To the Conference I Shall Go!

The Wonders of a Good Conference

Every year I look forward to the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrator’s Conference. Before we moved to North Carolina, I loved going to the conferences in Maryland or Virginia. But now I look forward to the Carolinas conference.

 

I’ve made a lot of friends who always greet me as I’m a long lost sister. And they always encourage me. But the faculty for each conference also treat me with great encouragement and respect. They also teach me a great deal

 

This year, the enthusiastic and bubbly Tammi Sauer gave us good tips on how to write dynamite picture books. And I was lucky enough to win a copy of her yet to be released book, Wordy Birdy Meets Mr. Cougarpants, which was delightfully illustrated by Dave Mottran. One of the things Ms. Sauer emphasized was that the author should leave plenty of room in the story for the illustrator’s input.

 

Since I’m now trying my hand at writing chapter books, I took in Kelly Starling Lyons and Vanessa Brantley Newton’s energetic and informative session on writing chapter books. I also had a critique session with Stacy McAnulty on my chapter book. I ended my time with Stacy realizing my one chapter book should actually be four chapter books. Eek!

 

In the bookstore, I bought three chapter books to study the form. Less is more in this format. Since you want to encourage the reader to go it alone, the text should be engaging, but simple. Little description, but lots of action and dialog are the key. Ms. Lyons’ Jada Jones: Class Act very simply, but with much tension, tells the story of Jada Jones running for class representative.

 

Bridgett Bell-Langston’s story Finding Home, My Arf-O-Biography, tells the story of a puppy learning to live away from his dog family and behave in his new home.

 

Goldie Blox and the Haunted Hacks! is part of Stacy McAnulty’s series about Goldie Blox. All three books helped me understand a bit more about how to write chapter books.

 

I’ll go into more detail on these books and the others I bought. Plus more about the conference in next week’s post.

 

And my brag of the day is that I sold 7 copies of my book, Emily’s Ride to Courage. I’m proud of that considering the competition from other authors.

 

See you next week.

Here I am again

Hello everyone, I do hope you’re having a good summer and looking for new adventures, not to mention nicer weather, in the fall.

For me, most of the summer has been trying not to melt or grow moss between my toes. Here in New Bern, NC, it’s been entirely too hot for my redhead’s body to thrive, so I’ve stayed inside a great deal, reading copious numbers of books. Let me tell you, bears hibernating in the winter have no edge on me hibernating in the summer.

I haven’t stuck to reading just children’s books, and, instead I’ve read a number of “grown-up” books. One that comes to mind is The Maze at Windermere, by Gregory Blake Smith. What makes it most intriguing is the author’s ability to intertwine stories taking place in Newport, RI, but in different centuries. He writes so well, that each set of characters is written in the idiom of the era. Definitely worth reading, with lots of plot intrigue within each story.

I’ve also read a number of murder mysteries including the Tracy Crosswhite series by Robert Dugoni. Though you can read them as standalones, it would probably be best to start with the first in the series, My Sister’s Grave.

I also read a delightful fantasy about a boy who moves to a new town with his mother, and with help of a fox, learns to navigate his new world. The book is the first in a series, but I didn’t like the second one as well. My Fox Ate my Homework is the name of the story and David Blaze is the author.

Also in the children section is  The Secret Zoo, by Bryan Chick, which tells the story of children trying to rescue a club member  who has gone missing in a special zoo run by people intent on saving animals from going extinct. Lots of adventure in this one and amazing characters.

The final book is the first novel by Laura Bradford, who is well known for her cozy mysteries set in Amish country. Portrait of a Sister is about Amish twin sister who chose separate paths. One sister choses to be “English” and the other choses to stay Amish. Ms. Bradford knows her subject well, though her connection to Amish folk is through research for her mystries.

All these books, with exception of The Maze at Windermere, I read on my Kindle. The Maze I read on a copy my handsome devil had borrowed from our library.  It is also available via Kindle.

So, if you get caught by a hurricane or some other untoward occurrence, try reading some of these books.

Hope to see you next week at my blog.  And, soon, I hope you will be able to visit me on my in-the-works website. Sarah

Spring Time Is Here, at least According to the Calendar

Baseball spring training games are almost over and teams are readying their stadiums for their opening games. Golf clubs are ready for league play, if only it would stop raining or snowing. In southern states, people are sailing and doing other sports outside. So, I thought I’d review a couple of sports books to get us in the spirit of spring.

 

 

I never played much volleyball as a child, but I enjoy the game. And I love stories that emphasize believing in one’s self. If you add in teaching sports skills, any sport book has plenty to intrigue young readers.

 

 

Back Row Dynamo

Jake Maddox and Leigh McDonald

Ellie loves playing volleyball and she believes she’s good at it. So, she’s super excited that the season is about to start, sure that she will make the team. But when she makes mistakes, she begins to doubt her ability. Her friends and coach encourage her, saying that everybody messes up. She and her best friend, Isabella, walk by the community’s park and see some younger girls trying to play volleyball with a rope tied between two posts on an old sand-lot court. They’re using a soccer ball, instead of a volleyball. Ellie and Isabella go over to see what they’re doing and discover the girls’ volunteer coach quit. Ellie and Isabella offer to help teach the younger girls a few drills for practice. Later they talk to their coach who agrees that it would be good practice for the whole team to coach younger girls. Through this experience Ellie learns more about playing the game herself. The story is not told in an exciting manner, but the basic message of believing in oneself and striving to improve is a good one. The lesson is easily transmitted to other parts of one’s life. The book is part of the Jake Maddox series of sports-themed books published by Capstone.

BIBLIO: 2018, Jake Maddox JV Girls/Stone Arch Books/Capstone, Ages 8 to 12, $25.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 978-1-4965-4926-6

ISBN: 978-1-4965-4928-0

ISBN: 978-1-4965-4930-3

 

When I was a girl, I lived in Maryland, one of the few states that had soccer as part of its sports program. I loved playing the game, even though I wasn’t very good. But girls’ version of the game was different than boys’. We were considered too weak to play as strongly as the boys. Poppycock!

 

Soccer Time!

Brendon Flynn

Part of the Bumba books—Sports Time, this book gives a brief overview of the game of soccer for young children. The photos are inspiring, with plenty of shots of children concentrating on joyfully playing soccer. There are explanations of what the game is about and who is allowed to touch the ball with her hands during a game. Interspersed throughout the book are several “critical thinking” questions, such as why players pass the ball and why the goalie can use his hands. A picture glossary gives clear images and definitions of various soccer terms. And both boys and girls are shown playing the game, with much enthusiasm. Be sure to look closely at the pictures of the children concentrating on kicking the ball. One girl has her right thumb and forefinger loosely forming a circle while her mouth is pursed in concentration. One little boy is gleefully concentrating on running.

BIBLIO: 2017, Bumba Books/Lerner Publishing Group, Ages 4 to 8, $25.32.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 9781512414349

ISBN: 9781512415438

ISBN: 9781512415445

 

Here’s hoping nice weather comes soon and it only rains when we don’t want to be outside.

 

 

 

 

This and That

Our Story Begins

Edited by Elissa Brent Weissman

Have you ever wondered when your favorite authors and/or illustrators started writing or doodling? Well, here’s your chance to find out about a number of them, because “they share fun, inspiring, and occasionally ridiculous things they wrote and drew as kids.” Twenty-six artists and writers submitted early works of writing and drawing, some from the age of five. A number of the people in this book were inspired by a teacher or an author or a well-known illustrator. Many of the earliest works were stories or pictures about mythical creatures and events, but others wrote things happening to them. The group included in this book is an eclectic mixed of authors and illustrators known for their more polished stories, but the reader will see the nuggets of talent shining through at early ages. The common threads are the prodigious imaginations and drive these artists possess. This is an interesting read and should be very useful for inspiring children to follow their dreams. Dan Santat, R. J. Palacio, Maria Frazee, Jarret J. Krosochzka, Thanhha Lại, Eric Rohmann, Linda Sue Park, Phyllis Reynold Naylor, Gordon Korman, Elissa Brent Weissman, Kathi Appelt, Gail Carson Levine, Chris Gall, Rita Williams-Garcia, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Peter Lerangis, Candace Fleming, Brian Selznick, Tom Angleberger, Alex Gino, Tim Federle, Kwame Alexander, Grace Lin, Chris Grabenstein, Yuyi Morales, and Ashely Bryan are the contributors.

BIBLIO: 2017, Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/Simon & Schuster, Ages 8+, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 9781481472081

ISBN: 9781481472104

And for those of you who’ve not already read Sheri S. Levy’s latest book, here’s my take on it.

Starting Over: A Trina Ryan Novel

Sheri S. Levy

Trina Ryan still misses Sydney, her service dog in training, but she soon finds herself bonding with new puppy, Colton. The black lab is younger than Sydney was when he came, so Trina is having to house break him. Fortunately, Colton is a smart dog and a eager to learn. Trina also misses her boyfriend, Chase, whom she’d met at the beach. But it’s hard to keep a long distance relationship going.

In the meantime, Trina does have her best friend Sarah to talk to and do things with. And Trina also has her time at the neighborhood stables where she helps look after the horses and take lessons on her favorite horse, Chancy.

A new girl, Morgan, moves her horse, Knight, to the stable, but she is rude and surly, and mean to her horse. Trina tries to get through Morgan’s bitter shell, but it’s a hard row to hoe.

Trina is gentle and caring soul, who cares about people and animals. She has loving,  caring parents and makes friends easily. The reader roots for her and is glad when she solves a problem. This is a nice story, and since it has dogs and horses in it, I, of course, find it special.

I look forward to Sheri’s next book.

BIBLIO: 2017, Barking Rain Press, Ages 12 +, $??.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 1-935460-77-3

ISBN: 1-9411295-80-0

ISBN: 1-935460-78-1

For the Love of Animals

Happy New Year, everyone. Hope this year turns out to be the best one yet.

I love animals and enjoy reading about them. Though I must admit I like some animals better than others. For instance, I don’t think it’s nice to keep reptiles as pets. It’s just a personal thing, but I keep thinking if I were a snake, I wouldn’t want to live in someone’s aquarium.

The animals in the three books I’ve reviewed here are interesting and exciting to read about.

 

Who wouldn’t want to get to know a dolphin. They are very whimsical animals and fun to watch play.

 

My Best Friend is a Dolphin and More Dolphin Stories

Moira Rose Donohue

How cool to be friends with a dolphin! The three friendships between a human and a dolphin described in this book give proof that humans aren’t the only intelligent creatures on this planet. The first story is about Kelly and her human friend, Tim, a marine mammal trainer, who uses whistles and fish snacks to train dolphins at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies. Kelly, a particularly smart girl, used her intelligence to keep her group safe when they were swept out to the Gulf during Hurricane Katrina. The next story is about JoJo and his human, Dean. Dean first met a dolphin when he was only five and was rescued after being knocked over by rough waves. The dolphin nudged him back to safety. Dean’s been a fan ever since. When he was grown, a dolphin he named JoJo befriended him. Even if Dean doesn’t see JoJo for months, the next time he gets to the dolphin’s neck of the ocean they become instant friends. When JoJo was badly injured by a water biker, he trusted Dean enough to allow his friend to hold him upright so he could breathe until the dolphin was stabilized. JoJo also has a canine friend named Toffee. JoJo likes to show Dean his world and even talks to him. The final story is about Flip Nicklin who decided underwater photography was the career for him after seeing a photo of his father sitting on an injured whale’s back. Early on in his career, he discovered dolphins are pranksters and love to clown around. He enjoys playing with them. The book is full of interesting facts and wonderful photos, including some by Flip.

BIBLIO: 2017, National Geographic Partners, LLC, Ages 6 to 9, $5.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-1-4263-2902-9

 

Squirrels are amusing animals to watch as they wander around our yards. They are adventuresome and comical. But flying squirrels are amazing to watch, I would think.

 

The Flying Squirrel Stowaways: from Nova Scotia to Boston

Marijke Simons

Illustrated by Marijke Simons

Since 1917, Nova Scotia has sent a large spruce tree to Boston as a thank you for Boston’s help when it was needed. This particular year, they pick a tree that turns out to be the home of two flying squirrels. The squirrels are asleep when the tree is cut down and hauled to Boston. But first the tree is prayed over by a Native American tribe and other people came to watch the ceremony. The squirrels slept through the whole thing until the flatbed truck that was carrying tree and squirrels to Boston started to move. They looked around and went back to sleep. They woke up during the celebration in Halifax, but were still very tired so they went back to sleep. While riding on the ferry to Saint John Harbour, the squirrels glided all over the boat, but nobody saw them. And nobody saw them when they crossed the border into the United States, even though the guards looked. When the truck and its cargo reached Boston, the squirrels flew out of their tree and escaped a green-eyed cat. But they had to find somewhere to make a new nest. Finally, they found a tree with the perfect hole and below it was their Nova Scotia spruce tree, all lit up for Christmas. Lovely illustrations and a sweet story make this book a winner.

BIBLIO: 2017, Nimbus Publishing Limited, Ages 4 to 7, $22.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-77108-550-2

 

Books that add a surprising element to a classic story always tickle my imagination bone. This one gives the reader a surprising twist to Goldilocks, but also a giggle with the bear’s antics.

 

The New LiBEARNian

Alison Donald

Illustrated by Alex Willmore

The children could hardly wait for story time at the library, but where was the librarian? Mrs. Merryweather wasn’t at her desk. The children looked for her, but instead of footprints, they saw paw prints. Big paw prints, that took them to the solar system, the ocean, a pirate ship, and finally to her desk which was covered in honey. Mrs. Merryweather wasn’t there, but a bear was there as the new librarian. He read the children a scary story in which he roared. And growled. And stomped. And to top it off, he roared some more. The children loved and asked him to read it again, but Mrs. Merryweather showed up just then, explaining that an exploding volcano made a mess in the Ancient History section. Then she announced that she would read Goldilocks and the Three Bears to the children. The children all exclaimed that they loved bear stories. But when she opened the book, baby bear wasn’t in the story! He was wandering around library until the librarian ordered him back into his story. This is a sweet story about the magic of libraries.

BIBLIO: 2016, Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Ages 4 to 6, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 9780544973657

 

 

Here’s to a year full of new adventures, both real and imaginary.

 

Are You Looking for Books to Buy?

Okay, here are some books that would NOT make my list for Christmas gifts. There are way too many gifted writers floating around who can encourage readers to aspire to not being just like everybody else. I like the books I read to not fit into formulas and I like the drawings to have some spark of originality.

These don’t, but then, I am a snob and on the arrogant side.

 

Dork Diaries: Tales from the Not-So-Secret Crush Catastrophe

Rachel Rene Russell

Talk about encouraging kids to be vapid, these books do just that. This is twelfth book in the series. Why should eighth-grade girls be portrayed as dorks because they are interested in things other than clothes and makeup? And do young girls really wear high-heeled shoes to school? This book is not to my taste, but then I’m old. Still, the storyline is the old, but useful, lesson for teens and preteens to read. The energy level is high and the story does have a few surprises. This time, Nikki is Student Ambassador for an exchange student from the snobby school in their district. Of course, the exchange student turns out to be a good-looking boy from France who shares a lot of Nikki’s interests. Things get complicated when Nikki spends more time with Andr than she does with her friends and potential boyfriend, who is also a friend, all of whom are expecting her help on special projects. Of course, the mean girls, who seem to hate Nikki, mess things up for her, but she learns some lessons on priorities and saying the hard things first.

BIBLIO: 2017, ALADDIN/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/Simon & Schuster, $13.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-5344-0560-8

ISBN: 978-1-5344-0561-5

 

Why do people seem to think that girls must be in relationships? Why are they always urged to be part of someone else’s persona?

 

My New Crush Gave to Me

Shani Petroff

Charlie is not looking forward to Christmas and especially Noelle’s annual Christmas bash, which has always been a favorite thing about the holiday. But Noelle has decided this year’s theme is about love and dating. Charlie’s boyfriend is no longer in the picture, so she is dateless and doesn’t have a clue how to correct that. But she soon discovers Theo, the hottest guy in school and a football star at that. Plus, he’s very smart and punctual, which are very important traits in her book. So, she sets about to nab him for the party, with the help of her best friend, Morgan, and Theo’s cousin, J.D., Morgan’s neighbor. After much finagling, Charlie gets to know Theo, but she also gets to know J.D., who is sensitive and creative and kind, but always late, which drives Charlie nuts. As we all do, Charlie puts people into niches and decides that J.D. must be messy at home since he’s always late. She also decides that Theo must be neat because he likes to be on time. Of course, Charlie discovers that J.D. really is the guy for her. There’s a bit of Cyrano de Bergerac in the story, because the fellow who is really appealing to Charlie is J.D. by actually being her creative “Secret Santa,” rather than Theo, who has not a creative bone in his body. Charlie is a bit too formulaic, in my opinion, however there are possibilities for classroom discussions about outward appearances not being as important as inner qualities.

BIBLIO: 2017, A Swoon Reads Book/Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan Publishing Group, Ages 14+, $10.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-250-13032-7

ISBN: 978-1-250-13051-8

 

 

I do tire of formulaic stories designed to follow cartoons or movies. This one fits the bill to perfection, in my view.

 

Spy Toys

Mark Powers

Illustrated by Tim Wesson

At Snaztacular Ultrafun toy manufacturing all the toys are checked for electronic or other malfunctions before being sent to stores. Those with defects are sent to the reject pile, which is what happens to Dan, a Snugaliffic Cuddlestar teddy bear. His hug is entirely too strong. So, he’s rejected. And that’s when his life begins. He meets Arabella, an antisocial Raggedy Ann doll who hates children, and they escape, only to be snared by a rather unpleasant rabbit named Flax. Eventually they’re recruited into a spy program where they are to protect Sam, a U.S. Senator’s son, by pretending to be his especially favorite toys.  They have to learn to overcome their defects, but they do save the day. Silly as the story is, there’s a great deal of humor and a good message in the tale. Dan learns how to control his strength. Arabella learns children aren’t all that bad and Flax comes through in a pinch to help keep Sam safe. The illustrations are very simplistic, but still amusing and the story ridiculous enough to keep the reader enticed.

BIBLIO: 2018, Bloomsbury Publishing, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 978-1-68119-665-7

 

Sarah, the grinch, has spoken, but most decidedly does not have the final word. Happy gift giving to you all.

 

 

 

 

Eek, the Gift-Giving Holidays Are Here!

Much as I hate to admit it, this year’s almost done. It’s almost time for the gift-giving holidays. So, I thought picture and chapter books would fit the bill. I’ll mention older kids books next week.

 

BUT, I also have to mention that my 2nd novel, Emily’s Ride to Courage is, as of today, live on Kindle! “Over the Moon, Alice,” as Ralph used to say in the Honeymooners TV show. I know, I know, he was threatening her bodily harm, but I’m just going to jump that high. It will be out in paper back next Friday through Amazon.

 

It’s always a pleasure to read one of Mr. Smith’s books. His illustrations are quite charming and intriguing.

 

A Perfect Day

Lane Smith

Illustrated by Lane Smith

Mr. Smith’s beautifully carries along this story about a perfect day. But is the day the same for all the creatures enjoying it? Cat thinks it’s pretty because the sun is shining and the daffodils are blooming. Dog likes the day because it’s warm and he cools off the wading pool that’s been filled for him by Bert. Chickadee is happy because the bird feeder is full, thanks to Bert. Squirrel, on the other hand, is not as happy because his way to the seed is blocked. Never mind, he finds the corn on the cob that’s been dropped for him by Bert. Uh oh! Here comes the bear, who turns everybody’s perfect day into a not so perfect day. He eats the corn left for squirrel, and bends the birdfeeder pole to get to Chickadee’s seed, and dumps Dog’s wading pool water all over his big brown body. Then he rolls through the flower bed and squishes Cat’s daffodils. Which makes it a perfect day for Bear. Inspired by the loss of a friend, and a bear that visits Lane’s back yard, the book is bound to get lots of readings by children and their readers.

BIBLIO: 2017 (orig.,) Roaring Brook Press/Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings, Ages 3 to 6, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978162625362

 

 

I found the information about Ragdoll cats interesting. An ex-sister-in-law has two of them and she had tried to explain them to me, but this is a much better description.

 

Adventures at Tabby Towers: Disappearing Darcy

Shelley Swanson Sateren

Illustrated by Deborah Melmon

Part of series about a cat hotel, for cats whose families are going on a trip without them, this story features a Ragdoll cat named Darcy. Ragdolls are large, passive cats that will flop like a ragdoll when held. They are very affectionate and loyal to their humans. Darcy is very unhappy staying at Tabby Towers, because his special friend, Joy, is in the hospital for heart surgery and he’s not allowed to be with her. Joy is unhappy because she’s frightened and doesn’t have Darcy to comfort her. Tabitha Catarina Felinus a.k.a. Tabby Cat is granddaughter to the Tabby Towers owners and loves staying there when she can. She’s worried about Darcy because he won’t stop crying, even though she’s giving him extra attention. Darcy escapes and runs back to his owners’ house in the rain, where Tabby Cat and her grandmother find him. They sneak him in to see Joy and of course the nurses find that Joy’s much calmer holding her beloved Darcy, so they let him stay for a while. There are several lessons about cats and their behaviors gently taught in this book and human behaviors are also hinted at. Nice, sweet read beginning readers will enjoy.

BIBLIO: 2018, Picture Window Books/A Capstone Imprint, Ages 6 to 8, $25.32.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-1-5158-1546-4

ISBN: 978-1-5158-1550-1

ISBN: 978-1-5158-1554-9

 

This a part of series that always starts with “Come Home Already.” The characters are well depicted.

 

Come Home Already!

Jory John

Illustrated by Benji Davies

Duck wakes up to another glorious morning which he plans to enjoy with his friend Bear. But Bear has gone fishing and he didn’t invite Duck! Can’t be! Bear, however, is quite happy to be off by himself for a change. Duck, on the other hand, is not thrilled with the idea. What’s he to do by himself? He doesn’t want read or paint or cook or play his drums or watch a movie. He misses his friend. Bear, on the other hand, is not doing as well as he planned. He can’t set his tent up, and it starts to rain, and he doesn’t catch any fish. In the meantime, Duck decides to look for bear. Bear is now scared how that it’s dark and he hears noises. The noise is, of course, Duck who helps set up his tent and set things right in his camp. Bear is glad to see him and admits he missed him. After a restful night, the two friends head home. But Bear sighs when Duck says he’ll always be by his friend’s side. Sweet story about friends and when to be quiet.

BIBLIO: 2017, Harper Collins Children’s Books/Harper Collins Publishers, Ages 4 to 8, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-06-237097-6