Two for the Price of One

Sometimes I get two stories to read in one volume, which is the case with this entry. I liked the premise of the stories and I loved that the illustrations were black and white pen drawings, in the manner of Wind in the Willows. One of my all-time favorite stories.

Heartwood Hotel: A True Home

Kallie George

Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

This volume is two stories in one. “A True Home,” introduces Mona, a young orphaned mouse, who is washed out of her house by the Autumn rains. She gets washed away from and eventually winds up at the Heartwood Hotel, run by Mr. Heartwood, the badger, who takes pity on her and allows her to stay if she agrees to help clean up after the party that’s going on. An overnight stay becomes a seasonal stay because of her good work ethic. This, of course, makes her instant enemies with Tilly, the orphaned red squirrel, who is sure Mona is going to take Tilly’s job. The squirrel does everything she can to make trouble for Mona, in hopes she’ll be fired. Time and again, Tilly tells the mouse that she’s going to be fired any day now and Mona believes her. But Mona soothes guests’ ruffled feathers or fur and becomes a valued addition to the staff. She encourages Cybele, the sparrow, to sing. She makes sure the skunks, who arrive early, are kept calm, so as not to spray. She even tries to soothe Tilly’s nerves. So sure she’s going to be fired, Mona runs away. But she overhears wolves plotting to raid Heartwood Hotel and eat all the guests. By the end of the book, Mona proves her worth, makes friends with Tilly, and discovers that her parents were an integral part in making the Heartwood Hotel the hotel it has become. A true home, indeed. The illustrations in these books will remind the reader of Wind in the Willows. After reading this one, flip the book over and read the second story.

BIBLIO: 2017, Disney/Hyperion/Disney Book Group, Ages 7 to 10, $14.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-1-4847-3161-1

ISBN: 978-1-4847-4638-7

ISBN: 978-1-4847-4736-0

Heartwood Hotel: The Greatest Gift

Kallie George

Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

“The Greatest Gift,” tells of Mona’s adjustment to working with other creatures, and making the guests happy. A blizzard smothers the hotel during St. Slumber, the winter celebration party, and soon, the hotel is short of supplies, plus someone is plundering the stored supplies. In the meantime, Mona discovers that the hotel staff give each other a gift. Pleased as she is with her gifts, she is heartbroken that she hasn’t a single gift to give in return. She takes all the ribbon and twine from the gifts and secretly makes a heart-shaped rug for the foyer. In the end, she discovers the rat who is stealing the supplies, but only because he’s feeding more orphaned forest creatures, including Tilly’s brother, and she discovers the shipment of more supplies, broken down in the forest. She takes her rug apart to use as a safety rope when she and the rat go to rescue the lost supply sled. She learns she has given the best gift of all, love and friendship. The illustrations in these books will remind the reader of “Wind in the Willows.”

BIBLIO: 2017, Disney/Hyperion/Disney Book Group, Ages 7 to 10, $14.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-1-4847-3234-2

ISBN: 978-1-4847-4639-4

ISBN: 978-1-4847-4737-7

So Who Is Perfect?

Some books really pull you in and keep you up past your bed time.  At least that what happens to me. This is one of those books. The issues of bullying, physical differences and not following other people’s leads are just some of the issues discussed in this book. This is a must read, in my view, of anybody interested in children—including teens—and their experiences. The reader will  gain much insight into human nature and how we handle our lives.

We all have what we consider to be faults.  It’s just a matter of learning what’s important and what’s trivial.

 

Holding Up the Universe

Jennifer Niven

This is a well written story of two damaged teenagers.  Libby Strout ate so much after her mother died, she had to be lifted out of her house through the roof by a crane, which, of course, destroys the house. After several years of therapy and homeschooling, she tells her father she’s ready to go back to school at the start of her junior year. She girds herself for the torment she knows will come.  Of course, the “in crowd” boys start a game of who can ride the fat girl longest with Libby and Iris Engelbrecht, a girl even fatter than Libby, as the targets. Iris ends up as the first target, but when she tells Libby what happened, Libby chases the culprit, who is only saved by a truck going by. Jack Masselin, the perpetrator’s friend watches the whole performance, cheering for the girls the whole time. Jack has a secret he doesn’t share with anyone.  A glitch in his brain denies him the ability to recognize faces.  He can’t even pick out his parents or siblings in a crowd or at home without recognizing one of their “tells.”  At school, he plays it cool and waits for someone to come to him.  Then he uses that person to let him know who others are. But after he and Libby get into a fight and have to serve detention together, their relationship changes. Jack learns that it’s what on inside of another person that really counts. Soon, they begin to see past their surfaces and become friends. Jack and Libby begin to hang out together, sharing secrets. After he tells her his secret about not recognizing anyone else, she encourages Jack to seek help.  She even goes with him to give him moral support and he encourages her to take the test that will see if she carries her mother’s cancer gene. Because he hasn’t ever told anyone about his problem, his parents put in embarrassing situations, like having to pick up his youngest brother from a birthday party.  His brother doesn’t want to leave the party, so he doesn’t respond when Jack calls for him to leave. Jack pulls the wrong kid out of the party, which scares the boy, horrifies the birthday boy’s mother and leaves Jack in a heap of trouble. You’ll end up rooting for both Jack and Libby, but wishing they would solve the problems whose answers are right in front of their noses. There’s a lot going on in this book that will engage the reader and teachers will have a field day orchestrating discussions around the issues.

BIBLIO: 2016, Alfred A. Knopf/Random House Children’s Books/Penguin Random House, LLC, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-385-75592-4

ISBN: 978-0-385-75593-1

ISBN: 978-0-385-75594-8

 

 

Whimsically Sweet

My last collection of books was a wonderful mix of amusing picture books and novels for older children. I told you about the YA anthology in my last post, so this time we’ve got two picture books and a middle-reader, all of them a bit on the whimsical side.

 

The first one has winsome illustrations of a bus with a bunny face.

 

Bunny Bus

Ammi-Joan Paquette

Illustrated by Lesley Breen Withrow

This is a cute little book about learning to share the load, rather than letting someone else take all the burden. The drawings of the various animals in the story are whimsical, especially the bunny bus, which looks like a small bus with rabbit ears and a big smile, which exposes her rodenty front teeth. More and more animals call for her to stop and take them along.  She’s happy to do it, even though she knows she has more than enough to fill her bus.  Finally, the bus goes BOOM and strews carrots, candy and Easter Eggs all over the place.  The passengers realize they have caused Bunny Bus to break down, so they give her a bath and share the load.  Some of the rhymes are a bit forced leaving the reader wondering what the author meant, but children probably won’t notice, and the message is well told.

BIBLIO: 2017, Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers/Macmillan Publishing Group,

LLC, Ages 4 to 6, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-374-30225-2

 

 

The second has a message of what fun reading is and how being gentle and unselfish are so rewarding.

 

Prince Ribbit

Jonathan Emmett

Illustrated by Poly Bernatene

This is a wonderfully silly take on the story of the frog who turns into a handsome prince.  Lucinda and Arabella love reading fairy tales, especially ones where the princess ends up winning the handsome prince.  One day a frog from the nearby pond hears the girls read the story of the princess and the frog prince.  What a sweet deal that would, he thinks, and he hops out of the pond and close to the sisters. Unfortunately, the two girls scream and carry on.  But their younger sister, Martha is enchanted. What a cool thing to have a talking frog as a friend. Arabella and Lucinda change their tune when Prince Ribbit explains he is, indeed, an enchanted prince.  They pamper him with soft beds, delicious food and lots of other treats, but he doesn’t turn into a prince. In the meantime, Martha has been reading books of fairy tales, lots of them. Turns out the books are fun to read, but she also learns how to set the frog and her sisters straight.  With some nudging from Martha, Arabella and Lucinda decide the thing to is smother him kisses, which doesn’t do a thing for Prince Ribbit.  Sadly, he takes off his golden crown and fancy clothes and hops back to his pond, but Martha is sorry to see him go. She begs him not to go, then picks the frog up and gently kisses him. In a cloud of pink smoke, the frog turns into a handsome prince and sweeps Martha off her feet. Of course, not everything you read in a book is true.  Children and their grownups will want to read this book over and over again.

BIBLIO: 2017 (orig. 2016,) Peachtree Publishers/Macmillan Children’s Books/Pan Macmillan/Macmillan Publishers International Limited, Ages 4 to 7, $16.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-56145-761-8

 

The middle-reader is a charming story of being a good friend and believing in possibilities.

 

The Infinity Year of Avalon James

Dana Middleton

Avalon James and her best friend, Atticus Brightwell, turn ten. Atticus’s grandfather told them just before his grandson’s birthday that age ten is their Infinity Year in which they would have a magical power.  So, they keep waiting for the magic to appear. Avalon hopes her magic will help her ward off any mischief her nemesis, Elena, has planned for her, but nothing seems to change and Elena keeps taunting her. Not that Avalon hasn’t done her share of taunting back. Avalon also hopes her magic might be that her dad writes to her again. In the meantime, Avalon is working on an ancestry project with another classmate and practicing for the school-wide spelling bee.  But, as the year progresses, Avalon’s magic makes no appearance, and she’s getting worried. But after Halloween, Avalon is convinced she can “mind-talk” to animals.  And it turns out she’s right.  Her power helps her save Atticus from a charging bull by calling him to chase her instead of the already hurt Atticus.  The friends’ Infinity Year comes to an end when they turn eleven, but they are stronger for all that has happened to them during their tenth year.  This is another good book for discussions about bullying children and trying your best to not seek vengeance.

BIBLIO: 2016, Feiwel and Friends/ Macmillan, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 9781250085696

ISBN: 9781250085689

 

Next week, I’ll tell you about the fifth book in this batch.

 

 

 

 

Strange and Wonderful

Rags and Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales

Edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt

Illustrated by Charles Vess

What a wonderful collection of new takes on well-loved stories.  The reader must think about what classic story is being retold, and then ponder whether the author’s new version really complements the message of the original story.  “When First We Were Gods,” Rick Yancey’s story inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark,” was quite different from this reviewer’s take. Hawthorne’s tale is of a beautiful baby born with a small birthmark on her face. Everyone thinks the mark just enhances her beauty, but the man she marries feels it diminishes her perfection.  He devises a chemical solution to dissolve the birthmark and leave her flawless. Unfortunately, as the mark fades, so does she.  Mr. Yancey’s view is that science can run amok, but the reviewer thought the story meant God doesn’t allow perfection to exist in our world. Mr. Yancey’s story focuses on a wealthy, upper-class man, made immortal by science, who falls in love with his wife’s maid who is mortal. The man wants to make the maid immortal, but she feels robbed of her destiny.  Either way, both stories are worth the read.

Sprinkled throughout the book are six magical pen and ink drawings depicting the spirit of various stories.  All the drawings bring to life the stories Charles Vess is picturing, making the stories worth perusing.  This book is full of wonderful, twisted stories and variations on literary themes.  Some of the stories bring back memories of the originals, but most don’t ring a bell in my aging brain. Pick it up to capture the essence of these classics and let the stories stir your imagination. Lots of room for the discussion not only on the comparisons between the versions, but also an exploration of the differences. The anthology includes twelve written stories and six drawings, which teachers and students will happily read before reading the stories that inspired them, allowing for much classroom discussion.

After each story, the author offers comment on what drew him or her to the story, and why the author wanted to rewrite it.

I have included a list of what stories were included and what the original ones were.

Carrie Ryan wrote The Machine May Progress Eternally, inspired by E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops.”

Garth Nix, wrote Losing Her Divinity, inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King.”

Neil Gaiman’s take on “Sleeping Beauty,” is entitled The Sleeper and the Spindle.

Inspired by Henry James’ “The Jolly Corner,” Tim Pratt wrote The Cold Corner.

Holly Black did her take on Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, naming her story Millcara.

Sirocco is Margaret Stohl’s version of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto.

Following in the footsteps of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Melissa Marr wrote Awakened.

Kelley Armstrong’s New Chicago, paid definite homage to W. W. Jacob’s “The Monkey’s Paw.

The Soul Collector, Kami Garcia’s version of the Brothers Grimm’s strange tale, “Rumplestiltskin,” is just as creepy.

Saladin Ahmed was inspired by Sir Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen in his story, Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy.

Such an anthology as this couldn’t be complete without a werewolf story, so this volume ends with Uncaged, by the appropriately named Gene Wolfe, which is inspired by William B. Seabrook’s “The Caged White Werewolf of the Saraban.”

Be sure to read Charles’ Vess’ drawings closely to see the stories he is telling. The King of Elflands’s Daughter, Kai Lung’s Golden Hours, Figures of Earth, The Shaving of Shagpa, The Wood Beyond the World, and Goblin Market.

BIBLIO: 2013, Little, Brown and Company, Ages 14 +, $18.00.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-316-21294-6

ISBN: 978-0-316-21292-2

 

Picture a Laugh

I was talking with a friend yesterday about children’s books, in particular, Robert Louis Stevenson, which reminded me that I haven’t done many picture books lately.  This week I’m mentioning three picture books I recently read.  I love reading such books, in part because they remind me to stay young at heart.

 

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A charming depiction of the bond between mother and child.

 

Hand in Hand

Rosemary Wells

Illustrated by Rosemary Wells

Consider this book to be an Ode to Motherhood as Ms. Wells’ illustrations show us the things mothers do for their babies.  The illustrations are endearing with vibrant colors and whimsical scenes.  The reader sees Momma Rabbit and her child from the baby in a bassinet.

The next picture is the two of them sitting on a swing under moon and starlit night. That painting is reminiscent of Vincent van Gogh’s Starry, Starry Night. Along with the next illustration of Momma and baby shopping in a neighbor’s garden, the message to the reader is that the baby’s world revolves around its mother.  We see Baby learning to talk and walk with Momma’s help. She also feeds and reads to her baby.  The illustration for the page about reading is adorable. One page is devoted to teaching her baby good manners, and the next is to being brave.  That illustration is a nod to the wonderful Maurice Sendak. All-in-all, this book is a winner for the read-to crowd.

BIBLIO: 2016, Henry Holt and Company, LLC/MacMillan Kids, Ages 3 to 5, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-62779-434-3

 

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If you like whimsical stories, you’ll love this one.

 

This Book Is NOT About Dragons

Shelley Moore Thomas

Illustrated by Fred Koehler

The rat who narrates this story is convinced there are no dragons in this book.  He walks into the forest and sees not a single dragon.  So, he tells the reader there are no dragons.  Of course, the reader sees shadows of dragons lurking behind the trees and breathing smoke out of caves.  Rat sees a rabbit, but no dragon.  He sees a red truck by a cabin, but no dragon. Even when the dragon catches the truck on fire, the rat doesn’t see the dragon.  Nor does he see the dragons in the sky, only clouds.  The moose sees the dragons and runs to the city, followed by the dragons and the oblivious rat.  Rat sees only pizza, but the chick sees the dragons and tells the naysayer to look more closely. Oh yes, there are dragons, much to Rat’s dismay.  In the end, he has to change the name of the book and take out the word NOT. This cute book encourages children to be observant and look for the whole picture.

BIBLIO: 2016, Boyds Mills Press/Highlights, Ages 4 to 7, $16.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-62979-168-5

 

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The illustrations are wonderful in this book.  I got quite a chortle out of it.

 

This Book Is Out of Control!

Richard Byrne

Illustrated by Richard Byrne

What fun book this is!  Ben gets a new toy which he takes to show his friend Bella.  The new toy is a remote-controlled fire engine.  But when he starts poking the buttons to get his fire engine to do what he wants, the fire engine just sits in front of his friend’s door, doing nothing.  On the other hand, Bella’s dog, against his will, does what the control button commands. Up into the air he goes. Then he spins in the air. When Ben pokes the siren button, Bella’s dog howls.  When Ben pokes the voice button, the dog shouts, “Help! This book is out of control!”  Poking the turn button causes Bella and Ben to join the dog on the ceiling, all of them upside down.  Bella asks for the reader’s help. After pushing almost all the buttons to no avail, finally Ben and Bella poke the power button, which causes an enormous a power surge, before allowing the remote to set everything right.  Once kids and dog are where they were meant to be, the dog pokes the up button and up goes the fire engine’s ladder.  The illustrations are cute and the dog is fully involved in the story.

BIBLIO: 2016, Henry Holt and Company, Ages 5 to 8, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-62779-933-1

 

Until next week. Sarah

 

I’m Back!

Have you ever had to move to a new neighborhood, or change schools, or be set in any kind of new environment?  I don’t know about you, but I find it scary and stressful. How do you deal with changes? I get a bit on the manic side and hide in bluster.  So, I picked three stories that put at least one of the characters in a situation of intense change.

 

The first book is a bit fanciful, but the protagonist is believable and the story is amusing.

 

Clayton Stone, Facing Off

Ena Jones

Clayton Stone is a thirteen-year-old orphan living with his grandmother, Gran, who recruits him into the Special Services in Clayton Stone, At Your Service, where he solves a kidnapping. This time he must change his identity and transfer to an elite private school to protect the president’s son.  To make matters worse, his new school is playing against his old school in a playoff game to see which team goes to the Lacrosse Championship game. Things don’t go swimmingly for Clayton, who has to remember he is now Max Carrington.  He keeps over reacting to circumstances in his new school, but he does finally make friends with First Son, Kyle Hampton.  Together, with the help of two other kids, they figure out who is threatening Kyle, though, in the end, it turns out the bad guys are after another student.  The story is well-written and has plenty of surprises, in addition to humor, especially all the disguises Gran uses. Resourceful teachers will find several topics of discussions in their classrooms.  Loyalty, sportsmanship, patience and thinking through dilemmas are all good discussion topics.

BIBLIO: 2016, Holiday House, Ages 8 to 13, $16.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 9780823436484

 

The second book is set on the beautiful Hawaiian island of Oahu, but not in Honolulu. The reader gets a sense of the island without the glitz.

 

Juniors

Kaui Hart Hemmings

 

In the middle of her junior year of high school, Lea Lane moves from San Francisco

back to Hawaii where her actress mother is in a new TV show. Having spent her early childhood in Kailua, on Oahu Island near Honolulu, she knows the area and has kept in touch with Danny, a neighbor boy.  She is enrolled in a posh private school, thanks to her long-absent father, or so she’s been told.  The house her mother has rented for them is shoddy and in a not-so-nice neighborhood, but now they’ve been invited to use the guest cottage of an estate owned by long-standing friends of Lea’s mother. In fact, Mr. West was Lea’s mom’s boyfriend for a brief time, before he introduced her to the fellow who got her pregnant.  Lea feels awkward about the arrangement until she gets to know the West kids who are about her age.  As with all lives, things get complicated and Lea has to sort out what her true desires are.  The story is well told and intricate and has a good ending.  Lea grows a lot during the story.  The down side of the book is the easy acceptance the author has with letting the juvenile characters be promiscuous and happily get drunk and/or high.  A little more regret and the parents being a bit less lax in showing their children how to behave would have been nice. Lea, at least, shows some remorse for having succumbed to the booze and drugs.

BIBLIO: 2015, G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Group, Ages 14 +, $18.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-399-17360-8

 

You must read the third book with the spirit of letting your imagination run wild. There are lots of magical, mythical creatures parading across the pages. If you can’t allow yourself to believe in Unicorns and other such creatures, don’t bother with this book. I loved it, because, at all most 76 years of age, I still believe in Unicorns and Griffins.

 

Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Unicorn Training

Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater

Illustrated by Maggie Stiefvater

Pip Bartlett is spending the summer with her Aunt Emma at the Cloverton Clinic for Magical Creatures. She loves talking with the animals, though no-one else realizes she understands what the animals are saying.  Aunt Emma and her daughter, Callie, and Pip are going to the Triple Trident magical animal show and their neighbor, Tomas, is going with them.  Tomas is allergic to just about everything, but that doesn’t stop him from going places.  Callie, being a prissy teenager, is less than thrilled with going.  But the fun really ramps up when their friend Mr. Henshaw’s Show Unicorn gets a case of jangling nerves and won’t settle down for anyone.  That is until Pip takes the Unicorn, Regent Maximus, into a paddock filled with baby unicorns.  He begins to calm down as he tells the young ones all the trials and terrors that await them. They become his adoring entourage.  It’s a cute story and will certainly get the reader giggling.  Frequently, a page in the book is taken up by a description of some magical creature, with an amusing drawing.  The glimmerbeast subspecies called a rockshine, which turns invisible when frightened, is the first illustration.  It looks rather like a deranged sheep.  The story progresses with lots of mishaps to Regent Maximus and other creatures, but in the end, Regent Maximus wins the Triple Trident championship.  Even though the creatures are all mythical, the story can be used as a way discuss animal anatomy and ways to calm scared creatures.

BIBLIO: 2017, Scholastic Press/Scholastic Inc. Ages 8 to 12, $9.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 978-0-545-70929-3

Enjoy the post and let me know what’s going on with you.  Thanks, Sarah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have Compassion

My father died as a prisoner of war having been on the Bataan death march, but my mother made sure we never associated that with the Japanese people, and I thank her for that. My father was originally schooled in a Japanese/American school in Hawaii, because his father felt if we didn’t understand Japanese culture better, we’d end up in a war them. Too bad he was right. Kathleen wrote a heartwrenching story, which is well worth the read. Sarah Maury Swan, author of Terror’s Identity