Allison's Book Bag

Review of Eva Keefe’s Books

Posted on: July 16, 2011

What would you do if you met someone who couldn’t read? If you were Eva Keefe, you would create an alphabet book. Eva Keefe began writing and illustrating her first book in 2006. Five years later, she has self-published two books: A “2” Z Just “4” Me and A Girl with A Dream. Over the past couple of months we have talked by email and most recently in-person, when she gave me two signed copies of each of her books.

Despite Eva Keefe’s commendable reason for creating an alphabet book, I did not expect to recommend her book. There are already too many alphabet books to count, some even by renowned authors. Yet the instant I saw her alphabet book, I thought of students of mine who still struggle to read in upper elementary grades to read. Like all picture books, the lettering and coloring of Eva Keefe’s artwork are bright and fun. Unlike many alphabet books for younger readers, however, hers is not cutesy and rhythmic or even bold and active. Her sentences and illustrations rather depict the interests of older readers: “D is for Dare to Dive off the Diving Board” and “F is for the Fun that I have on Field Trips.” As such, her alphabet book reminds me of hi-low readers, which contain high interest content but low vocabulary. Eva Keefe’s book will not teach readers that A is for Apple. It is not for the budding toddler who is being exposed to the alphabet for the first time. It is rather for the older child who is well aware of the alphabet, but still struggles to make words and to recognize sight words.

The point of most alphabet books is to teach students to read. While Eva Keefe wrote A “2” Z Just “4” Me to help a ten-year-old to read, her alphabet book will also teach readers that “A is for all the things that I can do.” If this sounds like a self-esteem message, you would be right. Eva Keefe writes in A Word to Parents: “This book is meant to motivate, encourage, boost self-esteem….” While I am normally not a proponent of the self-esteem movement, I am a proponent of assuring struggling readers that they can succeed with effort (E is for the effort that I put into everything I do). Eva Keefe works as a Special Needs Teacher Aid and her understanding of resource students is evident in sentences such as: “N is for Never Quit a New task until you have conquered it.” As an extra bonus, readers will also find words that relate to Newfoundland culture: “Do you like Ice skating and watching Icebergs?”

The funny thing is I expected Eva Keefe’s second book A Girl with a Dream to be my favorite. One reason is that as an adult I am most likely to read a picture book with a story; A Girl with a Dream tells a story based on a real incident from Eve Keefe’s childhood. However, I see some flaws with this book. The back cover description informs readers that the story is about twelve-year-old Nellie who “got lost in the crowd and became the maid in a family of fourteen”. This is an intriguing concept, which unfortunately does not quite come through in the actual story. Rather, the first few pages introduce readers to Nellie who, like many children, has to set the table and wash the dishes. She also has to learn to make bread, something which my grandmother taught me to do. While I do not doubt that Nellie had to serve as a maid, more examples are needed to make readers feel sympathetic for her plight. As for the family size, there are only two references: one to Nellie chatting with her sisters and the other to Nellie waiting “until all of her brothers and sisters had made their requests known….” Again, more examples would help readers understand Nellie’s situation. These complaints aside, most young readers will relate to wishing for something, being ignored or refused, and so needing to find their own way to make their dreams comes true. For those who think of giving up on dreams, A Girl with a Dream should inspire them to persevere.

Between Eva Keefe’s first and second book, she took art lessons. While there is the odd page in A Girl with a Dream where her main character looks more like an adult than a budding adolescent, her second book does show more maturity with the rendering of the people. The illustrated pages also contain more elaborate backgrounds. A noteworthy feature is that all of the scenes were drawn based on Eva Keefe’s local community. Even the people were based on real acquaintances, along with the dog being drawn from a photograph of the pet of a local family. While meeting with Eva Keefe, she excitedly told me who or what each and every picture was based upon.

This past week for my teasers I introduced you to other picture books from Newfoundland and Labrador authors, through which you could become acquainted with some of this province’s culture. Eva Keefe’s two picture books are also worth checking out. As neither are currently available through a bookseller, to purchase them you can directly contact Eva Keefe by email. Also, I am offering a copy of each of her books as a giveaway. To be entered into a draw to win her books, add a comment to this review or my interview with her.

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My rating? Read them: Borrow from your library or a friend. They’re worth your time.

How would you rate these books?

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10 Responses to "Review of Eva Keefe’s Books"

Over the past month, I have received five posts about A Girl with a Dream that are from the same IP address. This makes it likely the posts are from the same person. Yet they are written as if they are from different people. For that reason, I will not be accepting any further posts from the IP address in question.

In one of these posts, the person requested that I remove my negative comments. My review policy states: “In my reviews, I include a short plot summary that is free of major spoilers, and I discuss what I did and didn’t like.” It is my job as a reviewer not to promote an author or a book, but to inform readers of what I consider are the good and bad points of a book. This way readers can decide whether to read or purchase the book. I would be doing a disservice to my readers if I were to report only what I like about a book. For that reason, I stand by my review.

I have to agree I think that Nellie had a dream sounds very interesting. It’s nice to not hear about a fluffy book where kids do nothing and parents do everything for them. It sounds like Nellie learned responsibility and how to work at an early age and caring for her brothers & sisters and helping out around the house is a normal activity most children should be expected to do. And being accountable for these behaviors should be expected also.

Great reviews – I’d love to win either book. =D Thanks! Tina “The Book Lady”

Wow – I really messed up the title of this book. “A Girl With a Dream” is the book I meant. =D Tina

You are entered! The giveaway will end at the end of August. I’ll let you know if you win.

I’m a mature hair dresser about to retire and when I saw this book (A Girl With A Dream) I had to read it. I was intrigued. I couldn’t put it down. I was in suspense of what was on the next page. Throughout the book, it shows that Nellie had plenty of chores. Just setting the table and washing dishes for fourteen people everyday was a huge chore not to mention making bread for fourteen people and baby sitting her brothers and sisters. The fact that Nellie had to learn how to make bread meant that she most likely made it every day. The back cover clearly states that Nellie belonged to a family of fourteen. I admire her determination and guts at that young age.

Thank you for your comments. Nice to hear from readers who identify with Nellie’s plight of living in a large family.

Just a reminder: For those readers who would like to check out Eva Keefe’s books, I am holding a giveaway of them. Just post a comment to Review of Eva Keefe’s books or to an Interview with Eva Keefe and I will enter your name into a draw for signed copies. Keep in mind, you must also include an email address with your comment, so that I have a way to contact you.

Like you, Allison, I expected to prefer A Girl with a Dream over A “2″ Z Just “4″ Me. I was not disappointed. I was impressed by the book’s layout and the author’s illustrations and liked the story. Nellie’s reaction in achieving her goal reminded me of my own feelings over buying my first bicycle with money I’d earned by delivering newspapers when I was growing up in northern Ontario. The book should provide encouragement to juvenile readers in achieving their goals.

Whatever their circumstances, whether from small or large families, juvenile readers should identify with and feel inspired by the story of Nellie working to achieve a goal. The story behind Eva Keefe’s two books came to be published should also motivate anyone with a dream.

“A Girl With A Dream” was about Nellie’s plight and her struggles not about her siblings. Too many comments about Nellie’s siblings would have taken away from Nellie’s story. Also, Many twelve year old girls look older than they really are especially when they’ve always been around adults and doing adults choirs. I, personally know a Grade 4 student who couldn’t join the school choir because she had too many responsibilities at home. She has the maturity of a 15 year old. An 8 year old student traveled on my bus this past school year who said to me…I feel like a teenager…I asked her why…she commented…I have to take care of my sisters and help them with their homework. and make sure they eat lunch, wash their face and brush their teeth. I have no time for me. This 8 year olds mom works all day and their dad left them, so mom has to work. When children have a lot of responsibility, they grow up too fast. They need to be children not adults.

You have a worthy message: Children need to be allowed to be kids. How do other readers feel about Eva Keefe’s books?

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