Our Roots Keep Us Strong: Author Becky Villareal Three Random Questions Interview

Becky Villareal taught early childhood in Dallas Independent School District for 23 years. For the past ten years she has been completing family research. She spent the last 10 years working on family research. She has written two books about Gianna the Great.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Becky. Tell us a bit about your writing and your most recent work.

Becky Villareal: I have worked with many children who come from multicultural backgrounds. Since I come from a similar background, I was always trying to place myself in a group. I wrote Gianna the Great to address those inner conflicts that children face and followed it by Halito Gianna: The Journey Continues to let the children know what happens when you don’t give up.

Ferrante: What research did you do for this picture book?

Villareal: Through working with the National Archives and multiple genealogy websites, I was able to piece together the parts of my family tree that have been missing. I used this research to develop this story.

Ferrante: Do you think it is important for people to know their roots?

Villareal: On my website I use this Chinese Proverb, “To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.”  When a person comes from a multicultural background and has little knowledge of that history or culture, they feel lost like a boat at sea with no shore in sight.  Once they feel they have found their place, they can embrace those strengths and weaknesses that are inherent in their own personalities that are part of their DNA makeup i.e. creativity, personality, intuitiveness etc..

Ferrante: Why did you create the character Gianna the Great?

Villareal: In truth, I created Gianna to express to all children how wonderful they are, how unique, and how special.  It doesn’t matter who our parents are, what background we come from, what matters is that there never was nor will ever be again someone just like them.

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 Click here to buy Gianna the Great

Ferrante: What do you feel makes your writing original?

Villareal: When I am writing from Gianna’s point of view, my writer’s voice comes out in full force.  I want the reader to experience what Gianna is experiencing as she goes through her journey to find her family history.

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 Click here to buy Halito Gianna: The Journey Continues (Gianna the Great Book 2)

Ferrante: What is the most important thing you have learned about writing?

Villareal: The most important thing I have learned is to trust the Lord to give me the insight into what I need to write.  He has given me the gift, now I trust His direction.  Also, never lose faith in yourself or your writing.

Ferrante: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

Villareal: Gianna is a series with a third one in the hands of my agent Jessica Schmeidler from Golden Wheat Literary Agency.  I am more than happy to help other novice writers by reading and reviewing their works.

three random questions

Ferrante: In all your travels, what is the most awe-inspiring bridge you have ever crossed?

Villareal: The bridge that goes into Galveston, Texas.

Ferrante: If you lived on a farm, which chore above all others would you definitely not want to do?

Villareal: I would not want to pick okra without gloves.  I did it once as a girl and suffered for it.

Ferrante: If you had to rearrange the letters of your first name to give yourself a new name, what would your new name be?

Villareal: Racebec

Becky’s Blog 

Gianna the Great will be reviewed on this blog Monday, January 9, 2017.

 

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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

Review of Gianna the Great January 09, 2017.

Review of Halito Gianna February 11, 2017.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Little Miss History Travels to Mount Vernon by Barbara Ann Mojica. Book Review.

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 Click here to buy Little Miss HISTORY Travels to MOUNT VERNON

Barbara Ann Mojica is an expert on interesting sites to visit in the United States of America. In her latest book we are taken on a tour by Little Miss History through Mount Vernon. Being a Canadian, I knew absolutely nothing about this place. Barbara gives an interesting overview of George Washington’s plantation in Mount Vernon, Virginia.

On the one hand, we are given a tour of the grounds and the inside of the mansion. Several of George Washington’s rooms and gardens are shown. There is an interesting story about a key in a framed box on the wall. The key was used by the revolutionaries in France to storm the Bastille. I found it ironic, and somewhat disturbing, that a symbol of downtrodden people fighting for their freedom was hung on the wall in a plantation where slaves were used.

Last spring I had the opportunity to tour two large plantations in New Orleans. The emphasis was on the ostentation and history of the white plantation owners. What intrigued me the most was the snippets we were given on the slaves’ lives. I was very pleased to see that Mojica did not undervalue the story of these brutalized people. She mentions in the book that George Washington did not allow “harsh treatment of his slaves”. I guess he judged this on a continuum. Owning a person, selling them at will, controlling every minute of their every day, working them from dusk til dawn, is pretty harsh on its own.

By the second page of the book, we are made aware of the use of slaves to keep the grounds pristine. They used scythes to keep the Bowling Green usable by the free and wealthy. Martha Washington managed the kitchen with a hired person and several slaves who would’ve prepared many foods they were not allowed to eat. The quarters of 85 slaves were built out of sight of the main house. Doesn’t that speak volumes? I was pleased to see that, whenever possible, Mojica named the slaves and their specific duties. She explained the conditions under which they lived and their meager possessions. She related how long and hard they worked under a man who believed it was the government’s responsibility to end slavery and did not free his own slaves until his death wherein he was given a memorial. Even after their deaths, however, slaves were treated as chattel and buried in unmarked graves.

This book lends itself well to discussion. One of the most disappointing traits of humans is the ability to compartmentalize and avoid ownership of the results of their behavior. We can have a man who does not believe in slavery owning slaves. We can have an animal lover who hunts. We can have a psychologist who manipulates his wife. Accountability, responsibility, truth, all become evasive when humans can rationalize their behavior. It is especially damaging when leaders, such as presidents, can say one thing and do another.

I’m not sure if it was Mojica’s intention to raise these issues. Her books are for history lovers and those who like to symbolically visit interesting locales while sitting in a comfy chair. However, for me this book was more than that. An excellent addition to her wonderful series.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund. Performed by Susanna Burney. Book Review.

This novel is written from the point of view of Marie Antoinette beginning at age 14 when she was married off to the 15-year-old Dauphin, later to become King Louis XVI. Marie Antoinette has been groomed by her mother, the Empress of Austria, to be the perfect wife, obedient, cheerful, beautiful, and eager to bear children. However, things become more challenging than anticipated when Louis does not consummate the marriage.

Marie Antoinette, although genuinely eager to be a perfect princess and future Queen, behaves, in many ways, like a typical teenager. The author, Naslund, used Marie Antoinette’s letters as the major resource for her novel and as such, the young woman’s voice comes through with clarity and power. It is a voice that can be wearying on the listener but is both vivid and compelling.

Naslund writes in great detail of the sensual world Marie Antoinette experiences and interprets. The listener feels pulled into both time and place. I used an audiobook read by Susanna Burney whose story evolves impressively from that of an eager to please child to that of a mother and wife struggling for the survival of her family.

It is easy to condemn Marie Antoinette’s extravagances, especially her enormous gambling debts and expenditures on jewelry and clothes but, given an identical situation, many modern young women would behave in the same way.
In spite of her Habsburg lineage, Marie Antoinette is a woman ruled by her husband and country and therefore at the mercy of others. There is little mercy during the French Revolution.

Another perk of listening to the audiobook is the interview with the author after the novel is complete. This provides insight into the historical Queen and why the author chose to present her in this light. If you enjoy historical fiction, especially those that get deeply into the minds of the protagonist, you’ll love this book.

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BUY Abundance, A Novel of Marie Antoinette (P.S.)

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Bray, Libba. A Great and Terrible Beauty. Book Review.

A Great and Terrible Beauty (The Gemma Doyle Trilogy)

The setting and characters are the real stars of this novel. The plot is interesting but it was the world of these Victorian girls that kept me turning the pages.

It begins in June 1895 in Bombay, India. Gemma, the heroine of the story is turning 16 and cannot understand why her parents will not take her to London, England. In Victorian culture, women have a short period of time in which to catch a man who will support them for the rest of their lives. Emma wants to join English society and participate in balls, shopping, and dining out. While she does get her wish to go to England, it is through disastrous events that change her life forever.

The dynamics of an English boarding school and the division between the social classes is fascinating. These girls live a life most modern teenagers could never imagine filled with restrictions and expectations of their every move and word. Yet, the jealousies and cruelties are no different than those practiced in high school today.

The plot centers around a magical realm and powers that draw Gemma and her friends into dark intrigue. The ending was not as satisfying as I had hoped it would be. The revelation of Gemma’s mother’s past destroyed my compassion for her. Pippa’s decision, while understandable, seemed childish and suicidal. The threat from Kartik’s people seemed to go nowhere and was unresolved while the romance between him and Gemma was disappointing.

Libba’s writing style is vivid and enjoyable. This is her first book and I would definitely read more of her work.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Burton, Jessie. The Miniaturist. Book Review.

I really wanted to like this book. I like historical novels and I love miniatures, especially houses that are replicas of real buildings. I read to page 106 but just could not continue. The pace was slow, the characters had potential but failed to hold my interest, and the plot was threadbare.

Because I did not finish this book, I cannot give it a fair rating. Another reader may make it to the end and love it. I just couldn’t manage it.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Lewis, Amanda West. September 17. Book Review.

Click here to buy September 17: A Novel

This is a young adult fictionalized true story of the City of Benares, a cruise ship, transporting children and some families to Canada during the Second World War. The British government was trying to protect children from the German bombings. Unfortunately, the ship was torpedoed, sending a few survivors into small lifeboats and the rest of the passengers to the bottom of the ocean. This book traces the story of several children and their experiences with their family before departure, on board the ship, and after the sinking of the ship.

Due to the factual, third person viewpoint, I initially thought this book would be dry and the characters would remain distant. However, while remaining true to the language and culture of the time, Lewis gently draws us in and shows us how these were real, lovable children. The stories told of each lifeboat are fascinating, suspenseful, and moving.

Although the story is deeply tragic, the determination, heroism, courage, and compassion of passengers and staff are inspiring. This book is an example of how far-reaching and horrifying the effects of war are on even the most innocent victims.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Setterington, Ken. Branded by the Pink Triangle. Book Review.

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Click here to buy Branded by the Pink Triangle

This is a young adult nonfiction book. It holds back nothing when it speaks of the horrors the Nazis visited on Jews, disabled people, races they deemed inferior, and homosexuals. It traces the history of treatment of homosexuals in Germany and Europe from prewar time, through the second world war, and afterward. It clearly an eloquently shows how these targeted victims have been ignored until very recently.

It is an informative and fascinating book for anyone interested in the Second World War, the rise of the Nazi Party, and the struggles of homosexuals for equality and safety.

It begins with a personal story, that of 16-year-old Kitty Fischer, whose life was saved by an Auschwitz concentration camp prisoner wearing a pink triangle, the symbol assigned to homosexuals. It tells the stories of several individuals persecuted for their sexual preference, some experienced adults and some teens. Some homosexuals were tolerated, for a while, as long as they were able to help push forward Hitler’s agenda of annihilation of those who did not fit his narrow terminology of the master race. Some were targeted immediately. Few survived the Second World War but those who did have told their story here. It is well worth reading for adult and young adult alike. It will break your heart and make you angry. It will not be forgotten.

However, having said all this, I would not recommend this for teens under 16. It is far too horrifying for younger children.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Aragon, Catherine. Mission London: A Scavenger Hunt Adventure. Book Review.

Click here to buy Mission London: A Scavenger Hunt Adventure (Travel Book For Kids)

What fun it was to receive this book in return for an honest review. I spend a week in London seeing the sights and recognized several of the places pictured and explained in this book. Although it is written for young people, the adults supervising the activity will enjoy and learn from the activities featured in the text as well.

The reader is invited to become a secret international agent and search for clues throughout London, England. Once the scavenger hunt is completed and the points added up, the reader can further her experience by going online and printing out a certificate and entering a photo contest. At the site, other books about Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Washington DC, and New York are featured. The trick using these books is to convince the child it will be a fun, shared activity and not improvised homework. With the right attitude, this could be a memorable and valuable experience for both adult and child.

While using this book, the reader seeks out details in such places as Westminster Abbey, Parliament and Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, the British Museum, the British Library, the Temple Church, and the Tower of London. It is not necessary to travel to each of these destinations in order to earn enough points for a special agent certificate. There are also ways to earn bonus points by noticing things featured throughout the city.

As well as using intrigue to motivate the reader, Catherine Aragon (is that her real name?) injects humor throughout. For example, when searching the British Museum for Selene’s horse’s head, Aragon writes, “The horse may appear a bit tired because he just led the chariot of Selene, the Moon goddess, across the sky.”

Readers not only search for items and check them off but they are also encouraged to interact with their environment. In order to imitate Queen Victoria wearing a corset, “Suck in your stomach as far as you can and read the quote on the next page, while appearing as serious as possible.”

If you’re the kind of family that likes to globe trot, this series of books is for you.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Mojica, Barbara Ann. Intrepid, Sea, Space, and Air Museum. Book Review.

Click here to buy Little Miss HISTORY Travels to INTREPID Sea, Air & Space Museum (Volume 5)

I always learn something new and surprising when I read one of Barbara Ann Mojica’s nonfiction picture books. Although they are written for children, adults will find them interesting as well.

Mojica illustrates her books with a clever combination of photographs and drawings. Her character, little Miss History, is confident and adventurous. The hand drawn figures blend seamlessly with color and black and white photographs creating both a sense of history and immediacy.

In this book, she explores the history of the Naval ship the Intrepid. The Intrepid was not just a warship, although it excelled at that. Readers will learn of its various roles over the years, even during the crisis of September 11, 2001. I would never have considered visiting this museum, but after reading this book, my views have changed.

Mojica gives tribute to those who served on this great ship, drawing attention to the previously overlooked courage and skill of the 23 African-American sailors who fought during the World War II. This book is sure to inspire interest in history and pride in this strong symbol of American strength and daring.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Mojica, Barbara Ann. Little Miss History Travels to Ford’s Theatre. Book Review.

Click here to buy Little Miss HISTORY Travels to FORD’S THEATER (Volume 4)

Barbara Ann Mojica has become one of my favorite picture book writers. She composes short history books for children. Her illustrations combine photography with hand drawings. They merge seamlessly together in both charming and informative ways. I was excited to be given a free copy of Ford’s Theater for review and was not disappointed as I read through this fascinating little book.

Ford’s Theater is linked to major events in American history, especially the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. I love the way little Miss History dramatically reacts to the events on each page, from the horror of the Civil War to the tragedy of Lincoln’s death. As much can be learned from the illustrations as from the actual text.

Mojica always includes some fact that is sure to amaze her reader. The tower of books written about Abraham Lincoln in the Learning Center for Education and Leadership is astonishing.

As always, Mojica’s book would be an excellent addition to any school library or classroom or as a gift for a child who enjoys history. However, as a Canadian who is not up on all American history, I would like to know whatever happened to John Wilkins Booth.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages