Pioneer Alphabet by Mary Alice Downie. Illustrated by Mary Jane Gerber. Book Review.

I love a book that takes you further and further into the subject. This is the type of book that a child learning about pioneers can go back to over and over again and learn something new each time.

On first read, the text boxes at the bottom of each beautifully illustrated page contains several words that begin with the featured letter. For example, “A is for Abigail and Anna, my two sisters. Even though they are awful, I am making them an alphabet book.” “B is for Bangalore. I can do whirrlies with it. Abigail can only make it go up and down, and Anna can’t even do that.” As you follow the text through the book, you learn more about Zebadiah’s pioneer family and the work and play that encompasses their very full days.

For a more extensive understanding of pioneer life, each page has further details at back of the book. For example, it explains the A page like this: “Like other pioneer children, the twins, Abigail and Anna, lived in a log cabin in the woods with their family and household pet – Xersus the cat. They didn’t go to school, nor did they have television, computer games, or friends nearby. But even though they had many chores, they still managed to have fun – and get into trouble!”

Going through the third time, the reader can examine the illustrations above each full-page picture. This reminds me of the style of Jan Brett. For example, above the “A” page you can find an acorn, arrow, ark, animals, acts, and bill, and amethyst.

This would be a very valuable resource for teachers in primary grades. There is just enough information on each page to make for a comfortable first read. Children will enjoy trying to figure out the additional alphabet words above each picture. Further information at the back will be helpful to the teacher.

The illustrations are impressive and engaging. By the end of the book, the reader feels as though he or she knows this pioneer family and how their lives progress. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in pioneer life or for classrooms where North American pioneers are on the curriculum.

Other books where the frames extend the story or information. Click on the cover to buy the book.

PLEASE COMMENT IF YOU CAN THINK OF SIMILARLY ILLUSTRATED BOOKS OTHER THAN JAN BRETT’S.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Writing/Righting History & Getting Toddlers to Eat – Author Delin Colón Three Random Questions Interview

delinglasses1aDelin Colón is a writer and freelance editor with a background in clinical psychology.

Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Delin. You have had a number of career paths. Tell us a little about them and how they led to your writing.

Delin Colón: Thank you, Bonnie. Actually, I wrote my first poem at the age of eight (in 1958). Several were published in minor literary magazines during my high school and college years. Then came essays and short stories.

While I had majored in French and French literature in my undergraduate years, I turned to clinical psychology in graduate school which combined my love of research and working with people, and led to counseling children and adults in a variety of clinical settings such as psychiatric hospitals, halfway houses, walk-in clinics and a juvenile detention center. This background led to a job as a technical writer for Sociological Abstracts. I loved the challenge of reducing an experiment or study down to four sentences describing the essence of the article.

A decade or so later, as the co-owner and manager of a stairbuilding company, I saw a need in the marketplace for a clearinghouse of all kinds of writers and formed a company that matched freelance writers with jobs. But the real impetus for publishing my first book, Rasputin and the Jews, came from reading the memoirs of my great-great uncle who spent a decade as Gregory Rasputin’s secretary/manager.

Ferrante: You have written two very different books, a historical nonfiction called Rasputin and the Jews and a picture booked titled Zeke Will Not Eat. Let’s talk about the first one for a bit. How much research did that involve? Did you have the plot and then do the research or did you discover the plot as you researched?

Colón: Actually, Rasputin and the Jews: A Reversal of History is the culmination of 15 years of researching the writings of people who knew Rasputin. My father had always told me that his great uncle, Aron Simanovitch, had been Rasputin’s secretary. For years I tried to research my ancestor but with little luck until the late 1990s when I found, on the internet, an out-of-print copy of Simanovitch’s memoirs in French. It did not seem to have been professionally edited at all, as there was a lot of repetition and poor organization of the manuscript. However, what struck me about it, first of all, was that my great-great uncle was one of the few Jews permitted to live outside Russia’s Pale of Settlement where most Jews were confined. But even more importantly, his memoirs conveyed a completely different image of Rasputin than history and myth have recorded.

My second book was my English translation, with historical annotations, of Simanovitch’s memoirs, titled Rasputin: The Memoirs of His Secretary by Aron Simanovitch.

Ferrante: How do you organize your research and make it easy to find something you read later on? I read that you worked on the book for 15 years. You must have been buried in documents.

Colón: Most of the books I read about Rasputin propagated the demonic myth that had been fabricated by the Russian nobility to discredit him. But there were quite a few quotes and memoirs from those who knew him intimately, on a nearly daily basis (such as my great-great uncle and Maria Rasputin), that told the story of a humanitarian (who, okay, loved to party) who, contrary to government policy and to the wrath of the aristocracy, advocated equal rights for oppressed minorities as well a voice in government for all citizens.

With regard to organizing the research, I used a simple index card file with the subject and date of the quote or event at the top, the quote in the body of the card, and the title, author and page of the resource information at the bottom. The cards were then organized by subject matter and then chronologically within each chapter’s subject.

Ferrante: Can you give us a sentence or two about Rasputin and the Jews?

Colón: Rasputin and The Jews: A Reversal of History is the product of research providing evidence that the Russian nobility, clergy and bureaucracy conspired in a smear campaign against Rasputin because they saw him as dangerous:

  1. for advocating equal rights for Jews (in opposition to the laws restricting their lives)
  2. for the popularity of his upbeat sermons of a loving God (in contrast to the fear of God preached in the Russian Orthodox Church)
  3. for being anti-war and preaching peace during World War I.
  4. and for believing that all citizens should have a say in government…the biggest threat to the nobility.

Ferrante: Why did you challenge the tradition beliefs about Rasputin?

Colón: History is written by the victors, not by the common man.  It became clear to me that Rasputin became a collateral victim of, among other things, the virulent anti-Semitism of the aristocracy, bureaucracy and clergy. My research revealed that it was not only my ancestor’s experience that Rasputin was a generous man, a healer and a progressive humanitarian, but that others who knew him well witnessed the same traits, refuting the demonic image. For me, it was a matter of righting a century-old injustice. Interestingly, Rasputin and The Jews led me to a correspondence with Rasputin’s great-great granddaughter in France. She tours Europe and Russia lecturing to dispel the myths about Rasputin.

Click on the cover to buy Rasputin and the Jews

Ferrante: Your latest book is a picture book for children, Zeke Will Not Eat.  Why did you choose this subject?

Colón: I’m in the process of writing a series of books for 2 to 6 year-olds, addressing typical toddler issues. Zeke Will Not Eat is the second one. I’ve done some research on the most common problems parents of this age group face and not eating is high on the list. The first book, Katy Rose Likes To Say NO!, addresses that stage where children assert their independence and establish themselves as separate from their parents by saying “no.”

Click on the picture to buy Katy Rose Likes to Say NO!

Ferrante: Did the technique used in the book come from personal experience?

Colón: Yes it did. It was a technique I devised for myself as a child, using my imagination to make mealtime more interesting for myself. It was completely internal and not something I mentioned to my parents or siblings.

Ferrante: Do you have any other tips for parents having mealtime difficulties with a child?

Colón: At the beginning of each of these little books, there is a note to parents explaining the behavior and its purpose in the child’s development. With Zeke, I note that, barring medical issues, there are a variety of reasons for a child’s unwillingness to sit down at the table for a meal, from filling up on snacks and drinks too close to mealtime, to feeling excluded from the conversation, or simply exercising newly found manipulative abilities.

Click on the cover to buy Zeke Will Not Eat

In Katy Rose, my note to parents stresses that it is not only normal, but developmentally necessary for children to go through a “no” phase in order to assert themselves in the world and establish a Self, an identity separate from their parents. As powerless beings subject to adult authority, “no” is often a child’s first taste of power and individuality. But when it becomes routine defiance or is hurtful to friends, it is an opportunity to teach compassion and the unfortunate consequences of negativity. There is also discussion on when it is important to say “no.” One way to avoid “no” is to make statements rather than ask questions, reducing the possibility of options. Rather than asking, “Do you want to go for a walk?” saying, “Let’s go…” or “Now we’ll go…” assumes the event will occur and doesn’t give an option.

Ferrante: The illustrations seemed odd at first glance until I read how they were done using the same 150 shapes arranged and rearranged to create pictures. Why did you choose this technique?

Colón: I grew up in a small town on the east coast that was essentially an artists’ colony. My mother is an artist and we were always given art projects to do, in a variety of media. One of the most famous artists in our town was Ben Shahn. His teenage daughter, Susie, happened to be visiting at my friend’s house when I was about 7 years old. She sat us kids down on the floor, cut a huge variety of shapes from construction paper and had us arrange the shapes into an image on a blank piece of paper. It was like doing a jigsaw puzzle with no ‘right’ outcome; just whatever our imaginations could conjure.

I’ve been enamored of this technique ever since, and have a website of other images I’ve created, in addition to the book illustrations. (http://delin-colon.pixels.com/)

I have nothing in mind when cutting the pieces of varying shapes, lengths and sizes. The challenge is in turning them into illustrations that convey the text. One image might take a couple of days to a week to produce. By the way, all of the pieces used in Katy Rose were also used in Zeke, with a few dozen more added for the latter. Instructions for doing such a parent-child art project are at the back of each book. Alternatively, a child could color in the black and white images, as one would in a coloring book.

Ferrante: I don’t think people realize how challenging it is until they try it.

What are you working on now?

Colón: I’m conjuring the third book in the series which will be about telling the truth, a more difficult and abstract concept than the first two. Interestingly, my research revealed a study showing that children are more likely to tell the truth after hearing positive stories (like George Washington being praised for admitting he chopped down the cherry tree) than they are after hearing stories with negative consequences for lying (like The Boy Who Cried Wolf or Pinocchio

In addition, I have half a dozen rough chapters of an existential coming-of-age novel illustrating how Self and Identity are shaped and the conundrum that there is no absolute Self without outside influences.

Ferrante: Interesting. That’s similar to Buddhism.

Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like to share with my readers?

Colón: This is the most thorough and in-depth interview I’ve done, with questions that pertain specifically to my work, as opposed to the general, stock questions that others ask every writer. I’ve really had to think about them. I just hope that your readers find some of my work of interest.

Ferrante: I’m sure parents of toddlers will appreciate your tips.

Three Random Questions:

Ferrante: What was the craziest thing you ever bought?

Colón:   I’ve never been a lover of shopping and have generally stuck to practical items but several decades ago I was intrigued by an ad for an electric device that could be set at various brain wave frequencies to induce alertness, memory, sleep, creativity, or relaxation. I was especially interested in increasing the Theta waves for creativity. At different times, I tried each different setting, wearing dark goggles that pulsed light flashes at different rates and head phones that played tones in the desired frequencies. They all tended to produce the same result for me: I’d fall asleep and have some very bizarre dreams. Not long after, I’d be awakened by one of my teenagers asking when dinner would be ready. Frankly, I never noticed any greater creativity, fatigue or relaxation in the ensuing meal preparations.

Ferrante: In your opinion, what song has the most beautiful chorus?

Colón: That’s a tough one. I guess the one closest to my heart would be Helen Reddy’s “You and Me Against the World:”

You and me against the world,
Sometimes it seems like you and me against the world,
When all the others turn their backs and walk away,
You can count on me to stay.

It describes perfectly the close relationship I had with my older son, a musician who, even at the age of 27, before his death eight years ago, proudly described himself as “mama’s boy.”

The song continues:

And when one of us is gone,
And one of us is left to carry on,
Then remembering will have to do,
Our memories alone will get us through
Think about the days of me and you,
Of you and me against the world.

Ferrante: Oh, I am so sorry. I can’t imagine losing my son. My deepest condolences.

Last question. Do you like your first name? What would you like to have been called?

Colón: I do like my first name (accent on the second syllable: de-LIN) mostly because I created it. It is not the name on my birth certificate, but a mash-up of my names that I’ve been using for over 50 years. I was given a Hebrew name, Chana Dvora, and though I like it, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, especially with the guttural “ch.” But if I had it to do over, from scratch, I always thought “Kate” suited me.

Again, Bonnie, thank you so much for this opportunity. I don’t think I’ve ever given such a heartfelt interview … probably because I was never asked such well-considered questions.

Ferrante: Thank you. I try to make my interviews unique to the interviewee. You’ve shared a lot of information with us. This is, by far, the longest interview I’ve printed but it is chock full of value and cool ideas. Thank you for participating.

Zeke Will Not Eat was reviewed on this blog March 20, 2017.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Three random questions are from a Bit of Banter, the Game That Gets You Talking)

The Second Jezebel by Peter Mowsbray. Book Review.

 

 

It is interesting that I should receive this book for review just as one of my favorite television series, Reign, is ending. I was interested to know what would happen to Catherine de Medici later in life. The portrayal of Catherine, the second Jezebel, is much harsher in the novel than the television series. I suspect the book is more true to life as the research seems extensive and detailed.

The novel begins with the slaughter of the Huguenots and is quite difficult to read through. Be prepared for a lot of gore and savagery. We learn that Catherine is responsible for the massacre and that her motives questionable . She is of the strike first and worry about the consequences later mindset.

The book is a thorough recount of the actions of Catherine and her less than likable children. Their brutish, selfish ambition and thoughtless extravagance is stunning. Although hated by all of France, Catherine does seem to be the only one in her family who truly cares about the country. Not from a sense of patriotism or responsibility but for the preservation of her family and Royal position.

At times I had difficulty keeping the characters organized in my head and was grateful for the cast of characters listed in the front of the book. But even though I sometimes lost the thread of who was who, the story was fascinating and occasionally cringe worthy. The villains far out numbered the heroes.

Although I prefer a book with a protagonist I can admire, the story of Catherine de Medici and her repellent family was compelling in a different way. One wonders how any country survived at all with rulers like these. Admittedly, Catherine’s machinations were brilliant and she had a much better understanding of diplomacy than those in power.

Peter Mowbray writes with authority and sensory detail. He gets into the head of a severely dysfunctional woman and somehow manages to make us feel sympathy, if not empathy, for her. Aside from the occasional punctuation error, the book is flawless and professional. If you like historical fiction written with power and accuracy, you will enjoy this book.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Click on any book cover for more information or to buy the book.

Amazing Dog, Unparalleled Boy: Author Tracy Aiello Three Random Questions Interview

Tracy Aiello is a former first grade teacher, business owner, columnist and all-around storyteller. She is the author of the Miracle Dogs series.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Tracey. Why did you choose dogs as the focal point for a history series?

Tracy Aiello: I actually came up with the title first. While vacationing in Portugal, I had numerous encounters with dogs doing miraculous (read: human) feats. There were dogs playing a form of soccer, dogs obeying traffic signals, dogs in restaurants and taverns, all seemingly without owners informing their activities. My traveling companions and I started calling the dogs the “miracle dogs of Portugal,” and the name had a wonderful ring to it.

I started out my career as a first grade teacher and had a dream of writing a children’s book one day. Combine the perfect title with a passion for writing for children and the result is my book, Miracle Dogs of Portugal.

Ferrante: Would these books be considered fiction or nonfiction?

Aiello: As the “blurb” says, the books are “almost true” stories. They are based on historical events, with fictional detail added.

Ferrante: Your blurb says: Miracle Dogs of Portugal is the almost-true story of historical figure Henry the Navigator and the dog that saved his life – Milagro the Portuguese Water Dog. How did you learn about this event?

 

Ferrante: If I remember correctly, Henry the Navigator ushered in the age of discovery. Did this event take place when Henry was a child? How did you research it?

Aiello: After coming up with the title “Miracle Dogs of Portugal,” I stumbled upon the Portuguese Water Dog breed that helped sailors throughout Portuguese history. I knew the importance of Henry the Navigator to world history and, having been to Sagres, I knew Henry had established a school for the study of navigation in the seaside city.  My story married the two concepts, and I set out to write a book that taught children history and encouraged them to have courage and follow their dreams.

Henry established the school for navigation later in his life, I made him a child for the story. He also designed the boats that Christopher Columbus ultimately used to reach the Americas. I researched Henry the Navigator in the traditional ways – books, the internet. To understand Portuguese Water Dogs, I actually contacted the Portuguese Water Dog Clubs of America and met dogs in my area.

Ferrante: You’ve written the second book in this series, Miracle Dogs of the Missouri. I couldn’t find it on Amazon or Goodreads. Is it brand-new? Tell us a bit about it.

Aiello: I haven’t published Miracle Dogs of the Missouri as yet, but the story follows the same themes as Miracle Dogs of Portugal, with a child that follows his dreams and becomes an explorer.  It is the almost-true story of Meriwether Lewis, the leader, with William Clark, of America’s exploration of its west. The story unfolds as Lewis, as a child, learns the ways of the river and the native peoples with the help of a spunky Newfoundland. He comes to believe he could use the river to travel distances farther than any other man.

Ferrante: Why do you call these “miracle dogs”? Is there a religious component to these books?

Aiello: There are not outwardly religious themes, just miraculous meetings (with the dogs) that remind the characters (and us!) to have faith in themselves and follow their dreams.

Ferrante: Do you have the third book in mind for this series?

Aiello: Not specifically outlined, but I’d love to tell the story of a courageous female character that led the way, such as Amelia Earhart or Harriet Tubman.

Ferrante: You used to be a first grade teacher. Have you ever considered writing picture books for that age? What drew you to write early chapter books?

Aiello:I did set out to write a picture book, but my strength is telling a story through words, not images. I relied on my illustrator, Kent Barnes, to help visualize my story.

Ferrante: When did you begin writing books? Do you write every day? You have a process that you always follow?

Aiello: I started Miracle Dogs in 2004 and have been writing ever since. For many years I wrote in the early mornings, about 5:30 – 7:00, on various projects. My husband and I had our first child in February, 2016, so I have taken a writing sabbatical, to say the least!

Ferrante: Did you do anything differently from your first experience in creating Miracle Dogs of Portugal when writing your second book?

Aiello: Yes, since the age level was a bit older than I originally set out to write, I really catered Miracle Dogs of the Missouri to 2/3 grade readers.

Ferrante: Is there anything you’d like to share with us that I haven’t asked?

Aiello: One of the things I love most about being a published author is sharing both my story and the writing experience with children. I conduct writer’s workshops in elementary schools around the country, teaching children the “bones” of writing and encouraging creativity. Kids often think they hate writing, but with a little encouragement they come to realize how they come up with stories all the time!

three random questions

Ferrante: What is your favorite day of the week?

Aiello: Thursdays! Hopefully I’ve accomplished a lot for the week, have one more day to work and then I can rest and plan ahead.

Ferrante: What is something you always used to love to do that, during the last year or two, you feel like you’ve outgrown or lost interest in doing?

Aiello: I became a mom in February (2016), so everything in my life has changed. Now that our son is old enough to start participating in activities, I’ve actually regained interest in the things I loved as a child – such as libraries, swimming, children’s books and music classes – because we are experiencing these things together.

Ferrante: If you could get one thing back that was either lost or destroyed, what would it be?

Aiello: I don’t put much stock in possessions, but I do wish I could have many of my years back!

Ferrante: Wise answer. Thank you for chatting with me today. Good luck with your books and enjoy this precious time with your baby.

The Miracle Dogs of Portugal was reviewed on this blog February 20,2016.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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

The Book of Heroines: Tales of History’s Gutsiest Gals by Stephanie Warren Drimmer. National Geographic Kids.

This is the kind of book you would leave on your coffee table and peruse on occasion. It is more of a resource book then a sit down and read book. This is not to say it isn’t interesting. It’s amazingly comprehensive and you’re sure to find someone you had not known about previously.

The chapters are roughly organized by theme, although gritty girls and legendary ladies tells little about who will be examined in that chapter. There are leaders and the wives of leaders, athletes, first to achieve, warriors, sports figures, fighters for peace, scientists, and entertainers. I was glad to see women from multiple cultures and races. I don’t think so much space should have been spent on goddesses and superheroes like Wonder Woman, although I love her.

It is up-to-date including a large spread on  Malala. Although the focus is on American women there is equal attention given to women from around the world over a large span of history. As a Canadian, I noted that they did not include Laura Secord who is considered a hero to us but not to the Americans.

There are fact bars and full pages of writing. It is chock full of photographs and illustrations.

In the  Outstanding Animals category, they include female dogs and other animals who have saved lives and those who have helped in the medical profession. However I think it is cold hearted and disrespectful to include victimized animals. Many of these animals did not have a choice. They weren’t heroes, they were casualties. Astro-dog, for example was sent into space by the Russians who did not have a recovery vehicle. This dog, described as having a calm personality was sent to her death. The book would have been far better to leave these unfortunate victims of man’s ambition out of the book. If they are going to include these poor creatures, then why not also talk about all the female animals that are used in medical research etc. Each year 100 million animals are killed in the United States alone in laboratories to test cosmetics and drugs and chemicals, for medical training, biology research, and sometimes just for curiosity. (Sadly, most results do little to explain how these drugs, etc. will behave in a human body.) Thousands more die in horrifying weapons testing. They may be heroes, but they didn’t volunteer. If you’re going to consider the unfortunate animals forced into space as heroes then every animal that dies so we can have beautiful eyelashes is also a hero. If you give this book to a girl, this topic should be discussed.

Setting aside that well-meaning but inappropriate section, this is a fabulous book to give to a girl or young woman. At the end of the text there is an afterward which says “your turn to be a heroine.” It includes daily deeds for girls such as “find more heroines, develop a heroine habit, stand out and imagine.” It encourages courage, independence, and ambition.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

“The Missing President” (Adventures of Alleykats Historical Sleuths) by R. J. Williams. Illustrations by Daveia Odoi. Book Review.

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 Click to buy Adventures of Alleykats: Historical Sleuths: The Missing President (Volume 1)

This is an early chapter book, 26 pages long, containing periodic full-page and half-page colored illustrations. Williams says it is the first in a series of historical mysteries for children. The illustrations are simple but effective and appear to be a compilation of computer graphics.

It features three children, Kat, Albert, and Leyla, who use libraries and documents to solve historical puzzles. I love this concept. What a great series this could make for teachers to use in their classroom. This is more of a discovery book than a suspense novel. The children are never in danger at any time.

I wondered about the title, but being Canadian I don’t know that much about American presidents. Once the children started to uncover information about the president who has been ignored by history, I understood. “During the war (1861 – 1865), President Abraham Lincoln was the President of the Union and Jefferson Davis was the President of the Confederacy.” What a clever way to introduce a little-known historical fact. I was glad to see the author mentioned that history is written by the winners. Basically, this means we only ever get half the story and that half from a singular perspective with its own agenda.

Two things I would suggest this author works on avoiding before her next publication are the dreaded info dump and inconsistent verb tense. The author needs to know all the characters backgrounds the reader really doesn’t.

Here’s an example of what I mean by verb tense.

The Alleykats have definitely had a full day and it looks like they will make it home in enough time for dinner with their families. “I’m going to share this information with my family at the dinner table this evening,” said Leila. Kat turns to Sgt. Major and says, “You have been great Sgt. Major, thank you for everything especially the tour, we learned so much.”

You probably also noticed author intrusion and unnecessary repetition about dinner. I would recommend a stern editor go over Williams’ next manuscript before publication. This is such an original and educational series, it deserves to be perfect. This first book is worth sharing with a child.

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

The author, R.J. Williams was interviewed on this blog February 1, 2017.

Other books for your child.

    

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Happy Happy Holidays. Felices, Felices Dias Festivos. By S.J. Bushue and Deb McQueen. Book Review.

 

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

Obviously, this is a bilingual book. It is part of a series featuring So Big, a mammal, and Little Bit, a frog. It is basically an explanation of the major American holidays in both English and Spanish. For example, on the first page it reads, “New Years Day, January 1st” and then at the bottom of the page “el Día del Aῆo Nuevo el primero de enero.” So Big is wearing a diaper and a party hat and blowing a noisemaker as he carries an hour glass. Little Bit is jumping into the air and wearing a party hat and carrying a spinning noisemaker. Confetti fill the air and there is a balloon that reads Happy New Year. The characters’ clothing changes as they explain each holiday.  It was great to see some variation in cultural holidays listed.

The book features the following holidays:

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • Groundhog Day
  • Valentine’s Day
  • Presidents’ Day
  • Mardi Gras
  • Patrick’s Day
  • April Fools’ Day
  • Easter Sunday
  • Earth Day
  • Cinco de Mayo
  • Mother’s Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Flag Day
  • Fathers’ Day
  • Independence Day
  • National Grandparents’ Day
  • Labor Day
  • Native Americans’ Day
  • Columbus Day
  • Halloween
  • Veterans Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Hanukkah
  • Christmas
  • Kwanzaa

At the back of the book there is a list of the holidays with two or three sentences explaining their significance and practice. I had to laugh when I read the blurb on Fathers’ Day. “Fathers’ Day recognizes the contribution that fathers and father figures make to their families. The day is often symbolized by cooking out, gifts, homemade cards and ugly ties.”

As a resource for Spanish speaking immigrants, this book would be wonderfully helpful. I can also see it being used by people who are learning Spanish as a second language.

I did not know that Native Americans Day and Columbus Day were celebrated at the same time. Interesting. I also noticed there is no apostrophe on Veterans Day.

If you go  here you can listen to the book being read aloud in Spanish. There are also coloring pages. You will find a four-line song here that can easily be adapted for a classroom game.

This is a useful and informative book for Spanish speaking children, and adults too, who want to learn about American holidays, cultures, and traditions.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Finding the Forgotten: Author, Documentarian, and Archivist Ronnika (R.J.) Williams Three Random Questions Interview

Ronnika (R.J.) Williams is a documentarian and archivist who has used her skills to create her first children’s book, Adventures of Alleykats – The Missing President.

Ronnika

Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Ronnika. The seed for becoming an archivist was planted quite early. Can you tell us a little about it?

Williams: Hi Bonnie, Thanks for having me! I was surrounded by historical artifacts/documents growing up, I would say around the age of five is when I became fascinated with old photos.  I caught on quickly the importance of preserving them.  I know this is going to sound weird, but I would make sure that my parents, and grandparents saved an obituary from every funeral they attended.  Why? I loved reading about a person’s life and their family. 

Ferrante: Photography/videography is also one of your passions. Where has that led?

Williams: It led me to the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.  I’m currently a student there, and it has broadened my awareness of how complex both photography and videography truly is.  Before I never cared about lighting, I would just click and shoot, or simply record.  Especially when it comes to certain projects I’m working, and with freelance.  I’m more critical of the finished product.

Ferrante: Tell me a little about your partnership with “Savvy Sessions” to provide educational tools for elementary students.

Williams: My sister is an elementary school teacher, so this is her baby.  She provides the blueprint, and I strive to bring the lessons to life through storytelling.  Focusing more on summer activities to keep the students minds sharp all year round.

 Ferrante: Your first children’s book, Adventures of Alleykats – The Missing President, is receiving rave reviews. It seems parents and children love it. Why did you choose this topic on which to base a children’s story?

Williams: I was a summer intern at the Museum of Confederacy (Now the American Civil War Museum) in Richmond, VA for three summers.  Whenever I would tell people where I worked I would either get weird stares (why are you working there, or what’s that face).  I wanted to find a cool way to bring awareness to a place, person, and time in history that’s often omitted from the history books.  I’ve always wanted to know all sides of a story.  The good, the bad, and the truth!

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 Click here to buy Adventures of Alleykats: Historical Sleuths: The Missing President (Volume 1)

Ferrante: What strategies did you use to merge factual history and fictional events?

Williams: I still love a good mystery, and adventure.  Something that keeps me guessing, so I honestly talked with teachers, and they provided me with books that the children were into these days.

Ferrante: Was there ever a missing President?

Williams: He’s missing from the history books.  There’s so much that’s missing from the history books.  Hopefully my series can help bridge the gap.

Ferrante: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Williams: I want my readers to have fun while learning.  It’s just that simple.

Ferrante: What did you enjoy the most about writing this picture book? The least?

Williams: I love how the story was constantly expanding.  I wrote the outline over 3 years ago, while I was in graduate school.  Working with the illustrator truly brought the story to life. I would say the least would be the editing process.  That was stressful, and a hint of perfectionism was creeping out every time I received a revision.

Ferrante: It seems as though the first book is the beginning of the series. What are your plans for subsequent stories?

Williams: I’m currently working on Book 2.  It’s going to be another adventure of course.  I want to be able to build upon the series, and provide unforgettable content to be used in classrooms.  I want the Alleykats to be a household name.

Ferrante: My deepest condolences on the loss of your father. I read that you promised him three things “before he passed away after a battle with cancer, that she would finish graduate school with high honors, pursue her love of documentary studies, and publish a children’s book series.” It seems that you have fulfilled all of these promises. Where is your journey taking you now?

Williams: Thank you Bonnie!

My journey has led me to give back to my community with my ongoing documentary project.  My current photography campaign (final48.org) focuses on stories, and photos of individuals talking about their journey with grief.  Even though it is very different from the Alleykats Series, it keeps me writing, and traveling the country collecting the stories. It truly gives me a lot of joy. The type of joy when someone tells me they love “The Missing President.”  I know that every decision I’ve made has unlocked another amazing opportunity.  Accepting that internship was definitely one of the best decisions I could have made for my professional career. I know that all of my sweat and tears for all of my projects has been worth it. 

Ferrante: What were your favorite children’s books growing up? Do you feel they have influenced your writing?

Williams: My parents gave me a book when I was little girl that was full of African American biographies.  They were in alphabetical order. I’ve asked my mom has she seen the book lying around in my old room. I’ve moved so much I know it’s in a box at her house. I had to do a book report on W.E.B. DuBois, but I was constantly distracted by the other figures in that book.  That goes back to what I said before.  I’ve always been fascinated with “the dash” of a person’s life.  That book was my Wikipedia back in the day.

I was a HUGE Goosebumps and Nancy Drew fan.  I can remember challenging my friends that they couldn’t finish a Goosebumps book in a day.  Other than attending summer camps, I would sit in my room, or in the backyard, and READ.  I was able to finish a couple of Goosebumps books in a day.  Talk about an accomplishment that was before going to middle school. 

Ferrante: Is there anything you would like to share that I haven’t asked?

Williams: I love hearing from my readers.  I’m in the process of revamping the Alleykats website, but social media is quite active.  Feedback is always welcome, and whenever I receive a new Amazon review it totally makes my day!

three random questions

Ferrante: If snow could fall in any flavor, what flavor would you choose? (Being from Michigan, I assume you get snow.)

Williams: Oh yes, I have a Ph.D in tasting snow, and quite an imagination growing up with my neighborhood friends.  I’ve always wanted the snow to taste like the different flavors of KOOL-AID! I would have to choose Lemon-Lime or Cherry.  I can’t pick one!

Ferrante: If you could know one fact about every person you ever meet, what particular fact would you want it to be? (Assume that the other person would not have to be aware that you know this fact about them.)

Williams: Their level of optimism.  These days I choose to surround myself with people that prefer to encourage, enlighten, and uplift.  If there is a problem we are striving to find the solution.  What is that person doing to make the world a better place.

Ferrante: If you could have the original of anything in the world, what would you want it to be? (Assume that you would never be allowed to sell it for money; you must simply enjoy it for what it is.)

Williams: I would want the original of my father’s U.S. Army photo.  I found his uniform with his plane ticket home in his pocket, and later on found the photo.  The photo is damaged inside of the picture frame, so I would want his original draft photo.  Nothing in this world could compare to that.

Ferrante: That would be priceless. I lost my father at age 29 so I understand how meaningful these things become.

Thank you, Ronnika, for sharing your thoughtful and open-hearted answers with us today. I look forward to the release of your second Alleykats book. Good luck with all your amazing endeavors.

The Missing President will be reviewed on this blog February 3, 2017.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

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

Inferno by Dan Brown. Book review.

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Click here to buy Inferno (Robert Langdon)

In order to enjoy Inferno, you need to have an interest in history, architecture, and art as a good third of the book is focused on one or more of these. Fortunately, I do enjoy reading about these subjects although I felt at times less would have been better. Most of it is essential to the plot and intricately woven into the mystery.

There were moments where I felt the plot stumbled. In chapter 9 or 10, I laughed out loud because it was so unbelievable. Sienna went next door to find clothes for Langdon. While looking around, Langdon accidentally spilled a pile of newspaper articles about Sienna that basically told her entire life story. Later on in the novel, this is explained. However, Langdon is intelligent enough that he should have wondered why this “here is her life file” was sitting there. In the same scene, he googled himself to see if there was any news about his disappearance. Since google was available, the pile of life story clippings wasn’t necessary. It would’ve been much more believable if he had googled the doctor’s name instead of finding the clippings.

Three times, by chapter 9, we are told of Langdon’s visions/hallucination about the gray-haired lady surrounded by dying and dead bloody bodies. “Seek and you shall find” is repeatedly told. Instead of building suspense, I started to feel bored by the repetition. Unfortunately, it was even repeated a few more times after that. As well, the description of the underground lagoon where the virus was located became less and less suspenseful and more and more irritating as the novel progressed.

In chapter 16, when Sienna decides that Langdon is being pursued by his government with orders to kill him, she continues to help him. Why? He has done nothing to show her he is innocent of crime. He has no memory. However, why would she even believe it was the government after him since her friend, the doctor, was callously and unnecessarily gunned down in the hospital. Neither of these things made sense to me. This too is explained later on. However, Langdon should have been suspicious about this odd behavior.

In chapter 22, when discussing death masks, Brown mentions Shakespeare’s. This threw me because this is hotly contested. It has not been widely accepted that the death mask found in Germany in the 1800s is authentic. This made me wonder about all the other facts shared by the author. It would have been better to leave out something so controversial.

Other than these little jolts, the plot progressed well. It was suspenseful and interesting. While the biological solution to overpopulation was not original, it suited the story and gave more dimension to both characters and plot. It is, in fact, a logical and humane solution to what is an unavoidable crash of the human population overcrowding and destroying the planet and all life forms on it.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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