Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen by Kate McGovern. Book Review.

The premise of this story is that a girl, Maple, is kept back in grade four while all her friends move to grade five, middle school, and shun her. She fails because she can’t read. This has just been discovered by her “excellent” teacher and she is diagnosed with dyslexia.

Before I address the story writing, I must address this issue of failing a child for the teacher’s inadequate assessments. This book is published in Canada so I don’t know what province this would still be happening in. For decades in Ontario, teachers must assess students independent reading at least three times a year using unfamiliar text with no pictures or oral clues. The students are assigned a reading level and this is followed from grade SK to six. Teachers plot the child’s progress from one term to the next and if a child is falling behind, further testing and support is put in place. Everyone involved would be alerted if a child couldn’t read long before they reached the end of grade five. Parents would be livid if a child was suddenly kept back with no indication for years that they were struggling. There would be long discussion of why this child slipped through their fingers and someone would be held accountable.

Setting that aside, the story is an accurate representation of the trauma a child in this situation would suffer. Quite often the friends in their former class forget about including them, especially if they seldom see each other at school. Parents are often unaware that a child is being socially excluded. Maple is hurt but resourceful and brave. She suffers a horrible humiliation and has the compassion to forgive. Unfortunately, today I think the public humiliation of her poor oral reading would not be put on the intercom but would be spread across social media where it would not be forgotten so easily.

The book also touches on how difficult it is for minority children, especially those of mixed race, to find representation in media and history representation.

This is a touching story but it feels a little out of date. This seems as though the social and academic situations pertain more to the time of the author’s childhood than present day.

Buy Link https://amzn.to/3Ffsgqb

3 stars

The Gatsby Kids and the Outlaw of Sherwood by Brian Michaud. Book Review.

Buy link https://amzn.to/3lc0a4Y

This is the first book in a series of time traveling adventures.  Three Gatsby siblings, the youngest in the 6th grade, are targets of some pretty extreme bullying at school. As a  retired teacher, it horrifies me that anything so obvious could be happening but I’m sure it does somewhere. The three kids stick together but seem to be resigned to the horrific treatment they receive from older violent students. However, they show great courage, pluck, and ingenuity when they travel back in time.

The author has come up with a  unique way of having a having the kids go back to the 13th century. Here they must rescue Robin Hood before he has joined the merry-men. The story is fairly gentle and without gore. It suits children aged seven and up although some might find the vocabulary bit of a struggle.

 The story comes to a conclusion but the  school bullying is not resolved. I suspect there will be more time travel and this will help the children overcome the challenges at school.

 The best part of this book and the most enjoyable is the humor. The children are hilarious, especially the youngest. Kids will laugh out loud at their banter and behavior.

Crazy Moon by Lucia Greene. Illustrated by Shannon Sands. Book Review.

buy link https://amzn.to/33CjOky

This is the second book I have reviewed by Lucia Greene. Her five star review for A Tunnel in the Pines is available here. https://bferrante.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/a-tunnel-in-the-pines-by-lucia-greene-book-review/

This book is written in the same easy-to-engage style. However, it is less intense and suspenseful than A Tunnel.

Madison goes to summer camp for the first time. Her cabin has a mixture of girls, nice, shy, bully, and bystander. I expected Madison to be an advocate for respect among the girls but she is preoccupied with her own experiences. When Nancy, the ostracized girl runs away, I expected a connection to the title of the book “crazy moon.” This refers to aggressive behavior of animals in breeding mode. There are tales, in my northern community, of hikers and campers attacked relentlessly by moose in heat. But Nancy spent the night safe and sound in a tiny pine hideaway.

I thought the counselor would intervene and have the girls discuss and work on the group dynamics at several points in the book, but there was no real resolution. Madison’s take away from all this was to advise Nancy not to take things so seriously.

This could have been a book on personal and social growth wherein the reader gained perspective and empathy for the bullied girl and some strategies for dealing with put downs and other anti-social remarks. This could have been, like A Tunnel in the Pines, a nail-biting emotional roller-coaster ride for the reader. It was an enjoyable read but not of  the truly high-caliber of Greene’s first book. It will appeal to girls who love riding as Madison falls for Mouse, one of the camp horses. That, too, could have been a theme to expand upon. Why is this horse so afraid? What happens to them when they no longer can be ridden.

While I love Greene’s writing style, I think this particular book had some unfulfilled potential.

Laura Monster Crusher by Wesley King. Book Review.

This book is suitable for middle-grade to early young adult. This will be a favorite with readers who love fantasy and unusual female heroes.

Laura is a big girl who has been bullied since childhood about her size. Her family moves to a new town and enrolls her in a different school to give her a fresh start. Unfortunately the bullying begins again but this time two other victims befriend her. When Laura fails to stand up for one of them, her new relationship is at risk.

But the real challenge is navigating the secret world Laura can only access through a hidden elevator in her closet. She discovers she is destined to be a monster crusher and without her rising to the challenge, her family, friends, and world are in great danger. Laura, however, is neither athletic nor nimble. Night after night, for this is when she can secretly train, Laura fails to acquire the necessary skills of a monster crusher.

The danger rises to the point of crisis when her beloved blind little brother is kidnapped by the monsters. Betrayed and vastly outnumbered, Laura must pull off a miracle in order to save her family.

The affectionate relationship between Laura and her humorous little brother, her struggle with self-identity and confidence, her desire for friends, and her reluctant courage make her an endearing and interesting hero. An enjoyable read that picks up pace and increases in suspense as it progresses. Although it has a satisfying ending, the danger is still imminent and a sequel or series is possible.


Rafa and the Mist by Kade Baird. Illustrated by Jess Rose. Book Review.

This lovely watercolour picture book is more of an advice and discussion starter than a story. Rafa is being bullied. It may be because of his accent, skin color, or his clothing. He runs into the woods and takes refuge in the mist. The mist speaks to him and protects him. It tells Rafa to develop a plan to stop the bullies and to get support and protection from adults. Eventually Rafa is able to attend school safely and makes some friends.
The author states that the bullies will regret what they have done. This is a point that is often overlooked in picture books and it opens the door to discussion with bullies. I’m not sure it’s always true but it may give pause to children who are feeling guilty about their participation in bullying. Most bullies who realize they’ve done wrong to others, deny it or play it down.
The book does not actually give problem-solving tip for dealing with bullies but more encourages children to tell adults and seek support. I would have really liked something at the back of the book for children sand adults on bullying resolution
strategies or a link to helpful sites available on the net.
The author states that the bullies are scared of Rafa. While this may be true, it is not always true. There are genuinely children who enjoy hurting  others for the power rush it gives them or the release of adrenaline or the increase in social status. That is why a single strategy does not work with every child in every situation.
The first step in getting help is asking for it so this book would be useful in a classroom. Children are smart and sneaky when they are bullying and teachers may not be aware of what is really going on. This book might encourage a victim or a bystander to come forward and reveal acts of cruelty that have been hidden from the adults.
The tone is hopeful and encouraging. However, because bullying is such a hot topic right now there are numerous books available on the subject. I wouldn’t recommend this as the only purchase but it could be useful as one of a set of books. It is a rather long text, suitable for children six years old and up.

Milton the Christmas Moose by Steve and Jean Goodwin. Illustrated by Loanna Philippou. Book Review.

This book was written to teach children the importance of kindness, inclusion, forgiveness, and the spirit of Christmas. Milton has one antler smaller than the other and one leg shorter than the other. Like Rudolph, he is teased and excluded by his species. However he makes friends with all the other animals, helps them as much as possible, and encourages them to help each other. Because of this, Rudolph comes to visit him and brings him to see Santa. Santa grants him a wish. Milton wishes to be green with red antlers to remind people to keep Christmas in their hearts 365 days a year. This triggers a realization in the other moose who treat him differently from then on.
This book is obviously written for very young children, those who still believe in Santa and Rudolph. However it is a little long and challenging for children of this age. Parents could read it to them and explain some of the words and concepts.
Throughout the story we see that small kindnesses make a big difference in animal’s lives. This book lends itself well to discussions on how children can help others and make the world a better place through their small achievements.
I thought the new colour choice of red and green was a little weak as a catalyst for change by the other moose. Rudolph is accepted by the other reindeer because of his monumental achievement of saving Christmas and being exactly what Santa needed when the others were unable to help him. I felt this story needed a little more umph for the turning point. I was hoping for something new but it seem to be basically an echo of the Rudolph story.
The illustrations are cute, wonky watercolors. They are colourful and cheerful, however the illustration of Santa Claus was a little jarring and out of place.
At the end of the book it tells the reader to check out the Christmas song on a website. When you go there, this song is for purchase only and I couldn’t figure out a way to hear any of it.
A sweet, heart-warming book that encourages good values but doesn’t have the impact of Rudolph.

The Brand New Kid by Katie Couric. Illustrated by Markorie Priceman. Book Review.

There are a lot of books written about bullying and exclusion. This one points out that there really is no rational reason for targeting a child. The child, Laszlo, being bullied was new to the town. “His hair was so blonde, it looked almost white. It stuck out all over, it didn’t look right. His lips were bright pink, his eyes very blue. He looked at his feet and he fidgeted too.… His voice booming so loud.” The children decided immediately that he was weird and began to bully him. As a previous teacher, I was shocked that the teacher was so oblivious to what was going on and did not intervene. It is obvious when they pick teams that he is being left out. The bullying even goes as far as tripping him in the lunch room. This goes on for several weeks. I do know that bullies can be sneaky and clever and pull the wool over their parents and teacher’s eyes, but this seemed pretty prevalent and apparent. I expected the teacher to at least attempt to address the situation. I do understand, though, the children’s books need to be focused on children solving the problem and not adults.

One of the students who has been bullying, discovers Laszlo’s mother crying and learns she is thinking of pulling her son from the school. She suddenly has a moment of conscience and invites Lazlo to play. They have loads of fun and Ellie meets his mother who provides them with warm cookies. When the kids at school question her behavior, she explains that he isn’t that different and shares some of her experience. She ends with, “he may look slightly strange, have an accent and stuff, but if you knew him, you’d like him, it wouldn’t be tough.” Suddenly the children switch to being friendly and inclusive.

It feels like too easy of a solution. Ellie, and the other children, would know full well that Laszlo and his family would be very upset about his treatment. The children look and sound like Junior grade students (4 – 6) certainly old enough to understand exactly what they’re doing and the consequences. I thought perhaps this was an older book since public schools put in a great deal of effort to encourage inclusive this and clamp down on bullying. It seemed in this story that the children controlled the school.

It’s an admirable topic and a worthwhile book but just seems a little out of date. (Copyright 2000) I do believe, however, that this topic needs to be visited regularly every year and we must continue to be vigilant about protecting the bullied and educating bullies. Parents need to be vigilant about this as well.


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.



Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Golden Rule by Sherrill S. Cannon. Illustrated by Kalpart.


As appears evident from the title of this book, it is the type of text one would use with Sunday school children or perhaps young schoolchildren. The premise seemed interesting. “Robert and Kait decide to look for the Golden ruler that their Mom has told them about, only to find out that she meant rule instead of ruler.” I thought there would be more of a search and more humor involved. This search takes three of the eleven pages. I had anticipated that the search would connect and lead into the value of the Golden rule but the two sections are completely isolated.

While searching, Kait asks Rob if it might be a ruler they can’t see. He thinks for a minute and realizes that it is a rule. Then suddenly he begins to explain it.

“It’s not a school ruler, or measuring tool…

It’s a rule that you live by, to give and to share,

A way to treat others to show that you care.”

From that point on the book explains how to treat others properly. It talks about thinking with head and heart, sharing, dealing with bullies, paying it forward, inclusion, and honesty.

The story is written in rhyme which is always difficult to do well. The rhythm and beat suit this style of book and are mostly consistent. For example:

The rule is treat others the way you would like

For them to treat you, and treat all just alike.

The rule is not something that money can buy.

It’s more of a way to help feel good inside.

And thinking of others is also a part

Of that rule, which means thinking with head and with heart.

The illustrations are reminiscent of old comic books but the characters have large heads and small bodies. The author has worked to be diverse. Of the eight children four are girls, and two are of African descent.

I believe this book is suited to a church or group library. It’s not the kind of book that a child will ask to hear again and again. I was hoping the message would be a little more subtle but these books do have their place.

I was given a free paperback copy of this book to donate to my Little Free Library in exchange for an honest book review.


Click on the cover to buy a copy.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

A Life-long Mission of Equality and Inclusion – Author Janet Ruth Heller Three Random Questions Interview

Janet Ruth Heller is a fiction writer, poet, playwright, educator, memoir writer, and literary critic.


Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Janet. When do you find time to sleep? 

Janet Ruth Heller: I have retired from teaching and write full-time. I published two books while I was teaching, but I have published four books since I retired in 2010.  I still visit schools, libraries, book fairs, conferences, and bookstores to give creative writing workshops; discuss multicultural literature; discuss good books, movies, CDs, and videos to help children deal with bullying; give anti-bullying workshops; read my poetry and prose; and present my scholarly research on literature.

Ferrante: I found teaching not only took most of my time, but most of my creative energy as well. Retirement is so freeing.

I reviewed How the Moon Regained Her Shape on May 2, 2014.  What were your goals and intentions with this book and how well do you feel you have achieved them?

Heller: I got badly bullied by various classmates when I was a new student in kindergarten.  This abuse continued for several years.  The bullying included name-calling, exclusion from activities, pushing, and stone-throwing.  I did not know how to discourage my harassers, and I did not tell the teachers about the bullying.  I wrote my fiction picture book How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Arbordale, 2006; 3rd edition 2012) to help other children understand bullying and to urge them not to remain silent. By telling friends, family members, teachers, coaches, neighbors, etc. about bullying, children and adults can make it difficult for harassers to continue their power trips. 

Teachers tell me that after I visit a school to read How the Moon Regained Her Shape and to discuss bullying, students are more likely to report harassment. 


 Click here to buy How the Moon Regained Her Shape

Ferrante: Fabulous. We need to get it out in the open.

Your book has been included in two collections, Astronomy Set and the Overcoming Adversity Set. How did this come about?

Heller: My publisher, Arbordale (previously Sylvan Dell), often puts together groups of books with similar topics. I wrote the essay about bullying in the “Character” section online. I also edited the “For Creative Minds” section with activities for children at the end of the book How the Moon Regained Her Shape.

Ferrante: Your first picture book has won several awards (2006 Children’s Choices Award [Children’s Book Council and Int’l. Reading Association] 2007 Ben Franklin Award [Publishers Marketing Association] 2007 Moonbeam Gold Award) and received wonderful reviews. However there has been some negative response from First Nations peoples claiming that this is a distorted aboriginal folktale. Would you like to address this?

Heller: When I wrote How the Moon Regained Her Shape, I was researching Native American legends, customs, and folktales for an article that I was writing about the poetry of Judith Minty, who is part Mohawk. I also have a Native American friend who helped me during many crises; she is one of the people whom I dedicated this book to. The story in my picture book is completely my own. I did not borrow any words, ideas, or sentences from Native American authors. However, because I admire the lyrical style of First Nation stories, I tried to write my book with a similar style. I also love nature and agree with First Nation people’s view that the natural world is not separate from the human world.

Many educators complain that few books for children have people of color as main characters. How the Moon Regained Her Shape has two Native American main characters, Round Arms and Painted Deer. It also has a large group of First Nations women dancing with the moon and Round Arms. I created all of these characters from my respect and love for Native American culture.

Ferrante: What were your sources for your newest book, The Passover Surprise?

Heller: I was born in 1949 and am the oldest of five children in a Jewish family. When I was nine, my father set up a competition for a stamp album between my next-oldest brother and me. Although we both spent the same amount of time and effort collecting stamps, my father gave the album to my brother without any explanation. I did not know the words “sexism” and “favoritism” then, but I knew that something was very unfair, and I felt alienated from my father. However, I was too young to know how to confront him about his obvious bias.

My father served in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II and told me many stories about his experiences.  As an adult, I also read his letters home to his parents and an autobiography that he wrote.  I used details from these in The Passover Surprise.

When I was young, my family celebrated the Passover Seder with the family of my mother’s twin brother. The joint celebration with my aunt and uncle and my first cousins made the holiday very special. I adapted details from these Seders for The Passover Surprise.

I am a devout Jew. I often help to lead services at my synagogue, and I frequently chant from the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) and the Jewish prophets in Hebrew. I have also been a principal and a teacher at two Jewish religious schools.

No one has a right to discriminate against other people due to skin color, race, national origin, etc. The Civil Rights Movement emphasizes equal opportunity and fairness for everyone. 

Also, just as many women in the 1800s got involved in the Women’s Movement after fighting for the abolition of slavery, many women in the twentieth century got involved in the Women’s Movement after fighting for civil rights for people of color. I attended my first feminist conference at Oberlin College around 1969, and I coordinated women’s organizations and rap groups at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Chicago. I’m a founding mother of the feminist literary journal Primavera, and I co-founded the Rape Crisis Center in Madison, Wisconsin. 


 Click here to buy The Passover Surprise

Ferrante: Wow, that’s impressive.

The Passover Surprise raises the topic of sexism. Do you feel traditional religions need to address this topic?

Heller: Yes, I feel that many religions discriminate against women. In Jewish families, boys often get favored over girls. Until the 1970s, women could not become Jewish rabbis or cantors in the United States and in many other countries. The language of many prayer books and Bibles addresses primarily men and refers to God in masculine terms such as King and Lord, instead of using gender-fair nouns like Sovereign and Creator, etc. Such language makes women and girls feel left out and diminished. 

I have been pushing for more inclusion of women in leadership positions and more egalitarian language in worship for many decades. We have adopted a gender-fair High Holiday prayer book, and we will soon vote on which of several gender-fair prayer books to use for the rest of the year. We have had many more women presidents of the synagogue recently.

Ferrante: That’s great to hear.

three random questions

Ferrante: Besides your real birthday, what is one other date on the calendar that you think would have been a great day to be born?

Heller: My summer birthday is the date of my parents’ first anniversary. This has made the date doubly special to my family and to me. I would also like to be born on the Jewish holiday of Passover because of its emphasis on freedom and human dignity.

Ferrante: Whenever you’re having a bad day, what is the best thing you can do to help cheer yourself up?

Heller: I take a long walk to make myself feel better. I used to walk with my father when I was young. 

Ferrante: What is your all-time favorite scene from a movie?

Heller: One of my favorites is in Sense and Sensibility (1995) based on Jane Austen’s novel by the same name. Elinor Dashwood, played by Emma Thompson, has been waiting patiently for at least a year to find out whether the man she has adored, Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant), still loves her and can marry her. He was engaged to Lucy Steele previously. Elinor and Edward have been separated for many months. She has heard rumors that he has married Lucy. However, Edward comes to visit Elinor toward the end of the movie. She finds out that Edward’s brother married Lucy, but Edward is free to and wants to marry Elinor now. During this scene, Elinor’s tears turn to laughter and joy. Thompson plays this scene powerfully. The audience feels a great sense of relief that Elinor’s long wait is over and that she can soon live happily with Edward.

Ferrante: We all love a happy ending.

Thank you for spending time with us today. Best of luck with The Passover  Surprise.

The Passover Surprise was reviewed on this blog on December 30, 2016.


Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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