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?
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.
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.
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
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.
Please welcome my friend and fellow author Cheryl Carpinello
to my blog today.
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:
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.
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
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
What is Guinevere’s finest quality? What is Cedwyn’s
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
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.
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!