The Perfect Child’s Room. Recycled Sundays.

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In the pre-designer days, my sister and I shared a “make-do” bedroom that was also partitioned for my brother. It didn’t measure up to the brass beds and white bed spreads in the catalog.

When I got my own room, I was allowed to redecorate. An adolescent with a paintbrush is a dangerous thing, but I merely stained my nails blue and added pattern to the linoleum. The cracks still showed through the paint, since I hadn’t known about patching. Because I measured the window without considering gathers, the curtains barely met in the middle. I overcompensated for my disappointment by smothering the room in rock and roll posters. The tacks Swiss-cheesed  the walls.

After marriage, my husband and I rented a home. When we had eaten enough macaroni and cheese to save the down payment for a house, I began a quilt for my seven-year-old daughter. Each of the 20 one foot squares  had a detailed fabric painting. There was a tartanned Scottish lassie, a wooden  clogged Norwegian milkmaid, and a demure Chinese girl holding a Pekingese dog. So much for my battle against stereotyping!

We worked on our new home before moving in. I rolled the rose-mauve semigloss over the scuffed (and patched) yellow paint in what was to be my daughter’s bedroom. This time I wore gloves and used a floor tarp.

I bought a three-dimensional wall-hanging of Victorian misses, matching curtains and yards of material to edge the quilt. The white furniture had brass handles graced by roses. I was giddy with pride. My little girl’s room was not only pretty and feminine but a unique demonstration of her mother’s devotion.

I bought my four-year-old son Care Bear curtains and a bedspread. In the name of equality, I made a wall hanging of Bedtime Bear inscribed with embroidery that read, “Sweet Dreams”.

My son was ecstatic. My daughter stood in the doorway of her brother’s room and stated, “I sure hope mine is Care Bears too.”

My heart seized. Hastily, I drew her aside.

“Yours is very special. I finished the quilt I’ve been working on for months. (Get that? Months!) Everything is in shades of your favorite color.”

She nodded doubtfully. I threw open her bedroom door. “Ta da!”

“I like the Care Bears better,” she wailed and burst into tears.

Stab me through the chest with a garden fork! After a talk with her father (I could hear his pleading tone through the door), she thanked me. Over time, she stained the quilts with markers, juice and glue. A visiting hamster chewed it. Each mark was a drop of acid in my soul. Finally I asked the dreaded question. “If you could have any bedroom you want it, what would it look like?”

“Well, I do like my bedroom, (she had grown in diplomacy), but if I couldn’t have this one, I would love a bedroom with My Little Pony curtains, a big unicorn wall hanging, and a pink lace bedspread.”

Fourteen minutes of shopping could have given her a dream come true. Why hadn’t I asked her in the first place? I realized I had created a bedroom I would’ve loved as a child. Major embarrassment. Parenting books and classes hadn’t helped. The tartanned lassie smirked. I’m one of those mothers.

My daughter learned to appreciate her room as she grew, and has forgotten her initial reaction, but I haven’t. Whenever I become ambitious for her, I stop and remember. Am my stitching together future she wants, or something I thought I missed? The quilt is my reminder.

November 18, 1990.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The New Small Person by Lauren Child. Book Review.


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

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

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

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

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

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

  

  

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 A personal favourite.

 

My Two Grannies by Floella Benjamin. Illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain. Book review.


Alvina has two grandmothers that love her very much. Granny Vero is from Trinidad. Granny Rose is from Yorkshire. They both love their granddaughter and enjoy sharing stories about their childhood. When Alvina’s parents decide to go on a holiday, both grandmothers insist they should care for the little girl. They finally agreed to do it together.

Of course they argue constantly about who is going to tell her a bedtime story and what activity they will do next. The little granddaughter finds the solution, a simple but sensible one. In the end the grannies learn to know each other better and as well as providing a healthy, loving, and fun-filled atmosphere for Alvina.

The illustrations are full page drawings that clearly show the emotions and personalities of the characters.

This is a great book that shows how our differences and actually enrich our lives.

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Click on the book cover for more information or to purchase the book.

    

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

What’s That Smell? Recycled Sundays.

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David Suzuki once said that research indicates females have a higher developed sense of smell than men. I could have told you that. Most wives could have told you that.

Take Patty for example. She came home to a smell of gasoline in her house. Since she couldn’t track down the source, she phoned the fire department for advice. They said they would to come right over. She carefully explained that it was not an emergency. Nevertheless, two trucks, lights flashing and sirens wailing, roared up to her house. (It must have been a slow day at the fire hall.) The firefighters (all male) searched the entire building, top to bottom, inside and out while she stood in the shivering cold. Not one of them could locate the smell. In fact, not one of them could even smell it. The next day she learned that gasoline had been spilled in her driveway, soaked into the ground and wound up in the sump pump. That’s what she had smelled.

My husband and I often play the What’s That Smell? game. It goes something like this.

Me: “What’s that smell?”

Him: “What smell?”

Me: “That strange smell.”

Him: “What strange smell?”

Me: “Can’t you smell it? Over here. I think.”

Him: “No. I don’t smell anything.”

Me: “What do you mean, you don’t smell anything? It reeks!”

Him: “What reeks?”

Me: “Over here!”

Him: “I don’t smell anything.”

We played a continual version of What’s That Smell? Last autumn. I first noticed it when we switched to daylight saving time. It was a chilly morning. I woke, switched on the lights and turned on the furnace. A few minutes later, I asked, “What’s that smell?” The game followed the usual format. I left for work later in the day still unable to identify the mystery odor.

The smell worsened as the week progressed. Some days it was faint. Other days it seems slightly smoky. I decided there was something wrong with the heater system and telephoned a furnace expert. He arrived the next day.

“What’s that smell?” I asked him.

“What smell?” he replied.

He left after thoroughly checking the system. There was nothing wrong and he couldn’t smell of thing. He decided it was probably dust in the piping.

As time passed I narrowed the smell down to the living room. I decided there must be something stuck in one of the vents. After I vacuumed them out, however, the smell remained. I despaired of ever locating the source.

One morning as I sat quietly reading the newspaper, I heard a thump on a living room end table. Since the cats were all in the kitchen with me, I went to investigate. There sat a gently smoldering green blob. I picked it up and instantly recognized the scent. It seems some little person (I assume this was a trickster fairy since both my children emphatically deny responsibility) had hidden a soft plastic toy monster on top of the lamp’s bulb. Every morning when I turned on the tri-light, the plastic would heat up and start to smell. If the light was low, the scent was weak. If I turned the light on high, the fire smoldered and smelled stronger. The lampshade hid the melting toy from my sight.

I think my husband is tired of playing the smell game. He does the shopping and although I environmentally disapprove of air fresheners, he’s been smuggling them in. It isn’t going to make any difference though. With two kids and three cats there always mysterious organic and inorganic odor makers. In fact, when my son was helping clean the family room, I noticed something.

“What’s that smell?” I asked him.

“What smell?” he responded.

I looked at his bewildered expression.

“Nevermind, son,” I said. “I’ll ask your sister.”

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson. Illustrated by Rebecca Cobb. Book review.


This very simple story shows a little girl learning how to make paper dolls from her mother. Each doll is named and unique. They are not perfect. For example, Jim has two noses. But they dance, jump, sing, and run away from a dinosaur. The little girl takes them on adventure after adventure until a little boy snips them into pieces. But in her vivid imagination the little girl reunites the pieces and the paper dolls continue their magical, wondrous adventures.

When the little girl grows up and becomes a mother, she teaches her own little girl to make paper dolls and the adventure begins all over again. This might seem like it would be a boring book but my three-year-old granddaughter was totally engaged and intrigued.

Obviously, the follow up to reading this is making paper dolls with your child. The illustrations are soft drawings. The child has two dots for eyes, very far apart, and the bare whisper of a nose and mouth. Yet we understand what she’s feeling by her body movements and the words.

This is a lovely, gentle book that reminds us children do not need expensive toys to have fun. Sitting down and learning how to make paper dolls with their mother and using these dolls in imaginative ways can bring hours of pleasure.

Click on the cover for information on buying the book.

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How to make paper doll chains.

Get a long thin strip of paper. paper-strip

Fold it like an accordion.

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Draw the doll with her hands extending beyond the edge of the fold. I also do the skirt like that for extra strength and stability.

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Cut it out carefully.

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You can have feet too.

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Unfold the paper and colour each doll.

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Try out other SYMMETRICAL shapes.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Click on the item for more information.
       

Halito Gianna by Becky Villareal. Book Review.

Click on the cover to buy the book.

Gianna could easily become one of your children’s favourite book characters. This is a determined, bighearted, independent, and opinionated girl. She is resourceful and clever.

At the beginning of this story, her class is told that they are to dress up as their favourite character from a book for Halloween. Gianna suggests the heroine of The Rough Faced Girl. If you are unfamiliar with this book, I reviewed it on this blog a while back. The protagonist of this story is a First Nations girl with a pure heart, much like Cinderella. It is a character suitable to Gianna who also lives her life with honour.

In the first book in the series, Gianna joined a genealogy club and learned about her mother’s immigration. In this book, she becomes determined to find out what happened to her father, a soldier who went overseas and disappeared.

In the midst of this quest, a new girl arrives at the school; she is from the Choctaw nation, in Broken Bowl, Oklahoma. Gianna takes her under her wing and transforms what could have been a terrifying and terrible day into a fairly good one. The students learn about the origins of the lacrosse and the Trail of Tears many First Nations people were forced to walk.

I don’t want to give away the whole story. It’s touching and inspiring. Because of this little girl, and her kindness to others and determination, she and her mother have a happy ending to this particular part of their lives. I have to admit, this little book put a lump in my throat. Share it with your child. You’ll both love it.

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Review of Gianna the Great

Interview with the Author Becky Villareal

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Parental Love Shines Through: A Wonderful Day! by Michael Samulak. Illustrated by Louise Charm Pulvera. Book Review.

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Click here to buy A Wonderful Day!

A Wonderful Day! is a simple story of a parent and child going to the zoo. This book by Michael Samulak has a completely different appearance from his first. It is in the landscape format and uses pencil crayon and watercolor illustrations. Text is on one side of the page and the illustration is on the other.

During the story we are not told if it is a son or daughter and a mother or father who are going on the adventure together. I’m sure this is done deliberately in order to make the book relatable to any reader. The first page of text says, “Good morning, love! Rise and shine. How did you sleep? Do you remember what we are going to do today?” The accompanying illustration is of the front door and veranda of the simple two-story house. I don’t think that is something a reader can connect with. I really would have liked to see a sleepy eyed child, gender could be interpreted either way, rubbing his or her eyes, smiling, or leaping out of bed. The first illustration should link to the rest of the book and picture of the outside of the house really doesn’t. The rest of the illustrations are of animals or crowds so once again we feel a little distant. Near the end, however, when the text reads, “What a wonderful day. Thank you for sharing it with me. I will remember this day as long as I live!” We see the hands of the parent tucking in a brown-haired child with a teddy bear on the bed beside him or her.

On the animal pages, the text gives us a simple observation such as, “Look! There are the tigers and lions. They are so quiet and strong.” A picture of a smiling seated lion and a standing smiling tiger accompany these words. Nowhere in the book do we see cages, bars, or canopies. The closest it comes to reality are tiny circular concrete walls that enclose the elephants, giraffes, and penguins (who somehow have ice in their enclosure in the middle of an open area of the zoo.)

This is a lovely little story of a special moment between parent and child. In the past, I loved the zoo as well. I’m not sure at what age you need to introduce the reality of the small enclosures and loss of freedom for the animals. (Never mind the horrific circumstances under which these animals were captured.) I don’t want to get off on a tangent. Indeed, I’ve used zoo pictures in my own work. It’s a topic, however, that needs to be addressed at some point with children. When you consider the feeling this book gives the reader compared to the exceptionally beautiful first book (A is for Africa) where the author featured free African animals, there is a note of sadness that taints an otherwise happy little book. If you have no mixed feelings about the zoo, then this book will probably be pure pleasure.

Putting that aside, the text has a melodious, gentle tone almost like a lullaby. I like the way the text encourages conversation by stimulating a child to consider a question or concept. For example, “What animals do you think we will see first at the zoo?” Or “Wow! That must be the tall giraffe. I wonder how they drink with such long necks.”

The last page sweetly reads, “Good night. Sleep tight. Never forget that you are loved.”

This book would be enjoyed by children aged 2 to 5.

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

Older books for your child.

  
The author was interviewed on this blog  January 11, 2017.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Determined, Funny, & Opinionated: Gianna the Great by Becky Villareal. Book Review.

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Click here to buy Gianna the Great

This is an early chapter book with intermittent, small cartoonish illustrations. I wondered how the author was going to interest children in a story about finding her genealogical roots. But, the first sentence showed me she knew her target audience. It begins, “I was nosey.” The top half of the page shows a girl with brown pigtails, round red-framed glasses, pencil in her hand, her eyebrows raised, her mouth open, and her finger pensively touching her cheek.

The little girl, Gianna, tells the story in first person. She is a funny, insistent child with a lot of spark. Her thoughts are often judgmental, even snide, but she treats others with respect. I think the character is realistic and honest.

The story follows Gianna as she develops an interest in her family tree. We learn that there is no father’s name on her birth record which her mother dismisses as a mistake. Her teacher finds her mother’s baptism certificate and explains that in Mexico that is when children receive their full name. He also shows her a border crossing record and a picture of Gianna’s grandmother.

When Gianna shows the documents to her mother, her mother cries with happiness. The story ends with Gianna saying, “I can find out more Mama! Lots more!”

This would be a fabulous book to introduce to a child who is going to research her family tree. It reminds us that immigrants often lose contact with their family and their roots. Whether a child’s family crossed the border from Mexico into the United States, flew in as a refugee of war, or sailed over the ocean decades ago for a better life, there was always loss along with the gain.

Even if a family has been living in the same country for several generations, it is surprising how few children, and even adults, don’t know their grandmother’s maiden name or their family’s roots. When I researched my family tree in the 1980s, everything was done by mail (for a price) or by searching through books and microfiche. Now, entire lineages are available for free online as well as immigration documents, ships’ passenger lists, birth and death certificates, and more. You would have to help your child understand the difference between an original or primary document, a secondary source, and indirect evidence.

Although this is a niche book, it serves its purpose well. An adult could read it to a child in twenty minutes. Or, a child with third grade reading skills could manage it on their own.

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Click here to get FREE family tree charts to print for your child.

Choose from 2 to 5 generations, adoptive family, birth and adoptive family, with a wide variety of backgrounds, in color or black and white.

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The author was interviewed on this blog, January 4, 2017.

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages