Wise and Beautiful – If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson. Book Review.

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 Click here to buy If You Plant a Seed

This stunningly beautiful book, with full color photographic-like illustrations, portrays animals realistically yet gives them human personalities.

A rabbit and mouse plant a tomato seed, a carrot seed, and a cabbage seed. They care for the garden until the plants are fully grown. When they harvest their work, five birds show up and stare at them, expecting the rabbit and mouse to share. At this point, you might expect this to become a Little Red Hen clone but it is so much more.

Through the exceptionally expressive illustration, Nelson shows the argument between the creatures which explodes into an all out food fight.

Afterward, mouse thoughtfully examines the cherry tomato and then offers it to the birds. The birds then use their flying ability to spread hundreds of seeds across the field. They help the mouse and rabbit care for the garden until the plants mature. Harvest time provides a wider variety of vegetables in plentiful quantities.

The sparse words are profound and exquisite.

“If you plant a tomato seed, a carrot seed, and a cabbage seed, in no time, with love and care, tomato, carrot, and cabbage plants will grow. If you plant a seed of selfishness, in a very short time, it will grow, and grow and grow into a heap of trouble. But if you plant a seed of kindness, in almost no time at all, the fruits of kindness will grow, and grow, and grow, and they are very, very sweet.”

This remarkable little book uses nature to illustrate our karmic consequences. We may think we are only planting vegetables but, by our actions, we are planting our lives.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Button Nose the Sad Little Bear by Gina Lobiondo. Illustrated by Brittany Wilder. Book Review.

 

Click on the cover to buy the book.

This picture book is in 8 x 10″ format. There is a lot of blue space on the cover and the title script is difficult to read. A bright and lively, larger picture of the bear and a clear, bold title would create more interest. Inside, we page through 11 pages before we get to the actual story. It begins,

“Once upon a time, in the time when your grandparents were small, a little bear was made. He had a soft brown body and sad, pouty little face and he was waiting for a home.”

This is a great start for a children’s picture book. We are immediately concerned that the bear might not find a home because he is pouty. We also wonder why he has that expression.

Button Nose is finally taken home to “Little Girl” who loves him and brings him everywhere. The toy is forgotten in a restaurant but, thankfully, the family comes back for him. When the girl is beginning to grow up, her mother sells Button Nose in a yard sale. His new owner ignores him and Button Nose misses the girl. Eventually he is sold to a collector and kept in a cabinet. He is deeply sad, but then one day the bear is sold again. To his surprise, his new owner is Little Girl, now grown up. She puts him in a place of honour on her bed and loves him completely.

The story ends here and the rest of the book is a 12 page photo gallery (one picture per page) of the actual Little Girl (Gina Lobiondo), her parents, her family, and Button Nose followed by 10 pages advertising the author’s other books. The story itself is 12 pages long out of a total of 45 pages. Environmentalists might find this wasteful.

The story is charming, a little like Toy Story in that toys just want to be loved and played with, or at least loved and not forgotten. I like the underlying message that love never dies and appearances, such as a pouty face, are not judge the same by everyone. Adults will find this book sweetly nostalgic.

The illustrations, set in an oval shape below the text, seem to be drawn with pencil crayon and pen. They are well done but I felt that the pictures could have been larger considering all the white space left on each page. Button Nose is also a difficult character with which to show any emotion but sadness. His expression never changes. It would be interesting to have him smile when Little Girl wasn’t looking. His emotional landscape is trapped in a pout. I think children would wonder, with concern, why the bear was pouty in every situation and with every person. I do think the packaging needs to be rethought as well.

Any preschool child with a special cuddle toy could relate to this story.

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

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

Pegasus, A Dragon’s Tale will be reviewed on January 16, 2017

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Golden Rule by Sherrill S. Cannon. Illustrated by Kalpart.

 

As appears evident from the title of this book, it is the type of text one would use with Sunday school children or perhaps young schoolchildren. The premise seemed interesting. “Robert and Kait decide to look for the Golden ruler that their Mom has told them about, only to find out that she meant rule instead of ruler.” I thought there would be more of a search and more humor involved. This search takes three of the eleven pages. I had anticipated that the search would connect and lead into the value of the Golden rule but the two sections are completely isolated.

While searching, Kait asks Rob if it might be a ruler they can’t see. He thinks for a minute and realizes that it is a rule. Then suddenly he begins to explain it.

“It’s not a school ruler, or measuring tool…

It’s a rule that you live by, to give and to share,

A way to treat others to show that you care.”

From that point on the book explains how to treat others properly. It talks about thinking with head and heart, sharing, dealing with bullies, paying it forward, inclusion, and honesty.

The story is written in rhyme which is always difficult to do well. The rhythm and beat suit this style of book and are mostly consistent. For example:

The rule is treat others the way you would like

For them to treat you, and treat all just alike.

The rule is not something that money can buy.

It’s more of a way to help feel good inside.

And thinking of others is also a part

Of that rule, which means thinking with head and with heart.

The illustrations are reminiscent of old comic books but the characters have large heads and small bodies. The author has worked to be diverse. Of the eight children four are girls, and two are of African descent.

I believe this book is suited to a church or group library. It’s not the kind of book that a child will ask to hear again and again. I was hoping the message would be a little more subtle but these books do have their place.

I was given a free paperback copy of this book to donate to my Little Free Library in exchange for an honest book review.

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Click on the cover to buy a copy.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Picture a Tree by Barbara Reid. Book Review.

Barbara Reid’s work never fails to astonish me. If you have not yet encountered her, you will be amazed at the illustrations she can create with plasticine. This book is another example of the sense of motion and vibrant character she brings to the page.

The book begins: “There is more than one way to picture a tree.” A girl stands beside a leafless tree imitating its shadow. The book continues with numerous detailed two page spreads examining how trees can be interpreted. They can be a drawing on the sky. They can be a game of dress-up wherein robins set ablaze the branches with their red breasts. They can create a tunnel over a road with their canopies meeting in the middle. She explores how trees are used by wildlife and humans alike. None of the trees are chopped down or destroyed. They are all admired and enjoyed as is.

There are vignettes featured on many pages that children can use to create their own stories.

In subtle and powerful ways, Reid uses trees to mirror and clarify our lives. The second last page shows a grandfather holding a bundled infant while a young child tickles its cheek. Through the window we can see two branches covered in snow. The text reads, “Every winter tree hold spring, sleeping like a baby.”

The book ends, “Picture a tree. What do you see?”

What a great jumping off point for discussion, artwork, science, hiking, or working in the garden.

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Click on the image to buy the product.

Other books by Barbara Reid.

 

Try it with your child.


  

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

My Blue is Happy by Jessica Young. Illustrated by Catia Chien. Book Review.

I love books for children about color. But there are so many written, it is difficult to find someone who takes a new approach. Jessica Young and Catia Chien have accomplished that splendidly.

The book consists mostly of two page spreads comparing the little girl narrator’s feelings about colors to those of other people. It begins with a young girl playing guitar on a rock, her feet dangling in the water, while a child with goggles leaps happily into the pool. The words are:

My sister says that blue is sad

Like a lonely song.

But my blue is happy

Like my favorite jeans

And a splash in the pool on a hot day.

We instantly realize that this little girl has a positive outlook on life. But she is not consistently optimistic. Her mother believes yellow is cheery like the yellow sun but hers is a wilting flower and a butterfly caught in a net. As we read, our interest deepens. Her responses to color are not predictable. Her red is brave, pink is annoying, brown is special, green is old, orange is serious, gray is cozy, and black is peaceful.

This book is a wonderful introduction to a discussion of how color affects our emotions, but more importantly, how our emotions and attitudes affect our interpretations of color. For smaller children, of course, it’s just a wonderful way to discuss the world of color around them.

The illustrations are fairly simple but reflect the tone of the child narrator. It would have been a completely different book if the illustrations had been ostentatious and serious. The casual illustrations keep the material straightforward and relatable for children.

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Click on the covers to buy the books.

More books about color.

   

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Wizard by Jack Prelutsky. Illustrated by Brandon Dorman. Book Review.

This book is a wondrous blend of poetry and illustration. The cover draws you in immediately. A wizard, with long white hair and beard, wearing a green robe raises his arms to a magical light above. In one hand is a crooked wand. Caught in the rays is a small green frog. The picture fairly glows with magic.

The illustrations inside are not a disappointment. They are all exquisite two page illustrations. They gleam with magical charm.

The story rhymes but not in that irritating singsong way that many picture books adapt. It feels as though you are reading a book of poetry, much like one of my favorite books by Prelutsky The Dragon’s Are Singing Tonight.

It begins:

“The Wizard, watchful, waits alone

within his tower of cold gray stone

and ponders in his wicked way

what evil deeds he’ll do this day.”

A ragged crow, sitting on a cobwebbed table filled with magical paraphernalia, watches the Wizard as he gazes out his tower window onto the small town. The reader is instinctively intrigued as to what wickedness is about to unfold.

This story is basically a vignette wherein the Wizard transforms a frog into a flea into a pair of mice into a cockatoo into chalk into a silver bell and back into the bullfrog. Children may find it upsetting that at the end he dispenses of the bullfrog in a cloud of smoke. The story ends:

“Should you encounter a toad or lizard, look closely…

it may be the work of the Wizard.”

Although the story is easy to understand, I would recommend it for school-age children and up. Younger children, especially those who believe in magic, may be disturbed by the events.

School-age children who love magic and wizardry will be captivated by this beautiful book.

Click on the cover of the book to purchase a copy.

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Other books written by Jack Prelutsky.

      

Other books illustrated by Brandon Dorman.

    

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.

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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”.

Parental Love Shines Through: A Wonderful Day! by Michael Samulak. Illustrated by Louise Charm Pulvera. Book Review.

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Click here to buy A Wonderful Day!

A Wonderful Day! is a simple story of a parent and child going to the zoo. This book by Michael Samulak has a completely different appearance from his first. It is in the landscape format and uses pencil crayon and watercolor illustrations. Text is on one side of the page and the illustration is on the other.

During the story we are not told if it is a son or daughter and a mother or father who are going on the adventure together. I’m sure this is done deliberately in order to make the book relatable to any reader. The first page of text says, “Good morning, love! Rise and shine. How did you sleep? Do you remember what we are going to do today?” The accompanying illustration is of the front door and veranda of the simple two-story house. I don’t think that is something a reader can connect with. I really would have liked to see a sleepy eyed child, gender could be interpreted either way, rubbing his or her eyes, smiling, or leaping out of bed. The first illustration should link to the rest of the book and picture of the outside of the house really doesn’t. The rest of the illustrations are of animals or crowds so once again we feel a little distant. Near the end, however, when the text reads, “What a wonderful day. Thank you for sharing it with me. I will remember this day as long as I live!” We see the hands of the parent tucking in a brown-haired child with a teddy bear on the bed beside him or her.

On the animal pages, the text gives us a simple observation such as, “Look! There are the tigers and lions. They are so quiet and strong.” A picture of a smiling seated lion and a standing smiling tiger accompany these words. Nowhere in the book do we see cages, bars, or canopies. The closest it comes to reality are tiny circular concrete walls that enclose the elephants, giraffes, and penguins (who somehow have ice in their enclosure in the middle of an open area of the zoo.)

This is a lovely little story of a special moment between parent and child. In the past, I loved the zoo as well. I’m not sure at what age you need to introduce the reality of the small enclosures and loss of freedom for the animals. (Never mind the horrific circumstances under which these animals were captured.) I don’t want to get off on a tangent. Indeed, I’ve used zoo pictures in my own work. It’s a topic, however, that needs to be addressed at some point with children. When you consider the feeling this book gives the reader compared to the exceptionally beautiful first book (A is for Africa) where the author featured free African animals, there is a note of sadness that taints an otherwise happy little book. If you have no mixed feelings about the zoo, then this book will probably be pure pleasure.

Putting that aside, the text has a melodious, gentle tone almost like a lullaby. I like the way the text encourages conversation by stimulating a child to consider a question or concept. For example, “What animals do you think we will see first at the zoo?” Or “Wow! That must be the tall giraffe. I wonder how they drink with such long necks.”

The last page sweetly reads, “Good night. Sleep tight. Never forget that you are loved.”

This book would be enjoyed by children aged 2 to 5.

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

Older books for your child.

  
The author was interviewed on this blog  January 11, 2017.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

To Know the Sea by Frances Gilbert. Illustrated by Rhett Ransom Pennell. Book Review.

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 Click here to buy To Know the Sea

The first thing you will notice about this book is the dramatic and beautiful illustrations. On the cover you see the green eyed, black haired girl hugging a book and dreaming about tropical fish. She has a captivating expression.

The story begins with this little princess having a tantrum. Although the king and queen try their best to make her happy and the people of the court provide much unsolicited advice, no one can calm the little princess. There is no way around it. The princess wants to “know the sea.”

Everyone tries in humorous and disappointing ways to bring the sea to the little princess. Finally, Peter brings her all the books she would ever need to learn all there is about the ocean. The Princess is happy. Then, the day comes when she leaves to become a mariner.

This original story by Gilbert has the authentic ring of a fairy tale. Children will keep reading to find out what crazy scheme will be introduced and if the Princess ever meets the sea. The vocabulary is rich, sometimes lyrical, without slowing the pace.

The pages are filled with intriguing pictures that will slow the reader down to enjoy the gorgeous detail.

I love that the Princess stays true to herself and becomes a sailor. This is definitely a book I would happily give to a child, especially to a girl who might need encouragement to fulfill her own dreams.

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The author was interviewed here.

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

Other books your child might enjoy.

  

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages