The Joy of Making People Laugh: Author/Illustrator Sal (Salvatore) Barbera Three Random Questions Interview

Bonnie Ferrante: My guest today is Sal (Salvatore) Barbera, author, illustrator, and artist. Welcome Sal. Please tell us in three or four sentences a little about yourself.

Sal Barbera: I’m an “it’s never too late to start writing” writer. I wrote my first book a few years ago. I believe laughter is the best medicine, and that’s actually why I wrote my first book, to make my mother-in-law laugh. I heard that Charley Chaplin once said: “ A day without laughter is a wasted day.” Those are words I live by.

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Ferrante: Why did you choose to write picture books as opposed to any other genre?

Barbera: I’m a visual person and I love to draw. When I write, I draw the characters as I’m writing the story. It helps me to visualize it as I go along. I didn’t actually choose to write picture books, it just turns out that what I write and draw is also ideal for picture books.

Ferrante: You have written “I show kids how to deal with difficult personal and social situations using humor, diplomacy and intelligence.” What kind of situations are you talking about?

Barbera: In Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow, she arrives at a new farm where every single cow has spots, and she’s totally spotless. She’s instantly thrown into an adversarial situation when they immediately don’t like her and won’t have anything to do with her. It’s a situation ‘different’ kids experience when they’re at a new school or camp or even the community pool. These are stressful situations for children, and they need to figure out how to get their peers to like and accept them. There are many kids that have to deal with being somehow different from the other kids. And being ‘different’ can lead to bullying and prejudice.

In another one of my books, Ernie The Dysfunctional Frog, Ernie can’t understand why he can never seem to do what the other frogs can easily accomplish. In every situation, he seems to fail or lag behind, while the other frogs do the same thing so easily. The surprise of this story is that there’s a very good reason why this happens. And that’s what makes him different from the other frogs. The themes of love and friendship are woven through this story as well as a big dose of humor and diplomacy.

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Ferrante: Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?

Barbera: I’m a writer. But for me, it’s very much an inspiration thing. When I hear or see something that sparks an idea I go into writing mode. I don’t sit down every day at a set time and write just to write something. But I do think of something funny or interesting every day, and many times I’ll write that down as an idea for a story.

Ferrante: Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow is about exclusion. Why did you feel this was such an important topic? What personal and social ramifications do you think exclusion causes?

Everyone wants to fit in and be accepted. Especially by their peers. Children can be profoundly hurt by being excluded from a group. It’s a horrible feeling to be rejected or ignored by people that you want to like and accept you. The key is what you do when that happens. You can be dejected and turn against them. You can be sad, feel rage or worse, become suicidal.

It’s how you deal with exclusion that determines your character. The secret is to figure out a way to turn their cold shoulders around and be welcomed into the group for who you are.

That’s where humor, diplomacy and using your intelligence (brains) comes in. Mary Elizabeth was rejected by the entire group at first. But she figured out a way to not only overcome the rejection and make friends, but also to open their eyes to the unfairness of their prejudice. Proving, in her case, that it’s what’s inside that counts more than appearance. And, that she is a lot of fun to be around when you get to know her.
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 Click here to buy Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow

Ferrante: What makes your book stand out from the crowd?

Barbera: It’s not typical to find an author that’s also an artist and does their own illustrations. My unique drawing style, fun relatable characters and humor throughout the story make my book stand out. I love to draw animals, it’s a lot of fun to make them ‘human’, and this story is filled with wacky and whimsical looking cows. It is a journey of discovery for kids and their caregiver’s while reading this story. The ‘aside’ humor for adults makes reading Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow a welcome addition to every children’s library.

Ferrante: Why did you choose to write about a cow instead of a child or any other animal? What challenges did this race?

Barbera: I chose cows because of the spots. All ‘Prejudice’ needs to fuel it is someone or something that’s different. Spots. No spots. If all the cows couldn’t see, spots wouldn’t be an issue. If one cow couldn’t see, that cow would be different and probably treated differently. Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow is about social prejudice. The biggest challenge created by using cows was figuring out how to overcome the spots to become accepted. I think it’s neatly accomplished and makes for a better story.

Ferrante:  Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow has her own television show on the web. Tell us about this. How is it created? Who performs in it? How often is it aired?

Barbera: Thank you for asking about the upcoming web show! We are launching on YouTube mid August. (Fingers crossed). My wife, Sheri, and I came up with the concept for Sweetles® TV Show (web series) a few years ago. The first idea was to help kids learn about social skills and good behaviors in a fun and wacky way. Think Sesame Street meets Monty Python. It’s evolved into more of a comedy/variety show for the entire family to enjoy. 

The show includes nutsy goofballs (people), silly animation, assorted puppets, music, comedy and a lot of fun! All of that meant learning a whole bunch of new software programs to create and edit video. Plus making, buying or modifying and animating an assortment of puppets and other show characters. Once that was finally accomplished, then we researched how to set up a studio for filming. That took over two years. It’s truly been a labor of love.

We’re currently at the stage of writing the scripts and filming the show! So far, there are four of us writing, performing and filming. The goal is to post Sweetles® TV Show once a week, with a segment just for kids called “A Sweetles Dream®” featuring my children’s book characters including Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow. Even her sister, Sister Mary Catherine: The Holy Cow With a Bad Habit, makes an appearance! It should be a lot of fun.

Ferrante: What your plans for future projects include?

Barbera: I have a number of books in the works in the “A Sweetles Dream®” series. And we’d love to license my characters for products to go with the books. We already have a wonderful Mary Elizabeth puppet that’s ready to go into production. And, if Sweetles® TV Show is a hit, it would be great to bring it to television. 

three random questions

Ferrante: What type of service to others or good deed done for other people do you personally find the most rewarding?

Barbera: It’s Laughter. I try to make as many people laugh as possible. Every single day. There’s nothing more rewarding than to see someone’s face light up, smile and laugh. Especially if they’re tired, sad, lonely or seem depressed. My father-in-law is in an assisted living home, and my wife and I always make a point of getting people there to laugh every time we visit. Laughter is the best medicine.

Ferrante: What is the coldest you have ever been in your life, and what is the hottest?

Coldest?  We used to do Christmas decorating when we lived on the East Coast. Putting up Christmas lights outdoors in New Jersey when it’s 2F (-16C) degrees. “It looks beautiful”, I said, through chattering teeth.

Hottest? I live in Arizona. Even after visiting here for the first time in 1989 when there was record heat of 118 (48C) degrees! We still loved and and still moved here. But, as Frank Sinatra said, “it’s a God forsaken blast furnace!”.

Ferrante: 118F would kill me but 2F is a lovely winter day where I live.

If you could change the ending to any movie you have ever seen, what movie would it be and how would you alter the way it ends?

Barbera: That would have to be ‘Close Encounters of The Third Kind’. The movie ends with Richard Dryfuss leaving his wife and two children behind to go off in a space ship with a bunch of aliens. That’s not right. I would change his character to a bachelor.

Ferrante: I agree. It seemed as though he didn’t give leaving his children a second thought.

Thank you so much, Sal, for your interesting answers. I appreciate the time you put into them. Best of luck with your books and your upcoming web show. Send me a little note when it launches and I will alert my readers. It’s such a unique and gutsy enterprise I wouldn’t want to miss it.

Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow will be reviewed on this blog February 6, 2017.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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

Kindness Comes Back: Pegasus, A Dragon’s Tale by Gina LoBiondo. Illustrated by Stephanie Zuppo. Book Review.

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A dragon’s egg is found by two royal bears who hatch it and raise the baby dragon until he is old enough to leave on his own. Years later, when the kingdom is under attack and the two bears have been taken prisoner, the dragon, now fully grown, appears. At first he doesn’t recognize the little bears, but they prod his memory until he frees them. He scatters the enemy and carries the bears home. He remains in the kingdom as their guardian against future threats.

Although the plot is fairly common, the book has lovely messages such as kindness comes back to us in unexpected ways. United friends can stand against the strongest bullies. Wild animals should be released into the wild to choose their own way.

When initially releasing the dragon, the King says, “We don’t know how big he’ll get and besides, he’ll be better off in his own. Perhaps he will find another of his own kind and have a family.” I was expecting him to return with the family but there is no indication as to what happened to him in his absent years. It felt a little sad to have him spending the rest of his days as the only dragon in the kingdom.

The formatting is inconsistent. Some paragraphs are indented in some are not. There doesn’t seem to be a reason for the choices.

The illustrations by Stephanie Zuppo appeared to be computer graphics which can be beautiful but, in this instance, seem blurred and even muddy at times. The characters of the three Bears and the dragon are drawn well. The same facial image of Princess Kameela and Prince Dayshawn are used on several pages. On page 11, for example, the bears are frowning with their eyes closed similarly to the picture on pages 8, 9 and 13. Several other pages have identical expressions of an O shaped mouth. Readers need more facial detail and expression in a children’s picture book. There is also a problem with proportion as the dragon’s size seems to change on different pages.

This story is 25 pages long with about 40 to 50 words per page. It would suit a child whose reading level is between picture books and beginning chapter books.

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

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Best of Two Cultures: Author Michael Samulak Three Random Questions Interview

Michael Samulak is a picture book author, full-time youth minister and educator.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Your first book, A is for Africa, was inspired by a trip to Uganda. You worked with a local artist, Sswaga Sendiba, to create the illustrations. Tell us about that experience.

Samulak: I was traveling back and forth to Uganda in 2006 and 2007 for church and humanitarian related needs.  I took three trips, each about a month long over that time period. My dear wife had to hold down the fort while I was working and traveling in those days.  We had one child at the time and even moved just before one of those trips!  (Yes, I am married to the most wonderful woman in the world)

What I saw and experiences during this time in my life was so enlarging and inspiring in itself that I was looking for a way to share the beauty and wonders of that land and people with the youth in my circles of influence back home.  

During an off day I would try to explore the local scene whenever possible to take in and explore as much as possible.  On one of those days I happened by a batik painting of Mr. Sendiba in a local market area, I believe.  The piece caught my attention from across the road.  I bought it instantly.

Later in the day I noticed a similar Batik at another shop on the other end of the strip and I thought it must be by the same artist.  I hustled over to the shop owner and began to pepper them with questions about the piece and the artist. Sswaga would come by from time to time and sell them a few pieces if the shop could take on more. 

In the end, she was willing to take my local contact and promised to give it to Swaga the next time he came around. I purchased three more of his batiks from that shop, scribbled down the number of my host family and sent up a little prayer.

With one week to go in that first trip I got the call that changed everything.

We arranged a time and place to meet and with just a few days before my flight was to leave, had set in place a plan to illustrate various African wildlife, nature scenes, and of the native people that I would try to incorporate into an alphabet book or maybe even reading series that I had already been working on.  When I told him that I would need at least 50 pieces of his work to have a chance of being able to put a finished product together, I think he almost fainted.  I was more than happy to be able to support him and his work, even if I wasn’t able to complete the project.

Over the course of the next two years of researching, rewrites, tweaking, and more traveling, I was able to have Sswaga illustrate what I thought would be necessary to bring the project to life.  At the end of my last trip in 2007 I had almost 100 pieces from him that I eventually chose from for the final picture book.

Whew…like I said in the beginning, a story in itself, but it think that covers the basics.

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 Click here to buy A is for Africa

Ferrante: I’m sure you made a wonderful difference in Sswaga Sendiba’s life. It’s awesome that you used an African artist and batik is such a unique medium for picture book illustration.

Two years later, you created a coloring book based on this picture book. Considering the adult coloring craze that is happening right now, will this picture book be suitable for all ages?

Samulak: The coloring book was produced almost because of demand; With each classroom visit I did once the original was published, the teachers would talk about the different ways they were intending to follow-up with my presentation. 

In terms of adult application – easy answer is, “Yes”.  I have definitely had many adults purchase the coloring book: teachers who wanted it for the classroom, animal lovers, artists, doodlers, etc. 

Ferrante: How serendipitous that this newest craze fits so well with your book.

A review of A is for Africa appeared on my blog on December 26, 2016.

Your latest work, A Wonderful Day, which is a Mom’s Choice Award winner, is based on a trip to the zoo. Tell us what inspired this.

Samulak: My works are often inspired and revolve around my own children and our experiences of this beautiful world and the adventures we have together.  The zoo has always been a favorite for all the kids during their younger years, so I felt it would be a very relatable subject as an early reader.

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 Click here to buy A Wonderful Day!

Ferrante: Tell us about the illustrations.

Samulak: My publisher for the book paired me with the creative mind of Louise Charm Pulvera. Mr. Pulvera was one of a few illustrators that TATE gave me samples of based on my manuscript.  I believe it was a perfect fit and Mr. Pulvera helped to bring the whole written script to another level of life.

A Wonderful Day will be reviewed on this blog on January 30, 2017.

Ferrante: Is there an author or illustrator with whom you would love to consult?

Samulak: My two heroes of the author/illustrator world are Tomie Depaola and Patricia Polacco.  To spend anytime, anywhere, in any form or fashion with those masters of the world of words would be mind-blowing to say the least.  I think if such a dream-come-true would ever happen, I would enter into a state of suspended animation and be lost for words.

Ferrante: LOL. I’ve always loved Tomie Depaola’s version of Strega Nona.

Why have you chosen picture books over any other style of writing?

Samulak: As an early childhood educator I have a special place in my heart for picture books.  I feel that picture books are a unique platform to enable the delivery of a message, provoke feeling, translate experiences, make connections, and overall draw one into new worlds and ideas that can often otherwise be out of reach.

I believe that picture books are, generally speaking, many peoples’ introduction to literacy in a form that is beautiful and captivating while also being a genesis of knowledge and experience.  Many times these books can be a driving force for our children to be exposed to new ideas or concepts; even expanded in exploring deeper connections and/or feelings to the world around them. 

Ferrante: It’s a great responsibility to make picture books that are worth the parents investment in time and money and due right by the children. Do you have a favorite children’s picture book?

Samulak: Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco.  I found this book in my early years as a young educator seeking to change the world and help my students with their own love for literacy.  It rocked my world. I knew if I could be so moved and touched by a story, how could it not impact those in my classroom.  That book helped me to establish my “measuring stick” for quality:  If I love it…the kids will love it.

Ferrante: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

Samulak: I love coffee, chocolate, traveling, and my family.  They all are great influences in my life and sources of constant inspiration. 

three random questions

 

Ferrante: If you could open your own retail store, what type of merchandise would you sell?

Samulak: Coffee and chocolate.  I love them both equally so I could not choose between them if I was deciding which to have on the shelf.  You would have a balance for parent and child with a wonderful selection of stimulants and sweets.  There would be a great space for reading and conversation, obviously, that would have to be open at all hours whenever the inward cravings came a’calling.

Ferrante: I guessed that from your previous answer. <smile> If you had to describe your personality in terms of a zoo animal, which animal would you choose?

Samulak: It would be hard to choose one, but I’ll say, the beaver.  Soft and cuddly; always busy, yet never finished with his work; trying to be helpful to the environment around him while at the same time enjoying the fruits of his labor; and with a big fat flat tail that sticks out like a sore thumb…but eventually, to those who truly know him, find that it is actually his unique instrument of that labor of love which characterizes him.

Ferrante: If you could walk into any painting and actually experience the moment or scene that it depicts, which painting would you choose to enter?

Samulak: It is interesting that you ask this question.  I think I have already had dreams about the entering into the masterpiece by Van Gogh, A Starry Night.  This piece has often been a source of inspiration and help to me over the years.  I actually just want to know if it is a mountain or a mountain of fire that is licking the heavens and overshadowing that little village on that eternal evening.

Ferrante: Thank you Michael for your detailed and interesting answers. What a fascinating journey you have gone through for the creation of A is for Africa. Best of luck with both your books and all your future endeavors.

 

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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

Hilarious and Sweet – Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton. Book Review.

 Click here to buy Shh! We Have a Plan

This unusual book is surprisingly addictive. It is such a joy to come across something so unique.

The illustrations appear to be cut and paste, done mostly in blue, purple, and black. The only exceptions are the birds.

Four oddly shaped characters, three with tassels on their hats and the smallest with a pom-pom, set out to catch a wild bird. The three oldest have nets, a cage and “plans”. However, this is a clear example of the best laid plans…

The text has a clear pattern that the youngest child will easily repeat. It begins, “Look! A bird.” The littlest one says, “Hello, birdie.” The largest says, “shh.” The next says, “SHH!” The last says, “We have a plan.” This is repeated every time they spot a bird. Then they initiate their plan, which varies slightly from tiptoeing to climbing slowly to paddling slowly, all without success. Each time they count down, “Ready one. Ready too. Ready three… Go!” Whereupon, calamity falls upon the characters and the bird flies away.

After three disastrous attempts to capture a bird, the three older characters come upon the littlest one hand feeding them. They count down again only to be intimidated by the angry birds. They run away in fear. At this point, the reader thinks they’ve learned their lesson. But, the third character begins a new drama with, “Look! A squirrel.”

Children will be delighted with the building tension, the silly plans, and the escape of the birds. Parents can discuss with their child what might occur as the characters try to capture a squirrel. As well, the cruelty of caging a wild bird can be broached.

This book is hilarious. With each reading, child and adults can improve their expression and appreciation. It gets better each time. So much so that the adult doesn’t mind, “Read it again. Read it again.”

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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

 

 

Social Skill Wrapped in Hilarity: Bossy Flossy written and illustrated by Paulette Bogan. Book Review.

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Click here to buy Bossy Flossy

It is such a great feeling when I find a picture book that both my granddaughter and I enjoy. Bossy Flossy had turned us into Paulette Bogan fans by the third page.

Flossy butts heads with everyone, including her toys. The book begins with Flossy standing in the middle of her bedroom telling all her toys what to do. With one hand on her hip and the other pointing, she demands, “Sit up straight. Look at me. Listen to me. Pay attention. Do what I tell you.” She is bossy to her cat, her little brother, and even her mother.

Although flossy is a simple, cartoonish character, her big wild red hair, her dramatic gestures, and her expressive face make her a real person and a force to be reckoned with.

Flossy does not understand that she is being bossy. When she is sent to her room, she tells herself, “I’m not bossy. Mom is bossy. She always tells me what to do. She never listens to me. I’m just trying to tell her something.” We realize that Flossy doesn’t see herself the way others do. As well, we aren’t sure about her interpretation of her mother’s behavior. Maybe Mom is bossy. At times, it seems as though Flossie is trying to be helpful but is unaware of the effect her behavior has on others. She tells a classmate how to paint and then takes the press and draw the line on her artwork. She orders another classmate to wear a hat she has chosen to complete his dress-up costume.

When a new boy, Edward, joins her class, Flossy meets her match in the overbearing department. Frustrated, Flossie challenges Edward but he doesn’t back down. The argument escalates until they are both sent to timeout. There, they agreed to stop bossing others. They both improve and become great friends.

Although it might sound like a didactic book, it really isn’t. Bogan disarms us completely with humor and charm. Children might identify with Flossy’s problem but will find her behavior intriguing and silly. If you have an overly dominant child, I would avoid discussing bossiness immediately after reading this. It is such a delightful book, you wouldn’t want to spoil it. After reading it a couple of times, you might want to bring up the difference between being bossy and being helpful, taking turns, listening to others, and so on. In my home, “Bossy Flossy” has become a code that can make either my granddaughter or myself stop and think about how our words sound to the other person. Even if you don’t have a bossy member in your family, this book can be just pure fun to read.

The illustrations are interesting in that they appear to be drawn individually, cut out and arranged on the page. This could be a fun art activity to do with your child. You can both draw and cut out several different characters and then arrange them into different story scenes.

Highly recommended both for fun and value.

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An interview with the author, Paulette Bogan, will be posted on this blog, March 8, 2017.

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

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

L M N O Peas by Keith Baker. Book Review.

Click here to buy LMNO Peas

This is an adorable, funny alphabet book. It is difficult to come up with original ideas for the ABCs. Amazon.com listed 47,112 results in a search for alphabet books.  Keith Baker has designed a unique one using his Peas series.

The picture book’s large size emphasizes the tininess of the adorable little peas who are acting out each of the letters. For example, A has seven little peas with hoops climbing up the letter A that say, “We’re acrobat’s.” One lonely little pea is painting a tulip that is twice his size. Two other peas are conducting a spacewalk from a capsule (astronauts).

Children will enjoy finding the peas on each page and deciphering their occupation or hobby. The artist has cleverly incorporated the letters into the activities. For example the right side of the K is a river for kayakers. The book ends with, “We are peas from A to Z. now tell us, please… (Turn the page) who are you?

This book will definitely engage readers. The pictures post just enough challenge to keep both children and adults interested throughout. The fun thing is, peas are so easy to draw, that children could make their own response using their initials and their own hobbies or interests.

If the child is too young to draw the illustration, give their thumb in green fingerpaint and have them press on the “peas”. Then an adult can add the detail. Together, you can decide what to draw based on the letter. It can be simple. After, if the child wants, she can colour the letter with marker.

K peas B peas

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Our Roots Keep Us Strong: Author Becky Villareal Three Random Questions Interview

Becky Villareal taught early childhood in Dallas Independent School District for 23 years. For the past ten years she has been completing family research. She spent the last 10 years working on family research. She has written two books about Gianna the Great.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Becky. Tell us a bit about your writing and your most recent work.

Becky Villareal: I have worked with many children who come from multicultural backgrounds. Since I come from a similar background, I was always trying to place myself in a group. I wrote Gianna the Great to address those inner conflicts that children face and followed it by Halito Gianna: The Journey Continues to let the children know what happens when you don’t give up.

Ferrante: What research did you do for this picture book?

Villareal: Through working with the National Archives and multiple genealogy websites, I was able to piece together the parts of my family tree that have been missing. I used this research to develop this story.

Ferrante: Do you think it is important for people to know their roots?

Villareal: On my website I use this Chinese Proverb, “To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.”  When a person comes from a multicultural background and has little knowledge of that history or culture, they feel lost like a boat at sea with no shore in sight.  Once they feel they have found their place, they can embrace those strengths and weaknesses that are inherent in their own personalities that are part of their DNA makeup i.e. creativity, personality, intuitiveness etc..

Ferrante: Why did you create the character Gianna the Great?

Villareal: In truth, I created Gianna to express to all children how wonderful they are, how unique, and how special.  It doesn’t matter who our parents are, what background we come from, what matters is that there never was nor will ever be again someone just like them.

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 Click here to buy Gianna the Great

Ferrante: What do you feel makes your writing original?

Villareal: When I am writing from Gianna’s point of view, my writer’s voice comes out in full force.  I want the reader to experience what Gianna is experiencing as she goes through her journey to find her family history.

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 Click here to buy Halito Gianna: The Journey Continues (Gianna the Great Book 2)

Ferrante: What is the most important thing you have learned about writing?

Villareal: The most important thing I have learned is to trust the Lord to give me the insight into what I need to write.  He has given me the gift, now I trust His direction.  Also, never lose faith in yourself or your writing.

Ferrante: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

Villareal: Gianna is a series with a third one in the hands of my agent Jessica Schmeidler from Golden Wheat Literary Agency.  I am more than happy to help other novice writers by reading and reviewing their works.

three random questions

Ferrante: In all your travels, what is the most awe-inspiring bridge you have ever crossed?

Villareal: The bridge that goes into Galveston, Texas.

Ferrante: If you lived on a farm, which chore above all others would you definitely not want to do?

Villareal: I would not want to pick okra without gloves.  I did it once as a girl and suffered for it.

Ferrante: If you had to rearrange the letters of your first name to give yourself a new name, what would your new name be?

Villareal: Racebec

Becky’s Blog 

Gianna the Great will be reviewed on this blog Monday, January 9, 2017.

 

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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

Review of Gianna the Great January 09, 2017.

Review of Halito Gianna February 11, 2017.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Top Ten Picture Books I Reviewed in 2016 – #1 to 3

 Click on the cover to buy the book.

#1 Priceless Penny by Lauren Kramer-Theuerkauf. Illustrated by James Sell.

The cover of this book catches your eye right away. It features a bright picture of a large eye dog, ears up, tongue hanging out, grin on her goofy little face. Then you notice that her left paw is deformed. When you open the book you see a beautiful illustration of a dog in a cage sleeping on her back.

If this story doesn’t put a lump in your throat, go to the author’s website and see the actual pictures of Penny and the other rescued dogs. This book has all the more punch when you realize it is basically a true story.

Not only does this book teach children to be compassionate to animals and accept them for the way they are, but I am sure that children are smart enough to draw a parallel into their own lives. There is so much valuable subject matter to discuss with your child after reading this book.
 Click on the cover to buy the book.

#2 Once Upon a Memory by Nina Laden. Illustrated by Renata Liwska.

The story lends itself well to a discussion of beginnings, changes, and cause and effect. The words are lyrical, even poetic. This beautiful book pulls you in and leaves you feeling that you have been touched by something precious.

 Click on the cover to buy the book.
#3 Today the Teacher Changed our Seats by Frances Gilbert. Illustrated by Ben Quesnel.

The paintings in this book have unique quality of expressiveness and subtle detail. The little green-eyed girl who is telling the story is not your picture perfect child. She has a turned up nose, big bushy eyebrows, and rather large ears which make her all the more lovable. Her emotion is transparently portrayed and we connect with her fear of not belonging in any group. The class is a diverse group of children and the teacher is African-American.

While this book can be used as an introduction to math groupings, it is also a good launching pad for discussion about inclusion and how we label people into certain categories. It is a short, simple book that carries a lot of weight.

The rest of the list, #4 to 10, is here.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Top Ten Picture Books I reviewed in 2016 – #4 to 10

 Click on the cover to buy the book.

#4 Pigs Aplenty, Pigs Galore! By David MacPhail.

So few writers can write well in rhyme that some publishers refuse to even look at rhyming books. It is a difficult style to accomplish but David MacPhail does it with finesse.

The message of forgiveness, inclusion, and unconditional love is humorously portrayed. Don’t be surprised if your child says, “Read it again” when you turn the last page.

#5 – A is for Africa written by Michael I. Samulak. Illustrated by Sswaga Sendiba.

I love when I discover a unique and interesting picture book. A is for Africa stands alone in my experience. There is a fascinating story of the creation of this book especially as it pertains to the ethnic gorgeous illustrations. I love how the author totally avoided any misappropriation by involving an African artist in his project.

#6 – Once Upon a Pond by Peter Simon.

The author explains what is happening in detail, providing statistics such as “Over the many years since Europeans began coming to North America, Canada has lost more than 70% of its original wetlands.” He describes the importance of wetlands to wildlife and to clean water.

#7 – The Diggers are Coming! by Susan Steggall.

The author has given just enough information to hold a child’s interest and teach them some new concepts. The onomatopoeic word usage is wonderful and children will enjoy repeating some of the phrases. Highly recommended for boys and girls ages 2 to 7.

#8 – Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood. Illustrated by Meg Hunt.

Cinderella is a self-taught mechanic who wants to fix fancy rockets.

Cinderella is a redhead and the Prince is a man of color. The painted illustrations are large and bright. There is no mention of Cinderella’s physical appearance. In fact, the prince never saw her face as she wore her spacesuit through their entire first encounter.

This book has all the right messages and would make a great addition to a child’s book shelf.

#9 – Piggies in the Kitchen by Michelle Meadows. Illustrated by Ard Hoyt.

The story is delightfully suspenseful. At first the reader wonders if the piggies are up to mischief. Then the arrival of three different vehicles add a special twist. When the story ends “Happy Birthday, Mama! We love you!” The reader appreciates the piggies’ efforts to create a perfect surprise.

#10 – The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin. Illustrated by David Shannon.

CLICK ON THE COVERS TO BUY THE BOOKS

The top three picture books will be posted Dec. 31.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages