Who Are You? And Why Does that Matter?

Each of us is the same as the other, but each of us is also different. The differences may make us shy or may embolden us. How we deal with our sameness and our differences is what makes us unique.

If you have strong desires and an independent spirit, it’s hard to follow the rules. And you can be ridiculed for it, even if you aren’t shy.

A Pinch of Magic

Michelle Harrison

Three sisters live in a place called Crowstone which has three small islands just off its coast. On one end of the area is a misty, moisty marsh which perhaps harbors sprites and other scary beings. The townspeople are frightened of the area, but Betty, the middle sister, wants to go on adventures including going across the marsh. The girls have been told they will die if they leave the confines of Crowstone, but Betty thinks it’s malarky. That it’s just stories Granny tells to keep the girls in check. Granny tells them of the curse they live under and gives them each a magical object. Betty thinks that if they combine their magic, they can break the curse and be free to roam wherever they wish. Not as easy as it might seem she discovers, especially when they accidentally set free an evil convict from the island prison. The story is told in an endearing style, though the writer and editors could have paid a bit closer attention to correct grammar. Betty and her sisters Felicity and Charlie, using their native wits and bravery, overcome many obstacles and end up in a better place than they could have imagined. Teachers can use the book to inspire discussion of overcoming difficult problems.

BIBLIO: 2020, Books for Young Readers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 9780358193319

ISBN: 9780358272921

The second book has an excellent story arc of how we deal with parents and their dreams and how they differ from yours. How you can still love someone even if you don’t agree with the person’s ideas.

Running

Natalia Sylvester

Mariana Ruiz’s life has turned into an ongoing drama in which she no longer has any privacy. Anything she says or does comes out in the national news because her father is running for president in the national primaries. He and Mami spend all of their time—at    least it seems that way to fifteen-year-old Mari—writing speeches and traveling on the campaign trail. Mari and her younger brother, Ricky, are made to participate in local Miami events and it’s wearing on her. She feels she lost her parents and their support. That she and Ricky don’t really matter anymore except as campaign photo-op props. But then she discovers Papi’s biggest contributor is a less than scrupulous real estate developer who is polluting the water and destroying neighborhoods. Not only that Papi helped make it possible when he passed legislation as a state senator that allowed sewage to be dumped into the aquifer. Now Mariana has to come to grips with the fact that her father is not who she thought he was. With the help of friends, she gets involved in a student movement demanding that water pollution stop and that big developers are called to account for the damage they’ve done. She grows during the story, learning that she can speak out and that she can challenge her father. This is quite a compelling story with a great deal of relevance in modern American life. Teachers can have a field day choosing topics with which to encourage their students to think for themselves. Plus, the reader gets to learn some Spanish along the way.

BIBLIO: 2020, Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ages 12 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978035124351

ISBN: 978035830806

Shyness in children is an ongoing problem. The main character is the previous story is shy, but learns to blossom. In a different way, the main character in next story learns to overcome her shyness.

Vivaldi

Helge Torvund

Illustrated by Mari Kandstad Johnsen

Translated by Jeanie Shaterian and Thilo Reinhard

Tyra is shy and doesn’t know how to communicate with others, but begins to blossom when she gets a kitten. Though she may not be able in interact with other people, she can talk to her new cat. And she can interact with the world when playing her piano. She names the cat Vivaldi. At school, Tyra doesn’t play with other children and doesn’t participate in her class so her classmates whisper behind her back and tease her. With the help of Vivaldi, Tyra begins to come out of her shell. This lovely story is told in poetic form and should be read in a gentle, quiet voice that will comfort children and make them understand that lots of people are shy. And that lots of people feel as they do. The illustrations are simplistic in a way, but fit the style of the story quite well.

BIBLIO: 2019 (orig. 2011,) New York Review of Books, Ages 4 to 7, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-68137-374-4

Here’s hoping you all have a jolly and loving holiday, whether it’s to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, or the meaning of Hanuka or just warmth of having family and friends around. And here’s hoping for a good new year, with a more inclusive and cooperative world. See you in 2020. Sarah

RIGHTS TRAMPLED

As I sure most of you have noticed we have a new president. And in my view a much saner and more reasonable person. We also have a woman as vice president who is a rainbow all unto herself with her Indian, Black and probably some White European heritage because her father was from Jamaica. President Biden is of Irish heritage. All of this is important because these groups all suffered prejudicial treatment when they first came to the United States of America. But especially those ethnicities that don’t look like White Europeans. I remember reading in the “Washington Post” back in 1950s explaining why Sikh mean wear their turbans. If I remember correctly, the article included how the turban was wound around the man’s head and the religious significance of the turban. I believe there had been local complaints about the turban, though I don’t remember what the complaint was. I do remember wondering what the fuss was about, but then I was a typical self-absorbed teen in the ‘50s.

A great number of my Facebook Friends are celebrating the beginning of the next four years with a new set of leaders who tell the truth and want all of us and the world to prosper. But at least one person is concerned enough about the perceived threat of having our rights trampled upon to have commented on her worries that she wrote something to the effect of: “Yeah, just wait until they take your rights away.”

Hmm, thinks I. What rights are going to be taken away? And where did this person get that notion? Probably from lies told by leaders who want to keep us in line.

I have been accused of being a socialist because I didn’t approve of the just departed president’s aspirations. The accusation so took me aback that I couldn’t think to say: “Oh? Tell me, do you take advantage of your entitlement to Social Security income?” “Yes?” “And do you take advantage of your Medicare entitlement?” “Yes?” “Well then, you’re as much a socialist as I.” That would have been the best response if I felt the need to do something other than shrug my shoulders and walk away. Unfortunately that was not an option since the person who accused me was a guest in my house.

I suppose the person who worried about rescinded rights was thinking of the first amendment right to free speech. I’ve not heard of that being rescinded.

Or the person was thinking of the Second Amendment which gives people the right to bear arms. No, nobody’s planning to take that away, but do remember that there are restrictions to the amendment. If I recollect correctly, the Second Amendment was to allow citizens the right to protect their property or hunt for food. I don’t believe it was meant for people to use for storming public buildings. Or not let me walk down the street because I have a different ethnic makeup.

The other thing about rights is that in exercising one’s right to not wear a mask, for instance, is that one cannot impinge on another person’s right to try to stay healthy. In my view that also means exercising plain civility. You don’t want to wear a mask? Fine by me, but only if you’re not going to endanger anybody else’s health.

Non-White, Non-Christian, Non-Male citizens of the United States of America have the same rights as those White, so-called Christian Men. But even today that is not always noted.

The books I’ve included today have to do with these issues.

And like President Biden and Vice President Harris, I believe that there is room in our nation for all peoples and all points of view. But could we please be civil to each other and accept our differences.

You may remember these books, but I thought it important to mention them again.

Since 911, Muslims have frequently been looked at askance, though most are as God worshiping as the majority of Christians. So are most Jews. So are most other advocates of true religions. But one of the most egregious wrongs that White Americans have perpetrated is our continuing disregard for the rights of Native Americans whose lands we White European ethnic groups stole.

Look for some Native Americans’ stories in series such as The First Peoples series. BIBLIO: 2020, Creative Education/Creative Company, ISBN: 978-1-64026-223-2 is for the Book on the Cheyenne.

People tend to be afraid of what they don’t truly know. And it seems easier to believe what your friends or your parents or newsfeeds tell you than to find the truth yourself.

No True Believers

Rabiah York Lumbard

Salma’s best friend, Mariam Muhammad, isn’t just moving away from their northern Virginia suburb, she’s moving to a different continent. Mariam’s family is moving because her father’s medical practice is losing patients prejudiced against him because he and his family are practicing Muslims as are Salma and her family. Then a new family moves into Mariam’s house and at first they seem nice, but then things begin to be weird. The book is well written and an important contribution to our country’s discussion of ethnic prejudice. It also sheds light on the need to not trust what we read on the internet at face value. People aren’t necessarily what they seem to be. We mush be diligent in cross checking what we see to make sure we’re getting the whole truth. Salma learns important lessons about the computer hacking she’s been doing and the online so-called friendships she’s developed. The book presents lots of opportunities for classroom discussions on religion, computer information, and personal growth.

BIBLIO: 2020, Crown Books for Young Readers/Putnam Random House, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult Fiction

ISBN: 9780525644255

The second book I’ve chosen is important to repeat because of the wealth of information on our voting process. During the 2020 General Election there was a great deal of misinformation spewed forth and it is important to remember how our system works and how fragile that system can be.

Votes of Confidence, Second Edition: A Young Person’s Guide to American Elections

Jeff Fleischer

This is a fascinating book. Any person over the age of ten should read it, including so-called “grown-ups.” Chapter 1 focuses on how the United States of America has evolved since its inception. The trick was to get all the states to agree to who could vote and how and where. That has changed over the years since originally only land-owning white males were permitted to vote. But there were, and are, many other people whole live in our country. Shouldn’t they have the right to help determine who is going to govern? Chapter 2 discusses how voting works and why it’s important. Chapter 3 is about the role of political parties and the history of how we got them. The book focuses on issues such as the Electoral College and what its function is and whether that is still relevant.  Chapter 4 explains how to vote and why your vote counts. Chapter 5 is about how to learn what’s being discussed by candidates and Chapter 6 lists ways to get involved. Teachers could spend several months discussing the whys and wherefores of elections and voting using this book.

BIBLIO: 2020, Zest Books/Lerner Books, Ages 11 to 18, HC $37.32, PB $14.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Non-fiction

ISBN: 978-1-5415-7896-8

ISBN: 978-1-5415-7897-5

I included this one because we’ve just gone through a phase where the power of rumor can lead to utter chaos.

If the Fire Comes: A Story of Segregation during the Great Depression

Tracy Daley

Illustrated by Eric Freeberg

Consultant: Andrew Lee Feight, PhD

A book the whole country should read, this tells the story of more unnecessary discrimination against people just because of their skin color and ethnic makeup. Joseph McCoy shines shoes in Elsinore, CA, to support his uncle and sister, Maya, who is crippled by polio. His parents are dead and his uncle is jobless as is most of the world during the Great Depression. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt has started a program called the Civilian Conservation Corps or CCC as part of his New Deal. CCC workers were sent all across the U.S. to do things like fight wildfires. Such as group is sent to Elsinore, but most of the townspeople are not happy. The town is predominately white, but the camp is all black. Joseph and Maya show why the prejudice is wrong. The book is well written and full of lots of information for teachers to use with their students.

BIBLIO: 2020, Jolly Fish Press/Northstar Editions, Ages 8 to 12, $19.99 (Lib. Bound), $8.99 (PB), $8.99 (eBook).

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Grade Novel

ISBN: 978-1-63163-371-3

ISBN: 978-1-63163-372-0

ISBN: 978-1-63163-373-7

I have been told that I’m going to Hell because I don’t go to a particular church or believe that the Christian Bible is the literal Word of God. In my view how can it be? It was cobbled together from different languages and has been rewritten many times to kowtow to the rule of particular leaders, some secular and some religious. My French forebears had their lands confiscated and the first born son of at least one family was brutally murdered all for religious differences. The bottom line, IMHO, is that we should honor each other’s right to disagree, but be civil about it. Here’s to our country surviving the whims of those who would like to dominate. And here’s to our world living in harmony.

Children Trying to Save the World, Or at Least Their Particular Worlds

Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe

Jo Watson Hackl

It’s amazing the number of children who are put in situations where they feel they need to solve their families’ problems. Or, at the very least, not make the problems worse. Children who have a parent off to war feel the tension and either silently try to be perfect or take over parenting their younger siblings or some show some other behavior that leaves the children with stunted emotional growth.

Ms. Hackl’s wonderful book deals with the troubles of twelve-year-old Cricket whose father is dead and whose mother is probably bi-polar. From the opening sentence the book pulls the reader right in: Turns out, it’s easier than you might think to sneak out of town smuggling a live cricket, three pocketfuls of jerky, and two bags of half-paid-for merchandise from Thelma’s Cash ‘n’ Carry grocery store. Well, wouldn’t you keep reading?

Cricket’s mama has gone off on another of her quests to find a room she remembers seeing as a child. The room is full of birds. Well, actually they’re paintings of birds, but the paintings are so alive the viewer is sure the birds will fly right off the wall and out the window. Mama has been obsessed with finding that room ever since. Other people say the room is not real. That was just her imagination. And the reader can just hear the people sniggering and whispering “See? She really is crazy.”

Cricket is sure if she can just find that room Mama will come back for good and never feel the need to roam again. Any child who has had a parent go missing for what ever reason will relate to, firmly, to believe that the child can find the parent and make things right. So Cricket runs away from home to find the room and her mother. She takes with her the cricket she rescued from Thelma’s Cash ‘n’ Carry to help her find what she needs. Along the way the pair have many adventures and lots of emotional growth. No, I’m not telling you the ending, you’ll have to read the book. But you’ll indeed enjoy the journey and the people you meet along the way.

I personally can relate to feeling the need to make things better and to find my missing father. Actually, he really was killed in WWII and I never knew him, but I always fantasized that he would show up at Walter Reed Army Hospital with amnesia and I would reunite him with our family. That is until I had grown up myself and knew that I had no real connection to him.

Do read this book, it will show you how children stay strong.

BIBLIO: 2018, A Yearling Book/Penguin Random House, Ages 8 to 12, $7.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Grade

ISBN: 978-0-399-55741-5

NEW BEGINNINGS

As I said last week, this year of horror is almost over and I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping for 2021 to be better. So, to that end I’m going to focus on the good things that await us—at least us writers and illustrators.

I’ll start with all the good stuff that SCBWI (Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators to the uninitiated) is doing as usual. If you are a writer or illustrator of children’s stories and have not joined this wonderful organization you are most decidedly depriving yourself of a wealth of information and comradery. https://www.scbwi.org They have online and in-person workshops and conferences, plus ways of promoting your work and articles on how to find publishers or improve your writing/illustrating. You’ll feel every so connected with the rest of the writerly tribe. I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t just encourage and cheer for beginners, including authors and illustrators and editors who are widely recognized as on the top tier.

Since I started writing for publication, I’ve lived 2 states—Maryland and North Carolina—and have found many organizations that help writers, both locally and state wide. The state organization in North Carolina is North Carolina Writers Network. Again, they hold conferences and have a website where you can learn about writing, promote your latest publication, and learn about what contests they are holding. One of the biggies is the Thomas Wolfe Award. They also list what writers groups in each county are doing. For instance, in Craven (don’t you love that name?) County, where my handsome devil and I live, there is the NEXUS Poet group that meets on the first Tuesday of each month in the charming and very artistic New Bern. nexus@nexuspoets.com

If you look around your area, I’m sure you’ll find at least one independent bookstore that will be happy to sell your books for you. If you’re lucky, the store will also give you a spot to hold a book signing for your latest book. And, if you’re really lucky, will publish a literary journal where you can try to have your short stories, poems, or artwork published. New Bern’s Next Chapter Books and Art is the place here. It’s run by the talented and delightful Michelle Flye. https://thenextchapternc.com/

Your area will most likely have at least one local writer’s forum that meets once a month or so and hosts a guest speaker. If you go to the meeting, you’ll get information on how to write better and how to market your stories, but you also develop new relationships with people like you. In the Coastal North Carolina area, there are several in addition to NEXUS Poets. In the Pamlico County there is Pamlico Writers which generally speaking host a yearly one-day writers’ conference in the charming town of Washington inside the grand old Turnage Theater. Just to go see the theater is worth the price of admission. https://pamlicowritersgroup.wildapricot.org/ BTW, if you write for children you’ll probably heard of Sheila Turnage, who’s grandfather started the theater.

We also have Carteret Writers, which at the moment is having COVID break, but is hoping that someone will take over the reins in 2021. http://www.athomecomputersupport.com/writers/  This group usually sponsors a writers’ contest and publishes the winners in a literary magazine entitle Shoal. Again, they have a monthly speaker. Those of us who have put in a lot of effort to keep the organization going hope that a new group of people will raise their hands to take over the reins. (I know, I know, how can you take over the reins while you’re raising your hand?)  Look around your neck of the woods because I’m sure you’ll find someplace to have a writerly home. If not, start your own. To paraphrase a line from the delightful movie “Field of Dreams,” start it and writers will come.

The other thing you can do is look on websites or writers’ magazines and you will find lists of places to submit your sterling work and a number of them give you suggestions of what to write to have them interested in your work. Look on websites for magazines such as Writer’s Digest https://subscriptions.writersdigest.com , or Poets&Writers https://www.pw.org/literary_magazines/al, or The Writer https://www.writermag.com. Just use your favorite search engine and look for writer’s magazines. I use Author Publish when I’m looking for places to tell my readers about in the monthly newsletter I write for Carteret Writers. (The newsletter is aptly named “The Write Stuff.”) They do a lot of research about who’s looking for submissions, both articles and books. (We don’t need to rely on just the now 4 mega-trade publishers.) https://www.authorspublish.com/

You see? There’s plenty to look forward to in 2021. It may be the year you’ll end up on the New York Times best seller list. Hey, we can dream, can’t we?  Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, or whatever else happy you want to celebrate.

Here’s to Surviving 2020 and Hoping for a Better 2021!

I wrote this first paragraph back in March, thinking that we’d be back to normal by August at the latest. Foolish me. In this time of sequestering, things are not much different for a writer. We tend to hunker down in our offices anyway. But now I tend to procrastinate more than usual because what else am I going to do with my time? My husband does the grocery shopping and someone comes in twice a month to clean our house. We can now Skype or Zoom or use some other version of tele-communicating with our friends and family and we can get carryout dinners when we don’t feel like cooking. The carryout dinner thing is really cool. We order from our house, drive to the restaurant, and honk the horn. Someone from the restaurant comes out with our food with surgical gloves on and we pay. Home we go to have a nice meal.

It’s now December and this horrible year is coming to an end. Like everyone else, we’ve read in the newspaper and seen on TV news that people are dying in the thousands, not just in the U.S., but around the world. And driving 40 minutes to and fro for a meal to eat at home, got to be old in a hurry.

The good news is that my handsome devil has rekindled his interest in cooking. Turns out he’s good at it. I’m a good cook, but having been cooking almost nightly for 60 years takes the joy out of it.

The pandemic has also reduced the incoming flow of new children’s books to read and review. Which means I haven’t had much reviewing grist for my blog mill. But, being a writer and a storyteller, now I just blog about whatever comes into my head.

I have been working on some short stories, including the one I mentioned in an earlier blog. I called that one “Trust,” because it has to do with the trust between a horse and rider. I have now sent the story off the Terrain magazine and hope to hear back from them in about four months. I also finished the sketch of the bad guy’s face.

Don’t judge me too harshly, this is my first ever attempt at drawing something that I think highly enough of to let see the light of day.

I also have had a short story accepted for the second edition of Next Chapter Literary Magazine. This story, entitled “Heart’s Convergence”, is about a teen boy rescuing his would-be girl friend from a raging river. I also had a story accepted for the first edition. The theme for the first edition of the magazine was Quarantine and the theme for this second one is Convergence because New Bern—where I live and the Next Chapter Books and Art is located, is on the convergence of the Neuse and Trent Rivers. https://www.newbern.com/the-next-chapter-books-art.html

The other good news is that we adopted a kitten two weeks ago. We named her Pandie. Can you guess why? Friends have guessed Pandora, Panda Bear and other such “pandie” words. My hint is to think about what the theme of this post is.

My hope is that 2021 will be a better year for all of us. And that we lose no more friends to this pandemic. (Everyone who has died was a friend to someone.)  Have a happy holiday season.

Blog for Friday the 13th

It’s a good thing I didn’t start the day realizing that it is a Friday the 13th. Considering that this is the year of Halloween and, as our older son has said, the year whose title will go down in at least the English language lexicon, as a curse word, having a Friday the 13th might be doomed to destroy us all.  BTW, the curse is: “If you don’t behave, I’ll 2020 you!”

However, so far today, nothing bad has happened really, so maybe there is reason to cheer.

Because of COVID-19, my supply of children’s books has dwindled, though I am trying patiently to wait for five or six more to show up soon. Patience is the operative word here. Something I’ve always been in short supply of. (Go ahead, write that sentence better.)

Of course, the year has not been good for marketing my book, Earthquakes, which came out in January 2020. Still I have had some interest in it and maybe next year will be better. And I still feel the urge to write—you might even call it a need. The stories keep popping up in my head.

What to do? I know! I’ll write more stories and talk about them.

Back in August or September Michelle Garren Flye, the owner of the small bookstore, Next Chapter Books and Art, http://thenextchapternc.com in New Bern, NC, sent out a request for submissions to the second issue of her Next Chapter Literary Magazine. The theme, “Convergence,” was suggested by a local poet, Sam Love. https://newbernnow.com/tag/poet-sam-love

New Bern is on the convergence of the Neuse and Trent Rivers and is a charming town many times featured in a number of well-known books. (Think Nicholas Sparks’ stories and the later books in the Outlander series.) Here’s link to the town’s website. https://visitnewbern.com/.

Ah ha! Thought I. I can write a story to fit that theme. So, I wrote “Hearts Convergence” about a 17-year-old boy who gets caught in a sudden squall as he’s kayaking down the Neuse River. Just as he gets to the confluence with the Trent coming in from his right, a kayaker T-Bones into the side of his boat and capsizes. The boy rescues the other person who turns out to be the girl he wants to date. This story will be in January edition of Next Chapter Literary Magazine. My story, “But I’m not Sick!” about being in a quarantine situation was in the inaugural edition back in July.

Then, while researching writing outlets to mention in the newsletter I write for the Carteret Writers, I came across a nature magazine that might be a market for a short story I wrote several years ago. Yep, now I’ve rewritten “Trust” to hopefully fit their needs. (Keep your fingers crossed for me, please.) I’ll let you know. That magazine is https://www.terrain.org in case you want to see if one of your stories is right. I also have another story that might fit there magazine.

I am also working on a Chapter Book, tentatively titled “Space Junk,” and have been stuck on how to advance the story line. The main character is a bright and ambitious seven-year-old named Keandra Maria Ortiz who is visited by a kid from space. She’s in her workshop hammering on metal to make the skin of a rocket when Shellorba appears. Well my way to go on with this book is to sketch what the characters look like. Now the story is beginning to coalesce in my aging brain.

Maybe 2020 won’t jinx me and maybe 2021 will be better for all of us. Certain signs indicate that might be the case.

Stay healthy and hang in there, we will all get through this.  

Carteret Writers is on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/carteretwriters/

And we have a website at: http://www.athomecomputersupport.com/writers/

How to Write What You Want to Say.

Though I’ve started a new book, a chapter book tentatively entitled Space Junk, I’m still having to mull it over in my brain. I am drawing some images for it. I mean if you’re writing a book about traveling into space you have to put in at least ONE alien. But what does the alien look like? And what does the human who’s interacting the said alien look like? Well, Keandra Maria Diaz came to me all by her curly headed self, full of curiosity and determination, but her new friend, Shellorba, is shy about appearing in my head. And since he is capable of mind traveling around the universe, I’ve got to figure that part out as well.

However, while I’m cogitating on that, I can’t not write. Which prompted me to write something to submit to the nature magazine, “Terrain.”  It’ got interesting stories in it and allows the writer a max of 6000 words. My short stories tend to be very short, so I’m thrilled to have this extra number of words to play around with.

The plot line is based on an incident that happened when I was out for a trail ride with a friend and we got caught in the edges of a grass fire roaring up from the Patapsco River on the grass covering a gas pipeline. We had heard a helicopter flying above us while we were in the woods almost as it was tracking our movements. When we got close to where we’d come out onto the pipeline, which was fortunately buried fairly deep, we thought we heard to the helicopter land off to our left.

We emerged from the woods and did see the helicopter on the ground and two men—presumably the pilot and co-pilot—walking toward us. We stopped to figure out how we were going to get by the whumping machine without spooking the horses, and my horse, Gemini, casually turned his head to the right to look down the pipeline. The area was quite hilly. When I turned to see what he was looking at I saw a wall of almost black smoke rising up from the hill. A fire! A big fire! Gemini’s reaction was ho hum. Not what one hears a horse doing in a fire. The pilots realized we were not in danger and when I signaled that we would ride past where the helicopter was, they got back in and lifted off the ground. I figure that at least one of them had some experience with horses because they raised that machine straight up into the air until they were tree-top high before they flew in our direction.

Well, that’s not much of a story to tell! I mean where’s the danger? Where’s the heart-throbbing action? When I wrote the story the first time, I added spice to it and named it “Trust,” because horse and rider do have to trust each other or somebody’s going to get hurt.

It turned out the fire was a case of arson and I don’t remember hearing if the culprit was caught. Again, not very exciting in a story. Enter the bad guy, who really is just pissed off that the state had bought the family farm many years early to make the state park. And this man, the surviving would be heir, never got over the assault on his family’s land.  

Since the magazine likes the stories they buy to have a lot of environmental description in them, I am adding a lot about the Patapsco State Park, which, BTW, is a spectacular place to hike or bike or ride through and the river is quite navigable at that point either by canoe, row boat, or kayak. So if you ever get a chance to see a bit of it, head to the border between Howard and Baltimore Counties, Maryland. There are several places to park in the area and there is a more cultivated area called the McKeldin State Park.

Anyway, the story is progressing and at the urging of a critique group partner I am putting in the bit about another time I was riding in the park and the horse I was riding that day wanted to go a different way home. We turned left off the pipeline to ride between an over-grown pasture and a small stand of oak trees. Out of the woods, again tree top high, flew a red-tail hawk carrying what appeared to be a six-foot-long black snake twisting and turning in the hawk’s talons as if to say, “Hey, you can put down any time now.” The hawk had babies to feed so she just kept on flying. Another wonderful memory from my time with horses.

As you can see, writing any story is more complex than the reader ever understands, but what else is a writer going to do? The stories just keep popping up in a writer’s head and must be put down. I’ll end up finishing my space story. In the meantime, I’m toying with doing the illustrations for it myself. What would your space alien look like?

Are Bullies Always Just Mean People?

Illustrations by Irene A. Jahns

When I think back on my childhood, I realize that I wasn’t just a shy, insecure girl, I was also a bully. Why? Because to make friends I would respond to other people’s signals by picking on and even beating up other children. I’ve come to this realization because of all the children’s books I’ve read about bullies and how to deal with them.

Bullying is never good, but the person being bullied can try to make the situation better by working to understand why the tormentor is being so mean. Not an easy thing to do and the bullied person may need help, but there is generally a way to ease the situation.

That is what Cat Michaels and Rosie Russell’s new book is about. Entitled Just Between Sam and Me, the book is due out in the December. Look for the enticing cover art of a very satisfied orange marmalade cat smugly taking his regal place on top of his person’s stuff. Irene A. Jahns’ drawings throughout the book are very nice line drawings and include a map of small Missouri town, Spring Hope, plus pictures of Olivia Martin’s family farm and of course Sam the cat, who is definitely depicted by a cat lover.

And in the category of “you’re never too old to learn new things,” I learned that not all states in the U.S. go by the usual divisions of Elementary School being 1st through 5th Grades, Middle School being 6th through 8th grades and High School being 9th through 12th grades. Turns out at least in some parts of Missouri, Middle School is just 7th and 8th grades.

We meet Olivia, affectionately known as O, as she tries to eat some breakfast after waking up from her nightmare of being attacked by big yellow bees. She’s worried about starting sixth grade without the support of her best friend, Isabella, who is still visiting her grandmother in New York City. During this chapter we also meet Olivia’s favorite hen, Henrietta, and Olivia’s horse, a Palomino named Star.

We also are introduced to the girl writing to her cat in the journal her father gave her. She feels comfortable telling Sam her feelings. And calms herself down before school.

When she gets on the school bus, she is forced to sit with the new girl, who turns out the be very unhappy about her unwilling move to what she considers a “Podunk” town. Candace Mazare really isn’t interested in having a conversation, she mainly just wants to whine about how much she hates being in Spring Hope.

Of course, Candace ends up bullying Olivia and turning two of the local girls against O. As the year progresses Candace’s bullying gets worse, but Olivia figures that it must somehow be her fault.

Olivia shows a lot of emotional growth and, in the end, takes the high road. Even going to comfort Candace when a tornado hits the town.

Of course, the whole time Olivia does have help, wittingly from her friends and family and teacher, but also unwittingly from her animals. And she comes out a better person herself, with an understanding of why at least Candace became to be a bully. Be sure to look for this book’s launching in December.

And take the lesson that maybe you are sometimes the bully and sometimes the victim.

For more information about Cat Michaels, Rosie Russell and illustrator, Irene A. Jahns, check out Cat’s and Rosie’s webpages:

https://www.catmichaelswriter.com/

https://booksbyrose.com/

            And in the interest of self-aggrandizement, my second novel, Emily’s Ride to Courage, also deals with bullying—this time by an older sister.

            Also check out the SCBWI Book Stop pages. There are plenty of good books posted there and I’m sure a few will have bullying as a theme.

https://www.scbwi.org/scbwibookstop/

My two pages are: EARTHQUAKES at https://www.scbwi.org/scbwibookstop-display/?id=694521

And EMILY’S RIDE TO COURAGE at https://www.scbwi.org/scbwibookstop-display/?id=692562

BTW, I’m hoping that in writing this blog I will be encourage myself to blog regularly. In the hopes that you all are well I hope to see you soon. Sarah

BLACK LIVES DO INDEED MATTER

I remember when my family was living in Los Angeles during World War Two, we had a black maid. Well, all our maids were black, and we always had a maid because my mother worked full time.  But this particular woman was an especially good woman. She had a son who was about the same age as my oldest sibling—my brother Richard—and she would bring him to work with her sometimes. We all were horrified when she beat him with the flat side of the butcher knife because he and Richard had gotten into a fight. But she was just doing what she thought would keep him safe from being harmed by having an altercation with a white boy. My mother explained to her that it was just two boys having a childhood fight. That Richard was probably as much to blame as the maid’s son. But this was when white and black families didn’t live in the same parts of the city and certainly didn’t go to the same schools and black people were supposed to “obey” the white folk not matter what.

My mother did try to make us understand that black people were just as important as white people, but she also was a woman of her generation and had always had maids, so we all called our maids by their first names. Naomi, Geneva, Virginia, are the names I remember. Still, we were taught to respect the people who were different from us and not just black people. We were taught to respect Asians even though the Japanese Army was responsible for the deaths of my father and maternal grandfather during the war.

Anyway, what I want to do with my blog today is note the talented authors of color who are children’s books writers, a number of whom live in North Carolina.

I’m not listing them in any particular order, just when their names come into my head.

I’m starting with Kelly Starling Lyons who writes charming stories about Jada Jones, a fourth-grader who’s finding her way in the world. but Kelly also writes picture books. The illustrations are delightful and what I like about the books is that, though Jada happens to be African-American, she’s basically just like any other fourth grader. If you ever meet Kelly, you’ll have a friend for life. Check out Kelly’s stories at her website: https://kellystarlinglyons.com.  

Next one who comes to mind is Carole Boston Weatherford, who writes historical fiction such as her book on the Tuskegee Airmen and biographies of people like Harriet Tubman. She currently lives in North Carolina. Her books are well written and her son’s illustrations are excellent. Carole is very engaging person and will help along other authors. Her website is: https://cbweatherford.com/books/

Then there is author/illustrator Kadir Nelson who writes and illustrates books such as the one of the life of Nelson Mandela. He has also illustrated books written by Spike Lee and other celebrities. I do remember being impressed with his writing in the Mandela book, but I don’t personally know much about this author. I’ve also read and enjoyed his book on Michael Jordan entitled Salt in his Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream. The more I’ve researched him, the more of his books it turns out I’ve read. https://www.kadirnelson.com

And, of course we can’t forget the beloved Nikki Grimes who writes wonderful books when she’s not tending her roses or taking walks in her southern California neighborhood. Her poetry is lyrical and lovely, and will suck you into her stories. Her website is: https://www.nikkigrimes.com

But then there are books out there by Native American writers and Asian American writers. These parts of our culture are under recognized and we should work to change that. Read their books and learn of their contributions to our so-called civilization. Though, at the moment, I’m not sure we can be called civilized.

Here are a few names I’ve run across from these authors.

A Dog Named Haku: A Holiday Story from Nepal, by Margarita Engle, Amish Karanjit, Nicole Karanjit is in part written by authors with Nepalese connections.

Nicola Yoon has a number of books out aimed at teen-aged readers. The Sun is also a Star deals with the possibility of being deported.

 I’ll do more research on other writers who don’t fit the “Lily-White” category and post them next time.  But do let me know if you’ve come across someone you’d like mentioned.

 I’m ending with a nod to my friend Kathleen Burkinshaw who wrote The Last Cherry Blossom which tells the story of her mother surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Kathleen bears the legacy of what atomic poisoning can do to one body. Kathleen just got back from speaking at the United Nations about her book. She’s another North Carolina writer. kathleenburkinshaw.com

I know most writers are sympathetic souls who believe in all of us, but let’s all try to be at least a little bit kinder. Let’s try to walk in the shoes of those of us less fortunate. I, for instance, have lived a shelter life, never having had to go hungry or have people hold me in distain because of the color of my skin. Though as a woman growing up and now old from the 1940s on, I’ve had my share of gender discrimination, at least I wasn’t denied advancement because of the color of my skin or the slant of my eyes.

Stay well and happy and pray for better times. I’d love to know what books written by authors of color you’ve read.

Sarah

How Did You Get to Be the Person You Are?

I can’t imagine anybody in high school not feeling like an outsider at some point. I expect even the athletic heroes and the cheerleaders and all the other so-called popular students don’t believe their good fortune in being well thought of. And I know from personal reflection through sixty-one years of life after high school that we nerds were better thought of than we’d ever believed. High school is hard emotionally, mentally, and physically. But most of us do make it through and discover that we’re better than we thought we were. These three books touch on those issues quite successfully in their own ways.

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Do you remember the girls in high school who were considered to be tramps? You were afraid to be friends with them because it might tarnish your image? I’m sure you do remember. And I’m sure you feel as I do that you should have tried to get to know at least one of them. I think we can all empathize with Hayden in this story.

Kissing Lessons: Learn from the Best

Sophie Jordan

Hayden, whether she wants to be or not, is considered the high school tramp. The supposedly good girls sneer at her behind her back and the boys lust after her. Because she comes from a less than stellar family background with a tramp of a mother, Hayden doesn’t think she deserves better treatment, but she also knows she’s more than what others think of her. Emmaline, the younger sister of Nolan, a guy Hayden finds attractive, asks her to give kissing lessons. In doing so, Hayden begins to have a friendlier relationship with Nolan. Through the journey of the book, all the characters learn how wrong it is to judge people by their appearances and what other people say about them. This is one of the better books about how hard it is to grow up and how easy it is to believe what others say. All the characters begin to show their true selves in this book, which is at times sad and dark and other times amusing. The reader will develop quite a lot of sympathy for Hayden and the other characters. This should be appealing to all teens as they struggle to find their places in the world.

BIBLIO: 2020, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 9781328977076

ISBN: 9780358067412

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Maryland schools were being integrated the last two years I was in high school. My homeroom teacher was a very nice black woman having to deal with racism and she did it well. Religious differences were not discussed, though they were present I’m sure. After 911 fear of Muslims and the Islamic religion took a good section of center stage and, sadly, still does.  This next book deals quite well with this subject.
The book also addresses the concern over hacking on websites.

No True Believers

Rabiah York Lumbard

Salma’s best friend, Mariam Muhammad, isn’t just moving away from their northern Virginia suburb, she’s moving to a different continent. Mariam’s family is moving because her father’s medical practice is losing patients prejudiced against him because he and his family are practicing Muslims as are Salma and her family. Then a new family moves into Mariam’s house and at first these seems nice, but then things begin to be weird. The book is well written and an important contribution to our country’s discussion of ethnic prejudice. It also sheds light on the need to not trust what we read on the internet at face value. People aren’t necessarily what they seem to be. We must be diligent in cross checking what we see to make sure we’re getting the whole truth. Salma learns important lessons about the computer hacking she’s been doing and the online so-called friendships she’s developed. The book presents lots of opportunities for classroom discussions on religion, computer information, and personal growth.

BIBLIO: 2020, Crown Books for Young Readers/Putnam Random House, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult Fiction

ISBN: 9780525644255

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The third book I’ve selected has magic in it, but is primarily about finding one’s self during teenage years. There is a lot of whimsy in the story, but an understanding of loyalty and being one’s own unique person.

The Circus Rose

Betsy Cornwell

A book of magic and love and loyalty, the story is about fraternal twins, though in this case the girls should be rightly called “maternal” twins. Yes, they were born on the same day to the same mother, but to different fathers. Rose is an athletic redhead who loves performing aerial acrobatics. Ivory, the white-blonde twin, loves tinkering and designing new circus sets. Their mother’s circus is their life and their home, and the people of the circus are their family. The story tells of their journey toward self-awareness, with magical creatures like Bear and evil religious zealots to help or hinder them along their journey. The author weaves a good story which pulls the reader along. There are hints to folk/fairy tales like the Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and real-life issues such as finding one’s place in the world. The reader will become very fond of the characters and teachers will find much to discuss with their students.

BIBLIO: 2020, Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ages 12 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER:  Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Early Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-32816-3930-9

ISBN: 9780358164432

Be well and stay safe during our time of lock down. And enjoy reading all the books you’ve put aside for a rainy day. Here’s that day. As always, I’d love to hear from you. Sarah

The Excellent, the Fun, and the Eh.

            One of the things we can do while being in quarantine mode is to read. Of course, lots of us read anyway, but now we can not worry that we’re not getting other things done. We’ve cleaned our rooms and washed our clothes and made special dinners or decided what restaurant we’re going to get carry out from. We’ve also taken our solitary walks and pulled all the weeds from the garden, if that’s ever possible.

            So now we can read and not feel a smidge of guilt. Here are three books that might keep the real kids in our lives occupied. That is after the grownups have read the books under the guise of deciding that’s the books are appropriate to read.

The first one I’m sharing is my least favorite of the bunch, but still has merit to it. Especially for those who dream of visiting Paris.

https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:3c1eec24-24ba-4ce5-b887-715cffcd226f

Paris on Repeat

Amy Bearce

A variation on the Bill Murray movie, “Groundhog Day,” this is the story of a very shy girl who is on a class trip to Paris, France. The reader might not want to finish the book after the first go-round, because main character Eve is so self-absorbed, she’s not sympathetic. She is very shy, and feels so sorry for herself that she is whiny. If the reader sticks with the story, fortunately Eve does gain confidence and does begin to notice how other people are feeling and does become less whiny. But she really isn’t an appealing character. Though the descriptions of Paris are interesting, one would hope that most readers will find it odd that the class is able to tour the Cathedral of Notre Dame since that was severally damaged in 2019 and is no longer open to tourists. The author does have a note about this at the end of the book, but some readers would probably stop reading before they got to the end. There is a bit of fun magic in the story which is what causes Eve to keep repeating the day until she gets it right and learns her lesson. Still teachers might be able to use this book to discuss French history and architecture and art.

BIBLIO: 2020, Jolly Fish Press/North Star Editions, Inc, Ages 8 to 14, $11.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader/Beginning Teenager

ISBN: 978-63163-437-6

The second one is a sequel and, in my view, is quite charming. The main character is quite spunky and the story is appealing. I’d show a picture of the cover, but just because I dd it once doesn’t mean I can do it again. Sorry.

The Oddmire Book Two: The Unready Queen

William Ritter

For the fantasy/folk tale/magic fans out there this is an enchanting book. Fable is the daughter and heir-apparent to the Queen of the Deep Dark. The book is an analogy for encouraging people to get over their differences and work to find their common interests. But it also about taking care of our environment and our planet. Told in third person omniscient tense, the story moves from the points of view of the queen, her daughter, some of the towns people and the Chief of the Goblins. A man has come to town to make his fortune and he doesn’t care who or what he destroys along the way. Inadvertently, he discovers a special substance that makes whoever ingests it super strong, so he, of course, wants to keep it for himself and sell it bit by bit for a fortune to those who want to feel stronger or recover from an illness or injury. In the meantime, Fable wants to get the know about town life and a village girl wants to learn about the forest. The queen is not at all thrilled with her daughter going into town and would rather Fable learn more about protecting the forest. The book is ripe for classroom discussions about the relevant issues plaguing modern society, but is also just plain fun to read.

BIBLIO: 2020, Algonquin Press/Workman Publishing, Ages 8 to 12, $16.95?

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader Fantasy

ISBN: 978-1-61620-840-0

Though the cover graphic might make you think of Sci-Fi, you will soon realize that you’re looking a face hidden by a WWI gas mask. This is historical fiction at its best.

Open Fire

Amber Lough

Katya Pavlova is working in a munitions factory in 1917 doing her part to support her beloved Russia while her beloved father Colonel Pavlov is off fighting against the Germans during World War I and her brother is supposedly recovering from war wounds at home. The brother, Maxim, is gambling and losing all the money he has plus any he can get off of Katya. As the story progresses, Katya has to come to grips with her brother’s gambling addiction and she has to come to grips with the possibility of Russia not winning the war against Germany. Along the way, she learns about an all-woman battalion of women being taught to be soldiers. The hope is the female battalion will such courage that the many male Russian soldiers planning on deserting will be shamed into to staying in the army. In the mix of this are the beginning of the communist revolution. The story is well told and seems to be quite accurate in its depiction of life in 1917 Russia. It ought to be considered a must read for high school students studying world history. One nice touch is the front piece of each chapter telling the story of a hero that Father Pavlov is telling to Katya Pavlova when she was young. This book is a winner and will spark many class room discussions.

BIBLIO: 2020, Carolrhoda Lab/Lerner Books, Ages 11 to 18, $18.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult Historical Fiction

ISBN: 978-1-5415-7289-8