Happy New Year–2017

However loosely, these three books have connections to the changing to the year, which, of course, is inspired by the coming of a New Year.  2017 is upon us.  I remember as a child wondering if I’d still be above ground when 2017 came around.  At age seven, the year 2000, seemed like forever, much less seventeen years later. And that brings me to a quote from one of my most favorite Robert Louis Stevenson poems.  My mother used to read it to me often and part of it has always stuck with me.

And when I am so very, very old,

            ‘Bout 28 or 9,

            I’ll ‘dopt a little orphan girl

            And bring her up as mine.

Anyway, HAPPY NEW YEAR to us all.  May our new year be filled with love, adventure and joy.


The first selection is two chapter books melded into one book.  The characters are sweet and the second chapter books has a celebration of the new year in it. That fits, right?


Agnes and Clarabelle & Agnes and Clarabelle Celebrate!

Adele Griffin

Courtney Sheinmel

Illustrated by Sara Palacios

Agnes Pig and her best friend Clarabelle Chicken help each other through the tough parts of several adventures.  The first four chapters are delineated by seasons. In spring, the two friends make a surprise birthday party for Clarabelle and Clarabelle pretends to be surprised.  In summer, Agnes doesn’t want to go to the beach with her parents until Clarabelle makes the day fun.  The fall story, Agnes finds Clarabelle in a department store after they get separated. In the winter story, the friends make a pizza covered with roasted chestnuts, cheese, popcorn and white chocolate chips, but decide it’s too pretty to eat.  They eat mac and cheese and admire their work of art.  Then the reader flips the book over and, voila, there are four more chapters.  Each chapter centers around a holiday starting with May Day.  Agnes and Clarabelle are now old enough to participate in the May Pole Dance, and Agnes  has a grand time, but Clarabelle discovers she’s allergic to her flower garland, she can’t squeeze any juice out of her lemons for lemonade and she gets tangled up during the May Pole Dance.  On the Fourth of July, Agnes gets stage fright when she’s supposed to twirl her baton on a float during the big parade.   Clarabelle rides on the float and Agnes pretends she’s only performing for her friend. For Halloween Agnes is a ghost, but Clarabelle scares herself with her scary witch costume, so Agnes draws a mustache on her friend. The final chapter is set on New Years Eve and the friends’ plans for saying goodbye to the old year and ringing in the New Year are foiled when they fall asleep before midnight. These stories are cute and encouraging with enough repetition for children to quickly understand them.

BIBLIO: 2017, Read and Bloom/Bloomsbury Publishing, Ages 5 to 7, $9.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-1-61963-137-3

ISBN: 978-1-61963-217-2


Okay, a new year means time has ticked along, but what does one minute mean?  If someone says to you give me a minute, how long do you have to wait?  Maybe the person will only be a minute, but….

One Minute

Somin Ahn

Illustrated by Somin Ahn

A lot can happen in one minute and the minute just zips by, or nothing can happen and the minute draaggss on f.o.r.e.v.e.r. Ms. Ahn has lots of whimsical drawings in her picture book, including having the hours on her clock represented by the different stages of a tree growing.  The drawings are fairly simple in nature, but still appealing, though depicting the girl with very long hair when discussing how long one’s hair grows in a minute is confusing. The child’s interaction with other creatures and other people are sweet or depict a special message. For instance, a minute is short if you’re riding on roller-coaster or a merry-go-round, but very long if the dentist is cleaning your teeth. Make sure you get to the train station early, even if you spend minutes waiting, because if you’re a minute too late, the train will leave without you. With the help of a parent or teacher or grandparent, even an older sibling, young children will learn a great deal about time and, perhaps, patience by reading this book.

BIBLIO: 2016, Chronicle Books, LLC, Ages 3 to 5, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978145215647


The new year means hope for new beginnings, so I thought this story fit into the theme.

Spare Parts

Rebecca Emberley

Ed Emberley

Illustrated by Rebecca Emberley

Illustrated by Ed Emberley

Rhoobart is very unhappy, what with being made up of spare parts that are all tattered and worn.  Not only that, he has a second-hand heart, which, on this particular day, won’t start.  Even with a twist or a yank, his heart won’t start. He tries everything he can think of, but Rhoobart’s heart won’t start. With sorrow in his head, he goes to Blaggart, the spare parts man, who doesn’t understand what Rhoobart needs.  Blaggart orders Rhoobart to look around his spare parts yard to see if he can find what he needs.  But he warns Rhoobart to watch out for Mozart, whoever that might be.  Poor Rhoobart searches and hunts without any luck.  Then he meets Mozart, which scares the already mangled Rhoobart to pieces.  Unfortunately, Mozart doesn’t start Rhoobart’s heart.  The sad misshapen creature is feeling very forlorn, but then along comes Sweetart, who jump starts Rhoobart’s heart.  What a pair they make when Rhoobart’s heart starts thunking away. This sweet story has the added advantage of being nicely written in rhyme.

BIBLIO: 2015, Neal Porter Book/Roaring Book Press/Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, Ages 5 to 8, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT:  Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-59643-723-4


So break out the bubbly and gather your family and friends close to wish everyone a HAPPY NEW YEAR!






Christmas Memories

I don’t have any book reviews to share that you haven’t already seen, so I’m writing about Christmas memories from my childhood.

My mother was very artistic along with being an organic chemist. I don’t think she ever heard the rule that people are supposed to be right-brain dominant or left-brain dominant.  She loved to paint and draw, sing in the church choir, and act in plays.  She also loved to dance and played several sports, though tennis was her favorite.

One of her favorite activities at Christmas time was decorating the house and especially our annual Christmas tree.  Each year we’d buy a cut tree early in December and stand it in the living room near the fireplace.  We tried to keep it well watered, but we always had a dog who drank for the water reservoir. We would decorate it with handmade ornaments such as jar lids with holiday photos printed on the top.  Not very pretty, but we had proudly made them in school.  We also hung store-bought ornaments that glittered and jingled and graced the tree with delicate ceramic figures.

But rather than string it with electric lights, we would attach small candle holders containing candles that were lit every evening.  More than one visitor to our house would eye those candles with trepidation and sit as close to the front door as was possible.  We never did burn the house down, or even scorch it a little.  And we all thought our tree was the most beautiful of everyone’s.

Every Christmas we would go to the local church turned town government building and watch the community tree be lit for the first time. We’d sing carols, drink mulled cider and play with our friends.  We’d walk back home feeling cherished and safe.  Then we’d pray for snow.

My sister, Anne, and I shared a room that had a window looking over the flat roof of our screened porch.  On Christmas day, Anne and I would check for reindeer hoof marks in the snow.  Of course, the marks made by birds or fallen twigs quickly turned into cloven hoof prints.  With a mother like ours, our imaginations knew no boundaries.

One Christmas holiday time, Anne and I were given tickets to watch a radio play production in Washington, D.C. The production was fascinating to watch and I was enchanted to see how they produced sounds like horses’ hooves clomping on the street, or doors opening.  All the things we now take for granted because of movies and graphics, really were like magic on the radio. In a way, I miss that simplicity. Anyway, when the production was over, we left the theater to find the world blanketed in crisp, silently falling snow.  What a wonderful sight.  All the government buildings were decorated with clumps of snow clinging to the columns and mounding on the roofs.  We caught the bus that headed toward our town. We had to stop at the bus terminal just before the Maryland state line in Chevy Chase.  But the bus to Garrett Park was not running, so we called home to ask what to do. Mother said to take a cab home.  The cab would only take us as far as the neighboring town.  The driver had no intention of trying to make it the very steep and windy Garrett Park Hill. We didn’t mind.  It turned into a beautiful, starry night with little wind and all of us walking toward Garrett Park were in a friendly, boisterous mood—laughing as we trudged along.  The snowy scene was clean and sparkling, cold but not bone chilling and the walking kept us warm.  It was one of the few times in our young years when Anne and I were having fun together.  And I cherish that memory.

Another good memory was when my best friend and I had gone to the midnight service at the Kensington Episcopal church for the Christmas Eve Midnight Service.  My mother was singing in the choir and she warned me and Karen that we should behave ourselves during the service.  And we did until the recessional hymn was being sung.  Our neighbor, Mr. Weaver, was a Deacon in the church and he was at least three sheets to wind.  He was literally swinging from the railings of the back barrier between the pews and the vestibule.  Karen and I tried desperately not to laugh, but to no avail.  Just as my mother past, we were both doubled over in laughter because of Mr. Weaver’s antics. Boy, did I get a scolding.

The last memory I’ll share was after my brother Richard had moved to Florence, Italy, where he still lives with his wife almost 57 years later.  I arranged very carefully, I thought, for him to call on Christmas Day, as part of Mother’s Christmas present.  Of course, things didn’t turn out as planned and the call had not come through by the time Mother wanted my other brother, Bill, to dig her car out so she could go to church.  Bill kept procrastinating until I finally had to explain what we were waiting on.  Turns out it was a good thing, because Mother immediately burst into tears.  She would never have gotten a word out if the call had truly been a surprise.

I’d love to hear some of your memories and I hope you enjoyed mine.

Merry Christmas or Merry Whatever to you all.

Sarah Maury Swan

Local Authors Are Varied and Prolific

New Bern, North Carolina, is a pretty little town set on the confluence of the Trent and Neuse Rivers.  It’s full of history, such as being the First Colonial Capital, complete with a mansion, and later the site of an important Civil War battle .  It is also full of artists who either write stories, or draw and paint, or create beautiful music.  So, I thought I would introduce you to some local authors.


The first author, Laura Beth, lives on a boat on the Trent River during late spring, summer and early fall.  After that she and her husband sail to Florida. She publishes her books through CreateSpace.

She writes “magical mysteries,” about young cousins in a family that has ancestral ties to Native Americans who used to roam the land. The first story, 2 Girls, 2 Cats, A Magical Mystery, introduces the reader to the characters in the stories.  Lacey is living in her grandparents’ farmhouse that is next door to her great-grandparents’ house.  When she notices lights appearing late at night in the older, supposedly deserted, house, she gets in younger cousin, Jillie, to help her investigate. Turns out the girls’ long lost uncle Jake was never really lost, he just lives in a different time period and now he comes back to feed a magical cat who has a litter of magical kittens when the farm is in danger. Lacey and Jillie each inherit one of the cat’s kittens. The saga continues in Lacey and her Tigers, Jillie and Her Sassy Cat, Graduation Summer, and the latest book, Nadia’s Sweet Tea, which is about a younger cousin who is given another magical kitten.  The stories are enjoyable reads with good messages about protecting our land and honoring Native American input into our heritage.  But Laura Beth used “CreateSpace” to publish her books and quite obviously didn’t hire a professional editor before publication. I say this because of the egregious grammatical and spelling errors in her books.  Such lack of attention to such details is what gives Self-Publishing a bad name.  For instance, in the last book, the family ends up owning a magical horse and when Laura Beth tells us that one of the girls is stopping the horse, rather than writing rein in, she writes reign in.   Still, if you like magical stuff and horses and land preservation and Native American history, the books are fun reads.

BIBLIO: 2014 (org. 2010,) Ages 10 +, $?.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult, New Adult

ISBN: 1499760728

ISBN: 978-1499760729


Tom Lewis, the second author’s widow is selling his books, because what else is she going to do with them.  These books are all set in real places around Eastern North Carolina.  Other books of his are My King the President, Lucifer’s Children, The Pea Island Trilogy, 50 Years to Midnight, Short Tales and Tall, and Chains.


Zena’s Law

Tom Lewis

This is a well written novel about a registered nurse in her 30s who moves with her daughter to Tryon’s Cove to be the nurse for a young doctor.  It’s part romance and part mystery, with plenty of intrigue and evil characters running around. But there are good characters, including her boss and fiancé, Jim O’Brien.  The book also includes sexual predators and plans for revenge. The main character, Zena Carraway, is believable and likeable and the story flows nicely.  Once I find out how to get to Tryon’s Cove, I think I’ll wander over to take a look around.  Mr. Lewis published all his books here in New Bern at McBryde Publishing.  He uses good imagery throughout the book.  The story starts at Zena’ trial for the murder of the local bigshot who raped her. She watches as “Judge Booker Taliaferro Washington Freeman clumped in like a black-draped Clydesdale…

‘Be seated,’ Judge Freeman’s gavel fell once, dropping Zena back down into her chair like a clubbed seal…” This is the only book of his I’ve read, but I would be happy to read more.

BIBLIO: 2009, McBryde Publishing, Ages 21 +, $10.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan


ISBN: 978-0-9758700-8-2


The third author, Sam Love, is well known for his poetry, but is now branching out into fiction.  He wrote a picture book about the damage plastic bags do to our planet and to us.  The book of poems I have is entitled Converging Waters and is collection of humorously philosophical poems, most them only one stanza long.

My Little Plastic Bag

Sam Love

Illustrated by Samrae Duke

Young Amy throws a plastic bag out of the car window without a thought to where it will end up. But we follow its journey.  After Amy lets go of it, the bag settles in the roadside grass.  A few days later the mower comes by and chops the bag into little pieces.  When the rain comes, the pieces of plastic are washed into a roadside ditch.  From there, the plastic flows into a stream where it is washed into a tidal marsh. Eventually the plastic reaches the ocean, where it is further degraded until it is tiny enough for a small fish to find appetizing, mistaking it for some of the fish’s natural food.  A bigger fish eats the smaller fish and the chemicals in the plastic are concentrated in the bigger fish’s stomach, possibly making it sick. The big fish is caught by a fisherman who sells it to the fish market in Amy’s town where Amy’s family buys it for supper. They take the fish home in a new plastic bag.  There is a discussion section at the back of the book which teacher will find helpful.

BIBLIO: 2016, Sam Love sam@samlove.net, Ages 7 to 10, $?.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 1534622640

ISBN: 978-1534622647


There are many more local authors, so I’ll let you know about them at a later date.   Sarah