Is It Hot Enough for Ya?

It’s too hot where I live to do much other than sit on or close to an air conditioning vent. And what better time to chill out than with a book of lists? Invite a friend or two over, guzzle something cool and have fun.

To quote the lyrics of a Cole Porter song sung by Ella Fitzgerald;

I’d like to coo with my baby tonight
And pitch the woo with my baby tonight
I’d like to coo with my baby tonight
And pitch the woo with my baby tonight
But brother, you fight my baby tonight
‘Cause it’s too darn hot

According to the Kinsey Report, ev’ry average man you know
Much prefers his lovey-dovey to court
When the temperature is low
But when the thermometer goes ‘way up
And the weather is sizzling hot
Mr. Gob for his squab
A marine for his queen
A G.I. for his cutie-pie is not


So what’s up first?  How about a book about something cool to drink?


Coke or Pepsi? Girl!

Mickey Gill and Cheryl Gill

Designed by Mickey Gill and Cheryl Gill

This is a book of silliness; just the thing to while away some time at a sleepover or when you’re out with your bff tasting the latest coffee flavor at your most fav latté joint.  It is designed to be written in and cut apart and there are quizzes to take with your friends. Write your own short story or flash fiction in it.  Make lists of stuff, paint graffiti on the pretend wall, or write down secrets and lock them in the safe.  On the other hand, if you don’t say things like “fav” or my “bff” you may find this book a bit irritating and condescending.  Still, there’s a page or two where you can write down your comments about what you think of the book or life in general.  The graphics are fun and I was tempted to crumple up the page that looked like quilted toilet paper to see if it really would end up soft.  This book is designed to be bought for an individual and not for a library.

BIBLIO: 2010, Fine Print Publishing Company/, Ages 9 +, $7.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-189295147-2


Or you can pretend you’re in an air condition movie house watching a movie about cold places.  “Frozen” anybody?

Movies and TV Top Tens

Sandy Donovan

If you have a burning desire to know what the highest earning movies ever are or who the highest paid actors are or even which are the most popular reality TV shows, then this is the book for you.  This is a hard type of book to review, because the reviewer’s tastes and preferences most definitely must be checked at the door.  But those people who like lists and who care about what’s happening in the entertainment business might find this book of interest.  Placing tenth in the Highest-Earning Movies of all Time category is Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest–$1,066,179,725 and the movie with the highest earnings is Avatar–$2,781,505,847.  The determining criterion is dollar amount of total tickets sold.  In the Most Watched Reality TV Shows category, I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! with 11.4 million viewers came in tenth and American Idol won first place with 37.7 million viewers.  The following chapters list the Youngest Academy Award Winners for Best Actor or Actress, the Highest-Pain Actors, the Highest-Paid TV Personalities and the Truth about Top Tens, which poses questions for the reader to think about.  The final chapter encourages the reader to come up with lists for other subjects such as the best animated movie.  The book might promote discussions on values, what does subjectivity mean or other tangents to the theme.

BIBLIO: 2015, Lerner Publications Company/Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., Ages 8 to 12, $26.60.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-4677-3840-8

ISBN: 978-1-4677-4674-8


Finally think about traveling below the Equator where it’s winter time and chilling out with this final book.

Quiz Whiz 6: 1,000 Super Fun, Mind-Bending Totally Awesome Trivia Questions

National Geographic Kids Staff

This is one amazing assortment of facts presented in a user-friendly format of multiple choice, trivia quizzes.  The categories run the gamut from where seals give birth (“In the Wild”) to Will Smith’s first acting role (“Pop Culture”) to what fruit seed Persephone ate that made her return to the underworld (“Picture the Past.”) Each category is broken down into eight quizzes ranging from “Alpine Journey” the second quiz of “Wild World,” to “Rolling Down River,” the fourth quiz of “Go Get Outside.”  The sixth set of quizzes, “Go Figure,” deals with numbers including quizzes on the Taj Mahal. “Super Science,” the seventh set asks questions about simple machines and super stars and the eighth and last section is about adventure quests.  Each category ends with a “Game Show Ultimate” group of questions having to do with the subject explored.  The reader is bound to learn something in these quizzes and will have fun answering the questions.  The whole family can play the game.  The illustrations are good as well.

BIBLIO: 2015, National Geographic Kids/National Geographic Society, Ages 8 +, $9.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Non-Fiction

ISBN: 978-1-4263-2084-2


Fall and winter will be here before we know it and we’ll all be wishing it were hot.  We should remind ourselves to be careful what we wish for.  Please let me know what you think and what you’re doing to keep cool. Sarah


Keep Going

My mother-in-law never ceases to amaze and inspire me.  She’s 99 years old and still drives her car.  At her last driver’s test she was told she could drive until she reaches 104!  Good genes play a large part in her having reached this age, but also her active lifestyle has added its benefits.  She still line dances and goes to aerobics three times a week.  She also plays and teaches Bridge, works in her gardens and visits her many friends.  She always cheerful and has a great sense of humor.


I try to follow her lead, but I’m not as steadfast in my fitness routines.  I find myself putting off going to the gym or even taking a walk in our neighborhood.  I do play golf, but nowadays most people ride in carts, me included. And most golf clubs insist you ride because it’s a source of revenue for them.


Anyway, to encourage us all the work out more, I’m presenting three books having to do with fitness and sports.  Hope you like the entries.


I know, I know, you’re saying, “Quit nagging!” But still maybe this will motivate us to get more exercise.


Be Fit, Be Strong, Be You

Rebecca Kajander and Timothy Culbert

Lots of good advice in this addition to the “Be the Boss of Your Body” series, which, for the most part, is written in a child friendly voice. The book is divided into five sections. Introduction: Your Awesome Body, gives an overview of what the reader will find in the book.  Body, Mind and Spirit: Health for the Whole Self talks about how interrelated your physical body, your mind and your spirit are.  The three aspects of you must be balanced for you to be truly healthy and happy.  Love That Person in the Mirror: Self Esteem suggests ways to think better of yourself.  What’s more important—the freckles on your face or the baby fat around your cheeks or the kindness you show to other people? The freckles on your face won’t matter to your real friends and the baby fat will disappear from your cheeks as you mature, but kindness to others will make everyone want to be your friend.  Find exercises in this book to help you understand the real you.  The Fantastic Food, Dude: Eat Right to Feel Right section explains about what foods are good for you and why some types of cholesterol raise the risk of heart disease.  One page has a list of what foods will help you have a healthy, strong body and there is information on calories in this chapter.   The last main section discusses how exercise plays a part in making you a healthy person by building stronger bones, heart, lungs, and muscles; sending more oxygen to your brain so you can perform better in school; making you more flexible and energetic; decreasing your levels of stress, anxiety and/or depression which allows you to sleep better and be happier.

BIBLIO: 2010, Free Spirit Publishing, Ages 8 to 13, $9.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-57542-307-4

ISBN: 1-57542-307-3


Baseball is my favorite sport to follow.  I love the feel of being in baseball stadium, listening to sounds of the game: the thunk of a ball hitting the catcher’s mitt, or the crack of wooden bat smacking a leather-covered ball toward the third base bleachers, or the call of the beer or hot dog vendor urging you to buy something.

I grew up rooting for the Washington Senators, but when we moved to the Baltimore area and Washington didn’t have a team, I switched to being a Baltimore Orioles fan.  Hence the orange color.

Super-Sized Slugger

Cal Ripken, Jr. and Kevin Cowherd

Spring is officially here!  The baseball books are in the book stores.  Cody Parker hates the hostile teasing he gets for his burly frame.  The bullies call him “fat boy” and even nastier names.  Plus nobody believes he can be a good baseball player.  The new kid in Baltimore, Cody tries out for third base only to discover he has competition from criminal-in-the-making Dante Rizzo.  When Cody does end up with the third base gig, he’s made an enemy for life.  Worse yet, Dante goes to the same school and when expensive items turn up missing he makes sure suspicion falls on Cody.  With his baseball prowess and likeable nature, he does make friends and solves the mystery of who’s the thief.  Mr. Cowherd tells a good story here and Cal Ripken, Jr’s baseball knowledge keeps the reader rooting for homers from home plate seats.  This second book in “Cal Ripken, Jr.’s All-Stars” series is a home-run.  The book is a jumping off point for discussions on confidence building, dealing with bullies, and baseball.

BIBLIO: 2012, Disney-Hyperion Books/Disney Book Group, Ages 10 to 13, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-4231-4001-6


I grew up in a state where both soccer and lacrosse were big sports, even back in the 50s. Lacrosse never appealed to me, but I did like to play soccer.  Again, another sport to keep you physically fit.


Surprise Kick

Tad Kershner

Illustrated by Andrés Martinez Ricci

Written under the pen name of Zach Riley, the message of this book is to have confidence in yourself and to try real sports rather than just video games.  Cody is the champ at video soccer, regularly beating his best friend, Mud.  But when Cody’s parents take away his video game and insist he actually play soccer in a field, with real opponents, the protesting champ discovers real soccer is a different game entirely.  He feels his teammates don’t have his back and even Mud sort of abandons him, he thinks.  Even worse, he’s an awful player.  He keeps feeling sorry for himself and jealous of how well Mud is doing. But after hearing his grandfather tell stories of crashing in the jungles of Vietnam, Cody decides to stop complaining and start practicing.  Things start to get better for him and his team, eventually heading to the league championship game.  Of course Cody makes the winning goal, thrilled with the trophy he gets to take home.  His parents have a party for the team.  His mother says Cody and his teammates may play a soccer video game, but Cody opts for a real game of soccer.  Nice story, with lots of energy, but I find it strange for parents to be called by their given names when the action is from the child’s point-of-view.

BIBLIO: 2013, SportsZone/ABDO Publishing Company, Ages 8 to 12, $27.07.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT:  Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-61783-536-0


So think of me when you’re working out at the gym and I’ll think of you while I’m working out.  Together we’ll be svelte and healthy.  Even if we’re not destined to live to 104, at least we’ll be healthy until our time comes.  Please let me know what you think.

A Rose Is a Rose


O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo? 

Deny thy father, and refuse thy name; 

Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, 

And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.


’Tis but thy name that is my enemy; 

Thou art thyself though, not a Montague. 

What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot, 

Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part 

Belonging to a man. O! be some other name: 

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose 

By any other name would smell as sweet; 

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, 

Retain that dear perfection which he owes 

Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name; 

And for that name, which is no part of thee, 

Take all myself. William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet


Juliete’s soliloquy from her balcony after she’s met Romeo is beautiful in itself, but the sentiments espoused in it still apply to the hatred going on in the world nowadays.

I don’t know about you, but the mayhem that is occurring in our country, is making my heart heavy and making me wish I could wave a magic wand to cure our ills.  Ah, would that that were possible.   Still, as writers we can try to do our part and encourage our readers to think through their thoughts and behaviors.

This issue isn’t just about the color of one’s skin, it’s also about our fear of the differences between us.  Do we really need a law specifically saying which public bathroom we use?  Seriously?  And how are we to determine who belongs where?  I expect all of us have had interactions with transgendered people with out even thinking about which sex the person was originally.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any books specifically about sexual differences, but I do have a number that address accepting people for who they are.

Thanks for letting me rant.  It keeps me from screaming at the injustices.


In this story the color of the little boy’s skin is what causes the problem when he tries to make new friends.

Chocolate Me!

Taye Diggs

Illustrated by Shane W. Evans

A little boy is teased by Timmy, Johnny, and Mark because he’s different.  He has chocolate colored skin, but theirs is white so they think he should wash his color off.  They wonder how he can comb his curly, poofy hair.  They tease him about his wide, flat nose and how shiny white his teeth are.  Since he’s only five, he wants to be like the other kids and goes inside feeling sad and bad.  His mother cheers him up by telling him his chocolate skin reminds her of rich fudge icing.  His hair is like cotton candy to her and she loves plaiting it into corn rows.  And his dazzling smile makes her cry with happiness.  She makes him look in the mirror to see how handsome he is and gives him a tee shirt that says “Chocolate Me.” Dressed in his new shirt and armed with chocolate cupcakes, the little boy goes back outside to make friends with the other boys.  Children often are teased about looking or being different, so it’s nice to have books that will make them glory in their individuality.  Good book for using in discussions of tolerance.

BIBLIO: 2011, Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, Ages 4 to 7, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-312-60326-7



The message behind the classic story of Cinderella is one of tolerance and understanding.  In Emma Dodd’s usual humorous way, she keeps the message, but with a slight twist.  The drawings are cute.


Emma Dodd

Illustrated by Emma Dodd

On the first read through, this iteration of the Cinderella story didn’t seem anything special.  But subsequent readings brought to light its humor and the real message of the story, which is everyone is special and good things can happen if you but dream.  Though she doesn’t live with mean, slovenly and rude stepsisters, Cinderelephant does live with her two selfish, crude and rude cousins, the Warty Sisters.  When the warthogs dress up in their finery and prance off to the Ball, Cinderelephant’s tears roll down her trunk and almost drown her Furry Godmouse come to make her beautiful for the Ball.  Naturally, Prince Trunky is overjoyed to see someone his size with whom to dance and not worry about squashing his partner. This rest of the story enfolds with the usual bits: midnight departure leaving a shoe behind; Prince Trunky’s search for its owner, marriage and living happily ever after.  Of course Ms. Dodd’s illustrations are wonderful, with such images as Cinderelephant trying to squeeze her very large—shall we say enormous—self into the back of a stretch limo, with the Zebra chauffeur slyly grinning as he holds the door. Older children will enjoy the twists and humor of this version of a tried and true tale.  Younger children will enjoy the silliness and their parents will enjoy a new version of an old favorite.

BIBLIO:  2013 (orig. 2012,) Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, Inc., Ages 4 to 8, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-545-53285-3


Sophie Sleeps Over

Marisabina Russo

Illustrations by Marisabina Russo


Sophie and Olive are best bunny friends, so Sophie is thrilled when Olive invites her to a sleepover party.  She writes a list of what she’ll take to the party.  Her favorite rainbow tee shirt, her ping pong paddle and her tiara, because she and Olive are always dressing up in tiaras or playing ping pong.  Her mother adds pajamas and a toothbrush to the list and Daddy suggests a sleeping bag and pillow.  But Sophie decides against taking her favorite doll, Turnip.  Olive might think Sophie’s babyish if Turnip comes along.  When it’s time for the sleepover, happy Sophie packs all her stuff in a big pillow case and carries it in her right hand.  In her left, she carries Olive’s birthday present, carefully wrapped in purple tissue paper.  Purple is Olive’s favorite color.  What a surprise Sophie has when another girl opens Olive’s front door. Penelope claims to be Olive’s best friend, which confuses Sophie.  She thought she and Olive were best friends.  Then Sophie can’t play ping pong properly this time and as things begin to turn sourer for her, she’s tempted to call her mom to take her home.  Then she wins the “Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Raccoon” game and Olive insists to Penelope that Sophie would never cheat.  She decides to stay at the party.  When the bunnies snuggle into their sleeping bags, Olive falls right to sleep, but the other two bunnies are restless and they learn they have lots in common.  They accept the notion that it is okay to have two best friends.  This sweet story with cute illustrations will teach children to share and accept new experiences.

BIBLIO: 2014, Neal Porter Book/Roaring Book Press, Ages 5 to 8, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-59643-933-7


So let us all try to be more open minded and let go of our fears and prejudices.  We all have them, whether we admit to them or not. And please let me know what you think. Thanks for reading my blog. Sarah

No-one Is an Island

“No Man is an Island,” John Dunne’s poem is about humankind being better when working together, but what does that mean?  That we’re all social beings and need to interact? But how about the person suffering from severe autism.  Still, even an autistic person does need some kind of human interaction. And I expect we all feel isolated, whether we’re really alone on a deserted island or just new to a situation.  I hope the three books I’ve selected for this post confer that notion.


The first one has to do with feeling unloved because of a perceived physical flaw.  We all feel that way at some point, don’t we?

A Different Me

Deborah Blumenthal

Allie Johnston is obsessed with the bump on her nose, which makes her feel ugly and hence unlovable.  She is smart and has some friends in school, but envies, Amber, the prettiest girl in the school, who seems to have the perfect life.  Allie sneers at camera-freak David Craig, who wears heavy eyeliner to school and she laughs about nerdy Florence.  She meets two girls on a plastic surgery website.  They live close to Manhattan and begin to spend time together, acting as a support group for planning their nose jobs.  Allie is required to mentor students in her English class and discovers that perfect Amber’s mother is suicidal and her father stays on the road for business because he can’t deal with his wife’s problems—so much for having the perfect life. Allie and Amber become friends, but then Amber goes to stay with her older sister when her mother is hospitalized, so Allie mentors David.  He, of course, has a very poignant reason for his eyeliner and paparazzi-like intrusions into other people’s lives.  Allie learns more and more about other people, discovering along the way that people admire her for the things she does and aren’t as bothered by the bump on her nose as she is.  She spends less and less time with her close friend, Jen, and in the end rather rudely tells her off.  This is a good read with quite a powerful message about believing in oneself.  There are lots of points in this book for classroom discussion.

BIBLIO: 2014, Albert Whitman & Company, Ages 13 +, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-8075-1573-0



The second book is about learning to accept not just yourself, but those around you.  Life would be boring if we were all the same, wouldn’t it?  The thing is to accept other people’s differences.

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.  Unfortunately, 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, the 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. Amanda tells the teacher she’s lost her spark. 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


This third book may be a bit of a stretch, but it seems to me to about accepting oneself, but also accepting those around you.

Whatever After: Fairest of All

Sarah Mlynowski

Eleven-year-old Abby and her seven-year-old brother, Jonah, are living in a new neighborhood and going to a new school which is fine with Jonah.   Abby, on the other hand, is not happy about the changes.  For starters, the kids in her class don’t play tag the way she does. They play “Freeze Tag” instead.  Shortly after their move, Jonah wakes Abby up to tell her about the strange mirror in their basement.  In the hopes of getting Jonah to quit talking about the mirror, Abby follows him into the basement only to discover he’s right.  The mirror sucks them, some furniture and lots of law books into a different world.  Snow White’s world; where they stop her from eating the poisoned apple.  Ooops, realizes Abby, now Snow won’t be rescued by Prince Charming and won’t live “happily ever after.” So Abby and Jonah set about to correct their blunder, but Snow, of course, is confused and not of much help to begin with.  The tension ratchets up when Abby catches on that time in Fairy Book Land is faster than real time.  They have only so much time to fix Snow’s story and get home before their parents discover they’re missing.  Naturally, every plan they try goes awry, but eventually the siblings straighten out the story and connect Snow White and Prince Charming.  Best yet, they get back to their house before Mom and Dad notice they’ve been missing.  Abby also learns that life does have a way of changing, whether you want it to or not.  She decides that Freeze Tag might not be that bad.  Fun read, full of lots of humor.

BIBLIO: 2012, Scholastic Press/Scholastic Inc., Ages 8 to 12, $14.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-0-545-40330-6


Please let me know what you think.  Much as I like having time to myself, I most decidedly don’t want to live on a deserted island.