What’s in a Word?

What a great group of books I’ve reviewed in the past few days. I asked for an eclectic mix, with some picture books, some novels, MG and YA, and some non-fiction. 

Here are three that especially grabbed my heart. Two may end up staying in my library, but at the very least will be given to children I’m extra fond of.

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The first is not just well written and engaging, but it also has lots of Bengali mythology in it. I’m always a sucker for myths.  And, on the top of that, I found very few grammatical errors! Be still my heart. I plan to read the first book in the series, and look forward to reading the third book when it comes out.

Game of Stars

Sayantani DasGupta

This delightful story is the second in a series entitled “Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond.” Full of Bengali, India, mythology, blended with fantasy about a different universe, the half snake and half human main character, Kiranmala, must prevent her bio dad from killing her friend and taking over the multiverse. Her bio dad, she discovers in the first book, is the monster snake king in the Kingdom Beyond and he plans to kill Kiran along with lots of other people. The descriptions of the various characters are wonderfully evocative, and the characters themselves are complex. For instance, one grandmotherly figure is a monster with a soft side. Kiran has to do all kinds of superhero actions to save the day and gets help from friends in the most unlikely places. The story is good saga tale with true depictions of diversity being good and the message that being different isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Add in flying horses, and this book gets even better. Teacher will find a lot to use in this series to open lines of discussion on diversity, the messages in mythology, understanding different cultures, even exploring different foods. Enjoy the read and go back to read the first of the series, The Serpent’s Secret, and be sure to read the third book in the series when it’s available.

BIBLIO: 2019, Scholastic Press/Scholastic Inc., Ages 8 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-338-18573-7

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Everybody has periods of sadness, I think. It’s part of the human experience and also part of the animal experience. I’ve witnessed many an animal grieve for a lost companion—human or animal. Anyway, sometimes we need help getting over our grief. This book sweetly shows a way to help.

Maybe Tomorrow?

Charlotte Agell

Illustrated by Ana Ramirez Gonzlez

This is a sweet story about how friendship can help lighten the load that sorrow or longing can bring to a person. Elba is dragging around a big block of sorrow because she misses a departed friend. She doesn’t want to play or doing anything but mope. But her friend Norris helps her miss her friend, even though he never knew the friend. Elba asks him why and he replies because Elba is his friend. Norris encourages Elba to do things out of her comfort zone and slowly they realize that her sorrow block is shrinking. At first, the two of them could easily sit on the block but soon nobody can sit on it. And, finally, Elba says yes all on her own when Norris asks her if she wants to go on a picnic. This book will help many a person deal with whatever is causing sorrow or depression, and it’s a good lesson on learn about compassion. The illustrations are sweet and give the story even more of a caring feeling. It could also lead to good discussion on the subject of sorrow.

BIBLIO: 2019, Scholastic Press/Scholastic Inc., Ages 4 to 8, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-338-21488-8

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I love words and learning new ones, don’t you? It makes me sad that our language is deteriorating in to sound bites or tweets. Takes away the richness of communicating, IMHO. Anyway, here’s a new dictionary just to cheer me up. Hope it cheers you up as well.

The Dictionary of Difficult Words

Jane Solomon

Illustrated by Louise Lockhart

This is a book that any language lover should cherish. Who wouldn’t want a book that gives the definition of ultracrepidarian? This is a person who spout opinions about things without any knowledge of the subject. Know anybody like that? And, yes, there is a word for studying UFOs: ufology. The book is also filled with wonderfully whimsical illustrations. In addition to more extraordinary words, there another of words many people will know, but they are words we don’t use all the time. Since our vocabularies seem to be shrinking or being shortened to fit on tweets and other social media outlets, it’s nice to see there are still places to find more fulfilling words. The thing that would make this book even better is if the compiler/author had not so frequently used a single subject and a plural object in her sentences. For instance, saying something like Mary set her books on their desk, is incorrect grammar, unless she’s sharing the desk with someone else.  How about reword the sentence to not use pronouns? That aside, this book is definitely a keeper. Teachers should have a lot of fun using this with their students.

BIBLIO: 2019, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books/Quarto, Ages 8 +, $27.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Non-Fiction

ISBN: 978-1-786-03811-1

I’d love the hear or read about what you’ve read recently. Please keep in touch. Sarah

Sarah’s Grammar Rant

Okay, I’m still on about using “they” as the object to a singular subject.

One of the books I just read for review is a fascinating dictionary of difficult words. Each word is defined using examples in plain terms. But again, many times the author insists on using a singular subject and a plural object.

Couldn’t we try to just reword things so there is no need for this horrible grammar error that makes the poor old lady cringe?

For instance, how about writing in the definition of the word naive as: without question a naïve person believes what is said.

Or an irreverent person makes fun of things most people take seriously.

Or Someone who does many tasking things in a row would be called indefatigable.

For the most part, it really isn’t hard to reword things so the sentence is grammatically correct, or at least as correctly as a human can get.

Any language is a changing thing, but English changes more than others, and I think it behooves us to try to make some effort to not change to become too confusing.

So that’s my rant. I promise to just review books next week.

Thanks for listening.

An Eclectic Mix of Books

I couldn’t think of a theme for the books I just review, so you’re getting a hodge-podge mixture.

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Just because there are scary shark movies and stories floating around, doesn’t mean these fish are all bad. As matter of fact, they don’t really mean to harm humans, we just get in their way. And Jacques Cousteau’s member lingers on to make us all, or at least lots of us, be interested in the oceans.

Great White Shark Adventure

Fabien Cousteau and James O. Fraioli

Illustrated by Joe St. Pierre

Part of the new Fabien Cousteau Expeditions series about the oceans and their creatures, this book tells of a hunt for a gigantic great white shark off the southern tip of Africa. Junior Expeditioners, Bella and Marcus, are joining Jacques Cousteau’s grandson Fabien on a hunt for an extra-large great white shark. The group decides the shark might be in waters around two islands that are breeding grounds for fur seals and penguins. These animals swim in the water between the two islands, making it an ideal hunting ground for sharks. The book is full of interesting information about all kinds of sea creatures and the drawings, though cartoonish, depict the animals well. The two junior expeditioners, considered full members of the research team, get to swim in the ocean and use the submersible observation bell made of plexiglass. Wouldn’t that be a cool thing to do? The book gives the reader quite an education about sharks and other marine life. It’s a welcome addition to any school library.

BIBLIO: 2019, Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/Simon & Schuster Publishing, Ages 8 to12, $12.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Graphic Non-Fiction

ISBN: 1534420886

If you want to keep yourself up at night worrying about how horrible people can be to each other, just read some historical fiction. This book is about Irish immigrants coming to New York City during the U.S. Civil War, which was hardly civil, I might add.

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Last of the Name

Rosanne Parry

Twelve-year-old Daniel O’Carolan and his older sister, Kathleen, arrive in New York City on March 26th, 1863 after fleeing poverty and English brutality in Ireland. Their granny, the last remaining adult of the family, dies on board the ship they’re sailing on. She leaves them with a special bundle which she says will get them through the toughest times. Kathleen has promised that she will take care of Danny with out fail. They end being house servants for a wealthy family, which means Danny has to become Mary and wear girl’s clothing. Though Kathleen is readily accepted as a maid, the lady of the house is not sure what the younger child can do. He lands his job by singing and enchanting the lady of the house. But he sneaks off when he can, wearing his boy’s clothes. He does gain an appreciation for what girls and women have to endure from society. hen Danny is being a boy, he takes every chance he can to sing and dance, earning a penny here and a penny there. The time of their arrival is not a propitious one, since the country is smack in the middle of the Civil War. Negro people are coming north by the droves to look for work, taking jobs from men who are striking for better wages. The Irish are also despised for the taking jobs. Plus, the Protestants are trying to dissuade the Irish and others from being Catholics. Life is tough for most people in New York, except the wealthy. The story ends around time of the “Draft Riot” in the summer of 1863, which leaves most of New York City in ruins. The book is well written and compelling with lots for teachers to use in the classroom. There is a brief bibliography and several discussion questions at the end.

BIBLIO: 2019, Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., Ages 10 to 14, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Grade

ISBN: 9781541542358

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This book is a humorous take on accepting each other’s differences.

Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies!

Megan Lacera and Jorge Lacera

Illustrated by Jorge Lacera

Acceptance of diversity is an ongoing theme in modern children’s lives. This book uses the conceit of a young zombie named Mo Romero who would rather eat veggies than humans. Problem is he needs to convince his parents that it’s okay to like veggies. He sneaks out at night to tend his vegetable garden and make his delicious meals of veggies. He tries to disguise veggies as parts of the human body and bury them in his parents’ eyeball stew, but he always gets caught out. One night he decides to make gazpacho, sure that he could convince his parents it is blood soup. Nope, doesn’t work. His parents hate it and scold him for serving it. Finally, Mo fesses up. He may be a zombie but he’s different. Because his parents love him, they agree to eat veggies along with their brain stew and finger food. The illustrations are delightfully gross. The language does seem a bit old for the target age range, but the story does get its point across. And what youngster doesn’t love zombies?

BIBLIO: 2019, Children’s Book Press/Lee & Low Books, Inc., Ages 7 to 9, $18.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 9781620147948

Happy Fourth of July

How to Make an old Lady Cringe!

I’m reading a young adult to review. The story line is decent, but the grammar is atrocious. The usual modern day practice of using a singular subject and plural object. “She put her books on their desk” kind of wording. Makes me cringe. But now, we’ve got the ambiguous gender language thrown into the mix. People who really aren’t sure what they are: male? female? a little bit of both?

So we end up with saying things like “She looked at Gingerpuss and kissed them on their lips.” Huh? Makes me visualize a three-headed person.

Couldn’t we come up with something that explains the concept without butchering our language too much?

Am I the only person who finds this annoying and confusing? Let’s all try to come up with a more compelling term that is at least marginally within the rules of correct grammar?

I feel sorry for anyone trying to learn our already confusing language without adding this kind of fallderol.

That’s my rant for the day. Aren’t you glad it is a short rant?

In This World of Incivility…

My favorite source of children’s books, Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database, is finally up and running. So now I have a regular conduit to what’s going on in the field of children’s literature. And grist for my reviewing mill. Which means now I can blog on reviews again.

 

In this world of incivility, I thought I’d start with books on good behaviors. Just to remind us what to teach our children, and perhaps learn from what we’re teaching them.

 

My mother used to quote poetry to us as a way of teaching morals lessons. I never remember the whole poems, but one line that has stuck with me oh these many years is of a lowly sailor complaining about how harsh his captain was. “…all I ask is a little cee vil i tee!” (That’s civility for those of you who don’t speak “Maury.”)

 

 

The first book mentioned here is a brief introduction into how we all need to work together to make our world stay on course.

 

I Am a Good Citizen: Character Education

Jenny Fretland VanVoorst

Part of the Scholastic Blastoff Readers series, this photography-filled book shows in simple detail how and why to be a good citizen. As a good citizen do you pick up your dog’s poop or do you let somebody else worry about? Do you help take care of your community? Does a good citizen follow the rules and take care of other people’s property? Do you color in a library book, for instance? Do you obey the school crossing guard? The children depicted in the photos run the gamut of race and ethnicity, which is grand to see. The pictures are very good and the children are good actors, but they seem a bit old for kindergarten and first graders. In some spots, the language seems a bit sophisticated for kindergarten and first grade students, especially since there is no pronunciation guide included. The simple, illustrated glossary at the back of the book is good, as is the small bibliography.

BIBLIO: 2019, Bellwether Media/Children’s Press/Scholastic Library Publishing/Scholastic, Ages 5 to 6, $26.00.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Non-fiction

ISBN: 978-0-531-13419-1

ISBN: 0-531-13419-9

 

In my opinion, the next book builds on the theme of being a good citizen since it deals with honesty.

 

I Am Honest: Character Education

Jenny Fretland VanVoorst

Part of the Scholastic Blastoff Readers series, this photography-filled book shows in simple detail how and why to be honest. The opening photo spread shows the feet and calves of a small child behind the remains of a shattered ceramic bowl on the floor. Does she fess up to her mistake or does she blame the cat? Is the boy in the next spread being honest when he gets the answers from his fellow student’s paper? Another picture shows two boys with their arms around each other’s shoulders. The message being if you’re honest you’ll be more likeable. The book has photos set side by side asking the reader to choose the correct behavior. The children depicted in the photos run the gamut of race and ethnicity, which is grand to see. The pictures are very good and the children are good actors, but they seem a bit old for kindergarten and first graders. There is a simple, illustrated glossary at the back of the book, as well as a small bibliography.

BIBLIO: 2019, Bellwether Media/Children’s Press/Scholastic Library Publishing/Scholastic, Ages 5 to 6, $26.00.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Non-fiction

ISBN: 978-0-531-13421-4

ISBN: 0-531-13421-0

 

Lastly, a book on being responsible, for if we aren’t responsible human beings how will we continue to keep societies functioning? Of course, having said this, my brain is telling to do the breakfast dishes after emptying to dishwasher.

 

I Am Responsible: Character Education

Jenny Fretland VanVoorst

Part of the Scholastic Blastoff Readers series, this photography-filled book shows in simple detail how and why to be a good citizen. Is it responsible to be home when you said you would? Or is it alright to stay out later? Do you feed the dog when it’s your turn? Do you help with household chores? Should you do your work whether you want to or not? The children depicted in the photos run the gamut of race and ethnicity, which is grand to see. Doing the responsible thing means brushing your teeth when you should. When you’re done you can do what you want to do. There are a couple of photos giving the reader a chance to pick what’s the correct thing to do. The pictures are very good and the children are good actors, but they seem a bit old for kindergarten and first graders. In some spots, the language seems a bit sophisticated for kindergarten and first grade students, especially since the is no pronunciation guide included. There is a simple, illustrated glossary at the back of the book, as well as a small bibliography.

BIBLIO: 2019, Bellwether Media/Children’s Press/Scholastic Library Publishing/Scholastic, Ages 5 to 6, $26.00.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Non-fiction

ISBN: 978-0-531-13419-1

ISBN: 0-531-13419-9

 

And a little self-promotion announcement. If you happen to be in the New Bern, NC, area on Saturday, May 25th please stop by 323 B Creative art studio to visit with me as I read from my work in progress, tentatively titled “Earthquakes.” The story is a “noirish cozy” mystery set in 1942 Hollywood, California, and has murders and spying going on, along with a bit of teen romance blossoming. The studio is at the back of Bella’s Café on Middle Street in downtown New Bern. I’ll be there from 11a.m. to 2p.m. Another benefit of coming would be seeing what three very talented artist friends of mine, Donna Slade, Vicki Vitale, and Martha Williams, are up to in their new space.

 

All right, all right, I’m doing the dishes next, so stop nagging. Thanks for reading my blog.

 

 

Off Topic Blog

I don’t know about you, but I am beyond tired of all the robo/telemarketer/scam calls we get every day. Why do the business people and scam artists have more rights to invade our privacy than we have to stop them?

The program that was started several years ago by the government where you could sign up onto a “Do Not Call” list doesn’t work for beans. I had one young woman say when I complained about her call, “Oh, that only works for 3 years.”

Well, what good does that do you or me?

Why do businesses have more rights to abuse our privacy than we do to protect it?

And how do we stop this from happening?

I’m telling all candidates who are running to fill recently deceased Congressman Walter B. Jones office that I will vote for the one of them who promises to do something about this while in office.

I’ve also got a petition I’m going to send to Congress asking them to stop people from invading our privacy.

In you’re interested in helping me reach my goal, feel free to sign up here.

 

Revision, Revision and then more Revision

I am in the processes of revising my latest novel. This one is historical fiction with spies and murders and a love interest. Of course, since the main character is a seventeen-year-old boy, there isn’t a whole of mushy love stuff.

The working title is EARTHQUAKES and the main character suffers from nightmares brought on anxieties about earthquakes. I remember having a recurring nightmare about being swallowed up in an earthquake and, to this day, would rather suffer through any other type of natural disaster than ever experience another earthquake. Well, I just as soon not experience a volcanic eruption

I wrote the first draft last November as my NaNoWriMo entry. I’m pleased to say I actually finished the first draft of 50,000 + words four days before the deadline.

Now I’m revising and correcting and trying to get it right. But I’ve realized that my time frame is out of kilter.

If Johnathon is seventeen in 1942 and is the third child in a family of five, he had to have been born in 1925 and his parents had to have been born in the 1890s. Which means they all lived through the Depression. Changes their perspective on the world.

Plus, a number of the secondary characters are Germans living in this country. I originally had two of them being brought to this country as children by Catholic nuns to save them from Hitler’s so-called ethnic purifying. But these characters are in their late thirties and so were born before Hitler came to power or was anything more than an Austrian peasant.

Now I have the make up other reasons for their being in the U.S. The neighbor, who is found stabbed to death, was a PhD geologist and his friend is a Fuller Brush salesman.

Some of the stuff in the book comes from my own childhood, though I was much younger during WWII, having been born May 29th, 1941. But my mother was indeed Lockheed’s first female tool and dye designer and a designated Rosie the Riveter. She did christen several ships.

People keep telling me I should write her story, but I can’t because I don’t consider it my story to tell. Still, I can use my remembrances as grist for the story-telling mill. Things like grieving for the death of my maternal Grandfather and for my own father. And going to the Brown Derby restaurant during its hey-day. And going to ship christenings.

I do remember hearing about my Granny working with the Red Cross to arrange for Hollywood types to visit wounded service members in local hospitals and I do remember stories she and mother told about various movie people and their personalities.

And I do remember that we didn’t feel we should grieve for the loss of our father or grandfather, because that was just the way it was done. One needed to always keep a “stiff upper lip,” and just “carry one.”

Anyway, I still have a long way to go with the revision process, but the story is getting more cohesive every time I work on it. Thanks for spending cyber time with me.

Sarah