Black Balloons. Recycled Sundays.

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I’ve been thinking about the end of the line.  Not that my family is driving me any crazier than usual, just that I’ve been exposed to too many black balloons.  A visual oxymoron if there ever was one.

Over the last few years, numerous friends and acquaintances have hit the big 4 0, some the bigger 5 0.  They often receive salutations stating they are, “Over the Hill.”  I wonder.  When I’m forty, I will still have two-thirds of a mortgage to pay off, two children to raise through their teens and help with post-secondary education, and more than half my job to finish before retirement.  I thought “Over the hill” meant I could coast for a while!

I sincerely hope it doesn’t mean things go downhill from then on.  I’m already aware that there is little I can do to stop the onslaught of aging.  Every time my husband comes home from the barber, I am reminded of the ticking clock.  For some reason, sitting in the barber chair gives him more grey hair.

My memory isn’t what it used to be, but then it never was much to begin with.  Still, I used to forget people’s names eight to ten years after loosing contact with them.  This shrunk to four or five years, then two or three.  Before I knew it, I was forgetting the names of co-workers and neighbours in one season (winter counts as two seasons – early winter and I can’t believe it’s still here winter).  Now, after a long weekend, I have to look up my boss’s name on his door plate.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes believed the mind had a finite space for memory, (like a computer).  As the years pass, I seem to be downgrading to a smaller and smaller hard drive.  I can’t control whether my brain is on SAVE or DELETE.  SEARCH FOR FILES keeps coming up CONNECTION LOST.  Files are cluttered with junk I can’t erase, like the theme songs for The Flintstones, The Beverly Hillbillies, Gilligan’s Island, and Green Acres, none of which I’ve watched during my children’s lifetimes!  Important new information, on the other hand, such as my bank PIN number, the difference between RAM and ROM, and my children’s shoe size can not be stored for later retrieval.  I often feel that my brain is becoming as obsolete as the old PET computers, large, slow, and taking up space with very little inside.  Not at all what I expected would come age.

Some societies venerate the elderly for their experience and wisdom.  I’m a little relieved ours doesn’t since they might suspect I’m a fraud.  I’ll never be one of those senior citizens who can tell you what the weather was like a certain summer 30 years ago and the world events at the time.  By March, I can barely remember ever experiencing a summer.

Perhaps I have selective memory.  My husband thinks so.  I can remember exactly how many times he has thrown wet items into the bottom of the laundry hamper in spite of my requests.  I can remember how much money he had at the beginning of the week and what he was “supposed” to spend it on.  I can remember what he gave me for my last eighteen birthdays and whether he picked it out himself.  I can always remember how many days it took between his agreeing to do a house chore and its completion.

Still, I’m holding together a little better than my friend I will call Max.  He offered to drive the car around to the front of the plaza so that his wife would not have to carry her parcels through the parking lot.  He brought the children out to the van, loaded them up, and drove home, whereupon the oldest child asked, “Where’s Mom?”

After all is said and done, it is more important what people remember of me after I’ve crossed the final hill than whether I mastered my instant teller.  I hope they remember me with a smile.  Just to make sure, I’m looking for the perfect one-liner to leave ’em laughing.  What could be better than a joke for my final words?  An epitaph can be a perpetual one-liner, something like, “I’d rather be in Paris,” but it’s best said aloud.  One problem though.  What if some eager intern revives me and I have to do it all again?  I might not have a back-up joke.  Oh well, I can always claim I forgot.

Published 1992 in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News.

    

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Ah Ha! by Jeff Mack

 Click here to buy Ah Ha!

There are only two there are only two phrases repeatedly used in this clever book, “Ah ha!” and “Aahh!” but plot and emotion are clearly shown through the illustrations.

Frog is just trying to relax in the pond. A boy tries to catch him with a jar, and the turtle, alligator, and flamingo try to eat the frog. Every time he escapes some dire fortune, he finds himself in another life or death situation. The story goes full cycle. When the boy catches the frog in a jar at the beginning, the dog accidentally releases the frog. At the end of the story the frog is cornered by the three animal predators until the boy catches him in the jar again. As the boy carries him away, the frog utters a new phrase, “Ha ha!” The reader assumes that the frog’s situation is almost as bad as being eaten by the predators until the clever frog pushes the lid off the jar and escapes.

Young readers will find this book both suspenseful and humorous. Adults will appreciate the clever chain of events and the inventive use of vocabulary, or lack thereof. It is a book that must be read aloud with great expression. Both phrases, “Aahh!” and “Ah ha!” have different meaning, depending on the context.

Illustrations are double-page, full-color, and expressive. The cheeky personality of the frog comes through loud and clear as does his terror at almost being eaten.

While this is, at first glance, a light-hearted and clever chain of unlikely events, the book does bring home the message that surviving as a little frog is challenging and requires both wit and courage. It encourages discussion on the morality of capturing live creatures for amusement, courage and determination, the food chain, and the importance of never giving up. For an adult, this book is a gentle reminder that life is short and unpredictable. Live in the moment; take the opportunity when it is available to lie back and say, “Aahh!”

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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

 

Potty by Mylo Freeman. Book Review.

 Click here to buy Potty!

In this book, a series of African animals attempt to sit on a potty. It has appeared near a small village by a jungle. Beside it is a note that says “only the best bottom of all fit on this potty.” The zebra’s bottom is too big, the giraffe can’t bend his knees enough, and other animals, such as the leopard, snake, elephant, gorilla and tortoise, also fail to fit properly. In the end, a little bare bottom child sits on the potty and uses it correctly.

I’m not sure what the point of the story is other than to make a child snicker, especially when the gorilla puts the potty on his head. Perhaps it is to make the fearsome potty more approachable. If you’re looking for a book that will help to train your child, I’m not sure this will do much.

The illustrations are bright and cute with a lot of emphasis on bottoms. This might be book to take from the library rather than purchase.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

A Silly Revolution: Easter Eggsodus. Recycled Sundays.

“My fellow Standard Eggs, Grade B, I have been accused of contaminating the carton because I was eggsposed to the Free Range life style,” stated Benedict.

“Justifiably so!” shouted Speckled. “You would create a scrambled society where these separated eggs are considered better-quality than us, the Standards, who make nutrition affordable for all.”

“Order, order!” eggsclaimed Small Fry, who had narrowly missed being labeled Grade C. “This eggsessive arguing will fracture us. We must not rumble so.”

“Eggsactly,” said Large, who had been mishandled. “I am boiling mad, ready to eggsplode.”

“You are a devil,” hissed Benedict. “In the past, have we not suffered under the eggsclusionists who would not accept brown eggs as the equal to white? Did we not learn to see the foolishness of our eggclusivity? I say to you, look upon the Free Range Eggs with an open shell. They are not contaminated by the unregulated intake of insect life during gestation as rumored. Instead, they are free to eggsplore a variety of proteins. Would you not like the freedom to eggsperienced diversity and eggsercise?”

“Eggsorbitant!” eggshorted Slightly Cracked. “The eggsemplary hen that gestated me consumed high levels of protein, antibiotics, hormones, and chemicals that I cannot eggspress. This controlled, monitored lifestyle produced eggscellence… us!”

Ten cheers rose and the carton jiggled with eggscitement.

“I must eggstoll the eggshileration of free movement,” steamed Benedict in eggsasperation. “To not have our mother hens boxed six in a cage! Would it not warm your yolk to be Free at last! Free –”

“Falling,” said Large with as he eggspelled the deviant. A loud crack punctuated the eggsecution. “I had no choice but to eggsterminate this egghead,” he deadpanned.

“Drat,” said a loud human voice. “One of the eggs is broken. Anyone for an omelet?

Published first in 1993 in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Good Night, Already! By Jory John and Benji Davies.

 Click here to buy Goodnight Already!

This is not another frustrated complaint by a parent who cannot get a child to go to sleep. It is the opposite, in fact. Bear wants to sleep. For months. But duck is wide awake and wants company. Every time bear starts to fall asleep, duck wakes him up. Duck has numerous ideas about what they could do together but all bear wants to do is sleep. Finally bear cracks and screams at duck, “I said good night already!” Duck leaves and while reading in his armchair, falls asleep. Bear (possibly due to the adrenaline running through his system) is now wide awake.

This is an hilarious book. The expressions on such simple characters convey their personalities perfectly. Duck’s shenanigans will make a child laugh out loud. This book is sure to tweak some memories of similar situations wherein the child and someone else had different sleep needs.

Although the storyline is simple  and predictable, it is told with such comic genius and illustrated so delightfully that it carries you gleefully along. A perfect book for happy chuckles.

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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

 

Does a Bear Poop in the Woods? – Potty in the Potty Chair by S.J. Bushue and Deb McQueen. Book Review.

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 Click here to buy Potty in the Potty Chair

The book begins with a little girl sitting on the potty. The narrator asks, “Are you a big kid on the potty chair, reading a book with bottom so bare?” To which the girl replies, “Yes!” Considering what follows, it seemed as though this should have been the conclusion to the book.

From this point on, various children are asked if they are like animals who do not poop in the potty. For example, “Are you an elephant who goes potty in the zoo, leaving big heaps that make us say P.U.?” A horse drops huge piles, an alligator creates a mess in the swamp, a dog goes potty in the grass, a cat goes in the litter, and a goose goes by the pond where we step in it, a bird drops it from above, and a mouse leaves pellets everywhere. The book ends with, “Are you a big kid who goes pink and tink, using the potty chair when you sink the ink?” Sinking the ink is explained at the back of the book.

I like the fact that children learn about animals as they read this book, even if it is just about their poop. There are moments of humor such as when the Asian child steps in the goose’s poop.

The book is consciously diverse. The featured children are of a variety of races. There is even one African-American child with blue eyes.

Each page has four lines with an A B C B rhyme scheme. There are some unusual words such as romp, skitter, splatting, pellets, and route which may be difficult for a child of age 2 or 3. Some of the rhymes seem a bit of a struggle.

At the back of the book is a page with “Tips for Potty training success“. There is some good advice about staying positive and being encouraging. It is great that the author makes a point of stressing washing your hands, both the child and the adult.

“Quick and easy steps” explains the sink the ink strategy for potty training. There is a chart the child can use to record his or her successes. Copies are available on the website http://www.thelittlefig.com. There is also a jingle on the website which I felt could have been a little longer and more memorable.

The illustrations are bright, simple, outlined drawings. They fill the page completely. The text is superimposed on sky, wall or tree. All the children appear happy and interested in their surroundings.

All in all, I think this would be a positive and productive book to use when potty training a toddler.

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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 November 16, 2016.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Trapped! – The Secret Drawer written by Nancy Gee. Illustrated by Raye Ann Saunoris. Book Review.

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Click here to buy the Secret Drawer

This children’s picture book is based on a true event in the author’s life. A flying squirrel was trapped inside a dresser drawer while the family’s cat stalked it. The story unfolds in such a way that we feel the poor little squirrel is doomed. It is a relief to the reader when the woman intercedes on the wild animal’s behalf preventing the cat from killing it. At the end of the book, the author shares some facts about flying squirrels.

The illustrations in this book are hilarious. I’m not sure if it is intentional, but it is almost as though everyone is made out of mohair. They all have bug eyes; they all look like they’re tripping out. The pictures are made with ink outlines and filled in with watercolor. The text and picture share a page and the illustrator varies the point of view and placement throughout the book. The woman in the story wears a puppy pink dress with the zebra apron and huge fluffy pink slippers. The pages are glossy and bright. It is a beautifully packaged product.

The story is told in rhyme which I feel was an unfortunate choice. Writing in rhyme requires great skill. The rhythm not only has to keep the same syllabication per line, but the rhyming pattern needs to hold throughout or have a logical, compelling reason to change. Even if this had been mastered, the story doesn’t suit rhyming. I think it could’ve been an incredible book if the author had written in prose. She could have invoked the atmosphere, the emotional suspense, and the beauty of nature. It still could have been humorous but it would have been smoother and more compelling.

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

March 24, 2017 Helping Out a Friend – The Secret Path by Nancy Gee. Illustrated by Kathleen Newman. Book Review on this blog.

March 29, 2017 Flying Squirrel Secrets: Author Nancy Gee Three Random Questions Interview on this blog.

 

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages