To Be or not to Be

Should we always follow the path seemingly meant for us? I’m not sure I ever had a path meant for me, but I doubt that I followed it. In any event, the characters in these stories took different paths. Hope you enjoy them.

 

Ice Boy

David Ezra Stein

Illustrated by David Ezra Stein

What happens when you don’t want what others expect you to want? How far can you go toward your goals? Ice Boy loves his family, and loves to play with them, though he’s not fond of the tough ice cubes at the back of the freezer. But he doesn’t think his ultimate goal should be providing coolness to somebody’s drink. Nor does he want to be in a cold compress for some injury. Instead he wants to explore the world. He wants to stand in the sun, even though his doctor told not to. He goes to the beach and rolls into the ocean, where, slowly but surely, he becomes water boy. He is part of a wave and then another wave, until finally he washes up onto somebody’s beach towel. The sun slowly turns him into vapor boy and carries him up to the clouds. He goes so high, he becomes a drop of water, but then he is high enough to freeze into an ice cube. A storm drops him out of the sky and into someone’s drink at his very own house.  His parents are in the drink with him, but when the person takes a sip, he tastes Ice Boy first and decides the cube doesn’t taste good. Out on to lawn, Ice Boy and his parents are launched. His parents worry what will become of them, but their son says, “Let’s find out.” This is a clever way to teach children about what can happen to water. The illustrations are playful and appealing.

BIBLIO: 2017, Candlewick Press, Ages 5 to 8, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-7636-8203-3

 

The second story was wonderfully done, even though it took me a bit of time to figure we weren’t in modern times. I could easily picture the old comedian with his old poodle.

 

Mort Ziff Is Not Dead

Cary Fagan

In the fall of 1965, Norman Fishbein wins $1000 for guessing the correct number Doozy Dots in a jar. Even his two older brothers are nice to him for a change while he decides what to do with his prize money. In the end, he doesn’t give the money to his folks to repair the roof. Instead, he pays for the whole family to go to Miami Beach, Florida, during the Christmas holiday. At first, the family is stunned, but then they all get into the mood. Mr. and Mrs. Fishbein say they’ll pay for the extras like food and other stuff not included in air travel and hotel rooms expenses. Norman’s brothers are actually a little kinder to him. They are thrilled to be out of wintery Canada for a week. The first day in Miami, the family is enjoying the pool when they spot an elderly gentleman dressed in a black suit, wandering around the deck area carrying a miniature poodle. Turns out he’s a comedian named Mort Ziff.  He was quite the character in his younger days. Norman’s father is thrilled to see him, having thought Mort died years ago. The boys are threatened by three sisters about the same ages as Norman and his brothers swim in the hotel pool. The older two girls and Norman’s brothers challenge each other to duels. But Norman and Amy, the youngest sister, don’t really want to fight. They’d rather just hang out in the ratty old coffee shop drinking milk shakes. They end up saving their new friend, Mort Ziff, from being fired and kicked out of his room at the hotel. The book is amusing, though it wasn’t readily apparent what decade this took place in.

BIBLIO: 2017, Puffin/Penguin Canada Books Inc/Penguin Random House, Ages 8 to 12, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-0-14-319847-5

ISBN: 978-0-14-319849-9

 

When I was a child, comic books had bodybuilder ads in them. “Don’t be the 90 pound weakling who loses his girlfriend.” Instead become a bodybuilder. There was usually a picture of a skinny guy getting sand kicked into his face by a boorish bully. Then the next picture was of Mr. Skinny looking like Mr. Hulk and all the girls swooning over him. See what you missed out on by being born later than I?

Strong as Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth

Don Tate

Illustrated by Don Tate

Eugene Sandow was a scrawny, sickly child named Friedrich Wilhelm Müller, but he soon learned what he wanted was to be a body builder. Though his father was not pleased, Friedrich followed his dream. He worked and worked on developing more muscle and finally decided he wanted to become the strongest man on Earth. It wasn’t easy, but he kept at it until he was, indeed, the strongest man on Earth. He decided that he also needed to improve his showmanship and changed his name to Eugene Sandow. He traveled the world showing off his physique. He wrote books and magazine articles on how to be a strong man. He opened a gym and designed his own muscle-building equipment and techniques. After a much-needed rest, Eugene started a competition for bodybuilders. An interesting twist to this story is about the author, Don Tate, who was a bodybuilder in his own right. At the end of the book are illustrations of simple exercises to keep your body strong and flexible, even if you don’t want to be the Strongest Person in the World. This is a very inspiring book and has many opportunities for starting classroom discussions. It’s thought-provoking to note that the illustrations were digitally created using Manga Studio.

BIBLIO: 2017, Charlesbridge, Ages 6 to 8, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 9781580896283

ISBN: 9781607348863

ISBN: 9781607348870

 

Are You Truly Good?

Have you ever pondered what’s good or innocent and what’s bad or corrupt and how do you tell who’s what? That’s what this anthology is about.

 

Evidently, there is a subset of people called “BookTubers,” who are a subset of people who publish regular information or reviews on YouTube. Before reading this anthology, I’d never even heard of such a group, but then I’m an old codger and proud that I am at least computer savvy enough to write a frequent blog.

 

Anyway, a group of booktubers and a group of YA story authors got together to write stories about good and evil, or about innocents and villains. They came up with 13 wonderful stories that make the reader ponder who is an innocent and who is a villain. The booktubers’ responses are just as provocative as the stories themselves. This is most decidedly worth the read.

 

 

Because You Love to Hate Me

Edited by Ameriie Mi Marie Nicholson

Are the protagonists in these thirteen tales villains, or not? What do the “booktubers” answer? This book is so complex and thought provoking, there’s no way to write a 300-word review and get in the names and details of each story. Do read the book to find out what issues are discussed, but also the sheer pleasure of reading them. All the stories are well written and the answering comments will mill around in your mind for quite a while afterward. The stories are told so subtlety, it’s hard to determine who is the villain. Dig deeper into your consciousness and look past the obvious to think about who the real villain is. Be sure to discuss this book with friends. Admire the artistry presented by the authors and enjoy the humor displayed by the commentators. It is deliciously irreverent. The stories range from retelling of such classics as The Beauty and Beast, werewolf myths, Jack and the Beanstalk, Irish Selkie myths to the exploration of what a psychopath is. As you’re reading, take your time to savor the stories for themselves and then what modern-day issues they raise. You’re guaranteed to want to read them again.

 

Renée Ahdieh’s “The Blood of Imuriv” is about sibling rivalry amongst a royal family and how much control we have over our emotions. Christine Riccio gives us the warning signs evil taking over your soul.

Ameriie writes a take on the old folk tale, “Jack and the Beanstalk,” but not necessarily with Jack as the hero. Tina Burke asks us to compare giants and tyrants and poses the possibility of our misunderstanding what/or who is good.

Soman Chainani’s version of the King Arthur legend, is told in 21st Century teen communication of texting and answered by booktuber, Samantha Lane, who enters the Persephone fable into the mix.

Susan Dennard puts an interesting twist into the Sherlock Holmes story. Sherlock is now Shirley and Moriarty is Jim and Sasha Alsberg answers with Jim’s excuse for his behavior.

In “Blessings of Little Wants,” Sarah Enni’s protagonist searches for a way to save magic, but she has to choose whether it’s worse the price. Sophia Lee’s rebuttal will leave you pondering lots.

Marissa Meyer’s protagonist, Nerit, is a sea witch in the making and is forever trying spells to get her way. Her hope is to have handsome Prince Lorindel make her his queen. When she’s shamed for trying, she surfaces and suns herself on the beach. She meets Samuel who charms her into believing he loves her, so she changes into human form. Alas, Samuel is tricking her and leaves her destitute on the shore. Things do not go well for her. In her response, Zoë Herdt asks us to decide where we stand in the discussion of good and evil.

Cindy Pon’s intriguing story, “Beautiful Venom,” tells of a beautiful young virgin who’s been groomed to be the Emperor of China’s latest consort, and how an evil man beguiles her, ruining her chances of success. The Goddess of Purity changes her into a snake. Benjamin Alderson suggests the villain is actually society’s belief that women provoke rape.

Victoria Schwab’s “Death Knell,” a fascinating description of death’s persona, is compelling. Is it always the same figure? Jesse George asks questions of death in his rebuttal.

Samantha Shannon’s story “Marigold,” is told as a fairy tale, but the truth of the matter is that women in the 1800’s were doomed to a life of obedience to men’s wills. No wonder they didn’t want to return when abducted by Erl people of the woods. Regan Perusse presents a different take on it in her story, “Evil Revealed.”

Adam Silveria’s protagonist in “You, You, It’s all about You,” is a drug dealer, not of heroin or other potent drugs. Rather she’s the provider of memory-erasing drugs, mesmerizing drugs, drugs that seriously screw up your psyche. She wears a mask made up of the rotting flesh of her dead father’s hand. Catriona Feeney takes the mask for her discussion of how we all wear masks of some sort.

Andrew Smith’s hero in “Julian Breaks Every Rule,” is either the luckiest guy on the face of the earth or a bona fide psychopath. You decide. Raeleen Lemay gives you some possibilities.

April Genevieve Thucholke ponders whether werewolves are to be killed or pitied or accepted in “Indigo and Shade.” This is actually a charming love story on one level.  Whitney Atkinson discusses what the reality of a particular situation is and whether one’s reaction is a good one.

Nicola Yoon reminded me of the main character in The Bad Seed, a little girl who is born evil, only to ripen into a real demon. “Sera” ripens into murderous, loathsome child. But nobody but her mother can see how evil she is. Steph Sinclair and Kat Kennedy illuminate the concept of being a villain in “The Bad Girl’s Guide to Villainy.”

BIBLIO: 2017, Bloomsbury Children’s Books/Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc., Ages 14+, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-68119-364-9

ISBN: 978-1-68119-365-6

 

 

 

 

 

A Horse is a Horse…

As you’ve probably guessed, I love reading about animals, especially dogs and horses, but other animals are good to read about as well. I like fiction better than non-fiction, though I’ve read a number of good non-fiction animal books.

My husband loves to sing the first verse of the opening song for the old TV sitcom starring the “Mr. Ed,” hence the title of this post.

My favorites are:

Free and Easy, about young Stella O’Dare who pines for a horse of her own, but can’t afford one. She ends up helping at a neighboring farm and is allowed to train a filly. She begins to think of the mare as her own and gets jealous if other people take an interest in the horse. Things get more complicated when a young man takes an interest in the mare and then in Stella. I learned a lot about horse training, and about horse breeds. The filly is a purebred Narragansett Pacer. The breed no longer exists, but does show up in the bloodlines of Tennessee Walking Horses, Rocky Mountain gaited horses, and Saddlebreds. All these breeds have gaits other than just the usual walk, trot, canter, gallop. Not all Walking Horses trot and not all Walking Horses pace, but they all do the long, easy gait that is as fast as most horses’ trot, but with no bumping up and down.

Yeah, but what does that mean, to pace or to trot?

A horse’s walk, no matter how slow or fast, is a four-beat gait. Let’s say you’re looking at the horse from the left side, first the left hind foot moves forward, and as it lands, the right front foot moves forward, then the right hind and then left front.  A Walking Horse’s extended walk should be so smooth and straight, you could pass along rows of cornstalks and not touch the corn with your body. And you should be able to ride for hours. These horses were bred to carry the landowner as comfortably as possible while they checked on their plantations. Some horse shows used to have classes where the rider had to ride a certain distance holding a full glass of water without spilling a drop.

Next comes the trot, which is a two-beat gait. Again, watching from the left side, that hind foot and the alternate front foot leave the ground together, and, when they land, the other diagonal pair move. Once you learn to move with the push of the horse’s hind legs, it’s lots easier to stay with the horse instead of bouncing around. Now, this is where the gait called a pace comes in. Not all horses have it, but those that do can be quite comfortable. The difference is which legs move together. In the trot, it’s a diagonal pairing; in a pace, it’s a lateral pairing—left hind and left front. Your body must adjust to roll with the gait, instead rising to the gait. A slow trot is called a jog and, with the right horse, you can sit to it for miles. Our orange and white Pinto, had an outstanding jog trot, but he also had a glorious extended trot. I could feel his hind legs land under my seat and see his forelegs stretch past his muzzle.

Our wonderful Thoroughbred had a nice, steady trot, but his best gaits were his canter and his gallop—like riding on a fast-moving cloud. This is a three-beat gait—left hind, front legs mostly together and right hind. You should be able to sit to this gait.

The next gait is the gallop, which is what Thoroughbreds do when they’re racing. Similar to a canter, it is, of course, much faster and all four feet are off the ground in one stage of the stride. It’s so exciting it can take your breath away.

My husband and I had Tennessee Walking Horses on our farm. Two of them were good jumpers and very willing to go where ever we wanted them to go.  I loved that we had a breed which carried the bloodlines of the horse in my favorite horse story.

Other of my favorite books:

King of the Wind: the story of the Godolphin Arabian, and other books about horses, all of them illustrated by Wesley Dennis, taught me a great deal about horses. Her books about the Chincoteague ponies still resonate with horse lovers. The first of that series is Misty of Chincoteague.

Smoky, the Cowhorse written and illustrated by Will James, who was a cowboy and taught himself to draw.

The Black Stallion by Walter Farley, who was another favorite of mine for horse books. And though this information says the book was copyrighted in 1969, I think it was first published much earlier than that.


My Friend Flicka
and the rest of the series by Mary O’Hara will always have a place inmy heart. Flicka is about a young boy’s struggle to please his domineering father and the solace he finds in gaining the trust of a filly.Any of the C W Anderson books will do, but see if you can find his Favorite Horse Stories. I believe his last story was of a pony named Blaze. I loved the pen and ink

drawings scattered throughout the pages. He was also quite well known for his

drawings of horses, perhaps even better known for them than his books.

Enid Bagnold’s National Velvet is another much loved and much filmed story about a

young English girl, who trains and rides a black and white pinto to win the grand prix

of steeple chase races in England at the time when girls weren’t supposed to do things

that. Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney played in the original film version.

Of course, just about everyone knows about Black Beauty, whose story was put to paper by Anna Sewell and was intended to inform the public about cruelty to horses, in particular harness horses. The book itself plays a part in my middle-reader novel, which I hope to have out by the end of this year. My book is titled Emily’s Ride to Courage.

Obviously, there are many more stories involving horses, but this is enough for now. Thanks for reading. Sarah Maury Swan, author of Terror’s Identity.

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.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the Second Time Is Just as Nice

Sometimes I need to mention a book twice, in part because it is so well done, but also because it has some connection to a more recent book.  The connection this time is that Nicola Yoon on her second start out the gate, has produced another winner of a book.  The second book is very intriguing, though a bit difficult to get into.  I got confused about who belonged to which family, but soon understood their relationships.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

 

The first book, Everything Everything, came out in 2015 to deserved rave reviews and I’m sure this second book will also jump to the head of the list.

Everything Everything

Nicola Yoon

Illustrated by Daniel Yoon

Madeline Whittier is sure she’s read more books than anybody else on the planet.  What else can she do in her white room in her sterile house? She can’t leave her house since she’s allergic to the outside world.  Her only physical visitors are her nurse, Carla, her mother and just one of her tutors. At seventeen, she has accepted her life. But things change in Maddie’s soul when Oliver—Olly—moves in next door, with his rebellious younger sister, enabling mother, and abusive, alcoholic father.  Olly sees Maddie at her window watching him and starts communication through sign language, pantomime, notes and eventually their electronic devices.  It doesn’t hurt that he’s drop-dead gorgeous and compassionate.  As their relationship deepens, Maddie wishes to meet Olly in the flesh, though she knows they may never have physical contact.  Carla arranges everything while Maddie’s mom, a doctor, is at work. The reader matures along with Maddie and begins to wonder where her quality of life is?  Secretly she arranges a trip to Hawaii with Olly.  Olly is resistant at first, but Maddie, now eighteen, feels she can make her own choices.  She does get sick on their trip and ends up in the hospital with an infection in her heart.  But she doesn’t die and comes home stronger than she ever thought possible.  The Hawaiian pathologist sends her a letter informing Maddie that there is no sign of disease.  So Maddie goes to a specialist who confirms that Maddie is not sick.  Turns out her mother, after losing Maddie’s father and brother in a car accident, can’t deal with the thought of losing her daughter.  She made Maddie’s illness up.  Now the girl has to deal with the aftermath of this revelation.  This is a fantastic read.

BIBLIO: 2015, Delacorte Books/Random House Teens/ Random House Children’s Books/Penguin Random House, Ages 14 +, $18.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-553-40664-2

ISBN: 978-0-553-40665-9

ISBN: 978-0-553-40666-6

 

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In the second book by Ms. Yoon, juxtaposes teens from two different cultures trying make their ways in the Big Apple.  They meet by chance and end up spending the day together trying to get to various meetings they have to attend to put their lives on the tracks they want to follow.

 

New York city teenagers, one, a Korean/American and one, an illegal immigrant from Jamaica, fall in love, but to no avail.  And though their lives move forward, in their souls they still have a connection to each other.  The boy’s parents want him to follow the path that all bright Korean/American kids are supposed trek, go to Harvard or Yale and become successful lawyers or doctors.  The boy and his older brother have no interest in following the planned road.  The boy has the soul of a poet.

 

The girl’s parents smuggled her into the U.S. when she was very young.  She barely remembers Jamaica and her brother was born in the U.S. She wants to be an astrophysicist or at least something to do with space.  She feels that’s not likely to happen in Jamaica.

The Sun is also a Star

Nicola Yoon

Natasha Kingsley and her family are about to be deported from New York City to Jamaica, but she has lived most of her life in the U.S. and doesn’t want to go back.  Daniel Jae Ho Bae was born in the U.S., as was his older brother, Charles Jae Won Bae.  Their parents are here legally, Natasha’s are not.  The only legal person in her family is her younger brother, Peter.  The chance of Daniel and Natasha ever meeting seems very unlikely, but meet they do as Natasha makes one last ditch effort to turn the tide on her family’s deportation that night.  Daniel is in Manhattan to be interviewed for admittance into Yale, not that he wants to go to Yale or become a doctor.  He’d rather learn more about writing poetry.  But they do meet and end up spending most of the day together.  Daniel is open to falling in love with Natasha, but she keeps resisting.  What’s the use she thinks, but she can’t help herself.  In the end, Daniel takes her to the plane and watches her fly away.  For a while they keep in touch, but time and distance finally take their toll on the relationship.  Except for what happens ten years later. The story is complex and, at first, difficult to follow who belongs in which family, but soon the reader figures out who belongs where and starts rooting for the star-crossed lovers.  Like Ms. Yoon’s first book, Everything, Everything, this story will pull you in.  She’s bound to be read eagerly and readers will anxiously await her next book. This book discusses some tough issues, such as the U.S. immigration laws, ethnic/culture differences, and are there such things as coincidences.

BIBLIO: 2016, Delacorte Press/Random House Children’s Books/Penguin Random House LLC, Ages 14 +, $18.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-553-49668-0

ISBN: 978-0-553-49669-7

ISBN: 978-0-553-49670-3

ISBN: 978-1-5247-1630-1

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Both of these books show what a good writer can come up with when writing a good story.  It doesn’t matter which of these you read first, but I would highly recommend reading both.

 

 

Local Authors Are Varied and Prolific

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

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

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult, New Adult

ISBN: 1499760728

ISBN: 978-1499760729

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

 

Zena’s Law

Tom Lewis

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

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Adult

ISBN: 978-0-9758700-8-2

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

My Little Plastic Bag

Sam Love

Illustrated by Samrae Duke

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 1534622640

ISBN: 978-1534622647

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

The Holidays Are Upon Us

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. I hope you find much to be thankful for.  I know I do.  Our family is coming to visit, including the new granddog, Titan, a Standard Poodle.  But some of you may be traveling elsewhere, so I thought I’d include three books having to do with travel.  Two of them are not actually stories, but rather activity books. Books to keep children occupied.

 

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This book is bound to keep anybody occupied for a very long time.  And it’s lots of fun if you like to solve puzzles of any sort.

 

Can You See What I See? Big Book of Search-and-Find Fun

Walter Wick

Illustrated by Walter Wick

This book should come with a warning: Do Not Open Unless You Have Time to Fritter Away.  You’ll find it hard not to try just one more puzzle.  Plus, it’s a sneaky way to encourage early readers to increase their vocabularies.  The lists are ten words each and have themes such as magic castles, fairy tales, ordinary objects such as an assortment of buttons and jewelry.  The objects to be found vary from hard to see to right in front of the reader’s eyes.  And the types of objects vary from animals to needles to plants.  There is a robot-type creature that crops up in various puzzles which are marked with a picture of a wooden block carved with the letter s.  This book is a keeper for home and classroom, but, be careful, it is addictive. Plus, it’s a compilation of pages from early versions of this book.

BIBLIO: 2016, Cartwheel Books/Scholastic Children’s Books/Scholastic, Ages 5 +, $12.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Early Reader

ISBN: 978-0-545-83863-4

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Perhaps young cousins are gathering together and they don’t know each other well.  This book will put at least the girls at ease in a hurry.  They will be fast friends by the end of the visit.

For Me & U! Fun for BFFs

Scholastic

Illustrated by Kyla Mae Pty Ltd

This book is fun for a group of seven girls at their first slumber party.  There are spaces for the girls to fill in their preferences and paste their special stickers in each of the thirty sections.  The stickers are at the end of the book.  The book starts with small rectangles where each girl may put down her name, age, grade and school, along with a circle for her personal sticker.  The second section has areas for “Selfies” and section three is a list of personality traits for the girls to circle.  Then the girls get to design their cell phone cases, what toppings they’d put on their favorite flavor ice cream, pick where they’d like travel, what fun things to do with friends, and what kinds of clothes they wear.  There are also sections on decorating cupcakes and giving preferences of activities such either going to the movies or a concert.  The girls get to pick what they’d like to be when they grow up—lawyer, actress, scientist or writer, among other choices. There are sections for coloring and noting favorite books, plus drawing a favorite celebrity.  The girls may check off their favorite school subjects in addition to designing the perfect pizza and ordering the best dinner.  What animal is each girl’s favorite and where to go on vacation make up two more sections. The final section is to draw a family portrait, including pets.

BIBLIO: 2014, Scholastic, Inc. Ages 7 to 9, $8.99.

REVIWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-0-545-73297-0

 

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First time flyers  are frequently frightened by all the confusion at an airport, what with lots of noise and people making them go through scary machines.  This book will help calm fears.

 

The Airport Book

Lisa Brown

Illustrated by Lisa Brown

Preparing your youngsters for what to expect when they’re traveling by airplane is probably a good thing to do.  This story starts at home while the family is packing.  Mom reminds her daughter and her husband to make sure the toy monkey is packed.  Then they take a cab to the airport and go through all the lines one needs to go through.  The reader follows the luggage because the monkey’s tail is sticking out of the bag.  Little sister cries when she goes through the scanner because she doesn’t know what’s happening, but she is comforted by her mommy and when they’re done, big brother holds his sister’s hand so she won’t get lost.  Finally everyone is on board and happily buckled into a seat.  Monkey has an adventure of his own in the cargo hold when a dog gets out of his crate, pulls Monkey out of his suitcase and snuggles with him during the flight. But Monkey is back with his suitcase when the plane lands and everybody’s happy.  Cute book that will give grown-ups a chortle as it comforts little ones.

BIBLIO: 2016, Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press, Ages 2 to 6, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-62672-091-6

 

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This post is probably a bit late for those of you traveling for Thanksgiving, but December holidays are right around the corner.  Now you have time to prepare.  Safe travels and happy family get togethers.

Suspending Disbelief

As writers, we know we need to make our readers to “pay no attention to the man behind the screen.”  This is especially true of those who write science fiction and/or fantasy.  Some writers pull this off quite well.  Read Beth Revis’ books or John Claude Bemis’ books to see how thoroughly we can be sucked in.  Of course, there are many other writers out there who write quite well in these genres, but I wanted mention writers who live in the Carolinas.

 

So today, we are looking at books I’ve reviewed that would have us suspend our disbelief.

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The first book makes you believe that there is a being called Love who manipulates us to fall in love with the right person.

Definitely suspending our disbelief, wouldn’t you say?


Love Charms and Other Catastrophes

Kimberly Karalius

Hijiri Kitamura goes to a special high school for charm makers and is looking forward to seeing the friends she made the year before.  Last year had been a challenge because of Zita, the reigning Love-Charm maker, who ruled the town.  But Hijiri and her friends, with help from Love himself, had gotten rid of Zita.  This year, Love wants to show Hijiri her heart isn’t small and that she can love other people. He sends her Kentaro Oshiro, a special boy, but Hijiri thinks the boy isn’t real and refuses to be attracted to him.  Hijiri and her friends, now including Ken, enter the town’s Love-Charm contest with Hijiri as the charm maker.  Things get more and more complicated with all of her friends eventually mad at each other and Ken eventually being hurt so badly by Hijiri he stops trying to win her over.  Of course, in the end, Hijiri makes the perfect love charm and the group wins the prize.  Hijiri learns Ken is a real boy who remembers her from a childhood encounter when he was dying of heart failure.  Love gave him a new heart and, in exchange, he wants Ken to teach Hijiri that she does have a big heart and is capable of love.  The story teaches the reader how to believe in herself and follow her dreams. It is quite nicely written.

BIBLIO: 2016, Swoon Reads/Feiwel and Friends, Ages 14 +, $10.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-250-08404-0

ISBN: 978-1-250-08401-9

 

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I had a hard time believing character traits in this book.  How much can a blind person see of the world around him?

 

Nowhere Near You

Leah Thomas

Oliver, a.k.a. Ollie, and Moritz are long distance pen pals with unique problems. They met in the first book, “Because You’ll Never Meet Me.” Ollie has lived in northern Michigan woods all his life because he’s allergic to electricity which causes seizures and shorts out any electrical circuits that come within reach of his problem.  But his mother is dead and his doctor takes him on a road trip, ostensibly to meet other problem kids. Moritz, who lives in Germany, was born without eyes and gets around by listening to the world and by using echolocation like a bat to see what’s around him.  Somehow their letters get to each other.  They are both trying to be regular teenagers, but that’s not an easy task for them. They do begin to learn about themselves and Ollies learns he can control his allergies.  The story itself is sweet, but it’s hard to suspend one’s disbelief about some of their problems, in particular Moritz’s ability to “see” things a blind person couldn’t see.  Perhaps a blind person could hear someone’s eyebrows rising, but could a blind person “see” that another person had a “unibrow?”  Doesn’t seem likely.  Another of the characters takes her heart out of her chest and gives it to other people, because she doesn’t want to feel emotions.  She’s a star track runner in her school even without her heart. If the reader can continue to suspend disbelief, the story is nice read and could lead to classroom discussions.

BIBLIO: 2017, Bloomsbury Publishing, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-68119-178-2

 

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The disbelief is not on the part of the reader in this last book, but rather the main character.  All done in a charming fashion.

 

This Book Is NOT About Dragons

Shelley Moore Thomas

Illustrated by Fred Koehler

The rat who narrates this story is convinced there are not 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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Hope you enjoy the reviews and please tell me about books you couldn’t believe.

 

 

 

 

Remembering Past Books

These books have a bit of age on them, but you can probably find them in your library. Though the first two have some flaws in them, they’re still worth reading and the characters are endearing.

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Allie has her flaws as we all do, but she’s a likeable kid.

Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls: Blast from the Past

Meg Cabot

Allie is now in fourth grade at a new school and trying to prove herself responsible enough to own a cell phone—after all she’s saved a total of $36 from doing chores and helping her neighbors. Her parents say the rule is she could have her own cell phone in sixth grade, if she’s proved herself responsible by not losing things or not leaving her coat and book bag on the floor. Two whole years away! Plus, she has other things to worry about: her cat, Mewsie, is hiding in a hole in the wall of her brother’s room; her wonderful teacher is probably getting married and moving away; and she has to go on a boring field trip and share the bus with the kids from her old school—including her ex-best friend, Mary Kate, who is now hanging out with the snobby “cool” girls. Turns out the field trip isn’t as boring as Allie thought; her teacher is getting married, but not moving; Mary Kate is now her friend again, sort of; Mewsie leaves the hole on his own; and Mom says Allie may have cell phone in fifth grade. Allie is a spunky girl and her antics are amusing, but she sure is repetitive. I’m not sure we readers need to be reminded in each chapter of how obnoxious Mary Kate has been, or that Allie’s teacher’s boyfriend threw rocks at the school window, or that Allie missed going on the last field trip because of Mary Kate, but the story does have merit.

BIBLIO: 2010, Scholastic Press/Scholastic, Inc., Ages 7 to 9, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-0-545-04048-8

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I reviewed an earlier book in this series, so I was not eager to review another. But Amy’s character has grown on me. I’ve always wondered if another of this series has come out.

Ask Amy Green: Bridesmaid Blitz

Sarah Webb

Another installment in the “Ask Amy Green” series takes Amy and Clover—her teen-aged aunt—on a shopping trip to Paris to pick out clothes for Amy’s mother’s upcoming wedding. Amy is a little less self-centered in this book than she has been in the past. She’s still unhappy with the new mates her parents, Sylvie and Art, have picked, but is beginning to have some sympathy for Dave, her step-dad to be. Her dad’s pregnant new wife, Shelly, is very high maintenance. Amy’s mother is feeling overwhelmed by the wedding Clover is planning for her and keeps pleading that she just wants a simple, inexpensive ceremony. Clover plots to surprise Sylvie with a trip to Paris. When Amy is finally told about the trip, she plans how she’s going to surprise her boyfriend, Seth, who is there on a school trip. In the meantime, Seth’s mother is being tested to see if her breast cancer has reoccurred or spread and the tests results are due back when Seth is supposed to be away. Now he doesn’t want to go. Dave, who is a nurse at the local hospital, comes to the rescue and asks the doctor to put a rush on the tests. To add to the tension, Shelly’s domineering mother comes to stay indefinitely, but Amy’s the one who helps Shelly through labor when the baby comes early. Amy rightfully feels left out after her new brother is born, with Art and Shelly not including her in the new family circle. Her insensitive dad finally comes to his senses though and Amy begins to bond with her youngest sibling. The next installment will undoubtedly focus on Sylvie’s cold feet about her impending wedding.

BIBLIO: 2012, Candlewick Press, Ages 12 +, $6.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-7636-5157-2

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I can still remember the drawings in this book. It’s a charmer, especially with the message that we don’t all have to be the same.

The Geese March in Step

Jean-François Dumont

Illustrated by Jean-François Dumont

Originally published in French, this book is a charmer about not marching in lock step just because it’s always been that way. Igor, the lead goose on the farm, insists that all the geese march at his tempo on the daily parade to the pond. He is most distraught when Zita, the newest goose to the gaggle, adds a different beat to the cadence. He kicks her out of the goose parade. At first she’s sad and lonely, but soon the woodpecker and rooster, donkey and cow, sheep and pigs, turkey and frog, plus all the other creatures on the farm, add new beats to Zita’s walk. When the new parade arrives at the pond with its unique sound, Igor is out numbered. From then on, Igor marches his regimented beat to the pond all by himself, but everyone else waits to see what Zita’s beat might prompt them to do. The amusing illustrations add to the off beat tone of this story. Children will enjoy adding their own sounds to the “Parade-to-the-Pond” music. And parents will love the message.

BIBLIO: 2014 (orig. 2007,) Eerdmans Books for Young Readers/Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Ages 4 to 8, $16.00.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-8028-5443-8

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As I age, I need to remind myself that getting older doesn’t mean I’m not as good as I was. Who knows, maybe I’m even getting better on some fronts. At least I’m able to let other people cook in my kitchen, even though my golf game stinks. And though I still can’t sing a lick, my writing improves all the time.