Dreams Are Never Too Big for the Brave

coverWelcome to the worldview of Sonia Cunningham Leverette, author of BJ’s Big Dream, a work that more closely captures the way a child’s mind works than any I have read in a long time. That said, no doubt the writer’s insight into the young comes from more than 30 years experience in education. She is an assistant superintendent in Spartansburg, South Carolina, as well a parent. Her earlier children’s books, He Never Slumbers, about a bullied boy who seeks help from God, or What is that Stinky Winky EEEwww Smell? , which counsels against selfishness, add more to prove that Leverette earnestly wants to instill positive values and speak to the real issues that bedevil children in the early years.

Anyway, the author gave me a copy of the book for an honest review. Let’s get to it.

Bj’s Big Dream will be a hit in most story circles for early readers. The bright, colorful illustrations by artist Deanna M, blend beautifully with the narrative that on surface is about a little boy who wants dreadlocks. At first, the narrative seems a little hesitant. The author does not spend a lost of time on details or try to tie story elements together. Leverette provides an acceptable sequence of events, combined with beautiful images. That alone will rivet little eyes and minds.

Beneath the spare, straightforward paragraphs where the author blends BJ’s  actual experience with a daydream of a walk in the woods where he is threatened by three wolves and an angry bear, lies a tale that offers adults a chance to show and talk to young people about their power to make a dream come true. BJ’s Big Dream is a charming blend of fantasy and fact that urges children to strive with courage beyond what they see as their limitations. Yes, and there was that part that made me say, “Whoa! That’s how my grandson’s mind works.”

BJ, the main character, as the story is told drives a rides through the forest on an all-terrain vehicle. “BJ dreamed he was driving a four-wheeler when a huge snake fell from a tree and wrapped around his shoulders,” the book states. As I said, “Whoa!”

That small scene is the kind of fantastic story element that is likely spark in the mind of a child eight years old or less. My grandson is likely to tell me a story and have some thing like that happen, and I would be drawn aback to say, “What?”

The adult mind might find such “out of nowhere” events jar the way they see reality develop. That is the main reason most authors would have a number of steps that lead to the drop of the snake. The incident has to come together in a sequence that grownups see as “logical.” Sonia Cunningham Leverette taps into the fantastical and recreates that part of the stories and others in a child’s logic.

BJ’s Big Dream will bring great excitement when read to those whose mastery of books is about to blossom. The main character, BJ, is resourceful and quick-witted. The adults in the tale are supportive. Youngsters might gain a number of impressions from the story. Clearly, one is that daydreams happen, yet hard work – at times even a little effort and a plan – can make real desires come true.

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A Reader Rescues a Bully’s Love

GibbsAuthor, B. S. Gibbs, summarizes this as a “chapter book for kids … illustrated with a dozen intricate, beautiful drawings.” True. The attorney/storyteller inspired by Jane Austen, light fantasy, “and all things medieval,” goes on to tout Janetta and the Book Thief  as a trove of positive pleas for reading, kindness, inclusiveness, and anti-bullying. Those things are apparent. What is not immediately evident, yet makes the 47-page story stand out, is its elegant plot, straightforward prose, and ability to be a great discussion-starter.

The story is largely uncomplicated. That makes the read ideal for third- to fifth-graders whose energy levels almost forbid them to focus on anything that moves slowly. Gibbs’ mystery tale about someone who takes the last chapters of books is easy to follow and grasp, which is the book’s strength and weakness.

Janetta, the main character, chases down the who and why behind the thefts, which first struck me as a weird story element. What is the value of the last chapter of a book?

I then looked at the work from some other angles. I considered what life might be if the last chapter of every story disappeared. The incompleteness hit me. I was able to connect with Janetta’s motivation. The character says, “I can’t imagine my life without reading!”

To that extent, Gibbs’ heroine might interest a reader, yet comes off as too perfect (apologies, but that is the only word that comes to mind) to square with reality. An average 8- to 12-year-old is not obsessed with reading, despite most parents’ wishes.

The fairies who invite Janetta to Eloria, the book-fairy land, Queen Esmeralda and the villain, Sir Grumpsalot, do not have enough edge to compete with the kinds of characters contemporary grade-schoolers find in other books and on television. Gibbs’ chapter book reminded me of plots and characters I have read in works from some Latin American writers. That is the book’s major shortfall.

A minor one is a slip in the digital layout. In the Kindle version I perused, several of artist Anca Gabriela Marginean’s illustrations slid into the lines above them. Sentences were obscured, which distracts the reader. The saving grace is that the story is pretty easy to grasp, so the gaffs do not cause a person to get lost.

Those elements aside, teachers and parents will find that the message about the effects of bullying in Janetta and the Book Thief  and the power of one kind act to change a person’s life overtakes most of the work’s weakness.

Janetta tells her fairy friend Violetta that Sir Grumpsalot, “rejects all of you so that you cannot reject him.” That defensive stance is at the heart of many rubs and scrapes, even in adult life. The line is a great place to launch a discussion with young people on a bully’s motivation, or offer them insight as to why they indulge in brusque acts.

Fear is powerful, as the story makes clear. “I believe he also tells himself that he doesn’t like any of you. But, I believe he desperately wants to be friends. He just doesn’t know how and he is scared to try.”

I won’t give away the end. Gibbs’ story is a saga about loves. Janetta loves books. Book fairies love to inspire writers. Grumpsalot loves to be mysterious. As those elements collide the reader comes to a happy conclusion. The path is worth a glance. Violetta and the other fairies learn that no one is beyond redemption. For youth today, that is a most important lesson.

Hamilton in Love for Young Hearts

New York Times best-seller Melissa de la Cruz, noted for the critically acclaimed Blue Bloods series dives into the 18th Century romance of Alexander Hamilton and Eliza hamiltonSchuyler. Out flows a historical saga that teens and young adults are sure to find filled with intrigue and delight. Read an excerpt of Alex and Eliza: A Love Story, due for release by Penguin Random House on April 11.

“Hamilton,” the Broadway play is likely to be on the must-see list for years to come. The popularity of that representation of George Washington’s brash young aide and statesman bodes an even greater reception among youth. Hamilton is now back on many Americans’ radar.

De la Cruz targets Eliza, a rebel as the youngest of three daughters one of the fledgling nation’s leading families, and shows how that nature drew her to the rakish Col. Alexander Hamilton. She is part of one of New York’s most elite families. Hamilton, born on the West Indies island of Nevis, is exuberant that his appointment as chief aide to the leader of the Colonial Army in 1777 affords him a chance to marry into a high society.

Orphaned by an unwed mother, Hamilton, whom John Adams once described as, “the bastard brat of a Scottish peddler,” is from the wrong side of the blanket, yet bright and ambitious. Eliza Schuyler is a child of privilege to the manor born. What happens when they met according to historians became an epic love story.

Cruz is more than able to excite young hearts. Her Blue Blood series sold more than three million copies. Also, her Witches of East End series became an hour-long television drama on the Lifetime network.

 

From the Cradle…Girl Power

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Under the “you have got to see this” heading, on a day (20 Jan. 2017) for odd happenings, I discovered Disney Hyperion Books’ news of an early trainer on Feminism by Buzzfeeed senior writer and artist Loryn Brantz. No Joke! The book actually released on April 4. Nonetheless, since the upcoming political climate threatens to reset the national dialogue on gender equality, the selection might be worth a look.

Feminist Baby likes pink and blue.
Sometimes she’ll throw up on you!

Feminist Baby chooses what to wear
and if you don’t like it she doesn’t care!

That is from the text.

The push for gender equality, as the philosophies that under-gird the movement, have rapidly evolved throughout the past four decades.I am not certain whether the work can be classed as Third Wave of a fourth wave of Feminist thought. Recent political and social efforts to mainstream transgender issues have endowed discussions from the Betty Friedan/Gloria Steinem era with new questions. That said, the push for equal access and opportunities between men and women persists.

The cardboard pages and text in large type manuscript  is listed for “ages 0 to 2.” The story is described as a tale about “a girl who’s not afraid to do her own thing, and wants to make as much noise as possible along the way!” begs to be explored.

I have not read the whole book,  yet the backgrounder and excerpts peaked my interest. The work is clearly not just for babies. At the same time a read-aloud with the hashtag FeministBaby is bound to take many readers and their bundles of joy in intellectual paths where they might not have gone before. Or, it might keep a few Americans on the road toward a more enlightened future.