A Fairy AND a Princess – The Very Fairy Princess: A Spooky, Sparkly Halloween by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton. Illustrated by Christine Davenier. Book Review.

 Click here to buy The Very Fairy Princess: A Spooky, Sparkly Halloween

This book is one in a collection of Very Fairy Princess books written by Julie Andrews and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton. Yes, I already reviewed one of her books, Dumpy to the Rescue, but it was so awful I thought I’d give her another chance.

In this book, she has taken two things that little girls love, fairies and princesses, merged them together and built a business of picture books, music, a television series, and even a writing course for authors. Her books are advertised as a #1 New York Times Best-selling Series. When scanning the list of books, you immediately realized that they are all written to help children in socially difficult situations such as the end of the school year, losing the class pet, and not being chosen to sing the solo.

In this particular story, Gerry, who is a princess with actual fairy wings, uses a white sheet to dress as an angel for Halloween. When her best friend, Delilah, wears a dentist uniform that becomes covered in ketchup, Gerry uses her ingenuity and generosity to save the day. She transforms her sheet into a tooth costume for her friend. Together they morph Gerry into the tooth fairy. The girls win a big box of chocolates for creative teamwork. I love the message that friendship and compassion are more important than looking good.

If the other books are like this one, I think they would be enjoyed by little girls and beneficial to their social development. The story was suspenseful; my granddaughter was quite concerned when Delilah’s costume was ruined just before the parade. The text is longer and the vocabulary is a bit more advanced than I would have expected for the target audience, but with adult assistance shouldn’t be a problem.

The pictures are created with soft pastels with a lot of pink and purple. The one thing I noticed was that in the classroom scenes I could only find one child of color. Perhaps Christine Davenier could be more conscious of diversity in her illustrations.

I will be reviewing other books written by celebrities in January. It will be interesting to see if celebrity authors develop a series of books like Julie Andrews or just a one-shot affair and if they have a message they want to spread.

By the way, this was about as “spooky” as a week old kitten.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Dumpy to the Rescue! By Julie Andrews Edwards and Emma Walton Hamilton. Illustrated by Tony Walton. Book Review.

 Click here to buy Dumpy to the Rescue! (My First I Can Read)

This is an “I Can Read Book”so I wasn’t expecting it to be big on plot. I was surprised to see it was published in 2004. It has the look of a much older book. I expected something a little less ‘traditional’ than an old red dump truck and a white male farmer with a white boy assisting him especially when you consider the diversity of children reading early books. Even the illustration style seem to be from the 1960s.

Dumpy is the farm truck. He brings hay for the cows, oats for the horse, chicks for the corn, but then can’t find the baby goat. As the farmer searches for the goat and feeds more animals, he discovers missing nuts, roses, milk, apples and even a hat. He finds baby goat in the barn full from all the food he has pilfered.

Just because the book is an early read, doesn’t mean it can’t have zest. Even with such a simple plot, the illustrations could’ve had punch and made children laugh. I honestly think most children would be bored stiff reading this.

When posting this review, I discovered there is a whole series of Dumpy books. Oh, well. Different tastes for different readers I guess.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Is There Really a Human Race? By Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell. Book Review.

 Click here to buy Is There Really a Human Race?

I thought this book was going to be about race relations but it was actually a play on the words “human race”. It begins at a park where a little boy asks his mother, “Is there really human race.”

The next page reads, “Is it going on now all over the place? When did it start? Who said, ‘Ready, Set, Go’?”

He continues talking about warm-ups, coaches, practicing and training. He asks about location, participants, winners and losers, rules, and if they are all going to crash.

Then it reads, “Sometimes it’s better not to go fast. There are beautiful sites to be seen when you’re last. Shouldn’t it be that you just try your best? And that’s more important than beating the rest? Shouldn’t it be looking back at the end that you judge her own race by the help that you lend.” It continues in this theme until the last line says, “and make the world a better place for the whole human race.”

The words were clever, well paced, rhythmic, and important. The rhyming was flawless. The message was delivered beautifully.

The book was illustrated by Laura Cornell who used pencil and watercolor. The pictures were full of dynamic and zany movement. Many of the pages had stories within the illustrations. Some crowded double-page spreads took quite a while to absorb. She definitely got across the idea of the insanity of competition and pushing ourselves as fast as possible.

Inside the back cover is a “world yearbook” that features various pictures of children and their career choices such as tech support, circus clown, mud brick master, astronaut, career criminal, clog dancer and nuclear physicist. Every portrait is bursting with personality.

All in all, this was a wonderful surprise. Highly recommended.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Celebrity Writers – Do We Need Them?

Most of the books reviewed for the next couple of weeks are written by celebrities. This is my theme for July I was interested to see if celebrity written picture books were better because they could afford great editors and illustrators or worse because they were resting on their reputations.

The celebrities I have included are: Sarah Ferguson the Duchess of York, Jerry Seinfeld, Jamie Lee Curtis, Julie Andrews, Steve Martin, Billy Crystal, John Lithgow, and Will Smith. Some of the styles were entirely predictable, such as Jerry Seinfeld’s foray into Halloween memoir and Steve Martin’s zany alphabet. John Lithgow’s work was odd, not unexpected. Will Smith and Billy Crystal were sentimental and genuine. Julie Andrews wrote old-fashioned fantastical work. Jamie Lee Curtis was clever and deep. Sarah Ferguson was the most unpredictable after her little helicopter book was such a disaster. I think you’ll find some good reads and some books to avoid.

I was surprised there weren’t more in my public library as I felt as though we were being inundated with celebrity writing. Once I began researching, I realized most of them are written for adults and a lot are memoir. Perhaps this is a testament to the incredible difficulty of writing a good quality picture book.

I must admit I am not up-to-date on celebrities. I don’t read celebrity magazines. I seldom click on websites about the beautiful and famous. I don’t watch television shows where the rich and adored interview each other. So I googled who were the most famous people of 2016. There were a surprising number in the top 50 that I did not recognize. It will be interesting to see if any of these foray into writing. It seems to be a quick and easy way to make a buck, especially if you’re writing a tell-all. The sad thing is, the market is already glutted with more writers than readers and struggling authors have little chance of competing with brand names. Just how much of the pie do the ultra rich need to feel complete? Will Smith, for example, has been the highest or one of the highest-paid actors several years in a row. Does he really need the money from a picture book, one that could have been created by someone whose entire focus is writing?

How do you feel about celebrity authors? Do you think they are crowding the market and making it more difficult for beginning writers to be recognized? Do you feel their writing stands out in any way? I’d love to hear your opinions.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Poppa’s Goat written by Gary Hutchison. Illustrated by Gordon Court. Book Review.

This picture book tells the story of a grandfather who is fed up with the mess the paperboy makes delivering flyers. Instead of coming to the front door, the boy leaves the flyers on the front lawn where they blow all over the yard. Poppa’s granddaughter, Madeleine, comes to visit and misunderstands the phrase, “paperboy really gets his goat.”

Madeleine and Poppa build a box for the paperboy’s flyers and attach it to the fence in the front yard. Unfortunately, robins come and build a nest in the box so the papers wind up everywhere again. Madeleine and Poppa pick up the papers and create a papier-mâché figure representing the paperboy. The grandfather gives it to the dog who tears it to pieces. Funny and a little bit creepy at the same time.

Finally, the grandfather takes Madeline and their dog Stanley to a farm where they purchase a goat as a pet. Poppa specifically wants Little Goat to live in the backyard and eat the grass. But every Thursday, “he will go in the front yard and eat the flyers the paperboy puts on the ground. Goats love to eat paper.” The goat performs as expected. Madeleine and her grandparents celebrate with chocolate milk. The little goat curls up with the dog to sleep.

The illustrations are excellent. Gordon Court has an interesting angular style of drawing. Although the pictures are probably done on computer they feel close to hand drawn pen and ink outlines with color and shading.

The story is cute and funny and lends itself well to discussions of idioms, problem solving, and the raising of goats. On that last subject, please be sure to explain to the child that although goats love paper, giving it to them in great bunches as a regular diet is a bad idea. The paper has no nutritional value and a kid (baby goat) with a full stomach will not be able to eat his proper food to aid in growth. Eating too much paper can cause a blockage in the goat’s bowels, a major threat to his life. Flyers often contain toxic ink and full colored glossy pages are particularly poisonous. As well it looks like Poppa lives in the city where having a goat for a pet is not ideal. Be sure to explain to your child that this story is written just in fun.

The relationship between Madeleine and grandparents is positive and heartwarming. Perhaps you and your child could brainstorm as to how the two of them could solve this problem in a different way such as putting up a “No flyers please.” sign or hanging a paper box with a lid.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Author Timothy Gwyn Three Random Questions Interview

Timothy Gwyn writes science fiction stories and has recently finished his first novel, Avians.

Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome Timothy. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your novel, Avians. It is quite apparent that you are extremely knowledgeable about flying and can discuss gliders and airships with great expertise. Can you tell us a little about your experience with flying?

Timothy Gwyn: I first rode in an airliner, a Pan-Am Boeing 707, when I was six, and my brother took me up in a glider before I was eleven or so. I learned to fly when I was eighteen, and quickly took it up as a career. On the fun side, anytime I can get a ride in a balloon, a helicopter or a hovercraft, I’m having a good day.

Ferrante: I was very impressed with the world building in Avians. Both the environment and the social structure were unique and interesting. Can you tell us how you went about creating this fascinating world?

Gwyn: I wanted to write about aviation that was greener than the kind of flying I do, so I set out to create a world that had low technology, but needed flight. The lack of metals and complete absence of fossil fuels – both of which could stem from Celadon not having a moon – oblige the inhabitants to build gliders. Putting the settlements high on mountain sides makes them ideal for launching sailplanes, and also creates a scarcity of habitable land that leads to all sorts of social consequences.

Ferrante: You chose to write from the point of view of several women, most young teenagers. Why did you choose girls instead of boys as your protagonists?

Gwyn: I wanted a utopian society with gender equality, but that begs a fundamental question: if everything is so perfect, why would a fourteen-year-old run away from home? Because the landowners consolidate their grip on their property not just through trade alliances, but also with strategic marriages, and Raisa wants no part of that. Also, I wanted characters who were not the biggest or strongest, but who have to accomplish their goals despite that, by finding courage and determination within themselves.

Ferrante: I don’t want to give away too much of the book but I really want to know why you made Raisa anorexic. You make it quite clear why she refuses to eat and it suits the narrative perfectly but what was the impetus for your decision to give her an eating disorder? How did you research this?

Gwyn: I don’t like to apply the term anorexic to Raisa, because I’m sure she’s never heard the word. She would claim her reluctance to eat is a protest, a hunger strike. It seemed the perfect flaw for Raisa: she has no idea how privileged she is, and she is a rebellious and contrary character. But yes, her attitude towards food is distorted, and experience with anorexia in my own family shows through in some of her specific issues.

Ferrante: Because this is such a rich and well thought-out world, I could easily see you setting more books in it. Do you have any plans for a sequel or other novels that take place in this world?

Gwyn: I do! There are already two prequel short stories published: “Far Gone” at NewMyths.com is about the trip to Celadon, and “Freezer Burn” at Antipodean SF is about one of Raisa’s ancestors coming out of the long sleep. I’m working on the first sequel to Avians, in which bandits worsen a refugee crisis, and Mel and Raisa must work together in new ways to prevent a disaster. I’d like to create a series of novels that follow Raisa and Mel’s adventures as they mature in different ways.

Ferrante: You live in a fairly small town in northern Ontario, Canada. I know you belong to the NOWW, Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop, and that there is an active writing community in Kenora. What else do you do to connect with other writers, improve your writing skills, and gather feedback on your work?

Gwyn: Since attending my first workshops in Kenora, I’ve become a regular at conventions in Winnipeg, Ottawa, and now Calgary. I put a lot of work into an Odyssey online course one winter, and I also belong to a speculative fiction critique group in Winnipeg; I get a lot of mental writing done on the drive home.

Ferrante: What advice would you give to new authors who are writing their first science fiction book?

Gwyn: Make connections. Start with Beta readers. Then, if you can manage to get to a convention or workshop, put your brave face on and sign up for a Blue Pencil Café because those short critiques often go straight to the heart of the matter. Look into online courses such as Odyssey’s, because they teach you to critique. Follow the Prix Aurora Awards: enrolling to vote is just ten bucks each year and you get to read all the shortlisted works.

Ferrante: What you working on now? What are your future plans? Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers?

Gwyn: I’m working on that first sequel, Bandits, and roughing out some plots for later books. I have enough ideas to keep me going for many years. I have two blogs that can be reached through timothygwyn.com: Lake of the Woods Ice Patrol displays aerial photographs to chronicle the spring thaw in Kenora’s cottage country, and Timothy Gwyn Writes covers my adventures and misadventures pursuing writing and publication.

Three Random Questions

Ferrante: If you were a science-fiction character, who would you be?

Gwyn: Nausicaä from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. This Hiyao Miyazaki anime is perhaps my favourite movie ever. Princess Nausicaä is brave but pacifistic, and strives to understand nature to better her world. And she’s a pilot!

Ferrante:  The morning after a nuclear catastrophe, what would you be able to reinvent or re-create?

Gwyn: Coffee. There will be no civilization rising from the ashes until I have coffee. I’ll get around to building a printing press out of the slag and putting out a newspaper in the afternoon.

Ferrante: What kind of clothes would you absolutely never wear?

Gwyn: High socks, with or without shorts. I fold my socks down to below the shin. And flood pants: I’m still traumatized from my growth spurt in junior high. Captain Kirk’s uniform pants that end with a flare above the ankle make me cringe.

Ferrante: Thank you so much for participating in my interview series. It was a pleasure getting to know you.

Timothy Gwyn can be found through his website at www.timothygwyn.com, and Twitter @timothygwyn

Avians by Timothy Gwyn. Book Review.

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Timothy Gwyn has built a fascinating and completely believable world in his first 416 page young adult science-fiction novel. His expertise with flying gives authenticity to the events without overwhelming the reader with technical jargon. Girls whose lives are miserable may be able to escape by joining the avians, an aeronautical group of young women fiercely loyal to each other and in love with flying glider planes used for commercial delivery and rescue missions.

The girls are as unique as their reasons for joining. However, not everyone will make it through training. So many girls are washed out or killed that the older flyers don’t bother to learn their names until the recruits have proven themselves. Even experienced aviators can fall victim to an accident. Then, they may be “converted”, a mysterious and frightening prospect.

Gwyn juxtapositions two girls from the same household, Raisa, heiress to a rich and influential silk empire and Mel, a servant in her household who detests Raisa. Both girls wind up in the same squad. The opportunity to sabotage Raisa is not lost on Mel. It seems likely that only one of these girls will make it, but which one?

Girls and women are the heroes of this novel and, not for a moment, are they dependent on men to reach their true potential. The rivalries are genuine as is the sisterhood. Science fiction readers of all ages will enjoy this book but it will especially connect with those who are interested in flight or empowering young women.

Buy links

Barnes and Noble 

Amazon

Timothy Gwyn will be interviewed tomorrow on this blog.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Check-Up: Oldbridge Tales by Mark Daydy. Illustrated by Mike Daydy. Book Review.

Book buy link http://a.co/ixsNgfz

Because of the differences in terminology the author and the illustrator have created an American version and an English version of the story. The book still has a definitely British feel to it. For example the taxi is black, I learned recently that they’re called “black cabs” and the protagonist, Jake, who seems to be a delivery truck, is yellow like North American taxis.

The story is fairly simple. Jake has smoke coming out of his engine but is afraid to go for a check-up. His friend, Sylvester, follows him around town telling everyone that Jake needs to go for a check-up. Jake refuses to listen insisting that he is too busy. But when his engine begins to choke up he realizes the seriousness of the situation and goes to the garage. He learns that all he needs is a new air filter, a painless experience. The story ends with Sylvester starting to smoke and Jake bugging him to go for a check-up. It could be quite funny if it is read with suitable expression.

The cars are old-fashioned cars, I think from the 30s, I’m not a car person so I don’t know for sure. This gives the book a certain charm. The illustrations by Mike Daydy are computer graphics. He does a good job of giving the cars expression. I would suggest that he vary the point of view of the illustration as most of them are taken from above looking down at an angle.

I think the story has two messages, one for children and one for adults. For children, the story reassures them that going to the doctor is usually not nearly as dramatic as they expect. For adults, it’s a reminder not to ignore symptoms that could be warnings of something more serious and that checkups for breast cancer or prostate cancer should never be postponed.

Children who enjoy books about cars may not even realize this book is actually about taking care of our bodies and our health. This could be a good thing for some children who don’t like to talk about going to the doctor. Sometimes a covert approach is the best.

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Haunted by a Bad Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library by Linda Bailey. Illustrated by Victoria Jamieson. Book Review.

The Tiny Hero contains well-done black and white illustrations for each chapter.  There are 324 pages but the type is large and well spaced. This book is immediately engaging. Even though it is written for children ages seven to twelve, I was completely hooked.

The reader can’t help but love the little hero, Eddie, a tiny bug who braves the huge halls of the school, dodging a spider, a mouse, and lots of squishers (humans who stomp on bugs), in order to find his missing aunt.

Aunt Min is special. She has taught Eddie to read and told him many stories she overheard in the school library. These are books every child should experience from the works of Dr. Seuss to E.B. White. Avid readers will nod their heads with understanding whenever these books are mentioned. You may want to find those you haven’t read.

The novel supports reading and libraries at a time when many are shrinking or disappearing. Little Eddie reminds us of all the reasons we love a children’s library and why it cannot be replaced by a computer terminal.

The first quest for Eddie is to save his aunt and then protect his foolish little cousin who has followed him. The second one is to save the library from a substitute librarian (sister of a powerful administrator) who wants to board up its beautiful windows, remove all the books, and turn it into something less expensive. It seems an impossible task for a little bug to stop the demise of the beloved library when even the principal has trouble asserting himself but Eddie is committed and clever.

This endearing, suspenseful, and thoughtful book will connect with children and parents alike. There are acts of courage and sacrifice, a great deal of humor, subtle ethical topics, and tributes to our most cherished children’s books. I love how we see the world through the eyes of a small, defenseless creature who only wants to survive with his family. (A good discussion could follow about how some humans are “squishers” of small insects and how this contrasts with the compassion other people show to the small and defenseless.)

This book doesn’t touch on the topic of bullying but I believe if children are taught to show kindness to the smallest and most helpless, they are less likely to bully others or to be speciest. Little Eddie and his family are adorable ambassadors for compassion.

Highly recommended. Buy link http://a.co/bOOONR1

I was given a copy of this book for review.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages