Can You Say Peace? By Karen Katz. Book Review.

Although Peace Day was September 21, this gentle book fits well with my theme of war and peace for November.

This is a simple book that shows us how to say peace in different languages. It begins “Today is Peace Day all around the world. Children everywhere will wish for peace, hope for peace, and ask for peace. All around the world today, there will be many different ways to say peace.” From that point on each double-page spread has the name of the child and the country she lives in on the left with a full-page bright illustration. A close-up of the child’s face on the is right with the words on how to say peace in their language with a pronunciation guide. For example, “Meena lives in India.” features an elephant, women on a blanket working or sharing their food I’m not sure which, two women carrying food on the top of their heads, a goat, and palm trees. On the right, “Meena says shanti (SHAHNtee).

The countries featured are India, America, Japan, Australia, Mexico, Iran, Russia, China, France, Ghana, and Bolivia. The book ends with the powerful words, “All around the world, children want to go to school, to walk in their towns and cities, play outside, and to share food with their families. They want to do all these things and feel safe. No matter how we say it we all want peace.”

What an important message that those who suffer the most in our war-ridden world are those who are the most innocent and helpless. It is also an effective reminder to be grateful if we are some of the fortunate people to live in a country that is not being torn apart by war. We need to be grateful if we are able to go to school, play outside, and share food with our families while we feel safe. I wish this for all children everywhere.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

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Smoot A Rebellious Shadow by Michelle Cuevas. Illustrated by Sydney Smith. Book Review.

Smoot, a shadow, is tired of the boring, depressing existence he is trapped in and breaks away from the boy who never laughs, leaps, or does anything wild. Free at last, Smoot skips in the park, rides the merry-go-round, climbs a tree and engages fully with the world. His actions inspire others shadows to also fulfill their dreams. As Smoot creates his adventure, the boy follows and watches.

Newly inspired shadows find the courage to perform in public, create fearsome and magical alter egos, and reached the clouds. Smoot becomes concerned that the shadows of wild animals may create havoc. Through creative thinking, Smoot persuades the shadows to return to their origins. When he returns to his own boy, the child has changed. He improved now laughs, leaps, and acts wild. Both their lives are changed.

This feels like a book written for adults more than for children. As a rule, it is adults who’ve lost the ability to laugh and leap. I would interpret the boy as representing adults and the shadow representing the forgotten inner child. Quite often there are things in our life that are beyond our control. But just as often our attitude determines our happiness. The boy in the story has disengaged from life. He’s forgotten that the simple joys are the sweetest.

Although children would enjoy this story, I think the parent reading it to them will actually get the most benefit.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Smartest Giant in Town by Julia Donaldson. Illustrated by Axel Scheffler.

You may misinterpret the title of this wonderful picture book. I thought it had to do with intelligence but it actually means stylish or well-dressed. I see others made the same mistake since the title has been changed to “Spiffiest.”

George is a giant who wears the same pair of old brown sandals in the same old patched up gown. We see from the illustrations that the townsfolk are quite blasé about George and other giants. The story begins with George deciding to spruce up. He buys “a smart shirt, a smart belt, a smart pair of trousers, a smart stripy tie, some smart socks with diamonds up the sides, and a pair of smart shiny shoes.” He declares that he is now the smartest giant in town. He leaves his old clothes behind and heads for home.

Here the story unfolds of George’s compassionate heart. He gives a giraffe his necktie to keep his long cold neck warm. As he goes on his way, George sings a happy song about giving away his tie but still being the smartest giant in town. George gives his shirt away to a goat who needs a new sail for his boat. He gives a shoe to a homeless mouse family. He gives a sock to a fox that needs a sleeping bag. He puts his belt across the bog to help the dog travel safely. But then, as George hops, his pants fall down. In the end he returns back to town and puts on his old clothes. All the creatures he helped get together and make a gold paper crown and a thank you card that lists all the generous acts and ends with “the kindest giant in town.”

What a wonderful book to lead into discussion of generosity, compassion, and sharing. This would be a great book to motivate children to participate in charitable events and to give up something so that others might have the necessities of life. It also promotes minimalism and non-attachment.

The illustrations are nicely done. The text is threaded throughout the variety of pictures. Some are double spreads, some full-page, and some two or three small illustrations on the page. They are bright, detailed, and colourful. The paper is glossy and good quality which makes the illustrations pop. Highly recommended.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Other great books by Julia Donaldson. Click on the covers for more information or to purchase the books.

All of Me! A Book of Thanks by Molly Bang. Book Review.

This is an unusual book of thanks. It reminds me of a Buddhist gatha where we thank our body for everything it has given and done for us. In this text, the child thanks his feet, hands, knees and elbows, head, five senses, and other parts of his body. He expresses appreciation and wonder at the gifts given to him through his body. For example:

“I smile and talk and sing with my mouth. My lips kiss Mommy and Daddy. My teeth bite crackers. My tongue licks ice cream. My most tastes all my food before it slides down here, into my tummy.”

There’s one exceptionally beautiful moment where, after expressing thanks for all the things he can hear such as honking, singing, barking, laughing, purring, ticking,and rumbling, he hears between the noises… Silence. This illustration is a double spread of a night sky with a crayon outline of the boys face, eyes closed, calm and serene.

The illustrations are large and bright, done with crayon and cut out pieces of felt and graphics.

This book is a excellent reminder to be thankful for the simple things we receive, to express gratitude for our bodies with which we experience the whole universe.

It ends “And right now I also know that I am part of this whole world – this universe! All this is my home. I am ALIVE. And this whole universe is inside… All of me! What a wonder.
What seems at first to be a simple picture book is actually a profound and wise way of looking at the world and oneself. This would be a beautiful nighttime story for a child, a wonderful book to share on Thanksgiving Day, a Sunday school or Dharma school treasure, or even a reminder to adults not to take their lives for granted.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Eating Green by Molly Aloian. Book Review.

 Buy Link Eating Green (Green Scene)

“Eating green means understanding the impact our food choices have on the environment and trying to lessen that impact. To eat green, we must buy food with little or no packaging. We should eat fresh food and local food that is grown or made nearby. Eating green also need avoiding foods that have been sprayed with harmful pesticides.”

Although this picture book is written for children, it is a reminder for people of all ages of the impact of our choices. It discusses necessary and unnecessary packaging and its impact on landfills. It explains the difference between processed foods and fresh foods and their impact on the earth and our bodies. Organic foods are preferred and the harmfulness of pesticides is explained. The reader learns why buying local is a good habit. The accumulation of toxic plastic drinking bottles is examined. The book encourages little-free lunches. It ends with the beautiful double page spread on the importance of family mealtime. Bonus: a simple but healthy pizza recipe at the end of the book. There is also a glossary and an index.

The illustrations in this book are full-color photographs which highlight and elucidate the message. You cannot look at that pile of garbage, mostly plastic, and not feel we need to change. This is an excellent book for families to share.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Isabella’s Heart by Diane Merrill Wiggington. Book Review.

Isabella’s Heart is the second in the award-winning Jeweled Dagger Series. Like the first book, it is a lighthearted humorous romance that takes place in the 1700s. It contains just enough historical reference to establish time and place and provide an anchor for societal expectations and events. In spite of a few anachronisms, the author succeeds in bringing the reader into this colorful world.

Isabella is the daughter of Angelina, the heroine of the first book, Angelina’s Secret, and has inherited her gutsy, defiant personality. In this story, Isabella sets out to save her twin brother from kidnappers. They share a special psychic connection which allows Isabella to see through the eyes of her brother Charles. Although there is a significant amount of romance, it is a nice variation to see the focus of this story centered on a sibling relationship.

Like her mother, Isabella is no slacker when it comes to combat. She is also insightful, brave, clever, and more than a little reckless. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away but this is a fun, swashbuckling, fast-paced adventure with a kick ass heroine. It’s a great beach read or holiday break.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Trell by Dick Lehr. Book Review.

This young adult book is told from the viewpoint of a 13-year-old girl named Van Trell Taylor whose father, Romero, is in prison. She was a baby when he was convicted of the murder of a 13-year-old girl in a gang/drug related crime where someone else was the target. Trell’s mother, Shey, is confident that, even though her husband was a drug dealer and petty criminal, he was not capable of murdering anyone. Trell enlists the aid of a new lawyer and burned out journalist to find the truth about her father.

Although the story is action-packed and suspenseful with a plot filled with twists and turns, it is also an insightful and empathetic study of Trell and Shey. The impact of having a father or husband in jail colors the family’s entire life. Trell and her mother visit Romero in prison every week. Trell’s bedroom mirror holds a picture of her with her father in prison on every birthday. She keeps her father’s history as private as she can from classmates and copes with overbearing and assuming teachers with no true understanding of her family or life.

As the story progresses, the reader becomes more and more invested in the lives of this trio. We suffer with Trell as she learns of her father’s shady past and the evidence against him. It becomes apparent that, while Romero made some bad choices in his past, he is now a mature, responsible adult and loving father. The reader shares Trell’s concerns and increasing hopefulness for her father’s release.

What blew me away was the author’s note. The story is closely based on a true incident in Boston and the writer was the investigating journalist who broke the case wide open! Whenever I read the story of this type, I wonder how many men have been imprisoned (or in some countries, executed) for crimes they did not commit. Dick Lehr gives us some insight into the repercussions of these terrible events.

Personal note: This is one of many reason why I will always be grateful there is no death sentence in Canada as improved DNA tests have shown the imprisonment of the innocent is not as unusual as we think.

This book would interest anyone 13 and up and would be a catalyst for important discussions. Highly recommended.

Buy link http://a.co/4VBsxVo

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Let’s Eat! What Children Eat Around the World by Beatrice Hollyer. Book Review.

This book features food of five children: Jordan from France, Luis from Mexico, Thembe from South Africa, Yamini from India, and AA from Thailand. Each section gives an overview of the child’s life, family, and food. It features a special day where food is prominent. The book begins with a chocolate cookie recipe from chef Jamie Oliver.

Eight-year-old Thembe has to carry water in a clay pot, walk across the hills to school, work in the vegetable garden, collect firewood, and help with dinner. The special event is a wedding.

Something that will surely encourage discussion, “The groom’s friends have killed two cows for the wedding feast. The best pieces are barbecued for the men, and the rest is put into big pots to stew.”

Six-year-old Luis collects eggs and cares for the sheep. He washes his face with water from the big cement basin in the courtyard. Breakfast is cold rice pudding or cornflakes and chocolate milk. He eats tortillas at nearly every meal. His special day is fiesta just before Christmas.

Eight-year-old AA helps to feed a Buddhist monk every morning. She can cook her own eggs.

The book continues sharing similarities and differences between the lives and diets of these children. It is written in a way children can understand and shares relevant and interesting facts. It ends with a recipe from each child and a glossary. The recipes are a milk tart, tomato salsa, Thai fried eggs, chocolate cake, and coconut sweet.

This book would help children connect with other cultures and also appreciate what they have. I wish the recipes were more substantial and not focused so much on sweets.

All proceeds from this book go to Oxfam.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

Harvest Celebrations by Clare Chandler. Book Review.

The topics covered in this nonfiction book for ages 8-11 are:

  1. harvest around the world
  2. a successful harvest
  3. the history of harvest festivals
  4. religious festivals
  5. other harvest festivals
  6. the changing harvest
  7. calendar of harvest festivals

The book is 31 pages long and is half text, half photographs. It includes a glossary.

Some sensational information may be disturbing to children.

  • “It was the custom for ancient people in many parts of the world to sacrifice human beings at harvest. This was supposed to make sure of a good crop the following year. The people of Canar in Ecuador, South America, used to sacrifice one hundred children every year at harvest.”

It does not mention that many religions today still sacrifice living animals on altars. I think this is skewed reporting. It is easy to condemn the behavior of early cultures without honestly examining those of our time.

Another shortcoming is the glossing over of modern farming. Everything is written in a positive fashion with no mention of deforestation, child labor or poor migrant workers. The factory farming of animals, overfishing, and the destruction of the environment due to modern food production aren’t even mentioned.

I borrowed this book from the library. It needs to be updated and made more socially relevant.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

Recycled Sundays – Giving Thanks

We’re heading into the over indulgence season. Thanksgiving is the time of overindulgence in poultry and pumpkin. Halloween is the time of overindulgence in terror and treat. Christmas, the ultimate blowout, is the time of overindulgence in everything. Appropriately, these days of decadence are followed by Year’s Day, the time of reparation and resolution.

As Thanksgiving Day approaches, those of us with gardens that barely yielded spinach, peas, and lettuce, may feel the holiday has lost its impact. It is difficult to be thankful for the cloudiest, coldness, wettest summer most of us ever remember. It is difficult for me to express gratitude for wormy carrots and radishes, green tomatoes the size of my thumbnail, the smallest yield of zucchini ever (I previously thought it was not humanly possible to consume all the zucchini grown by a single plant), clematis that never climbed, honeysuckle and sweet pea that never attracted a single hummingbird (did anyone actually see one this summer?) and annual flowers that were stunted by spring frost and killed in late bloom by autumn frost.

In an effort to achieve the appropriate holiday attitude, I will consider the many things for which I should be thankful. First, I was able to construct that previous sentence without a dangling participle. Second, I am not a farmer whose survival depends on tomatoes the size and quality of children’s marbles. Third, odds are that next summer won’t be a record-breaking summer miserable weather. Fourth, I can’t remember any other summer where forest fires were next to nonexistent on the news. Also, we had some impressive rainstorms but not a single hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or sinkhole.

I’m thankful I’m alive and have a decent chance to remain that way for respectable time since I live in Canada not in a Third World or a war-torn country.

I can read this newspaper, unlike 5% of Canadians who have trouble dealing printed matter. I can afford this newspaper, unlike 14.3% Canadian families living below poverty level. I can write this column, which means I have a sense of humour (hopefully).

Smile wrinkles are far more attractive than frown wrinkles.

I’m thankful that the Peregrine falcon has been downgraded on the list of endangered Canadian species and that Pee Wee Herman has been downgraded on the list of bizarre species. I’m thankful that I’ve never fallen for Woody Allen who has been downgraded, period.

I’m thankful that Ann Landers, like expensive wine, has improved over the years. Tina Turnner is still steaming windows at age 54. Although John Crowe is Canadian, at least Dan Quayle isn’t.

I’m thankful all the kids are back to school and life is following a rough and wild routine. We no longer feel like golden agers going to bed before the kids now that bedtime is scheduled again. I enjoy our togetherness more when I have some time alone.

Camping season is over and none of us was eaten by a berry starved, compost crazed bear.

I’m grateful for small golden moments of sweetness, such as my little boy’s voice wafting up from the bathroom as he sings a YTV songs that never, never, never, never end. My Third World foster child wrote to say she is married, (we didn’t even send a cow). The new wallpaper actually looks better on the bathroom wall than on the roll except for that giant bubble that didn’t exist before I went to work.

It’s good to have a day that reminds us that I have so much to be thankful for. Ideally, I should make it a regular experience. After all, there’s something precious in every single day.

October 11, 1992

Chronical-Journal/Times-News

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO MY FELLOW CANADIANS!

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages