Nah, Is That Really True?

Sometimes fiction seems real and sometimes it’s fun, but most decidedly not real. Still either piece of fiction, if well written, lets the reader “suspend his disbelief.”

 

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The first book fits the not-real category, but still is worth reading, and may even encourage you to have a food fight.

 

Fakespeare: Star-Crossed in Romeo and Juliet

M. E. Castle

Illustrated by Daniel Jennewein

Becca is caught up in a mysterious and magical tale based on William Shakespeare’s play, “Romeo and Juliet.” Becca has a great imagination and loves to write stories, but she does not like her new stepbrother, Sam, whom she considers obnoxious. She goes to her friend Kyle’s house to retrieve a library book she’d left there. Kyle is not there, though he’s supposed to be, but a book is, not that it’s supposed to be. Obnoxious Sam starts to read it, and before the kids can react, the book swallows them up. They wake up in a pile of straw, well, actually a pile of hay, in the town’s market. And they seem to be involved in the story of Romeo and Juliet and are about to be skewered by a swordsman or two. The Narrator from the magical book gives them advice, which they follow and hide behind a cart full of ripe tomatoes. Soon the stepsiblings become involved in sword and tomato fight between the Capulets and Montagues, who are fighting over who makes the best pizza. Along the way, Sam and Becca show Romeo how to captivate Juliet’s heart and how to end the war between their two families. Plus, Becca discovers that Sam actually isn’t so bad to have as a brother. The story is silly and fun, with enough of Shakespeare’s play in it to be a good introduction to the storyline and nobody dies.

BIBLIO: 2017, Paper Lantern/Get Lost Book Club/Imprint/Macmillan Children’s Publishing/Macmillan Publishing Group, Ages 9 to 12, $13.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 978-1-250-10162-4

ISBN: 978-1-250-10161-7

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Have you ever told a lie, even a teeny, tiny fib? I expect all of us have told at least one untruth in our lifetimes. As honest and truthful as we all try to be, sometimes it’s just easier on everyone to not tell the whole story. See if you can find the culprit in this murder mystery.

 

One of Us Is Lying

Karen M. McManus

Yale-bound Bronwyn, a rule follower to the core, Homecoming Princess Addy, drug dealing Nate, and all-star pitcher Cooper are all sent to detention for having cell phones on them during school hours.  Also in detention is Simon, the creator of a gossip app which tells all of the students’ darkest secrets. It’s been rumored that Simon is going to spill the beans on all four of his detention mates the next day. When only the five students are in the closed-door classroom, Simon drinks water from a paper cup that’s been laced with peanut oil and dies of anaphylactic shock. The police investigate all four students and discover their secrets. During the investigation, the kids learn about each other and that their outward personas are not all there is to them. Each kid knows he’s not responsible, but wonders about the others. Each kid admits to and accepts her imperfections. They all grow emotionally during the story. The reader will enjoy figuring out who the murderer is and will learn more about accepting himself. Teachers will find much to use for classroom discussion. The book is a winner, even if a bit formulaic.

BIBLIO: 2017, Delacorte Press/Random House Children’s Books/Penguin Random House, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-5247-1468-0

ISBN: 978-1-5247-1469-7

ISBN: 978-1-5247-1470-3

Happy 4th of July! Have fun and say thanks for the good in our country.

 

 

Adventures of all Kinds

I still am gathering books to talk about books about animals, so I’m going to give you reviews about books I just read. Two of them do have animals as main characters, but they’re not part of the collection in my heart.

 

The first one is about Henry who sees the museum he visits with his classmates in an entirely different way. The illustrations are funny and remind me of Peter Arnold’s drawings in the New Yorker, ages ago when I was young.

 

A Funny Thing Happened at the Museum

Davide Cali

Illustrated by Benjamin Chaud

Henry’s trip to the museum isn’t quite the same as what his classmates experience. Instead, he and his stalwart dog encounter a charging triceratops. But Henry and his dog take refuge with a Neanderthal family.  As thanks, our intrepid friend shows them how to design creatures using balloons, until he is chased away by a herd of buffalo. Saved from that, Henry and dog trigger a volcano to explode and, in running away to keep from being plastered with lava, the two heroes run smack into an exhibit of dinosaur bones, set up to represent the various types of animals. Their reconstruction is not quite as precise as it might have been. Even in the hall of sculptures, Henry has a different experience than the other students. But, in the end, he has made the museum an even more intriguing place for future visitors. The drawings are delightful and the story will have children wishing to go to a museum. But do be careful not to get caught in Henry’s kind of adventures. Teachers will happily gather discussion points from this book.

BIBLIO: 2017, Chronicle Books LLC, Ages 7 to 10, $12.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-1-4521-5593-7

 

This charming story talks about making friends and understanding where one belongs in the scheme of things.

 

Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten

Candice Ransom

Illustrated by Christine Grove

Amanda wants to be a school bus driver when she grows up, but, first, she wants to go to kindergarten. And she wants to do all things her brother, Lewis, did. She plans to write her name in big letters on the chalk board, so everyone will know who she is. She’ll build the tallest block tower and then she’ll run faster than everyone else, provided they’re only running downhill. The first day of school, Amanda gets to the bus stop only to discover a girl her age dressed in brilliantly-bright pink. Amanda tries to ignore her, but the pink girl follows her onto the bus and sits down next to her. Bitsy is her name, she announces, but Amanda doesn’t feel like being polite, so she doesn’t answer. Bitsy writes her name on the board, taking up most of the room, leaving Amanda only a very small area for her name. No matter what Amanda tries to be best at, Bitsy gets in her way. After recess, Amanda sneaks into the line for Lewis’ grade and sits next to him in his class. Amanda’s feet don’t reach the floor and she can’t read the words on the board. Just when she’s feeling very low, Bitsy shows up at the classroom door, looking quite lost and sad. Turns out she had gone looking for Amanda and got lost. Amanda realizes her mistake in quitting kindergarten, so she takes Bitsy’s hand and back they go to their classroom. Amanda discovers it doesn’t hurt to be kind. This is a sweet story with adorable illustrations combining panda traits with human traits. Teachers have many discussion points to use in class.

BIBLIO: 2017, Doubleday Books for Young Readers/Random House Children’s Books/Penguin Random House LLC, Ages 4 to 7, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-399-55455-1

ISBN: 978-0-399-55456-8

ISBN: 978-0-399-55457-5

 

 

This story is a winner, with a charming message and wonderful drawings.

 

No More Noisy Nights

Holly L. Niner

Illustrated by Guy Wolek

Poor Jackson Mole works hard all day, moving boxes of stuff and furniture into his new house, which makes him very ready for bed and a good night’s rest. Promptly at nine p.m., he settles himself in, expecting to sleep soundly, but the “oooEEEeee” wail coming from the attic keeps him awake all night. Jackson has a hard time staying awake the next day and does such silly things as putting ketchup on his toast. At bedtime, Jackson goes up to the attic and asks the ghost to be quiet.  The ghost, says he’ll try to be quieter, but what’s he supposed to do? Jackson says he’ll think about. The next evening he sets a box on the attic floor. But does he get to sleep that night? Noo. The basement Boogey Monster, boogety woogety wooos all night long. Jackson asks the monster to make less noise at night, but the monster doesn’t know how. Jackson leaves a box at the foot of the basement stairs. Now he is sure he’ll have good night’s sleep.  Nope. The Piano Pixie starts plinking out her music. Is he ever going to have a peaceful night’s sleep? Of course, the next morning, Jackson asks the pixie to not make all that noise at night. She says she’ll try, but what’s she supposed to do. He puts out sheet music for the pixie and goes to sleep with the soft sounds of a puzzle being assembled above him, a toy train chugging along below him, and a pixie lullaby coming from the piano. What can be better than a not-so-noisy house and new friends?  This book is adorable, with cute illustrations and a good message of cooperation.

BIBLIO: 2017, Flashlight Press, Ages 5 to 8, $17.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-936261-93-2

 

 

Animals in Books

I have to do more research before I present my next post. But here’s something for you to think about until next time. Most of us have at least one pet, or have had one in our lifetimes, and there always come a time when the pet needs to pass from this realm to the next. I have had lots of pets, some shared with other family members and some that were just mine.

I also have read many books about humans and their animals. So, I thought I’d write about some of those books. But, first I’ll have to go back and re-read at least some of them.

What books do you remember from your life of reading? Did you ever read the books about collies that were written by Alfred(?) Payson Terhune? Or Free and Easy, by Fairfax Downey? Or William Faulkner’s story The Bear? Along with Where the Red Fern Grows, or any of the other well-known books about humans and animals, these books have always stuck with me. Please tell me about your favorite animal stories. And next week, I’ll go into more detail about some of the books I’ve mentioned.

Of the more modern books I’ve read, there is Sheri Shepard Levy’s Seven Days to Goodbye and, of course, the Shiloh series.

Talk with you next week, if not sooner. Sarah

Good Books to Read

There are a lot of good books being written nowadays, though there are plenty of clunkers. I thought I’d include a good one from each reading range: Picture Book; Middle-Reader; and young adult. Hope you find these interesting.

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Dance Fever

Julie Bowe

The latest in the “Victoria Torres: Unfortunately Average” series has our heroine, called Vicka, working on the school fund raiser committee as a sixth-grade representative.  Her older sister, Sofia, is chairperson of the committee and is trying to keep peace in the committee.  Unfortunately, fellow sixth grader, Annelise, is also on the committee and has what she thinks is the perfect dance theme—a formal ball, with girls in fancy gowns and boys wearing suits and ties.  Guess how many boys are thrilled with this idea. Vicka must get Annelise to change her mind.  Not an easy task, but Vicka succeeds, with one proviso. Annelise insists on having a Sadie Hawkins dance. Everybody’s happy. The boys because they can wear jeans and boots. The girls because they get to ask the boys to the dance. Vicka is not all that happy, however, because she’s afraid to ask her crush, Drew. She’s sure he won’t be interested because he’s popular and older. In the end, she and Drew go singly, but end up dancing together. The fund raiser is a huge success, especially when the school principal gives a calf three kisses on the nose. This is a cute story about a girl who feels she doesn’t have anything special to offer the world, but is indeed a good friend and a natural-born fence-mender. There are lots of issues presented for classroom discussion.

BIBLIO: 2017, Stone Arch Books/Capstone Books, Ages 11 to 14, $25.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 9781496538192

ISBN: 9781496538215

ISBN: 9781496538277

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We all have times when we wish we were in a better place. It just takes someone to show us we’re in the perfect place right now.

Princessland

Emily Jenkins

Illustrated by Yoko Tanaka

Young Romy is sad. She’d rather be in Princessland, where everything is perfect. Her cat, Lady Cat, takes her on a walk through their town to show Romy she already lives in such a land. Romy says in Princessland a person can get whatever she wants to eat whenever she wants it. Lady Cat stops at the bakery, where the baker gives Romy a day-old muffin and Lady Cat a dish of milk. Next the cat takes Romy up a tree, so high they can see the whole town. Romy tells Lady Cat about the tall towers in the Princessland castles where the Princesses sleep on rose petals. The cat takes her to open-air market, where lady cat steals a fish from the fish monger and Romy dances to a guitar-player’s music dreaming of being at a fancy ball. Next the two stretch out on a patch of lush green grass, while Lady Cat chases a butterfly and Romy tells of the princesses all having their own horses or whatever creature they want. After a nap, Lady Cat announces she wants her dinner and Romy complains that she hadn’t been to Princessland as the cat had promised. Lady Cat says she had taken Romy there. Romy thinks about it and realized the cat was right.  Sweet story with a wry sense of humor, which might give the reader an understanding of appreciating what she has.

BIBLIO: 2017, Farrar Straus Giroux Books/Macmillan Publishing Group, Ages 5 to 8, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 9780374361150

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What do you do when the person you count on to keep things on an even keel is floundering?

Stealing Our Way Home

Cecilia Galante

Pippa and Jack Kendall are dealing with the death of their mother as best they can. Pippa doesn’t talk anymore and Jack thinks it’s his fault. Then they discover their dad has lost his car dealership and is broke.  He’s afraid of losing their house and he can’t find a job. The house is of great importance for many reasons, but especially because it belonged to his wife through inheritance. Pippa is now looked upon as weird and is afraid of being taunted by her classmates. Then their father takes Jack with him when he goes to rob a bank and Jack is horrified, but also glad that the family now can pay the mortgage and get the utilities functioning, plus buy Pippa and Jack new school clothes. Pippa has to write a paper about someone she thinks is a hero. Originally, she picks her mother, because she was so brave during her losing battle with cancer. Jack is concerned about his father and Pippa and how he can keep them safe.  While the two are trying to sort out what’s going on, Pippa learns what her father is doing to support the family. The next time he goes to rob a bank, Pippa goes with him and Jack.  She knows Jack doesn’t approve of the robbery. Just as her dad heads into the bank, she regains her voice and yells at him to not go. Dad stops, goes back to the car and heads home. He turns himself in to the police and has to spend a year in jail. Pippa writes her paper on Jack and reads it aloud to the whole school. This book is nicely written, telling a powerful story.

BIBLIO: 2017, Scholastic Press/Scholastic Inc., Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN:978-1-338-04296-2

ISBN:978-1-338-04298-6

 

Please let me know what you’re reading and what you think of it. Thanks, Sarah

Two for the Price of One

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

Heartwood Hotel: A True Home

Kallie George

Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-1-4847-3161-1

ISBN: 978-1-4847-4638-7

ISBN: 978-1-4847-4736-0

Heartwood Hotel: The Greatest Gift

Kallie George

Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-1-4847-3234-2

ISBN: 978-1-4847-4639-4

ISBN: 978-1-4847-4737-7

So Who Is Perfect?

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

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

 

Holding Up the Universe

Jennifer Niven

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-385-75592-4

ISBN: 978-0-385-75593-1

ISBN: 978-0-385-75594-8

 

 

Strange and Wonderful

Rags and Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales

Edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt

Illustrated by Charles Vess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-316-21294-6

ISBN: 978-0-316-21292-2