Damned If I Do and Damned If I Don’t

I understand why so many bloggers are refusing to review indie books. You get tired of this kind of stuff. I think I’ll be taking a break soon. It’s hard to be energetic and positive when I get this kind of hate. I’m not sure where she’s reviewed me but I think revenge reviewers should be outted. (I didn’t even review her for cripes sake.) This is what happened. I see why bloggers burn out.

From: Alma Hammond (I won’t post her email)
Sent: September 10, 2017 8:45 AM
To: b.ferrante@tbaytel.net
Subject: New Picture Book to Review

Hi Bonnie,

I popped by your website on a google search and was impressed by your blog of picture books.  I published a picture book a couple months ago that I would love to have you review on your site.  The book, in .pdf form is attached, along with a marketing piece I use to sell the books to stores (currently carried in 8 stores in the USA).

Let me know if you could be interested.

Best,

Alma R. Hammond

RATHER THAN GIVE HER A THREE STAR REVIEW, I SENT THIS MAIL:

On Sun, Sep 10, 2017 at 6:52 PM, B.Ferrante <b.ferrante@tbaytel.net> wrote:

Hi Alma,

There is a lot I liked about the book but I felt the ending was a bit of a let-down. It was a little too passive. I’ll pass on this book but keep me in mind for the next.

Ciao,

Bonnie

TO WHICH SHE REPLIED

Thanks B.  I left a review of Amida as well.  After reading it ( I bought it) I thought, what makes you an expert?  You have no talent in writing children’s books, so unoriginal and stupid frankly.

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Author Jessica Boyd – Three Random Questions Interview

Bear Hockey is Jessica Boyd’s first published book. She worked as a senior creative writer/creative lead for Webkinz World (webkinzworld.com) for eight years. She was inspired by reading to her two and four-year-old daughters to begin her own publishing company, Buttertart Books.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Jessica. Why did you choose hockey as the subject of your first picture book?

Jessica Boyd: The title came first – I loved the sound of ‘Bear Hockey.’ The story told itself! It’s all about having a good time. It doesn’t matter if you happen to be a bear who excels at sports or, like me, happen to be a bear that just likes hanging out with their friends on skates.

Ferrante: How did you decide to use bears and hibernation as the central subject of Bear Hockey? It’s a clever and unusual idea to choose an animal that hibernates throughout the winter.

Boyd: I liked the idea of hibernation being the ending. The whole book reads like an actual hockey game – it’s fun, fast-paced and exciting. Until the last pinecone is scored, that is. At that point, the bears quiet down. They get cleaned up and ready for bed. The final two pages show the bears sleeping, which is the perfect ending to a bedtime story.

Ferrante: Do you feel children today get enough opportunity to play unstructured sports?

Boyd: I think unstructured play in general is something kids don’t get enough of. When I was younger (I was a child of the eighties), I’d roam the neighbourhood with my friends and just kind of meet up with other kids. Games were generally loose and made up of whoever happened to be around at the time. Kids need that freedom and time to use their imagination.  

Ferrante: You didn’t just write a book, you also started a publishing company. I see you used Kickstarter to finance your first enterprise. How has that gone?

Boyd: Kickstarter was a terrific learning experience! The most important thing I discovered was that it’s crucial to tell as many friends/loved ones/acquaintances/well-wishers about your plans ahead of time. People generally want to support your dreams – they just need to know in advance. (This seems obvious, but when you’re in the throes of getting a book written/published, it’s easy to forget the marketing part.)

Ferrante: You have two small girls at home. Do you have a structured time for writing?

Boyd: Not really! My writing time (and the time I use to work on marketing/running Buttertart Books) is when my girls go to bed. Occasionally I get an hour or two on the weekends, but most of my writing is done by the light of my computer screen in my dark office.

Ferrante: I have four adorable hockey cards representing four bears on the team. How can readers obtain these? Are there more?

Boyd: The hockey cards were an add-on we did for Kickstarter. People really liked them! If anyone orders a book through Amazon, I will send along two random hockey cards with it.

Ferrante: Maurizio Curto did a stellar job with the illustrations. How did you connect with this artist?

Boyd: Maurizio and I worked together in Webkinz World. He’s still there, actually! We worked on another book, Forgetful Eddie, a number of years ago. The book turned out really well (and will be one of the next books Buttertart Books publishes), so I knew who to turn to when Bear Hockey needed illustrating! Maurizio has a terrific style and his illustrations worked perfectly with the story.

Ferrante: You have a second book in the works, Duck Fort. Would you like to tell us a little about that?

Boyd: Duck Fort is about a clever duck building a fort to relax in…and then having all her friends drop by and ask for forts of their very own. It’s really funny, but there’s a little bit of a lesson at the end about appreciating our friends and thanking people for their hard work.

Ferrante: Is there any advice you can give to beginning picture book writers?

Boyd: Read, read, read. The more you read picture books, the more you’ll understand what makes them so special. I absolutely LOVE Phoebe Gilman (“Something from Nothing” and any of the Jillian Jiggs series are read quite often around here), Mo Willems (anything he writes is wonderful) and Jeff Kinney (I’m a total Diary of a Wimpy Kid fan). I have a gigantic picture book collection and I love perusing the children’s book section at my local bookstore to see what’s new (one of my youngest daughter’s newest favourites is “No, No Kitten!” by Shelley Moore Thomas).

three random questions

Ferrante: As a child, what was your favourite treat?

Boyd: Anything chocolate. Actually, anything with sugar in it. I have a huge sweet tooth.

Ferrante: What character flaw would you like to get rid of?

Boyd: My dentist would say the huge sweet tooth. I would say my inability to keep my office neat and tidy/my apparent need to work in a chaotic (but creative!) environment.

Ferrante: If you had limitless courage, what would you do in the next few days?

Boyd: Limitless courage? I’d go dancing, probably. Or speak in public! Or go skydiving. Or maybe all three. If my courage is limitless, let’s go big!

Ferrante: Thank you, Jessica, for sharing your writing experience with us. Good luck with Duck Fort.

Bear Hockey will be reviewed Friday, September 8.

https://buttertartbooks.com/

https://www.facebook.com/ButtertartBooks/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/jessica-boyd-3b7a042/

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

Guest Post by Dr. Bob Rich: What Makes a Children’s Book Stand Out?

Bob is a professional grandfather. Any human under 25 years of age may take advantage of the offer of becoming his grandbaby. Therefore, everything he does, including his writing, is aimed at making this planet a better place for its young people. He wants a survivable future, and one worth surviving in. Our global culture is rushing the other way, toward planetary suicide, because it encourages and rewards the worst in human nature: greed, aggression, hate and therefore fear of those slightly different from us. So, Bob is working for culture change: we need to reward and encourage the best in human nature: compassion, generosity, cooperation.

At the time of writing, Bob is the author of 16.5 published books, five of them award-winners. If you want to know how you can have a half-published book, go to http://bobswriting.com/hitandrun.html where you can request a free advance review copy of a story that shows how kids, even those guilty of multiple murder, can be led to decency.

His latest published book is Guardian Angel [link to http://bobswriting.com/guardian.html ], which is the story of a little Australian Aboriginal girl born in 1850: “child of the land, fruit of an evil deed, instrument of love.” One person who leaves a comment here will win a free copy of this book, which has the 5 star reviews pouring in.

What makes a children’s book stand out?

Most children’s books are merely a temporary answer to the question, “Oh, what’ll I buy as a present for little Jimmy?” A book is better than a plastic toy or some battery-operated piece of tomorrow’s trash, but it’s often a “read and forget” exercise. They blend into the crowd of other books of the same kind: fairies or dinosaurs or inanimate objects pretending to be human.

Some books stand out. Something about them makes them remembered, and recommended, and loved. Why?

I’m cursed with a scientific training, so need to make any such question measurable. Here are three measures for your consideration:

Added value

I think the best thing to ever come out of America is the collection of books from Dr. Seuss. My favorite is The Lorax. It is the first-ever bit of greenie propaganda aimed at children, and does it delightfully. Having chanted it with kids so often, I can recite it, word for word. I was once a volunteer at a community school, where the first task the teacher gave was to ask a new person to read The Lorax to some kids. Those who read with verve and enthusiasm were allowed to continue as helpers.

All the other Seuss books have educational value beyond enjoyment. Green Eggs and Ham is about “try it for yourself.” You might want to look at the other ones and see how they each are designed to benefit kids in some way.

The same is true for Roald Dahl’s writing, and for many others that have graced childhoods for generations.

The added value can be humor, education, ethical lessons, empathy, or preferably all of these. I think you’ll find that all the books you remember from your childhood have identifiable qualities beyond entertainment.

I started with oldies, because they have maintained their freshness over the years. I’ve encountered a few new books that should become keepers (if people notice them in today’s avalanche of publications).

A series of illustrated children’s books by Jennifer Poulter qualify. I came across them because she submitted one, Getting Home, [link to https://www.etsy.com/au/listing/484346065/getting-home-a-childrens-picture-book ] for the LiFE Award: Literature for Environment [link to http://bobswriting.com/life.html ], which I administer. This is a story about baby polar bear being separated from mom, who eventually rescues him. The added value is that, while the words of the story are age-appropriate for preschoolers, there are also adult-language notes for the person reading, with facts little kids will find interesting, and which will lead them to environmental consciousness.

Also, keep an eye out for the work of Claudia Marie Lenart **[link to http://claudiamariefelt.com ]. I know about her because I edit books for her publisher, Loving Healing Press [link to http://www.lovinghealing.com ]. The added value in her little books is the beauty of the illustrations. She makes intricate pictures with needle felt, and photographs them. My eight-year-old granddaughter loves the pictures, and therefore enjoys reading the stories to her little brother.

Hidden meaning

The best children’s books are full of content meant for an adult. Such gems apparently skid over the kid’s head without being understood or even noted, but they are seeds of wisdom for the future.

Fifty years ago, when I got married, I found out that my new wife had never heard of Winnie the Pooh. So, each evening, I read her a chapter. This was blessedly before Walt Disney had replaced the delightful original drawings. We both enjoyed the experience: the subtle, understated humor, the hidden little barbs about human nature, the way these make-believe characters provided guidance in morality without preaching.

  1. S. Lewis’s Narnia books are also ostensibly for children, but they are full of meaning and allegory few kids would pick up.

I think this criterion applies to all literature. In fact, it is what distinguishes literature from read-once-and-forget.

Customer obsession

When my little great-grandson Caleb was given I Need a New Bum by Dawn McMillan [link to https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16092697-i-need-a-new-bum ], he loved it so much that his mother was required to read it to him, over and over and over, until she was sick of the sight of it. By then, he could recite every word, and did so with relish.

The Harry Potter books belong here. Blessed if I know why, but people of all ages from about 10 to 110 seem to be obsessed with them. I am glad, because they have led so many youngsters to a love of reading, but personally they do nothing for me. I haven’t managed to finish any of them.

In many other cases, the reason for a book’s success also escapes me, but I am happy to trust the reaction of the target audience: the child. Nothing beats observation for evidence. This is why, when I edit kids’ books, I usually advise my client to try out the draft on real children. Make a powerpoint presentation of the illustrations (if any), go to a nearby school, and read the story to the right age group. Their reaction will tell you everything you need to know.

**I have not read any of Dr. Bob’s books but I am familiar with Claudia Marie Lenart’s work.

Review of Prince Primee which she illustrated.

Author Illustrator Claudia Marie Lenart Three Random Questions Interview

Review of Seasons of Joy: Every Day is For Outdoor Play written and illustrated by Claudia Marie Lenart.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Guest Posts

Guest posts are welcome to a maximum of one per week. Follow my blog to get an understanding of what I publish. A guest post should be 900-1200 words. These are suitable topics:

  • Book reviews of picture books, early chapter books, and young adult books.
  • Information, inspiration, education, and creation pertaining to children and families.
  • An article about writing for children or with children. Make this helpful and relevant to my readers. This should not be an account of your books.
  • Tips for reading to and with children.
  • Anything about writing or researching for writing or children’s books.
  • Working with, helping, educating, or parenting children.Please no religion or politics. Nothing misogynistic, racially divisive, homophobic, or animal exploitation. (Anything about involving children with rescued animals or the outdoors is great.)

The Power of Three – A Numerically Themed Month

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When my littlest granddaughter turned three, I shared numerous books with her about the number three, amazed at how often it appears in literature and culture.

Three is significant in religious stories. Christianity has the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Three Magi bring gifts to the baby Jesus. Jesus prays three times in the Garden of Gethsemane and rises from the dead on the third day. Peter denies Christ three times.

In Taoism, the number three stands for heaven, earth, and human. The Hindus have Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Many Mahayana Sects end their chants with three calls to Amida Buddha. Buddhism has the three gems, The Buddha, The Dharma, and The Sangha.

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The number three is featured in numerous nursery rhymes and songs. The Three Little Kittens lose their mittens. Three Blind Mice lose their tails. The black sheep provides three bags of wool. Sing a Song of Sixpence talks about the King, the Queen, and the maid. Wynken, Blnken, and Nod sing you to sleep. There are three proposed solutions to stop London Bridge from falling down. Little boys and little girls are each made of three things, either frogs and snails and puppy dogs tails or sugar and spice and everything nice.

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Three characters or three events are common in fairytales and folktales. The Queen has three chances to guess Rumpelstiltskin’s name. The woman searching for her husband, in East of the, West of the Moon, gets three gifts. It is on the third cry for help that The Boy Who Cried Wolf is ignored. Jack takes three trips up the beanstalk. The Shoemaker leaves clothes for the elves on the third night. A genie will grant three wishes. Goldilocks invades the home of the three bears. Three Billy Goats Gruff cross the troll’s bridge.

Protagonists often have to answer three riddles correctly. Heroes have to undergo three trials. It is usually the third son who succeeds in the quest. Wikipedia lists twenty fairytales that begin with the words “The Three”.

Stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Even time itself is divided into three parts, the past, the present, and the future.

For the rest of this month, I will be exploring the number three in children’s stories. I have used this myself. The Dawn’s End New Adult books are a trilogy: Nightfall, Poisoned, and Outworld Apocalypse. In the early young adult novella Terror at White Otter Castle, three friends form the triangle of power.

I have also used this in picture books. Rayne Shines uses three complainers, the father, the mother, and Rayne. In No More Red, three negative things happen to Amy before she decides to wish red away. The pattern of three is also used in Too Quiet, Too Noisy.

There’s something satisfying about the number three. Have less and it feels unfinished. Have more and it feels like too much. Three is perfection.

three fingers

Here’s a parenting hack about the number three. If your preschooler is unable to hold down her baby finger with her thumb in order to show three straight fingers, teach her to do this way. You can even say, “being three is okay.”

Read all the books on a rainy day? Get active and play bean toss with painter’s tape on three triangles, rectangles, or squares (not recommended for carpets. Don’t leave it on for more than two days.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Haunted by a Bad Review

(There will not be a recycled humor column today.)

There are a lot of articles out there on how to handle bad book reviews. Generally authors will give three to six points but they almost always include “Don’t respond.” I have stuck to that premise faithfully.

The only time I ever responded was when I realized my book must have been garbled by Caliber when I turned it into an EPUB format. I sent it to the reviewer by email. The unfortunate reviewer thought English was my second language. LOL. I asked her if she would look again at the book in a different format and she agreed. She changed the review to four stars after reading the properly formatted one. I appreciated her kindness.

However, one review has haunted me and another writer has told me I should have responded to the review. I didn’t feel she would be open to what I was trying to say and I didn’t want it to become a flame and bring other people on board. Fat shaming is a volatile subject these days. Perhaps, now that a lot of time is past, she might be more open.

I will explain how this came about and would appreciate your opinion.

I wrote a book called Leya in which a girl was being bullied for her weight by another girl and her sidekick. The bullied girl had friends who stood up for her, in fact one girl almost killed the bully trying to teach her a lesson. The bully never changed and evolved into a truly evil character. I thought my message was stand up for your friends but don’t do it in foolish and dangerous ways. I also thought when this character became super evil it would be totally believable because she was such an awful person as to say mean things about someone’s weight. If she was that horrible as a teen who knows what she would be when she grew up.

Unfortunately, the reviewer took this as an assault on bigger girls. First, let me say, I am no Twiggy. Neither are several members of my family and friends. I would sooner cut out my tongue than belittle someone for their appearance. I was bullied as a child and would never condone, support, or participate in any type of bullying through my writing. Perhaps if this person had read my picture books she would have had a better understanding of who I am.

Maybe I didn’t write it clearly enough. Maybe she had recently been bullied and was feeling overly sensitive. Maybe using verbal bullying as a prediction of future evil was not a good idea. I know that no other reviewer or reader who spoke or wrote to me saw the scene the way she did. A member of my family who has struggled with weight problems her whole life read the book and loved it. When I was invited to a book club of a dozen women, they responded favorably. They understood that I was trying to paint this girl, the bully, as a diehard nasty piece of work as well as emphasize that bystanders need to support the victims of bullies.

Now, if the reviewer had just written this to me in a private message, I would have responded with an apology for perhaps not making my intentions clearly understood. But to put that as a reply to her review would be opening a whole can of worms. However, the review still stands on Goodreads and Amazon and I suspect influences people negatively towards my work and especially toward buying it.

So here’s my question? Should I let sleeping dogs lie? Should I write a private message to her? Should I reply to the review? Should I put a link to this article? What’s your opinion?

Author Rita Blockman – Three Random Questions Interview


Rita Blockman is the co-author of Listen to the Wisest of All. Men and women aged 88 to 104 years old were interviewed for the inspirational stories in this book. They were from differing backgrounds but all were willing to share their life stories, values, and accumulated wisdom.

Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Rita. You spent 2 1/2 years interviewing people for this book. When you began this project, did you think it would take that long?

Rita Blockman: No, I predicted l l/2 years and didn’t realize initially that it takes time to develop a real relationship when you are interviewing people for a book. One has to establish rapport with an individual or couple, establish trust and ensure that what I wrote was clearly what was intended by the interviewee and approved by family and friends.

Ferrante: How much time after the interviews did you spend writing and editing?

Blockman: During the entire 2 l/2 years, we were simultaneously writing, editing and interviewing people. During the last six months our copy editor was meticulously refining the vignettes which are highlighted in the book.

Ferrante: How did you select the people to interview?

Blockman: It was our intent from the beginning to select people from different backgrounds because interviewing people from different ethnic groups, different religious backgrounds (or agnostics) and different socioeconomic levels, we felt would be more interesting to our readers. We followed different leads from several sources to find individuals in the age range in which we were interested. It is our feeling that each person (or couple) brought to life a universal theme of human nature which is actually a microcosm of the world in some sense.

Ferrante: What was the most difficult about writing this kind of book? What was the most rewarding?

Blockman: It was difficult to ask some questions which I was very curious about such as wanting to know if different individuals had “death anxiety” because of the advanced age of our interviewees. Once I got over the fear of this type of questioning, I was pleasantly surprised that it appeared that the more satisfied an individual was with their life, the less they thought about subjects such as this. The most rewarding aspect of writing this book was it made us conscious of how we wanted to live our life which included living with more intention and realizing the limits of status, ego, and materialism in the final analysis. Although I know this intellectually, it was refreshing to hear our beloved interviewees talk about different topics: how they valued different things in each decade, how they developed an optimism in spite of physical limitations and aging issues, how being poor “has nothing to do with money”, how important nature was and how it nurtures your soul, and how meaningful traditions make lasting impressions and generational memories.

Ferrante: Many interviewees had similar beliefs and attitudes. Did anyone ever say anything that really surprised you, that was unexpected or unusual?

Blockman: One individual stressed how important he thought it was to surprise people when they least expect it. He felt (and I do now) that it is much better not to wait until someone dies to send flowers, but to anticipate the needs of others and find things that might be meaningful to them when there isn’t necessarily a holiday associated with it either. This individual would surprise people with a rose from his garden when they arrived at his door. It might seem like a little thing, but it brought joy to a lot of people.  I have followed his advice and love doing this and love the feeling it gives me when I surprise someone. I actually have fun thinking about this type of thing during the year when the hustle and bustle of holidays isn’t an issue and one can focus on specific people at various times.

Ferrante: A common thread in the book is the importance of family. Do you feel that has changed for this generation?

Blockman: Most definitely. People engaged in conversations more, enjoyed family dinners more while cooking from scratch and overcame obstacles such as the Great Depression by banding together. There wasn’t as much mobility among families as there is today, so families had more day to day exposure to one another which led to celebrating more important events together. The lack of social media helped promote this type of interaction among families in my opinion.

Ferrante: Tell me about the photographs in the book.

Blockman: The photographs were purposely taken in black and white to reflect the period in which the individuals lived. We wanted the photographer to capture people in a spontaneous way and try to capture the “essence” of the individual and his or her interests.

Ferrante: One of the keys to longevity seems to be making oneself of service to others. For example Lloyd Dees serves as a parish visitor who calls on shut-ins, patients in the hospital, and people in grief. He also visits his homebound sister every day. The amazing thing is that he is 88 years old. Do you feel being of service to others helps people to live longer, happier, and healthier lives? 

Blockman: Mr. Dees demonstrated in his actions and good deeds that spiritual maturity is giving to others and letting go of your own wants and needs to some degree. I do think when we look outside ourselves and meet the needs of others, we feel better, and it strengthens our own sense of self.

Ferrante: one thing that struck a chord with me is when Lucy Gray spoke about the loss of innocence for children. They are exposed to so much, so early, that childhood is severely shortened. How would you recommend children’s innocence be protected without exposing them to risk of exploitation?

Blockman: I attended a lecture last night in which an older gentleman described an idyllic childhood for all children. He was getting ready to introduce an artist who had drawn pictures of her recollections of visiting her grandparents during the summer on a farm. I liked what he said…”Every child should have the opportunity to run and absorb nature, play hide and seek, explore, pretend, draw without specific instructions, listen to good music, learn how to plant flowers and vegetables, interact with people of all ages and be free of worry. “ Things are very structured for children now, and children are facing much trauma and pressure in our contemporary world which forces them to grow up prematurely and miss out on the innocence and beauty of childhood.

 

Ferrante: Joe Hamburg “stressed how important it was to be a good person: to have good morals and to be kind, understanding, helpful, charitable, and also to have an appreciation for the arts.” How do you feel the arts fit in with being “a good citizen of the world.” To feel children today are exposed to enough arts?

Blockman: Our society, in my opinion, views the arts as a frill or extracurricular activity. Art, in its many forms, reflects the human spirit in a way that can’t be duplicated in any other way. It enhances people’s creativity, allows them a safe way in which to express themselves and share their perspective. It is just as important as any subject in our educational system today, and yet it is being cut out of every program because of lack of funds. In addition to the soulfulness of any artistic endeavor for individuals, it helps us understand our world historically and culturally. I always love the feeling I get when I go to a museum and participate in a docent tour where a small group of people give their perception of a painting. Often times each person has a completely different perception which is so enlightening. I think this type of experience broadens one (and as Joe said makes us better citizens) so that we don’t get too narrow minded in our views about things. It also helps us participate in the world at large which teaches us how to “feel” and appreciate good works of art which reflect  the human condition in the most poignant way.

Ferrante: if you were being interviewed for this book, what would be the most important thing you would want to say?

Blockman: Although it might sound trite, I would have enveloped myself more in nature and offered more of this to our children, taken more time out to meditate on how to live with intention, actually visit and learn more from people from different cultures and backgrounds and never do anything that didn’t feel authentic to me.

(From a Bit of Banter, the Game That Gets You Talking)

Ferrante: What song do you wish you had written?

Blockman: A song about the beautiful insights that are gained and sensitivity to others —even when emotional deprivation is pervasive in one’s early life.

 

Ferrante: What is the oldest object in your home?

Blockman: It is an old clock on our mantle that my husband and I purchased 45 years ago from a gentleman who was passionate about clocks. We associate the beauty of the clock and its chime with the beauty of the interaction we had with this gentleman.

Ferrante: What food could you absolutely not live without?

Blockman: Chocolate, without question! And, especially chocolate of the finest caliber!

Ferrante: In that, we are definitely agreed. Thank you for participating in this interview series..

 

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Women in War and More – Author Joan Leotta Three Random Questions Interview

Joan Leotta has been playing with words on page and stage since childhood in Pittsburgh. She is a writer, story performer and lifelong beachcomber whose own dad got up early to hunt shells with her.

Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Joan. You seem to be a rather eclectic author, romance, mystery, essay, poems, short stories, and children’s books. Do you have a favorite type of writing?

Joan Leotta:  My favorite kind of writing is the one I am doing at the time. That’s not very informative, except to say I simply love to write. However, I write for children as a high calling—what is done for children, lasts. Poetry, the same. Touches the heart. I also read just as widely as I write—more so. I write non-fiction in the form of journalism (health and food) though I have , in the past,  written a travel book and many travel articles as well.

Ferrante: How do you decide what type of writing you going to do next? Does the topic choose the style or vice versa?

Leotta: The topic and the style need to be on the same track. I look at a topic and say—wow! Then my head begins to shape that WOW into a story or a poem, or perhaps I want to track it as an article. The idea is that WOW is something I want to share with others.

Ferrante: This blog focuses on children’s books so let’s talk a little about your picture books, Whoosh!, Summer in a Bowl, Rosa and the Red Apron, and Rosa’s Shell, which celebrate food and family. Why did you decided to focus on that topic? What do you hope to get across to your readers?
  

Leotta:  I want readers to see that ordinary family moments bring great joy. Of course, with my own background (Italian-American) food is often a part of that. My dad is the dad in stories, my Aunt Mary, the Aunt in Summer, a version of my Mom (she was a bit complex) is the Mom in Rosa and the Red Apron and while my Grandma could not sew, she gave me many intangible gifts, including a love of story, that have enriched my entire life.

Ferrante: The family in Rosa and the Red Apron are of African descent but you don’t seem to be. Did you choose this or did the illustrator? Do you try to include diversity in all of your books?

Rosa and the Red Apron was reviewed on this blog April 28, 2017 LINK

Leotta: Actually, they are not supposed to be of African descent in particular—the idea was to make them ethnically ambiguous. They could be anyone whose coloring is deep olive or brown: Some Hispanics, some East Asians, some African-Americans, some Middle Eastern folks and some Italian-Americans(old family photos of  mine show people of that coloring ). I am often asked, “What are you?” and I occasionally answer, “human, how about you?”

These ordinary experiences are not the particular “property” of any one ethnic group—all want, need and take joy in loving families. Yet, there are not many books out there showing such for anyone not blonde unless the characters are animals. I hoped Rosa would fill that gap. As a story performer, I often tell tales from many ethnicities, but on the same topic, subtly showing my audiences that each group has an interest in same basic things and each has value.

Ferrante: Your Legacy of Honor for book romance/mystery series features strong Italian-American women during the time of war. Tell us a little about the series. Why did you choose this topic?

Leotta: I grew up hearing stories of things my family did during wartime to support the efforts of the USA—both in combat (my father and uncles) and on the home front. I wanted to tell the stories of the valiant women. Desert Breeze wanted a set of four stories, so I started with WWII, then Korea, then Vietnam (where the woman serves in the war zone as a nurse!) and then Desert Storm (where women hold several roles, Journalists, home support and more). These stories are very close to home for me.

 

 

Ferrante: What kind of research did you to in order to write the books with authenticity?

Leotta: Research, research, research! I love research. As I shaped each story, I combed through books, newspaper articles, and sought first person accounts from people who lived through the eras in question so that details of things going on, places, would be accurate. For the first one, Giulia is the Italian spelling of a friend, named “Julia” who told me her story of leaving home and marrying a man who was not Italian-American. The research on the Wilmington shipyards—well, that was a lot of fun and I was already familiar with the resources. I had written several short stories about Wilmington history that took prizes from the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society. An elder in my church provided me with his slides of Korea from when he was stationed there and a lot of anecdotes that appear in the book as things that happen to my main characters. For A Bowl of Rice, the Vietnam tale, I drew on the experiences of my former roommate,  who was a nurse in Vietnam. I read about the ways in which women journalists were working during the 90s and then also drew on Civil War history for the last book as well as lots of maps and a couple of recent visits to Rome to craft that tale.

Ferrante: What type of essays do you write? Are they about personal experiences or current events?

Leotta: I write personal experience essays. My work has been published by Chicken Soup for the Soul, Sassee magazine and SKIRT.

Ferrante: Are you working on more than one thing at a time? Or do you like to focus intently on a single piece of writing?

Leotta: I have a short attention span so I am always working on more than one thing. Often I am preparing something for a performance while writing as well. I used to write a lot of business articles. I kept only one client when we moved to North Carolina (that was my version of retirement) and now fill my time with poems (am revising at least one or starting one or both at all times). I am deadline driven (journalist habit) so my large projects are spaced out. When I get “stuck” I take a walk and tackle something in another genre.

Ferrante: You identify as a “story performer.” Tell us a little about what you do.

Leotta: I go to schools, libraries, and festivals and perform stories (often folk tales, sometimes notable women from history) as one woman shows. I love interaction, so I try to include my audience as much as possible. Even if the main stories are serious, I try to find places for humor too.

Ferrante: What is your latest publication and why do you think it’s worth buying?

Leotta: Rosa’s Shell is the latest—buy it for a good beach week tale for little ones. Great father-child bonding too.

Ferrante: What is the best advice you could give to a beginning writer based on your own experiences?

Leotta:  Pay attention to craft, look at rejections as stepping stones, and persist.

CLICK ON THE BOOK COVERS FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO BUY THE BOOK.

Ferrante: If you could invent a brand-new flavor of ice cream or sorbet, what would you choose?

Leotta: Lime vanilla swirl

Ferrante: If you could learn any dance perfectly, traditional or ethnic, which one would you choose?

Leotta: I can’t do any dance at all—I am without rhythm. Hmm, that makes this one soooooo tough. Anything I can dance with my husband maybe just the simple waltz so I wouldn’t step on him. (He is a good dancer)

Ferrante: If you were a colour what colour would you be? Why?

Leotta: I like blue the best, it’s my favorite. So I guess the blue of the sky so I could bask in the love of the sun and make my lap a play space for clouds

Ferrante: Thank you for participating in this interview series. Good luck with your new publications.

Joan Leotta’s Social Media links.

www.joanleotta.wordpress.com  (A series there on the birth of a picture book and photos of  the real Aunt Mary)

@beachwriter12 , Joan’s twitter handle

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

Writing/Righting History & Getting Toddlers to Eat – Author Delin Colón Three Random Questions Interview

delinglasses1aDelin Colón is a writer and freelance editor with a background in clinical psychology.

Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Delin. You have had a number of career paths. Tell us a little about them and how they led to your writing.

Delin Colón: Thank you, Bonnie. Actually, I wrote my first poem at the age of eight (in 1958). Several were published in minor literary magazines during my high school and college years. Then came essays and short stories.

While I had majored in French and French literature in my undergraduate years, I turned to clinical psychology in graduate school which combined my love of research and working with people, and led to counseling children and adults in a variety of clinical settings such as psychiatric hospitals, halfway houses, walk-in clinics and a juvenile detention center. This background led to a job as a technical writer for Sociological Abstracts. I loved the challenge of reducing an experiment or study down to four sentences describing the essence of the article.

A decade or so later, as the co-owner and manager of a stairbuilding company, I saw a need in the marketplace for a clearinghouse of all kinds of writers and formed a company that matched freelance writers with jobs. But the real impetus for publishing my first book, Rasputin and the Jews, came from reading the memoirs of my great-great uncle who spent a decade as Gregory Rasputin’s secretary/manager.

Ferrante: You have written two very different books, a historical nonfiction called Rasputin and the Jews and a picture booked titled Zeke Will Not Eat. Let’s talk about the first one for a bit. How much research did that involve? Did you have the plot and then do the research or did you discover the plot as you researched?

Colón: Actually, Rasputin and the Jews: A Reversal of History is the culmination of 15 years of researching the writings of people who knew Rasputin. My father had always told me that his great uncle, Aron Simanovitch, had been Rasputin’s secretary. For years I tried to research my ancestor but with little luck until the late 1990s when I found, on the internet, an out-of-print copy of Simanovitch’s memoirs in French. It did not seem to have been professionally edited at all, as there was a lot of repetition and poor organization of the manuscript. However, what struck me about it, first of all, was that my great-great uncle was one of the few Jews permitted to live outside Russia’s Pale of Settlement where most Jews were confined. But even more importantly, his memoirs conveyed a completely different image of Rasputin than history and myth have recorded.

My second book was my English translation, with historical annotations, of Simanovitch’s memoirs, titled Rasputin: The Memoirs of His Secretary by Aron Simanovitch.

Ferrante: How do you organize your research and make it easy to find something you read later on? I read that you worked on the book for 15 years. You must have been buried in documents.

Colón: Most of the books I read about Rasputin propagated the demonic myth that had been fabricated by the Russian nobility to discredit him. But there were quite a few quotes and memoirs from those who knew him intimately, on a nearly daily basis (such as my great-great uncle and Maria Rasputin), that told the story of a humanitarian (who, okay, loved to party) who, contrary to government policy and to the wrath of the aristocracy, advocated equal rights for oppressed minorities as well a voice in government for all citizens.

With regard to organizing the research, I used a simple index card file with the subject and date of the quote or event at the top, the quote in the body of the card, and the title, author and page of the resource information at the bottom. The cards were then organized by subject matter and then chronologically within each chapter’s subject.

Ferrante: Can you give us a sentence or two about Rasputin and the Jews?

Colón: Rasputin and The Jews: A Reversal of History is the product of research providing evidence that the Russian nobility, clergy and bureaucracy conspired in a smear campaign against Rasputin because they saw him as dangerous:

  1. for advocating equal rights for Jews (in opposition to the laws restricting their lives)
  2. for the popularity of his upbeat sermons of a loving God (in contrast to the fear of God preached in the Russian Orthodox Church)
  3. for being anti-war and preaching peace during World War I.
  4. and for believing that all citizens should have a say in government…the biggest threat to the nobility.

Ferrante: Why did you challenge the tradition beliefs about Rasputin?

Colón: History is written by the victors, not by the common man.  It became clear to me that Rasputin became a collateral victim of, among other things, the virulent anti-Semitism of the aristocracy, bureaucracy and clergy. My research revealed that it was not only my ancestor’s experience that Rasputin was a generous man, a healer and a progressive humanitarian, but that others who knew him well witnessed the same traits, refuting the demonic image. For me, it was a matter of righting a century-old injustice. Interestingly, Rasputin and The Jews led me to a correspondence with Rasputin’s great-great granddaughter in France. She tours Europe and Russia lecturing to dispel the myths about Rasputin.

Click on the cover to buy Rasputin and the Jews

Ferrante: Your latest book is a picture book for children, Zeke Will Not Eat.  Why did you choose this subject?

Colón: I’m in the process of writing a series of books for 2 to 6 year-olds, addressing typical toddler issues. Zeke Will Not Eat is the second one. I’ve done some research on the most common problems parents of this age group face and not eating is high on the list. The first book, Katy Rose Likes To Say NO!, addresses that stage where children assert their independence and establish themselves as separate from their parents by saying “no.”

Click on the picture to buy Katy Rose Likes to Say NO!

Ferrante: Did the technique used in the book come from personal experience?

Colón: Yes it did. It was a technique I devised for myself as a child, using my imagination to make mealtime more interesting for myself. It was completely internal and not something I mentioned to my parents or siblings.

Ferrante: Do you have any other tips for parents having mealtime difficulties with a child?

Colón: At the beginning of each of these little books, there is a note to parents explaining the behavior and its purpose in the child’s development. With Zeke, I note that, barring medical issues, there are a variety of reasons for a child’s unwillingness to sit down at the table for a meal, from filling up on snacks and drinks too close to mealtime, to feeling excluded from the conversation, or simply exercising newly found manipulative abilities.

Click on the cover to buy Zeke Will Not Eat

In Katy Rose, my note to parents stresses that it is not only normal, but developmentally necessary for children to go through a “no” phase in order to assert themselves in the world and establish a Self, an identity separate from their parents. As powerless beings subject to adult authority, “no” is often a child’s first taste of power and individuality. But when it becomes routine defiance or is hurtful to friends, it is an opportunity to teach compassion and the unfortunate consequences of negativity. There is also discussion on when it is important to say “no.” One way to avoid “no” is to make statements rather than ask questions, reducing the possibility of options. Rather than asking, “Do you want to go for a walk?” saying, “Let’s go…” or “Now we’ll go…” assumes the event will occur and doesn’t give an option.

Ferrante: The illustrations seemed odd at first glance until I read how they were done using the same 150 shapes arranged and rearranged to create pictures. Why did you choose this technique?

Colón: I grew up in a small town on the east coast that was essentially an artists’ colony. My mother is an artist and we were always given art projects to do, in a variety of media. One of the most famous artists in our town was Ben Shahn. His teenage daughter, Susie, happened to be visiting at my friend’s house when I was about 7 years old. She sat us kids down on the floor, cut a huge variety of shapes from construction paper and had us arrange the shapes into an image on a blank piece of paper. It was like doing a jigsaw puzzle with no ‘right’ outcome; just whatever our imaginations could conjure.

I’ve been enamored of this technique ever since, and have a website of other images I’ve created, in addition to the book illustrations. (http://delin-colon.pixels.com/)

I have nothing in mind when cutting the pieces of varying shapes, lengths and sizes. The challenge is in turning them into illustrations that convey the text. One image might take a couple of days to a week to produce. By the way, all of the pieces used in Katy Rose were also used in Zeke, with a few dozen more added for the latter. Instructions for doing such a parent-child art project are at the back of each book. Alternatively, a child could color in the black and white images, as one would in a coloring book.

Ferrante: I don’t think people realize how challenging it is until they try it.

What are you working on now?

Colón: I’m conjuring the third book in the series which will be about telling the truth, a more difficult and abstract concept than the first two. Interestingly, my research revealed a study showing that children are more likely to tell the truth after hearing positive stories (like George Washington being praised for admitting he chopped down the cherry tree) than they are after hearing stories with negative consequences for lying (like The Boy Who Cried Wolf or Pinocchio

In addition, I have half a dozen rough chapters of an existential coming-of-age novel illustrating how Self and Identity are shaped and the conundrum that there is no absolute Self without outside influences.

Ferrante: Interesting. That’s similar to Buddhism.

Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like to share with my readers?

Colón: This is the most thorough and in-depth interview I’ve done, with questions that pertain specifically to my work, as opposed to the general, stock questions that others ask every writer. I’ve really had to think about them. I just hope that your readers find some of my work of interest.

Ferrante: I’m sure parents of toddlers will appreciate your tips.

Three Random Questions:

Ferrante: What was the craziest thing you ever bought?

Colón:   I’ve never been a lover of shopping and have generally stuck to practical items but several decades ago I was intrigued by an ad for an electric device that could be set at various brain wave frequencies to induce alertness, memory, sleep, creativity, or relaxation. I was especially interested in increasing the Theta waves for creativity. At different times, I tried each different setting, wearing dark goggles that pulsed light flashes at different rates and head phones that played tones in the desired frequencies. They all tended to produce the same result for me: I’d fall asleep and have some very bizarre dreams. Not long after, I’d be awakened by one of my teenagers asking when dinner would be ready. Frankly, I never noticed any greater creativity, fatigue or relaxation in the ensuing meal preparations.

Ferrante: In your opinion, what song has the most beautiful chorus?

Colón: That’s a tough one. I guess the one closest to my heart would be Helen Reddy’s “You and Me Against the World:”

You and me against the world,
Sometimes it seems like you and me against the world,
When all the others turn their backs and walk away,
You can count on me to stay.

It describes perfectly the close relationship I had with my older son, a musician who, even at the age of 27, before his death eight years ago, proudly described himself as “mama’s boy.”

The song continues:

And when one of us is gone,
And one of us is left to carry on,
Then remembering will have to do,
Our memories alone will get us through
Think about the days of me and you,
Of you and me against the world.

Ferrante: Oh, I am so sorry. I can’t imagine losing my son. My deepest condolences.

Last question. Do you like your first name? What would you like to have been called?

Colón: I do like my first name (accent on the second syllable: de-LIN) mostly because I created it. It is not the name on my birth certificate, but a mash-up of my names that I’ve been using for over 50 years. I was given a Hebrew name, Chana Dvora, and though I like it, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, especially with the guttural “ch.” But if I had it to do over, from scratch, I always thought “Kate” suited me.

Again, Bonnie, thank you so much for this opportunity. I don’t think I’ve ever given such a heartfelt interview … probably because I was never asked such well-considered questions.

Ferrante: Thank you. I try to make my interviews unique to the interviewee. You’ve shared a lot of information with us. This is, by far, the longest interview I’ve printed but it is chock full of value and cool ideas. Thank you for participating.

Zeke Will Not Eat was reviewed on this blog March 20, 2017.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Three random questions are from a Bit of Banter, the Game That Gets You Talking)

Guest Post: What’s the Motive?

 

Tuesday’s Tales: Bonnie Ferrante

 

I believe a positive attitude is essential for happiness. This includes being mindful and grateful. In Buddhism, there is a saying, “We make the world with our minds.” I could write an entire book on what that means but basically what we focus on influences the internal and external world in which we live. I keep this in mind in my writing for adults, young people and children. I was a grade school teacher for 33 years, 10 of those years as teacher librarian. I believe it is important to create picture books that help them develop interpersonal skills and internal strength.

Read more at

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!

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 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.”

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 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 (http://bit.ly/1TC8udQ). 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: http://bit.ly/1pfM8hq). 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 (http://bit.ly/1pjF4Fn). 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.

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 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

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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