Do You Miss Going to School?

          My answer to my question is: No, I do not miss school.  Life has been a much more interesting and informative school for me.          

         With some exceptions, I was not a good student until I got to college, and even then it took me a few years to really put my nose to the grind stone. I don’t take tests well and I prefer to learn on my own. Plus, I had a poor self image, which made me think that people wouldn’t like me. When I got to college I realized most everybody else was feeling shy and uncertain, so I started being the first one to speak in a group. Has anyone else had these experiences?

            The books for this week all have a theme of dealing with school. Hope you enjoy the selections and please let me know what you think.



            The first entry is a picture book designed to teach children how to deal with the dynamics of making friends. I thought it was sweetly done.


First Day at Zoo School

Sarah Dillard

Illustrated by Sarah Dillard

            Amanda, the panda, is very excited about starting school, but Alfred, the alligator, is not. But Amanda changes her tune when she gets to the school yard. Except for her, everyone has a best friend. She’s sad until she sees Alfred standing by himself. Ah ha! A best friend for the panda. Alfred is not quite as happy about the whole thing, in part because Amanda calls him Gator, instead of Alfred, and in part because Amanda is very bossy. She loves to sit up front, but the alligator is sure he’s going to be called on by the teacher. At lunch he tries to hide, but Amanda finds him. The panda bosses Alfred all day long, but when she announces at the end of the school day that best friends always walk home together, alligator yells at her. He tells her he’s not walking from school with her and he’s not her best friend and his name is Alfred. Amanda is crushed and Alfred feels awful. The next day our panda friend is downhearted. She’s lost her spark, Amanda tells the teacher. She and Alfred don’t speak all day long, until the alligator worries about the panda hurting herself while hanging upside down from a tree. He tells her to come down because they can’t be best friends if her head bursts. And the two are best friends again, but good ones. The illustrations are funny in the right parts, especially when Amanda’s question while she’s hanging from the tree is written upside down. A good story to encourage children to be polite, caring and not bossy which children will want to read or hear over and over.

BIBLIO: 2014, Sleeping Bear Press, Ages 4 to 6, $14.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-5836-890-7




            Children all have to learn to get along, either by speaking up for themselves against a bully or an overly bold child, or not being the bully or pushy child. This book gives many discussion points for teachers and students.


Willow Finds a Way

Lana Button

Illustrated by Tania Howells

      Like most children, Willow wishes she could say to “no” to bossy Kristabelle who wants everything to go her way. But like the other children in her class, Willow always caves to Kristabelle’s orders. When Kristabelle invites her classmates to her “fantastic” birthday party, Willow is overjoyed to be included. But soon, Kristabelle demands the children sit with her at snack time or they’ll be uninvited. She wants them to watch only what she is doing and to wear only pink, but when she decides she should be first in line when it’s not her turn, Mateo reminds her it’s his turn. He gets his name scratched off her list. Willow is upset by Kristabelle’s actions, but she doesn’t know how make her bossy classmate stop. Then Julian doesn’t wear pink and gets his name scratched off the list. Willow knows Kristabelle is being mean, but is too afraid to say so. After she frets about the problem more, she comes up with the solution. She picks up the birthday list and scratches off her own name. The other children gasp and then follow suit. No-one is coming to Kristabelle’s birthday party and then no-one sits with her a snack time or watches her do her amazing tricks on the jungle-gym and she stands at the end of the line. Willow declines a spot next to her friend Jane and stands with Kristabelle instead. Kristabelle apologizes and then whispers something to their teacher. Having learned her lesson, the no longer bossy girl rips up her invitation list and invites all her classmates to her party. She even says please. Children will relate to the problem in this sweetly told story and teachers can use it as a platform to talk about manners and behavior.

BIBLIO: 2013, Kids Can Press Ltd., Ages 5 to 8, $16.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-55453-842-3




            We’re still in elementary school, be we’ve advanced to the fourth grade in this book. The theme is to learn to get along and forgive.


Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls: Blast from the Past

Meg Cabot

      Allie is now in fourth grade at a new school and trying to prove herself responsible enough to own a cell phone—after all she’s saved a total $36 from doing chores and helping her neighbors. Her parents say the rule is she could have her own cell phone in sixth grade, if she’s proved herself responsible by not losing things or not leaving her coat and book bag on the floor. Two whole years away! Plus she has other things to worry about: her cat, Mewsie, is hiding in a hole in the wall of her brother’s room; her wonderful teacher is probably getting married and moving away; and she has to go on a boring field trip and share the bus with the kids from her old school—including her ex-best friend, Mary Kate, who is now hanging out with the snobby “cool” girls. Turns out the field trip isn’t as boring as Allie thought; her teacher is getting married, but not moving; Mary Kate is now her friend again, sort of; Mewsie leaves the hole on his own; and Mom says Allie may have cell phone in fifth grade. Allie is a spunky girl and her antics are amusing, but she sure is repetitive. I’m not sure we readers need to be reminded in each chapter of how obnoxious Mary Kate has been, or that Allie’s teacher’s boyfriend threw rocks at the school window, or that Allie missed going on the last field trip because of Mary Kate.

BIBLIO: 2010, Scholastic Press/Scholastic, Inc., Ages 7 to 9, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-0-545-04048-8


Up for magic and evil and humor? You might like these stories.

            Life is full of inexplicable occurrences, scary-but-intriguing events, and seemingly magical moments. So this week’s blog includes books that incorporate at least one of these traits. Too frequently, I’ve had psychic experiences where I seem to know what’s going to happen before it does. I’m sure there’s a logical explanation for each instance, but maybe it’s more fun to buy into the theory of psychic powers. I hope you enjoy the reviews and, as always, I’d love the read your comments.


            But, on another note, we still seem to be having racially-motivated violence in this country and we are coming up on another anniversary of the murder of four young girls in Sunday School. Please reread my interview of Carole Boston Weatherford and her description of her book about the day those girls died.


            The first book today is a wonderful take on good and evil, with plenty of intrigue thrown in.



Kate Cann

      Rayne has been caught up in the evil power of Morton’s Keep since she came to work at the tea shop two and half months ago. She had left home to get away from family drama and fell into much more evil drama. When the story opens she thinks the evil has been contained and that she’s safe, with even a new boyfriend in the making. The boyfriend part has its ups and downs, but the evil part just keeps getting bigger. Plus many of the townspeople think Rayne has special powers to save the town from the evil. Morton’s Keep is an ancient manor house originally owned by man who could conjure of nasty spirits and other terrifying entities and his true believers have tried to restore his evil through themselves. The Watchers work to protect the Keep and town from such evil by lighting bonfires at the points surrounding the area which would depict a six-sided star. Rayne’s new boyfriend is a watcher and fire dancer, which makes her wonder whether he really is interested in her or is just using her special powers. The Keep’s present owner hires a new, female, manager, who convinces him to embrace the building’s storied dark mysteries. He is smitten by her as things turn darker and scarier. Soon Rayne realizes she’s the key to saving everyone and uses her powers to find the missing link which will let the Watchers capture the evil presence for good. Other than feeling the story took place 14th Century England, when people didn’t have cell phones, and is a sequel to an earlier book, the book is enjoyable. I never did figure out how old Rayne is, since sometimes she seems like a teenager, but people give her alcoholic beverages to drink on several occasions.

BIBLIO: 2009, Point/Scholastic, Inc., Ages 14 +, $16.99

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-545-26388-7



            The second book is not only a fantasy, there’s a mystery involved.


Departure Time

Truus Matti

Translated by Nancy Forest-Flier

      An eleven year old girl seeks shelter in an old, run-down hotel run by a fox—who is also the chef—and a rat—who is also the handyman. The rat is immediately angry with the girl, who can’t remember her name or where she’s from and can’t understand why the rat is so abrupt with her. That’s the first thread of the story; the other is of another eleven year old whose father died in an accident which he wouldn’t have had if he’d been home for her birthday. The two stories slowly begin to intertwine, until the reader realizes the part with the talking animals is a story written by the father. Another girl is hiding in the hotel and playing the piano. She is the orphaned girl, I think. I liked this book and think older teens would find it intriguing, but I can’t fathom any eleven year old I know understanding it. It’s one of the books I’d like to read in the original Dutch, if only I knew the language. The writing is stellar and the story compelling.

BIBLIO: 2010, (orig. 2009,) Namelos/Lemniscaat, Ages 14 +, $18.95

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-60898-087-1


            Up for a not so wonderful fairy godparent? You’ll most decidedly get a kick out of this one.


Extraordinary: The True Story of My Fairy Godparent, Who Almost Killed Me, and Certainly Never Made Me a Princess

Adam Selzer

      Turns out it’s not cool to have a book written about you, if the author makes people believe things that didn’t happen. Instead of turning her into a princess, Jennifer Van Den Berg’s fairy godparent—a disheveled, grumpy elf named Gregory Grue—grants her wishes, but they come with a price or she’ll die. Along the journey, Jennifer learns there are other ways to control one’s anger than smashing dollar-store ceramic figurines. Her favorite guy friend suddenly reappears in her suburb of Des Moines, but is being chased by his parents who want him to become a vampire like them. So she has to save him. Her fairy godmofo, Gregory, is a mess and tangles Jennifer’s life webs into ever more intricate knots. All kinds of supernatural creatures surface in the story; the school counselor is a vampire. Scenes from the fictitious book of her life preface each chapter of the book Jennifer is writing. This is an amusing book, lightheartedly written to prove life is indeed no fairy tale.

BIBLIO: 2011, Delacorte/Random House Children’s Books/Random House, Inc., Ages 14 to 18, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-385-73649-7

ISBN: 978-0-385-90612-8

ISBN: 978-0-375-98358-0


What would our lives be like without animals?

     I’m yet again revising my MG novel, Emily’s Ride to Courage, so I thought I’d do a blog on books that have animals being key to the plot. I’m fond of most animals, though yappy little dogs are not my favorites and I’m not sure I’d care to cuddle with a reptile. Some little dogs are not yappy and consider themselves to be worthy companions. My husband and I owned a horse farm for 20 some years which gave me a chance to observe snakes. I marvel at their agility and can even see the beauty in their markings. It’s amazing to watch snakes climb almost straight up a tree. So here are my entries for today. No snakes included, so don’t get all creeped out me and go high-stepping away, shaking your arms and squealing, “Eeewww!”


     Alison writes lots of horse books and has good knowledge of her subject. I enjoy reading her books. Did you read all the horse books you could get your hands on when you were young? Do you still read them? I did and I do. Any of you guys out there ride horses?


Alison Hart

      Jasmine Schuler is in foster care because she attacked Hugh Robicheaux with a hoof pick. But Robicheaux had just accused Jas’ grandfather of killing Whirlwind, a valuable mare, by giving her yew to munch on. Her grandfather suffers a heart attack, leaving Jasmine nowhere to go. And Jasmine is sure of the truth—Hugh is the culprit. She is relieved to discover that Whirlwind is not dead; that a look-a-like, but less valuable horse, was poisoned instead; for the insurance money. At first Jas is not keen on being in foster care, but when she ends up at horse rescue farm run by the no-nonsense Miss Hahn, things begin to look up. She still has to wear a tracking anklet because she attacked her nemesis, but she does have some freedom. The insurance company decides to prosecute the evil Robicheaux and needs Jasmine’s help in finding the real Whirlwind. Plus, the good looking Chase seems to have an interest in her and her problems. The book, a sequel to Shadow Horse, is fast paced with death threats and intrigue, plus a little romance thrown in for good measure. Horse lovers will enjoy all the horse talk and other readers will enjoy the mystery and romance.

BIBLIO: 2010, Laurel-Leaf/Random House Children’s Books/Random House, Ages 12 +, $7.99

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-375-86005-8  


     Cats are frequently not treated with the same respect as dogs. Perhaps it’s because our feline friends can be more standoffish than our canine friends. But I had a cat when I lived in Brasil, who put her new born kittens on my chest, so I could keep them warm. The ultimate gesture of trust as far as I’m concerned. Unfortunately, the kittens were still born, but that moment has stuck with me for more than 40 years. Do you have a favorite animal memory?

A Cat like That

Wendy Wahman

Illustrated by Wendy Wahman

      An elegant, whimsical cat happily teaches young people how to be his best friend. Play games that let Mr. Cat jump and pounce and claw and hide. Yelling at him won’t make Cat your friend. But stroking him softly from head to tail for a few times and under his chin or behind his ears will keep him purring. Especially scratching him at the base of his tail will bring him back for more. Mr. Cat’s best friend would never try to tickle his tummy; that’s what dogs are for. Cat does not like to be dropped, because he might not land on his feet. Nor will he be your best friend if you drag him from here to there. The illustrations perfectly set the stage in this wonderful book on how to treat a cat . The look of long-suffering displeasure as the poor cat is being dragged along is priceless. And the book is full of many helpful hints on how to get a cat to love you. A must for any household planning to include a cat.

BIBLIO: 2011, Henry Holt and Company, LLC, Ages 4 to 8, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-8050-8942-4


     I love reading or hearing folk stories from other cultures, don’t you? Learning about other customs and languages just makes my day. It’s such a wide world, in some ways, with so many different ways to tell the same things; reading about other peoples just enhances life for all of us.

Busy-Busy Little Chick

Janice N. Harrington

Illustrated by Brian Pinkney

      This is a charming retelling of a Central African story with lots of African words and sounds sprinkled throughout the narrative. Mr. Pinkney’s simple, but enchanting, illustrations set the story off beautifully. Mama Nsoso loves her chicks very much and knows she should make a better nest, ilombe, for them so they won’t have cold, wet bottoms at night. She promises each night that she will make a better nest, but the following day she gets distracted. Day by day, tee-tee-tee, busy-busy Little Chick gathers the grass and twigs and leaves and mud until he has enough to make a new nest. One with smooth mud sides to keep the wind out. One with a grass roof to keep the rain out. One with a nest made of clean, fresh leaves to keep the chicks warm and safe. Mama Nsoso pruck, pruck, prucks with pride for Little Chick, but he doesn’t even care. He’s too busy chasing cricky-cracky crickets. The special words are from the Nkundo people who speak Lonkundo and are very descriptive of the actions mentioned. Children and their parents will enjoy reading this book again and again.

BIBLIO: 2013, Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, Ages 3 to 5, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-374-34746-8

Changing Weather

            The east coast of North Carolina was inundated with rain this past weekend—much more than usual. On an eastern peninsula jutting out along the Neuse River south of New Bern, we got 5.85” of rain from Friday, August 1st through Monday, August 4th. That’s a lot of rain! It flooded the areas behind and to the side of our house, making a lake aptly dubbed Swan Lake by our neighbors. The geese, frogs and lizards are all happy at the moment; you can’t hear yourself think if you venture out at night because of the noise.

            All the rain made me think about why the weather patterns have changed so much over the past few decades, which prompted me to present reviews of books about the environmental events on our planet.



           Being the fair-skinned, scaredy-cat that I am, lying on the beach under a broiling sun, covered with sunblock pasted with sand is not my idea of fun. And, though I like to walk along the beach at surf edge, I’m not fond of being bowled over by waves, so you’d think I’d just stay away. But, as far as I’m concerned, the best way in the world to fall asleep is being lulled by the shush of gentle surf and the salty warmth of an ocean breeze.


100 Things You Should Know about the Seashore

Steve Parker

Consultant: Camilla de la Bedoyere

            Did you know there are seashores all over the planet—from pole to pole and every where in between? Each seashore has its own ecosystem of plants and animals. Where the salty ocean meets the land affects the terrain and type of beach. This book gives brief, but good, descriptions of the various types of environments. For instance, several bits of information describe how the action of the waves eats away at the land and there is a simple experiment to try which help the reader visualize the erosion in action. The sidebars scattered through the book give extra information, but perhaps should have been titled differently—“I Don’t Believe It!” lends an air of doubt to the information. The data is divided into sections dealing with the coastal land, battle between land and sea, types of coastline, ecosystems and people’s affect on shorelines. It is our job to protect the land and sea on our planet and we’re not doing a great job. The experiments scattered through out the book are interesting and helpful. The graphics and photos are clear and helpful, making the book a useful tool in tweaking students’ interest in marine studies, but bibliography, even a short one, would help. This is one of fifteen “100 Things You Should Know…” books exploring various subjects, including mythology and legends.

BIBLIO: 2011 (orig. 2010,) Mason Crest Publishers Inc., Ages 8 to 12, $19.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan;

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-4222-2006-1

ISBN: 978-1-4222-1993-5


            When we lived in Jacksonville, Alabama, the main shopping town was about 10 miles away. The highway to it was a straight shot to Anniston, but we had to pass south of Pell City—tornado central for the part of Alabama. One summer evening I was driving our four children to Anniston during a thunderstorm and just as we passed south of Pell City, the sky turned solar-eclipse black and what sounded like a high-speed train roared overhead. Sure enough, the next thing we heard on the radio was that Pell City had been by yet another tornado. That’s as close as I ever want to get to one.

Anatomy of a Tornado

Terri Dougherty

            The natural world of our planet is capable of many awe-inspiring, fearful events and a tornado is among the most amazing occurrences. This book is part of a series discussing disasters and starts with photos and a description of a tornado’s destructive force. (It really does sound like a fast-moving train roaring overhead.) Tornadoes need certain storm conditions to form, which are clearly and graphically described through the use of illustrations and highlighted explanations. There is also a clever experiment using a role of paper towels to let the reader comprehend how a tornado develops. Concise photos of tornadic activity from start to finish give good visual understanding of the storm’s shape. The book also explains away myths about twisters and shows ways of staying safe during a tornado. These destructive forces can occur anywhere and at any time, although they tend to be more prevalent at certain times of the day and year. Photos of the devastation caused by a tornado are breath taking. The book is a good jumping off point for a science teacher’s discussion of weather and its affects on humans and the planet.

BIBLIO: 2011, Velocity/Capstone Press, Ages 8 +, $30.65.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan;

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-4296-5494-4

ISBN: 978-1-4296-6281-9



            Volcanoes are amazing and probably thrilling as well as scary to witness. My father once had a story rejected because the editor didn’t believe Daddy’s description of a volcanic eruption. Having spent a number of years in Hawaii growing up, he, of course, witnessed several eruptions and probably knew more about it than the editor.

Volcano Alert!

Paul Challen

            Some people spend their whole lives keeping an eye on the “sleeping giant” hovering over their land. Some volcanoes erupt with regularity, flinging molten rock high in the air or oozing a steady stream down the mountain side. Others, like Mount St. Helen in Oregon, slumber for more than a century before erupting. There are a lot of interesting tidbits of information tucked into this brief overview of volcanic activity and many of the photos are spectacular. Plus, who wouldn’t want to make a volcano? The reader will learn about the four types of volcanoes, the type of rock they make and myths related to why volcanoes erupt. The word volcano comes from the Roman myth that their god Vulcan sent up molten rock and metal as he worked at his forge making weapons. Volcanoes coat everything in their paths with ash or lava, destroying villages and trees, but they also are responsible for building new islands in some parts of the world. Although the reader might be inspired to learn more after reading this Guided Reading Level Q book, there is no bibliography except for a couple of websites.

BIBLIO: 2011, Crabtree Publishing Company, Ages 8 to 10, $8.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan;

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-0-7787-1595-5

ISBN: 978-0-7787-1628-0



            Even though we had a lot of rain this past weekend, my husband’s California family has been suffering from a 3-year drought. Whatever you think about what’s causing the changed weather patterns, we all need to be aware that changes are occurring and take care with how we manage our resources. This last book is about conserving water. There is, after all, a finite supply.

Water Wise

Alison Hawes

            One in a series of books put out by Crabtree Connections teaching about history, medicine and the environment among other things, this brief paperback discusses water and the ways we can use it more wisely. For instance, only 3% of all water on our planet is drinkable, yet people routinely waste gallons while brushing their teeth or watering the lawn—especially people in wealthy countries. People in poor countries frequently have improper sanitation and can get deadly diseases such as cholera or dysentery because their water supplies are polluted. The book contains much useful information, but nothing really entices middle-grade children to care. Perhaps relating water shortages to lack of a swimming pool or only being able to wash one’s hair or taking a full bath once a week with water the whole family has to share, would give children more of an appreciation for the water problems the world is facing. Simple experiments would also drive the point home. However, teachers will certainly find value in using the information as a starting point in discussing the Earth’s water resources.

BIBLIO: 2011, Crabtree Publishing Company, Age 8 to 12, $8.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan;

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-0-7787-9925-2

ISBN: 978-0-7787-9904-7