Three Random Questions Interview with Author-Firefighter Danual Berkley

Danual Berkley is a full-time fire fighter, husband, father of two little boys, Army vet, and a guy with a dream. His dream is to one day become a well-known children’s author providing positive representation for black men, while tackling the lack of diversity in children’s literature for people of color.

 Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Danual. I’m so glad you agreed to an interview. You’ve gone from being in the army to being a fire fighter, both requiring huge acts of courage and selflessness. Why do you choose these kinds of careers?

Danual Berkley: Hello Bonnie. Thank you so much for having me! I chose these two careers for two separate reasons actually. While in high school, I always kept pretty good grades. I had no idea how to use those grades to get scholarships to pay for college, nor was I really interested in doing another 4 years of school after being in school my entire life. I knew that going to the military would put money in my pocket, and later on they would pay for me to attend college as well. I wanted to go infantry at first, but my older brother David talked me out of it because he was worried about my safety.  Instead, I decided to drive trucks. The funny thing is, once I found out that I was deploying to Iraq, the military changed my job and I became a gunner in the 66th Transportation Gun Truck Company. My job was to provide security for convoys that we escorted throughout Iraq.  This turned out to be a job that was just as much, if not more, dangerous than being an infantryman.

It was also my brother that led me to the fire department. I wanted to be a S.W.A.T officer on a police department. I was seeking a job with action. My brother called me up one day and told me the fire department was hiring, and that they paid very well. By this time, I was in my 3rd year of college, and had my first son on the way.  I thought it would be a great opportunity to provide for my son, if I was lucky enough to get the job. After a year of testing and waiting, I was offered the job. I went to the fire academy and learned that firefighting was actually the best job there was and offered tons of action. I’ve been hooked and loving it ever since! I’ve been on six and a half years now.

Ferrante: You have recently entered into the field of writing children’s picture books. What  made you choose such a divergent enterprise?

Berkley: I didn’t discover I had a talent in writing until I was in the 11th grade. My English teacher made it mandatory that the class entered the Young Author’s Competition. The choice she gave us was to write either a poem or a short story. I wasn’t really trying to do a lot of work, so I wrote a short poem that it took me all the way to the State Competition where I took 3rd place overall in poetry. After that, I wouldn’t write again for years until I found myself fighting in the Iraq War. In order to escape my reality, I started writing again and making up different kinds of characters in faraway places. As I became more serious about my writing and became published, I met Amariah. Amariah was my first encounter with someone who was actually very successful creating children’s stories. She was the one that introduced me to writing picture books, because up until then, all I had been writing were books set to be a collection of poetry. With that said, I encourage all people to continue trying new things because you never know how much you’ll love something or how good you are at something, until you try it!

Ferrante: Your book, Davy’s Pirate Ship Adventure, features an African-American family. The little boy is the hero who saves the family from the sea monster and turns the sinking ship into a submarine. Picture books should always make children feel empowered. Looking at the dedication in the front of your book to your sons, “Don’t ever let someone’s misunderstanding change who you are.” I can see that that is deeply important to you. Do you feel there are enough books out there for your children to feel culturally included and valued?

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 Berkley: Based on my personal experience (as well as research), no. There are not enough books out that represent children of color. Whether or not that child feels culturally included or valued, varies with each individual child. I do know as a kid growing up, I didn’t really have the opportunity to read or see books with African-American families, but as an adult, when I see a book with African American families I get excited to see characters in the stories both my family and I can relate to. It feels good seeing a reflection of yourself in a story.

Ferrante: Previously you mentioned negative stereotypes about black men, one being that they don’t raise their children. In a cosmic moment of serendipity, I heard a comedian, Mark James Heath, speaking on the expressions of surprise when Caucasian people see him engaged with his children. In this regard, it seems as though literature has not caught up with television. I see a number of shows with involved black fathers but picture books seem rather rare. This is unfortunate since they are often the earliest stories of families children experience.  I have two questions. How does your book address this topic? How can Caucasian writers help in this area?

Berkley: To answer your first question, In Davy’s Pirate Ship Adventure I address the topic indirectly. I don’t come out and say straight forward that I’m a black man raising my kids. I simply show myself being an involved father throughout the story. I have other books I’ve written that have yet to be published, that shows the love and compassion I have for my sons a lot more. The actions in the story speak louder than any words could express.

In regards to your second question, Caucasian writers who do have large followings could help by also writing books that show positive black male fathers.

Ferrante: What other attitudes toward black men do you hope to influence in your writing?

Berkley: Other negative stereotypes say black men don’t settle down with one woman and get married, as well as being violent individuals. All of my stories are geared to show how untruthful these stereotypes are. Black men do settle down and get married, and black men are not people you have to fear. We are here to love and enjoy life just as any other person would want to.

Ferrante: Do you intend to write more books featuring Davy and his family or are you considering other characters?

Berkley: I have several other unpublished books where all of the characters in Davy’s Pirate Ship Adventure play lead characters. In the back of Davy’s Pirate Ship Adventure, you can find the backstories of all of the characters. I did this because each character will be seen again in other stories, and it ties them all together. Readers will be able to develop relationships with each character and experience stories from that character’s point of view.

Ferrante: Have you ever considered writing a firefighter picture book featuring a black man or a black woman for that matter? By the way, I live in northern Canada where most black immigrants take a look at the winter weather and head south so I’ve never seen firefighter of African descent. Is it common in your firehouse?

Berkley: I do have a firefighting story already written with Davy as the main character. As of now, there are other stories we plan to release before that one is to be published. The next book will most likely star my younger son as the main character.

In regards to how many black firefighters there are on a department, it varies by population. I live in a predominantly white area, so most firefighters in our department are white. I’m sure there are other places where the majority of firefighters are people of color.

Ferrante: Is there anything we haven’t talked about that you would like to share with my readers?

Berkley: Please check out my website and social media pages to learn more about my work at the following links:

https://www.instagram.com/poetryfixdb/

https://www.facebook.com/poemsbydanual/

https://www.danualberkley.com/

Ferrante: Now for the unusual part. My interviews always feature three random questions so here we go.

1. If you could play a sport at Olympic level, which one would you choose?

Berkley: It would definitely have to be snowboarding! Although I have never been snowboarding in my life, it just looks really fun to do, and it allows you to be as creative as you want. I love sledding here during the winter, so I can only imagine how awesome it would be to snowboard down the side of a mountain.

Ferrante: 2. You really do love action.

 If you could give a gift to every new parent, what would you give them?

Berkley: It would have to be a dishwasher. It’s impossible to keep up with the amount of bottles, plates, baby accessories, and breast feeding equipment on top of the dishes you use yourself. The only way you can survive is by having a dishwasher, so in words of Oprah, “You get a dishwasher, you get a dishwasher, everyone gets a dishwasher!”

Ferrante: 3.  LOL. That brings back memories.

 If you could be an animal for a day, what would you be?

Berkley: If I got to be an animal for one day it would have to be a rodent! I watch a lot of Animal Planet, and being a rodent seems really adventurous and exciting. I’m sure I’d probably regret that decision instantly if I ever really had the opportunity to be a mouse. But in all of the movies I’ve seen, being a mouse seems like a good time!

Ferrante: I did NOT expect that answer. 🙂

 Thank you for participating in my interview and answering both my serious and silly questions. Best of luck with your wonderful book Davy’s Pirate Ship Adventure and all your future enterprises.

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Davy’s Pirate Ship Adventure by Danual Berkley. Illustrated by Amariah Rauscher. Book Review.

I knew I’d like this author the moment I read the dedication. Simple words with a powerful, important message.

Davy’s Pirate Ship Adventure is a fun family picture book.  It is a gentle adventure of a family of four, mother, father, 7 year old Davy, baby Kai,  and two animated toys, one an alien and  one a teddy bear. It features a family of African descent which I don’t get to see very often. However,  families of all backgrounds will easily relate. What child doesn’t want their family to go for an adventure on a pirate ship?

During their search for gold, the family encounters  a giant fish monster which Davy handles with confidence. When a huge storm comes up and flips the boat over it transforms into a submarine. Of course they find the gold and everyone cheers. On the last page we find that this is a beautifully imaginative story created during bath time.

Rauscher’s illustration style perfectly suits the story. The pictures, which seem to be pencil and watercolor, are gentle and endearing. Every character shines with personality.

Children who love imaginative play and pirate stories will want to hear this book over and over. It is reassuring  with just a touch of suspense. I look forward to more work from this new author. Watch for an upcoming interview with Danual Berkley on this blog.

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Canada Day – 150 Years

 

If you are not Canadian, you may not know that this Canada Day, July 1, 2017, is a special anniversary. It has been 150 years since Confederation.

I remember the excitement of our Centennial celebration in 1967. I was 14 years old and 100 years seemed an imaginatively long time. Looking back, the 50 years since seem to have flown by. However, our culture has matured and developed in ways that make me happy to say I am Canadian. We are more inclusive and respectful of differences. Our concern for the welfare of all citizens has grown and taken root in our actions and policies. We strive to protect our earth and to develop new forms of energy. We cherish our children and are working toward a sustainable future for them. This is not to say that we still don’t have a long way to go. But I am ever hopeful for our future.

We are a multicultural country. That means we recommend you learn English or French but respect your need to speak your own language as well. You’re welcome to keep your traditions, religion, and clothing styles as long as they do not break any of our laws or create dangerous situations for citizens. Myself, I am grateful for this attitude as I otherwise would never have found a Shin Buddhist Sect to join 30 years ago. Thunder Bay would not have developed from a pizza and doughnuts dominated city to a pizza and doughnuts dominated city with a lot of cool little ethnic restaurants as well.

Every year we have a Folklore Festival where people share their traditional food, dance, music, and dress. Thousands of people attend and it is not unusual to see a person of Scottish descent participating in a Japanese fan dance or and East Indian child devouring pierogies and Jamaican jerk chicken. With both deep regret and profound respect, we will watch the First Nations dancers and drummers perform on stage, their elaborate regalia testament to their strength, courage, and determination to survive in spite of the atrocities committed against them especially in residential schools.

If you live in Toronto or Montréal, you may not have the same view of Canada as those of us who live in small towns or cities in the north surrounded by forest. To us, Canada means you are 20 minutes away from wild spaces filled with trees, wildflowers, animals, rushing streams and sparkling lakes. This is the Canada I love, irreplaceable, fragile, and in need of our protection.

Without getting into politics, I have to say that I am dismayed that the POTUS to the south does share the same sentiment with regard to protection of wild spaces, clean air and water, and all species of animals. This is not to say that our track record is perfect. Canada has made some major mistakes as well. But in our hearts, I believe each of us understands the profound beauty and eco-diversity we need to cherish and shield. Although we may not agree on the methods by which to achieve this.

Most of the books for the rest of this month are about our beautiful nation. You will undoubtedly notice how dominant natural spaces are in our national psyche. I believe it is essential that every child, urban or rural, spends regular time surrounded by our bountiful boreal forest. Nothing calms your mind, refuels your energy, stimulates your creativity, and strengthens your gratitude then connecting with the earth in its purest state.

On Canada Day, we will be attending the city celebrations with loud music, and overindulgence of food, dancing and singing, and noisy a spectacular fireworks. But, in a truly Canadian way. Our celebration will be held at the local marina where sailboats and waterfowl glide past, the waves of the majestic Lake Superior splash up and over the breakwater, and the Sleeping Giant (Nanbijou) dominates the harbour reminding us that all Canadians need to be included in our policies, practices, and dreams for the next fifty years.

HAPPY CANADA DAY!

 Like this shirt, the pictures above  (and more) are available in my Cafe Press shop.

 

Rosa and the Red Apron by Joan Leotta. Illustrated by Rebecca Michael Zeissler. Book Review.

buy link – Rosa and the Red Apron

This is a story about a little girl named Rosa who, instead of napping, insists that her mother read the story of the Little Red Hen to her. Afterwards she helps her mother make cookies for her grandmother’s birthday celebration. Mother puts a red apron on Rosa to keep her clothes clean. Her mother praises her for being such a good helper. At her grandmother’s birthday party, Rosa receives a gift of her own red apron.

It may seem that this book is a bit dated, but I think there is nothing wrong with encouraging a child to help her parents with whatever work is needed. Learning how to cook and bake are basic life skills and recognizing a child’s growth and contribution with an apron seems fitting. I know my children liked receiving their own personalized aprons and wearing them whenever we baked or cooked together. I like the idea that a red apron is traditional in this family.

When Rosa and her mother read the story book together, they act out the voices and the actions. I think it would be great to follow this book with an actual reading of the traditional folktale. The message of The Little Red Hen is still important today.

The book has pictures on the left and words on the right. The pictures are well drawn with no backgrounds. The family is of African descent. One thing I thought was a little off, Rosa seems too tall for a child to be napping and reading The Little Red Hen. The pictures portray the emotional bond between family members well.

It would be sweet to give a child this book along with a red apron, or pattern meaningful to you, in recognition of their contributions in the home.

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Joan Leotta will be interviewed on this book June 14, 2017. LINK

CLICK ON THE APRON PICTURE FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO BUY ONE 

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Making a Difference for Non-English Children: Author/Publisher S. J. Bushue Three Random Questions Interview

sj-bushueS. J. Bushue owns, operates and writes books for The Little Fig. Her post-graduate studies have focused on special education. Sherry is published in children’s books, newspapers, poetry collections and was a columnist for a magazine with focus on large families.

Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome Sherry. Please give me a short genesis of The Little Fig.

S.J. Bushue: First, thank you for this opportunity. The Little Fig’s name originated in 2014 from my love of figs, more precisely, Fig Newtons. I visualize fig trees and children’s education as being quite similar in their potential; starting from a tiny seed then rapidly cultivating in environments worldwide. There are 67 different languages spoken in my district’s elementary schools alone. Teachers, librarians, parents and caregivers shared their concerns that very few children’s books, if any, were available for the young ones whose English is not their native language. “I believe that children are our future” (a quote from “The Greatest Love of All” music composed by Michael Masser and Linda Creed) perfectly describes my passion of planting seeds by creating children’s books that incorporate languages, music, and vividly bold illustrations for all children to read, be nourished and develop into awesomeness.

S J Bushue Author

Ferrante: That’s wonderful that you have committed yourself to filling this need. As a former (Canadian) grade school teacher, I know how much books like this are needed.

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 Click here to buy “Frog Has No Fur”: “La Rana No Tiene Pelo”

(So Big & Little Bit Adventures)

The Little Fig has books in Chinese, Spanish, German, French, Korean, Portuguese, Arabic, Urdu, Vietnamese, and a language I never heard of, Telugu. How did you choose the languages?

Bushue: Telugu is reported to be the third most spoken language in India. Teachers in our Midwest regional elementary schools stated they had absolutely no books to offer the young ones who spoke Telugu. I chose those languages as they were the top 10 most spoken languages in the United States (after English). Research was based on the most recent US Census.

Ferrante: I wouldn’t have guessed that. Are all your books English and a second language?

Bushue: All the titles are available in at least two languages. Literal rather than conversational translations allow the children to read along in their native language. Native speaking parents and caregivers can read to the child at home, helping them to learn English too. I encourage anyone to email me at sherry@thelittlefig.com to express interests in additional languages.

Special concept titles are published in one language per book to allow focus on the concept being learned. Potty in the Potty Chair is an example of an independent book for each language.

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 Click here to buy Potty in the Potty Chair

Ferrante: For what age are your books written?

Bushue: The multilingual and special-situation children’s picture books’ genre focuses on pre-school and early-elementary-school aged children. They are written with the intention to be both entertaining and educational, teaching concepts, facts and, usually, a second language. Many books incorporate children from numerous cultures and/or use race-neutral, gender-neutral animal characters.

Ferrante: Awesome. Most of your books have accompanying songs and downloadable activity sheets. You also have an impressive YouTube site where all of your books are read aloud in their non-English version. You also have songs, such as Momma Said I Could Have a Cat Theme Song. I am very impressed with the quality of this YouTube site. Children could enjoy the music even if they haven’t read the stories. You have an amazing team of professionals. How do you coordinate and generate all of this from a simple book idea?

Bushue: Thank you for checking out our YouTube site.

Jenni Smith is part of The Little Fig team. She composes the theme songs and jingles from the book manuscripts and visuals of the illustrations. She and hubby, Alex (a drum master) then record the music professionally produced at Chapman Studios in Lenexa, Kansas. They are both very talented musicians.

Coordination of the book idea, the translations, the audios, and the music was a concept at the formation of The Little Fig. I noticed that most children are drawn to vividly colorful illustrations, engaging repetition of words or phrases and perky melodies that get stuck in their little heads. I also wanted to provide teachers, parents, librarians and caregivers material to enhance learning. I interviewed numerous illustrators, musicians, and translators before finding this incredible, fun loving group of professionals who are now part of The Little Fig team. All of them are truly undeniably talented and superbly awesome people! I love them all! You can check them out here.

Ferrante: Here are some of the books published by The Little Fig:

Frog Has No Fur which teaches about the difference between amphibians and mammals

Herds of Birds which identifies the names of groups of animals Click here to buy Herds of Birds, Oh How Absurd!: Las Manadas de Aves, Que Absurdo! (So Big & Little Bit Adventures) (Volume 1)

Happy Happy Holidays which explains American holidays Click here to buy Happy Happy Holidays: Felices, Felices Dias Festivos (So Big & Little Bit Adventures?) (Volume 1)

Potty in the Potty Chair, a humorous support for potty training

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You authored each of the above. Do you choose your topics based on your personal interests or on what you think immigrants and English as a second language people need?

Bushue: Great question! I was born with a most inquisitive mind. That curious nature is simply a part of who I am. Most of the topics are based on personal interests and experiences combined with something I have heard or seen. If you look above each title’s cover you will see a section called “Behind the Story”. A sample of this is here on our site. I welcome any and all ideas from others who also have stories to tell.

Ferrante: What are your writing plans for the future?

Bushue: The most current title, “Dinosaurs Count / Los Dinosaurios Cuentan” will be available for the holidays. Cassie Allen has created gorgeous, endearing, anatomically correct dinosaurs that will be loved by all. This title will help wee ones learn to count and give the adults English and Spanish pronunciations for each dinosaur. Jenni Smith’s music composition for this title will be one that kids will sing for years to come.

I have boxes, bags and shelves of ideas for continuing to write and publish multilingual picture books. Plans also include music, products and videos that compliment the characters in the books.

This year my interests have expanded to include helping other writers fulfill their dreams to publish. Community services and donations to special causes will continue. There is also a new program that is near to being launched, but that will be revealed later.

three random questions

Ferrante: In your own not-so-humble opinion, what is your most likable quality?

Bushue: I find peoples’ stories absolutely fascinating. I have been told that I rarely meet a stranger and will talk anytime to anyone about anything. Smiles are contagious. Laughing out loud is infectious. Both of those combine with my curiosity to show people that I am truly approachable.

Ferrante: If you had a great voice and had the opportunity to record a duet with any singer living today, whom would you choose as your partner for the recording?

Bushue: Oh my! I am laughing hysterically at this question. “If I had a great voice” is an enormously tall stretch of the imagination. I have been told that I have an extremely soothing voice, both in person and on the phone. However, I have also been told that I am horribly off-key when attempting to sing. So, instead of a duet I would choose an entire room of eclectic talents like George Benson, Vicci Martinez, Ed Sheeran, Tracy Chapman, Enya, Taylor Swift, and the Lonestar Band who could fill the room with beautiful harmonies and place me behind an unplugged microphone to cover up the wailings that may escape my vocal cords. Just kidding.

Ferrante: What was your favorite thing to pretend when you were a young child?

Bushue: I was very much a tomboy in my youth. I never quite saw the fascination with dressing up dolls or playing house. I was too busy climbing the neighbor’s Chinese Cherry tree, racing bicycles with the boys from one house to the other and creating mud slides while swinging on the tree vines that would not always release us in the center of the creek behind our home. I do remember imagining that when I finally reached the tip-top of the tree, a flying unicorn would swoop by and soar me to worlds never seen before. I almost always dream in color. Frequently I dream of being on top of that unicorn sailing across the sky. Great dreams!

Ferrante: Thank you for all your detailed responses. This is a longer interview than I typically print but I felt that the information you gave would be very important to parents and teachers. Hopefully they will share this site with anyone for whom English is a struggle. Best of luck with your worthwhile endeavors and The Little Fig.

Frog Has No Fur will be reviewed on this blog on December 16, 2016.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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

No One Likes to Be Excluded: Today the Teacher Changed our Seats by Frances Gilbert. Illustrated by Ben Quesnel. Book Review.

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Click here to buy Today The Teacher Changed Our Seats by Gilbert Frances

The teacher decides he is going to teach grouping by using the belongings of his students such as striped socks, wearing blue, have a cat or a dog. The little green-eyed girl who is telling the story repeatedly has none of the qualities mentioned. She’s frustrated at every turn by being unable to sit with her friends. She says this kind of grouping is not friendly. In the end, a boy named Max convinces the teacher to make a group with long ponytails which will include the little green-eyed girl.

The little green-eyed girl’s voice comes through loud and clear. The text is the correct size and font for a child to read. There is a perfect balance on each page between word and picture.

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

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

The author, Frances Gilbert, was interviewed on this blog on September 21, 2016.

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages