In This World of Incivility…

My favorite source of children’s books, Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database, is finally up and running. So now I have a regular conduit to what’s going on in the field of children’s literature. And grist for my reviewing mill. Which means now I can blog on reviews again.


In this world of incivility, I thought I’d start with books on good behaviors. Just to remind us what to teach our children, and perhaps learn from what we’re teaching them.


My mother used to quote poetry to us as a way of teaching morals lessons. I never remember the whole poems, but one line that has stuck with me oh these many years is of a lowly sailor complaining about how harsh his captain was. “…all I ask is a little cee vil i tee!” (That’s civility for those of you who don’t speak “Maury.”)



The first book mentioned here is a brief introduction into how we all need to work together to make our world stay on course.


I Am a Good Citizen: Character Education

Jenny Fretland VanVoorst

Part of the Scholastic Blastoff Readers series, this photography-filled book shows in simple detail how and why to be a good citizen. As a good citizen do you pick up your dog’s poop or do you let somebody else worry about? Do you help take care of your community? Does a good citizen follow the rules and take care of other people’s property? Do you color in a library book, for instance? Do you obey the school crossing guard? The children depicted in the photos run the gamut of race and ethnicity, which is grand to see. The pictures are very good and the children are good actors, but they seem a bit old for kindergarten and first graders. In some spots, the language seems a bit sophisticated for kindergarten and first grade students, especially since there is no pronunciation guide included. The simple, illustrated glossary at the back of the book is good, as is the small bibliography.

BIBLIO: 2019, Bellwether Media/Children’s Press/Scholastic Library Publishing/Scholastic, Ages 5 to 6, $26.00.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Non-fiction

ISBN: 978-0-531-13419-1

ISBN: 0-531-13419-9


In my opinion, the next book builds on the theme of being a good citizen since it deals with honesty.


I Am Honest: Character Education

Jenny Fretland VanVoorst

Part of the Scholastic Blastoff Readers series, this photography-filled book shows in simple detail how and why to be honest. The opening photo spread shows the feet and calves of a small child behind the remains of a shattered ceramic bowl on the floor. Does she fess up to her mistake or does she blame the cat? Is the boy in the next spread being honest when he gets the answers from his fellow student’s paper? Another picture shows two boys with their arms around each other’s shoulders. The message being if you’re honest you’ll be more likeable. The book has photos set side by side asking the reader to choose the correct behavior. The children depicted in the photos run the gamut of race and ethnicity, which is grand to see. The pictures are very good and the children are good actors, but they seem a bit old for kindergarten and first graders. There is a simple, illustrated glossary at the back of the book, as well as a small bibliography.

BIBLIO: 2019, Bellwether Media/Children’s Press/Scholastic Library Publishing/Scholastic, Ages 5 to 6, $26.00.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Non-fiction

ISBN: 978-0-531-13421-4

ISBN: 0-531-13421-0


Lastly, a book on being responsible, for if we aren’t responsible human beings how will we continue to keep societies functioning? Of course, having said this, my brain is telling to do the breakfast dishes after emptying to dishwasher.


I Am Responsible: Character Education

Jenny Fretland VanVoorst

Part of the Scholastic Blastoff Readers series, this photography-filled book shows in simple detail how and why to be a good citizen. Is it responsible to be home when you said you would? Or is it alright to stay out later? Do you feed the dog when it’s your turn? Do you help with household chores? Should you do your work whether you want to or not? The children depicted in the photos run the gamut of race and ethnicity, which is grand to see. Doing the responsible thing means brushing your teeth when you should. When you’re done you can do what you want to do. There are a couple of photos giving the reader a chance to pick what’s the correct thing to do. The pictures are very good and the children are good actors, but they seem a bit old for kindergarten and first graders. In some spots, the language seems a bit sophisticated for kindergarten and first grade students, especially since the is no pronunciation guide included. There is a simple, illustrated glossary at the back of the book, as well as a small bibliography.

BIBLIO: 2019, Bellwether Media/Children’s Press/Scholastic Library Publishing/Scholastic, Ages 5 to 6, $26.00.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Non-fiction

ISBN: 978-0-531-13419-1

ISBN: 0-531-13419-9


And a little self-promotion announcement. If you happen to be in the New Bern, NC, area on Saturday, May 25th please stop by 323 B Creative art studio to visit with me as I read from my work in progress, tentatively titled “Earthquakes.” The story is a “noirish cozy” mystery set in 1942 Hollywood, California, and has murders and spying going on, along with a bit of teen romance blossoming. The studio is at the back of Bella’s Café on Middle Street in downtown New Bern. I’ll be there from 11a.m. to 2p.m. Another benefit of coming would be seeing what three very talented artist friends of mine, Donna Slade, Vicki Vitale, and Martha Williams, are up to in their new space.


All right, all right, I’m doing the dishes next, so stop nagging. Thanks for reading my blog.



Revision, Revision and then more Revision

I am in the processes of revising my latest novel. This one is historical fiction with spies and murders and a love interest. Of course, since the main character is a seventeen-year-old boy, there isn’t a whole of mushy love stuff.

The working title is EARTHQUAKES and the main character suffers from nightmares brought on anxieties about earthquakes. I remember having a recurring nightmare about being swallowed up in an earthquake and, to this day, would rather suffer through any other type of natural disaster than ever experience another earthquake. Well, I just as soon not experience a volcanic eruption

I wrote the first draft last November as my NaNoWriMo entry. I’m pleased to say I actually finished the first draft of 50,000 + words four days before the deadline.

Now I’m revising and correcting and trying to get it right. But I’ve realized that my time frame is out of kilter.

If Johnathon is seventeen in 1942 and is the third child in a family of five, he had to have been born in 1925 and his parents had to have been born in the 1890s. Which means they all lived through the Depression. Changes their perspective on the world.

Plus, a number of the secondary characters are Germans living in this country. I originally had two of them being brought to this country as children by Catholic nuns to save them from Hitler’s so-called ethnic purifying. But these characters are in their late thirties and so were born before Hitler came to power or was anything more than an Austrian peasant.

Now I have the make up other reasons for their being in the U.S. The neighbor, who is found stabbed to death, was a PhD geologist and his friend is a Fuller Brush salesman.

Some of the stuff in the book comes from my own childhood, though I was much younger during WWII, having been born May 29th, 1941. But my mother was indeed Lockheed’s first female tool and dye designer and a designated Rosie the Riveter. She did christen several ships.

People keep telling me I should write her story, but I can’t because I don’t consider it my story to tell. Still, I can use my remembrances as grist for the story-telling mill. Things like grieving for the death of my maternal Grandfather and for my own father. And going to the Brown Derby restaurant during its hey-day. And going to ship christenings.

I do remember hearing about my Granny working with the Red Cross to arrange for Hollywood types to visit wounded service members in local hospitals and I do remember stories she and mother told about various movie people and their personalities.

And I do remember that we didn’t feel we should grieve for the loss of our father or grandfather, because that was just the way it was done. One needed to always keep a “stiff upper lip,” and just “carry one.”

Anyway, I still have a long way to go with the revision process, but the story is getting more cohesive every time I work on it. Thanks for spending cyber time with me.


To the Conference I Shall Go!

The Wonders of a Good Conference

Every year I look forward to the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrator’s Conference. Before we moved to North Carolina, I loved going to the conferences in Maryland or Virginia. But now I look forward to the Carolinas conference.


I’ve made a lot of friends who always greet me as I’m a long lost sister. And they always encourage me. But the faculty for each conference also treat me with great encouragement and respect. They also teach me a great deal


This year, the enthusiastic and bubbly Tammi Sauer gave us good tips on how to write dynamite picture books. And I was lucky enough to win a copy of her yet to be released book, Wordy Birdy Meets Mr. Cougarpants, which was delightfully illustrated by Dave Mottran. One of the things Ms. Sauer emphasized was that the author should leave plenty of room in the story for the illustrator’s input.


Since I’m now trying my hand at writing chapter books, I took in Kelly Starling Lyons and Vanessa Brantley Newton’s energetic and informative session on writing chapter books. I also had a critique session with Stacy McAnulty on my chapter book. I ended my time with Stacy realizing my one chapter book should actually be four chapter books. Eek!


In the bookstore, I bought three chapter books to study the form. Less is more in this format. Since you want to encourage the reader to go it alone, the text should be engaging, but simple. Little description, but lots of action and dialog are the key. Ms. Lyons’ Jada Jones: Class Act very simply, but with much tension, tells the story of Jada Jones running for class representative.


Bridgett Bell-Langston’s story Finding Home, My Arf-O-Biography, tells the story of a puppy learning to live away from his dog family and behave in his new home.


Goldie Blox and the Haunted Hacks! is part of Stacy McAnulty’s series about Goldie Blox. All three books helped me understand a bit more about how to write chapter books.


I’ll go into more detail on these books and the others I bought. Plus more about the conference in next week’s post.


And my brag of the day is that I sold 7 copies of my book, Emily’s Ride to Courage. I’m proud of that considering the competition from other authors.


See you next week.

Spring Time Is Here, at least According to the Calendar

Baseball spring training games are almost over and teams are readying their stadiums for their opening games. Golf clubs are ready for league play, if only it would stop raining or snowing. In southern states, people are sailing and doing other sports outside. So, I thought I’d review a couple of sports books to get us in the spirit of spring.



I never played much volleyball as a child, but I enjoy the game. And I love stories that emphasize believing in one’s self. If you add in teaching sports skills, any sport book has plenty to intrigue young readers.



Back Row Dynamo

Jake Maddox and Leigh McDonald

Ellie loves playing volleyball and she believes she’s good at it. So, she’s super excited that the season is about to start, sure that she will make the team. But when she makes mistakes, she begins to doubt her ability. Her friends and coach encourage her, saying that everybody messes up. She and her best friend, Isabella, walk by the community’s park and see some younger girls trying to play volleyball with a rope tied between two posts on an old sand-lot court. They’re using a soccer ball, instead of a volleyball. Ellie and Isabella go over to see what they’re doing and discover the girls’ volunteer coach quit. Ellie and Isabella offer to help teach the younger girls a few drills for practice. Later they talk to their coach who agrees that it would be good practice for the whole team to coach younger girls. Through this experience Ellie learns more about playing the game herself. The story is not told in an exciting manner, but the basic message of believing in oneself and striving to improve is a good one. The lesson is easily transmitted to other parts of one’s life. The book is part of the Jake Maddox series of sports-themed books published by Capstone.

BIBLIO: 2018, Jake Maddox JV Girls/Stone Arch Books/Capstone, Ages 8 to 12, $25.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 978-1-4965-4926-6

ISBN: 978-1-4965-4928-0

ISBN: 978-1-4965-4930-3


When I was a girl, I lived in Maryland, one of the few states that had soccer as part of its sports program. I loved playing the game, even though I wasn’t very good. But girls’ version of the game was different than boys’. We were considered too weak to play as strongly as the boys. Poppycock!


Soccer Time!

Brendon Flynn

Part of the Bumba books—Sports Time, this book gives a brief overview of the game of soccer for young children. The photos are inspiring, with plenty of shots of children concentrating on joyfully playing soccer. There are explanations of what the game is about and who is allowed to touch the ball with her hands during a game. Interspersed throughout the book are several “critical thinking” questions, such as why players pass the ball and why the goalie can use his hands. A picture glossary gives clear images and definitions of various soccer terms. And both boys and girls are shown playing the game, with much enthusiasm. Be sure to look closely at the pictures of the children concentrating on kicking the ball. One girl has her right thumb and forefinger loosely forming a circle while her mouth is pursed in concentration. One little boy is gleefully concentrating on running.

BIBLIO: 2017, Bumba Books/Lerner Publishing Group, Ages 4 to 8, $25.32.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 9781512414349

ISBN: 9781512415438

ISBN: 9781512415445


Here’s hoping nice weather comes soon and it only rains when we don’t want to be outside.





This and That

Our Story Begins

Edited by Elissa Brent Weissman

Have you ever wondered when your favorite authors and/or illustrators started writing or doodling? Well, here’s your chance to find out about a number of them, because “they share fun, inspiring, and occasionally ridiculous things they wrote and drew as kids.” Twenty-six artists and writers submitted early works of writing and drawing, some from the age of five. A number of the people in this book were inspired by a teacher or an author or a well-known illustrator. Many of the earliest works were stories or pictures about mythical creatures and events, but others wrote things happening to them. The group included in this book is an eclectic mixed of authors and illustrators known for their more polished stories, but the reader will see the nuggets of talent shining through at early ages. The common threads are the prodigious imaginations and drive these artists possess. This is an interesting read and should be very useful for inspiring children to follow their dreams. Dan Santat, R. J. Palacio, Maria Frazee, Jarret J. Krosochzka, Thanhha Lại, Eric Rohmann, Linda Sue Park, Phyllis Reynold Naylor, Gordon Korman, Elissa Brent Weissman, Kathi Appelt, Gail Carson Levine, Chris Gall, Rita Williams-Garcia, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Peter Lerangis, Candace Fleming, Brian Selznick, Tom Angleberger, Alex Gino, Tim Federle, Kwame Alexander, Grace Lin, Chris Grabenstein, Yuyi Morales, and Ashely Bryan are the contributors.

BIBLIO: 2017, Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/Simon & Schuster, Ages 8+, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 9781481472081

ISBN: 9781481472104

And for those of you who’ve not already read Sheri S. Levy’s latest book, here’s my take on it.

Starting Over: A Trina Ryan Novel

Sheri S. Levy

Trina Ryan still misses Sydney, her service dog in training, but she soon finds herself bonding with new puppy, Colton. The black lab is younger than Sydney was when he came, so Trina is having to house break him. Fortunately, Colton is a smart dog and a eager to learn. Trina also misses her boyfriend, Chase, whom she’d met at the beach. But it’s hard to keep a long distance relationship going.

In the meantime, Trina does have her best friend Sarah to talk to and do things with. And Trina also has her time at the neighborhood stables where she helps look after the horses and take lessons on her favorite horse, Chancy.

A new girl, Morgan, moves her horse, Knight, to the stable, but she is rude and surly, and mean to her horse. Trina tries to get through Morgan’s bitter shell, but it’s a hard row to hoe.

Trina is gentle and caring soul, who cares about people and animals. She has loving,  caring parents and makes friends easily. The reader roots for her and is glad when she solves a problem. This is a nice story, and since it has dogs and horses in it, I, of course, find it special.

I look forward to Sheri’s next book.

BIBLIO: 2017, Barking Rain Press, Ages 12 +, $??.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 1-935460-77-3

ISBN: 1-9411295-80-0

ISBN: 1-935460-78-1

It’s Almost Here!

Okay, here’s a teaser for you. My next book is due out in about two weeks.

I used CreateSpace this time, because of time and money concerns. For the most part, I’ve been pleased with their work. The editor was extremely thorough and the design team certainly did work to get the horse right. I did have to ask them for one more white hoof. The horse the picked only had three white hooves and Emily’s horse has four, which why Grandpa won’t buy him.

So here’s the cover revel, using my page on SCBWI BookStop.



What’s not to Believe?

Children are fanciful creatures who love delving into what boring adults think is make believe.  But make believe isn’t always fol-de-rol or foolishness. And even if it is, it stretches the reader’s imagination. I, personally, think there might really be fairies and animals can understand more than we think they can. Anyway, this week we’re looking at whimsical stories. Keep believing.


If you get your hands on a copy of this first book, be sure to study it carefully.


Can You Find My Robot’s Arm?

Chihiro Takeuchi

Illustrated by Chihiro Takeuchi

How’s a robot to get his work done without both of his arms? And where is his arm? It’s not in the house, though there is a fork.  Robot’s friend suggests a broom. Maybe a pencil will do? Nope. A pair of scissors? Nope. And definitely not a broom. Outside they go. But Robot doesn’t think a tree branch is quite the thing. And most decidedly not a leaf. Nothing in the neighboring amusement park is right for the job of an arm. Especially not a lollipop. And in no way, is a fish bone up to the task of being an arm. Eew. Even in the parts factory, the two friends can’t find Robot’s arm or anything to use as a substitute. The arm is not on top of a tower, nor is it in the library. Candy from the candy store is not a good solution to Robot’s problem. Giving up on their search, they head back home and decide that a fork is an okay substitute. The story is very simple, but the drawings, actually made with black paper cutouts, make for crisp visuals. Children will have fine time searching for Robot’s missing arm.

BIBLIO: 2016, Tundra Books/Random House of Canada/Penguin Random House Company, Ages 5 to 8, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-101-91903-3

ISBN: 978-1-101-91904-0



Every town should have a magical child-teaching, problem-solving person in it,

don’t you think? Especially someone who can solve sticky, almost unsolvable problems. Enter Missy Piggle-Wiggle.



Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Won’t-Walk-the-Dog Cure

Ann M. Martin and Annie Parnell

Illustrated by Ben Hatke

This is part of a series designed to carry on the magic of the “Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle” stories written by Betty MacDonald and Anne MacDonald Canham. The star of this latest series is Missy, great-niece of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, who is off on a search for her missing husband. Missy is living in her aunt’s upside-down house which is at the edge of Little Spring Valley. The house is indeed upside-down and has a bit of an attitude. As did her aunt, Missy helps children and, especially their parents, get rid of the bad habits we all pick up. The boy who begs for a pet, which he promises to take care of all by himself, of course soon forgets his promise and lets his new dog go hungry, doesn’t take her for walks or groom her. And most importantly, he forgets about her frequently. Missy puts the dog in charge of the boy until he understands the consequences of bad behavior. Missy deals with whining children similarly. But in the meantime, she is having to deal with physical problems in the upside-down house, which is eating up the money her aunt had left her. Her aunt regularly writes to say she’ll not be home soon and to remind Missy to look for the silver key if she needs more money. The book is delightfully written and will enchant the reader with characters that abound. Who wouldn’t want a pig who acts as butler and cook to the household? And who wouldn’t want a person to teach children not to shout or whine or ignore their pets? The illustrations do a grand job of keeping the humor of the story.

BIBLIO: 2017, A Feiwel and Friends Book/Macmillan Publishing Group, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-250-07170-5

ISBN: 978-1-250-13519-3


I think the male sex believes in unicorns as well as we clever females, they’re  just afraid of being called sissies if they admit to such a thing.



Uni the Unicorn and the Dream Come True

Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Brigette Barrager

The Land of Unicorns is deluged with so much rain all the unicorns are sad and feeling very unmagical, except Uni. You see the unicorns gave up believing that little girls are real. Plus, with all the gloomy weather they haven’t seen the golden sun in forever nor have they seen any glorious rainbows. Without sunshine and rainbows and believing, the unicorns can’t make magic. Somewhat far away, a little girl stares at the rain falling outside her window, and, being the clever child she is, she knows the unicorns need her. Then Uni and the little girl hear thunder and see lightning at the same time. They close their eyes, wish the same wish as hard as they can and turn everything white and quiet. Then they rejoice in finding each other. Though they could play together forever, they both know they have to save the other unicorns. Along the way, they feed the forest animals and lift their spirits. They show the other unicorns that Uni was right all along. Little girls are real. The whole herd of unicorns regain their joy and their magic. This story is sweet, but the illustrations are a bit too cloyingly sweet. Still, the children who read this won’t mind.

BIBLIO: 2017, Random House Children’s Books/Penguin Random House LLC, Ages 3 to 6, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-101-93659-7

ISBN: 978-1-101-93660-3

ISBN: 978-1-101-93661-0