Who Are You? And Why Does that Matter?

Each of us is the same as the other, but each of us is also different. The differences may make us shy or may embolden us. How we deal with our sameness and our differences is what makes us unique.

If you have strong desires and an independent spirit, it’s hard to follow the rules. And you can be ridiculed for it, even if you aren’t shy.

A Pinch of Magic

Michelle Harrison

Three sisters live in a place called Crowstone which has three small islands just off its coast. On one end of the area is a misty, moisty marsh which perhaps harbors sprites and other scary beings. The townspeople are frightened of the area, but Betty, the middle sister, wants to go on adventures including going across the marsh. The girls have been told they will die if they leave the confines of Crowstone, but Betty thinks it’s malarky. That it’s just stories Granny tells to keep the girls in check. Granny tells them of the curse they live under and gives them each a magical object. Betty thinks that if they combine their magic, they can break the curse and be free to roam wherever they wish. Not as easy as it might seem she discovers, especially when they accidentally set free an evil convict from the island prison. The story is told in an endearing style, though the writer and editors could have paid a bit closer attention to correct grammar. Betty and her sisters Felicity and Charlie, using their native wits and bravery, overcome many obstacles and end up in a better place than they could have imagined. Teachers can use the book to inspire discussion of overcoming difficult problems.

BIBLIO: 2020, Books for Young Readers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 9780358193319

ISBN: 9780358272921

The second book has an excellent story arc of how we deal with parents and their dreams and how they differ from yours. How you can still love someone even if you don’t agree with the person’s ideas.

Running

Natalia Sylvester

Mariana Ruiz’s life has turned into an ongoing drama in which she no longer has any privacy. Anything she says or does comes out in the national news because her father is running for president in the national primaries. He and Mami spend all of their time—at    least it seems that way to fifteen-year-old Mari—writing speeches and traveling on the campaign trail. Mari and her younger brother, Ricky, are made to participate in local Miami events and it’s wearing on her. She feels she lost her parents and their support. That she and Ricky don’t really matter anymore except as campaign photo-op props. But then she discovers Papi’s biggest contributor is a less than scrupulous real estate developer who is polluting the water and destroying neighborhoods. Not only that Papi helped make it possible when he passed legislation as a state senator that allowed sewage to be dumped into the aquifer. Now Mariana has to come to grips with the fact that her father is not who she thought he was. With the help of friends, she gets involved in a student movement demanding that water pollution stop and that big developers are called to account for the damage they’ve done. She grows during the story, learning that she can speak out and that she can challenge her father. This is quite a compelling story with a great deal of relevance in modern American life. Teachers can have a field day choosing topics with which to encourage their students to think for themselves. Plus, the reader gets to learn some Spanish along the way.

BIBLIO: 2020, Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ages 12 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978035124351

ISBN: 978035830806

Shyness in children is an ongoing problem. The main character is the previous story is shy, but learns to blossom. In a different way, the main character in next story learns to overcome her shyness.

Vivaldi

Helge Torvund

Illustrated by Mari Kandstad Johnsen

Translated by Jeanie Shaterian and Thilo Reinhard

Tyra is shy and doesn’t know how to communicate with others, but begins to blossom when she gets a kitten. Though she may not be able in interact with other people, she can talk to her new cat. And she can interact with the world when playing her piano. She names the cat Vivaldi. At school, Tyra doesn’t play with other children and doesn’t participate in her class so her classmates whisper behind her back and tease her. With the help of Vivaldi, Tyra begins to come out of her shell. This lovely story is told in poetic form and should be read in a gentle, quiet voice that will comfort children and make them understand that lots of people are shy. And that lots of people feel as they do. The illustrations are simplistic in a way, but fit the style of the story quite well.

BIBLIO: 2019 (orig. 2011,) New York Review of Books, Ages 4 to 7, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-68137-374-4

Here’s hoping you all have a jolly and loving holiday, whether it’s to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, or the meaning of Hanuka or just warmth of having family and friends around. And here’s hoping for a good new year, with a more inclusive and cooperative world. See you in 2020. Sarah

Did That Really Happen?

The new owners of Children’s Literature Database distribute books for review differently. The reviewer gets to pick the books. The old owners just randomly sent out the books. I enjoyed that because it was always a surprise. On the other hand, now that I can pick the books I want, I can make sure I get intriguing books—at least judging by the titles. The books below loosely fall into the Sci-Fi genre, or at least have some connection to other times in our human history and the stars. Well, not really, but you’ll see what I mean. At least I hope you will.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Now here’s a concept for you. Dinosaurs alive during the American Civil War; who knew. An interesting twist to learning United States history don’t you think?

Dactyl-Hill Squad: Book Two Freedom Fire

Daniel Jos Older

Illustrated by Nilah Magruder

Dinosaurs are alive and well during the American Civil War and Magdalys Roca knows how to communicate with them through mental telepathy. The series is historical fantasy and points out the horrible disparities amongst the American population. White people rule the country. African and Native American populations pay the price. It was nice to see an author bringing in the horrible treatment of Native Americans, who still are mistreated more than any other population. The author’s ability to paint a word picture is masterful, but it’s quite possible that he should have researched the historical part of the story. Was General Grant part of the takeover of New Orleans? Was he ever in that part of the country during the war? And were any roads paved with cement? It would have been nice for readers who’ve not read the first book in the series to be able to comprehend how people sit on the backs of pterodactyls using flat-sided saddles and still be able to move forward and backward off the saddle without sliding off the creature. For those who’ve ridden horses, it’s hard to visualize this. Still, it was fun to have the creatures in the book, and will probably entice children not thrilled with reading about history. Teachers can use the information in the book to discuss all manner of things. It would be nice to have the maps on the end pages a bit more accurate.

BIBLIO: 2019, Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic Inc., Ages 10 to 14, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-338-26884-3

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tarnished Are the Stars

Rosiee Thor

Anna lives with her grandfather in a part of the new planet world that is supposed to become the replacement for Earth. Earth is no longer habitable, but the replacement seems to have a fatal flaw. Something in the soil or the atmosphere causes babies to be born with bad hearts. Anna has a mechanical one which her grandfather implanted when she was very young. And when we meet her, she’s just encountered another teenager with the same type of heart. Anna was supposed to take over the surgeries, but after having irreparably injured a friend’s young child during surgery, she will no longer perform operations. She does, on the other hand, have quite the knack for building and repairing machines. The problem is the ruling class has outlawed anything mechanical because of the irrepable damage machines did to planet Earth. Of course, this class uses machines to make their lives better when it suits their purpose. The other issue in the story is the power struggle between Alternative Earth’s Commissioner and his mother who is Queen of Everything and the harshness the commissioner levies on his son. The story is complex and intriguing, with many comparisons to how we’ve treated Earth and each other. An interesting read that has many points of discussion to bring up with students.

BIBLO: 2019, Scholastic Press/Scholastic Inc., Ages 14+, $18.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-338-31227-0

Although this book isn’t actually Sci-Fi or Fantasy, it does have a lot about the stars and the universe. And made the New York Times bestseller list,as well it should.

The Year We Fell from Space

Amy Sarig King

Nina Goffi: Interior Art Designer

Liberty Johansen loves looking at the stars and drawing new constellations, but that is before her father leaves and her parents file for divorce. Now, she can’t see new patterns in the stars, in fact she can’t see any patterns in the stars. She’s being bullied by a classmate who orders the entire sixth to shun Liberty and they do. One evening, while she’s up on a hill in the woods behind her house, meteorite falls out of the sky, landing a short distance away from her. Pre-divorce time, she would have called her dad out to look at it, but now she keeps it a secret. As the story progresses, Liberty gets into more trouble and edges toward depression. She has to deal with her father’s live-in girlfriend and the fact that he’d cheated on Liberty’s mother. The story is beautifully written and very compelling. Teachers will have a field day discussing the issues raised in the story, ranging from dealing with divorce and depression and bullies and inappropriate responses to distressing news. And then there’s talking about astronomy. There are excellent descriptions of how to read a night sky. This book is a winner.

BIBLIO: 2019, Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic Inc., Ages 8 to 12, $??.

FORMAT: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 978-1-338-23636-1

Outlining a New Story

To see if I could do it and have students feel they’ve learned something about writing their own stories, I’m leading a class at the Pamlico Community College in their “Cultural Enrichment Program.” At the first session, I asked my students to tell me what they wanted out of the class. Several of them wanted to learn how to structure a story.

So, even though I’m a “seat of the pants” style of writer, I set about doing an outline for them. Actually, I’ve done two different outlines. This is the second one. Please let me know what you think.

Plotting Structure outline:

First off you need to have at least have an idea in your head of what you’re writing about.  A memoir? A short story? A poem? History? A scientific treatise? A blog? A play?

The structure of your story is the same whether you’re writing a scene or a book. So, I’m using a scene as a more succinct example of making an outline.

  1. Purpose of the Scene: First scene should set up who the main character is and what’s happening.

A: Physical description:

  1. Age
  2. Sex
  3. Location (In the kitchen? In a car? In the woods? On a boat?)
  4. Is the person alone?

B: Action:

1.Waking up? (Why?)

2. Cooking? (What? And Why?)

3.Driving? (Where? And Why?)

4.Walking? (Where? And Why?)

  • Character’s thoughts. (Anxious? Calm? Frightened? Angry?)

C: Reason for the scene:

1.Going to work?

 2.Meeting someone for dinner?

 3.Grieving?

4.Getting married?

5. About to murder someone?

  1. Arc of scene: Every scene should have a beginning, middle and end.

A: Beginning:

1. Does the alarm go off?

a. Does this awaken the character?

b. Or was he already awake? (Why?)

2.What’s her reaction?

  1. Does she pop out of bed? (Why?)
  2. Does she groan? (Why?)

B: Middle:

1. Character takes a shower:

a.She shampoos her hair, but as she starts to rinse it, the water goes cold or quits running

  • How does she deal with this?
  • She’s finally out of her bathroom.

C:  End:

1.Dressed and fed, she leaves her abode

a.What’s she thinking about?

b. Does she stride out the door with bold, confident steps?

b. Does she pause and listen?

2. What happens when she heads toward where she’s going?

                      a.  Car won’t start?

b. Or the bus is late?

c. Or the heel breaks off her

                          shoe?

d. The bad guy shoots at her?

  b. (Here you leave your reader hanging and solve the    

                          problem in the next scene. Or keep building toward the story climax.)

If this is the end of your book, of course you do complete the scene. The main character rides off into the sunset on his favorite horse.

In the next scene, conclude the immediate problem—She jump-starts her car, calls a cab, etc.—then give your reader time to breathe and cogitate on what’s going, however make sure your scene ends on a compelling note, with a hook at the end.

What I Learned

The first thing I learned is the usefulness of going to conferences even if you think you know it all. Guess what? There’s always more to learn.

Besides, there’s no way I thought I knew it all before I went to this year’s SCBWI-Carolinas conference. (For those of you who don’t know what SCBWI stands for: Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators.)

I always go to the Friday morning Intensive where the speaker spends four hours delving into a subject. Vickie Selvaggio gave us an in depth look at books from the past and present that have been successful. Which reminded me to look to the future, but remember the past.

Highlights for me were visiting with long standing friends and meeting new people. It was sad to bid Teresa Fannin farewell as our stalwart leader, but she has trained a good replacement group of Donna Earnhardt (a.k.a. the Barefoot Contessa), Kelly? who hit the ground running and Elizabeth Rawls. Nary a hitch in the proceedings was noticed.

I attended a delightful presentation on what is one’s voice and how do we know when we’ve found it. Not to worry, it’s been there all along. Sadly, this turned out to be Robyn Campbell’s last speech on this earthly coil. She died on Sunday. But I’m quite sure she’s regaling the Heavenly Hosts with her humor and her unique voice.

Of course, the annual “First Pages” session was delightful and inspiring. I think it’s safe to say that the rhyming picture book about things would or would not eat was the hands down favorite. The final pairing of the part that Alan Gratz read was a rhyme of moon pie with cow pie.

And speaking of Alan, his closing keynote speech had everyone in stitches as he talked about who he is and was. Athletic prowess was not prominent in his list of attributes.

No matter what type of writing you do, be sure to go to at least one conference that covers the genre. If nothing else, you’ll come away with new friends and an energized look at what you want to write.

Writing Speeches

My thoughts on speech writing are that one should be concise, but informative. However, there’s no reason not to have a humorous tone even if the speech is of a serious nature. I’m not talking slapstick or nonsensical humor, but I’m of the opinion that your audience is going leave you, if not physically at least mentally, if you drone on.

For instance, a group of us are presenting a forum on our globally changing climate. We have, we hope, people coming who might not agree that our climate is changing or who believe God takes care of the climate. This, I think, makes gentle humor in my introductions even more appealing.

The first speaker’s talk is about how to deal with atmospheric changes, such as more ferocious hurricanes and more variances in rainfall amounts from year to year. For him, I’m going to say: You might say he’s seen the clouds from both sides now. (For you youngsters out there, that’s a reference to a folk/pop song written by Joni Mitchell, but made famous by Judy Collins.)

The second speaker is an expert on rivers and we have a delightful picture of him sitting in a row boat holding a container of greenish-brown river water. He’s grinning as if he’d just got a fish for dinner or pulled up Black Beard’s treasure. But his tag line on his emails is a quote from Mark Twain. For him I plan to say: So, what better job than surveying rivers and teaching other people about them. Plus, he quotes Mark Twain.

            The third speaker is a retired Marine colonel who is telling us about how the military has to deal with climate changes. For him I’m saying: How can you not like a guy whose nickname is Otter?

The final speaker is a wildlife specialist who is telling us about the changes in animals and their migratory patterns in eastern North Carolina. His introduction include my statement: He gets great joy from showing the people what lives around here.

I could have just recited their technical bios, but don’t you think people are going to be more receptive to what’s being said if they have more warm and fuzzy feelings about the speakers?

I’m writing this now after the fact, and am thrilled to say that the forum was an overwhelming success largely due to our four dynamite speakers, but also because of the way we set it up. And, she says with not a smidgen of humility, because I added humor into my introductions and because my co-leader started us off with a song.

Thanks for reading. Hope to hear from you. Next week I’ll get back fiction writing or reviews. Sarah

What a Way to Teach Young Ones to Read!

Interested in writing for beginning readers? This series strikes me as a good model. Especially if you can include very appealing photos. The ones in this series are stock, a.k.a. uncopyrighted, photos. Who knew there were photos out there of a bald duck growing in its adult feathers? I didn’t. The series is about baby animals and is entitled Animal Babies. Well, what else would you call it? The series focuses on several different types of animals, from mammals to birds. The pictures of the bald eagle are especially interesting. The series lends itself to a teacher adding on concepts such as what is a mammal. So pick up the whole series for your classroom.

Animals Babies: Bunnies

Kelsey Jopp

This book, as the title indicates, is about baby rabbits, bunnies, and has a picture of newly born rabbits with its eyes closed and pink skin. There is something to learn every day no matter how old you are. The vocabulary words the reader is to learn, such as eye and ear and nest and mother and fur and tail and grass are pointed out by an arrow in the text and, a photo in the glossary. Different colors of rabbits are shown, giving the new reader an understanding that not all bunnies are the same.

BIBLIO: 2020, Focus Readers/North Star Editions, Ages 5 to 6, $24.20 list/$16.95/ school.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Beginning Reader

ISBN: 978-1-64185-747-5

Animal Babies Chicks

Kelsey Jopp

This book, as the title indicates, is about baby chickens, a.k.a. chicks, and has pictures of newly hatched chicks, all fluffy and cute. The vocabulary words the reader is to learn, such as feathers and legs and feed and beaks and coop,are pointed out by arrows in the text and with a photo in the glossary. Even when they’ve left their mothers, chicken live in groups. Most of the chicks shown looked to be your basic backyard, chicken-coop residents, but some of the more colorful breeds are included.

BIBLIO: 2020, Focus Readers/North Star Editions,

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Beginning Reader

ISBN: 9781641859516

ISBN: 9781641858823

ISBN: 9781641858137

Animals Babies: Ducklings

Meg Gaertner

This book, as the title indicates, is about baby ducks, a.k.a. ducklings, and has pictures of newly hatched ducklings. The vocabulary word the reader is to learn, such as feathers and wings and nest and grass and seeds, are pointed out by arrows in the text and with a photo in the glossary. The photo of the duckling growing its adult feathers is gross, but fascinating. Talk about an ugly duckling.  Even when they’ve left their mothers, ducks live in groups.

BIBLIO: 2019, Focus Readers/North Star Editions, Ages 5 to 6, $24.20 list/$16.95 library & school.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Beginning Reader

ISBN: 978-1-64185-745-1

Animals Babies: Eaglets

Meg Gaertner

This book, as the title indicates, is about baby eagles, a.k.a. eaglets, and has pictures of just hatched eaglets with fluffy white feathers. The picture of the mother catching a fish is stunning. The vocabulary word the reader is to learn, such as feathers and mother and nest and wings,are pointed out by arrows in the text and with a photo in the glossary. Different colors of eaglets are shown, giving the new reader an understanding that not all eagles are the same. When they leave their mothers, eagles live alone. The series focuses on several different types of animals, from mammals to birds.

BIBLIO: 2019, Focus Readers/North Star Editions, Ages 5 to 6, $24.20 list/$16.95 library & school.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Beginning Reader

ISBN: 978-1-64185-7436-8

Animals Babies: Foals

Meg Gaertner

This book, as the title indicates, is about baby horses, foals, and has a picture of new born foal with its eyes closed. Did you know a foal’s eyes are closed at birth? There is something to learn every day no matter how old you are. The vocabulary words the reader is to learn, such as eye and leg and hooves and body and grass are pointed out by an arrow in the text and, a photo in the glossary. Different breeds and colors of horses are shown, giving the new reader an understanding that not all horses are the same. The mare and foal shown at the beginning have the distinctive dish face of an Arab.

BIBLIO: 2020, Focus Readers/North Star Editions, Ages 5 to 6, $24.20 list/$16.95/ school.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Beginning Reader

ISBN: 978-1-64185-747-5

Animals Babies: Kittens

Meg Gaertner

This book, as the title indicates, is about baby cats, a.k.a. kittens, and has pictures of new born kittens whose eyes and ears are closed. The picture of a mother cat washing her sleeping kitten is sweet. As the kitten grows, its eyes and ears open and it grows teeth. The vocabulary word the reader is to learn, such as tooth and mother and eye and ear and tail and leg, are pointed out by arrows in the text and with a photo in the glossary. The photo of a kitten chasing a butterfly will endear the reader to cats.  When they leave their mothers, kittens generally adopt a human. Though the book indicates that all cats live with humans, but that’s not always the case.

BIBLIO: 2019, Focus Readers/North Star Editions, Ages 5 to 6, $24.20 list/$16.95 library & school.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Beginning Reader

ISBN: 978-1-64185-748-2

Animals Babies: Piglets

Meg Gaertner

This book, as the title indicates, is about baby pigs, a.k.a. piglets, and has pictures of new born pigs whose eyes are closed and are born in a bunch. The picture of them nursing blissfully with their eyes shut is delightful. The vocabulary word the reader is to learn, such as eye and nose and mother and leaves and roots, are pointed out by arrows in the text and with a photo in the glossary. Different colors of piglets are shown, giving the new reader an understanding that not all pigs are the same. Even when they’ve left their mothers, pigs live in groups.

BIBLIO: 2019, Focus Readers/North Star Editions, Ages 5 to 6, $24.20 list/$16.95 library & school.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Beginning Reader

ISBN: 978-1-64185-743-7

And finally, but not least:

Animals Babies: Puppies

Meg Gaertner

This book, as the title indicates, is about puppies and has pictures of new born puppies whose eyes and ears aren’t open. Did you know puppies’ ears are closed at birth? There is something to learn every day no matter how old you are. The vocabulary words the reader is to learn such as ear and eye and tail and teeth and food are pointed out by an arrow in the text and with a photo in the glossary. Though the mother with her fluffy, blond pups is a golden retriever, different breeds and colors of dogs are shown, giving the new reader an understanding that not all dogs are the same.

BIBLIO: 2019, Focus Readers/North Star Editions, Ages 5 to 6, $24.20 list/$16.95 school.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Beginning Reader

ISBN: 978-1-64185-750-5

Now don’t you want to read with young children and cuddle each of the babies in these books? No? Where’s the farmer in you?

What’s Changed in Publishing over the Years

Like most writers, I’ve been a reader all my life. Some of my earliest memories are my mother reading to us. I even have taste and things connected in my mind. When I was two years old or so, Mother read a picture book about Siamese cats and she gave each of us a translucent sky-blue mint candy to suck on. To this day, seventy-six years later, if I see a Siamese cat—especially a seal point—I can taste the sharp mint flavor of the candy. And I have one of those mints, I visualize the cat. But some of the stories I loved as a child haven’t fared as well. I recently read a Five Little Peppers story and was not at all impressed. The writing was stilted and the characters not anywhere near as endearing as I remember.

Last Sunday, my handsome devil and I went, as we usually do, to the semi-annual New Bern Friends of the Library book sale. We go on Sunday so we can load up on a paper grocery bag full of books for $5! What a deal. True to my lifelong love of horse stories, I picked up one entitled, Fury and the Mustangs, by Albert G. Miller. It is part of series about Joey Newton, an adopted boy, who lives and works on a western horse ranch and has tamed a beautiful black Mustang stallion that won’t let anybody else ride him. The story has all the elements of suspense and intrigue that a modern novel has, but it is written in a bland style. The thing that bothered me the most though, was the lack accuracy that most modern publishers would not allow. Especially the lack of attention to knowledge of horses and other animals. Part of this is because I tend to like accuracy, so I’m more inclined to notice incorrect details such as how a rider encourages a horse to change speed. One doesn’t “slap the reins,” one taps his heels against the horse’s barrel. But more serious errors were having this young boy, who would seem to be around fourteen or fifteen years old judging by the amount of strenuous work he is expected to do, throw temper tantrums and run away from home when he gets upset. Still and all, the book did keep me engaged for the most part. And I’ll forgive a lot if animals are involved. Plus, the illustrations were nicely done drawings by Sam Savittt. The story may originally have been made for television.

BIBLIO: 1960, Grosset & Dunlap/Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., Ages 8 to 13, Price unknown

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Grade

No ISBN