Being Friends and Helping Others

I keep trying to come up with a fool-proof way of making sure I don’t bore you by repeating reviewed books, but I’m not sure I’m there yet. So, forgive me if I repeat. This collection of books all had good messages about love and compassion in them.

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People have a way of deciding that certain things go together and other things don’t. As a child I remember being told that blue and green shouldn’t go together. And I believed those who told me that. After all they were my teachers. Then I realized the sky is blue and trees and plants are green. Look how well they go together!  Anyway, I remember also hearing that dogs and cats don’t get along well. Only if you don’t let them. The first story is about a dog and cat.

Felipe and Claudette

Mark Teague

Illustrated by Mark Teague

Each time a group of animals is lined up for adoption at the adoption center, Felipe and Claudette hope they get adopted, and sadly they are left behind. Felipe is sure it’s Claudette’s fault because she’s always barking. Which, of course, is not true. Sometimes she runs in circles or bounces balls or tears the stuffing from her toys. Enough to make any cat or human cringe, thinks Felipe, especially if the person were to see the dog dig holes or roll in the garbage. Claudette doesn’t see any harm in what she’d doing. After all, she is a dog. And, finally, she is adopted, even with all her faults. Guess what? Felipe misses her and Claudette misses him. She won’t play with her new owner, so he brings her back to the shelter, where the owner adopts the two of them. A sweet tale about love and acceptance. And the illustrations are downright adorable.

BIBLIO: 2019, Orchard Books/Scholastic, Inc., Ages 3 to 8, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-545-91432-1

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We all need a little help in remembering the best way to behave and thrive and here’s the book to help you understand the rules of the road.

Super-Hero Playbook: Lessons in Life from Your Favorite Superheroes

Randall Lotowycz

Illustrated by Tim Palin

A bit on the long winded side, this book does give good examples on how to be a better human being. The illustrations are cute, though on the cartoony side. Children will relate to them. Superman shows how to be a role model by being truthful and helpful. The definitions that are put forth in this book are well done and the examples understandable. In addition to Superman, the author uses Black Panther, Batman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, the Teen Titans, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Swamp Thing and many more. All give examples of good behavior either individually or as a team. Did you know that in addition to Captain Marvel, there is a Ms. Marvel who is not related and highlights flexibility? Some superheroes didn’t start that way, but learned what was good and what was not. The last hero is called Squirrel Girl. She eats nuts and kicks butts! Teachers could use the stories in their classrooms to emphasize behaviors they want to encourage.

BIBLIO: 2019, Duo Press, Ages 6 to 9, $11.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 9781947458765

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Well, there’s nothing wrong with retelling a classic fairy tale and giving it a modern twist. Enjoy this version.

The Three Little Superpigs: Once upon a Time

Claire Evans

Illustrated by Claire Evans

We all know the basic story of the Three Little Pigs, right? How they had to deal with the mean old wolf who wanted them for a snack. This version adds the idea of the pigs wanting to be superheroes. When Mother Pig has had enough of their mess and sends them out on their own, they end up in Fairyland where they meet none other than Little Red Riding Hood. She warns them of the mean old wolf who steals Mary’s lamb, and sheep’s and various grandmothers’ clothing. Each of the pigs builds his own little house and, as we all know, two of the pigs don’t think it out well, plus they just want to play. So, they make easily destroyed houses of straw and wood. Of course, the prudent pig builds his house out of bricks and ends up saving everyone’s bacon. We all know how the story ends, in this case with the Fairyland people all proclaiming the pigs to be Superpigs. The drawings are cute and the story is as endearing as ever.

BIBLIO: 2017, Scholastic Press/Scholastic Inc., Ages 4 to 8, $14.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-338-24548-6

Hope you all have been enjoying your summer, but are looking forward to a brand-new season. For those heading back into the learning realm, what fun to be ready to learn or teach new things. Enjoy. Sarah

How to Make an old Lady Cringe!

I’m reading a young adult to review. The story line is decent, but the grammar is atrocious. The usual modern day practice of using a singular subject and plural object. “She put her books on their desk” kind of wording. Makes me cringe. But now, we’ve got the ambiguous gender language thrown into the mix. People who really aren’t sure what they are: male? female? a little bit of both?

So we end up with saying things like “She looked at Gingerpuss and kissed them on their lips.” Huh? Makes me visualize a three-headed person.

Couldn’t we come up with something that explains the concept without butchering our language too much?

Am I the only person who finds this annoying and confusing? Let’s all try to come up with a more compelling term that is at least marginally within the rules of correct grammar?

I feel sorry for anyone trying to learn our already confusing language without adding this kind of fallderol.

That’s my rant for the day. Aren’t you glad it is a short rant?

A Little Non-Fiction

Hello again, my friends. Do you know how to equate heights of natural critters to buildings? I sure don’t, but these books might help you see the bigger picture. The series is called “Animals Measure Up,” and each book discusses a different ecosystem.

How High in the Sky: Flying Animals

Monika Davies

Illustrated by Romina Marti

This book focuses on flying creatures. First up is the enchanting ladybug whose gossamer wings come out from under the ladybug’s shell on her back. Next up is the Monarch butterfly which “rides” the wind and flies even higher than the ladybug. Like a scale, the creatures in this book each fly higher than the last. Next is the funny looking Frigate with its red sac hanging down from its throat. But the Andean condor has it beat, until the common place Mallard flies above it. And the bar-head goose can fly over the Himalayas. These critters all have something in common. They all take to the skies with the greatest of ease. Though stylized, the illustrations are a charming addition to the words. It would have been nice to have the Frigate bird’s red sac explained. And some of the comparison might have been made a bit clearer. Would a child be able to visualize how high a building is or high a helicopter can fly?

BIBLIO: 2018, Amicus Illustrated/Amicus, Ages 5 to 8, $20.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-68151-388-1

How High in the Rainforest? Rainforest Animal Habitat

Monika Davies

Illustrated by Romina Marti

This book focuses on rainforest creatures. Starting below ground level, in the dark, fertile soil, you can find all kinds of critters. Centipedes, slugs, beetles, and termites “recycle” dead leaves and fertilize the soil with their waste. The bugs provide food for the forest floor animals. Armadillos dig up the below ground critters for a tasty meal, as do wild pigs and small rodents. In the understory, where smaller trees grow in what sunlight they can find by spreading their broad leaves. Squirrels, red-eyed tree frogs, birds, snakes, and jaguars makes their homes here. Way up above these creatures, is the “roof” of the forest, made up of tree branches woven together to make the canopy. Bigger animals, such as sloths and monkeys and birds, call this area home. But above them, where plenty of sun beams down, live the biggest inhabitants of all. The harpy eagle makes its home up here, as does the spider monkey. And the tree leaves here are small and waxy to capture moisture. Look closely at the illustrations in this book to see all the differences in surroundings and creatures that live there. Teachers should use more images to help their students understand the various concepts of height.

BIBLIO: 2018, Amicus Illustrated/Amicus, Ages 5 to 8, $20.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-68151-387-4

 

How High up the Mountain? Mountain Animal Habitat

Monika Davies

Illustrated by Romina Marti

The mountains are the backdrop in this book. The story starts at the lowest level, called the “grasslands” and mentions creatures such as coyotes, jackrabbits and burrowing owls that roam around the bunchgrasses and cactuses. In the foothills, a visitor will run across scrub jays which live in smaller trees capable of living in more gravelly soil. Next is the “montane” zone where rain and snow fall copiously. Shy “Albert’s” squirrels build their nests in the Ponderosa pines. Aspen trees provide food and shelter for the Rocky Mountain elk, which are especially fond of aspen bark. In the subalpine zone, you can build a snowman most of the year, but it is wet and cold so only plants like spruce and fir trees grow here. Other plants grow close to the ground and the animals are hardy. Look for snowshoe hares and boreal owls here, along with well hidden mice. At the highest level, believe it or not, some plants grow even with all the snow and cold. Here the explorer will find tiny pikas and bighorn sheep. As with the other books in this series, a bit more reference to relatable sizes would be a help. Not all children are spatially adept at imagining height differences. Still, a talented teacher can help her students understand the concepts. The illustrations, though stylized, are charming.

BIBLIO: 2018, Amicus Illustrated/Amicus, Ages 5 to 8, $20.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-68151-389-8

 

Here I am again

Hello everyone, I do hope you’re having a good summer and looking for new adventures, not to mention nicer weather, in the fall.

For me, most of the summer has been trying not to melt or grow moss between my toes. Here in New Bern, NC, it’s been entirely too hot for my redhead’s body to thrive, so I’ve stayed inside a great deal, reading copious numbers of books. Let me tell you, bears hibernating in the winter have no edge on me hibernating in the summer.

I haven’t stuck to reading just children’s books, and, instead I’ve read a number of “grown-up” books. One that comes to mind is The Maze at Windermere, by Gregory Blake Smith. What makes it most intriguing is the author’s ability to intertwine stories taking place in Newport, RI, but in different centuries. He writes so well, that each set of characters is written in the idiom of the era. Definitely worth reading, with lots of plot intrigue within each story.

I’ve also read a number of murder mysteries including the Tracy Crosswhite series by Robert Dugoni. Though you can read them as standalones, it would probably be best to start with the first in the series, My Sister’s Grave.

I also read a delightful fantasy about a boy who moves to a new town with his mother, and with help of a fox, learns to navigate his new world. The book is the first in a series, but I didn’t like the second one as well. My Fox Ate my Homework is the name of the story and David Blaze is the author.

Also in the children section is  The Secret Zoo, by Bryan Chick, which tells the story of children trying to rescue a club member  who has gone missing in a special zoo run by people intent on saving animals from going extinct. Lots of adventure in this one and amazing characters.

The final book is the first novel by Laura Bradford, who is well known for her cozy mysteries set in Amish country. Portrait of a Sister is about Amish twin sister who chose separate paths. One sister choses to be “English” and the other choses to stay Amish. Ms. Bradford knows her subject well, though her connection to Amish folk is through research for her mystries.

All these books, with exception of The Maze at Windermere, I read on my Kindle. The Maze I read on a copy my handsome devil had borrowed from our library.  It is also available via Kindle.

So, if you get caught by a hurricane or some other untoward occurrence, try reading some of these books.

Hope to see you next week at my blog.  And, soon, I hope you will be able to visit me on my in-the-works website. Sarah

This and That

Our Story Begins

Edited by Elissa Brent Weissman

Have you ever wondered when your favorite authors and/or illustrators started writing or doodling? Well, here’s your chance to find out about a number of them, because “they share fun, inspiring, and occasionally ridiculous things they wrote and drew as kids.” Twenty-six artists and writers submitted early works of writing and drawing, some from the age of five. A number of the people in this book were inspired by a teacher or an author or a well-known illustrator. Many of the earliest works were stories or pictures about mythical creatures and events, but others wrote things happening to them. The group included in this book is an eclectic mixed of authors and illustrators known for their more polished stories, but the reader will see the nuggets of talent shining through at early ages. The common threads are the prodigious imaginations and drive these artists possess. This is an interesting read and should be very useful for inspiring children to follow their dreams. Dan Santat, R. J. Palacio, Maria Frazee, Jarret J. Krosochzka, Thanhha Lại, Eric Rohmann, Linda Sue Park, Phyllis Reynold Naylor, Gordon Korman, Elissa Brent Weissman, Kathi Appelt, Gail Carson Levine, Chris Gall, Rita Williams-Garcia, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Peter Lerangis, Candace Fleming, Brian Selznick, Tom Angleberger, Alex Gino, Tim Federle, Kwame Alexander, Grace Lin, Chris Grabenstein, Yuyi Morales, and Ashely Bryan are the contributors.

BIBLIO: 2017, Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/Simon & Schuster, Ages 8+, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 9781481472081

ISBN: 9781481472104

And for those of you who’ve not already read Sheri S. Levy’s latest book, here’s my take on it.

Starting Over: A Trina Ryan Novel

Sheri S. Levy

Trina Ryan still misses Sydney, her service dog in training, but she soon finds herself bonding with new puppy, Colton. The black lab is younger than Sydney was when he came, so Trina is having to house break him. Fortunately, Colton is a smart dog and a eager to learn. Trina also misses her boyfriend, Chase, whom she’d met at the beach. But it’s hard to keep a long distance relationship going.

In the meantime, Trina does have her best friend Sarah to talk to and do things with. And Trina also has her time at the neighborhood stables where she helps look after the horses and take lessons on her favorite horse, Chancy.

A new girl, Morgan, moves her horse, Knight, to the stable, but she is rude and surly, and mean to her horse. Trina tries to get through Morgan’s bitter shell, but it’s a hard row to hoe.

Trina is gentle and caring soul, who cares about people and animals. She has loving,  caring parents and makes friends easily. The reader roots for her and is glad when she solves a problem. This is a nice story, and since it has dogs and horses in it, I, of course, find it special.

I look forward to Sheri’s next book.

BIBLIO: 2017, Barking Rain Press, Ages 12 +, $??.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 1-935460-77-3

ISBN: 1-9411295-80-0

ISBN: 1-935460-78-1

For the Love of Animals

Happy New Year, everyone. Hope this year turns out to be the best one yet.

I love animals and enjoy reading about them. Though I must admit I like some animals better than others. For instance, I don’t think it’s nice to keep reptiles as pets. It’s just a personal thing, but I keep thinking if I were a snake, I wouldn’t want to live in someone’s aquarium.

The animals in the three books I’ve reviewed here are interesting and exciting to read about.

 

Who wouldn’t want to get to know a dolphin. They are very whimsical animals and fun to watch play.

 

My Best Friend is a Dolphin and More Dolphin Stories

Moira Rose Donohue

How cool to be friends with a dolphin! The three friendships between a human and a dolphin described in this book give proof that humans aren’t the only intelligent creatures on this planet. The first story is about Kelly and her human friend, Tim, a marine mammal trainer, who uses whistles and fish snacks to train dolphins at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies. Kelly, a particularly smart girl, used her intelligence to keep her group safe when they were swept out to the Gulf during Hurricane Katrina. The next story is about JoJo and his human, Dean. Dean first met a dolphin when he was only five and was rescued after being knocked over by rough waves. The dolphin nudged him back to safety. Dean’s been a fan ever since. When he was grown, a dolphin he named JoJo befriended him. Even if Dean doesn’t see JoJo for months, the next time he gets to the dolphin’s neck of the ocean they become instant friends. When JoJo was badly injured by a water biker, he trusted Dean enough to allow his friend to hold him upright so he could breathe until the dolphin was stabilized. JoJo also has a canine friend named Toffee. JoJo likes to show Dean his world and even talks to him. The final story is about Flip Nicklin who decided underwater photography was the career for him after seeing a photo of his father sitting on an injured whale’s back. Early on in his career, he discovered dolphins are pranksters and love to clown around. He enjoys playing with them. The book is full of interesting facts and wonderful photos, including some by Flip.

BIBLIO: 2017, National Geographic Partners, LLC, Ages 6 to 9, $5.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-1-4263-2902-9

 

Squirrels are amusing animals to watch as they wander around our yards. They are adventuresome and comical. But flying squirrels are amazing to watch, I would think.

 

The Flying Squirrel Stowaways: from Nova Scotia to Boston

Marijke Simons

Illustrated by Marijke Simons

Since 1917, Nova Scotia has sent a large spruce tree to Boston as a thank you for Boston’s help when it was needed. This particular year, they pick a tree that turns out to be the home of two flying squirrels. The squirrels are asleep when the tree is cut down and hauled to Boston. But first the tree is prayed over by a Native American tribe and other people came to watch the ceremony. The squirrels slept through the whole thing until the flatbed truck that was carrying tree and squirrels to Boston started to move. They looked around and went back to sleep. They woke up during the celebration in Halifax, but were still very tired so they went back to sleep. While riding on the ferry to Saint John Harbour, the squirrels glided all over the boat, but nobody saw them. And nobody saw them when they crossed the border into the United States, even though the guards looked. When the truck and its cargo reached Boston, the squirrels flew out of their tree and escaped a green-eyed cat. But they had to find somewhere to make a new nest. Finally, they found a tree with the perfect hole and below it was their Nova Scotia spruce tree, all lit up for Christmas. Lovely illustrations and a sweet story make this book a winner.

BIBLIO: 2017, Nimbus Publishing Limited, Ages 4 to 7, $22.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-77108-550-2

 

Books that add a surprising element to a classic story always tickle my imagination bone. This one gives the reader a surprising twist to Goldilocks, but also a giggle with the bear’s antics.

 

The New LiBEARNian

Alison Donald

Illustrated by Alex Willmore

The children could hardly wait for story time at the library, but where was the librarian? Mrs. Merryweather wasn’t at her desk. The children looked for her, but instead of footprints, they saw paw prints. Big paw prints, that took them to the solar system, the ocean, a pirate ship, and finally to her desk which was covered in honey. Mrs. Merryweather wasn’t there, but a bear was there as the new librarian. He read the children a scary story in which he roared. And growled. And stomped. And to top it off, he roared some more. The children loved and asked him to read it again, but Mrs. Merryweather showed up just then, explaining that an exploding volcano made a mess in the Ancient History section. Then she announced that she would read Goldilocks and the Three Bears to the children. The children all exclaimed that they loved bear stories. But when she opened the book, baby bear wasn’t in the story! He was wandering around library until the librarian ordered him back into his story. This is a sweet story about the magic of libraries.

BIBLIO: 2016, Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Ages 4 to 6, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 9780544973657

 

 

Here’s to a year full of new adventures, both real and imaginary.

 

Are You Looking for Books to Buy?

Okay, here are some books that would NOT make my list for Christmas gifts. There are way too many gifted writers floating around who can encourage readers to aspire to not being just like everybody else. I like the books I read to not fit into formulas and I like the drawings to have some spark of originality.

These don’t, but then, I am a snob and on the arrogant side.

 

Dork Diaries: Tales from the Not-So-Secret Crush Catastrophe

Rachel Rene Russell

Talk about encouraging kids to be vapid, these books do just that. This is twelfth book in the series. Why should eighth-grade girls be portrayed as dorks because they are interested in things other than clothes and makeup? And do young girls really wear high-heeled shoes to school? This book is not to my taste, but then I’m old. Still, the storyline is the old, but useful, lesson for teens and preteens to read. The energy level is high and the story does have a few surprises. This time, Nikki is Student Ambassador for an exchange student from the snobby school in their district. Of course, the exchange student turns out to be a good-looking boy from France who shares a lot of Nikki’s interests. Things get complicated when Nikki spends more time with Andr than she does with her friends and potential boyfriend, who is also a friend, all of whom are expecting her help on special projects. Of course, the mean girls, who seem to hate Nikki, mess things up for her, but she learns some lessons on priorities and saying the hard things first.

BIBLIO: 2017, ALADDIN/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/Simon & Schuster, $13.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-5344-0560-8

ISBN: 978-1-5344-0561-5

 

Why do people seem to think that girls must be in relationships? Why are they always urged to be part of someone else’s persona?

 

My New Crush Gave to Me

Shani Petroff

Charlie is not looking forward to Christmas and especially Noelle’s annual Christmas bash, which has always been a favorite thing about the holiday. But Noelle has decided this year’s theme is about love and dating. Charlie’s boyfriend is no longer in the picture, so she is dateless and doesn’t have a clue how to correct that. But she soon discovers Theo, the hottest guy in school and a football star at that. Plus, he’s very smart and punctual, which are very important traits in her book. So, she sets about to nab him for the party, with the help of her best friend, Morgan, and Theo’s cousin, J.D., Morgan’s neighbor. After much finagling, Charlie gets to know Theo, but she also gets to know J.D., who is sensitive and creative and kind, but always late, which drives Charlie nuts. As we all do, Charlie puts people into niches and decides that J.D. must be messy at home since he’s always late. She also decides that Theo must be neat because he likes to be on time. Of course, Charlie discovers that J.D. really is the guy for her. There’s a bit of Cyrano de Bergerac in the story, because the fellow who is really appealing to Charlie is J.D. by actually being her creative “Secret Santa,” rather than Theo, who has not a creative bone in his body. Charlie is a bit too formulaic, in my opinion, however there are possibilities for classroom discussions about outward appearances not being as important as inner qualities.

BIBLIO: 2017, A Swoon Reads Book/Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan Publishing Group, Ages 14+, $10.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-250-13032-7

ISBN: 978-1-250-13051-8

 

 

I do tire of formulaic stories designed to follow cartoons or movies. This one fits the bill to perfection, in my view.

 

Spy Toys

Mark Powers

Illustrated by Tim Wesson

At Snaztacular Ultrafun toy manufacturing all the toys are checked for electronic or other malfunctions before being sent to stores. Those with defects are sent to the reject pile, which is what happens to Dan, a Snugaliffic Cuddlestar teddy bear. His hug is entirely too strong. So, he’s rejected. And that’s when his life begins. He meets Arabella, an antisocial Raggedy Ann doll who hates children, and they escape, only to be snared by a rather unpleasant rabbit named Flax. Eventually they’re recruited into a spy program where they are to protect Sam, a U.S. Senator’s son, by pretending to be his especially favorite toys.  They have to learn to overcome their defects, but they do save the day. Silly as the story is, there’s a great deal of humor and a good message in the tale. Dan learns how to control his strength. Arabella learns children aren’t all that bad and Flax comes through in a pinch to help keep Sam safe. The illustrations are very simplistic, but still amusing and the story ridiculous enough to keep the reader enticed.

BIBLIO: 2018, Bloomsbury Publishing, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 978-1-68119-665-7

 

Sarah, the grinch, has spoken, but most decidedly does not have the final word. Happy gift giving to you all.