My mother-in-law, Rhonda, is always quick to reminisce about the days she spent reading stories to her young children - now both grown adults. As a mom and elementary school teacher, she understood the importance of reading books and how it could enable children to learn new things, travel to new places, and let their imaginations run wild.
When she moved to the Sunshine State a few years back, Rhonda gave us some of her most prized keepsakes of her children's youth that she had safely tucked away in their New York home. It came as no surprise to me that they were books. Golden Books to be exact, with her children's names scrawled by their young hands in the inside covers.
So when Rhonda recently sent me a link to a website of the new children's books series, The Adventures of Bella and Harry, by Lisa Manzione, I knew I had to check it out and talk with the author. And, I'm so glad I did.
An Introduction to World-Traveling Canine Siblings, Bella and Harry
Lisa created The Adventures of Bella and Harry children's picture book series to introduce young readers (5 - 10 years old) to sights, cultures and languages from around the world. Bella and Harry, a pair of chihuahua siblings, travel the world with their family and learn about different countries and customs all along the way.
The first book, introduced in 2011, features Bella and Harry's travels to Paris - the first international excursion for the canines. While in the City of Light, Bella and Harry visit the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Avenue des Champs-Elysees, and Notre Dame. The globe-trotting chihuahuas also dine on a jambon baguette (ham sandwich) and crepes at a French bistro. C'est la joie de vivre - especially for dogs!
The Adventures of Bella and Harry Let's Visit Paris! book ends with "fun French phrases and words" to help share a bit of the language with readers too. Children can practice saying things like "bonjour" (hello), "au revoir" (good bye), "bon voyage" (have a good trip), and "parlez vous Francais?" (do you speak French?). Of course, they'll also want to learn to say un chien (boy dog) and une chienne (girl dog).
As of today, there are six The Adventures of Bella and Harry books in the series. In addition to traveling to Paris, Bella and Harry also visit Venice, London, Cairo, Athens and Barcelona. This spring, four new books will be released that chronicle the chihuahuas adventures in Edinburgh, Rome, Istanbul and Jerusalem. I wish just one of these cities was on my spring break itinerary!
A Beauty of a Book - Down to the Smallest Details
Each book features vivid and fun images of the two chihuahuas in France courtesy of illustrator, Kristine Lucco. Take it from me that the images will make your children beg you to read the books. My younger son practically tore one of the books right out of my hands!
A nice touch is a place to write your child's name (or have them write it) in the inside cover of each book (a la the Golden Books from our youth). As my sons wrote down their names, I wondered if they might look back and enjoy seeing their young penmanship at a later time too.
Each book features a passport "stamp" for the featured country. As you go from books one to six, you can see that each cover starts to hold more and more stamps - just like a passport.
With her audience in mind, Lisa shares kid-appropriate facts and figures in the pages of each book. For example, in The Adventures of Bella and Harry Let's Visit Paris! book, Bella, the older and seemingly wiser sibling, tells her brother that the Eiffel Tower is 986 feet tall, which is almost 50 giraffes stacked on top of each other.
Seeking Inspiration from Lisa Manzione's Own Life and Travels
As the daughter of a single parent who worked for a major airline, Lisa began to travel the world at a young age. During her travels, Lisa was always struck by the how friendly the children in other countries were to her and how much they knew about America and other countries across the globe. Lisa knew she couldn't say the same for many American children who didn't know much about countries like Istanbul or Edinburgh. But, she set out to change that with The Adventures of Bella and Harry children's book series.
When visiting other countries, Lisa also was struck by the fact that she only knew how to speak English, while other children she encountered knew two or even more languages. That is why she provides a mini language lesson at the back of each book - just a little to get children interested and exposed to new dialects.
Lisa, a Delray Beach, Fla. resident, is an accountant by trade. She started writing children's books after her own children graduated from high school. Lisa knew that dogs are fun and easy to relate to characters, especially to a young audience.
Bella is based on her daughter's chihuahua, who Lisa believes could tell you stories of the world - if only she could talk. And, of course, as the mother of two children, Lisa had to give Bella a sibling to accompany her on her journeys around the world.
From the Pages of a Book to the Big Stage: Bella and Harry The Musical
The appeal of the Bella and Harry characters caught the eye of the Broward Center for Performing Arts, which co-produced a musical based on her second book, The Adventures of Bella and Harry Let's Visit London!
The musical has been touring across Florida, but will soon perform for audiences in Idaho and Iowa. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Chicago will be a tour stop some time in the near future.
A Look at What's Ahead for Lisa Manzione and her Bella and Harry Books
In just a few years time, Lisa has grown her children's book series to include 10 books, one musical, t-shirts and a backpack - with plush toys in the works. For now, she's planning the next cities Bella and Harry will visit - and chronicle for their growing base of fans.
At this time, you can find The Adventures of Bella and Harry books online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million. More information on the books can be found on the Bella and Harry website.
A Big Thanks to My Mother-in-Law for Making the Virtual Introduction
At the end of the conversation I had with Lisa, she thanked my mother-in-law for making me aware of her children's book series. And, I thank her too.
As a mom, she instilled a love of reading, culture and arts in her children, which are still some of their biggest passions in life. And, I am glad to be able to do the same with my children - especially with a global twist. Thank you, Rhonda - for that and so much more.
What are your favorite books that take your family to new places? What new country, culture or language have your recently exposed your children to through books? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
Credit for all Photos: www.bellaandharry.com.