Black Balloons. Recycled Sundays.

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I’ve been thinking about the end of the line.  Not that my family is driving me any crazier than usual, just that I’ve been exposed to too many black balloons.  A visual oxymoron if there ever was one.

Over the last few years, numerous friends and acquaintances have hit the big 4 0, some the bigger 5 0.  They often receive salutations stating they are, “Over the Hill.”  I wonder.  When I’m forty, I will still have two-thirds of a mortgage to pay off, two children to raise through their teens and help with post-secondary education, and more than half my job to finish before retirement.  I thought “Over the hill” meant I could coast for a while!

I sincerely hope it doesn’t mean things go downhill from then on.  I’m already aware that there is little I can do to stop the onslaught of aging.  Every time my husband comes home from the barber, I am reminded of the ticking clock.  For some reason, sitting in the barber chair gives him more grey hair.

My memory isn’t what it used to be, but then it never was much to begin with.  Still, I used to forget people’s names eight to ten years after loosing contact with them.  This shrunk to four or five years, then two or three.  Before I knew it, I was forgetting the names of co-workers and neighbours in one season (winter counts as two seasons – early winter and I can’t believe it’s still here winter).  Now, after a long weekend, I have to look up my boss’s name on his door plate.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes believed the mind had a finite space for memory, (like a computer).  As the years pass, I seem to be downgrading to a smaller and smaller hard drive.  I can’t control whether my brain is on SAVE or DELETE.  SEARCH FOR FILES keeps coming up CONNECTION LOST.  Files are cluttered with junk I can’t erase, like the theme songs for The Flintstones, The Beverly Hillbillies, Gilligan’s Island, and Green Acres, none of which I’ve watched during my children’s lifetimes!  Important new information, on the other hand, such as my bank PIN number, the difference between RAM and ROM, and my children’s shoe size can not be stored for later retrieval.  I often feel that my brain is becoming as obsolete as the old PET computers, large, slow, and taking up space with very little inside.  Not at all what I expected would come age.

Some societies venerate the elderly for their experience and wisdom.  I’m a little relieved ours doesn’t since they might suspect I’m a fraud.  I’ll never be one of those senior citizens who can tell you what the weather was like a certain summer 30 years ago and the world events at the time.  By March, I can barely remember ever experiencing a summer.

Perhaps I have selective memory.  My husband thinks so.  I can remember exactly how many times he has thrown wet items into the bottom of the laundry hamper in spite of my requests.  I can remember how much money he had at the beginning of the week and what he was “supposed” to spend it on.  I can remember what he gave me for my last eighteen birthdays and whether he picked it out himself.  I can always remember how many days it took between his agreeing to do a house chore and its completion.

Still, I’m holding together a little better than my friend I will call Max.  He offered to drive the car around to the front of the plaza so that his wife would not have to carry her parcels through the parking lot.  He brought the children out to the van, loaded them up, and drove home, whereupon the oldest child asked, “Where’s Mom?”

After all is said and done, it is more important what people remember of me after I’ve crossed the final hill than whether I mastered my instant teller.  I hope they remember me with a smile.  Just to make sure, I’m looking for the perfect one-liner to leave ’em laughing.  What could be better than a joke for my final words?  An epitaph can be a perpetual one-liner, something like, “I’d rather be in Paris,” but it’s best said aloud.  One problem though.  What if some eager intern revives me and I have to do it all again?  I might not have a back-up joke.  Oh well, I can always claim I forgot.

Published 1992 in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News.

    

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Introducing Super Sporty by Ellie Firestone. Booke Review.

This is an action-packed story interspersed with odd unnecessary moments, such as the first page and a half wherein the Sporty and Harley ride the elevator and have breakfast. It is the kind of tale that an unsophisticated reader might enjoy especially if they like space monsters, horses and superheroes. It is quite similar to the stories my junior grade students used to write for me.

The reader must have wide-open acceptance to the unexpected and the unpredictable. First of all, the horses talk and behave like humans, which is fine. Then suddenly the horses have hidden wings and fly. Okay. Then the new horses are actually disguised aliens. Then the good horses can shoot beams of light from their hooves (that is actually a force field) and from the other hoof, a pair of wings (to attach to the injured horse). It is hard to build suspense when there seems to be no limit to the abilities of the superhero. The reader has absolutely no doubt that the horses will defeat the aliens and prevent the invasion.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem with this book is the illustrations. I don’t mean to be cruel but they honestly seem like a child drew them. The horses are barely recognizable and there are visible marker lines. It would be better to take the illustrations out and put in a couple of photographs of horses Photoshopped to look like basketball players or pay someone to draw a few good pictures.

  

This book has potential and will probably be enjoyed by some readers but it needs editing and entirely new illustration.

I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Ah Ha! by Jeff Mack

 Click here to buy Ah Ha!

There are only two there are only two phrases repeatedly used in this clever book, “Ah ha!” and “Aahh!” but plot and emotion are clearly shown through the illustrations.

Frog is just trying to relax in the pond. A boy tries to catch him with a jar, and the turtle, alligator, and flamingo try to eat the frog. Every time he escapes some dire fortune, he finds himself in another life or death situation. The story goes full cycle. When the boy catches the frog in a jar at the beginning, the dog accidentally releases the frog. At the end of the story the frog is cornered by the three animal predators until the boy catches him in the jar again. As the boy carries him away, the frog utters a new phrase, “Ha ha!” The reader assumes that the frog’s situation is almost as bad as being eaten by the predators until the clever frog pushes the lid off the jar and escapes.

Young readers will find this book both suspenseful and humorous. Adults will appreciate the clever chain of events and the inventive use of vocabulary, or lack thereof. It is a book that must be read aloud with great expression. Both phrases, “Aahh!” and “Ah ha!” have different meaning, depending on the context.

Illustrations are double-page, full-color, and expressive. The cheeky personality of the frog comes through loud and clear as does his terror at almost being eaten.

While this is, at first glance, a light-hearted and clever chain of unlikely events, the book does bring home the message that surviving as a little frog is challenging and requires both wit and courage. It encourages discussion on the morality of capturing live creatures for amusement, courage and determination, the food chain, and the importance of never giving up. For an adult, this book is a gentle reminder that life is short and unpredictable. Live in the moment; take the opportunity when it is available to lie back and say, “Aahh!”

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

My First Bundle and My Fav Series Reads

I seldom read a series of books until it is complete. I often don’t remember the first book by the time the last one comes out. I started R. R. Martin’s books a while back and realized I would never remember all the characters and complex plots by the time he ended the series. Now, though, we have the TV series to help, although the plot has varied from the books.

I love getting a whole series at once and binge reading. So, I decided to provide a bundle of my Dawn’s End trilogy for like-minded readers. “A bundle of the three Dawn’s End fantasy/adventure/romance/apocalypse novels. Two generations of women are called upon to save a fantastical land but, in the end, they may need saving themselves.”

Buy Link – Dawn’s End Trilogy: Nightfall – Poisoned – Outworld Apocalypse

For those unfamiliar with the series, I have book trailers on youtube. Click on the covers to watch.

     

It’s a steal at the price and I hope to reach a new audience. It will be interesting to see how bundled sales compare to individual.

Some of my favorite binge sets are: (Click on the covers if you want more info.)

What are your favorites?

    

              

Watch Out for the Jumping Cactus! Not Kidding: Illustrator Guy Porfirio Three Random Questions Interview

Guy Porfirio has illustrated over 18 picture books. Grandpa’s Little One was #3 on the New York Times Best Selling Children’s Books, and Junk Man’s Daughter was featured in the Bank Street College of Education’s Best Children’s Books of the Year list in 2007. His latest release is Jump.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Guy. Is your newest book, Jump, the first one that you have also authored? It’s about a cactus, correct? Could you tell us how you came to choose this character and a little about the story?

Guy Porfirio: Yes, I have illustrated many picture books, but “Jump!” is my first as Author/Illustrator.

The story for Jump originally came to me while visiting relatives in Tucson Arizona when I was 12 years old. Having grown up in Chicago, the idea of cactus was as foreign to me as thin crust pizza. Be that as it may, I was willing to accept both ideas with an open mind. That is, until we took a family hike through the desert where my aunt turned to me and said, “Watch out for the jumping cactus.” What? At that point I was ready to be airlifted out. I remember thinking, I didn’t sign up for this. No one told me that there would be deadly cactus parts flying through the air. Whose idea was this anyway? The worst a plant could do in Chicago is give me poison ivy. Let’s go home, I’ll take my chances.

Years later, and now living in Tucson, I decided to take a walk through the desert to mull over several story ideas I had been considering. I made it back to my studio unscathed — but not alone. A small cholla, aka, jumping cactus, had somehow stuck to my shoe and followed me home. My aunt’s words came flooding back. It occurred to me as I studied the stowaway, perhaps jumping cactus is just misunderstood. Everyone knows nothing ever happens in the desert. What if jumping cacti are just plain bored? What if they just want a change of scenery? What if they just need a vacation once and a while? …Light bulb! New story idea!

I named the main character Barb for obvious reasons. Barb is a clever cactus with a great sense of adventure and plenty of spine. All she wants is an adventure. But, in the desert, nothing ever happens, and nothing every changes. Barb sees an opportunity. She holds her breath, takes the leap of a lifetime, and never looks back… until she realizes that having a great adventure is not that great if there is no one to share it with. Which is when things really get interesting.

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 Click here to buy Jump!

Ferrante: That’s hilarious. Tell us a little about your writing process from the perspective of an illustrator.

Porfirio: Through my years of illustrating books I’ve trained myself to look for the less obvious – to put an unexpected spin on things. Whatever the most interesting aspect of a character or a scene may be, it’s even better when it comes from a surprising point of view. When I see a thing, or have a thought that strikes me in a funny way (and just about everything does – just ask my family), I sort of come up with a quick back-story complete with dialog snippets and voices to go along with them. If they crack me up, I’ll share them with my wife. I figure if I can make her laugh I just may have something.

Then, I start making lists. I write down everything I can think of that pertains to the character, its situation, its goal, why it can’t reach its goal, and how it reaches its goal anyway — you know the drill. Then, I start sketching scenes. When I get stuck sketching, I switch to writing. When I get stuck writing, I switch back to sketching. If all else fails, I take a long walk.

Ferrante: Grandpa’s Little One, written by Billy Crystal and illustrated by you, was #3 on the New York Times Best Selling Children’s Books, a phenomenal accomplishment. Did you collaborate?

Porfirio: Collaborating with Billy Crystal was quite an amazing experience. Billy was very easy to work with. I learned a lot about the creative process though our collaboration. We communicated through emails and phone conversations. I’d send him sketches and we’d discuss them over the phone, batting new ideas around till the story was working just right. I was able to meet Billy in Phoenix while he was doing his 700 Sundays show tour. I’m proud to say that I actually made him laugh a couple of times through the process, a true badge of honor.

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 Click here to buy Grandpa’s Little One

Ferrante: You have illustrated several books for Harper Collins but you have worked for other publishers as well. How does this come about?

Porfirio: I’ve had publishers call me seemingly out-of-the-blue, or as a result of my agent’s work, or, having one of my promotional post cards come across their desk at just the right moment. The trick is to get your work out where it can be seen. Maintain a website, send out promotional materials, be on social media. Just keep putting out your best work on a regular basis and people will notice.

Ferrante: Good advice. Do you set aside time to free draw daily?

Porfirio: Always, no matter what I’m working on. It’s very important to make deadlines, but it’s also important to keep the creative river flowing. I think there is a real need to keep a sense of wonder and possibility while working on anything creative. The obvious answers to concept and composition will always be at the shallow end of the creative ocean. You’ve got to swim out a ways to get the good stuff. Sketching and drawing unrelated pieces helps the process along. Being creative feeds on being creative.

Ferrante: You illustrated Junk Man’s Daughter, released in 2007 and written by Sonia Levitin. It was chosen as one of Bank Street College of Education’s Best Children’s Books of the Year. Could you tell us about the book and this award?

Porfirio: Junk Man’s Daughter is the story of Hanna and her family emigrating from Germany, because, as Papa explained, “In America, there are streets of gold!” Papa couldn’t find work in America, and the family’s hopes and dreams vanished. Until Hanna saw something winking out of the snow, which turned out to be bottle caps, milk bottles, soda bottles, bent nails, and tin cans — the beginnings of a thriving junk business.

Both sets of my grandparents lived similar stories to this. Understanding and identifying with this project came pretty easy for me. I worked hard to imbue the artwork with a sense of era and hardship.  The book has done very well.

The Bank Street College of Education’s Best Children’s Books of the year includes more than 600 titles chosen by the Children’s Book Committee as the best of the best published in any given year. Committee members consider literary quality and excellence of presentation as well as the potential emotional impact of the books on young readers. Other criteria include credibility of characterization and plot, authenticity of time and place, age suitability, positive treatment of ethnic and religious differences, and the absence of stereotypes.

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 Click here to buy Junkman’s Daughter (Tales of Young Americans)

Ferrante: Which book was the most challenging to illustrate?

Porfirio: Actually, my first book dummy was the most challenging book project I’ve ever worked on, period! I had such a hard time getting used to working within the 32 page, 16 spread format. Planning the scenes. Deciding what to illustrate and what to leave out. How to introduce characters, how to lead the viewer’s eye. I actually tried to give the project back at one point. Thank goodness I was working with an editor who understood what I was going through more than I understood storytelling. My editor listened to me, then said, “I know you’ll get this, and once you do, you’ll never forget it.” And I never have.

Ferrante: Wonderful. Which book did you have the most fun illustrating?

Porfirio: Well, first of all, I’ve enjoyed every book I’ve illustrated, but Jump! tops them all. Having complete creative control over story and imagery is a dream come true!

Ferrante: I can see that and it’s probably good that it wasn’t your first book as well. What advice would you give a beginning illustrator that you wish someone had told you?

Porfirio: I wish someone had told me not to spend time comparing my artwork to artists’ work I admire. Other than being spurred on and inspired artistically, comparing one’s artwork to that of another artist’s work is a complete waste of time. Don’t ever suppress your own uniqueness by trying to be like someone else.

Ferrante: As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” Is there anything else you would like to share?

Porfirio: I’d just like to say how important to have fun while you’re working. Having fun doing something keeps the creative sparks flying. If I’m not having fun, I find a way to make it fun. Sometimes it’s just a matter of changing focus. But, if all else fails, I opt for a diversion: A walk, a movie, lunch, or, a good night’s sleep.

three random questions

 

Ferrante: If you could bring back any deceased superstar for one final performance in their respective fields, whom would you choose?

Porfirio: That’s easy!  N.C. Wyeth, just so I could watch him paint one more cover from start to finish.

Ferrante: Cool. In your opinion, what is the most beautiful man-made object in the world?

Porfirio: I think the X-Wing Starfighter from StarWars comes pretty close to perfection. But, if I have to choose from earthbound man-made tangible objects I’d have to go with the 2016 Jaguar F-Type V6. I’m not really a car guy, but I think I could get the hang of it with one of those parked in my driveway.

Ferrante: I’ll bet you could. If your name were given as the description for any one word in the dictionary, behind what word would people find your name?

Porfirio: Storyteller. 

Ferrante: Apt choice. Thank you for sharing your funny and fascinating stories with us today.

Jump book trailer

Web site   guyporfirio.com

Blog   http://guyporfirio.blogspot.com

Facebook   https://www.facebook.com/guyporfirio.illustration

Twitter   https://twitter.com/guyporfirio

Instagram   https://www.instagram.com/guy.porfirio/

Rio Chico Books for Children   http://www.rionuevo.com/book.php?book_isbn=9781933855813

Amazon   https://www.amazon.com/Jump-Guy-Porfirio/dp/1933855819/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1474995072&sr=8-1&keywords=jump%21+Guy+Porfirio

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The book Barb was reviewed on this blog on February 24, 2017.

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

Fun Video for Families – Never Send Callie

I found a picture book I had written as an example to my class when my students were working on their own picture books. I wrote and illustrated it about 25 years ago. The story was solid so I decided to make it into the video. Some of the pictures needed to be redone and I had to add more, however the originals were done with pastels and pencil crayons. It was a new experience for me using that Photoshop pen – a triangular pastel pencil. Anyway, I think it turned out pretty well. Just in time for Mother’s Day. Enjoy.

New Family Video: Callie has one simple errand, to buy a loaf of bread. But with so many distractions and a vivid imagination, this seems impossible. Is her mother’s patience going to run out? What will they have for lunch if Callie doesn’t deliver? A funny story about a forgetful child.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

Potty by Mylo Freeman. Book Review.

 Click here to buy Potty!

In this book, a series of African animals attempt to sit on a potty. It has appeared near a small village by a jungle. Beside it is a note that says “only the best bottom of all fit on this potty.” The zebra’s bottom is too big, the giraffe can’t bend his knees enough, and other animals, such as the leopard, snake, elephant, gorilla and tortoise, also fail to fit properly. In the end, a little bare bottom child sits on the potty and uses it correctly.

I’m not sure what the point of the story is other than to make a child snicker, especially when the gorilla puts the potty on his head. Perhaps it is to make the fearsome potty more approachable. If you’re looking for a book that will help to train your child, I’m not sure this will do much.

The illustrations are bright and cute with a lot of emphasis on bottoms. This might be book to take from the library rather than purchase.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth. Book Review.

If you enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time or House Rules you will love this book. Told from the points of view of Perry and his sister and caretaker Justine, the book focuses on the strong bond between siblings whose mother abandoned them as children and whose father recently died. I don’t want to talk too much about the story. It is basically about relationships and how we assume things about the other person that may or may not be true.

Both the major characters are engaging, complex, and selfless. I read this book in one night as I could not put it down. I loved both Justine and Perry. Both have big hearts, protective natures, a sense of humor, and courage.

We are never exactly told that Perry has autism but Justine repeats a speech that sums up his challenging life in a single paragraph, “My brother has a brain condition that causes him to feel anxious or different places and circumstances. He has trouble with people – mixing with them and communicating with them – and it sometimes results in inappropriate behaviors. I appreciate your understanding and patience.” It sounds so simple, but it is incredibly complex. Perry struggles with all his strength to behave appropriately and to be a good brother in spite of his brain condition.

When Justine takes Perry all the way from Australia to Canada, her brother must cope with sensory overload, the vastly unfamiliar, and breaks in his routine. Her reason for doing this opens a whole new Pandora’s box.

This is a story about sibling love, a broken family, redemption, sacrifice, and devotion. This book was a well deserving Governor General Award Finalist. A beautiful book that will seize your emotions and tug at your heart. I highly recommend it for all ages.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Good Night, Already! By Jory John and Benji Davies.

 Click here to buy Goodnight Already!

This is not another frustrated complaint by a parent who cannot get a child to go to sleep. It is the opposite, in fact. Bear wants to sleep. For months. But duck is wide awake and wants company. Every time bear starts to fall asleep, duck wakes him up. Duck has numerous ideas about what they could do together but all bear wants to do is sleep. Finally bear cracks and screams at duck, “I said good night already!” Duck leaves and while reading in his armchair, falls asleep. Bear (possibly due to the adrenaline running through his system) is now wide awake.

This is an hilarious book. The expressions on such simple characters convey their personalities perfectly. Duck’s shenanigans will make a child laugh out loud. This book is sure to tweak some memories of similar situations wherein the child and someone else had different sleep needs.

Although the storyline is simple  and predictable, it is told with such comic genius and illustrated so delightfully that it carries you gleefully along. A perfect book for happy chuckles.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Second Jezebel by Peter Mowsbray. Book Review.

 

 

It is interesting that I should receive this book for review just as one of my favorite television series, Reign, is ending. I was interested to know what would happen to Catherine de Medici later in life. The portrayal of Catherine, the second Jezebel, is much harsher in the novel than the television series. I suspect the book is more true to life as the research seems extensive and detailed.

The novel begins with the slaughter of the Huguenots and is quite difficult to read through. Be prepared for a lot of gore and savagery. We learn that Catherine is responsible for the massacre and that her motives questionable . She is of the strike first and worry about the consequences later mindset.

The book is a thorough recount of the actions of Catherine and her less than likable children. Their brutish, selfish ambition and thoughtless extravagance is stunning. Although hated by all of France, Catherine does seem to be the only one in her family who truly cares about the country. Not from a sense of patriotism or responsibility but for the preservation of her family and Royal position.

At times I had difficulty keeping the characters organized in my head and was grateful for the cast of characters listed in the front of the book. But even though I sometimes lost the thread of who was who, the story was fascinating and occasionally cringe worthy. The villains far out numbered the heroes.

Although I prefer a book with a protagonist I can admire, the story of Catherine de Medici and her repellent family was compelling in a different way. One wonders how any country survived at all with rulers like these. Admittedly, Catherine’s machinations were brilliant and she had a much better understanding of diplomacy than those in power.

Peter Mowbray writes with authority and sensory detail. He gets into the head of a severely dysfunctional woman and somehow manages to make us feel sympathy, if not empathy, for her. Aside from the occasional punctuation error, the book is flawless and professional. If you like historical fiction written with power and accuracy, you will enjoy this book.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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