An Eclectic Mix

It seems to me that my last few posts have had a sour feel to them, so I’d thought I do a more upbeat, its own way, post this time. To that end, I have one YA Fantasy/Fairy Tale story, one early chapter book for children with dyslexia, and one middle-grade ghoul story.

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I may be 81 years old, but I still believe in the possibility of werebeasts and fairy tales. And, of course, hopefulness that good will prevail in the end. So, enjoy the convoluted story in the first book. This author has a great imagination.

Good title

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Into the Bloodred Woods

Martha Brockenbrough

Keep in mind the various characters playing significant roles in this story, because there are a few. But if the reader likes fantasy with all trimmings, this is the story to read. Based on just about any fairy/folk tale you can think of, plus “were” creatures, evil kings, a child born of the woods, Hansel and Gretel-like children, magic, and much more. Most of them gather together to defeat the evil, insane, newly crowned king, who is jealous of his twin sister’s werebear abilities, not to mention her being the firstborn heir to the throne. The plot is convoluted but very engaging and the reader will have fun figuring out what fairy tales are invoked. There are also messages interwoven about learning tolerance of people who are different from the reader. The theme of each section of the story is introduced by a blind beggar with a mechanical monkey, which gives the reader as to what fairy tale is being invoked. The story is a convoluted, fun romp into the world of fantasy and fairytales. Teachers can use the book as a way into discussing folklore, among other things.

BIBLIO: 2021, Scholastic Press/Scholastic Inc., publishers, Ages 13 +, $18.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult Fantasy

ISBN: 978133863876

ISBN: 978133863890

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Learning about the silent “e”.

Meg and Greg: The Bake Sale (Orca Two Read, 3)Good books for children with dyslexia, but just fun for any kid learning to read.

Meg and Greg The Bake Sale

Elspeth Rae and Rowena Rae

Illustrated by Elisa Gutierrez

This is book 3 of the series of phonic stories. The stories are intended to help children with dyslexia understand words that have a silent “e” at the end. For instance, the words “bake” and “sale” in the title have an “e” at the end which does not sound, but this makes the way the previous vowel sounds. The “a” would have the “short” sound of “ah” without the silent “e” at the end. Each story has a different vowel in the middle. The stories are simple, but engaging with a slightly complicated plot line to keep the child reading. The first story is about Meg and Greg baking “Red Velvet” cupcakes to sell and emphasizes the “a” as the first vowel. The second story uses the “i” “e” combination and is about taking a bike ride. The third story uses the “o” as the first vowel. And the last story features the “u”. Each story is followed by simple games to cement the concept into the child’s brain. Children will be eager to read these stories and will understand the concepts well.

BIBLIO: 2021, Orca Two Read/Orca Book Publishers, Ages 5 to 7, $14.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Early Chapter Book Phonics

ISBN: 978-1-4598-2496-6

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Enjoy the Almost Scary Story

The Ghoul Next Door

Cullen Bunn and Cat Farris

Illustrated by Cat Farris

Eleven-year-old Grey lives in a New England town that is legendary for its tales of being haunted. He finds out this is actually not a legend when he walks through the cemetery after dark and meets a ghoul named Lavinia. They become friends, and she makes sure Grey understands that Ghouls and Ghosts are not the same things. The story is full of wonderful plays on words that the title suggests and Lavinia helps Grey out with a school project. Written as a graphic novel and, though a fantasy, the story has a number of subtle morals brought out along the way. Teachers will even find topics to discuss such as believing in using one’s imagination and learning to keep an open mind when viewing the world, along with looking for the best in everybody. Also are lessons about having faith in oneself. It is best to believe in possibilities no matter whether about yourself or others.

BIBLIO: 2021, HarperAlley/HarperCollins Publishers, Ages 8 to 12, $21.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Grade Graphic Novel

ISBN: 978-0-06-289610-0

ISBN: 978-0-06-289609-9

What Better than Fantasy cum Historical Fiction and Mystery?

What better than a mystery with fantasy and historical ties?

Return to the Secret Lake: A children’s mystery adventure by Karen Inglis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I’m not very good at posting reviews of the books I’ve read, but I’ve enjoyed this series. It’s imaginative and painlessly introduces English history to young, and not-so-young, readers. Plus, there is always a bit of a mystery involved and sibling rivalry. The secret lake is reached by going through a time tunnel that only reveals itself when the moles dance. In this book, the 1920s protagonists must reach the children from the 21 first century to find antibiotics to save a life. Plus, they must keep a friend and his dad from going on the Titanic traveling steerage. The author’s description of the clothes from the two eras and other changes to the culture also make the tale interesting. The children are believable and have the same kinds of problems that all people face. The author’s descriptive writing pulls the reader completely into the story. I’m looking forward to reading the 3rd book in the series due out in the near future. You won’t even need to go through the time tunnel to get it.



View all my reviews

Why Are We so Frequently Horribly Cruel?

Why Are We So Often Horribly Cruel?

For Mother’s Day our daughter Michelle gave me three books she thought I might like. Oddly enough, I’d read the first one already for the Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database. It addresses the issue of bullying amongst children. My impression is that children, even those who are popular and successful, are plagued with self-doubt as much as the less popular children, so, some of them are bullies just to not be caught out as being less than they seem to be.

The second book is about an old woman talking about her experiences during WWII as she, her brother. and their mother escape the town of Dresden, Germany. In addition to their journey to safer territory, it also about their journey with an elephant their mother rescued from the Dresden Zoo. The bullies in this story are the Nazis who wrote the book on how to be evil.

The last book is an autobiography of the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy of education for all people. Again, why do men seem to feel so threatened by females that anybody who isn’t male should be kept down. It isn’t just Muslims who make their women second class creatures. It wasn’t so very long ago that even females in the United States weren’t treated as equals.

But amongst all the cruelty we find hope, courage, and love. May it prevail

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 him 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  

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There have been a plethora of books about the horrors of WWII and especially the Nazi’s part in the conflict, but this one will definitely grab your heart and soul, especially if you are an animal lover.

An Elephant in the Garden

Michael Murpurgo

The book is based on a true story and is very compelling. It is told by the nurse who is taking care of an aged woman, Lizzie, in Canada, but it  also told mostly in dialog by Lizzie about her journey from her home in the beautiful town of Dresden, Germany. For most of Hitler’s war Dresden remained unscathed and the German residents went about their lives. When the Allied forces were advancing on Germany, Dresden came under attack and was pretty much destroyed by bombs. The storyteller’s mother was a caregiver at the zoo and witnessed the birth of an elephant. Unfortunately, the elephant’s mother dies leaving her child to grieve. When it becomes apparent that Dresden is due to be destroyed by bombs, the storyteller’s mother get permission to save the young elephant by taking her away from the zoo and keeping her in the family’s garden, hence the title. When the bombing starts, the family is taking the elephant they’ve named Marlene after Marlene Dietrich for a walk in the neighboring park. Marlene panics when the bombs start to drop and runs away with Lizzie’s family hot in pursuit. They end up caught up in the massive exodus from the city and head toward Lizzie’s aunt’s farm. The rest of the story is about their journey to safety in Switzerland. Lizzie meets her future husband along the way who is Canadian. Again, although there is much hope in the story, it is set against the hideous cruelty and bigotry that was Hitler’s way of cowing his fellow Germans, though he was actually Austrian. This book will most decidedly keep you reading and even move you to tears in parts.

BIBLIO: 2010, Square Fish/Macmillan, Ages 12 +, $7.89 p.b.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Historical Fiction

ISBN: 978-1-250-03414-4

ISBN: 978-1-4668-0445-6

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I have never understood why men are so frequently terrified of letting women have equal rights. I remember a very bright female high school classmate who wanted to go to college back in 1959, but her father refused because it would be a waste of money given that she would end up getting married and raising a family. The rest of us were appalled and I believe in the end her father relented. Whether or not she finished college or had a career I don’t know, but the same point was not made for the guys. I also had a friend who left school when she graduated from Junior High School so she could get married and have a family.  I don’t know what happened to her either. She was very happy to leave school and become a housewife. But many of the Muslim men in our world are so frightened of their females’ potential they refuse to let them even learn to read and write. I remember trying to teach a Yemeni woman with five children how to speak and read English. Because she’d observed men in Yemen reading from right to left, she started out trying to read English that way. Her husband was encouraging for the most part but was adamantly against her going to a gym because she’d not be able to exercise in her full proper burqa. Why are men so frightened that all other men are out to rape their wives? Why do they feel it’s the women’s fault if these men can’t control their urges? It wasn’t that long ago that American women were the inciters when they’d got raped. The teller of this story made headlines with her bold advocacy for female rights not only in her native Pakistan but then all around the world. I’m not a big fan of non-fiction, but this book will keep your interest throughout.

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban

Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick

This young woman, with the help of her father and the support of her country, is trying to change the world for females and, at her tender age, has already been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts. She has also been almost killed by Pakistani Taliban members because they think she’s defying Allah’s will by standing up for her right to an education. The book is told in her voice and because she is, indeed, the author is autobiographical. But since English is not her native language another person’s name appears alongside Ms. Yousafzai’s as the supporting author.  The story is horrifying for what is happening around the world, particularly to Muslim females under Taliban or other Sharia religious groups who have found what they think is “God’s Rule.” But I guess no one has asked them why any god would make females capable of rational, intelligent thought and then declare they can’t use such abilities. Malala grew up in a small poor area of Pakistan where all children at least were allowed a primary school education, after which a lot of girls were married off at the tender age of eleven. Malala’s father runs a school where girls are encouraged to finish high school. That is until the Taliban take over. But even before then, girls are expected to wear figure-hiding clothing and cover their hair as is common in many Muslim countries. But even after the Taliban take over, Malala’s father keeps his girls’ school open though fewer older girls come anymore. And, at the age of 12 or 13, when Malala and her friends are riding home on the school bus, a Taliban fighter jumps on the back bumper and shoots Malala in the head, also wounding two other girls. Luck was with Malala on that day and she ends up being saved by doctors from Birmingham, England. Her recovery was paid for by the Pakistani government which didn’t support the Taliban’s efforts. Brave girl that she is, Malala still is fighting for females’ equal rights around the world and still going to school. And her mother is now learning English. May we all live by their bravery.

BIBLIO: 2014, Salazari Unlimited/Little, Brown and Company, Ages 12 +, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

ISBN: 978-0316-32793-0

ISBN: 978-0316-32794-7

ISBN: 978-0316-32792-3

A Blog Post of Its Own

This book deserved to be mentioned all on its own because it’s so enchanting and important for people to read. Language lovers will enjoy it, as will people who like to know what other people look like and wish to do with their lives, no matter how much time they may have left to live.

a reference book for us all

How Old Am I? 1–100 Faces from Around the World

JR, Inside Out Project, with words by Julie Pugeat

Touted as the “first-ever” children’s visual reference book on age, this is a delightful book showing that, with all our supposed differences, we generally want the same things. The first image is of a one-year-old girl named Gwen who was born in the United Kingdom and can crawl fast, say a few words, and loves to have books read to her. Each year the photo is of a person from a different country which is pointed out on a world map and each person is a year older. At the top of the left-hand page, the person greets the reader in whatever is the greeting of the culture. Readers who like to explore different languages will soon pick out similar words, for instance, the way that Muslim countries generally say some form of salam meaning peace. For Spanish-speaking countries, the greeting will be some variation on Hola meaning “hello.” The photos were taken by photographers from around the world involved in a project started by French photographer, JR, to make mural-type art of peoples’ images for his “Inside Out Project.” The book has information at the back about how the reader can be involved in the project. Teachers will happily use the book to discuss what the students wish to be when they are on their own and where they want to live and how they can help make lives easier for people in poor countries.

BIBLIO: 2021, Phaidon, Ages 4 to 8, $19.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book Reference

ISBN: 978-2-83866-158-8

Humans Are not the only Animals of Note

I’m tired of talking about humans, so I thought I’d talk about other species this week. And pardon me if I’ve already posted about these books. I don’t think I have, but they have been out for a few years. I’ve always been an animal lover, even having gotten over my primal fear of snakes after seeing them so frequently in our barn when we lived in Maryland. Most rodents do have their cute points. I mean, who doesn’t think rabbits are cute? Or squirrels with their impish natures.

A neighbor’s oldest child was always fond of our horses and I remember once she asked me if I could choose only one animal what would it be? I think she assumed it would be a horse and looked a bit crestfallen when I said a dog. At the time we had three horses, a dog, and a cat. Still, there is something regal and awkwardly graceful about a giraffe and certainly, lions are indeed imperious, but one can always cuddle with a dog.

First, we’re vising Nepal to learn some customs and meet a cute dog.

Take Me with You!

A Dog Named Haku: A Holiday Story from Nepal

Margarita Engle, Amish Karanjit, Nicole Karanjit

Illustrated by Ruth Jeyaveeran

Written by the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate, this story tells of a Nepalese holiday to honor animals. But this particular year, the Nepalese decided to honor the service dogs that had hunted through the rubble caused by a massive earthquake. Young Alu and Bhalu hunt for a stray dog to feed, finally finding a black puppy to take home. They feed their mother’s festival treats to the dog and everybody ends up happy. The tale is simply told and introduces the reader to Nepalese customs, especially through the lovely illustrations of typical rice paintings. Teachers might use the rice paintings as a way to understand another culture and how to paint with unusual substances. The book is also, in general, a good lead in discussing other cultures’ customs. A glossary at the end explains Nepalese words used in the story, such as the children’s names. The puppy is named Haku, which means black. And other activities featured during the festival are shown.

BIBLIO: 2018, Millbrook Press/Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., Ages 5 to 9, $19.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-5124-3205-3

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Don’t you just love to watch the way giraffes seem to float along the ground leading with their long necks. I believe they have somewhat prehensile purple tongues.

Wanna See my Tongue?

Giraffes

Valerie Bodden

What fun to read about interesting animals and look at excellent photos of them. That’s what this series of books, “Amazing Animals”, tells the reader about. This particular book is about giraffes with lots of fascinating facts. The reader might have guessed that giraffes are the tallest land animal, measuring between but might not know that they have the longest tail of any land animal and an enormous blue-black tongue that they use to rip leaves off of trees. Or that they are so tall they could look into the second story window in a house. The photographs in the books are clear and beautiful, making the reader want to linger over each shot.  The books in this series have some words in bold type to let the reader know a definition of the word is at the bottom of the page. Each book in the series has a short tale at the back. The giraffe’s story is why he ended up with such a long neck.

BIBLIO: 2020, Creative Education/Creative Company, Ages 6 +, $20.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Nonfiction Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-64026-203-4

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One of my favorite jokes is: King Lion awakes from his comfortable bed at the edge of the jungle feeling quite refreshed and arrogant. He marches out onto the plain and spies an elephant. The lion grabs the elephant by its trunk, swirls the poor animal over his head, slams him onto the ground. “Who’s the King of the Jungle?” he roars. The elephant scrambles to his feet and, with a shaky voice says, “Why you are, sir.” Lion beats all the animals into submission and they all agree that Lion is indeed king.
That is until he grabs a little field mouse. He beats the mouse to a pulp almost taking off the poor creature’s left ear. “Who’s the king of the jungle?” Lion roars again.

The mouse shakes herself, scrambles to her feet says, “Yeah, but I’ve been sick.” Most people don’t understand the joke, but I just love the mouse’s moxy. Still, there is something so commanding in a lion’s demeanor, that they probably are considered the rulers of the jungle.

King of the Jungle?

Lions

Valerie Bodden

What fun to read about interesting animals and look at excellent photos of them. That’s what this series of books, “Amazing Animals”, tells the reader about. This particular book is about lions with lots of fascinating facts. Lions are the second-largest cat in the world. The male may be the king and be the first to get his share but he expects the female to do the hunting.  The photographs in the books are clear and beautiful, making the reader want to linger over each shot.  The books in this series have some words in bold type to let the reader know a definition of the word is at the bottom of the page. Each book in the series has a short tale at the back. The lion’s story is why he ended up being the king of all animals. Teachers can do a lot with this series, from learning the facts to helping their students make up stories.

BIBLIO: 2020, Creative Education/Creative Company, Ages 6 +, $20.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Nonfiction Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-64026-206-5

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Until next week, the last week in February already, hope you read and/or write amazing stories. Please share those with me if you like.

The Resilience of Children

The Resilience of Children

Do you remember when you were a child you had to face hard problems? At least they seemed hard to you. And you didn’t feel you had any support from the grownups who were supposed to take care of you and comfort you.  That’s what these stories are about.  Sometimes the support you didn’t think was there actually was, but you couldn’t feel it. Most of us really aren’t alone, but then some of us are. That’s what these books are about. I wish I could comfort the children and tell them that life is smooth sailing once you’re grown. Haven’t found that to be the case.

And You Think You Have Problems?

The first book takes place in a not so wealthy west African nation—Ghana—bordered by Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Togo. Women in particular must struggle to feed themselves and their children. Their female children more often than their male siblings are expected to leave school early to help with younger children and bring in money. If a girl is raped, she is more likely to be blamed rather than considered a victim. Actually, not too long ago the same was true in the U.S.A.

Even when Your Voice Shakes

Ruby Yayra Goka

Amerley’s goal is to have her own sewing machine so she can earn a living altering and making clothes to sell. Life in Ghana is hard. She has to quit school not because she wants to, but because she’s now the main supporter for her family. Her father has abandoned the family of four daughters for a woman who will bear him sons. And her mother is pining away, seeming to take no interest in how to pay for her daughters’ education. Amerley is sent to be a servant for a wealthy family in the city, theoretically with the promise that it will be only for a year. Then the family will get her into the respected fashion design school. While she’s there, she is raped and beaten by the older son. Thanks to the family she helps out with their baby two times a week, the crime is sent to the courts, and Amerley’s abuser lands in jail. Amerley’s story resonates with other girls and young women who have been assaulted, who then speak up about their experiences. As is the case in many places around the world, the women who’ve been abused are considered to be somehow provocative and deserving of their mistreatment. There are many good teaching points in this well-written book, especially about the culture of Ghana, however, it would have been nice to have more clarity as to the meaning of Ghanian words that are used throughout the story. There is a glossary at the back, which is helpful. Amerley is taken under the wing of the woman whose baby she watches a couple of days a week and ends up becoming a lawyer.

BIBLIO: 2021, Acord Books/Norton Young Readers/W. W. Norton & Company, Ages 14+, $18.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult African Fiction

ISBN: 978-1-324-01527-7

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The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on all of us. Whether or not you feel you have to follow the orders to get vaccinated or wear a mask, it has been hard to stay isolated and not interact with your friends. This applies to all of us. This book is about families in an apartment building and how they cope, or don’t cope, with the isolation. I know I have a hard time putting on a cheery face all the time. Can you imagine not having anybody to support or comfort you?

Sunny Days Inside

Sunny Days Inside and other Stories

Caroline Adderson

This is a delightful series of stories about children and their families being shut in because of COVID-19. The families live in the same apartment building and the stories are titled by the apartment number where the family lives. In the title story, “Sunny Days Inside,” sisters in apartment 4A cheer up their mother who is depressed because they have to cancel their vacation. The twin boys in 2D pretend to be cavemen children for a school project about something historical. They practice living like cavemen including making up their own language. In apartments 3D and 4B, Juliet helps her neighbor, Reo by timing him while he runs laps on his balcony. In 3C Conner discovers he misses his teacher and helps his dad overcome depression. In apartment 1C Louis helps his mom’s hair salon keep afloat by setting up a business plan where she can do “virtual” hair cuts and styling and he begins his own business to keep the family dog from being too overweight. For a school project, Jessica of 2A learns sign language and strikes up a friendship with the deaf Meena of 2C.  Together they save old Ms. Watts who becomes ill in her apartment. The final story has all the children sneak out of the building and take a walk after dark. They meet Ms. Watts relaxing after her stay in the hospital. There are a lot of good discussion points for teachers and parents to use to promote discussions about how we can all get through this ongoing pandemic.

BIBLIO: 2021, Groundwood Books/House of Anansi, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Grade fiction

ISBN: 9781773065724

ISBN: 9781773065731

ISBN: 9781773065724

Why Can’t Grownups Tell the Truth?

Have you ever felt that people you love and look to for support really aren’t on your side? That they are keeping truths from you? I’m sure we all have. But running away, tempting though it may be, is not the answer.

The Art of Running Away

Sabrina Kleckner

Maisie lives with her parents at the family’s art business. Dad is the painter and Mom handles the business end of things. Maisie does the initial drawings and sketches for whatever portrait has been commissioned. Maisie’s older brother, Calum, ran away several years earlier without so much as a goodbye to her. As far as Maisie knows no-one has a clue where he is. All of a sudden Maisie’s life is uprooted and she’s shipped off to Scotland to spend the summer with an aunt she didn’t know she had. Once there, she discovers that Calum has been living in Scotland and now London, England, having nothing to do with art. He comes to Scotland to see her and then she ends up running away from her aunt to stay with her brother and convince him to help the foundering family business. As usual, things don’t go as smoothly as she’d hoped. And it turns out her brother has not ignored art, but instead does artwork with his partner, Benji, by painting approved pictures on London walls. To add to all this Maisie is slower in her physical changes than her best friend. The story makes a number of good points about dealing with one’s emotions and understanding that truth is what makes us different.  Maisie and Calum end up with a plan to save the family business and heal the rift between Calum and their parents. Teachers can use the book to spark discussions about family relations and sexual preferences and the changing dynamics of friendships.

BIBLIO: 2021, Jolly Fish Press/North Star Editions, Inc., Ages 8 to 14, $9.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Grade Fiction

ISBN: 978-1-63163-577-9

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Hope you all are doing well and at least being able to get a bit of your lives back to what you consider normal. I’m working on my YA novel, “Bad Hair Day”, my chapter book, “Excuse Me, Is this Yours?”, starting on a new short story for the next issue of Next Chapter Literary Magazine, and doing final revisions—I hope—on a short story titled “Thunderstorm.” Please drop me a line if you’re in the mood.  

Some Funny Stuff for You

Never lose faith in yourself or lose your ability to laugh at yourself or the world around you. After having hit you with two weeks of more serious books, I thought we’d all enjoy some more on the lighthearted side.  Happy Groundhog Day. I hope you’re bracing for 6 more months of winter weather. Though, here in Coastal North Carolina, I do hope no more snow or ice. Stay safe where ever you are. And laugh a lot.

Arnold is good with the phone. Well somebody should be!

Each of us has some kind of superpower, even we don’t think we’re anything but ordinary. For instance, there’s Arnold. I’ve grown rather fond of him.

Arnold the Super-ish Hero

Heather Tekavec

Illustrated by Guillaume Perreault

Most people feel inadequate in some way or another, but all are superheroes in their own way. Perhaps one could feel sorry or embarrassed for Arnold, who comes from a family of superheroes since he doesn’t seem to have a single extraordinary skill. He can’t lift very heavy objects like a firetruck, let alone with just one finger. Nor can he fly at lightning speed or bounce high enough to leap over tall buildings. Arnold, however, is quite good at answering the phone. But one day when the phone rings, nobody else can come to the rescue. It is up to Arnold to save the day and the city and the people. And in his small, ordinary way, he does just that. The moral of this charming story is that we all have superhero talents, even if it doesn’t seem that way. The illustrations are perfect for the story and perfect for any superhero. Teachers will be able to encourage all their students to have confidence in themselves.

BIBLIO: 2021, Kids Can Press, Ages 6 to 8, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-5253-0309-8

Bunny and his food

What kid hasn’t played with the food? Have you ever watched the “Christmas Story” about Raphie’s time of wanting a bb gun? And how his younger brother, Randy, won’t eat his dinner until his mother lets him play with it. That scene of the boy with mashed potatoes all over his face and in his hair and on his bib is hilarious.

Bunny! Don’t Play with Your Food.

Paul Schmid

Illustrated by Paul Schmid

Children and the grown-ups will find this book amusing. The children because they’ll see they’re not the only ones who play with their food and have great imaginations. Grown-ups will smile affectionately because the book will remind them of their bunnies. The bunny in question makes his carrot snack into a Bunnysaur and eats the green stuff at the top as a dinosaur might. As a tiger might, this bunny can attack a tasty “Carrotpotomus,” or defeat the evil space beings in the Carrotship or be the zombie bunny, that is until Mom orders him to just eat his food and not play with it. Bunny, of course, says he is eating. He’s just having a bit of fun while he does eat. The story would most likely encourage even the pickiest of eaters to try a new food if allowed to use his/her imagination while doing so. The illustrations are whimsical and cute. Parents could use this book to discuss how food can be fun.

BIBLIO: 2021, Andrew McMeel Publishing/Andrew McMeel Universal, Ages 3 to 5, $8.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Board Book

ISBN: 978-1-5248-6469-9

Even an elephant might forget a thing or two.

I used to have an excellent memory. My husband says he relies on me to be his “cloud,” but of late I’m warning him that his cloud is dissipating.

Edmund the Elephant Who Forgot

Kate Dalgleish

Illustrated by Isobel Lundie

The embarrassment of it all! Elephants are supposed to remember everything, right? Not Edmund. His mother encourages him to sing her special song so he won’t forget and then she sends him off to collect the supplies for his brother’s birthday party. He’s sure he’ll get everything she told him to get because he’ll sing the song she taught him. Do you think it helps? Do you think he remembers everything? Follow along in the book and see what happens. Even though his friend Colin the Cricket tries to help Edmund, things do not turn out as planned. The young elephant proudly marches off pulling his little yellow wagon sure he’s going to get everything his mother told him to, but when he reaches for his list, he discovers he’s left it at home. That’s alright, he’ll just sing the song and then he’ll remember. His brother ends up with a very unique birthday party. The reader should try to spot Colin in each picture. Teachers can use the book as a way to teach young children tricks for how to remember things. The illustrations are sweet and whimsical.

BIBLIO: 2021, Scribblers/Salariya, Ages 3 to 6, $16.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-913337-39-1

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Happy Groundhog Day. I hope you’re bracing for 6 more weeks of winter weather. Though, here in Coastal North Carolina, I do hope no more snow or ice. Stay safe where ever you are. And laugh a lot.

Believe in yourself

Is Life not Going as You Expected?

Do you ever feel that you have no control over your life? That people don’t see you as you’d like them to? Has something thrown a monkey wrench in your plans? Don’t feel so alone, it happens to us all. And people see more good in you than you thought was deserved?  These three books touch on this theme in interesting ways. They encourage us to find the best in whatever situation befalls us. So have faith in yourself and the people around you.

I went through high school feeling that no one would ever be my friend and that I probably didn’t deserve friends. I did have friends and I did and do deserve them. So do you and so do the characters in these book

Anything but fine cover

Luca has a career-ending fall, that destroys the boy’s hope for his future. This is the story of how he learns to deal with it.

Anything but Fine

Tobias Madden

Luca’s life’s plan comes tumbling down when he falls down the flight of stairs leading from the dance studio in his private school to the street. He breaks all the bones in his arch and knows he’ll never be able to stand on his toes again. Ballet is the only life he’s ever wanted, so now what will he do? Since he never bothers to study for any of his other classes, he’s kicked out of the school. He ends up going to the local public school, feeling all alone. He ignores all his friends from his private school feeling that they’ll not want to continue the friendships. He does find a boyfriend in his new school and slowly begins to realize that there are things in life than ballet. That there are academic classes that he actually likes and for which he has some aptitude. He even learns that he can find pleasure in participating in other ways with dance. There are many areas of discussion in the book, so teachers and caregivers can recommend it for students to learn from.

BIBLIO: 2022, Page Street Publishing, Ages 14+, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult Fiction

ISBN: 978-164673323

Jordan and Max, Showtime (Orca Echoes)
Jordan and Max: Showtime

Jordan and Max: Showtime

Suzanne Sutherland

Illustrated by Michelle Simpson

Jordan is going to a new school and, being a shy boy who wears his hair almost to his shoulders, doesn’t feel he fits in. He likes wearing his hair long because he likes to play dress-up with his grandmother where he lives. He meets a boy, Max, in his class because the two are paired for a school project to tell everybody else a bit about themselves. Max is a bit of a showoff and brags about how good he is acting. Max wears a shirt that has NO THANKS emblazoned on the front of it. The two boys hit it off when they decide to dress up in Jordan’s grandmother’s fancy clothes and wigs. Jordan is sure they’ll flop, which they did, but the two boys become good friends. Jordan learned that it was alright to be what he wanted to be. The message of the book is that everyone can be acceptable, especially if they are genuine about who they are. However, it would have to nice to learn why Jordan was living with his grandmother why he’d had to switch schools. Teachers and caregivers can find many messages to discuss with children.

BIBLIO: 2021, Orca Echoes/Orca Book Publishers, Ages 7 to 9, $??

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book Fiction

ISBN: 9781459826953

ISBN: 9781459826960

ISBN: 9781459826977

Spell Sweeper

Spell Sweeper

Spell Sweeper: Magic is Messy

Lee Edward Fdi

Cara Moone feels she’s probably the least magical person in the whole of the school for wizards that she goes to. But she’s not sure she wants to live at home with her non-wizardly family. Her older sister, Su, is no longer the supportive older sister she used to be and her mother is busy most of the time. The family was devastated when Cara and Su’s father was killed in a car accident. Cara hardly remembers him but feels his absence acutely. She has been assigned to the “loser” class at wizard school where she’s learning how to sweep up the remnants of magic. Turns out performing magic leaves a residue that can be dangerous. She has a special broom with which to clean up what’s left. But after cleaning up the leftovers of the latest magical performance of Harlee Wu, the top student in the school, Cara encounters a terrifying creature and a breach in the magical universe. She’s convinced that Harlee is using an illegal magic which causes the problem. Along with Cara’s friend and fellow Spell-Sweeper-in-Training, Gusto, along with their teacher’s magical fox, the teacher, and the hated Harlee, end up going on a top-secret mission to see what’s causing the breach. Turns out Cara’s sister Su has joined a cult and blames magic for the death of their father. As part of the cult they are performing their own magic and that’s what’s causing the rupture. In the end, Cara learns that she actually has special talents which make her one of the few who can clean up the magical messes. She also discovers that Harlee is not an evil person. Teachers can use the story to discuss why we should not be too hasty to judge people.

BIBLIO: 2021, Harper/HarperCollins Children’s Books/HarperCollins Publishers, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Grade Fiction

ISBN: 978-0-06-284532-0

Never give up on your dreams and do learn to have faith in yourself. You are most decidedly worth knowing, so believe in yourself.

BLACK LIVES DO INDEED MATTER

I remember when my family was living in Los Angeles during World War Two, we had a black maid. Well, all our maids were black, and we always had a maid because my mother worked full time.  But this particular woman was an especially good woman. She had a son who was about the same age as my oldest sibling—my brother Richard—and she would bring him to work with her sometimes. We all were horrified when she beat him with the flat side of the butcher knife because he and Richard had gotten into a fight. But she was just doing what she thought would keep him safe from being harmed by having an altercation with a white boy. My mother explained to her that it was just two boys having a childhood fight. That Richard was probably as much to blame as the maid’s son. But this was when white and black families didn’t live in the same parts of the city and certainly didn’t go to the same schools and black people were supposed to “obey” the white folk not matter what.

My mother did try to make us understand that black people were just as important as white people, but she also was a woman of her generation and had always had maids, so we all called our maids by their first names. Naomi, Geneva, Virginia, are the names I remember. Still, we were taught to respect the people who were different from us and not just black people. We were taught to respect Asians even though the Japanese Army was responsible for the deaths of my father and maternal grandfather during the war.

Anyway, what I want to do with my blog today is note the talented authors of color who are children’s books writers, a number of whom live in North Carolina.

I’m not listing them in any particular order, just when their names come into my head.

I’m starting with Kelly Starling Lyons who writes charming stories about Jada Jones, a fourth-grader who’s finding her way in the world. but Kelly also writes picture books. The illustrations are delightful and what I like about the books is that, though Jada happens to be African-American, she’s basically just like any other fourth grader. If you ever meet Kelly, you’ll have a friend for life. Check out Kelly’s stories at her website: https://kellystarlinglyons.com.  

Next one who comes to mind is Carole Boston Weatherford, who writes historical fiction such as her book on the Tuskegee Airmen and biographies of people like Harriet Tubman. She currently lives in North Carolina. Her books are well written and her son’s illustrations are excellent. Carole is very engaging person and will help along other authors. Her website is: https://cbweatherford.com/books/

Then there is author/illustrator Kadir Nelson who writes and illustrates books such as the one of the life of Nelson Mandela. He has also illustrated books written by Spike Lee and other celebrities. I do remember being impressed with his writing in the Mandela book, but I don’t personally know much about this author. I’ve also read and enjoyed his book on Michael Jordan entitled Salt in his Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream. The more I’ve researched him, the more of his books it turns out I’ve read. https://www.kadirnelson.com

And, of course we can’t forget the beloved Nikki Grimes who writes wonderful books when she’s not tending her roses or taking walks in her southern California neighborhood. Her poetry is lyrical and lovely, and will suck you into her stories. Her website is: https://www.nikkigrimes.com

But then there are books out there by Native American writers and Asian American writers. These parts of our culture are under recognized and we should work to change that. Read their books and learn of their contributions to our so-called civilization. Though, at the moment, I’m not sure we can be called civilized.

Here are a few names I’ve run across from these authors.

A Dog Named Haku: A Holiday Story from Nepal, by Margarita Engle, Amish Karanjit, Nicole Karanjit is in part written by authors with Nepalese connections.

Nicola Yoon has a number of books out aimed at teen-aged readers. The Sun is also a Star deals with the possibility of being deported.

 I’ll do more research on other writers who don’t fit the “Lily-White” category and post them next time.  But do let me know if you’ve come across someone you’d like mentioned.

 I’m ending with a nod to my friend Kathleen Burkinshaw who wrote The Last Cherry Blossom which tells the story of her mother surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Kathleen bears the legacy of what atomic poisoning can do to one body. Kathleen just got back from speaking at the United Nations about her book. She’s another North Carolina writer. kathleenburkinshaw.com

I know most writers are sympathetic souls who believe in all of us, but let’s all try to be at least a little bit kinder. Let’s try to walk in the shoes of those of us less fortunate. I, for instance, have lived a shelter life, never having had to go hungry or have people hold me in distain because of the color of my skin. Though as a woman growing up and now old from the 1940s on, I’ve had my share of gender discrimination, at least I wasn’t denied advancement because of the color of my skin or the slant of my eyes.

Stay well and happy and pray for better times. I’d love to know what books written by authors of color you’ve read.

Sarah

A Special Book for Us All

You Call This Democracy?

Elizabeth Rusch

The subtitle of this thought-provoking book is “How to Fix Our Government and Deliver Power to the People”. Whatever your political bent this book will make you think carefully about how our system of government works and whether things could or should be changed to make it better. For instance, should we continue to have an Electoral College decide who wins a presidential race? Or should we go with just the popular vote? Would that leave the smaller states without a vote. Hope about the way we hold primaries? Do the states that hold primaries later in the election cycle without a say? Should we lower the voting age to 16 or 17? The book is full of statistics and graphs and other visuals. The various gradations of grey on the maps will be, hopefully, better defined in the final copy of the book. It’s a bit hard to discern the various gradations of gray in this advance reading copy. Take your time reading this book and be prepared to research some of her statements.  It’s the kind of book that the reader will want to tell friends and others about. It’s especially important for young people and people applying for citizenship to read, but everyone else would benefit from reading it.

BIBLIO: March 2020, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ages 10+, $9.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Non-Fiction

ISBN: 9780358387428