Fun Video for Families – Never Send Callie

I found a picture book I had written as an example to my class when my students were working on their own picture books. I wrote and illustrated it about 25 years ago. The story was solid so I decided to make it into the video. Some of the pictures needed to be redone and I had to add more, however the originals were done with pastels and pencil crayons. It was a new experience for me using that Photoshop pen – a triangular pastel pencil. Anyway, I think it turned out pretty well. Just in time for Mother’s Day. Enjoy.

New Family Video: Callie has one simple errand, to buy a loaf of bread. But with so many distractions and a vivid imagination, this seems impossible. Is her mother’s patience going to run out? What will they have for lunch if Callie doesn’t deliver? A funny story about a forgetful child.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth. Book Review.

If you enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time or House Rules you will love this book. Told from the points of view of Perry and his sister and caretaker Justine, the book focuses on the strong bond between siblings whose mother abandoned them as children and whose father recently died. I don’t want to talk too much about the story. It is basically about relationships and how we assume things about the other person that may or may not be true.

Both the major characters are engaging, complex, and selfless. I read this book in one night as I could not put it down. I loved both Justine and Perry. Both have big hearts, protective natures, a sense of humor, and courage.

We are never exactly told that Perry has autism but Justine repeats a speech that sums up his challenging life in a single paragraph, “My brother has a brain condition that causes him to feel anxious or different places and circumstances. He has trouble with people – mixing with them and communicating with them – and it sometimes results in inappropriate behaviors. I appreciate your understanding and patience.” It sounds so simple, but it is incredibly complex. Perry struggles with all his strength to behave appropriately and to be a good brother in spite of his brain condition.

When Justine takes Perry all the way from Australia to Canada, her brother must cope with sensory overload, the vastly unfamiliar, and breaks in his routine. Her reason for doing this opens a whole new Pandora’s box.

This is a story about sibling love, a broken family, redemption, sacrifice, and devotion. This book was a well deserving Governor General Award Finalist. A beautiful book that will seize your emotions and tug at your heart. I highly recommend it for all ages.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

What Would You Do For the Last Easter Candy? – Recycled Sundays

To me, Easter has always meant hidden treasure. As a child, I was a candy connoisseur, marking my calendar with red circles for Halloween, Easter, Valentines Day, and Christmas – the sugar holidays. Still, I found secular Easter celebrations rather odd.

I’d always wondered what it would be like to have Easter with green grass and living baby chicks and lambs instead of no plastic blue Robin’s eggs and cardboard cut-outs of newborn animals. It seemed strange to celebrate the rebirth of nature when everything was gray and partly frozen. So sweet a holiday during the month of mud.

Our American neighbours search for edible treasures in their gardens and backyards and British children think nothing of finding their eggs below flowering bushes. Anything hidden outside in northern Ontario has to be found within the hour lest rain, or possibly snow, turn chocolate eggs into chocolate syrup.

My mother and her brother grew up on a farm in the Maritimes. After finding the hen’s eggs in the morning, they would go back to bed with hot cocoa while their mother coloured the eggs with natural dyes and hid them around the house. The children would find them and stage a competition as to who could eat the most. I’m not sure what’s worse, making a child sick on candy or sick on hen’s eggs. Perhaps the real lure was the chance to go back to bed after chores with a cup of cocoa, listening to their mother sneak about the little home.

My mother, her mother and her brother – abt 1928

My mother believed the more cups of sugar in a recipe, the better. I suspect she circled the sugar holidays as well. She certainly never skimped at Easter when I was a child.

When I was candy hunting age, my brother and sister were teenagers. That solved the problem of the oldest child finding all the treats before the youngest. I got the whole enchilada. This was one time I wasn’t sad to be without a close sibling.

I remember being impressed that the Easter rabbit could manage so well. Each year as I became better at finding treats, he became better at hiding them. He also grew as I grew, putting them in higher places.

As exciting as it was to find the Easter treats it was even more fun not to find them. Nothing brought on a shriek of glee better than discovering a stray candy after I thought I had eaten my last icing coated egg. Perhaps I would open the sugar bowl, preparing to smother my overly sweet Captain Crunch with an additional 2 teaspoons of refined white sweetener. Snuggled in the crystal would be a clutch of candied eggs. What better way to start the day than with sugar bonus?

Even better were Easter treats in plain view that had escaped notice. I’d be watching television, yearning for just one more hollow chocolate egg to jam over my fingers like a ring and munch as it melted over my knuckles. My eyes scanned the room during the commercial break, hoping, refusing to believe it was over. I paused to look at the stairway to the star.

My grandfather had presented each of his children with a handmade wooden staircase about a foot and a half long with a moon behind. There was a separate wooden star with a little platform hung above the staircase. My mother was Catholic, so the steps held statues of saints. On the top step rested the Madonna and on the star, of course, was Jesus. I remember the thrill of realizing that a little chocolate rabbit was perched devoutly at the protective feet of Mary. I snatched the candy creature can blew the dust off the wrapper.

Less attractive were the unwrapped treasures, forgotten in the spider plant, blossoming with their own mixture of dust and pet hair, or the now deformed Easter treat squashed between the couch cushion among lost pennies and leaking ballpoint pens. It was a tough call, but most could be rescued with a good washing.

There were treats that permanently escaped my clutches. They were claimed by Nervy and Nipper. These were not sailors who boarded at our house. Rather they were noisy, wiry, stubborn, territorial Chihuahuas. What was theirs, was theirs. They had no qualms about taking on grown men or well muscled German shepherds who behaved inappropriately. I have better luck wrestling a living rabbit away from the protection of the Madonna than getting any Easter candy away from the dogs. Not that I wanted after it had been batted about, partly chewed, and buried in the dog’s bed.

I did have some limits.

First published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News, Sunday, April 11, 1993.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

Insomnia is the Real Monster in the Bedroom. Recycled Sundays.

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The world’s population can be divided into two groups, the problem sleepers and the probably asleep. As a charter member of the former, I have always envied the latter group.

Part of my problem is conditioning from childhood and part, I suspect, is that I am an owl. People have trouble falling asleep for a variety of reasons. My major block is that everyone in the house must be asleep before I can begin to relax. There’s no point in getting ready for bed if anyone in the family still up. My owl hearing fine-tunes to their every movement. My owl vision sees every glimmer as a spotlight. My owl sense reacts to every movement. Come morning, I have the personality of a predator.

As my children enter the teen years, they stay up later and later. I look forward to setting a new pounds per inch record on eye bags. When I lie awake, the hours tick by. It is mesmerizing how loud and varied the sounds from an electric clock are at 2 AM. I take about an hour and half to fall asleep in my own bed, with the house quiet, the lights off, and everyone asleep. You can imagine how well I cope with strange beds. Add an hour for sleeping in a hotel, two for a tent, and three for someone else’s house.

My husband is developing the Dagwood style of napping. He will insist that he’s just, “resting”. No need to go to bed. Before I can muster a comeback, he’s snoring.

I should have suspected we were opposites when he told me about his teenage hiking tour of Greece and Italy. Unable to afford hotels, he slept on park benches, in farmers’ fields, and, this truly boggles the mind, on the tiny green islands between traffic lanes. Apparently the possibility of being mugged by a gang, dumped on by a cow, or turned into pavement pizza by a wild driver never disturbed his sleep. It would’ve disturbed mind. Everything does.

Between the time my head hits the pillow and I actually enter the delicious state of R. E. M., I solve the ecology problem, overpopulation, errant youth, the deficit, rampant crime, and my inability to diet. Unfortunately, sleep erases these brilliant ideas and by morning I have no notion of what I spent the hours deciding.

Perhaps children are quick sleepers because they leave the heavy decisions to grown-ups. I never envy a child, except when I see them being carried through a noisy mall, sound asleep.

To be fair, losing the ability to stay awake can cause problems too. In 1957 The Everly Brothers sang about the special problem of two chronic sleepers. Little Susie and her date dozed off in the movies. She realized her parents would not believe that the ushers didn’t notice the large lumps in the back row.

I chuckled when I see chronic sleepers waking up on a plane or a bus. They immediately check to see if anyone is staring. I smiled the grin of someone who has seen them at their most vulnerable (I saw you with your mouth slack, bobbing like an empty headed doll. And, you don’t know if anyone has robbed you while you snorted your way past four cities.) It is an image I comfort myself with when I am tossing and turning.

Some places trigger chronic sleepers better than pills. Church seems to be a stimulus (or lack of stimulus). It must be the warm, safe feeling. It can’t be the chairs. I sometimes suspect it’s the sounds.

Automobiles are worse. The white noise and the rocking motion would stop my squalling babies when nothing else worked. Sleep can still be a blessing when we are on a long, family trip. I’m awake, but at least the kids will doze after time.

Not like my sister, who was infamous for falling asleep instantaneously in anything that moved. She would fall asleep in buses, cars, trains, boats, and even taxis. When the buckle up sign went off on a plane, she had approximately 20 seconds to recline her seat before she faded out.

On her first date with her husband, she nearly fell asleep on the way to the theater. She has missed every drive in the country my family went on. I think that’s why she liked the Zipper and The Wild Mouse at the fair. It was the only time in her life she was still awake when a ride ended.

Instead of doctors spending fortunes treating sleep disturbances, they should just drive their patients around the block a few times. If that doesn’t work, they could sing a few hymns and launch into a sermon. Of course, in my house, everyone else better be asleep first.

Click on the cover for more info or to buy the book.

Published Sunday, July 22, 1990 in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

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