Mich and Moose Adventures by Vince Cleghorne. Book Review.

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This 8 by 10 picture book is a humorous take on problem solving and helping others. Mich is a girl and Moose is, well, a moose. They are best friends and love snowy days. At the beginning of the book they show us all the wonderful ways they enjoy winter snow. Note: the child is not dressed for winter. As a northerner,  I snorted at the picture of her with bare legs and no coat or hat making a snow angel. Point out to children that this is not reality and they do have to dress for the weather.

Anyway, Moose and Mich find someone who is not enjoying winter at all. Spinner the spider is unable to stick her web anywhere because everything is icy. Mich and Moose try to attach it to a dozen places, each more zany and imaginative than the last. At this point the author changed the writing style to rhyme. At first I thought this wasn’t necessary but on subsequent reads I realized it adds a sense of fun and adventure to the quest even though some rhymes are a bit of a stretch. At the end, they find the perfect spot for the web.

This book is a  fun journey into silliness but can also be used as a jumping off point to learn about spiders. Where are spiders in the winter? Why don’t children see their webs anywhere?

The illustrations are cheerful and expressive. Some will make children laugh out loud. If you have a  reluctant reader who has a taste for silliness, this is a book that will grab their attention.

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Best Books I’ve Reviewed in 2018

These were my favorite books I reviewed in 2018. Click on the titles to go to the complete review.

Adult Books

When by Daniel H. Pink. 

It will give you insights into time that you never considered and strategies that will make your days more successful.

The Sherrif’s Catch by James Valla-Bardon. The Sassana Stone Pentalogy. 

This is a robust and gruesome tale of a Spanish soldier, Abel de Santiago, a gifted sharpshooter, seeking revenge for the murder of his wife. Anything and everything horrible that can happen to this man, does.

Young Adult/Junior Grade Books

Laura Monster Crusher by Wesley King. 

This will be a favorite with readers who love fantasy and unusual female heroes.

Picture Books

Bloom – A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli by Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad.

This is a 8X10 picture book that tells the story of a fascinating and unique individual, Elsa Schiaparelli. It begins in early childhood where we learned that Elsa was a disappointment to her parents because they wanted a boy and she wasn’t as pretty as her sister. This compelled Elsa her to examine the concept of beauty.

Davy’s Pirate Ship Adventure by Danual Berkley. Illustrated by Amariah Rauscher. 

I knew I’d like this author the moment I read the dedication. Simple words with a powerful, important message.

Backyard Fairies by Phoebe Wahl. 

This is a delightful picture book for the imaginative child. There are only a few words on each page; the detailed and intriguing gardens filled with secretive hidden fairies dominate.

Duck, Duck, Moose by Joy Heyer.

This is a delightful picture book about missing a friend.My granddaughter found this book very engaging and loved the humorous bits as well as the emotional moments. Highly recommended.

Kameko and the Monkey-king by Melissa Addey and Claire Loescher. Book Review.

Kameko is told by the Buddha statue that in order to cure her seriously ill mother she must obtain the jewel from the Monkey-king’s crown. On her way to The Monkey-king’s Kingdom she meets and befriends several characters. They warn her not to drink, eat, or sleep in The Monkey-king’s Palace or she will wake up a monkey herself.

She pretends to go to sleep but creeps in and steals The Monkey-king’s jewel. He pursues. In spite of being helped by her new friends, the monkey regains the jewel. Kameko returns home heartbroken but the magic from the jewel has saturated her hands and her touch cures her mother. She grows up to be a renowned doctor and healer.

The story has a lyrical quality as though it is being told by an oral Storyteller of old. The print illustrations suit the story line perfectly. The illustrations seem simple at first glance but are actually quite complex for lino cuts. They are black and white with touches of red giving it an historic Japanese flavor.

Kameko’s interactions with the people she meets are positive especially when she takes time from her trip to help an elderly woman gather wood. However, as a Buddhist myself, I find the fact that her only strategy was to steal disappointing. I’m not sure if this is based on a traditional story or original, but to be cross-culturally relevant I think it needs to be updated.

The Monkey-king has a right to be enraged. We have no proof that he is actually going to bring harm to Kameko and, even so, Kameko goes there by choice. I had hoped she would use her wits to gamble and win the stone or win a challenge from the Monkey-king. Simply stealing it in the night does not comply with true Buddhist ethics. Neither  would I want a child to go away with the idea and stealing is the first and best response.

Good Morning, Snowplow! by Deborah Bruss. Illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson. Book Review.

 

Buy link http://a.co/d/0IgU5rc

Good Morning Snowplow! is a gently engaging and reassuring picture book about a snow plow operator clearing the streets at night while everyone else sleeps. It has a poetic rhythm with rhyming couplets and smooth cadence.

It begins with a snowplow worker leaving his home. He carries a small lunch box and is accompanied by a doleful looking brown dog. The worker carefully checks his machinery before moving the vehicle and then step by step begins his methodical, important  routine.

The lines are beautifully poetic as the plow breakthrough obstacles.

“Waves of white curl off the blade.

 In its wake, a trail is  laid.”

As someone who has spent a great deal of time driving after dark through snow, I can connect easily with the text, but anyone who has never experienced a northern winter would feel as though they were sitting in the passenger seat.

I especially like that this book draws attention to an overlooked but essential job. Sometimes the snowplow worker is vilified instead of honored for his/her tremendously important work. Children should be taught to appreciate everyone who contributes to the safety and well-being of others.

The illustrations are an ideal match to the text. You can almost reach out and catch a snowflake. The muted colors and a dominant blue portray a silent winter evening perfectly.

I like that when the snowplow worker exited the truck to see what was happening, he kept his dog on a leash. Small details like that are important in children’s books.

One thing that struck me as odd was the necessary use of commas  in parts.

“Goodnight, homes, and goodnight, cars.”

The words and the pictures worked together to slow the pace and give the other world sensation of a night job. Extra commas just seemed awkward.

 All in all, this is a wonderful book to add to a child’s library. A different take on that fierce and fascinating season called winter.

Little Miss History Travels to the North Pole by Barbara Mojica. Book Review.

This is another picture book in the series by Barbara Ann Mojica where a character named Little Miss History journeys to interesting places in the United States and around the world. She doesn’t just focus on history but also explores  the environment, culture, and more. In this book she shares the factual and the mythic facets of the North Pole.

Children will be fascinated by some of the facts in this text. For example, unlike Antarctica the North Pole has no land mass. It also has no time  Zone. There are a surprising number of living creatures in this frigid place. Kids who like to learn unusual information will enjoy this book.

No one owns the North Pole. Mojica examines the history and politics in a simple and informative way.

Mojica writes: “Sunrise and sunset come once a year. The North Pole receives six months of daylight and six months of darkness.” You will have to explain that this is not the same in the entire Arctic Circle. There, people experience months of Twilight where it is halfway between night and day. There is even some disagreement between scientists as to whether the North Pole has full darkness for 6 months and full light for 6 months.

 Of course, since this is a picture book for small children, the inevitable question of Santa Claus will come up. Mojica talks about the various Saint Nicks through history and in different cultures without damaging a child’s belief.

The book ends with the one-page glossary of words such as indigenous and mammals.

Another fun and informative book that would make a great gift.

BUY LINK http://a.co/d/gWxCyP1

Three Random Questions Interview with Author-Firefighter Danual Berkley

Danual Berkley is a full-time fire fighter, husband, father of two little boys, Army vet, and a guy with a dream. His dream is to one day become a well-known children’s author providing positive representation for black men, while tackling the lack of diversity in children’s literature for people of color.

 Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Danual. I’m so glad you agreed to an interview. You’ve gone from being in the army to being a fire fighter, both requiring huge acts of courage and selflessness. Why do you choose these kinds of careers?

Danual Berkley: Hello Bonnie. Thank you so much for having me! I chose these two careers for two separate reasons actually. While in high school, I always kept pretty good grades. I had no idea how to use those grades to get scholarships to pay for college, nor was I really interested in doing another 4 years of school after being in school my entire life. I knew that going to the military would put money in my pocket, and later on they would pay for me to attend college as well. I wanted to go infantry at first, but my older brother David talked me out of it because he was worried about my safety.  Instead, I decided to drive trucks. The funny thing is, once I found out that I was deploying to Iraq, the military changed my job and I became a gunner in the 66th Transportation Gun Truck Company. My job was to provide security for convoys that we escorted throughout Iraq.  This turned out to be a job that was just as much, if not more, dangerous than being an infantryman.

It was also my brother that led me to the fire department. I wanted to be a S.W.A.T officer on a police department. I was seeking a job with action. My brother called me up one day and told me the fire department was hiring, and that they paid very well. By this time, I was in my 3rd year of college, and had my first son on the way.  I thought it would be a great opportunity to provide for my son, if I was lucky enough to get the job. After a year of testing and waiting, I was offered the job. I went to the fire academy and learned that firefighting was actually the best job there was and offered tons of action. I’ve been hooked and loving it ever since! I’ve been on six and a half years now.

Ferrante: You have recently entered into the field of writing children’s picture books. What  made you choose such a divergent enterprise?

Berkley: I didn’t discover I had a talent in writing until I was in the 11th grade. My English teacher made it mandatory that the class entered the Young Author’s Competition. The choice she gave us was to write either a poem or a short story. I wasn’t really trying to do a lot of work, so I wrote a short poem that it took me all the way to the State Competition where I took 3rd place overall in poetry. After that, I wouldn’t write again for years until I found myself fighting in the Iraq War. In order to escape my reality, I started writing again and making up different kinds of characters in faraway places. As I became more serious about my writing and became published, I met Amariah. Amariah was my first encounter with someone who was actually very successful creating children’s stories. She was the one that introduced me to writing picture books, because up until then, all I had been writing were books set to be a collection of poetry. With that said, I encourage all people to continue trying new things because you never know how much you’ll love something or how good you are at something, until you try it!

Ferrante: Your book, Davy’s Pirate Ship Adventure, features an African-American family. The little boy is the hero who saves the family from the sea monster and turns the sinking ship into a submarine. Picture books should always make children feel empowered. Looking at the dedication in the front of your book to your sons, “Don’t ever let someone’s misunderstanding change who you are.” I can see that that is deeply important to you. Do you feel there are enough books out there for your children to feel culturally included and valued?

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 Berkley: Based on my personal experience (as well as research), no. There are not enough books out that represent children of color. Whether or not that child feels culturally included or valued, varies with each individual child. I do know as a kid growing up, I didn’t really have the opportunity to read or see books with African-American families, but as an adult, when I see a book with African American families I get excited to see characters in the stories both my family and I can relate to. It feels good seeing a reflection of yourself in a story.

Ferrante: Previously you mentioned negative stereotypes about black men, one being that they don’t raise their children. In a cosmic moment of serendipity, I heard a comedian, Mark James Heath, speaking on the expressions of surprise when Caucasian people see him engaged with his children. In this regard, it seems as though literature has not caught up with television. I see a number of shows with involved black fathers but picture books seem rather rare. This is unfortunate since they are often the earliest stories of families children experience.  I have two questions. How does your book address this topic? How can Caucasian writers help in this area?

Berkley: To answer your first question, In Davy’s Pirate Ship Adventure I address the topic indirectly. I don’t come out and say straight forward that I’m a black man raising my kids. I simply show myself being an involved father throughout the story. I have other books I’ve written that have yet to be published, that shows the love and compassion I have for my sons a lot more. The actions in the story speak louder than any words could express.

In regards to your second question, Caucasian writers who do have large followings could help by also writing books that show positive black male fathers.

Ferrante: What other attitudes toward black men do you hope to influence in your writing?

Berkley: Other negative stereotypes say black men don’t settle down with one woman and get married, as well as being violent individuals. All of my stories are geared to show how untruthful these stereotypes are. Black men do settle down and get married, and black men are not people you have to fear. We are here to love and enjoy life just as any other person would want to.

Ferrante: Do you intend to write more books featuring Davy and his family or are you considering other characters?

Berkley: I have several other unpublished books where all of the characters in Davy’s Pirate Ship Adventure play lead characters. In the back of Davy’s Pirate Ship Adventure, you can find the backstories of all of the characters. I did this because each character will be seen again in other stories, and it ties them all together. Readers will be able to develop relationships with each character and experience stories from that character’s point of view.

Ferrante: Have you ever considered writing a firefighter picture book featuring a black man or a black woman for that matter? By the way, I live in northern Canada where most black immigrants take a look at the winter weather and head south so I’ve never seen firefighter of African descent. Is it common in your firehouse?

Berkley: I do have a firefighting story already written with Davy as the main character. As of now, there are other stories we plan to release before that one is to be published. The next book will most likely star my younger son as the main character.

In regards to how many black firefighters there are on a department, it varies by population. I live in a predominantly white area, so most firefighters in our department are white. I’m sure there are other places where the majority of firefighters are people of color.

Ferrante: Is there anything we haven’t talked about that you would like to share with my readers?

Berkley: Please check out my website and social media pages to learn more about my work at the following links:

https://www.instagram.com/poetryfixdb/

https://www.facebook.com/poemsbydanual/

https://www.danualberkley.com/

Ferrante: Now for the unusual part. My interviews always feature three random questions so here we go.

1. If you could play a sport at Olympic level, which one would you choose?

Berkley: It would definitely have to be snowboarding! Although I have never been snowboarding in my life, it just looks really fun to do, and it allows you to be as creative as you want. I love sledding here during the winter, so I can only imagine how awesome it would be to snowboard down the side of a mountain.

Ferrante: 2. You really do love action.

 If you could give a gift to every new parent, what would you give them?

Berkley: It would have to be a dishwasher. It’s impossible to keep up with the amount of bottles, plates, baby accessories, and breast feeding equipment on top of the dishes you use yourself. The only way you can survive is by having a dishwasher, so in words of Oprah, “You get a dishwasher, you get a dishwasher, everyone gets a dishwasher!”

Ferrante: 3.  LOL. That brings back memories.

 If you could be an animal for a day, what would you be?

Berkley: If I got to be an animal for one day it would have to be a rodent! I watch a lot of Animal Planet, and being a rodent seems really adventurous and exciting. I’m sure I’d probably regret that decision instantly if I ever really had the opportunity to be a mouse. But in all of the movies I’ve seen, being a mouse seems like a good time!

Ferrante: I did NOT expect that answer. 🙂

 Thank you for participating in my interview and answering both my serious and silly questions. Best of luck with your wonderful book Davy’s Pirate Ship Adventure and all your future enterprises.

Davy’s Pirate Ship Adventure by Danual Berkley. Illustrated by Amariah Rauscher. Book Review.

I knew I’d like this author the moment I read the dedication. Simple words with a powerful, important message.

Davy’s Pirate Ship Adventure is a fun family picture book.  It is a gentle adventure of a family of four, mother, father, 7 year old Davy, baby Kai,  and two animated toys, one an alien and  one a teddy bear. It features a family of African descent which I don’t get to see very often. However,  families of all backgrounds will easily relate. What child doesn’t want their family to go for an adventure on a pirate ship?

During their search for gold, the family encounters  a giant fish monster which Davy handles with confidence. When a huge storm comes up and flips the boat over it transforms into a submarine. Of course they find the gold and everyone cheers. On the last page we find that this is a beautifully imaginative story created during bath time.

Rauscher’s illustration style perfectly suits the story. The pictures, which seem to be pencil and watercolor, are gentle and endearing. Every character shines with personality.

Children who love imaginative play and pirate stories will want to hear this book over and over. It is reassuring  with just a touch of suspense. I look forward to more work from this new author. Watch for an upcoming interview with Danual Berkley on this blog.

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Upside Down Babies by Jeanne Willis and Adrian Reynolds. Book Review.

 
The Illustrations in this book are engaging and adorable. The animal’s expressions are priceless.
It begins, “Once when the world jturned upside down”. We see animal babies and human babies spinning through the air wearing concerned expressions. On the next page, piglet lands in a parrot’s nest. On the following, the baby tortoise lands in an otter’s home, the lion cub lands beside a cow, and it continues. The expressions on the faces of the mothers and babies are priceless.
The foster mothers try their best but there are insurmountable odds. The cow cannot provide meat for the lion. The baby elephant can’t jump like the monther kangaroo. This sloth baby cannot keep up with the cheetah.
But then the world goes upside down again and everything returns to as it was. The families are happy to be reunited except for two. My granddaughter and I were disconcerted that the gorilla keeps the human baby and the mother keeps the gorilla baby. There seems to be no reason for this and most children will probably find it funny but there is a undertone of discomfort with the idea. However, children who don’t think too deeply on the subject will just just think it’s silly.
The follow-up to this could be a discussion of new pairings of mothers and babies. Which ones could work and what ones could never be compatible?

Silly Scientists Take a Peeky at the Solar System by Lindsey Craig. Illustrated by Marianella Aguirre and Ying Hui Tan. Book Review.

This is the second in the silly scientists series wherein Lindsey Craig uses humor to teach children about nature and science. This time the aliens travels through our planetary system. The illustrations are a mixture of wacky drawings and photography from NASA.
The text is written in rhyme such as “Uranus is an ice giant that has a wonky ride. Its seasons last forever since it orbits on its side.” The beat is quite musical.
There is humor in the text as well as the illustrations. For example Jupiter’s red spot is compared to a zit.
The last two pages contain information for parents and older students on our solar system. The best part about this book is that you can also go online and listen to a catchy song with highly professional animation that reinforces learning the planets. It enriches and supplements the text.
Kids who like space and aliens will enjoy this picture book.

Blackflies by Robert Munsch. Illustrated by Jay Odjick. Book Review.

This book follows the typical style for Robert Munsch of silliness and repetitive phrases. The thing I loved about it was that it takes place in the  Canadian North, in a community similar to many around Thunder Bay. It starts off in such a familiar way that it made me laugh out loud.

Helen gets up one morning and is thrilled to find the snow is gone and it is finally spring. But when she opens the door the black flies and mosquitoes drive her back inside. While it usually doesn’t all happen on the same day, this is a sadly repetitive scenario for those of us who live in the North. Children who live in this area, and similar locations across Canada, will completely identify with the protagonist. Although the family is of Aboriginal descent, the insect attacks will connect with everyone  who has had similar experiences.

I was happy to see that the family in this book was First Nations and the artist was from the Kitigin Zibi Anishinabeg Algonquin community. While Aboriginal children are used to seeing native artists, it is inspiring to see someone using their talent to create picture books for the very young.

It would make a great gift for anyone who’s been driven indoors by mosquitoes and blackflies. Northern blackflies are not what you might be thinking. They are tiny insects that can get through needle size holes. In spite of their tininess, they take a good chunk out of your skin when they bite.

It is also terrific that Helen is the hero who saves her family from being overcome by the blood-sucking bugs of the North. I’m gratified to see more books with female heroes.

It is very difficult to find funny, picture books that feature First Nations families but connect with everyone. This is sure to become a classroom or camp favorite.

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