What’s in a Word?

What a great group of books I’ve reviewed in the past few days. I asked for an eclectic mix, with some picture books, some novels, MG and YA, and some non-fiction. 

Here are three that especially grabbed my heart. Two may end up staying in my library, but at the very least will be given to children I’m extra fond of.


The first is not just well written and engaging, but it also has lots of Bengali mythology in it. I’m always a sucker for myths.  And, on the top of that, I found very few grammatical errors! Be still my heart. I plan to read the first book in the series, and look forward to reading the third book when it comes out.

Game of Stars

Sayantani DasGupta

This delightful story is the second in a series entitled “Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond.” Full of Bengali, India, mythology, blended with fantasy about a different universe, the half snake and half human main character, Kiranmala, must prevent her bio dad from killing her friend and taking over the multiverse. Her bio dad, she discovers in the first book, is the monster snake king in the Kingdom Beyond and he plans to kill Kiran along with lots of other people. The descriptions of the various characters are wonderfully evocative, and the characters themselves are complex. For instance, one grandmotherly figure is a monster with a soft side. Kiran has to do all kinds of superhero actions to save the day and gets help from friends in the most unlikely places. The story is good saga tale with true depictions of diversity being good and the message that being different isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Add in flying horses, and this book gets even better. Teacher will find a lot to use in this series to open lines of discussion on diversity, the messages in mythology, understanding different cultures, even exploring different foods. Enjoy the read and go back to read the first of the series, The Serpent’s Secret, and be sure to read the third book in the series when it’s available.

BIBLIO: 2019, Scholastic Press/Scholastic Inc., Ages 8 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-338-18573-7


Everybody has periods of sadness, I think. It’s part of the human experience and also part of the animal experience. I’ve witnessed many an animal grieve for a lost companion—human or animal. Anyway, sometimes we need help getting over our grief. This book sweetly shows a way to help.

Maybe Tomorrow?

Charlotte Agell

Illustrated by Ana Ramirez Gonzlez

This is a sweet story about how friendship can help lighten the load that sorrow or longing can bring to a person. Elba is dragging around a big block of sorrow because she misses a departed friend. She doesn’t want to play or doing anything but mope. But her friend Norris helps her miss her friend, even though he never knew the friend. Elba asks him why and he replies because Elba is his friend. Norris encourages Elba to do things out of her comfort zone and slowly they realize that her sorrow block is shrinking. At first, the two of them could easily sit on the block but soon nobody can sit on it. And, finally, Elba says yes all on her own when Norris asks her if she wants to go on a picnic. This book will help many a person deal with whatever is causing sorrow or depression, and it’s a good lesson on learn about compassion. The illustrations are sweet and give the story even more of a caring feeling. It could also lead to good discussion on the subject of sorrow.

BIBLIO: 2019, Scholastic Press/Scholastic Inc., Ages 4 to 8, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-338-21488-8


I love words and learning new ones, don’t you? It makes me sad that our language is deteriorating in to sound bites or tweets. Takes away the richness of communicating, IMHO. Anyway, here’s a new dictionary just to cheer me up. Hope it cheers you up as well.

The Dictionary of Difficult Words

Jane Solomon

Illustrated by Louise Lockhart

This is a book that any language lover should cherish. Who wouldn’t want a book that gives the definition of ultracrepidarian? This is a person who spout opinions about things without any knowledge of the subject. Know anybody like that? And, yes, there is a word for studying UFOs: ufology. The book is also filled with wonderfully whimsical illustrations. In addition to more extraordinary words, there another of words many people will know, but they are words we don’t use all the time. Since our vocabularies seem to be shrinking or being shortened to fit on tweets and other social media outlets, it’s nice to see there are still places to find more fulfilling words. The thing that would make this book even better is if the compiler/author had not so frequently used a single subject and a plural object in her sentences. For instance, saying something like Mary set her books on their desk, is incorrect grammar, unless she’s sharing the desk with someone else.  How about reword the sentence to not use pronouns? That aside, this book is definitely a keeper. Teachers should have a lot of fun using this with their students.

BIBLIO: 2019, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books/Quarto, Ages 8 +, $27.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Non-Fiction

ISBN: 978-1-786-03811-1

I’d love the hear or read about what you’ve read recently. Please keep in touch. Sarah

Sarah’s Grammar Rant

Okay, I’m still on about using “they” as the object to a singular subject.

One of the books I just read for review is a fascinating dictionary of difficult words. Each word is defined using examples in plain terms. But again, many times the author insists on using a singular subject and a plural object.

Couldn’t we try to just reword things so there is no need for this horrible grammar error that makes the poor old lady cringe?

For instance, how about writing in the definition of the word naive as: without question a naïve person believes what is said.

Or an irreverent person makes fun of things most people take seriously.

Or Someone who does many tasking things in a row would be called indefatigable.

For the most part, it really isn’t hard to reword things so the sentence is grammatically correct, or at least as correctly as a human can get.

Any language is a changing thing, but English changes more than others, and I think it behooves us to try to make some effort to not change to become too confusing.

So that’s my rant. I promise to just review books next week.

Thanks for listening.

An Eclectic Mix of Books

I couldn’t think of a theme for the books I just review, so you’re getting a hodge-podge mixture.


Just because there are scary shark movies and stories floating around, doesn’t mean these fish are all bad. As matter of fact, they don’t really mean to harm humans, we just get in their way. And Jacques Cousteau’s member lingers on to make us all, or at least lots of us, be interested in the oceans.

Great White Shark Adventure

Fabien Cousteau and James O. Fraioli

Illustrated by Joe St. Pierre

Part of the new Fabien Cousteau Expeditions series about the oceans and their creatures, this book tells of a hunt for a gigantic great white shark off the southern tip of Africa. Junior Expeditioners, Bella and Marcus, are joining Jacques Cousteau’s grandson Fabien on a hunt for an extra-large great white shark. The group decides the shark might be in waters around two islands that are breeding grounds for fur seals and penguins. These animals swim in the water between the two islands, making it an ideal hunting ground for sharks. The book is full of interesting information about all kinds of sea creatures and the drawings, though cartoonish, depict the animals well. The two junior expeditioners, considered full members of the research team, get to swim in the ocean and use the submersible observation bell made of plexiglass. Wouldn’t that be a cool thing to do? The book gives the reader quite an education about sharks and other marine life. It’s a welcome addition to any school library.

BIBLIO: 2019, Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/Simon & Schuster Publishing, Ages 8 to12, $12.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Graphic Non-Fiction

ISBN: 1534420886

If you want to keep yourself up at night worrying about how horrible people can be to each other, just read some historical fiction. This book is about Irish immigrants coming to New York City during the U.S. Civil War, which was hardly civil, I might add.


Last of the Name

Rosanne Parry

Twelve-year-old Daniel O’Carolan and his older sister, Kathleen, arrive in New York City on March 26th, 1863 after fleeing poverty and English brutality in Ireland. Their granny, the last remaining adult of the family, dies on board the ship they’re sailing on. She leaves them with a special bundle which she says will get them through the toughest times. Kathleen has promised that she will take care of Danny with out fail. They end being house servants for a wealthy family, which means Danny has to become Mary and wear girl’s clothing. Though Kathleen is readily accepted as a maid, the lady of the house is not sure what the younger child can do. He lands his job by singing and enchanting the lady of the house. But he sneaks off when he can, wearing his boy’s clothes. He does gain an appreciation for what girls and women have to endure from society. hen Danny is being a boy, he takes every chance he can to sing and dance, earning a penny here and a penny there. The time of their arrival is not a propitious one, since the country is smack in the middle of the Civil War. Negro people are coming north by the droves to look for work, taking jobs from men who are striking for better wages. The Irish are also despised for the taking jobs. Plus, the Protestants are trying to dissuade the Irish and others from being Catholics. Life is tough for most people in New York, except the wealthy. The story ends around time of the “Draft Riot” in the summer of 1863, which leaves most of New York City in ruins. The book is well written and compelling with lots for teachers to use in the classroom. There is a brief bibliography and several discussion questions at the end.

BIBLIO: 2019, Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., Ages 10 to 14, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Grade

ISBN: 9781541542358


This book is a humorous take on accepting each other’s differences.

Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies!

Megan Lacera and Jorge Lacera

Illustrated by Jorge Lacera

Acceptance of diversity is an ongoing theme in modern children’s lives. This book uses the conceit of a young zombie named Mo Romero who would rather eat veggies than humans. Problem is he needs to convince his parents that it’s okay to like veggies. He sneaks out at night to tend his vegetable garden and make his delicious meals of veggies. He tries to disguise veggies as parts of the human body and bury them in his parents’ eyeball stew, but he always gets caught out. One night he decides to make gazpacho, sure that he could convince his parents it is blood soup. Nope, doesn’t work. His parents hate it and scold him for serving it. Finally, Mo fesses up. He may be a zombie but he’s different. Because his parents love him, they agree to eat veggies along with their brain stew and finger food. The illustrations are delightfully gross. The language does seem a bit old for the target age range, but the story does get its point across. And what youngster doesn’t love zombies?

BIBLIO: 2019, Children’s Book Press/Lee & Low Books, Inc., Ages 7 to 9, $18.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 9781620147948

Happy Fourth of July