Friday, November 30, 2018

Book Review: Johnnie Mr. Tough Guy

Johnnie Mr. Tough Guy is an adorable children’s picture book written by Raffaella Buffolino and illustrated by Michael Monochello. Johnnie was a tough little guy, and he wasn’t afraid of anything – bugs, storms, monsters, not even the kid next door. When his mom says they’re going to visit the zoo that day, Johnnie decides to find an animal there that’s as tough as he feels he is. They went early and so there were no crowds and long lines of visitors. Johnnie and his mom had the place to themselves. Johnnie visits a number of exhibits – the lion, the gorilla, the giraffe, the snakes, the elephants, the hippos – and tries to decide who is the toughest guy there… He thought about what the zookeeper said about the lion; even in a cage, the lion was still the king. Johnnie wonders if he is the king of the house, like the lion?

This is a delightful book that gives children food for thought as Johnnie examines each animal and comes to his conclusion about it. I liked that Johnnie had his own opinions and related each animal to his own experiences or people in his life. The illustrations are well done and brightly colored, the type that grabs a young reader’s attention and makes them want to discover more. The images above each actual animal image are just wonderful and I loved the imaginative take on the rat and the snake. There is a lot for children to explore in each illustration and these offer topics for discussion. Parents and teachers can use this book for further discussion, as well as some research into wildlife. This is a delightful, deceptively simple tale that offers youngsters a lot more than at first glance.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Book Review: The Fox and the Train

The Fox and the Train by Alice Gent is hard to define by genre. Part fable, part folk story, part allegory, part fairy tale. From the first page, the reader is invited into a world of magic and the seemingly impossible. “For we have some flax golden tales to spin…” From that moment I knew I would love this tale of the fox and the train. The story is set some time in the last century, and there is a war and hardship. Thirteen-year-old Anna has lost her father, but he was “lost” from the time of the previous “Old War” anyway. With the help of her grandmother, Anna cares for her mother, whose memories have been stolen by “the black foxes.” Her brother Anderson is away fighting on the front, and her other brother, Michael, works on the mine. Bad news comes of the cave-in at the mine. When the train and the tracks are damaged by a treefall, someone must go on foot to help the miners. Anna decides to go with her friend, Benny, who is clever and strange and not like other people. However, to get to the mines, their journey takes them into the magic, danger, and darkness of the woods, the home of the Spirit King.

The descriptions are detailed, intense, and lyrical, giving an immediacy that draws the reader right into Anna’s experiences. The first part of the book is quite realistic with hints of magicality and the pace is slow as the author sets the scene of Anna’s life and the events leading up to the tragedy of the mine collapse and the damage to the train tracks. The second half dramatically speeds up the chain of events as it plunges the reader and Benny and Anna into a world that isn’t quite real. One wonders if Anna’s visions of the Spirit King, in the form of a fox, are perhaps hallucinations from the cold and hunger. The pace becomes quite frantic as the two teens must combat fatigue, cold, hunger, the environment, and enemy soldiers. The story itself is fascinating as the reader is taken along with Anna in her quest, both internal and external, and in her being able to overcome the tests presented to her. I found myself completely absorbed in the unfolding of events and I loved the appearance of the Spirit King.

I am not very fond of present tense in a story but somehow this works in The Fox and the Train. There is a lot of telling as the author sets the scene, which I find did slow things down a bit, and perhaps it would have been better for the reader to work out the meaning behind the apparitions of the Spirit King. However, the author has delved into many themes that will resonate with readers and perhaps the most important message to take from this story is the power of love, and how courage comes from the most surprising places.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Q and A with Author Cheryl Carpinello

Please welcome my friend and fellow author Cheryl Carpinello to my blog today.

I have read and reviewed and loved both Cheryl’s Arthurian books, and so I decided to do a little Q and A to get behind the scenes and the characters in Guinevere: At the Dawn of Legend.

Although Guinevere is only 15, still a young girl, how seriously does she take her future duties as queen?

Guinevere, not yet married to Arthur, still enjoys the freedom of being herself. At 15, most of the time she doesn’t think beyond the current day. And since her father and Arthur are up north away from the castle, she really has no one to answer to although Brywyn, Cedwyn’s mom, still exercises some authority over her. Cedwyn lets us know in the beginning of the book that his ma will not approve of their adventure to the magical stones. It is when the consequences of her actions come crashing down around her that she remembers who she is supposed to be. That’s when she remembers the story of the Red Deer and the Unicorns. In return for saving for red deer, those creatures save the unicorns. She understands then that her role is to protect her people.

How does she ‘learn’ to become queen? What would her daily duties be and her ‘future queen duties’ be?

Behind the pages of the story, Brywyn, Cedwyn’s mom, is teaching her. Brywyn has taken care of the castle for many years since the death of Guinevere’s mother when Guin was young. Besides taking care of the Keep where she and her father live, Guinevere is still in ‘school’ and learning math, Latin—and possibly a little Spanish and French—to be able to talk with visiting rulers from Gaul and other countries when she is queen.

How important is Cedwyn to her and why?

Cedwyn has been her constant companion and friend forever. He was raised alongside Guinevere since his ma worked closely with King Leodegrance. They are closer than a sister and brother. Because Cedwyn’s dad is a knight, he understands more than Guinevere about what his role in life will be. He knows how unpredictable adventures with Guinevere can be, but still goes along with her. This is for two reasons: one, he enjoys the adventures, and two, he also knows that he is to be her protector when he becomes a knight.

What role does Merlyn play in her life?

Merlyn acts as a second father and friend, and as her teacher. He has been around since she can remember. The times when her father hasn’t been around, Merlyn was there. Guinevere was able to talk with him and ask questions about her future. As her teacher, Merlyn’s way was subtle. He let her discover the meanng behind Nimue and the unicorn’s passing in On the Eve of Legend. He also guided her in understanding the lesson behind the red deer and the unicorns. We will see further lessons from him in Book 3, Guinevere: The Legend.

Amazingly, Cedwyn repeats word for word what the goddess said. Does he have a photographic/eidetic memory?

No, he does not. What he does have is the huge impression the goddess had on him at the Stones. And it doesn’t hurt to have a little of the goddess’ magic. The goddess obviously thought her message important enough to burn it in Cedwyn’s memory.

What would daily life at the monastery be like?

In the 400-500’s, life as a monk would have been terribly simple compared to today. Their duties would include spreading the word of the new religion as they could. It would have been a life with little in the way of luxuries. Winters would have meant long hours spent at the abbey with few visitors. They grew what food they could mostly vegetables. Hunting would have provided meat. The orchards surrounding my particular abbey provided fruits. They would have worked hard to make friends in the area because of the prevailing belief in the goddess. They did this by trading foodstuffs with the residents of the castle and providing what assistance they could.

Although this is Guinevere’s story, it seems to be more like Cedwyn’s coming of age story?

At the Dawn of Legend is Cedwyn’s story much more than Guinevere’s. While they both grow up, it is Cedwyn who determines his course of action before he and Guinevere try to save the kids. His main concern is that he protects Guinevere.

[Cedwyn] kept watch and formulated his own rescue plan. It was dangerous, and neither Guinevere nor his ma would like it. That’s why he’d say nothing to either of them. Sometimes a knight had to keep his own counsel and just do what had to be done.

While he will continue to grow up in book 3, Guinevere will catch up to him, I hope.

How dangerous was life back then?

Life back then was as dangerous as any time. Compared to today, it might have even been safer.  But aside from that, Britain was in a struggle between local kings and the remnants of the Roman occupation. Renegades roamed the isle, robbing and creating havoc. Local leaders carried the reminder of the Roman occupation and were not eager to offer allegiance to a new leader, Arthur. Thus, the young king would have had a tough time convincing them to join him. Most of these skirmishes would have taken place in the north away from Guinevere’s home in the south.

Will Cedwyn have the courage to follow through with his plan to save the children?

I almost answered this one, Fiona! Everyone is going to have to wait for book 3 to answer this question. I hope to have Guinevere: The Legend out for Christmas 2019.

What is Guinevere’s finest quality? What is Cedwyn’s finest quality?

I believe Guinevere’s finest quality will be what her father has always told her not to do.

…[K]ings must rule with their heads not their hearts.

Even in the toughest times in front of her, Guinevere will rule from her heart first.

For Cedwyn, it is his undying loyal to his friend and his queen.

Sitting there he remembered their adventures. The unicorns, the painted dragon, King Pellinore, the bratchet, and the wild boar…This was real. This was what the goddess meant…Cedwyn wiped a tear from his eye and squared his shoulders…He wondered if he would see her again.

About Cheryl: Cheryl Carpinello is an author, retired high school English teacher, and Colorado native. Since retiring from teaching, she's been able to devote her time to writing and traveling. Although she may be away from teaching, she is still a teacher at heart and especially enjoys meeting with kids and talking with them about reading and writing. Cheryl hopes through her books she can inspire young readers and young-at-heart readers to read more. Visit Cheryl's website for more on this author and her books!