Halito Gianna by Becky Villareal. Book Review.

Click on the cover to buy the book.

Gianna could easily become one of your children’s favourite book characters. This is a determined, bighearted, independent, and opinionated girl. She is resourceful and clever.

At the beginning of this story, her class is told that they are to dress up as their favourite character from a book for Halloween. Gianna suggests the heroine of The Rough Faced Girl. If you are unfamiliar with this book, I reviewed it on this blog a while back. The protagonist of this story is a First Nations girl with a pure heart, much like Cinderella. It is a character suitable to Gianna who also lives her life with honour.

In the first book in the series, Gianna joined a genealogy club and learned about her mother’s immigration. In this book, she becomes determined to find out what happened to her father, a soldier who went overseas and disappeared.

In the midst of this quest, a new girl arrives at the school; she is from the Choctaw nation, in Broken Bowl, Oklahoma. Gianna takes her under her wing and transforms what could have been a terrifying and terrible day into a fairly good one. The students learn about the origins of the lacrosse and the Trail of Tears many First Nations people were forced to walk.

I don’t want to give away the whole story. It’s touching and inspiring. Because of this little girl, and her kindness to others and determination, she and her mother have a happy ending to this particular part of their lives. I have to admit, this little book put a lump in my throat. Share it with your child. You’ll both love it.

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Review of Gianna the Great

Interview with the Author Becky Villareal

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Determined, Funny, & Opinionated: Gianna the Great by Becky Villareal. Book Review.

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Click here to buy Gianna the Great

This is an early chapter book with intermittent, small cartoonish illustrations. I wondered how the author was going to interest children in a story about finding her genealogical roots. But, the first sentence showed me she knew her target audience. It begins, “I was nosey.” The top half of the page shows a girl with brown pigtails, round red-framed glasses, pencil in her hand, her eyebrows raised, her mouth open, and her finger pensively touching her cheek.

The little girl, Gianna, tells the story in first person. She is a funny, insistent child with a lot of spark. Her thoughts are often judgmental, even snide, but she treats others with respect. I think the character is realistic and honest.

The story follows Gianna as she develops an interest in her family tree. We learn that there is no father’s name on her birth record which her mother dismisses as a mistake. Her teacher finds her mother’s baptism certificate and explains that in Mexico that is when children receive their full name. He also shows her a border crossing record and a picture of Gianna’s grandmother.

When Gianna shows the documents to her mother, her mother cries with happiness. The story ends with Gianna saying, “I can find out more Mama! Lots more!”

This would be a fabulous book to introduce to a child who is going to research her family tree. It reminds us that immigrants often lose contact with their family and their roots. Whether a child’s family crossed the border from Mexico into the United States, flew in as a refugee of war, or sailed over the ocean decades ago for a better life, there was always loss along with the gain.

Even if a family has been living in the same country for several generations, it is surprising how few children, and even adults, don’t know their grandmother’s maiden name or their family’s roots. When I researched my family tree in the 1980s, everything was done by mail (for a price) or by searching through books and microfiche. Now, entire lineages are available for free online as well as immigration documents, ships’ passenger lists, birth and death certificates, and more. You would have to help your child understand the difference between an original or primary document, a secondary source, and indirect evidence.

Although this is a niche book, it serves its purpose well. An adult could read it to a child in twenty minutes. Or, a child with third grade reading skills could manage it on their own.

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Click here to get FREE family tree charts to print for your child.

Choose from 2 to 5 generations, adoptive family, birth and adoptive family, with a wide variety of backgrounds, in color or black and white.

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The author was interviewed on this blog, January 4, 2017.

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

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.

Becky V

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

Making a Difference for Non-English Children: Author/Publisher S. J. Bushue Three Random Questions Interview

sj-bushueS. J. Bushue owns, operates and writes books for The Little Fig. Her post-graduate studies have focused on special education. Sherry is published in children’s books, newspapers, poetry collections and was a columnist for a magazine with focus on large families.

Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome Sherry. Please give me a short genesis of The Little Fig.

S.J. Bushue: First, thank you for this opportunity. The Little Fig’s name originated in 2014 from my love of figs, more precisely, Fig Newtons. I visualize fig trees and children’s education as being quite similar in their potential; starting from a tiny seed then rapidly cultivating in environments worldwide. There are 67 different languages spoken in my district’s elementary schools alone. Teachers, librarians, parents and caregivers shared their concerns that very few children’s books, if any, were available for the young ones whose English is not their native language. “I believe that children are our future” (a quote from “The Greatest Love of All” music composed by Michael Masser and Linda Creed) perfectly describes my passion of planting seeds by creating children’s books that incorporate languages, music, and vividly bold illustrations for all children to read, be nourished and develop into awesomeness.

S J Bushue Author

Ferrante: That’s wonderful that you have committed yourself to filling this need. As a former (Canadian) grade school teacher, I know how much books like this are needed.

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

(So Big & Little Bit Adventures)

The Little Fig has books in Chinese, Spanish, German, French, Korean, Portuguese, Arabic, Urdu, Vietnamese, and a language I never heard of, Telugu. How did you choose the languages?

Bushue: Telugu is reported to be the third most spoken language in India. Teachers in our Midwest regional elementary schools stated they had absolutely no books to offer the young ones who spoke Telugu. I chose those languages as they were the top 10 most spoken languages in the United States (after English). Research was based on the most recent US Census.

Ferrante: I wouldn’t have guessed that. Are all your books English and a second language?

Bushue: All the titles are available in at least two languages. Literal rather than conversational translations allow the children to read along in their native language. Native speaking parents and caregivers can read to the child at home, helping them to learn English too. I encourage anyone to email me at sherry@thelittlefig.com to express interests in additional languages.

Special concept titles are published in one language per book to allow focus on the concept being learned. Potty in the Potty Chair is an example of an independent book for each language.

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 Click here to buy Potty in the Potty Chair

Ferrante: For what age are your books written?

Bushue: The multilingual and special-situation children’s picture books’ genre focuses on pre-school and early-elementary-school aged children. They are written with the intention to be both entertaining and educational, teaching concepts, facts and, usually, a second language. Many books incorporate children from numerous cultures and/or use race-neutral, gender-neutral animal characters.

Ferrante: Awesome. Most of your books have accompanying songs and downloadable activity sheets. You also have an impressive YouTube site where all of your books are read aloud in their non-English version. You also have songs, such as Momma Said I Could Have a Cat Theme Song. I am very impressed with the quality of this YouTube site. Children could enjoy the music even if they haven’t read the stories. You have an amazing team of professionals. How do you coordinate and generate all of this from a simple book idea?

Bushue: Thank you for checking out our YouTube site.

Jenni Smith is part of The Little Fig team. She composes the theme songs and jingles from the book manuscripts and visuals of the illustrations. She and hubby, Alex (a drum master) then record the music professionally produced at Chapman Studios in Lenexa, Kansas. They are both very talented musicians.

Coordination of the book idea, the translations, the audios, and the music was a concept at the formation of The Little Fig. I noticed that most children are drawn to vividly colorful illustrations, engaging repetition of words or phrases and perky melodies that get stuck in their little heads. I also wanted to provide teachers, parents, librarians and caregivers material to enhance learning. I interviewed numerous illustrators, musicians, and translators before finding this incredible, fun loving group of professionals who are now part of The Little Fig team. All of them are truly undeniably talented and superbly awesome people! I love them all! You can check them out here.

Ferrante: Here are some of the books published by The Little Fig:

Frog Has No Fur which teaches about the difference between amphibians and mammals

Herds of Birds which identifies the names of groups of animals Click here to buy Herds of Birds, Oh How Absurd!: Las Manadas de Aves, Que Absurdo! (So Big & Little Bit Adventures) (Volume 1)

Happy Happy Holidays which explains American holidays Click here to buy Happy Happy Holidays: Felices, Felices Dias Festivos (So Big & Little Bit Adventures?) (Volume 1)

Potty in the Potty Chair, a humorous support for potty training

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You authored each of the above. Do you choose your topics based on your personal interests or on what you think immigrants and English as a second language people need?

Bushue: Great question! I was born with a most inquisitive mind. That curious nature is simply a part of who I am. Most of the topics are based on personal interests and experiences combined with something I have heard or seen. If you look above each title’s cover you will see a section called “Behind the Story”. A sample of this is here on our site. I welcome any and all ideas from others who also have stories to tell.

Ferrante: What are your writing plans for the future?

Bushue: The most current title, “Dinosaurs Count / Los Dinosaurios Cuentan” will be available for the holidays. Cassie Allen has created gorgeous, endearing, anatomically correct dinosaurs that will be loved by all. This title will help wee ones learn to count and give the adults English and Spanish pronunciations for each dinosaur. Jenni Smith’s music composition for this title will be one that kids will sing for years to come.

I have boxes, bags and shelves of ideas for continuing to write and publish multilingual picture books. Plans also include music, products and videos that compliment the characters in the books.

This year my interests have expanded to include helping other writers fulfill their dreams to publish. Community services and donations to special causes will continue. There is also a new program that is near to being launched, but that will be revealed later.

three random questions

Ferrante: In your own not-so-humble opinion, what is your most likable quality?

Bushue: I find peoples’ stories absolutely fascinating. I have been told that I rarely meet a stranger and will talk anytime to anyone about anything. Smiles are contagious. Laughing out loud is infectious. Both of those combine with my curiosity to show people that I am truly approachable.

Ferrante: If you had a great voice and had the opportunity to record a duet with any singer living today, whom would you choose as your partner for the recording?

Bushue: Oh my! I am laughing hysterically at this question. “If I had a great voice” is an enormously tall stretch of the imagination. I have been told that I have an extremely soothing voice, both in person and on the phone. However, I have also been told that I am horribly off-key when attempting to sing. So, instead of a duet I would choose an entire room of eclectic talents like George Benson, Vicci Martinez, Ed Sheeran, Tracy Chapman, Enya, Taylor Swift, and the Lonestar Band who could fill the room with beautiful harmonies and place me behind an unplugged microphone to cover up the wailings that may escape my vocal cords. Just kidding.

Ferrante: What was your favorite thing to pretend when you were a young child?

Bushue: I was very much a tomboy in my youth. I never quite saw the fascination with dressing up dolls or playing house. I was too busy climbing the neighbor’s Chinese Cherry tree, racing bicycles with the boys from one house to the other and creating mud slides while swinging on the tree vines that would not always release us in the center of the creek behind our home. I do remember imagining that when I finally reached the tip-top of the tree, a flying unicorn would swoop by and soar me to worlds never seen before. I almost always dream in color. Frequently I dream of being on top of that unicorn sailing across the sky. Great dreams!

Ferrante: Thank you for all your detailed responses. This is a longer interview than I typically print but I felt that the information you gave would be very important to parents and teachers. Hopefully they will share this site with anyone for whom English is a struggle. Best of luck with your worthwhile endeavors and The Little Fig.

Frog Has No Fur will be reviewed on this blog on December 16, 2016.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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

Squire, Preston. Isecas the Dream Cat and the New School. Illustrated by Dixie Albanez. Book Review.

Click here to buy Isecas The Dream Cat: And The New School (The Dream Cats Book 1)

Sahar is new to Canada and worried about school so Lodi gives her a dream cat. “It makes your fondest wish come true.”

The toy cat, which is wrapped in bandages like a mummy, comes alive and speaks to Sahar. It hides in her backpack and accompanies her to school. The cat watches through the classroom window and communicates with Sahar telepathically. Most of the time he gives her the correct answer to the teacher’s questions, but sometimes he is wrong. Afterward, Sahar asks Isecas why he sent incorrect answers to her. He explains that he knows nothing of math; he plucked the answers from Sahar’s thoughts. Sahar realizes she is smarter than she believed.

In the afternoon, Isecas tells her other student’s thoughts. Sahar discovers she has much in common with a new girl from Peru named Carmen. They become friends. But then, Melissa, a popular girl starts to bully Sahar. By providing Sahar with Melissa’s inner thoughts, Isecas helps Sahar understand Melissa’s insecurities and connect with her as well.

After school, Isecas tells Sahar, “You answered all those questions, you made friends with Carmen, and it was you who stood up to Melissa. You could have done it at any time. It was always within you to do.”

Sahar’s confidence in social situations and her attitude toward school and living in a new country change from fear to excitement.

This would be a wonderful book to give a child who is facing integration into a new school, neighborhood, country, or group. It provides the opportunity to discuss important social skills as well as the significance of attitude.

Dixie Albanez’s illustrations are wonderfully expressive. Her cute drawings portray Sahar’s emotions clearly. The cat has the mystery of ancient Egypt and the charm of a cuddle buddy.

My only qualm with this book is the name of the cat, Isecas. How do you pronounce it? Children will definitely stumble over this word. At the very least, the author needs to provide a pronunciation guide.

I was given an e-book for review.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages