Dueling Parasols & Steampunk Mysteries: Author Jayne Barnard – Three Random Questions Interview

Jayne Barnard has written for children and adults in the genres of history, mystery, and lately alternate dimensions. Her fiction awards include Saskatchewan Writers Guild, Bloody Words, and Unhanged Arthur, as well as a shortlisting for the UK Debut Dagger. Her YA Steampunk Mystery, Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond, is a finalist for the Prix Aurora and the Book Publishing in Alberta Awards, and a winner of the eFestival of Words Award for Children’s Literature. Her special genre is steampunk.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Jayne. Tell us a little about yourself.

Jayne Barnard: I grew up on Canadian Forces bases in 6 provinces, 3 US states, and Europe. This exposed me to a lot of cultural differences quite early. I finished high school in Kapuskasing, ON, 300 miles from any city, immediately after living on a NATO base in Germany, where I could ride my bike to France any afternoon. Talk about culture shock.

Ferrante: Why did you choose to write steam punk mysteries? 

Barnard: Steampunk appeals to me because of the adventure elements, the sense that anything is possible. The fathers of Steampunk are H.G. Wells, A.D. Doyle, Jules Verne. Yet I also grew up reading Enid Blyton adventures, and Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, and other teenage sleuths. My Steampunk sleuth, Maddie Hatter, is barely out of her teens; she goes on adventures by airship and steam-carriage rather than in a blue convertible, but she’s as dedicated as Nancy Drew about solving the mysteries that fall into her path.

Ferrante: Your short stories have won several prestigious Canadian awards and honors. Did you begin with short story writing and then evolved into a novelist, or have you been writing short stories and novels side-by-side throughout your career?

Barnard: I won my first short fiction award in 1990 for a story, written for my daughter, about a princess solving a dragon problem by using arithmetic. Novel-writing came later, but I still return to short stories between the longer projects, often as a mental distancing technique between finishing a manuscript and beginning to edit. I had a post-apocalyptic short crime story published last month in Enigma Front: Burnt, and have a more traditional crime story coming out in The Whole She-Bang 3 this November, both written while I was editing longer works.

Ferrante: Do you approach writing a short story the same way as you do writing a novel?

Barnard: Since my B.A. in Theatre, I see every piece of writing like the scenes of a play. A short story has fewer scenes and charges onward to the end. A novel has more scenes and many rises and falls of tension before rising toward the climax. Novel scenes have to not only carry their own weight but also carry the pace appropriately for their place in the overall story.

Ferrante: Every now and then a writer introduces me to something new. This time it was parasol dueling. There seems to be no hitting or violence involved. I discovered you are a leading member of Madam Saffron Hemlock’s Parasol Dueling League for Steampunk Ladies. Could you explain what parasol dueling is?

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Barnard: Parasol dueling is, at its simplest, like playing rock-paper-scissors. Certain ways of holding one’s parasol beat other ways of holding it. The holds, or ‘figures,’ are based in the social uses of parasols from Victorian and earlier times, such as to pretend you don’t see someone you don’t want to talk to (called a Snub). World Parasol Dueling Championships are held in Calgary, AB every September; there are lovely photos and videos of that on the group’s Facebook Page

 [link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/539699522804809/ ]

Ferrante: I’m glad you explained that. I totally misunderstood what was happening.

I haven’t really read much steampunk. My misconception was that involved a lot of goggles, loud clanking steam-driven machines, black clothing, and dirigibles. However, I’ve seen a lot of other things on your sites such as royalty watching. Are there different types of steam punk? What is the quintessential definition?

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Barnard: There’s no single definition, but it’s rooted in the Victorian era. Canadians were part of the British Empire, so our Steampunk clothing reflects that. I write against a background of social class and the queen, also important to the British. Americans emphasize the Civil War and Wild West, more egalitarian. If a story uses petroleum technology instead of steam machines, it’s called Diesel-punk, and if it uses computing devices and internet-like communications, then it’s Cyber-punk.

Ferrante: Diesel-punk is a new term for me. The mystery genre has been popular for decades. Why do you think steampunk mystery is developing such a strong fan base?

Barnard: I think Steampunk mystery combines the enduring popularity of mystery with the endless possibilities of the adventure novel. Mysteries set on space stations or in fantasy universes are also very popular. I don’t think the classic crime novel will be displaced by cross-genre fiction; rather, they act as gateways to each other.

Ferrante: Give me a teaser about your latest work Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond.

Barnard: Miss Maddie Hatter is scraping a precarious living as a fashion reporter when the story of a lifetime falls into her lace-gloved hands. Baron Bodmin, an adventurer with more failed quests than fingernails, has vanished in circumstances that are odd even for him. As the last reporter to see the potty peer alive, Maddie has a chance to become an investigative journalist, no easy feat for a young lady in 1898. If she can locate the baron or the Eye of Africa diamond he was hunting, her career will be made. Somebody out there knows what happened, but nobody is talking….

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Click here for more information on Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond
Ferrante: As soon as I heard the title, I thought of the mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland. Is that suggestion deliberate?

Barnard: Alice in Wonderland is one of the Victorian era’s best-known fantasy tales, and for that reason it’s much admired by Steampunks. So yes, Maddie’s name is deliberate. The rest of Deadly Diamond owes more to the game of Clue which, while not a Victorian invention, is not far removed from some Victorian parlour games.

Ferrante: Your knowledge of high fashion clothing during the Victorian era is impressive. I see that you also sew your own costumes for special events. How have you learned to do this? How often do you dress up?

Barnard: I’ve always loved fabrics and playing dress-up; that’s partly why I went into Theatre in university. In costuming classes I learned fitting and sewing. Nowadays health issues keep me from acting, but Steampunk allows me to dress up every few months to improv the part of Madame Saffron, the alternate-Victorian professor of applied botany and parasol dueling.

Ferrante: The vocabulary in Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond is quite rich and the writing style is more formal than what young adults are used to reading. Who do you think are your most devoted fans?

Barnard: Girls 10-13, although fans range from 7 to 85. Our test readers said they loved the ‘juicy’ words like vindicated, precocious and copious. They mostly figured out meanings from context, and they were engaged enough that stopping to look up some words didn’t throw them out of the story.

Ferrante: Are you working on another steampunk mystery?

Barnard: Maddie Hatter and the Gilded Gauge comes out next April. It’s set in New York City in 1899, at the height of the Gilded Age of Vanderbilts and Astors and lavish mansions. Lots of scope for my love of fine fashions and furnishings, but the mystery gets dangerous really fast.

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Ferrante: If your life were literally flashing before your eyes, what are three moments or scenes from your past that you would expect to stand out?

Barnard:

  1. Acting the Three Witches’ opening from MacBeth at my Grade Five Halloween assembly, which set me on the acting path (and the corollary: seeing MacBeth performed at Stratford last spring).
  2. Visiting Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria when I was 12. It’s the world’s most fairy-tale of castles, and mad King Ludwig, who built it, took strong hold of my young mind.
  3. Having so many friends, new and from decades ago, show up to the launch for Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond to help celebrate that I had finally achieved my lifelong dream of a book with my name on it. The book made #1 on the Calgary fiction bestseller list for that week because of all those wonderful people.

Ferrante: If you were told that you could watch only one television show a week for the next 12 months, which show would you choose to watch?

Barnard: Funny you should ask that. Right now I’m re-watching Star Trek: The Next Generation – admittedly more than one episode a week – and marveling at the concise dialogue and tight plotting that goes into almost every episode.

Ferrante: I loved STTNG. I’m in awe of Patrick Stewart.

If you could wake up every morning, open your bedroom blinds, and look out a huge glass window at the perfect view, what would that be?

Barnard: Across a wide, sunlit bay to snow-capped mountains. It’s almost the view I get from my winter place on Vancouver Island, except that we can’t quite see the Comox glacier from our deck. Between that and the past year’s writing successes, I’m very close to living my dream.

Ferrante: That’s awesome. Good for you. Thank you for sharing your work with us. You’ve opened a whole new door for me. Best of luck with your new Maddie book.

Want to know more about Jayne and her work? Go to Clockworks and Crime.

Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond was reviewed on this blog on Monday, March 6, 2017.

NEW NEW NEW from Jayne Barnard

The book trailer for MADDIE HATTER AND THE GILDED GAUGE is now up on Youtube. Here’s the link if your readers want to check it out:

https://youtu.be/Jd-VVgFw6aM

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

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

A Simple, Painless Strategy for Getting Your Child to Eat Accompanied by Unusual Illustrations – Zeke Will Not Eat! By Delin Colón. Book Review.

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Click here to buy Zeke Will Not Eat!

Although this is a picture book, Zeke Will Not Eat! is written for parents as well. Delin Colón , the author, has a background in clinical psychology.

Zeke is not interested in eating. He hates having his play disrupted for mealtime and in rebellion cries and pouts throughout the meal. His parents are concerned for his health. His father passes on a technique his father used with him. They arrange the food on the plate to represent a little town. Zeke pretends he is a giant and destroys the town by eating it. By making it a game and encouraging Zeke to feel as though he has power and control, the onus is off the parents to convince Zeke of the value of eating properly.

This strategy is definitely worth a try. No matter how well-meaning parents are, mealtime can easily become a battleground. It might be fun to take it even one step further and have the child help select the food and build the structure or village he is going to consume. There are also numerous ideas online for turning food into three-dimensional art.

I’m not sure if I would read this to the child before attempting this strategy or after. Parents know their children best.

The second component about this book that is definitely worth sharing, with children and adults alike, are the unique illustrations. Delin Colón, both the author and illustrator, has used an unusual style of cut-paper art. The same 150 paper shapes are arranged and rearranged to create pictures of Zeke in a variety of activities. Once you understand the creative and problem-solving effort that went into using this technique, the illustrations are worth a second look. Delin Colón has included instructions at the back of the text for parents to try out this novel endeavour with their child. However, I would reassure my child that they did not have to use all the shapes in every picture.

An introductory activity to this might be using tangrams. Depending on the age of the child, a bucket full of geometric shapes could work just as well.

This book is worth obtaining for either the valuable conflict-free strategy for dealing with picky eaters or the unusual illustrations.

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The author will be reviewed on this blog May 3, 2017.

Click on the picture to buy the Tangrams 28 Piece Set by Learning Advantage

Click on the picture to buy  Melissa & Doug Pattern Blocks and Boards

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Does a Bear Poop in the Woods? – Potty in the Potty Chair by S.J. Bushue and Deb McQueen. Book Review.

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 Click here to buy Potty in the Potty Chair

The book begins with a little girl sitting on the potty. The narrator asks, “Are you a big kid on the potty chair, reading a book with bottom so bare?” To which the girl replies, “Yes!” Considering what follows, it seemed as though this should have been the conclusion to the book.

From this point on, various children are asked if they are like animals who do not poop in the potty. For example, “Are you an elephant who goes potty in the zoo, leaving big heaps that make us say P.U.?” A horse drops huge piles, an alligator creates a mess in the swamp, a dog goes potty in the grass, a cat goes in the litter, and a goose goes by the pond where we step in it, a bird drops it from above, and a mouse leaves pellets everywhere. The book ends with, “Are you a big kid who goes pink and tink, using the potty chair when you sink the ink?” Sinking the ink is explained at the back of the book.

I like the fact that children learn about animals as they read this book, even if it is just about their poop. There are moments of humor such as when the Asian child steps in the goose’s poop.

The book is consciously diverse. The featured children are of a variety of races. There is even one African-American child with blue eyes.

Each page has four lines with an A B C B rhyme scheme. There are some unusual words such as romp, skitter, splatting, pellets, and route which may be difficult for a child of age 2 or 3. Some of the rhymes seem a bit of a struggle.

At the back of the book is a page with “Tips for Potty training success“. There is some good advice about staying positive and being encouraging. It is great that the author makes a point of stressing washing your hands, both the child and the adult.

“Quick and easy steps” explains the sink the ink strategy for potty training. There is a chart the child can use to record his or her successes. Copies are available on the website http://www.thelittlefig.com. There is also a jingle on the website which I felt could have been a little longer and more memorable.

The illustrations are bright, simple, outlined drawings. They fill the page completely. The text is superimposed on sky, wall or tree. All the children appear happy and interested in their surroundings.

All in all, I think this would be a positive and productive book to use when potty training a toddler.

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

S.J. Bushue was interviewed on this blog November 16, 2016.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Book of Heroines: Tales of History’s Gutsiest Gals by Stephanie Warren Drimmer. National Geographic Kids.

This is the kind of book you would leave on your coffee table and peruse on occasion. It is more of a resource book then a sit down and read book. This is not to say it isn’t interesting. It’s amazingly comprehensive and you’re sure to find someone you had not known about previously.

The chapters are roughly organized by theme, although gritty girls and legendary ladies tells little about who will be examined in that chapter. There are leaders and the wives of leaders, athletes, first to achieve, warriors, sports figures, fighters for peace, scientists, and entertainers. I was glad to see women from multiple cultures and races. I don’t think so much space should have been spent on goddesses and superheroes like Wonder Woman, although I love her.

It is up-to-date including a large spread on  Malala. Although the focus is on American women there is equal attention given to women from around the world over a large span of history. As a Canadian, I noted that they did not include Laura Secord who is considered a hero to us but not to the Americans.

There are fact bars and full pages of writing. It is chock full of photographs and illustrations.

In the  Outstanding Animals category, they include female dogs and other animals who have saved lives and those who have helped in the medical profession. However I think it is cold hearted and disrespectful to include victimized animals. Many of these animals did not have a choice. They weren’t heroes, they were casualties. Astro-dog, for example was sent into space by the Russians who did not have a recovery vehicle. This dog, described as having a calm personality was sent to her death. The book would have been far better to leave these unfortunate victims of man’s ambition out of the book. If they are going to include these poor creatures, then why not also talk about all the female animals that are used in medical research etc. Each year 100 million animals are killed in the United States alone in laboratories to test cosmetics and drugs and chemicals, for medical training, biology research, and sometimes just for curiosity. (Sadly, most results do little to explain how these drugs, etc. will behave in a human body.) Thousands more die in horrifying weapons testing. They may be heroes, but they didn’t volunteer. If you’re going to consider the unfortunate animals forced into space as heroes then every animal that dies so we can have beautiful eyelashes is also a hero. If you give this book to a girl, this topic should be discussed.

Setting aside that well-meaning but inappropriate section, this is a fabulous book to give to a girl or young woman. At the end of the text there is an afterward which says “your turn to be a heroine.” It includes daily deeds for girls such as “find more heroines, develop a heroine habit, stand out and imagine.” It encourages courage, independence, and ambition.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The New Small Person by Lauren Child. Book Review.


This book does an excellent job of telling the story from the point of view of the older sibling. In the beginning Elmore Green is an only child. He’s very proud of his room and he is the centre of his parents’ lives. He likes to watch his own television shows, eat his jellybeans, and lay out his toys just so. But when his younger sibling arrives he is no longer the centre of everyone’s attention. The small person demands a different channel on his little television, messes up his toys and even licks his jellybeans. Eleanor is told to accommodate the child because he is just small.

When the new small person gets bigger, he starts to emulate Elmore and follow him around. Eventually he is moved into the same room which Elmore detests this because now he has no escape. But, one night Elmore has a nightmare. The younger sibling hugs and comforts him and helps him to fall back asleep. After that they start to experience more commonalties and Elmore sees his sibling in a new light.

The children are dark skinned with curly hair while the parents’ friends are a mixture of skin colors. The drawings are simple but cute with no backgrounds and cross into double page spreads with words around them.

I think this is a realistic and helpful story for children expecting a younger sibling to arrive. At the beginning, and there will be problems and he will have frustrations. As the younger sibling grows, he will become more involved in the older sibling’s life and, hopefully, they can find common ground. I like that the older sibling was never mean and had patience in spite of his frustration and worry.

I think this book would be helpful for preparing an only child for the arrival of a sibling. Much discussion would need to follow, especially addressing the fears of being replaced. At the end of the story, we see that the older child is accepting and inclusive, but does have limits. No eating his orange jelly beans. Parents need to have open communication with the older child about acceptable boundaries and how to create them. I love the gentle tone of this book and the drawings are endearing without being overly sweet. Lauren Child’s book have never disappointed me.

Click on the covers for more information or to buy the book.

  

  

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Ida, Always by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso. Book Review.

 

Although Ida, Always features a polar bear couple, Gus and Ida, it is about death and grieving, not bears. Ida and Gus lived in separate cages in an unnamed zoo in the middle (Central Park) of a large unnamed city (New York).  Every morning, their cages were opened and they spent the day together, splashing in the water, playing ball, and listening to the heart-beat of a city they always heard but could never explore.

Ida became ill one day and Gus spent her last days caring for her and pampering her. After she died, the book does a beautiful job of illustrating Gus’s stages of grief. This book would be helpful for a child who is mourning. It is beautifully written, insightful, sensitive, and positive.

On the one hand, this is a wonderful book on the loss of a loved one but on the other hand, it sugar-coats the actual life of this bear.

In the wild, polar bears live 20-30 years. In a zoo, the average is 20.7 years.  In the zoo, Gus had two females, Lily, who died at age 17 and Ida who died at age 25. Gus, the actual bear developed obsessive behaviours, even before the deaths of his mates, and had to be given Prozac and a program of stimulation, which lessened but did not cure his depression. He was born in a zoo and sent to Central Park for breeding. He lived for 25 years, from 1988 to 2013. He died two years after Ida. Polar bears in the wild will mate with several females over their lives, If Gus had been a free born bear, he would have been able to choose several mates.  He quite likely would not have died without offspring. I don’t think choosing Gus as the lead in this story was the best idea.

Zoo breeding programs are controversial. In light of the immediate and escalating danger polar bears face in the wild, zoo bears may, easily within our lifetime, only exist in zoos. The life of a captive bear is neither as simple nor as rosy as this book shows. This book may help children to develop compassion for polar bears but the full story would even more.

Click on the covers to buy the books or learn more about them.

  

  

 

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Don’t Go Out in the Dark by Philip Cox. Book Review.

If you like suspenseful murder mysteries with a mixture of suspects and an interesting protagonist, you’ll enjoy this book. The plot has a variety of branches that crisscross and intertwine and finally lead to a satisfying conclusion. I don’t like to post spoilers which makes reviewing a suspense pretty tricky.

Jack’s ex-girlfriend has been killed while driving his car. Is it an accident? Is it murder? Was she the target or was he? Jack is investigating this without much support while trying to adjust to a divorce and weekend fathering.

The story involves a possible miracle cure, a broken relationship, a newspaper investigation, a murdered friend who may have been the wrong target, a sex offender, a Russian Mafia’s son with a grudge, a mysterious hitman for hire, missing files, and more. Cox keeps the mystery fresh with every chapter.

The book is easy to read and also shares some interesting information about cancer research. The character is likable and the violence isn’t over the top. The only question I have is, why that title? “Don’t Go Out in the Dark” sounds like a teenage horror book and not a classic intriguing murder story. The picture on the cover seems to be of a fire which I guess represents the crashed car but I think it doesn’t do this terrific book justice.

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Click on the cover to buy the book.

Interview with the author.

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Tip and Lulu: A Tale of Two Friends. Written and Illustrated by Lauren Isabelle Pierre. Book Review.

What immediately strikes you about this book is how the pictures seem to glow and the little meerkat and leopard exude personality plus.

Lulu is a lonely leopard. We are not told what happened to her family, simply that she is alone in the world. Every time she tries to make friends, the other animals run away in fear for their lives. On the way, we are exposed to various African animals.

One day she comes across three meerkats bullying a fourth. She steps out and defends him. Tip, the little meerkat, becomes a dear friend. Later, when they see the three bullies running for their lives from a secretary bird, they decide to help. Even though Lulu rescues them, the three meerkats still run away in terror. Lulu and Tip don’t mind. Their friendship is available when the others are ready.

I love this message. It would’ve been so easy to let the three bullies be eaten by the secretary bird. Instead, Lulu and Tip take the high road. They also accept that there is no reward for their kindness. Their friendship with each other is enough.

The story is told in rhyme, which is very difficult to pull off. It holds together fairly well with only a few awkward spots. I understand this decision to use rhyme for a heavy topic that has been addressed in so many ways. The cuteness of the animals also helps to keep the tone light.

Children will want Lulu to make friends and will empathize with Tip, the bully victim. This book will lead into a good discussion about forgiveness. At no point does Tip want to use Lulu, the leopard, for vengeance. This book is a nice counterpoint to all the comics, movies, and television shows which promote revenge.

Click on the covers for more information or to buy the book.

    

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on Earth! by Marie-Louise Gay. Book review

Gay does both the writing and illustrating for her books. In this story, rabbits are anthropomorphized and live like people. Roslyn decides she’s going to dig the biggest hole ever. Not e a mole hole. Not a rabbit hole. The biggest one on earth, possibly to China or to the south pole where she can meet a penguin.

Her father tells her she should probably bring a sweater. When she takes her shovel and sweater to the backyard, she spends some time choosing the perfect spot to dig. Not where it’s too rocky. Not too near the oak three.  Definitely not near father’s carrot patch. Unfortunately, finding the perfect site isn’t as easy as she thought.

Rosalyn upsets a worm’s home and is told to dig somewhere else. She upsets a mole who sends her away. Finally she upsets a dog when she uncovers his bone cupboard. Discouraged, she lays down in the bottom of the hole. She has given up.

But then her father comes out and exclaims, “This must be the biggest hole in the universe! Roslyn, are you down there?” His enthusiasm is contagious and soon they are both having lunch in the bottom of the hole. The last line reads, “She couldn’t wait to meet the penguin.”

This is a lovely story about resilience. Although Roslyn’s attempts to dig the biggest hole are thwarted by things beyond her control, with her father’s support, she is able to feel successful. It also reinforces the power of imagination.

Marie-Louise Gay’s illustrations are wonderful, as usual. Although many of her pages have large sections of white paper, they never lack for dynamics. Roslyn is an adorable little bunny whose two tiny eyes are somehow able to still convey a wide variety of emotions.

Most children can relate to wanting to dig the biggest hole. Perhaps they tried to stack the tallest tower or lay out the longest road. I’m sure you can think of more.

Don’t expect your child to not want to dig a hole after reading this book. Perhaps you could bring it to the beach along with a shovel and bucket.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Are We There Yet? A story by Caldecott Medallist Dan Santat. Book review.

 

This looks more like a graphic novel than a regular children’s picture book. It would be a good bridge book for children.

It follows a boy going to see his grandmother for her birthday complaining the whole drive about how long it is taking. He doesn’t notice the wild and crazy things happening around the car such as cowboy bandits robbing a train, pirates putting the car on the plank, a knight jousting with the car, and camels walking by as the pyramids are being built.

Eventually the child does reach his destination where in we are told, “So sit back and enjoy the ride. But remember, there’s no greater gift than the present.” Then we see the child asking at the birthday cake time, “Can we go now?” Message obviously not received.

Basically this book attempts to teach children to live in the present moment. By constantly waiting for something to happen or being anxious for something to end, we make time drag. Plus, you miss your life by not attending to it, such as this child missed the events happening all around him.

One odd thing about this book, when imaginary things start happening the book has to be turned up side down to read but then it writes itself in an odd moment. At first I thought upside down meant imagination but the bizarre events are carried on into the correct upright pages. So I’m not sure what the author was trying to achieve there.

The pictures are fabulous. The whole book has an orange feeling to it which blends well with the inside cover of the sun setting. We subtly feel the passage of time as the trip progresses.

I doubt kids will get the message, but the adults who read this book to them hopefully will. It’s something we all need to remember and practice.

Click on the covers for more information or to buy the book.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 A personal favourite.