Loukas and the Game of Chance Children’s Book Review
While Loukas is playing his flute at the seawall one day, he befriends a mysterious talking, dancing snake that rewards him with fortune and favor. Some years later, tempted by greed and pride, Loukas loses all his riches and his family. He must now set off on a treacherous journey through a frightening forest filled with suspense and strange creatures to find Destiny, her son Ilion, the Sun, and her daughter Luna, the Moon. These celestial guardians will surely allow him to reverse his misfortune, restore his honor, and win back all that he loves and treasures, won’t they?
A reimagined Greek folktale, Loukas and the Game of Chance is illuminated with dramatic and evocative pen and ink drawings that provide an ideal backdrop for the dark intrigue that fills this haunting story of human struggle, courage, and resilience.
Loukas and the Game of Chance by Anthony L. Manna and illustrated by Donald Babisch is a mystical and mysterious tale about a poor fisherman, his wife, and their son, Loukas. When Loukas would join his father while he fished, he would pass the time by playing his wooden flute at the seawall. One day when Loukas is playing his flute, a leopard snake appears. As Loukas plays, the snake rewards Loukas with three gold coins for playing his flute for him. Each time Loukas played his flute for the snake, he received three more coins. Because of this generous snake, Loukas and his family were no longer hungry or poor. Loukas names the snake Lambros, and he and his family use their newfound wealth to rebuild their lives and help those in need.
As Loukas grows older, he gets married and has his children. Loukas’ wealth and newfound fortune stay with him until one day when he gambles away his home and his family in a card game. For Loukas to redeem himself, he begins to search for Destiny, her son, Illian, and daughter Luna, who can help him redeem himself. Will Loukas be able to redeem himself in this Greek folklore story?
Award-winning storyteller Author Anthony L. Manna sends readers on a journey filled with adventure, fun, and action-packed surprises. There is an element of mystery and magic throughout Loukas’ quest for redemption.
Loukas shows readers about perseverance, courage, and faith, but he also shows readers what can happen with perils of arrogance and greed. Loukas and the Game of Chance is an excellent book to co-read with your kids. Donald Babisch’s pen and ink illustrations help bring the story alive. Together with the attention-grabbing text, this story is a book that everyone in the family will enjoy reading.
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About the Author, Anthony L. Manna
“Anthony L. Manna’s first collaboration with Soula Mitakidou, Mr. Semolina-Semolinus: A Greek Folktale, illustrated by Giselle Potter, was an ALA-ALSC Notable Book, a Marion Vannett Ridgway Award winner, and a New York Public Library Best Book for Children. Another collaboration of theirs, The Orphan: A Cinderella Story from Greece, illustrated by Giselle Potter, was a Bank Street College of Education Best Book of 2012.
They also collaborated on the anthology, Folktales from Greece: A Treasury of Delights. Anthony has worked with children and teens in drama and storytelling, has been an actor, a director of children’s theater, a vehicle repossessor, and a janitor, and has taught in schools and universities in Turkey, Greece, Albania, and the United States. He divides his time between Ohio and Arizona.”
Rapid Fire with Anthony L. Manna
Q. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Anthony: In my youth, my father wrote a weekly column on sports for a local NJ newspaper. The excitement and challenge of finding and developing a topic was a big deal for him. He’d ponder for hours. He’d pace the front porch, often speaking aloud ideas he was considering to write about. Once I heard the clicking of the typewriter keys, I knew he was on his way. His personal process inspired me and gave me the incentive—and courage—to pursue writing professionally.
Fast forward to my career as a professor of literacy, which gave me the opportunity to teach and research the language arts—reading, writing, drama, literature, and so forth—among aspiring and veteran teachers. “Publish or perish” is the university call to action if you want to keep your job. I published a lot of academic/scholarly/classroom-oriented articles, chapters, and a few books about teaching the language arts. Story writing came much later, and what surprised me is that I could do it. And win awards and receive—mostly—good reviews.
Q. What was the most surprising thing you learned about creating books?
Anthony: The most surprising thing I learned about creating children’s books is the effort it takes to craft a story that draws kids into the experience. My first children’s book, a co-authored picture book—illustrated by a remarkable artist—Mr. Semolina-Semolinus: A Folktale from Greece achieved publication because a gifted editor at Simon & Schuster believed that the very rough draft we sent to her could be developed into an interesting story.
The editor worked with us tirelessly, crafting, editing, pruning, adding until we all believed we had created a dynamic story. The process took well over two years to complete. It’s a book with 35 pages. It took that long to develop, to make it readable, coherent, lively. Working with a talented editor was like taking a course in story writing. This editor’s advice has stayed with me while writing other stories I’ve published as well as the ones I’m working on.
Q. How did you become involved in the subject or theme of your book?
Anthony: May I come at this question from a different perspective? How did I become involved in the type of story-making in which I reimagine ancient tales? And by “reimagine,” I mean drawing on a storyline told by generations of oral storytellers and transforming it in many different ways to make it available to readers.
The university which employed me—Kent State University—had a faculty program called “The Greek Exchange.” If interested, you applied for the program’s grant that would support your travel and housing while you engaged in teaching/research in a Greek university. Having been awarded the grant, I joined the education department at Aristotle University in the ancient city of Thessaloniki.
One project I pursued while there for my initial two-year visit was to undertake a research project in a Greek kindergarten classroom. The two veteran teachers who taught those children were fluent English speakers, thus offering me translation as to what was going on, particularly when they taught language arts lessons.
When it came to storytime—read alouds, comprehension lessons, and independent reading by the children themselves, I could hear Greek mythology, of course, but from time to time, I was hearing fairy and folk tales. I knew we had few Greek folk and fairy tales in English. With a Greek colleague, I decided to search for these folk and fairy tales, translate them, reshape—reimagine—them, refine them, and so forth. Currently, my published children’s books are reimagined Greek folk and fairy tales.
Q. What do you love most about the writing process?
Anthony: I enjoy becoming totally emerged in a search for tales that hold the promise of an exciting story. When in Greece, that search takes me to the Folklore Library at Aristotle University as well as to oral tellers my Greek colleague and co-author, and I invite to tell and record tales they know. Whether I’m writing in Greece or in the States, I enjoy the challenge of translating, shaping, crafting a story.
I want to write stories that capture my imagination and challenge me to remain true to the cultural characteristics of the tale while also allowing me the liberty to retell and reimagine the story according to the ideas—plot, characters, themes—that emerge from my creativity as a storymaker.
Story writing is like creating an attractive tapestry. There are many parts that I want to explore and fit together—blend together?— to make an interesting story.
Q. What do you think makes a good story?
Anthony: Interesting characters readers can stay with, follow, get involved with, believe in, wonder about, worry about, cheer on, despise, approve of, dislike—the entire range of human emotion, endeavor, faults, mistakes, resilience, endurance, redemption, and I could go on. The story itself must have action, reaction, logical incidents, conflict, surprise, a satisfying—if not a happy—ending. What about humor and suspense? Will these two elements add to or detract from the story content? A setting that is like a character itself because it is less a backdrop and more an integral place where lives and living unfold in the special ways they do because of where they are.
Economy of language to avoid useless/tired/cliche description. A worthy theme. What is the POINT, the main idea, or the central ideas if the writer wants to travel that route. Of course, any choice a writer makes must be made mindfully to fit into the tapestry of the story. Selecting the correct dialogue, for example, must be done to sustain the emerging portrait of a character. Choice is what makes writing such a rewarding challenge. Such a labor of love.
Q. What do you love most about the writing process?
Anthony: All stories begin with “What if…” I love following the “What if…” trail. I love slipping into the solitude I need to start constructing the story that’s been stirring in my mind for days or weeks or months or even years. It’s a meditation of sorts. Sitting, listening, watching, waiting for my characters to appear, giving me clues to who they are, what they want, what they are doing, struggling with, looking for.
From there, their story starts to emerge. I follow their lead. I intervene when I need to. What if so and so met up with that kind of individual? What if their conflict looked like this? Sounded like this? Developed like this? Ended like this? I grow so involved in the development of the story and the characters who inhabit it that I become consumed by the process … at the gym … at the supermarket … while running and power walking. I allow myself to leave the writing for awhile. A break helps me to let the story go so that I can return to it refreshed.
The haunting and demanding questions throughout the entire process: Am I making the correct choices? Does the world I’m building make sense. The answer comes later when I share the writing with folks in the writer’s group I joined several years ago. They are published professionals who guide me, reassure me, and invite me to write better than I have ever written before. Their responses to what I’ve written propel me as quick as possible to revise, revise, REVISE. And then return to them ask for more.
Q. What do you hope your readers take away from this book?
Anthony: Like all stories, children’s stories are windows and mirrors. I want my stories to entice children to look out and beyond their world where they can awaken to people of all ages/types/skin color/orientations/religions navigating their way through life’s mysteries, struggles, joys, problems, disappointments, tragedies—the human range of life and living. What do children see and hear and feel while reading my stories or hearing them read aloud? What about resilience? Survival? Courage? Recovery?
Stories also are mirrors. I want my young readers to glance at themselves in the unfolding human condition the story is exploring. With whom do they relate? Dislike? Like? Fear? What advice would they give that character over there? This one here? Would they make the choice that character is making, or would they follow a different path? Which character are they most like? Unlike? At the story’s ending, what action would they take to be happy?
Q. Can you tell us about one of the most rewarding moments you have had as an author?
Anthony: My answer is embedded in statement #7. There is nothing more satisfying to me as an author than sharing my stories with children in schools and libraries. The engagement and collaboration that occur when I introduce a story and the process of writing it make for a kind of magic. Drawing on my training as an actor, I dramatize parts of the story as I share the challenges and joys of building a story world. I act out a few of the character’s exchanges and use my awareness of their voices to bring the characters alive. To help them develop comprehension skills, I like to guide children to notice and note story elements and how I use and explore them.
My hope is that by making my story come alive, children will come to see how enjoyable, satisfying, snd entertaining stories—any kind of literature—can be. I want to be somewhat responsible for encouraging them to become lifelong readers.
When I share my stories with children, I also talk with them about writing craft and technique. I use specific examples of drafts of sections of the story I’m working on to demonstrate the changes and choices I made. Often, this leads to a writing activity we all engage in as a way to use a technique I decided to use in my story. For example, the choices I faced when creating a character in the light of expression, attitude, and even clothing and physical stance—setting characteristics. Conflict? Humor?
I also like to spark interest by inviting children to look closely at the book’s illustrations. When I was writing a recent book of mine—Loukas and the Game of Chance—I worked closely with the illustrator. Many people are surprised to hear that when a picture book author contracts with a traditional publishing company, rarely does the author collaborate with an illustrator. I enjoy talking about my collaboration with the illustrator of Loukas and the Game of Chance. The illustrator sometimes accompanies me to reveal the development of his vision for the story’s illustrations. Learning can be an exciting discovery of what’s inside our imaginations.
Q. What inspires you as a writer?
Anthony: Inspiration comes from many different sources. Good books, whether fiction or nonfiction, often provide incentives or motivation via any of the book’s characteristics. I sometimes write down words, phrases, and descriptions I like and store them in a folder that I might refer to later when I need to recall how that writer described, say, the movement of an animal. However, I never use another writer’s work verbatim. I don’t plagiarize. I simply draw on the writer’s work as a kind of instruction that sets me off to experiment.
I receive a lot of hardcore inspiration and guidance from folks—published writers—in my writer’s group. These writers offer constructive criticism, but they do so in gentle ways. Their suggestions are all about specific story details that encourage me to consider line-by-line revisions, what a blessing to be among caring writers who are truly interested in my success as a writer.
Q. Are you working on anything at the present that you would like to share with your readers about?
Anthony: Thank you for asking. I’m currently revising a story that went through a few readings with my colleagues in my writer’s group. Having incorporated their suggestions, I needed to put the story aside as I became deeply involved in promoting Loukas and the Game of Chance with a professional book promoter (StressFreeBookMarketing.com). Like many other writers I’ve talked with, promoting is like an essential burden because it distracts the writer—me—from, well, writing.
So be it, as it must be in this competitive world we inhabit. (Actually, while marketing, I’ve been happily introduced to some supportive folks and some great resources, “The Sailor’s Wife” among them.)
Back to my Work-in-Progress. When I returned to the story about six months after I had put it aside to become a “happy” book promoter, I thought it was good enough to find its way to some kind of publication. Then, I started rereading it. UGH! At once, I knew the entire story needed to be given a slow, honest line-by-line read in order to upgrade it. The story’s title is The Imposter. It’s a reimagined Greek tale driven into action by an identity theft. I hope it someday sees the light of publication.
My late friend, the artist Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson, a recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant, once wrote: “Making stories is meditation. It’s where I find peace and parts of myself. It’s bliss. True bliss.” I’ll second that sentiment.
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About the Illustrator, Donald Babisch
“Donald Babisch is an artist and art educator who has worked with children in elementary and middle school. An alumnus of New York University’s graduate art education program, he is a former adjunct instructor in the art education program at Youngstown State University in Ohio. The author of articles in several art education journals, Donald is both the author and illustrator of Who is That Peeking in My Windows? Having received an Honorable Mention for a felted piece he exhibited at the Crooked Tree Arts Center in 2014, he is now exploring and creating large needle felted portraits, scenes, and allegories. An avid gardener, he lives in a log cabin in northeast Ohio.”
Rapid Fire with Donald Babisch
Q. What process takes place in creating your artwork?
Donald: The process in creating these pen and ink illustrations consisted in having many discussions with Anthony about how he imagined the story’s characters and the movement through the story’s events. The story takes place on an island in the Aegean Sea. As both of us have toured Greek Aegean Sea islands, we drew on our experiences to help visualize the story’s settings.
Q. Are there any illustrators that have inspired the way you approach your illustrative work?
Donald: I have been inspired by Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson (1940-2015), a visual artist who was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant for the body of her work. Her approach to art was just to “jump in” and draw with a steady stream of consciousness, just allowing your ideas to flow freely. Then go back to the work if needed and make changes. I like to use that process.
Q. Which page was the most fun to illustrate?
Donald: The section of the story that was the most fun for me work on is where the author introduces “Keeper of the Forest” (page 23). At first the mysterious, magical character that the author introduced in this crucial episode was a wizard. I suggested that wizards are so commonplace in fantasy stories. Why not create a wise character who is also goofy, charming, and fun, and also has a unique way of speaking. Keeper of the Forest was invented to fill this role. Please note that the article “the” is not used in his name in order to express his uniqueness and inherent powers.
Q. How did you start your career as an illustrator?
Donald: I wrote and illustrated my first children’s book in 1994. Who Is That Peeking In My Windows was intended for the beginning reader. In addition to my work as an illustrator, for the past several years, I have been working with fiber, using needle felting, appliqué, trapunto, among other techniques, to create large allegorical wall hangings. My work has been exhibited in several juried shows.
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All in all, my family and I have really enjoyed this book and we know you will too! Please feel free to leave me any comments or questions about this review. I look forward to hearing from you!
* This book was kindly sent to me by Author, Anthony L. Manna in exchange for an honest review.