Kindness Comes Back: Pegasus, A Dragon’s Tale by Gina LoBiondo. Illustrated by Stephanie Zuppo. Book Review.

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A dragon’s egg is found by two royal bears who hatch it and raise the baby dragon until he is old enough to leave on his own. Years later, when the kingdom is under attack and the two bears have been taken prisoner, the dragon, now fully grown, appears. At first he doesn’t recognize the little bears, but they prod his memory until he frees them. He scatters the enemy and carries the bears home. He remains in the kingdom as their guardian against future threats.

Although the plot is fairly common, the book has lovely messages such as kindness comes back to us in unexpected ways. United friends can stand against the strongest bullies. Wild animals should be released into the wild to choose their own way.

When initially releasing the dragon, the King says, “We don’t know how big he’ll get and besides, he’ll be better off in his own. Perhaps he will find another of his own kind and have a family.” I was expecting him to return with the family but there is no indication as to what happened to him in his absent years. It felt a little sad to have him spending the rest of his days as the only dragon in the kingdom.

The formatting is inconsistent. Some paragraphs are indented in some are not. There doesn’t seem to be a reason for the choices.

The illustrations by Stephanie Zuppo appeared to be computer graphics which can be beautiful but, in this instance, seem blurred and even muddy at times. The characters of the three Bears and the dragon are drawn well. The same facial image of Princess Kameela and Prince Dayshawn are used on several pages. On page 11, for example, the bears are frowning with their eyes closed similarly to the picture on pages 8, 9 and 13. Several other pages have identical expressions of an O shaped mouth. Readers need more facial detail and expression in a children’s picture book. There is also a problem with proportion as the dragon’s size seems to change on different pages.

This story is 25 pages long with about 40 to 50 words per page. It would suit a child whose reading level is between picture books and beginning chapter books.

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

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Inspiring Courage, Love, and Determination – Making Manna by Eric Lotke. Book Review.

Click here to buy Making Manna This is now the correct link. The price is $15.00 paperback.

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I thought I would read a chapter of Making Manna before sleeping but thirteen chapters later I was reluctant to close the book. It was only my aching eyes that made me stop. Eric Lotke is a master writer of character and situation. Not only do you care for these people, but you cringe and curse and cheer as they struggle through overwhelming events. This book is based on Lotke’s own experiences with the justice system and people struggling to survive in a cold, unfair, and prejudiced environment.

Making Manna opens with the story of Libby, a 14-year-old victim of sexual abuse by her father. It begins with the birth of her incestuously conceived baby. This is not the first time in the novel you will feel angry and frustrated at contemptuous behavior. But, equally throughout the book, you will be amazed and gladdened at the extreme kindness of strangers and mere acquaintances. Libby is but a child when she is forced out into the world with a newborn in her hands. We may not make the same choices as this fresh from the farm teenager but we cannot help but be in awe of her motherly love and determination. The story of her son, Angel, is bittersweet as well.

No one is an island, and so Libby finds support and love with another single mother, Sheila, and her daughter, Monet. However, things become frightening when the police virtually destroy their apartment in search of drugs. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys, just like in real life. The bonds these friends form are unbreakable and through this loyalty, hope survives.

Lotke writes in such a fashion that the reader loses herself in the story. She is no longer engaging with print on paper but living alongside real, admirable, and compelling characters. This is a page turner in a different sense. Yes there is enormous suspense as to how these people are going to survive in the face of such cruel and unwarranted adversity. But more than that, we want them to succeed. We want them to be happy. We want Angel to get the girl.

I cannot recommend this amazing story strongly enough.

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Eric Lotke will be interviewed on this blog April 12, 2017.

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Hilarious and Sweet – Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton. Book Review.

 Click here to buy Shh! We Have a Plan

This unusual book is surprisingly addictive. It is such a joy to come across something so unique.

The illustrations appear to be cut and paste, done mostly in blue, purple, and black. The only exceptions are the birds.

Four oddly shaped characters, three with tassels on their hats and the smallest with a pom-pom, set out to catch a wild bird. The three oldest have nets, a cage and “plans”. However, this is a clear example of the best laid plans…

The text has a clear pattern that the youngest child will easily repeat. It begins, “Look! A bird.” The littlest one says, “Hello, birdie.” The largest says, “shh.” The next says, “SHH!” The last says, “We have a plan.” This is repeated every time they spot a bird. Then they initiate their plan, which varies slightly from tiptoeing to climbing slowly to paddling slowly, all without success. Each time they count down, “Ready one. Ready too. Ready three… Go!” Whereupon, calamity falls upon the characters and the bird flies away.

After three disastrous attempts to capture a bird, the three older characters come upon the littlest one hand feeding them. They count down again only to be intimidated by the angry birds. They run away in fear. At this point, the reader thinks they’ve learned their lesson. But, the third character begins a new drama with, “Look! A squirrel.”

Children will be delighted with the building tension, the silly plans, and the escape of the birds. Parents can discuss with their child what might occur as the characters try to capture a squirrel. As well, the cruelty of caging a wild bird can be broached.

This book is hilarious. With each reading, child and adults can improve their expression and appreciation. It gets better each time. So much so that the adult doesn’t mind, “Read it again. Read it again.”

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Determined, Funny, & Opinionated: Gianna the Great by Becky Villareal. Book Review.

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Click here to buy Gianna the Great

This is an early chapter book with intermittent, small cartoonish illustrations. I wondered how the author was going to interest children in a story about finding her genealogical roots. But, the first sentence showed me she knew her target audience. It begins, “I was nosey.” The top half of the page shows a girl with brown pigtails, round red-framed glasses, pencil in her hand, her eyebrows raised, her mouth open, and her finger pensively touching her cheek.

The little girl, Gianna, tells the story in first person. She is a funny, insistent child with a lot of spark. Her thoughts are often judgmental, even snide, but she treats others with respect. I think the character is realistic and honest.

The story follows Gianna as she develops an interest in her family tree. We learn that there is no father’s name on her birth record which her mother dismisses as a mistake. Her teacher finds her mother’s baptism certificate and explains that in Mexico that is when children receive their full name. He also shows her a border crossing record and a picture of Gianna’s grandmother.

When Gianna shows the documents to her mother, her mother cries with happiness. The story ends with Gianna saying, “I can find out more Mama! Lots more!”

This would be a fabulous book to introduce to a child who is going to research her family tree. It reminds us that immigrants often lose contact with their family and their roots. Whether a child’s family crossed the border from Mexico into the United States, flew in as a refugee of war, or sailed over the ocean decades ago for a better life, there was always loss along with the gain.

Even if a family has been living in the same country for several generations, it is surprising how few children, and even adults, don’t know their grandmother’s maiden name or their family’s roots. When I researched my family tree in the 1980s, everything was done by mail (for a price) or by searching through books and microfiche. Now, entire lineages are available for free online as well as immigration documents, ships’ passenger lists, birth and death certificates, and more. You would have to help your child understand the difference between an original or primary document, a secondary source, and indirect evidence.

Although this is a niche book, it serves its purpose well. An adult could read it to a child in twenty minutes. Or, a child with third grade reading skills could manage it on their own.

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Click here to get FREE family tree charts to print for your child.

Choose from 2 to 5 generations, adoptive family, birth and adoptive family, with a wide variety of backgrounds, in color or black and white.

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The author was interviewed on this blog, January 4, 2017.

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

 

Social Skill Wrapped in Hilarity: Bossy Flossy written and illustrated by Paulette Bogan. Book Review.

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Click here to buy Bossy Flossy

It is such a great feeling when I find a picture book that both my granddaughter and I enjoy. Bossy Flossy had turned us into Paulette Bogan fans by the third page.

Flossy butts heads with everyone, including her toys. The book begins with Flossy standing in the middle of her bedroom telling all her toys what to do. With one hand on her hip and the other pointing, she demands, “Sit up straight. Look at me. Listen to me. Pay attention. Do what I tell you.” She is bossy to her cat, her little brother, and even her mother.

Although flossy is a simple, cartoonish character, her big wild red hair, her dramatic gestures, and her expressive face make her a real person and a force to be reckoned with.

Flossy does not understand that she is being bossy. When she is sent to her room, she tells herself, “I’m not bossy. Mom is bossy. She always tells me what to do. She never listens to me. I’m just trying to tell her something.” We realize that Flossy doesn’t see herself the way others do. As well, we aren’t sure about her interpretation of her mother’s behavior. Maybe Mom is bossy. At times, it seems as though Flossie is trying to be helpful but is unaware of the effect her behavior has on others. She tells a classmate how to paint and then takes the press and draw the line on her artwork. She orders another classmate to wear a hat she has chosen to complete his dress-up costume.

When a new boy, Edward, joins her class, Flossy meets her match in the overbearing department. Frustrated, Flossie challenges Edward but he doesn’t back down. The argument escalates until they are both sent to timeout. There, they agreed to stop bossing others. They both improve and become great friends.

Although it might sound like a didactic book, it really isn’t. Bogan disarms us completely with humor and charm. Children might identify with Flossy’s problem but will find her behavior intriguing and silly. If you have an overly dominant child, I would avoid discussing bossiness immediately after reading this. It is such a delightful book, you wouldn’t want to spoil it. After reading it a couple of times, you might want to bring up the difference between being bossy and being helpful, taking turns, listening to others, and so on. In my home, “Bossy Flossy” has become a code that can make either my granddaughter or myself stop and think about how our words sound to the other person. Even if you don’t have a bossy member in your family, this book can be just pure fun to read.

The illustrations are interesting in that they appear to be drawn individually, cut out and arranged on the page. This could be a fun art activity to do with your child. You can both draw and cut out several different characters and then arrange them into different story scenes.

Highly recommended both for fun and value.

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An interview with the author, Paulette Bogan, will be posted on this blog, March 8, 2017.

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

L M N O Peas by Keith Baker. Book Review.

Click here to buy LMNO Peas

This is an adorable, funny alphabet book. It is difficult to come up with original ideas for the ABCs. Amazon.com listed 47,112 results in a search for alphabet books.  Keith Baker has designed a unique one using his Peas series.

The picture book’s large size emphasizes the tininess of the adorable little peas who are acting out each of the letters. For example, A has seven little peas with hoops climbing up the letter A that say, “We’re acrobat’s.” One lonely little pea is painting a tulip that is twice his size. Two other peas are conducting a spacewalk from a capsule (astronauts).

Children will enjoy finding the peas on each page and deciphering their occupation or hobby. The artist has cleverly incorporated the letters into the activities. For example the right side of the K is a river for kayakers. The book ends with, “We are peas from A to Z. now tell us, please… (Turn the page) who are you?

This book will definitely engage readers. The pictures post just enough challenge to keep both children and adults interested throughout. The fun thing is, peas are so easy to draw, that children could make their own response using their initials and their own hobbies or interests.

If the child is too young to draw the illustration, give their thumb in green fingerpaint and have them press on the “peas”. Then an adult can add the detail. Together, you can decide what to draw based on the letter. It can be simple. After, if the child wants, she can colour the letter with marker.

K peas B peas

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Sophie and Scottie’s Adventures of the Monarch Mystery by Cindy C. Murray. Book Review.

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Reader’s Favorite 2016 International Book Award, Silver Medal in the Children – Adventure category.

 Click here to buy Sophie and Scottie’s Adventures of the Monarch Mystery

(The Adventures of Sophie and Scottie Book 1)

The premise of this middle grade novel was intriguing. Their adventurous Aunt Jill sends Sophie and Scottie a picture frame. Like the one in the Narnian Chronicles, The Dawn Treader, this one transports them away from home but instead of going to a magical land, they go to Mexico to solve the mystery of the missing Monarch butterflies. 

The two girls, twin Sophie and Scottie are a bit clichéd although it is nice to see female heroines. They demonstrated clever problem solving.

The author created some interesting characters. The villain was cool as was his strategy for capturing the butterflies. The girls were determined and clever. At one point they each develop special powers that were useful and humorous. The girls didn’t spend any time gushing over boys or getting into drama. The gecko monkeys were funny and clever. The book had an upbeat tone throughout.

The missing Monarch butterflies was an intriguing topic to choose. The message about protecting our environment, being kind to animals, being dependable, and being responsible for your choices are important ones. Perhaps an appendix about the real problems Monarchs are facing would have benefited the readers.

I do think, however, that  this book would have benefited from more edits. A number of small problems can accumulate into one large one – pacing.

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To read an interview with the author go to my previous blog on Wednesday, October 19, 2016.

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

*****

How another edit could have improved this book:

 I am going to go into detail in the hope that I can help  writers edit these common problems out of their work. These problems are not unusual. The lengthy detail is here to make it clear and helpful to writers. Not all of these problems occurred every time, just enough to make a reader conscious of the text and a little distracted.

The dialogue was unnatural at times. This makes the reading slow down. Here is an example.

“I can feel something very strange in your pack. I know that Diego was just in it to get us some snacks, but let’s open it and see what this object is.”

This site can explain it in more detail. https://marshahubler.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/todays-writers-tip-stilted-or-unnatural-dialogue/

The dialogue tags were sometimes overly explicit or odd and detracted from the reading. For example:

“Youallmustescapenow!” It was Chewy who was commanding them to climb up the ladder.

“Dr. Drake! Dr. Drake!” Both girls were chanting in a loud whisper as his hotel room door opened.

… Jinx said as if he were cheering.

Here’s a good site on that subject. http://theeditorsblog.net/2013/12/04/another-take-on-dialogue-tags/

When something dramatic happened, the prose sometimes dragged. For example:

As the sergeant started yelling at the guards to stay at their assigned post while he unlocked the smaller iron gate to get out of the cave, everyone could hear an ear-deafening roaring sound.

You’ll notice that the writer often used the passive voice. That is a pace killer.

Meanwhile, Scottie was looking up at the top of the iron doors with the two sides close together.

She used began to or started instead of getting to the point

“Ah, ha!” Diego shouted to himself and quickly began to get out of the harness.

Suddenly, Diego turned and began to sprint as fast as he could on the trail.

“Quickly removed the harness” and “sprinted” would have kept the energy high.

Writers must show and not tell.

Sophie began to walk on the weedy trail, she felt as if this wasn’t the right way, but decided to give it a try. Heck, Sophie wasn’t even sure what to look for on the trail anyway. She stopped and unrolled Maptrixter to study it. She could see the trail that she was walking on, but nothing else was showing up on the map. After walking a few more yards, Sophie decided to turn around and head back to camp. I can’t believe I’m doing this, she thought. I’m usually the one to stay back and watch everyone else explore or try new things first. As she turned around, Sophie heard a swooping noise and started to duck out of the way when, all of a sudden, she felt something on her shoulder.

As well there are unnecessary details about chores and sheep which do nothing to further the plot. There’s too much set up. I didn’t feel that the story started until almost the middle of the book. Focus on the mystery and build the suspense.

Here’s a great site that addresses a lot of these pacing problems. http://hollylisle.com/pacing-dialogue-and-action-scenes-your-story-at-your-speed/

There is much that is good in this book. It’s too bad it wasn’t given over to a meticulous editor for another look before publishing. It would have been even better.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Top Ten Picture Books I Reviewed in 2016 – #1 to 3

 Click on the cover to buy the book.

#1 Priceless Penny by Lauren Kramer-Theuerkauf. Illustrated by James Sell.

The cover of this book catches your eye right away. It features a bright picture of a large eye dog, ears up, tongue hanging out, grin on her goofy little face. Then you notice that her left paw is deformed. When you open the book you see a beautiful illustration of a dog in a cage sleeping on her back.

If this story doesn’t put a lump in your throat, go to the author’s website and see the actual pictures of Penny and the other rescued dogs. This book has all the more punch when you realize it is basically a true story.

Not only does this book teach children to be compassionate to animals and accept them for the way they are, but I am sure that children are smart enough to draw a parallel into their own lives. There is so much valuable subject matter to discuss with your child after reading this book.
 Click on the cover to buy the book.

#2 Once Upon a Memory by Nina Laden. Illustrated by Renata Liwska.

The story lends itself well to a discussion of beginnings, changes, and cause and effect. The words are lyrical, even poetic. This beautiful book pulls you in and leaves you feeling that you have been touched by something precious.

 Click on the cover to buy the book.
#3 Today the Teacher Changed our Seats by Frances Gilbert. Illustrated by Ben Quesnel.

The paintings in this book have unique quality of expressiveness and subtle detail. The little green-eyed girl who is telling the story is not your picture perfect child. She has a turned up nose, big bushy eyebrows, and rather large ears which make her all the more lovable. Her emotion is transparently portrayed and we connect with her fear of not belonging in any group. The class is a diverse group of children and the teacher is African-American.

While this book can be used as an introduction to math groupings, it is also a good launching pad for discussion about inclusion and how we label people into certain categories. It is a short, simple book that carries a lot of weight.

The rest of the list, #4 to 10, is here.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Top Ten Picture Books I reviewed in 2016 – #4 to 10

 Click on the cover to buy the book.

#4 Pigs Aplenty, Pigs Galore! By David MacPhail.

So few writers can write well in rhyme that some publishers refuse to even look at rhyming books. It is a difficult style to accomplish but David MacPhail does it with finesse.

The message of forgiveness, inclusion, and unconditional love is humorously portrayed. Don’t be surprised if your child says, “Read it again” when you turn the last page.

#5 – A is for Africa written by Michael I. Samulak. Illustrated by Sswaga Sendiba.

I love when I discover a unique and interesting picture book. A is for Africa stands alone in my experience. There is a fascinating story of the creation of this book especially as it pertains to the ethnic gorgeous illustrations. I love how the author totally avoided any misappropriation by involving an African artist in his project.

#6 – Once Upon a Pond by Peter Simon.

The author explains what is happening in detail, providing statistics such as “Over the many years since Europeans began coming to North America, Canada has lost more than 70% of its original wetlands.” He describes the importance of wetlands to wildlife and to clean water.

#7 – The Diggers are Coming! by Susan Steggall.

The author has given just enough information to hold a child’s interest and teach them some new concepts. The onomatopoeic word usage is wonderful and children will enjoy repeating some of the phrases. Highly recommended for boys and girls ages 2 to 7.

#8 – Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood. Illustrated by Meg Hunt.

Cinderella is a self-taught mechanic who wants to fix fancy rockets.

Cinderella is a redhead and the Prince is a man of color. The painted illustrations are large and bright. There is no mention of Cinderella’s physical appearance. In fact, the prince never saw her face as she wore her spacesuit through their entire first encounter.

This book has all the right messages and would make a great addition to a child’s book shelf.

#9 – Piggies in the Kitchen by Michelle Meadows. Illustrated by Ard Hoyt.

The story is delightfully suspenseful. At first the reader wonders if the piggies are up to mischief. Then the arrival of three different vehicles add a special twist. When the story ends “Happy Birthday, Mama! We love you!” The reader appreciates the piggies’ efforts to create a perfect surprise.

#10 – The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin. Illustrated by David Shannon.

CLICK ON THE COVERS TO BUY THE BOOKS

The top three picture books will be posted Dec. 31.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Perfect Merge of Two Cultures: A is for Africa written by Michael I. Samulak. Illustrated by Sswaga Sendiba. Book Review.

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Click here to buy A is for Africa

I love when I discover a unique and interesting picture book. A is for Africa stands alone in my experience. There is a fascinating story of the creation of this book especially as it pertains to the ethnic gorgeous illustrations. I love how the author totally avoided any misappropriation by involving an African artist in his project. The account is worth reading and will be available on my blog interview with the author, Michael I. Samulak, January 11, 2017. As a Canadian, a retired elementary school teacher, and a grandmother to two girls of Anishinabe heritage, I am highly conscious of the cultural appropriation of the indigenous people. It is difficult to walk that line between cultural appropriation and appreciation. Samulak showed respect and admiration for the African people by hiring a Ugandan artist, Sswaga Sendiba, whose work he had admired.

Each page features a batik style of illustration that was popular in the 60s in North America. Batik uses wax and paint to create one-of-a-kind pictures. If you tried to copy Sendiba’s work, in all likelihood the wax would not behave in the same way. It is a detailed and difficult process as I remember. Personally, I could never control the flow of the wax well enough to make anything recognizable. Sendiba had been doing this style of artwork for 10 years when Samulak connected with him.

Samulak chose animals, landscape, people, and items representational of Uganda for each letter of the alphabet. Read, orange, and yellow a predominant colors throughout the book giving the reader the sensation of hot, dry savannas. It begins, “A is for Africa. Africa is an awesome land, as we soon shall see. It is home to many amazing animals, people, and trees.” Both the artist and the writer prove that claim.

This is the kind of book that adults enjoy as much, possibly more, then the children. It is definitely the kind of book you should share together as it will arouse many questions from children unfamiliar with African animals. Although Samulak shares some unusual information, he encapsulates it in a form children would find interesting. For example, “C is for cheetah. Swift is a cheetah, so it is said both near and far. Running at top speed, these cats can keep up with your car.” Instead of saying the giraffe is the tallest land animal, he writes, “G is for giraffe. The giraffe is the gentle giant of the land. She stands head and shoulders above every animal or man.” He features some animals children may be unfamiliar with such as the Ibis, kob, pygmy chimpanzee, tilapia fish, crowned Crane, and yellow mongoose.

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As well, you can purchase and A is for Africa Coloring Book because of the batik style, this is not your typical coloring book. I would recommend using soft pastels or pencil crayons in order to imitate the painted look of the original illustrations. Marker might work if they could blend easily. Watercolor would be perfect but it would bleed through to the picture on the other side. This should be an interesting variation for adults who have adopted the coloring book craze.

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Click here to buy A is for Africa: Coloring Book

A follow-up activity for a classroom would be to assign a letter to each student and have them do a batik picture for their own country.

As a parent, you could have your child do their first initial with things they like to begin with the same letter. For very small children, just doing the letter is enough challenge. Draw it with pencil and have them squeeze the glue over top.

Here are two great pages that will show you how to do batik safely with children using glue instead of wax.

That Artist Woman

The Artful Parent

I will be reviewing Michael I. Samulak’s newest book, A Wonderful Day!, on January 30, 2017.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages