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


Picture a Laugh

I was talking with a friend yesterday about children’s books, in particular, Robert Louis Stevenson, which reminded me that I haven’t done many picture books lately.  This week I’m mentioning three picture books I recently read.  I love reading such books, in part because they remind me to stay young at heart.



A charming depiction of the bond between mother and child.


Hand in Hand

Rosemary Wells

Illustrated by Rosemary Wells

Consider this book to be an Ode to Motherhood as Ms. Wells’ illustrations show us the things mothers do for their babies.  The illustrations are endearing with vibrant colors and whimsical scenes.  The reader sees Momma Rabbit and her child from the baby in a bassinet.

The next picture is the two of them sitting on a swing under moon and starlit night. That painting is reminiscent of Vincent van Gogh’s Starry, Starry Night. Along with the next illustration of Momma and baby shopping in a neighbor’s garden, the message to the reader is that the baby’s world revolves around its mother.  We see Baby learning to talk and walk with Momma’s help. She also feeds and reads to her baby.  The illustration for the page about reading is adorable. One page is devoted to teaching her baby good manners, and the next is to being brave.  That illustration is a nod to the wonderful Maurice Sendak. All-in-all, this book is a winner for the read-to crowd.

BIBLIO: 2016, Henry Holt and Company, LLC/MacMillan Kids, Ages 3 to 5, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-62779-434-3



If you like whimsical stories, you’ll love this one.


This Book Is NOT About Dragons

Shelley Moore Thomas

Illustrated by Fred Koehler

The rat who narrates this story is convinced there are no 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




The illustrations are wonderful in this book.  I got quite a chortle out of it.


This Book Is Out of Control!

Richard Byrne

Illustrated by Richard Byrne

What fun book this is!  Ben gets a new toy which he takes to show his friend Bella.  The new toy is a remote-controlled fire engine.  But when he starts poking the buttons to get his fire engine to do what he wants, the fire engine just sits in front of his friend’s door, doing nothing.  On the other hand, Bella’s dog, against his will, does what the control button commands. Up into the air he goes. Then he spins in the air. When Ben pokes the siren button, Bella’s dog howls.  When Ben pokes the voice button, the dog shouts, “Help! This book is out of control!”  Poking the turn button causes Bella and Ben to join the dog on the ceiling, all of them upside down.  Bella asks for the reader’s help. After pushing almost all the buttons to no avail, finally Ben and Bella poke the power button, which causes an enormous a power surge, before allowing the remote to set everything right.  Once kids and dog are where they were meant to be, the dog pokes the up button and up goes the fire engine’s ladder.  The illustrations are cute and the dog is fully involved in the story.

BIBLIO: 2016, Henry Holt and Company, Ages 5 to 8, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-62779-933-1


Until next week. Sarah


Have Compassion

My father died as a prisoner of war having been on the Bataan death march, but my mother made sure we never associated that with the Japanese people, and I thank her for that. My father was originally schooled in a Japanese/American school in Hawaii, because his father felt if we didn’t understand Japanese culture better, we’d end up in a war them. Too bad he was right. Kathleen wrote a heartwrenching story, which is well worth the read. Sarah Maury Swan, author of Terror’s Identity

Changing Tunes, as It Were

Sometimes I get a lull between shipments of children’s books and read a “Grown Up’s” book.  The one I read most recently is a mystery that takes place in the time of Stalin’s reign, shortly after the assassination of the Romanov family.

Eye of the Red Tsar

Sam Eastland

I was put off at first by the switching back and forth between the present action to large junks of backstory, but I soon got into the rhythm of the narrative.  The title comes from the nickname for Stalin.

The main character, Pekkala, was Tsar Nicholas Romanov’s most trusted agent, after the Tsar watched Pekkala disobey a direct command to jump his horse over a barbed-wire obstacle after the horse had been injured during a previous attempt.  Tsar Nicholas was impressed that Pekkala would disobey his superior to save the horse.  So, when Pekkala is discharged from the Corp for insubordination, he is recruited by Romanov to be part of his personal cadre of secret agents.

The two become good friends and Pekkala also strikes up a friendship with the rest of family.   But, after the family is murdered, Stalin makes sure Pekkala ends up in a prison, originally for the rest of his life.

Of course, circumstances change and his services are need again.  Stalin wants Pekkala to tell him where the Romanovs buried their treasure.  Which means Pekkala has to figure out where the family was buried after their murders.  He does that, but finds no sacks of gold.

The story is complex and Pekkala’s friendship with the Romanov family is fully fleshed out.  The several subplots add depth to the story.  So, if you want something different from your usual reading habits, I would recommend this book.

BIBLIO: 2010, Bantam Books/The Random House Publishing Group, $25.00.

ISBN: 978-0-553-80781-3


Next week, I’ll be reviewing the latest batch of children’s book I’ve gotten.  The first batch of 2017!  One of the books is a new one from Nicola Yoon, who wrote the outstanding Everything, Everything. I’

Happy New Year–2017

However loosely, these three books have connections to the changing to the year, which, of course, is inspired by the coming of a New Year.  2017 is upon us.  I remember as a child wondering if I’d still be above ground when 2017 came around.  At age seven, the year 2000, seemed like forever, much less seventeen years later. And that brings me to a quote from one of my most favorite Robert Louis Stevenson poems.  My mother used to read it to me often and part of it has always stuck with me.

And when I am so very, very old,

            ‘Bout 28 or 9,

            I’ll ‘dopt a little orphan girl

            And bring her up as mine.

Anyway, HAPPY NEW YEAR to us all.  May our new year be filled with love, adventure and joy.


The first selection is two chapter books melded into one book.  The characters are sweet and the second chapter books has a celebration of the new year in it. That fits, right?


Agnes and Clarabelle & Agnes and Clarabelle Celebrate!

Adele Griffin

Courtney Sheinmel

Illustrated by Sara Palacios

Agnes Pig and her best friend Clarabelle Chicken help each other through the tough parts of several adventures.  The first four chapters are delineated by seasons. In spring, the two friends make a surprise birthday party for Clarabelle and Clarabelle pretends to be surprised.  In summer, Agnes doesn’t want to go to the beach with her parents until Clarabelle makes the day fun.  The fall story, Agnes finds Clarabelle in a department store after they get separated. In the winter story, the friends make a pizza covered with roasted chestnuts, cheese, popcorn and white chocolate chips, but decide it’s too pretty to eat.  They eat mac and cheese and admire their work of art.  Then the reader flips the book over and, voila, there are four more chapters.  Each chapter centers around a holiday starting with May Day.  Agnes and Clarabelle are now old enough to participate in the May Pole Dance, and Agnes  has a grand time, but Clarabelle discovers she’s allergic to her flower garland, she can’t squeeze any juice out of her lemons for lemonade and she gets tangled up during the May Pole Dance.  On the Fourth of July, Agnes gets stage fright when she’s supposed to twirl her baton on a float during the big parade.   Clarabelle rides on the float and Agnes pretends she’s only performing for her friend. For Halloween Agnes is a ghost, but Clarabelle scares herself with her scary witch costume, so Agnes draws a mustache on her friend. The final chapter is set on New Years Eve and the friends’ plans for saying goodbye to the old year and ringing in the New Year are foiled when they fall asleep before midnight. These stories are cute and encouraging with enough repetition for children to quickly understand them.

BIBLIO: 2017, Read and Bloom/Bloomsbury Publishing, Ages 5 to 7, $9.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-1-61963-137-3

ISBN: 978-1-61963-217-2


Okay, a new year means time has ticked along, but what does one minute mean?  If someone says to you give me a minute, how long do you have to wait?  Maybe the person will only be a minute, but….

One Minute

Somin Ahn

Illustrated by Somin Ahn

A lot can happen in one minute and the minute just zips by, or nothing can happen and the minute draaggss on f.o.r.e.v.e.r. Ms. Ahn has lots of whimsical drawings in her picture book, including having the hours on her clock represented by the different stages of a tree growing.  The drawings are fairly simple in nature, but still appealing, though depicting the girl with very long hair when discussing how long one’s hair grows in a minute is confusing. The child’s interaction with other creatures and other people are sweet or depict a special message. For instance, a minute is short if you’re riding on roller-coaster or a merry-go-round, but very long if the dentist is cleaning your teeth. Make sure you get to the train station early, even if you spend minutes waiting, because if you’re a minute too late, the train will leave without you. With the help of a parent or teacher or grandparent, even an older sibling, young children will learn a great deal about time and, perhaps, patience by reading this book.

BIBLIO: 2016, Chronicle Books, LLC, Ages 3 to 5, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978145215647


The new year means hope for new beginnings, so I thought this story fit into the theme.

Spare Parts

Rebecca Emberley

Ed Emberley

Illustrated by Rebecca Emberley

Illustrated by Ed Emberley

Rhoobart is very unhappy, what with being made up of spare parts that are all tattered and worn.  Not only that, he has a second-hand heart, which, on this particular day, won’t start.  Even with a twist or a yank, his heart won’t start. He tries everything he can think of, but Rhoobart’s heart won’t start. With sorrow in his head, he goes to Blaggart, the spare parts man, who doesn’t understand what Rhoobart needs.  Blaggart orders Rhoobart to look around his spare parts yard to see if he can find what he needs.  But he warns Rhoobart to watch out for Mozart, whoever that might be.  Poor Rhoobart searches and hunts without any luck.  Then he meets Mozart, which scares the already mangled Rhoobart to pieces.  Unfortunately, Mozart doesn’t start Rhoobart’s heart.  The sad misshapen creature is feeling very forlorn, but then along comes Sweetart, who jump starts Rhoobart’s heart.  What a pair they make when Rhoobart’s heart starts thunking away. This sweet story has the added advantage of being nicely written in rhyme.

BIBLIO: 2015, Neal Porter Book/Roaring Book Press/Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, Ages 5 to 8, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT:  Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-59643-723-4


So break out the bubbly and gather your family and friends close to wish everyone a HAPPY NEW YEAR!