Kindness Comes Back: Pegasus, A Dragon’s Tale by Gina LoBiondo. Illustrated by Stephanie Zuppo. Book Review.

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A dragon’s egg is found by two royal bears who hatch it and raise the baby dragon until he is old enough to leave on his own. Years later, when the kingdom is under attack and the two bears have been taken prisoner, the dragon, now fully grown, appears. At first he doesn’t recognize the little bears, but they prod his memory until he frees them. He scatters the enemy and carries the bears home. He remains in the kingdom as their guardian against future threats.

Although the plot is fairly common, the book has lovely messages such as kindness comes back to us in unexpected ways. United friends can stand against the strongest bullies. Wild animals should be released into the wild to choose their own way.

When initially releasing the dragon, the King says, “We don’t know how big he’ll get and besides, he’ll be better off in his own. Perhaps he will find another of his own kind and have a family.” I was expecting him to return with the family but there is no indication as to what happened to him in his absent years. It felt a little sad to have him spending the rest of his days as the only dragon in the kingdom.

The formatting is inconsistent. Some paragraphs are indented in some are not. There doesn’t seem to be a reason for the choices.

The illustrations by Stephanie Zuppo appeared to be computer graphics which can be beautiful but, in this instance, seem blurred and even muddy at times. The characters of the three Bears and the dragon are drawn well. The same facial image of Princess Kameela and Prince Dayshawn are used on several pages. On page 11, for example, the bears are frowning with their eyes closed similarly to the picture on pages 8, 9 and 13. Several other pages have identical expressions of an O shaped mouth. Readers need more facial detail and expression in a children’s picture book. There is also a problem with proportion as the dragon’s size seems to change on different pages.

This story is 25 pages long with about 40 to 50 words per page. It would suit a child whose reading level is between picture books and beginning chapter books.

The author, Gian LoBiondo, will be interviewed on this blog on April 5, 2017.

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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

Inspiring Courage, Love, and Determination – Making Manna by Eric Lotke. Book Review.

Click here to buy Making Manna This is now the correct link. The price is $15.00 paperback.

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I thought I would read a chapter of Making Manna before sleeping but thirteen chapters later I was reluctant to close the book. It was only my aching eyes that made me stop. Eric Lotke is a master writer of character and situation. Not only do you care for these people, but you cringe and curse and cheer as they struggle through overwhelming events. This book is based on Lotke’s own experiences with the justice system and people struggling to survive in a cold, unfair, and prejudiced environment.

Making Manna opens with the story of Libby, a 14-year-old victim of sexual abuse by her father. It begins with the birth of her incestuously conceived baby. This is not the first time in the novel you will feel angry and frustrated at contemptuous behavior. But, equally throughout the book, you will be amazed and gladdened at the extreme kindness of strangers and mere acquaintances. Libby is but a child when she is forced out into the world with a newborn in her hands. We may not make the same choices as this fresh from the farm teenager but we cannot help but be in awe of her motherly love and determination. The story of her son, Angel, is bittersweet as well.

No one is an island, and so Libby finds support and love with another single mother, Sheila, and her daughter, Monet. However, things become frightening when the police virtually destroy their apartment in search of drugs. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys, just like in real life. The bonds these friends form are unbreakable and through this loyalty, hope survives.

Lotke writes in such a fashion that the reader loses herself in the story. She is no longer engaging with print on paper but living alongside real, admirable, and compelling characters. This is a page turner in a different sense. Yes there is enormous suspense as to how these people are going to survive in the face of such cruel and unwarranted adversity. But more than that, we want them to succeed. We want them to be happy. We want Angel to get the girl.

I cannot recommend this amazing story strongly enough.

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Eric Lotke will be interviewed on this blog April 12, 2017.

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Social Skill Wrapped in Hilarity: Bossy Flossy written and illustrated by Paulette Bogan. Book Review.

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Click here to buy Bossy Flossy

It is such a great feeling when I find a picture book that both my granddaughter and I enjoy. Bossy Flossy had turned us into Paulette Bogan fans by the third page.

Flossy butts heads with everyone, including her toys. The book begins with Flossy standing in the middle of her bedroom telling all her toys what to do. With one hand on her hip and the other pointing, she demands, “Sit up straight. Look at me. Listen to me. Pay attention. Do what I tell you.” She is bossy to her cat, her little brother, and even her mother.

Although flossy is a simple, cartoonish character, her big wild red hair, her dramatic gestures, and her expressive face make her a real person and a force to be reckoned with.

Flossy does not understand that she is being bossy. When she is sent to her room, she tells herself, “I’m not bossy. Mom is bossy. She always tells me what to do. She never listens to me. I’m just trying to tell her something.” We realize that Flossy doesn’t see herself the way others do. As well, we aren’t sure about her interpretation of her mother’s behavior. Maybe Mom is bossy. At times, it seems as though Flossie is trying to be helpful but is unaware of the effect her behavior has on others. She tells a classmate how to paint and then takes the press and draw the line on her artwork. She orders another classmate to wear a hat she has chosen to complete his dress-up costume.

When a new boy, Edward, joins her class, Flossy meets her match in the overbearing department. Frustrated, Flossie challenges Edward but he doesn’t back down. The argument escalates until they are both sent to timeout. There, they agreed to stop bossing others. They both improve and become great friends.

Although it might sound like a didactic book, it really isn’t. Bogan disarms us completely with humor and charm. Children might identify with Flossy’s problem but will find her behavior intriguing and silly. If you have an overly dominant child, I would avoid discussing bossiness immediately after reading this. It is such a delightful book, you wouldn’t want to spoil it. After reading it a couple of times, you might want to bring up the difference between being bossy and being helpful, taking turns, listening to others, and so on. In my home, “Bossy Flossy” has become a code that can make either my granddaughter or myself stop and think about how our words sound to the other person. Even if you don’t have a bossy member in your family, this book can be just pure fun to read.

The illustrations are interesting in that they appear to be drawn individually, cut out and arranged on the page. This could be a fun art activity to do with your child. You can both draw and cut out several different characters and then arrange them into different story scenes.

Highly recommended both for fun and value.

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An interview with the author, Paulette Bogan, will be posted on this blog, March 8, 2017.

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Is Different Bad? Frog Has No Fur (La Rana No Tiene Pelo) by S. J. Bushue and Deb McQueen. Book Review.

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

(So Big & Little Bit Adventures)

This is a bilingual picture book. Unfortunately, I cannot read Spanish so I am only reviewing the English part.

So Big, a mammal, and Little Bit, a frog are friends even though they are not alike. The text explains their differences: brown and green, fur and no fur, mammal and amphibian, lives on land and lives on land and water, active during the day and active during the night, a heart with four chambers and a heart with three chambers, ears and only eardrums, focusing eyes and whole eye turning, first to walk on land and walking on land 100 million years later.

It ends with:

We do not have to be the same. We are friends… Just because we like each other.

The fictional message is about acceptance of differences but, as the child reads, an enormous amount of factual detail is presented. (I didn’t even know about the heart chambers.) There could be two types of follow-up discussions to this book. One could be about relationships and differences. Two could be about the animal kingdom and classification. Of course, the parent should try to draw out the fact that the child is also a mammal and not an amphibian.

The illustrations are big, black outlined, colorful, and simple. They have a happy, fun quality.

If you go to this page on The Little Fig website, you will find a coloring page you can download, a link to the accompanying song on YouTube, and the YouTube link to the book being read aloud in Spanish.

This is a wonderful product that addresses a need in picture books. Check out their other bi-lingual books while you’re there.

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

S.J. Bushue was interviewed on this blog on November 30, 2016.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

New Release – Then the Tooth Fairy Won’t Come

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Click here to buy “Then the Tooth Fairy Won’t Come”

Timo wants to pull Dion’s loose tooth but his methods are pretty strange. Dion won’t let him touch it. All he can think of is how Timo’s crazy ideas will result in a lost tooth. Then the tooth fairy won’t come. Should Dion figure out how to get his tooth safely out or just let it be?

A funny, imaginative story with a subtle message of how worrying makes our fears grow.

Listen to the author read part of it on youtube

The Magic Leaf by Mary Feliciani. Book Review.

The first thing I consider when reviewing a book is how it starts. Is the beginning intriguing or inviting? Do we immediately understand the point of the story?

Page 2/3 says, “Carlo lived in a small town called Roseto. The town had winding roads and was surrounded by mountains. Roseto sat at the foot of the tallest mountain. Its cobblestone roads led to a town square. It looked a lot like a medieval town.”

Would a young child know what a cobblestone road was or how a medieval town looked? These would have been fine to write if the illustration showed a cobblestone road in the center of a medieval looking town but the picture doesn’t show the road at all and the town looks like any other town. There is no indication of what is to come and we have no reason to read on.

Page 4/5 focuses completely on Carlo’s enjoyment of the church bells. So now we assume the story is going to be about the boy’s relationship with the bells.

But then, page 6/7 talks a little about Carlo’s house and the castle beside it.

Finally, page 8/9 says, “Every day Carlo had to walk up the mountain.” This is actually where the story begins. I think most children would have tuned out by this point. This is unfortunate because the story then takes off. The dialogue between Carlo and his friend who joins him on the walk up the mountain is lively and propels the story well.

The text could have been enriched by more sensory detail such as having the boys mention particulars like the taste, colour, ingredients, temperature, and the smell of the panini and gelato they relish.

The ending is lovely and worthy of discussion. Children can relate to the different interpretations of the passage of time when alone and with a friend. The story also raises the concept of appreciation for all the things the boys are given.

The illustrations are unique and interesting. They are partly drawn and partly montage which gives a textual appearance to the landscape. I liked the pictures of the boys especially when they were imagining all the wonderful things in their community. Carlo’s hair is adorable.

I think this is a book with wonderful potential and some beautiful qualities that just got off on the wrong foot.

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I was given an ebook in exchange for an honest review.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

Does the New Kid Always Get Bullied? – Malcolm Devlin and the Shadow of a Hero by Michael Ferrari. Book Review.

Click here to buy Malcolm Devlin and the Shadow of a Hero

Malcolm Devlin and the Shadow of a Hero begins with a riveting and heartbreaking chapter. Malcolm and his parents are a circus family. Mom stands in the middle of a centrifuge while dad drives around her at top speed on a motorcycle. Malcolm is never afraid as he firmly believes his mother’s love is unconditional and his father is invincible. As a result, Malcolm is protected and loved completely. What happens in the first chapter completely shatters Malcolm’s belief in personal safety and security.

When Malcolm’s father is killed being a hero, we understand the title of the book and the motivation of the protagonist. The reader is quickly invested in Malcolm’s well-being and wants to know what will happen to him.

Fatherless, and living with a mother who has lost her glow, Malcolm lives in constant fear. His coping mechanism is to separate himself from society and try to be invisible to the bullies that inevitably dog his life. When his mother sets up her traveling flea market in the theatre of a small town, Malcolm is targeted by three dangerous, violent bullies. The leader of this trio is the grandson of the harsh and manipulative mayor. Malcolm seems doomed.

Just when things seem the most hopeless, in walks a mysterious gypsy woman with a magical trade. She promises it will help him live without ever being lonely or afraid, the two most dominant emotions in his life. What unfolds is humorous, touching and suspenseful.

The only time this book did not feel believable was during the fire scene but that is probably because I have been researching this topic recently for my own work.

This is the kind of book that would translate easily onto the big screen. There are laugh out loud scenes that would be even funnier to watch. Although some things are little clichéd, it doesn’t matter because the character of Malcolm is so well-rounded and lovable that we buy everything at face value. The author has a talent for atmosphere and characterisation. Readers 10 years old and up will find time flying by as they enjoy this wonderful book.

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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

Why Do We See Ourselves So Negatively? – Little Lucky Ladybug by Melissa Carter. Book Review.

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 Click here to buy Little Lucky Ladybug

The message in this picture book is important, “each person in the world is unique and special.” The little ladybug visits a honeybee, a butterfly, an ant, and a spider. Each of these insects feel depressed about their self identity. They all say to her “Lucky Ladybug, you are a beautiful sight to see./You are a sign of luck, a delicate bug, and you are lovelier than me./You are always welcomed into people’s cozy homes./Your little lucky wings let you fly, sore and roam.” In return she tells them about their own wonderful attributes.

I love the pattern in the story. The only problem is, I felt the text was a bit too wordy. If you read it out loud it almost becomes a tongue twister. This seems to be a book written for very young children and a pattern that they could have echoed would have been preferable. I also think the attempt to make it a rhyming book slowed it down. It may have worked better as a simple narrative, perhaps just with the little rhyme each insect says to the ladybug (shortened and simplified). The best way to read it out loud, is to ignore the rhyme and read it as though it is an expressive narrative.

The illustrations, by Jeanne A. Benas, are gorgeous. They are simple, but vibrant and expressive. They fairly pop off the page. I especially love the one of the caterpillar looking in the mirror to see a butterfly.

After the story, the author has included some activity pages for children: a maze, a dot to dot, three pictures to color, and a journaling response page.

The author was interviewed on this blog on October 12, 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

 

The Ghost with the Green Thumb by Maggie M. Larche. Book Review.

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 Click here to buy The Ghost with the Green Thumb (True Girls)

Twelve-year-old Beth Shepherd goes to spend the summer with her grandfather, a widow who is having difficulty coping with his loss. Her goal is to help her grandfather move on from his grief. She ventures into the Lover’s Garden, a place of romance and memory for her grandparents. Although no one has been caring for it sends her grandmother’s death, the garden is in full bloom. She convinces her grandfather to come to see it but all he can see his weeds and dead plants.

Sweet romance and mystery combine beautifully in this gentle story. I had mixed feelings about the necessity of miracles to enable the grandfather to move on with his life and experience happiness again. It is unlikely that preteens reading this book can count on a similar experience to help them through grief. I would’ve liked to have seen more realistic, practical tips on dealing with the loss of a loved one.

However, taken as a positive ghost story, The Ghost with the Green Thumb, is suspenseful and engaging. As an early romance, we follow with interest Beth’s experiences in her first boy/girl relationship. The writing flows easily and would be enjoyed by most preteens.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

What if You Could Smell Death Coming? – Scented, a Love Story by RJ Crayton. Book Review.

 

Click on the cover to buy Scented.

This is a gently paced novel focused on three people, Brian, Lauraline, seniors in high school, and Brian’s father, Jack. Lauraline, the new girl, has left Brian breathless from the very first encounter. Brian is a kind, thoughtful young man but he has a skill that makes life extremely difficult. Lauraline also has a paranormal “gift”.

The two teenagers also have great loss in common. Brian’s mother died when he was eight and his father became cold and distant as a result. He avoids Brian and often seems repulsed by him. Without siblings, Brian has led a lonely life but for his closest friend Ferraz. When Lauraline walks into his heart, Brian is torn as to whether he should tell her about his grisly secret.

Lauraline, too, has lost her mother. But her father has stepped up and been a diligent and loving parent in spite of his own pain. However, Lauraline has a residual phobia from her mother’s death. Although she was only three years old and can’t remember the car accident, Lauraline knows it was raining when her mother crashed with her in the back seat. Because of this, she is terrified of rain. On her first day at the new school, when lightning hits close to the gymnasium, she screams and faints.

In spite of the fact that these two teenagers have not been able to recover from the deaths of their mothers, they are mature and thoughtful people. By supporting each other, they each become stronger individually. Little do they know that one of them will have to deal with death yet again.

This is a sweetly romantic book and although the darkness of death overshadows the narrative, Brian and Lauraline’s courage and determination are inspiring. They are almost a little too level-headed and responsible. There conversations often sound like sessions with a psychologist. I felt the book could have used a bit of humor now and then to lighten the atmosphere. I also felt the message from the beyond was a bit weak. It was wonderful, though, how well they treated each other. This is the kind of relationship everyone should have with a girlfriend or boyfriend.

All in all, if you’re looking for a mature, inspiring romance that avoids any sexual incidents, this will fit the bill.

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I received a free copy of this book from good reads in exchange for an honest review. The book was donated to my Little Free Library.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages