-winning author of three books and short stories in various anthologies. She has two more books in the works. She has been married to Martin for 22 years and has a daughter, Megan, who has autism and dyspraxia.


Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome P. J. You have had three books published this year. To what do you owe this burst of creativity?

P.J. Roscoe: My first award winning (best e-book in the Paris Book Festival April 2013, Honorable Mention in the New England Book Festival 2012) novel Echoes was actually written on/off for seventeen years. I finally self published in 2012. It won three awards and it was taken on by a publisher, but I left them in January 2016 to go it alone again and re-launched it.

Freya’s Child was written in 2014/15 and taken on by Crimson Cloak publishing and re-launched in September 2015. My Adventures of Faerie Folk is available from July 2016, but it’ll really be launched at a faerie festival in August. I’ve also been working on the audio-books for Freya’s Child and Faeries so they should be available by the autumn.

My creativity never stops! I have two books coming out Autumn/Winter 2016 and I’ve another coming out 2017, plus I’m researching the prequel to Echoes. I also have ideas for another three, plus 15 other faerie stories to bring to life and five supernatural short stories to decide what to do with!! My imagination makes me feel alive, so I use it whenever I can!

Ferrante: Your first book, Freya’s Child, has a fascinating tagline. “What would a parent do to save their child? Fight the dead? Defy the gods?” I’m sure every parent reading this is thinking, yes and yes. 

Roscoe: What if you are told your whole life that the gods require sacrifice and that person would be honoured and live a wonderful life in the halls of the gods? In early cultures it was considered an honour to die for your tribe.

So I looked at it from a modern family and a Viking family’s points of view. A parent loves their children unconditionally but for different people – does this mean the same?

My father’s family come from the Wirral and I grew up with the stories of the Norse finds that still continue to this day. I spoke with archaeologists and ‘The National Trust’ as it’s their land I base the archaeological dig – they were great. 


 Click here to buy Freya’s Child

Ferrante:  Adventures of Faerie Folk: Volume One was published in July. Are these original stories? Have you used any traditional stories for inspiration?

Roscoe: I wrote many original stories years ago for my daughter when she was between 3 and 13. I would send them out to other parents to read to their young children and get feedback on them. My daughter, who is now 18 has autism and dyspraxia, and was being bullied and the other girls refused to play with her by the time they reached 9/10 years old. I wrote ‘The Rose Faerie’ to teach Megan that it is okay to be different. Genuine people will love you for who you are and look beyond the disability.

Ferrante: Do you try to have a moral in all of your stories?

Roscoe: I wrote stories to inspire the young to take care and be thoughtful in every action as it has consequences. I do have a moral in every story. The first book, Annabelle learns that kindness has many rewards and Kate learns that being horrible makes you prickly!


 Click here to buy Adventures of Faerie folk: Volume One

Ferrante: The book is designated as Volume 1. Have you already started working on Volume 2?

Roscoe: I have the next four volumes ready, but illustrations cost a lot of money, so need to sell a few books before I can get the next one illustrated! Also finished the audio for the faerie book and it’ll be out through Crimson Cloak Publishing and Audible.

Ferrante:  Echoes seems to be a slight departure from the other two books. I love this line in your blurb, “Ghosts, past lives, evil and Tudors – what more could you possibly need?” I can’t imagine. It sounds delicious. 

Roscoe: Echoes started out as a short story that I wrote following the death of our son. I needed to occupy my mind and wrote it, but over the next months, it became a novel. It more or less wrote itself. When I look back on my writing, I cringe! No wonder it was rejected! Through experience and learning, it became a winner and I’ve begun working on the screenplay as I’m told so many times, how it would make a great movie.

I adore history, always have. The Tudors were a mercenary lot, especially Henry Tudor and his son Henry VIII. How the story evolved, I couldn’t tell you, but it had to be set near Shrewsbury and involve Henry Tudor and the battle of Bosworth somehow! Thus began years of research on and off. I wrote several historical articles for a Welsh magazine. I found pieces of information during my research that went into the book! Throw in some personal supernatural experiences and there it was! 



 Click here to buy Echoes: Some injustices refuse to be forgotten

Ferrante: I’m so sorry about the loss of your son. 

Your books feature females in positions of strength and courage without presenting them as mutant superheroes. Do you think we need more books like this? 

Roscoe: I don’t believe we need to be ‘superhuman’ to show strength and courage. I have endured a lot over the years and fought to survive – I made it. Women are portrayed in the media as objects to be used and abused by men. We are desexualised and made to appear weak and in need of domination. Women are strong, beautiful, courageous people and I want to show through my books that women can survive any obstacles, and keep going regardless of what is put in their way. Women have read my books and they feel every emotion and go through the journey with my characters.

I still cry, feel joy, feel excited with my books and that’s what I want every reader to experience. The suffragettes would be turning in their graves if they saw how some behave and how men still treat us. Every book I write has strong women. Between Worlds due out Christmas 2016 and Where Rivers Meet due out 2017 are the next two. Diary of Margery Blake that came out September 2016 was a book that had to be written to show that even in such awful times as the 19th century, with no rights, women could still find courage.

Ferrante: What are you working on now?

Roscoe: As I type these answers to your questions (July) I am on third edit of Diary of Margery Blake Due out on 17th September. Also editing Between Worlds we want out by Christmas 2016.

Ferrante: What is the single most important thing you want readers to know about you that I haven’t asked?

Roscoe: I live life, I don’t merely exist. Life is not a rehearsal so enjoy it, but harm nothing.  I face the fear and do it anyway!

three random questions

Ferrante: If you can be the CEO of any corporation in the world, which one would you choose?

Roscoe: Lush – they are an ethical animal free 100% vegetarian cosmetics/toiletries company and I’d take down those companies who still believe it’s okay to torture animals for vanity.

Ferrante: And their product smell and feel so good!

If you could know without a shadow of a doubt the answer to one question that has always troubled you, what question would you want to have answered once and for all?

Roscoe: Gosh so many!! First one that springs to mind is – was it really an eagle I saw sitting on a log with a rabbit in its talons down a country lane in North Wales before whatever it was opened its wings, which were huge, and flew away over my head, as I’d stopped the car and got out!?

Ferrante: If your taste buds could be altered so that the taste of anyone food would be dramatically intensified when ever you ate it, which food would you choose?

Roscoe: That’s a hard one! I’ll say grapes. I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables and I love my wine, so if I say grapes, then the wine should also taste fantastic!!

P.J.’s twitter handle Twitter@derwenna1




Goodreads Blog

Freya’s Child was reviewed on this blog Monday, February 13.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Note: the three random questions are from “Chat Pack – Fun Questions to Spark Conversations”.

Authentic & Important Environmental Mysteries: Author Bonnie J. Doerr Three Random Questions Interview

Bonnie J. Doerr writes eco-mystery novels for tweens. For over thirty years, she taught reading and writing skills to students of all ages—from kindergarten to college. Her mystery/adventures are based on true events. Her books have received recognition from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration. She has been an Epic  e-book award winner for an outstanding children’s book and one of six finalists for the YA Green Earth award.

author by mangroves more light

Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Bonnie. I’m looking forward to this interview. Your book has inspired some important questions.

Bonnie j. Doerr: Thanks, for the invitation. This Bonnie is happy for the opportunity to reach out to you, Bonnie, and your readers.

Ferrante: You used news accounts of the killing of an endangered deer as the catalyst for your book Island Sting. Other books have been fueled by a sea turtle caught in a net and the pelican with a slashed pouch. How do you take such tragic and brutal events and change them into a story that leaves young people with a sense of hope?

Doerr: Wow. You jumped right into the meat of these stories. Yep, I use actual heartbreaking events as motivation for my plots. Some are even personal observations. But hope arises from observing the real life heroes featured in my books who rescue, rehab, and release injured and abused animals.

Watching the selfless work of everyone involved in these organizations leaves me, and if I’ve done a decent job, readers with a deep appreciation for the greater kindness and loving hearts most humans have. These heroes inspire my characters’ actions. And what reader doesn’t want to see themselves in the hero?

The tragic facts are all background for the young teens who solve the mysteries by asking questions, discovering clues, participating in dangerous and devious events, arguing about tactics, taking wrong turns, until finally, just before things get brutally dangerous for them – these heroic teens crack the crimes. They were never without hope!


 Click here to buy Stakeout

Ferrante: Sounds both inspiring and fun. When did you decide that you wanted to merge your passion for preserving nature and your educational skills into fiction writing?

Doerr: I was teaching middle school science years ago when my search for a fun read to support my environmental curriculum came up empty. I thought then maybe one day I’d take my shot at writing such books. But it was many years before I found the time to study the craft and go for it.

TL cover 2

 Click here to buy Tangled Lines

Ferrante: After writing your first mystery, did you change the way you approach writing a book?

Doerr: I think writers are always learning what works better for them. But many habits remain. I’m constantly reading news in every format, human interest stories, conservation magazines, books in many genres. Add to that listening all while awaiting the spark of an idea to research. I keep lots of short notes for plot events, character ideas, plot scenes, snippets of conversations, people to interview in a notebook. Very sloppy notebook, I might add. It’s hard to predict how it goes beyond that point, but some combination of panstering and plotting takes place on my laptop. I can’t seem to change being a “planster.”


 Click here to buy Kenzie’s Key

Ferrante: That’s probably the method that gets your creativity flowing.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the senseless destruction of the environment and the animal world?

Doerr: To be overwhelmed is to feel helpless and hopeless. Such surrender would demean and deny the work of those who are saving and protecting our environment around the world every day ( NASA’s Commander Bolden says this about collaboration in outer space, “… we’re traveling together as a human race that’s looking to expand the outer bounds of human possibility and progress.”  I believe his words can be applied to working for the health of our planet right here on Earth.

Ferrante: What do you do to refuel yourself?

Doerr: Science tells us everyone can refuel by spending time in nature (For example, this reference: I live surrounded by woods along a lovely greenway path and park. So this escape is easy for me, and truthfully, if I couldn’t easily commune with nature I’d likely go nuts. Escaping into the world of a book is also a major refuge. Recently, I read that for those who can’t easily get outdoors imagining the experience is doga worthwhile retreat. Research has proven nature scenes alone provide comfort and healing to hospital patients ( Imagine what immersion in an outdoor adventure book can do for people who spend too much time indoors. My novels offer just that kind of experience. I also recharge by traveling to new places, experiencing other cultures, and by spending time with friends and with my rescue dog, Salty (named after the dog in my books), who always puts a smile on my face.

Ferrante: I, too, love being outdoors (except when it’s 30C below). My favourite sound is listening to leaves rustling in  the wind.

Have any of your readers ever expressed their involvement in an environmental group because of what they have read in your books?

Doerr: My former editor told me she learned one reader established a green teen club at school as a result of reading Island Sting, but I never learned more about it. I wish I had. My readers are just under the age group that’s active online so I don’t often hear from them directly.


 Click here to buy Island Sting

Ferrante: Please tell us about your research methods. 

Doerr: Most of my research is done in the field. I maintain contact with people I meet during my research and often refer to them when my memory fails, my notes are incomplete, or I need more detail. The field research is the most fun for me. The people I meet always show up on the page as bits and pieces of the good guys. Besides who wouldn’t want to spend weeks in the Florida Keys?

Ferrante: I would! I would!

What other topics do you think you might tackle in the future?

Doerr: I’m trying to boil down my ideas. Since I’m a bit superstitious, I don’t want to say more than my setting will be geographically different. I may even take a break from environmental issues.

three random questions

Ferrante: Aside from any family, friends, or pets, what would be the most difficult thing for you to give up in your life?

Doerr: I wouldn’t be me if I had to give up living with trees, flowers, plants – all things nature.

Ferrante: Me too. I love visiting big cities but I love coming home even more. Next question. Forget about soft sounds like babbling brooks, gentle showers, and warbling birds. What is your favorite loud sound?

Doerr: Dang, you took away what I’d most hate to give up. Truth. There is no loud sound I like. Loud sounds make me tense and hyper. I cover my ears at concerts, and thank goodness for closed captioning on TV. But the loudest tolerable sound I can think of is a seventeen-year cycle of singing cicadas. But how often do I have to hear that chorus?

Ferrante: I’m not a fan of loud either but I think I’d like to hear those singing cicadas at least once.

If you could live in any state other than the one in which you currently reside, which state would you choose?

Doerr: Gosh, I’ve lived in ten different states. Other than North Carolina where I live now, I can rule all of them out. Maybe I’d choose Vermont, but no, I can’t tolerate winter. So… hmm… has to be warmer than Vermont … but green… Oregon! It would be Oregon. Wait, maybe Washington. But it’s cooler than Oregon. Except I need frequent blue skies, so neither one. Wyoming – big blue skies. No, too landlocked and cold. You made it hard. No fair. I like the state where I now live. It may be cheating, but I’m going say Virginia. It’s only an hour’s drive to the state line from home. *wink*

Thanks for the fun, Bonnie!

Ferrante: Thank you for your thoughtful and inspiring answers. It’s been great getting to know you. It seems these two Bonnies have a few things in common.

Bonnie Doerr’s website


Tangled Lines will be reviewed Friday, February 10, 2017 on this blog.



Note: the three random questions are from “Chat Pack – Fun Questions to Spark Conversations”.

2012 Green Earth Book Award Short List-1

2012 Green Earth Book Award Short List-2

2012 Green Earth Book Award Short List-3

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Finding the Forgotten: Author, Documentarian, and Archivist Ronnika (R.J.) Williams Three Random Questions Interview

Ronnika (R.J.) Williams is a documentarian and archivist who has used her skills to create her first children’s book, Adventures of Alleykats – The Missing President.


Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Ronnika. The seed for becoming an archivist was planted quite early. Can you tell us a little about it?

Williams: Hi Bonnie, Thanks for having me! I was surrounded by historical artifacts/documents growing up, I would say around the age of five is when I became fascinated with old photos.  I caught on quickly the importance of preserving them.  I know this is going to sound weird, but I would make sure that my parents, and grandparents saved an obituary from every funeral they attended.  Why? I loved reading about a person’s life and their family. 

Ferrante: Photography/videography is also one of your passions. Where has that led?

Williams: It led me to the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.  I’m currently a student there, and it has broadened my awareness of how complex both photography and videography truly is.  Before I never cared about lighting, I would just click and shoot, or simply record.  Especially when it comes to certain projects I’m working, and with freelance.  I’m more critical of the finished product.

Ferrante: Tell me a little about your partnership with “Savvy Sessions” to provide educational tools for elementary students.

Williams: My sister is an elementary school teacher, so this is her baby.  She provides the blueprint, and I strive to bring the lessons to life through storytelling.  Focusing more on summer activities to keep the students minds sharp all year round.

 Ferrante: Your first children’s book, Adventures of Alleykats – The Missing President, is receiving rave reviews. It seems parents and children love it. Why did you choose this topic on which to base a children’s story?

Williams: I was a summer intern at the Museum of Confederacy (Now the American Civil War Museum) in Richmond, VA for three summers.  Whenever I would tell people where I worked I would either get weird stares (why are you working there, or what’s that face).  I wanted to find a cool way to bring awareness to a place, person, and time in history that’s often omitted from the history books.  I’ve always wanted to know all sides of a story.  The good, the bad, and the truth!


 Click here to buy Adventures of Alleykats: Historical Sleuths: The Missing President (Volume 1)

Ferrante: What strategies did you use to merge factual history and fictional events?

Williams: I still love a good mystery, and adventure.  Something that keeps me guessing, so I honestly talked with teachers, and they provided me with books that the children were into these days.

Ferrante: Was there ever a missing President?

Williams: He’s missing from the history books.  There’s so much that’s missing from the history books.  Hopefully my series can help bridge the gap.

Ferrante: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Williams: I want my readers to have fun while learning.  It’s just that simple.

Ferrante: What did you enjoy the most about writing this picture book? The least?

Williams: I love how the story was constantly expanding.  I wrote the outline over 3 years ago, while I was in graduate school.  Working with the illustrator truly brought the story to life. I would say the least would be the editing process.  That was stressful, and a hint of perfectionism was creeping out every time I received a revision.

Ferrante: It seems as though the first book is the beginning of the series. What are your plans for subsequent stories?

Williams: I’m currently working on Book 2.  It’s going to be another adventure of course.  I want to be able to build upon the series, and provide unforgettable content to be used in classrooms.  I want the Alleykats to be a household name.

Ferrante: My deepest condolences on the loss of your father. I read that you promised him three things “before he passed away after a battle with cancer, that she would finish graduate school with high honors, pursue her love of documentary studies, and publish a children’s book series.” It seems that you have fulfilled all of these promises. Where is your journey taking you now?

Williams: Thank you Bonnie!

My journey has led me to give back to my community with my ongoing documentary project.  My current photography campaign ( focuses on stories, and photos of individuals talking about their journey with grief.  Even though it is very different from the Alleykats Series, it keeps me writing, and traveling the country collecting the stories. It truly gives me a lot of joy. The type of joy when someone tells me they love “The Missing President.”  I know that every decision I’ve made has unlocked another amazing opportunity.  Accepting that internship was definitely one of the best decisions I could have made for my professional career. I know that all of my sweat and tears for all of my projects has been worth it. 

Ferrante: What were your favorite children’s books growing up? Do you feel they have influenced your writing?

Williams: My parents gave me a book when I was little girl that was full of African American biographies.  They were in alphabetical order. I’ve asked my mom has she seen the book lying around in my old room. I’ve moved so much I know it’s in a box at her house. I had to do a book report on W.E.B. DuBois, but I was constantly distracted by the other figures in that book.  That goes back to what I said before.  I’ve always been fascinated with “the dash” of a person’s life.  That book was my Wikipedia back in the day.

I was a HUGE Goosebumps and Nancy Drew fan.  I can remember challenging my friends that they couldn’t finish a Goosebumps book in a day.  Other than attending summer camps, I would sit in my room, or in the backyard, and READ.  I was able to finish a couple of Goosebumps books in a day.  Talk about an accomplishment that was before going to middle school. 

Ferrante: Is there anything you would like to share that I haven’t asked?

Williams: I love hearing from my readers.  I’m in the process of revamping the Alleykats website, but social media is quite active.  Feedback is always welcome, and whenever I receive a new Amazon review it totally makes my day!

three random questions

Ferrante: If snow could fall in any flavor, what flavor would you choose? (Being from Michigan, I assume you get snow.)

Williams: Oh yes, I have a Ph.D in tasting snow, and quite an imagination growing up with my neighborhood friends.  I’ve always wanted the snow to taste like the different flavors of KOOL-AID! I would have to choose Lemon-Lime or Cherry.  I can’t pick one!

Ferrante: If you could know one fact about every person you ever meet, what particular fact would you want it to be? (Assume that the other person would not have to be aware that you know this fact about them.)

Williams: Their level of optimism.  These days I choose to surround myself with people that prefer to encourage, enlighten, and uplift.  If there is a problem we are striving to find the solution.  What is that person doing to make the world a better place.

Ferrante: If you could have the original of anything in the world, what would you want it to be? (Assume that you would never be allowed to sell it for money; you must simply enjoy it for what it is.)

Williams: I would want the original of my father’s U.S. Army photo.  I found his uniform with his plane ticket home in his pocket, and later on found the photo.  The photo is damaged inside of the picture frame, so I would want his original draft photo.  Nothing in this world could compare to that.

Ferrante: That would be priceless. I lost my father at age 29 so I understand how meaningful these things become.

Thank you, Ronnika, for sharing your thoughtful and open-hearted answers with us today. I look forward to the release of your second Alleykats book. Good luck with all your amazing endeavors.

The Missing President will be reviewed on this blog February 3, 2017.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages


Note: the three random questions are from “Chat Pack – Fun Questions to Spark Conversations”.

A Life-long Mission of Equality and Inclusion – Author Janet Ruth Heller Three Random Questions Interview

Janet Ruth Heller is a fiction writer, poet, playwright, educator, memoir writer, and literary critic.


Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Janet. When do you find time to sleep? 

Janet Ruth Heller: I have retired from teaching and write full-time. I published two books while I was teaching, but I have published four books since I retired in 2010.  I still visit schools, libraries, book fairs, conferences, and bookstores to give creative writing workshops; discuss multicultural literature; discuss good books, movies, CDs, and videos to help children deal with bullying; give anti-bullying workshops; read my poetry and prose; and present my scholarly research on literature.

Ferrante: I found teaching not only took most of my time, but most of my creative energy as well. Retirement is so freeing.

I reviewed How the Moon Regained Her Shape on May 2, 2014.  What were your goals and intentions with this book and how well do you feel you have achieved them?

Heller: I got badly bullied by various classmates when I was a new student in kindergarten.  This abuse continued for several years.  The bullying included name-calling, exclusion from activities, pushing, and stone-throwing.  I did not know how to discourage my harassers, and I did not tell the teachers about the bullying.  I wrote my fiction picture book How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Arbordale, 2006; 3rd edition 2012) to help other children understand bullying and to urge them not to remain silent. By telling friends, family members, teachers, coaches, neighbors, etc. about bullying, children and adults can make it difficult for harassers to continue their power trips. 

Teachers tell me that after I visit a school to read How the Moon Regained Her Shape and to discuss bullying, students are more likely to report harassment. 


 Click here to buy How the Moon Regained Her Shape

Ferrante: Fabulous. We need to get it out in the open.

Your book has been included in two collections, Astronomy Set and the Overcoming Adversity Set. How did this come about?

Heller: My publisher, Arbordale (previously Sylvan Dell), often puts together groups of books with similar topics. I wrote the essay about bullying in the “Character” section online. I also edited the “For Creative Minds” section with activities for children at the end of the book How the Moon Regained Her Shape.

Ferrante: Your first picture book has won several awards (2006 Children’s Choices Award [Children’s Book Council and Int’l. Reading Association] 2007 Ben Franklin Award [Publishers Marketing Association] 2007 Moonbeam Gold Award) and received wonderful reviews. However there has been some negative response from First Nations peoples claiming that this is a distorted aboriginal folktale. Would you like to address this?

Heller: When I wrote How the Moon Regained Her Shape, I was researching Native American legends, customs, and folktales for an article that I was writing about the poetry of Judith Minty, who is part Mohawk. I also have a Native American friend who helped me during many crises; she is one of the people whom I dedicated this book to. The story in my picture book is completely my own. I did not borrow any words, ideas, or sentences from Native American authors. However, because I admire the lyrical style of First Nation stories, I tried to write my book with a similar style. I also love nature and agree with First Nation people’s view that the natural world is not separate from the human world.

Many educators complain that few books for children have people of color as main characters. How the Moon Regained Her Shape has two Native American main characters, Round Arms and Painted Deer. It also has a large group of First Nations women dancing with the moon and Round Arms. I created all of these characters from my respect and love for Native American culture.

Ferrante: What were your sources for your newest book, The Passover Surprise?

Heller: I was born in 1949 and am the oldest of five children in a Jewish family. When I was nine, my father set up a competition for a stamp album between my next-oldest brother and me. Although we both spent the same amount of time and effort collecting stamps, my father gave the album to my brother without any explanation. I did not know the words “sexism” and “favoritism” then, but I knew that something was very unfair, and I felt alienated from my father. However, I was too young to know how to confront him about his obvious bias.

My father served in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II and told me many stories about his experiences.  As an adult, I also read his letters home to his parents and an autobiography that he wrote.  I used details from these in The Passover Surprise.

When I was young, my family celebrated the Passover Seder with the family of my mother’s twin brother. The joint celebration with my aunt and uncle and my first cousins made the holiday very special. I adapted details from these Seders for The Passover Surprise.

I am a devout Jew. I often help to lead services at my synagogue, and I frequently chant from the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) and the Jewish prophets in Hebrew. I have also been a principal and a teacher at two Jewish religious schools.

No one has a right to discriminate against other people due to skin color, race, national origin, etc. The Civil Rights Movement emphasizes equal opportunity and fairness for everyone. 

Also, just as many women in the 1800s got involved in the Women’s Movement after fighting for the abolition of slavery, many women in the twentieth century got involved in the Women’s Movement after fighting for civil rights for people of color. I attended my first feminist conference at Oberlin College around 1969, and I coordinated women’s organizations and rap groups at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Chicago. I’m a founding mother of the feminist literary journal Primavera, and I co-founded the Rape Crisis Center in Madison, Wisconsin. 


 Click here to buy The Passover Surprise

Ferrante: Wow, that’s impressive.

The Passover Surprise raises the topic of sexism. Do you feel traditional religions need to address this topic?

Heller: Yes, I feel that many religions discriminate against women. In Jewish families, boys often get favored over girls. Until the 1970s, women could not become Jewish rabbis or cantors in the United States and in many other countries. The language of many prayer books and Bibles addresses primarily men and refers to God in masculine terms such as King and Lord, instead of using gender-fair nouns like Sovereign and Creator, etc. Such language makes women and girls feel left out and diminished. 

I have been pushing for more inclusion of women in leadership positions and more egalitarian language in worship for many decades. We have adopted a gender-fair High Holiday prayer book, and we will soon vote on which of several gender-fair prayer books to use for the rest of the year. We have had many more women presidents of the synagogue recently.

Ferrante: That’s great to hear.

three random questions

Ferrante: Besides your real birthday, what is one other date on the calendar that you think would have been a great day to be born?

Heller: My summer birthday is the date of my parents’ first anniversary. This has made the date doubly special to my family and to me. I would also like to be born on the Jewish holiday of Passover because of its emphasis on freedom and human dignity.

Ferrante: Whenever you’re having a bad day, what is the best thing you can do to help cheer yourself up?

Heller: I take a long walk to make myself feel better. I used to walk with my father when I was young. 

Ferrante: What is your all-time favorite scene from a movie?

Heller: One of my favorites is in Sense and Sensibility (1995) based on Jane Austen’s novel by the same name. Elinor Dashwood, played by Emma Thompson, has been waiting patiently for at least a year to find out whether the man she has adored, Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant), still loves her and can marry her. He was engaged to Lucy Steele previously. Elinor and Edward have been separated for many months. She has heard rumors that he has married Lucy. However, Edward comes to visit Elinor toward the end of the movie. She finds out that Edward’s brother married Lucy, but Edward is free to and wants to marry Elinor now. During this scene, Elinor’s tears turn to laughter and joy. Thompson plays this scene powerfully. The audience feels a great sense of relief that Elinor’s long wait is over and that she can soon live happily with Edward.

Ferrante: We all love a happy ending.

Thank you for spending time with us today. Best of luck with The Passover  Surprise.

The Passover Surprise was reviewed on this blog on December 30, 2016.


Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Note: the three random questions are from “Chat Pack – Fun Questions to Spark Conversations”.

Jayne Barnard’s Great Tips on Reading Your Work Aloud

Posted on Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop Blog


“We’ve all seen them, and many of us have been them: authors standing up front with their nose in the book, mumbling, inaudible beyond the second row. The audience isn’t fidgeting because they don’t like the writing; often it’s the delivery that’s killing you. Yet you can land the basics of good delivery in a few minutes of practice a day. You’ll give better readings and enjoy them more (or dread them less)…”

Jayne will be interviewed on my blog March 22, 2017.

Click on the book cover for information on her latest work.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Joy of Making People Laugh: Author/Illustrator Sal (Salvatore) Barbera Three Random Questions Interview

Bonnie Ferrante: My guest today is Sal (Salvatore) Barbera, author, illustrator, and artist. Welcome Sal. Please tell us in three or four sentences a little about yourself.

Sal Barbera: I’m an “it’s never too late to start writing” writer. I wrote my first book a few years ago. I believe laughter is the best medicine, and that’s actually why I wrote my first book, to make my mother-in-law laugh. I heard that Charley Chaplin once said: “ A day without laughter is a wasted day.” Those are words I live by.


Ferrante: Why did you choose to write picture books as opposed to any other genre?

Barbera: I’m a visual person and I love to draw. When I write, I draw the characters as I’m writing the story. It helps me to visualize it as I go along. I didn’t actually choose to write picture books, it just turns out that what I write and draw is also ideal for picture books.

Ferrante: You have written “I show kids how to deal with difficult personal and social situations using humor, diplomacy and intelligence.” What kind of situations are you talking about?

Barbera: In Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow, she arrives at a new farm where every single cow has spots, and she’s totally spotless. She’s instantly thrown into an adversarial situation when they immediately don’t like her and won’t have anything to do with her. It’s a situation ‘different’ kids experience when they’re at a new school or camp or even the community pool. These are stressful situations for children, and they need to figure out how to get their peers to like and accept them. There are many kids that have to deal with being somehow different from the other kids. And being ‘different’ can lead to bullying and prejudice.

In another one of my books, Ernie The Dysfunctional Frog, Ernie can’t understand why he can never seem to do what the other frogs can easily accomplish. In every situation, he seems to fail or lag behind, while the other frogs do the same thing so easily. The surprise of this story is that there’s a very good reason why this happens. And that’s what makes him different from the other frogs. The themes of love and friendship are woven through this story as well as a big dose of humor and diplomacy.


Ferrante: Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?

Barbera: I’m a writer. But for me, it’s very much an inspiration thing. When I hear or see something that sparks an idea I go into writing mode. I don’t sit down every day at a set time and write just to write something. But I do think of something funny or interesting every day, and many times I’ll write that down as an idea for a story.

Ferrante: Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow is about exclusion. Why did you feel this was such an important topic? What personal and social ramifications do you think exclusion causes?

Everyone wants to fit in and be accepted. Especially by their peers. Children can be profoundly hurt by being excluded from a group. It’s a horrible feeling to be rejected or ignored by people that you want to like and accept you. The key is what you do when that happens. You can be dejected and turn against them. You can be sad, feel rage or worse, become suicidal.

It’s how you deal with exclusion that determines your character. The secret is to figure out a way to turn their cold shoulders around and be welcomed into the group for who you are.

That’s where humor, diplomacy and using your intelligence (brains) comes in. Mary Elizabeth was rejected by the entire group at first. But she figured out a way to not only overcome the rejection and make friends, but also to open their eyes to the unfairness of their prejudice. Proving, in her case, that it’s what’s inside that counts more than appearance. And, that she is a lot of fun to be around when you get to know her.

 Click here to buy Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow

Ferrante: What makes your book stand out from the crowd?

Barbera: It’s not typical to find an author that’s also an artist and does their own illustrations. My unique drawing style, fun relatable characters and humor throughout the story make my book stand out. I love to draw animals, it’s a lot of fun to make them ‘human’, and this story is filled with wacky and whimsical looking cows. It is a journey of discovery for kids and their caregiver’s while reading this story. The ‘aside’ humor for adults makes reading Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow a welcome addition to every children’s library.

Ferrante: Why did you choose to write about a cow instead of a child or any other animal? What challenges did this raise?

Barbera: I chose cows because of the spots. All ‘Prejudice’ needs to fuel it is someone or something that’s different. Spots. No spots. If all the cows couldn’t see, spots wouldn’t be an issue. If one cow couldn’t see, that cow would be different and probably treated differently. Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow is about social prejudice. The biggest challenge created by using cows was figuring out how to overcome the spots to become accepted. I think it’s neatly accomplished and makes for a better story.

Ferrante:  Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow has her own television show on the web. Tell us about this. How is it created? Who performs in it? How often is it aired?

Barbera: Thank you for asking about the upcoming web show! We are launching on YouTube mid August. (Fingers crossed). My wife, Sheri, and I came up with the concept for Sweetles® TV Show (web series) a few years ago. The first idea was to help kids learn about social skills and good behaviors in a fun and wacky way. Think Sesame Street meets Monty Python. It’s evolved into more of a comedy/variety show for the entire family to enjoy. 

The show includes nutsy goofballs (people), silly animation, assorted puppets, music, comedy and a lot of fun! All of that meant learning a whole bunch of new software programs to create and edit video. Plus making, buying or modifying and animating an assortment of puppets and other show characters. Once that was finally accomplished, then we researched how to set up a studio for filming. That took over two years. It’s truly been a labor of love.

We’re currently at the stage of writing the scripts and filming the show! So far, there are four of us writing, performing and filming. The goal is to post Sweetles® TV Show once a week, with a segment just for kids called “A Sweetles Dream®” featuring my children’s book characters including Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow. Even her sister, Sister Mary Catherine: The Holy Cow With a Bad Habit, makes an appearance! It should be a lot of fun.

Ferrante: What your plans for future projects include?

Barbera: I have a number of books in the works in the “A Sweetles Dream®” series. And we’d love to license my characters for products to go with the books. We already have a wonderful Mary Elizabeth puppet that’s ready to go into production. And, if Sweetles® TV Show is a hit, it would be great to bring it to television. 

three random questions

Ferrante: What type of service to others or good deed done for other people do you personally find the most rewarding?

Barbera: It’s Laughter. I try to make as many people laugh as possible. Every single day. There’s nothing more rewarding than to see someone’s face light up, smile and laugh. Especially if they’re tired, sad, lonely or seem depressed. My father-in-law is in an assisted living home, and my wife and I always make a point of getting people there to laugh every time we visit. Laughter is the best medicine.

Ferrante: What is the coldest you have ever been in your life, and what is the hottest?

Coldest?  We used to do Christmas decorating when we lived on the East Coast. Putting up Christmas lights outdoors in New Jersey when it’s 2F (-16C) degrees. “It looks beautiful”, I said, through chattering teeth.

Hottest? I live in Arizona. Even after visiting here for the first time in 1989 when there was record heat of 118 (48C) degrees! We still loved and and still moved here. But, as Frank Sinatra said, “it’s a God forsaken blast furnace!”.

Ferrante: 118F would kill me but 2F is a lovely winter day where I live.

If you could change the ending to any movie you have ever seen, what movie would it be and how would you alter the way it ends?

Barbera: That would have to be ‘Close Encounters of The Third Kind’. The movie ends with Richard Dryfuss leaving his wife and two children behind to go off in a space ship with a bunch of aliens. That’s not right. I would change his character to a bachelor.

Ferrante: I agree. It seemed as though he didn’t give leaving his children a second thought.

Thank you so much, Sal, for your interesting answers. I appreciate the time you put into them. Best of luck with your books and your upcoming web show. Send me a little note when it launches and I will alert my readers. It’s such a unique and gutsy enterprise I wouldn’t want to miss it.

Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow will be reviewed on this blog February 6, 2017.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Note: the three random questions are from “Chat Pack – Fun Questions to Spark Conversations”.

The Best of Two Cultures: Author Michael Samulak Three Random Questions Interview

Michael Samulak is a picture book author, full-time youth minister and educator.


Bonnie Ferrante: Your first book, A is for Africa, was inspired by a trip to Uganda. You worked with a local artist, Sswaga Sendiba, to create the illustrations. Tell us about that experience.

Samulak: I was traveling back and forth to Uganda in 2006 and 2007 for church and humanitarian related needs.  I took three trips, each about a month long over that time period. My dear wife had to hold down the fort while I was working and traveling in those days.  We had one child at the time and even moved just before one of those trips!  (Yes, I am married to the most wonderful woman in the world)

What I saw and experiences during this time in my life was so enlarging and inspiring in itself that I was looking for a way to share the beauty and wonders of that land and people with the youth in my circles of influence back home.  

During an off day I would try to explore the local scene whenever possible to take in and explore as much as possible.  On one of those days I happened by a batik painting of Mr. Sendiba in a local market area, I believe.  The piece caught my attention from across the road.  I bought it instantly.

Later in the day I noticed a similar Batik at another shop on the other end of the strip and I thought it must be by the same artist.  I hustled over to the shop owner and began to pepper them with questions about the piece and the artist. Sswaga would come by from time to time and sell them a few pieces if the shop could take on more. 

In the end, she was willing to take my local contact and promised to give it to Swaga the next time he came around. I purchased three more of his batiks from that shop, scribbled down the number of my host family and sent up a little prayer.

With one week to go in that first trip I got the call that changed everything.

We arranged a time and place to meet and with just a few days before my flight was to leave, had set in place a plan to illustrate various African wildlife, nature scenes, and of the native people that I would try to incorporate into an alphabet book or maybe even reading series that I had already been working on.  When I told him that I would need at least 50 pieces of his work to have a chance of being able to put a finished product together, I think he almost fainted.  I was more than happy to be able to support him and his work, even if I wasn’t able to complete the project.

Over the course of the next two years of researching, rewrites, tweaking, and more traveling, I was able to have Sswaga illustrate what I thought would be necessary to bring the project to life.  At the end of my last trip in 2007 I had almost 100 pieces from him that I eventually chose from for the final picture book.

Whew…like I said in the beginning, a story in itself, but it think that covers the basics.


 Click here to buy A is for Africa

Ferrante: I’m sure you made a wonderful difference in Sswaga Sendiba’s life. It’s awesome that you used an African artist and batik is such a unique medium for picture book illustration.

Two years later, you created a coloring book based on this picture book. Considering the adult coloring craze that is happening right now, will this picture book be suitable for all ages?

Samulak: The coloring book was produced almost because of demand; With each classroom visit I did once the original was published, the teachers would talk about the different ways they were intending to follow-up with my presentation. 

In terms of adult application – easy answer is, “Yes”.  I have definitely had many adults purchase the coloring book: teachers who wanted it for the classroom, animal lovers, artists, doodlers, etc. 

Ferrante: How serendipitous that this newest craze fits so well with your book.

A review of A is for Africa appeared on my blog on December 26, 2016.

Your latest work, A Wonderful Day, which is a Mom’s Choice Award winner, is based on a trip to the zoo. Tell us what inspired this.

Samulak: My works are often inspired and revolve around my own children and our experiences of this beautiful world and the adventures we have together.  The zoo has always been a favorite for all the kids during their younger years, so I felt it would be a very relatable subject as an early reader.


 Click here to buy A Wonderful Day!

Ferrante: Tell us about the illustrations.

Samulak: My publisher for the book paired me with the creative mind of Louise Charm Pulvera. Mr. Pulvera was one of a few illustrators that TATE gave me samples of based on my manuscript.  I believe it was a perfect fit and Mr. Pulvera helped to bring the whole written script to another level of life.

A Wonderful Day will be reviewed on this blog on January 30, 2017.

Ferrante: Is there an author or illustrator with whom you would love to consult?

Samulak: My two heroes of the author/illustrator world are Tomie Depaola and Patricia Polacco.  To spend anytime, anywhere, in any form or fashion with those masters of the world of words would be mind-blowing to say the least.  I think if such a dream-come-true would ever happen, I would enter into a state of suspended animation and be lost for words.

Ferrante: LOL. I’ve always loved Tomie Depaola’s version of Strega Nona.

Why have you chosen picture books over any other style of writing?

Samulak: As an early childhood educator I have a special place in my heart for picture books.  I feel that picture books are a unique platform to enable the delivery of a message, provoke feeling, translate experiences, make connections, and overall draw one into new worlds and ideas that can often otherwise be out of reach.

I believe that picture books are, generally speaking, many peoples’ introduction to literacy in a form that is beautiful and captivating while also being a genesis of knowledge and experience.  Many times these books can be a driving force for our children to be exposed to new ideas or concepts; even expanded in exploring deeper connections and/or feelings to the world around them. 

Ferrante: It’s a great responsibility to make picture books that are worth the parents investment in time and money and due right by the children. Do you have a favorite children’s picture book?

Samulak: Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco.  I found this book in my early years as a young educator seeking to change the world and help my students with their own love for literacy.  It rocked my world. I knew if I could be so moved and touched by a story, how could it not impact those in my classroom.  That book helped me to establish my “measuring stick” for quality:  If I love it…the kids will love it.

Ferrante: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

Samulak: I love coffee, chocolate, traveling, and my family.  They all are great influences in my life and sources of constant inspiration. 

three random questions


Ferrante: If you could open your own retail store, what type of merchandise would you sell?

Samulak: Coffee and chocolate.  I love them both equally so I could not choose between them if I was deciding which to have on the shelf.  You would have a balance for parent and child with a wonderful selection of stimulants and sweets.  There would be a great space for reading and conversation, obviously, that would have to be open at all hours whenever the inward cravings came a’calling.

Ferrante: I guessed that from your previous answer. <smile> If you had to describe your personality in terms of a zoo animal, which animal would you choose?

Samulak: It would be hard to choose one, but I’ll say, the beaver.  Soft and cuddly; always busy, yet never finished with his work; trying to be helpful to the environment around him while at the same time enjoying the fruits of his labor; and with a big fat flat tail that sticks out like a sore thumb…but eventually, to those who truly know him, find that it is actually his unique instrument of that labor of love which characterizes him.

Ferrante: If you could walk into any painting and actually experience the moment or scene that it depicts, which painting would you choose to enter?

Samulak: It is interesting that you ask this question.  I think I have already had dreams about the entering into the masterpiece by Van Gogh, A Starry Night.  This piece has often been a source of inspiration and help to me over the years.  I actually just want to know if it is a mountain or a mountain of fire that is licking the heavens and overshadowing that little village on that eternal evening.

Ferrante: Thank you Michael for your detailed and interesting answers. What a fascinating journey you have gone through for the creation of A is for Africa. Best of luck with both your books and all your future endeavors.


Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Note: the three random questions are from “Chat Pack – Fun Questions to Spark Conversations”.

Our Roots Keep Us Strong: Author Becky Villareal Three Random Questions Interview

Becky Villareal taught early childhood in Dallas Independent School District for 23 years. For the past ten years she has been completing family research. She spent the last 10 years working on family research. She has written two books about Gianna the Great.

Becky V

Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Becky. Tell us a bit about your writing and your most recent work.

Becky Villareal: I have worked with many children who come from multicultural backgrounds. Since I come from a similar background, I was always trying to place myself in a group. I wrote Gianna the Great to address those inner conflicts that children face and followed it by Halito Gianna: The Journey Continues to let the children know what happens when you don’t give up.

Ferrante: What research did you do for this picture book?

Villareal: Through working with the National Archives and multiple genealogy websites, I was able to piece together the parts of my family tree that have been missing. I used this research to develop this story.

Ferrante: Do you think it is important for people to know their roots?

Villareal: On my website I use this Chinese Proverb, “To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.”  When a person comes from a multicultural background and has little knowledge of that history or culture, they feel lost like a boat at sea with no shore in sight.  Once they feel they have found their place, they can embrace those strengths and weaknesses that are inherent in their own personalities that are part of their DNA makeup i.e. creativity, personality, intuitiveness etc..

Ferrante: Why did you create the character Gianna the Great?

Villareal: In truth, I created Gianna to express to all children how wonderful they are, how unique, and how special.  It doesn’t matter who our parents are, what background we come from, what matters is that there never was nor will ever be again someone just like them.


 Click here to buy Gianna the Great

Ferrante: What do you feel makes your writing original?

Villareal: When I am writing from Gianna’s point of view, my writer’s voice comes out in full force.  I want the reader to experience what Gianna is experiencing as she goes through her journey to find her family history.


 Click here to buy Halito Gianna: The Journey Continues (Gianna the Great Book 2)

Ferrante: What is the most important thing you have learned about writing?

Villareal: The most important thing I have learned is to trust the Lord to give me the insight into what I need to write.  He has given me the gift, now I trust His direction.  Also, never lose faith in yourself or your writing.

Ferrante: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

Villareal: Gianna is a series with a third one in the hands of my agent Jessica Schmeidler from Golden Wheat Literary Agency.  I am more than happy to help other novice writers by reading and reviewing their works.

three random questions

Ferrante: In all your travels, what is the most awe-inspiring bridge you have ever crossed?

Villareal: The bridge that goes into Galveston, Texas.

Ferrante: If you lived on a farm, which chore above all others would you definitely not want to do?

Villareal: I would not want to pick okra without gloves.  I did it once as a girl and suffered for it.

Ferrante: If you had to rearrange the letters of your first name to give yourself a new name, what would your new name be?

Villareal: Racebec

Becky’s Blog 

Gianna the Great will be reviewed on this blog Monday, January 9, 2017.


Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Note: the three random questions are from “Chat Pack – Fun Questions to Spark Conversations”.

Review of Gianna the Great January 09, 2017.

Review of Halito Gianna February 11, 2017.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages