Friday, June 22, 2007

Diligence the Dragon: A Pre-Biblical Fable

Diligence the Dragon, A Pre-Biblical Fable
Written & Illustrated by Kevin Scott Collier
Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc
ISBN: 1-933090-25-1
Copyright 2005
Children’s Picture Ebook

“A long time ago, before the Holy Bible was written, there was a place upon this earth known as Doubt. This prehistoric place was before the dawn of civilization, and only two creatures were known to live there; a boy named Jezubah, and a dragon named Diligence.”

Thus starts this 22-page Christian fable ebook, which is divided into three chapters: The Beginning, The Questions, and The New Pathway.

In spite of their closeness, Jezubah and Diligence are very different. Jezubah is never curious about anything, while Diligence is always asking questions. Because of their different natures, they’re worlds apart even though they’re friends. The dragon, feeling misunderstood and having no one to share his questions with, always feels alone. But he always cares and provides for the boy.

One night, huddled by the warmth of a campfire, Diligence wonders where the rocks, the mountain, himself and everything else comes from. The boy is driven out of his wits: “You drive me nuts!” the lad would shout. “Why do you question everything? What is here is simply here!”

Then winter comes and Diligence goes to a mountain top where a mysterious tree grows. With a blast of his nostrils, he sets the tree on fire, and it’s not too much later when he starts asking himself where fire comes from. To his astonishment, a mysterious voice responds, a voice that’s not exactly spoken language but one that deeply touches his heart and answers all his questions. Where does this voice come from? Will Jezubah believe Diligence’s story? If so, how will he react?

Diligence the Dragon is a thoughtful story for children, I would say, between 5 and 9 years old. It is the type of story an adult should read to children in order to help them understand its symbols and message. It is the sort of book which invites young minds to think about the meaning and history of Christianity. In spite of the colorful illustrations, the tone is quiet and serious. In this sense, it is not a light, fun book, but this doesn’t mean it is not one that can’t be enjoyed by children before going to bed, provided an adult is there to explain or clarify the hidden messages. Another factor in making this book appear ‘serious’ is that there’s a lot of text in comparison to the amount of illustrations—only three. More artwork would have definitely added a brighter atmosphere to the story.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Book Review: Journeys of Hope: A Star Shall Lead Them, by Kevin Scott Collier

Journeys of Hope: A Star Shall Lead Them
Written & illustrated by Kevin Scott Collier
Guardian Angel Publishing
ISBN: 1-933090-28-6
Copyright 2005
Ebook, 26 pages, $6.00
Children’s Picture Book/Christian

Journeys of Hope is a delightful picture ebook that includes five fables: Hope from Above, Follow the Star, Hermit without a Home, War and Peace, and Eye of the Beholder. The star of these fables is a very cute angel fish named Hope.

But Hope is no ordinary angel fish. For one thing, she has wings instead of fins. In fable number one, she also carries with her a special secret. The problem is, not everybody in the ocean believes her. They see her astounding story as a fantastic tale. Nonetheless, Hope doesn’t give up and continues spreading the word that she believes to be true, that “There’s brightness above the surface of the ocean.” Then one day, she learns that there’s a cold creature living at the bottom in total darkness. Filled with courage, Hope swims to the bottom to tell her story of the brightness above to the dark creature. Will the creature believe her miracle story?

In fable number two, Hope learns that there’s a cave at the far west end of the ocean that leads to a pond called Salvation. The problem is, it is extremely dark out there. However, soon a miracle happens: each time Hope says the word “Faith”, the Starfish who inhabits the cave glows brilliantly. Will Hope reach Salvation now that she has discovered the secret into finding it?

In fable number three, there happens to be a large Hermit crab living in a great barren trench at the bottom of the ocean. The crab has no friends and lives by himself, embittered by his own loneliness. Will Hope be able to befriend the crab and open his heart to the miracle of friendship?

In fable number four, Hope finds a great area of twisted metal wreckage at the bottom of the ocean. She wonders what it is and where it comes from. Learning that the wreckage comes from war, Hope has one big question in her mind: Why are there wars? Egan, an elderly electric eel, is more than happy to answer her questions. He also makes her realize that there are no winners in war, and that the only way one could really be a winner is by following the road of faith and goodness.

In the last fable Hope is as invited by her friend Mabel the Manatee to be a guest at a beauty pageant. To Hope’s surprise, Mabel tells her she is one of the contestants and, what’s more, she’s even sure she’s going to win in spite of being overweight. Hope wants to be encouraging, but how can she when all the other creatures are more sleek and graceful than Mabel? Soon the other fish begin to snicker and call Mabel names. But what do you think happens when the judge—a manatee!—shows up? A lovely fable about how beauty is not only within us, but in the eye of the beholder as well.

Though this is a book that early readers can read on their own, I would recommend an adult to read it to children the first time, if only to make the Christian messages and symbols in the story clear to young minds. Collier’s signature illustrations are as always bright and colorful and a real treat to the eye. The prose and dialogue are engaging. This is a book the whole family can enjoy and one that invites children to ponder and ask questions. It is also the kind of book that teaches without preaching. Recommended for young Christian readers.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Book Review: Whale Song, by Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Whale Song
By Cheryl Kaye Tardif
Kunati, Inc.
ISBN: 978-1-60164-007-9
Copyright 2007
Trade Paperback, 200 pages, $12.95
General Fiction/YA

Whale Song is a beautifully written novel that deals with a controversial subject and combines elements of myth, legend, and family drama.

The story begins when thirteen-year old Sarah Richardson moves with her family to Vancouver Island, leaving behind her old life and best friend. In spite of the fact that not all of her new classmates offer her a warm welcome, Sarah soon makes a good friend, a native girl called Goldie. A white girl where most of the people are Indian, Sarah soon experiences prejudice and racism. Her escape is her loving home, her friendship with Goldie, and her love for the killer whales that inhabit the island waters. From Goldie’s grandmother she learns many legends and Indian myths about these magnificent, intelligent mammals.

Then disaster strikes and all that Sarah holds dear is snatched away, leaving her enveloped in a dark vortex of confusion and loneliness. As her life abruptly changes, the issue of racism is replaced by a much more controversial one. Does the end justify the means? Does love justify breaking the law?

The story is told in the first person by Sarah herself; the reader is drawn into an immediate intimate rapport with the young protagonist. The language, in its simplicity, heightens the strong moral conflicts which carry the plot. In spite of the family drama, no silly sentimentalism mars the prose, and Sarah possesses a strong voice that is both honest and devoid of embellishments. The author has managed to create a sense of serenity and beauty that has to do with the mythical setting and the ‘parallel’ presence of the killer whales and wolves.

Consider this excerpt taken from the prologue and which sets the tone and mood for the rest of the story:

I once feared death.

It is said that death begins with the absence of life. And life begins when death is no longer feared. I have stared death in the face and survived. A survivor who has learned about unfailing love and forgiveness. I realize now that I am but a tiny fragment in an endless ocean of life, just as a killer whale is a speck in her immense underwater domain. (p.9)

A sad yet uplifting novel, Whale Song is about the fear and innocence of a young girl and about coming to terms with the shocking and painful truth one often must face. Above all, it is a novel about forgiveness and forgiving oneself.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Book Review: What’s on the Other Side of the Rainbow?

What’s on the Other Side of the Rainbow?
By Carla Jo Masterson
Illustrated by Omra Jo Fochtman
Harmony Soup, Inc.
ISBN: 1-59975-228-X, 978-1-159975-228-0
Copyright 2006
Hardcover, 38 pages, $24.95
Children’s Picture Book

Feelings. What are feelings?
Where do they come from?
What are they for?

These are the questions answered in this lovely picture book by author Carla Jo Masterson.

The story begins when Mr. Positively, a fantasy, dream-like being who inhabits the rainbow and who could be viewed as God, invites children to follow him through the colors of the rainbow in a journey of self discovery. Love, anger, laughter, shyness, fear, sadness, friendship, joy—these emotions are examined as the children move from one color of the rainbow to another.

The author uses repetition techniques for rhythm and cadence and a combination of rhyme and free verse. The surrealist illustrations in soft pastels create a nice splash across the pages and complement well the serene, almost spiritual tone of the story. This is an unusual book that invites young readers to self retrospection.

What’s on the other side of the rainbow? The reader will have to buy the book to find out! Suffice to say it’s a magic rule that everybody should know and every child should understand from a young age. A book that isn’t only a fun story, but one that leads to parent-child bonding and spiritual growth, What’s on the Other Side of the Rainbow? comes highly recommended from this reviewer.

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Man Burns Books, Amazon Reviews, Booksurge...

I read some interesting news last week. I’m adding the links so you can read the whole story if you wish.

"KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Tom Wayne has amassed thousands of books in a warehouse during the 10 years he has run his used book store, Prospero's Books." Thus begins this article by DAVID TWIDDY, Associated Press Writer for Yahoo News.

What is the world coming to when a man is forced to burn thousands of books as an act of protest because nobody wants them? I only wish he would have asked me!

Another news which quite surprised me, in a positive way, is the new business agreement between Booksurge and some of the top NY publishers. Some publishers like Harper Collins have made an agreement with Booksurge to have some of their current and back-list titles available in POD form. This might change the outlook of many people about the POD stigma. It seems that finally some of the top houses are realizing the pros of using print on demand, like saving storage/warehouse costs and having old titles available and making money instead of keeping them ‘out of print’. Read the full story here:

Lastly, another interesting thing I read last week has to do with Amazon reviews. It appears that Amazon will not be posting unlimited reviews by reviewers and readers as it is doing now. Instead, only three reviews per book will be displayed, and the reader will have to go to another link in order to read more reviews. Who will select these reviews? What will the criteria be? Could their decision have to do with all the controversy about the fraudulent reader reviews? It seems some authors, adopting fake names or even impersonating real people, have been posting rave reviews of their own books, while at the same time posting harsh reviews of their competitors’ books. Read the article, "Amazon Reviews are a Farce" here: (this link was passed on to me by SF author M.D. Benoit).

It amazes me what some people will do to promote their books-lie, cheat, assume a fake personality. Is this what book promotion has come to? Keeping this in mind, I’m not surprised why ‘legitimate’ reviewers from newspapers and other print publications have lately offered so much criticism to online bloggers and reviewers. Giving freedom to people to post reviews is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, some people will always abuse that freedom and transform it into something ugly. In the end, the good people always suffer because of a few black sheep.

Monday, June 4, 2007

It’s Time
By Judith Mammay
Illustrated by Todd Fargo
Jason & Nordic Publishers – Turtle Books
ISBN: 978-0-944727-20-1
Copyright 2007
Paperback, 32 pages, $9.95
Children’s Picture Book

Does your child suffer from autism? Do you know what autism is? Would you like to teach to young children what this condition is without scaring them? Then I recommend you to get this book.

It’s Time is the story of Tommy, a young boy who suffers from this so-often-misunderstood condition. He finds it hard to think in words and to express those words so that people may understand him. He needs to follow a strict routine, otherwise he gets incredibly frustrated and even afraid. However, by following a few simple rules, he is able to control his temper and fear of the unexpected.

Mammay addresses not only Tommy’s fears and frustrations, but also those of his classmates as well. This is a helpful book to read to children so they will understand how to behave with children with special needs such as Tommy. The simple, colorful illustrations present the different scenarios effectively. At the corner of each page, enclosed in a small square, is a cute mouse demonstrating the emotion that Tommy is feeling at each particular moment.

The author is a special education teacher who has worked with children with autism. She writes with a straight-forwardness and sensitivity necessary in a story like this. It’s Time is the type of book that will encourage an interesting class discussion among young primary school children.

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani