A Stand-Alone Blog Post

Does Everyone in Our Country Have Free Speech Rights?

Occasionally I review a  book that deserves a special post to highlight its importance. In our country, everyone is supposed to have an equal opportunity to express opinions, but is that really the case? Has it always been the case? It certainly wasn’t originally the case. Only men with property were allowed to give voice to their opinions and help make this country what it could be.

Is it the case now that everyone has an equal voice? I don’t think so. If you happen to be Native American or African American or anything but White or if you’re female you don’t have equal sway. Since this is one of my Bully Pulpit issues, I’ll quit before I annoy or offend you with my opinions, but I do have them and will not be denied the right to express them.

Free Speech Handbook: A Practical Framework for Understanding our Free Speech Protections

Ian Rosenberg

Illustrated by Mike Cavallaro

This book is part of the World Citizen Comics series and explains various instances of how we’ve come by the present version of the United States of America’s First Amendment to the Constitution. This country was founded on the premise that the people, well at least some of the people, should be free and allowed to express their opinions without fear of being jailed or murdered for questioning the government’s rules and regulations. In principle the amendment is absolutely essential to a democracy, but how to enact it and to whom does it apply? Everybody or just a select few? The author discusses problems that have had to be decided by United States Supreme Court. But even those aren’t hard and fast decisions. The book is well worth libraries having and teachers can have a field day setting up student teams to debate the two sides of the various issues discussed in here. For instance, did/do formerly enslaved people or descendants of such people have the right to contest what they consider unfair treatment? Do people claiming the right to be speaking for God have the right to scream at a family simply burying a beloved child killed in defense of our country? Do women have the right to ask for equal rights to men? Do people have the right to protest any branch of the government or any position the government holds? These are just some of the issues discussed in the book. The downside to this book is that the author frequently shows his political bias in the cases he presents. Still, the teachers can use this problem for classroom debate and the students can see if they can do better when they’re the ones running the country. The illustrator could have worked a bit hard to make the historical figures look a bit more like them.

BIBLIO: First Second/Roaring Brook Press, Ages 14 +, $28.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Graphic/Comic Non-Fiction

ISBN: 978-1-250-61975-4

And you are allowed to tell me your views even if you disagree with me. I promise I’ll read and think about what you write. Sarah

Believe in yourself

Is Life not Going as You Expected?

Do you ever feel that you have no control over your life? That people don’t see you as you’d like them to? Has something thrown a monkey wrench in your plans? Don’t feel so alone, it happens to us all. And people see more good in you than you thought was deserved?  These three books touch on this theme in interesting ways. They encourage us to find the best in whatever situation befalls us. So have faith in yourself and the people around you.

I went through high school feeling that no one would ever be my friend and that I probably didn’t deserve friends. I did have friends and I did and do deserve them. So do you and so do the characters in these book

Anything but fine cover

Luca has a career-ending fall, that destroys the boy’s hope for his future. This is the story of how he learns to deal with it.

Anything but Fine

Tobias Madden

Luca’s life’s plan comes tumbling down when he falls down the flight of stairs leading from the dance studio in his private school to the street. He breaks all the bones in his arch and knows he’ll never be able to stand on his toes again. Ballet is the only life he’s ever wanted, so now what will he do? Since he never bothers to study for any of his other classes, he’s kicked out of the school. He ends up going to the local public school, feeling all alone. He ignores all his friends from his private school feeling that they’ll not want to continue the friendships. He does find a boyfriend in his new school and slowly begins to realize that there are things in life than ballet. That there are academic classes that he actually likes and for which he has some aptitude. He even learns that he can find pleasure in participating in other ways with dance. There are many areas of discussion in the book, so teachers and caregivers can recommend it for students to learn from.

BIBLIO: 2022, Page Street Publishing, Ages 14+, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult Fiction

ISBN: 978-164673323

Jordan and Max, Showtime (Orca Echoes)
Jordan and Max: Showtime

Jordan and Max: Showtime

Suzanne Sutherland

Illustrated by Michelle Simpson

Jordan is going to a new school and, being a shy boy who wears his hair almost to his shoulders, doesn’t feel he fits in. He likes wearing his hair long because he likes to play dress-up with his grandmother where he lives. He meets a boy, Max, in his class because the two are paired for a school project to tell everybody else a bit about themselves. Max is a bit of a showoff and brags about how good he is acting. Max wears a shirt that has NO THANKS emblazoned on the front of it. The two boys hit it off when they decide to dress up in Jordan’s grandmother’s fancy clothes and wigs. Jordan is sure they’ll flop, which they did, but the two boys become good friends. Jordan learned that it was alright to be what he wanted to be. The message of the book is that everyone can be acceptable, especially if they are genuine about who they are. However, it would have to nice to learn why Jordan was living with his grandmother why he’d had to switch schools. Teachers and caregivers can find many messages to discuss with children.

BIBLIO: 2021, Orca Echoes/Orca Book Publishers, Ages 7 to 9, $??

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book Fiction

ISBN: 9781459826953

ISBN: 9781459826960

ISBN: 9781459826977

Spell Sweeper

Spell Sweeper

Spell Sweeper: Magic is Messy

Lee Edward Fdi

Cara Moone feels she’s probably the least magical person in the whole of the school for wizards that she goes to. But she’s not sure she wants to live at home with her non-wizardly family. Her older sister, Su, is no longer the supportive older sister she used to be and her mother is busy most of the time. The family was devastated when Cara and Su’s father was killed in a car accident. Cara hardly remembers him but feels his absence acutely. She has been assigned to the “loser” class at wizard school where she’s learning how to sweep up the remnants of magic. Turns out performing magic leaves a residue that can be dangerous. She has a special broom with which to clean up what’s left. But after cleaning up the leftovers of the latest magical performance of Harlee Wu, the top student in the school, Cara encounters a terrifying creature and a breach in the magical universe. She’s convinced that Harlee is using an illegal magic which causes the problem. Along with Cara’s friend and fellow Spell-Sweeper-in-Training, Gusto, along with their teacher’s magical fox, the teacher, and the hated Harlee, end up going on a top-secret mission to see what’s causing the breach. Turns out Cara’s sister Su has joined a cult and blames magic for the death of their father. As part of the cult they are performing their own magic and that’s what’s causing the rupture. In the end, Cara learns that she actually has special talents which make her one of the few who can clean up the magical messes. She also discovers that Harlee is not an evil person. Teachers can use the story to discuss why we should not be too hasty to judge people.

BIBLIO: 2021, Harper/HarperCollins Children’s Books/HarperCollins Publishers, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Grade Fiction

ISBN: 978-0-06-284532-0

Never give up on your dreams and do learn to have faith in yourself. You are most decidedly worth knowing, so believe in yourself.

Where Does Each of Us Belong In this World? 

Hello again, after what seems like ages since I’ve posted. I’m blaming all on the events that are happening around the world and in just the U.S.A. alone. Being fearful of being exposed to the virus, I have stayed home a lot and gotten more and more depressed.

Well, ENOUGH OF THAT. My promise to myself is to carry on as if life were indeed normal. And at some point in the future, perhaps it will be what I consider normal.

In the meantime, I have been reading books—lots of books. Some okay, some good, and some outstanding.

The three I’m sharing today all fall into the final category.


A Boy Is not a Ghost

The first one continues the journey of Natt Silver’s horrors under Stalin’s Russian rule. He was a cruel man and prone to disliking those who didn’t approve of his way of doing things.

A Boy Is not a Ghost

Edeet Ravel

Presumably based on the author’s family history, this story continues Natt Silver’s saga of escaping antisemitic sentiments during WWII. Natt’s father has been sent to a gulag in Northern Russia for no reason that Natt can figure out. He and his mother are shipped off to Siberia for no reason that he can figure out. The continuance of his journey in 1941 from his original departure from Romania apparently because he’s Jewish, and Stalin doesn’t like Jews. Stalin doesn’t seem to like anybody very much. The story takes us along with Natt first on a train and then from one internment camp after another. Because things aren’t bad enough, his mother is sent to prison for trying to get food for her very hungry son. Natt now has to live with a foster family, who fortunately help him get his mother out of prison. The story is based on the author’s personal history. Along the way, Natt does make friends and discovers that there, indeed good people in the world. Teachers can many discussions started in this book, such as why there are such villains in the world and are there still such villains.

BIBLIO: 2021, Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Grade Historical Fiction


Those of us who live in the so-called developed countries can’t conceive of not having running water and good sanitation. Of course, that really isn’t true when you think about it. Even in the U.S. we have places where the drinking water is poisonous. Of course, these areas are where poor people live, especially those who aren’t lily-white or native English speakers.

Burying the Moon

Illustrated by Sonali Zohra

Latika hates the moon because she has to wait until dark to “do her business” with all the other females in her Indian village. Which means, if the moon is bright, everyone can see her. Men, of course, can “do their business” where ever. The small, very poor, village has no running water, not even a common well, from which to get their water and, of course, there are no toilets. Latika, though she has the interest and the intelligence, know she won’t be allowed to become an engineer, just because of her sex. But then a very nice government water engineer comes to town to build a common well, so the town will have a safe water supply. He encourages all the children, girls included, to aspire to being engineers. Latika points out to the engineer the lack of sanitation in the village and that she wants to build latrines. He encourages her ambitions and helps build latrines for the villages. He also encourages her to think about continuing her education. Teachers will find a wealth of information to mine in this book, starting with the health risks of not having clean water available.

BIBLIO: 2021, Groundwood books/House of Anansi Press, Ages 8 to 12, $19.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Grade Fiction




Again, on the theme of not feeling welcome where you live, this book discusses how living in a country that is not of your cultural genealogy affects you. In this case a woman of Punjabi heritage, who grew up in Africa. She doesn’t feel she belongs anywhere. Or perhaps we should think of her belonging everywhere.


Gayatri Sethi

Illustrated by Divya Seshaori

Ms. Sethi was born in Tanzania to Punjabi parents and, as an adult, moved to the United States where she married an African-American man. Together they have children who could most decidedly be considered American Mutts, as are most of people born and raised here, including the Native Americans. In her memoir/commentary on human cultures and societies, she uses free verse and short non-fiction to write about her life and her ways of trying to figure out where she fits in the scheme of things. Of course, she has been plagued with racism and discrimination, never feeling she really belongs anywhere. She may be ethnically Indian Hindi/Pakistani Muslim, but she really knows little of life there. She, of course, knows something of the foods from the area. She could be considered African since that’s her continent of birth, but she’s not of Negroid genetic background. In the U.S.A, she is an immigrant, and though she’s genetically Caucasian, her skin tone is not so-called white. Here she is called a “person of color.” The book is well written and intriguing, but it too pithy to be read in one sitting. Still, teachers most decidedly could and should use the book to launch year-long projects on the issues of race, ethnicity, and where we all belong.

BIBLIO: 2021, Mango & Marigold Press, Ages 14 +, $16.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult Memoir

ISBN: 975-1-7370550-2-0

My ethnic and cultural heritage is a mix. One my father’s side I am French, Scottish, Welsh?, Irish, and, according to his mother, a dash of Cherokee. Since I’m a faded redhead with very white skin, I don’t see the Cherokee, but my grandmother was a raven-haired beauty, with an impish grin. She looks like she could have had a bit of Native American blood in her. People do say I have what they decide is an indication of such genes. They say I have high cheek bones.

On my mother’s side of the family, aside from a smidge of English blood and a bit of Swiss blood, I’m almost exclusively German. The bottom line is I am an American Mutt. For the most part, both sides of the family tree have been in the U.S. since before it even was such. In fact, my fifth-generation paternal great-grandfather was Thomas Jefferson’s grammar school teacher, along with other well-known men.

My point of all this family history, is that even I don’t feel I fit comfortably in any particular niche. Though, of course, it’s not the same as being slandered and sneered at and disregarded because of the simple fact of my skin color or ethnic background.

We should all try to find the good in other people and how much we do have in common. Mostly we have more similarities than differences.

As I have in the past, I’d love to hear your thoughts on my blogs. If you disagree with what I’ve said, that’s fine. All I ask is that you be civil in your response. Thanks and stay healthy. Sarah

Books to Most Decidedly Read

Outstanding Books for Young Adult and Middle Readers

This summer I’ve been lucky enough to review three remarkable books as part of my job reviewing books for Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database (https://clcd.com.) Here are their reviews in order of my having written them.

CLCD is a worthwhile organization dedicated to let librarians, teachers, any one else who subscribes. In reviewing for them, I’m always in touch with who is publishing what. Good information for a writer of children’s literature to have. Plus, I can send in my books to be reviewed. And, as is the case with my review of What Beauty There Is, I got special notice in the CLCD monthly newsletter.

I’ll start with What Beauty There Is, because that’s the first one I reviewed. The title alone will make you stop and think. The book was written by a woman who, as a child, traipsed through the icy wilds of Idaho with her dad. Which makes her description of the terrain even more compelling and believable.

What Beauty There Is

Cory Anderson

The title alone is intriguing from the get go, but becomes more so as the book goes on. On first glance the reader could assume that the title means that the locale is bulging with beautiful things to view or that the phrase is said with a shrug as if to so say, “There must be some beauty here, but what?” The reader will have to decide which is the truth. Perhaps both. The book is well written and compelling and heart wrenching and bitter sweet in the end. Seventeen-year-old Jack comes from a sad home; the only ray of hope being his younger brother. Their father is in jail for theft and their mother is a dying meth addict. Jack comes home one day to find his mother has hanged herself. He rushes to bury her in the back yard by hand digging a grave in the frozen earth behind his garage in the middle of an Idaho winter. All without having his younger brother see him. If the Child Services people find out that he and his brother are alone, the younger boy will be put into a foster home. Jack decides that he needs to recover the money his father stole so his family isn’t completely torn asunder. Problem is finding it. In the meantime, the father of a new classmate of Jack’s is a cold-blooded murderer also looking for the money. The two teens end up working together to find the money and save the day. The story is told from Jack and the girl, Ava Bardem’s, point of view. Teachers will have a good time talking to students about life in general and also how to write a good book. Plus, how to survive in a harsh environment.

BIBLO: 2021, Roaring Book Press/Holzbrinck Publishing Holdings Ltd., Ages 14 +, $18.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult Ficton

ISBN: 978-1-250-26809

 The second book is very relevant in this day and age with our finally, we hope, fully awakening to how poorly we white people have treated others in this society who don’t fit our mold. Our innate fear of losing our dominance, however nefariously gained, in the society is still very relevant today. The story is part ghost story, part coming of age story, and part historical fiction. Having always believed that the souls of dead people don’t necessarily just melt off into the ether, I found the story to be quite intriguing.

Ophie’s Ghosts

Justina Ireland

Ophie didn’t realize that she could see ghosts, or that others couldn’t, until her just murdered father comes to their house to save her mother and herself from meeting the same fate at the hands of white supremacists. Their only crime was that Daddy had legally voted for the first time. This book, partly historical fiction, ghost story, personal growth story, and murder mystery, is quite compelling and extremely well written. The girl and her mother flee from Georgia to Pittsburgh, PA., where they both work for a demanding family and a snarly matriarch. Ophie, born Ophelia, is tasked with catering to the old lady’s every need and has to endure her racial slurs and demanding nature. But she sees all the many ghosts that inhabit the house and gets to know them. One of them, who used to be the old lady’s personal servant, had been murdered just before Ophie’s arrival. From her great aunt Rose with whom the girl and mother live, Ophie learns that other women in the family share their trait of being able to see the dead. There are many ideas for teachers to explore with their students to discuss the horrors of slavery and discrimination. Or how mean and selfish people can be. Or how complicated relationships are.

BIBLIO: 2021, Balzer & Bray, HarperCollins Publishers, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Grade Historical Fiction/Murder Mystery

ISBN: 978-0-06-291589-4

The final book is set in an elite boarding school in Upstate New York where there are the usual cliques and prejudices that seem to run rampant in boarding schools. The book could have just been a ho-hum “how to survive boarding school” but, instead, turns into a thriller and mystery and coming of age story excellently told.

Don’t Breathe a Word

Jordyn Taylor

Eva is the new kid in school and feels as alone as ever. Never one to perceive that she fits anywhere and sure she’s shunned by her mother and stepfather; she’s hoping she can make at least one friend. But all she seems to do is mess up. That is until she meets a girl in math class who agrees to cut class. Her part of the story, which is set in modern times, is about her rise to power and being in a secret society. Life is good, that is, until it isn’t. She also becomes a star cross-country runner and meets a guy who is an outsider as well. Together they uncover a mystery that has haunted the school since 1962. A secret kept by the Dean of Students, who turns out to be the driving force behind the secret society called The Five which even has secret hand signal. The second main character, Connie, is a follower who takes part in the 1962 inciting incident. The experiment that ends in the death of one person and the founding of The Five. The two main characters do meet in the end and set the record straight, but the journey and the growth of the two women is well described and the story is quite compelling. Teachers will find a lot of material in this book to use with their students from the historical aspects, to group dynamics, to personal growth and confidence.

BIBLIO: 2021, HarperTeen/HarperCollins Children’s Books/HarperCollins Publishing, Ages 13 +, $21.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult fiction


It’s nice to know that there are such good authors out there writing for our children and grandchildren. Hope you all are well. Please check out my latest version of my website: https://sarahmauryswanlovesbooks.com and let me know what you think and what I can improve on.

Are You Part Mythical God?

Many of you may have read any of the recent series about human children who are actually half god or goddess. The series I first read was Rick Riordan’s books about the progeny of Greek or Romans Gods. Since the two versions of these gods are always trying to prove their supremacy over the one another, they, of course, sic their human children on one another.

But there are other versions of gods who had affairs with humans. Books I’ve read recently are about Mayan gods and one about a Hercules/Herakles’s desire to marry a mortal. What I wonder is why cultures are so vehement about keeping their ethnicity so pure, except, of course, when they don’t. And why are the offspring always the ones bearing the brunt of the shame for adulterous behavior.

In a romantic sense, I suppose it should make you feel special to say you have Supernatural blood in your veins. On the other hand, just about every culture on this planet adheres to the belief that we all were created by a supernatural entity. Whether we call it God or Great Spirit or Creator, there seems to be pretty good evidence that SOMETHING had a hand in making out world and that’s on it, plus whatever is on other planets in ours or other solar systems in the Universe. Or why else is that birds and trees can’t mate or even different kinds of birds can’t mate and produce hybrids. In some cases, different varieties of the same species do quite successfully procreate even though they show genetic differences. But in others, like horses and donkeys, the offspring is sterile.

The study of myths has always been an interest of mine, so I relish reading stories that have a mythological bent to them.

Here are some recent examples.

The Shadow Crosser

J. C. Cervantes

The next adventure in the “Storm Runner” series following the quest of Zane Obispo whose father, Hurakan, is the Mayan god of wind, storm, and fire. When the story starts, Zane is hunting for other kids who are part god and part human. Each possesses a unique power inherited from the godly parent which makes them “Godborns.” Imagine the shock to be told that you possess godly blood and that you have special gifts. The readers of this series who don’t speak Spanish or Aztec or Maya should read the glossary at the end of the book so as not to stumble over the many non-English names. Presumably the god mythology part is true to the culture which is always interesting and fodder for teachers when they teach mythology or ancient history. Of course for modern teens that means anything from the twentieth century. Zane and his friends must save the gods who have been captured by evil gods planning to take over the world. There are many puzzles to solve and many adventures to be had before Zane and his crew can save their parents. Still there is time in the novel for budding romances to emerge and for the new godborns to learn how to use their powers. History teachers and social science teachers can have a field day with this material. Anybody who is fan of the Rick Riordan stories about children born to Greek and Roman gods will enjoy this series. It’s probably best to start at the beginning of the series, though there are enough references to earlier actions for the reader understand the back story.

BIBLIO: 2020, Disney/Hyperion/Buena Vista Books, Ages 13 +, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult, Fantasy

ISBN: 9781368052771

ISBN: 9781368055482

Outrun the Wind

Elizabeth Tammi

Atalanta is the fastest person anyone knows of and she’s a whiz with a bow and arrow, so when Prince Meleager persuades all his huntsmen that she should join them on their quest to kill the giant boar plaguing Calydonia, she happily joins the group. But things go awry during the hunt and Atalanta ends up fleeing for her life. Good thing she’s the fastest human around. Based on mythology, this is roaring good tale about love and loss and finding one’s true self. But the author really good use a good lesson on proper grammar. For those who like to read mythologically-based stories, the mention of various gods and historical places is an extra appeal and teachers can find many topics to discuss. The obvious ones are about mythology and historical events, but also the roles of women in earlier times. Should a princess be married off just to save or better the kingdom? This is a fast paced, enjoyable read.

BIBLIO: 2018, Flux/North Star Editions, Inc., Ages 14 +, $11.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Mythology/Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-63583-026-2

Go the Distance: A Twisted Tale

Jen Calonita

Talk about trial by fire, orphaned Megara ends up falling in love with Hercules only to discover she can’t be with him once he takes his godly place beside his parents, Zeus and Hera. She is, after all, a mere mortal. Zeus is adamant that she should never step foot on Mount Olympus, but Hera observes that Megara, a.k.a. Meg, is Hercules’s heart’s desire. She sets up a task for the girl to fulfill. If she does so in the required time, Meg may become a goddess and marry Hercules. All Meg has to do is find Athena’s special flute that has been stolen. Easy peasy, you might think, but no, along the way Meg must come to peace with her own self and those she thinks have wronged her. The story is well crafted and full of many twists and turns. Meg becomes friends with her two unwilling helpers, Phil the Satyr buddy of Hercules, and Pegasus. Together they complete the task, but not without much danger and many complications. The moral of the story is that life is full of dangers and self-learning, but is worth it in the end. Teachers will find much material to use in class discussions of mythology, the self-awareness journeys, and European history.

BIBLIO: 2021, Disney Enterprises/Hyperion/Buena Vista Books, Inc., Ages 14 +, $17.99

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult Fantasy

ISBN: 978-1-368-66380-7

So, believe in the god-like qualities you have and fulfill your dreams to the best of your ability. See you next time. I have to do my next Herculean task, which is finish the book I’m writing.

I love to hear what you’re up to and what you think your godly power might be. Sarah

So, believe in the god-like qualities you have and fulfill your dreams to the best of your ability. See you next time. I have to do my next Herculean task, which is finish the book I’m writing.

I love to hear what you’re up to and what you think your godly power might be. Sarah

Differences and Challenges

It is easy to go along in life thinking that everyone else has the prefect life and that you are the only one dealing with differences and or challenges. But if we observe other people and listen to what they have to say or do, we find we’re all filled with difficulties.

As I’ve said before, I grew up in a household with no adult male supervision and the sadness of having lost my father and one grandfather because of a war.

On the other hand, we did have a loving family and my mother and her mother’s struggles to make our lives as normal as possible was good. At least we weren’t given up for adoption or ignored or abused. And my mother did her level best to make sure we didn’t grow up prejudiced against the culture that produced the soldiers who starved, abused and ultimately killed Daddy and Granddaddy.

In the three books I’ve picked for this blog I hope to continue the theme of being comfortable in one’s own skin.

The first book is non-fiction and deals with how many families are made up in different ways. How many of the families you know are made up of people who have been married a long time? Who are the same race or ethnic group? Or a heterosexual couple? Or don’t have at least adopted child? Or have other differences? Probably not many.

Families Like Mine

Marie-Therese Miller

The concept of a family being a group of people who look alike and are related by blood is no longer the norm. Lots of families are either mixed race or ethnicity. Maybe the family is made up of two moms or two dads. Or it may be split up so the child lives with one parent part of the time and then stays with the other parent the rest of time. Another alternative is that one parent may not be biologically kin to the child and may bring children into the marriage. This book quite nicely depicts the various ways families are now formed and confirms that any way one has a family is acceptable. The photos in the book are delightful and explain the various ways family form with clarity and love. Children will easily find themselves in the pictures. The book also has a nice glossary at the end.

BIBLIO: 2021, Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., Ages 5 to 9, $??

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Non-fiction

ISBN: 9781541598043

ISBN: 9781728413686

ISBN: 9781728400136

 Still on the theme of differences and challenges, sometimes the challenges are of children having to assume roles they shouldn’t have to deal with. This book is an outstanding example of what some children find themselves struggling to overcome. It reminded me of Cynthia Lord’s book Rules.

Finding S.A.M.

Mary Bleckwehl

Illustrations by Berat Pekmezci

This is an excellent story about dealing with an autistic older sibling and believing in one’s self and the sibling. It’s a perfect book for the child and parents to read and discuss together because unwittingly parents may add too much burden to the non-autistic child or children’s already overloaded psyche. Zach is twelve and just starting middle school. Unfortunately, his older brother, Braden, will be in the same school. Now, most younger siblings would be thrilled to have an older brother to show them how to navigate the school. Instead, Zach knows he’s going to have to show Braden the ropes and answer for all the embarrassing moments that will come up. Braden is autistic. In earlier years, Zach relied on his imaginary friend, Sam. But now that he’s in middle school, he thinks he too old for an imaginary friend. He thinks he should be able to navigate on his own. In addition to all this, Zach is starting to deal with all the usual preadolescent feelings. Being the resilient young lad that he is, Zach struggles along keeping his pain and anxiety to himself, though he does let his BFF Phinney in to help him navigate. In addition to all his other problems, Zach’s parents expect him to also take care of his younger sisters. Things come to a head when Zach leaves Braden in charge of the girls while their parents are out for the evening and he has been invited to a party. He comes home to see his house engulfed in flames. There is so much material for teachers and counselors and parents to absorb, along with the children, it should become mandatory reading.

BIBLIO: 2021, One Elm Books/Red Chair Press, LLC, Ages 12 +, $18.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Grade fiction

ISBN: 9781947159488

ISBN: 9781947159495

ISBN: 9781947159501

The final book I’m mentioning is about being thankful for what one has, even if that reality is not close to one’s desire. It reminds me of the adage: Be careful what you wish for. Do we know what others have had to suffer through to make a better life for us.

The Most Beautiful Thing

Kao Kalia Yang

Illustrated by Khoa Le

Life does not always give us what we want, but we find we can make do with less. As long as we have love given to us and given by us to others, life is good. Ms. Yang, the author, was born in the Hmong region of Laos, and she came with her family to the United States as refugees. As the youngest grandchild, the narrator’s job was to clip her grandmother’s finger and toe nails. She was proud to do it. And as she cleaned Grandma’s feet, she noticed the cracks on the bottoms still ingrained with dirt from the old country. Like any child will do, the narrator wants things that she cannot have. When she wants ice cream, she makes do with ice cubes. When she wants a new school dress, she eats the candy her mother gives her money for. And always she shares with Grandma who shares the stories of her youth about tigers and goblins and other scary things. Through it all the narrator understands how full her own life is because of love. This is story that all young children should read so they grow up understanding what the real meaning of life is. To make it even more special, the book is full of quietly lyrical illustrations evoking an Asian culture.

BIBLIO: 2020, Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., Ages 5 to 8, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 9781541561915

ISBN: 9781541599376

Let’s all count our blessings and try to make life better for those around us. Let us accept other people’s differences and learn to appreciate them for who they are. At the moment people in the U.S. are blaming Asian populations for the pandemic we are still fighting. Again, even if the virus started in China that doesn’t mean that all Chinese people willed it to happen. It also doesn’t mean that all Asian people, with their myriad of differences, are to blame. Tolerance is a good thing.

Have a good life and enjoy the people around you.


As I sure most of you have noticed we have a new president. And in my view a much saner and more reasonable person. We also have a woman as vice president who is a rainbow all unto herself with her Indian, Black and probably some White European heritage because her father was from Jamaica. President Biden is of Irish heritage. All of this is important because these groups all suffered prejudicial treatment when they first came to the United States of America. But especially those ethnicities that don’t look like White Europeans. I remember reading in the “Washington Post” back in 1950s explaining why Sikh mean wear their turbans. If I remember correctly, the article included how the turban was wound around the man’s head and the religious significance of the turban. I believe there had been local complaints about the turban, though I don’t remember what the complaint was. I do remember wondering what the fuss was about, but then I was a typical self-absorbed teen in the ‘50s.

A great number of my Facebook Friends are celebrating the beginning of the next four years with a new set of leaders who tell the truth and want all of us and the world to prosper. But at least one person is concerned enough about the perceived threat of having our rights trampled upon to have commented on her worries that she wrote something to the effect of: “Yeah, just wait until they take your rights away.”

Hmm, thinks I. What rights are going to be taken away? And where did this person get that notion? Probably from lies told by leaders who want to keep us in line.

I have been accused of being a socialist because I didn’t approve of the just departed president’s aspirations. The accusation so took me aback that I couldn’t think to say: “Oh? Tell me, do you take advantage of your entitlement to Social Security income?” “Yes?” “And do you take advantage of your Medicare entitlement?” “Yes?” “Well then, you’re as much a socialist as I.” That would have been the best response if I felt the need to do something other than shrug my shoulders and walk away. Unfortunately that was not an option since the person who accused me was a guest in my house.

I suppose the person who worried about rescinded rights was thinking of the first amendment right to free speech. I’ve not heard of that being rescinded.

Or the person was thinking of the Second Amendment which gives people the right to bear arms. No, nobody’s planning to take that away, but do remember that there are restrictions to the amendment. If I recollect correctly, the Second Amendment was to allow citizens the right to protect their property or hunt for food. I don’t believe it was meant for people to use for storming public buildings. Or not let me walk down the street because I have a different ethnic makeup.

The other thing about rights is that in exercising one’s right to not wear a mask, for instance, is that one cannot impinge on another person’s right to try to stay healthy. In my view that also means exercising plain civility. You don’t want to wear a mask? Fine by me, but only if you’re not going to endanger anybody else’s health.

Non-White, Non-Christian, Non-Male citizens of the United States of America have the same rights as those White, so-called Christian Men. But even today that is not always noted.

The books I’ve included today have to do with these issues.

And like President Biden and Vice President Harris, I believe that there is room in our nation for all peoples and all points of view. But could we please be civil to each other and accept our differences.

You may remember these books, but I thought it important to mention them again.

Since 911, Muslims have frequently been looked at askance, though most are as God worshiping as the majority of Christians. So are most Jews. So are most other advocates of true religions. But one of the most egregious wrongs that White Americans have perpetrated is our continuing disregard for the rights of Native Americans whose lands we White European ethnic groups stole.

Look for some Native Americans’ stories in series such as The First Peoples series. BIBLIO: 2020, Creative Education/Creative Company, ISBN: 978-1-64026-223-2 is for the Book on the Cheyenne.

People tend to be afraid of what they don’t truly know. And it seems easier to believe what your friends or your parents or newsfeeds tell you than to find the truth yourself.

No True Believers

Rabiah York Lumbard

Salma’s best friend, Mariam Muhammad, isn’t just moving away from their northern Virginia suburb, she’s moving to a different continent. Mariam’s family is moving because her father’s medical practice is losing patients prejudiced against him because he and his family are practicing Muslims as are Salma and her family. Then a new family moves into Mariam’s house and at first they seem nice, but then things begin to be weird. The book is well written and an important contribution to our country’s discussion of ethnic prejudice. It also sheds light on the need to not trust what we read on the internet at face value. People aren’t necessarily what they seem to be. We mush be diligent in cross checking what we see to make sure we’re getting the whole truth. Salma learns important lessons about the computer hacking she’s been doing and the online so-called friendships she’s developed. The book presents lots of opportunities for classroom discussions on religion, computer information, and personal growth.

BIBLIO: 2020, Crown Books for Young Readers/Putnam Random House, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult Fiction

ISBN: 9780525644255

The second book I’ve chosen is important to repeat because of the wealth of information on our voting process. During the 2020 General Election there was a great deal of misinformation spewed forth and it is important to remember how our system works and how fragile that system can be.

Votes of Confidence, Second Edition: A Young Person’s Guide to American Elections

Jeff Fleischer

This is a fascinating book. Any person over the age of ten should read it, including so-called “grown-ups.” Chapter 1 focuses on how the United States of America has evolved since its inception. The trick was to get all the states to agree to who could vote and how and where. That has changed over the years since originally only land-owning white males were permitted to vote. But there were, and are, many other people whole live in our country. Shouldn’t they have the right to help determine who is going to govern? Chapter 2 discusses how voting works and why it’s important. Chapter 3 is about the role of political parties and the history of how we got them. The book focuses on issues such as the Electoral College and what its function is and whether that is still relevant.  Chapter 4 explains how to vote and why your vote counts. Chapter 5 is about how to learn what’s being discussed by candidates and Chapter 6 lists ways to get involved. Teachers could spend several months discussing the whys and wherefores of elections and voting using this book.

BIBLIO: 2020, Zest Books/Lerner Books, Ages 11 to 18, HC $37.32, PB $14.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Non-fiction

ISBN: 978-1-5415-7896-8

ISBN: 978-1-5415-7897-5

I included this one because we’ve just gone through a phase where the power of rumor can lead to utter chaos.

If the Fire Comes: A Story of Segregation during the Great Depression

Tracy Daley

Illustrated by Eric Freeberg

Consultant: Andrew Lee Feight, PhD

A book the whole country should read, this tells the story of more unnecessary discrimination against people just because of their skin color and ethnic makeup. Joseph McCoy shines shoes in Elsinore, CA, to support his uncle and sister, Maya, who is crippled by polio. His parents are dead and his uncle is jobless as is most of the world during the Great Depression. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt has started a program called the Civilian Conservation Corps or CCC as part of his New Deal. CCC workers were sent all across the U.S. to do things like fight wildfires. Such as group is sent to Elsinore, but most of the townspeople are not happy. The town is predominately white, but the camp is all black. Joseph and Maya show why the prejudice is wrong. The book is well written and full of lots of information for teachers to use with their students.

BIBLIO: 2020, Jolly Fish Press/Northstar Editions, Ages 8 to 12, $19.99 (Lib. Bound), $8.99 (PB), $8.99 (eBook).

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Grade Novel

ISBN: 978-1-63163-371-3

ISBN: 978-1-63163-372-0

ISBN: 978-1-63163-373-7

I have been told that I’m going to Hell because I don’t go to a particular church or believe that the Christian Bible is the literal Word of God. In my view how can it be? It was cobbled together from different languages and has been rewritten many times to kowtow to the rule of particular leaders, some secular and some religious. My French forebears had their lands confiscated and the first born son of at least one family was brutally murdered all for religious differences. The bottom line, IMHO, is that we should honor each other’s right to disagree, but be civil about it. Here’s to our country surviving the whims of those who would like to dominate. And here’s to our world living in harmony.

Children Trying to Save the World, Or at Least Their Particular Worlds

Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe

Jo Watson Hackl

It’s amazing the number of children who are put in situations where they feel they need to solve their families’ problems. Or, at the very least, not make the problems worse. Children who have a parent off to war feel the tension and either silently try to be perfect or take over parenting their younger siblings or some show some other behavior that leaves the children with stunted emotional growth.

Ms. Hackl’s wonderful book deals with the troubles of twelve-year-old Cricket whose father is dead and whose mother is probably bi-polar. From the opening sentence the book pulls the reader right in: Turns out, it’s easier than you might think to sneak out of town smuggling a live cricket, three pocketfuls of jerky, and two bags of half-paid-for merchandise from Thelma’s Cash ‘n’ Carry grocery store. Well, wouldn’t you keep reading?

Cricket’s mama has gone off on another of her quests to find a room she remembers seeing as a child. The room is full of birds. Well, actually they’re paintings of birds, but the paintings are so alive the viewer is sure the birds will fly right off the wall and out the window. Mama has been obsessed with finding that room ever since. Other people say the room is not real. That was just her imagination. And the reader can just hear the people sniggering and whispering “See? She really is crazy.”

Cricket is sure if she can just find that room Mama will come back for good and never feel the need to roam again. Any child who has had a parent go missing for what ever reason will relate to, firmly, to believe that the child can find the parent and make things right. So Cricket runs away from home to find the room and her mother. She takes with her the cricket she rescued from Thelma’s Cash ‘n’ Carry to help her find what she needs. Along the way the pair have many adventures and lots of emotional growth. No, I’m not telling you the ending, you’ll have to read the book. But you’ll indeed enjoy the journey and the people you meet along the way.

I personally can relate to feeling the need to make things better and to find my missing father. Actually, he really was killed in WWII and I never knew him, but I always fantasized that he would show up at Walter Reed Army Hospital with amnesia and I would reunite him with our family. That is until I had grown up myself and knew that I had no real connection to him.

Do read this book, it will show you how children stay strong.

BIBLIO: 2018, A Yearling Book/Penguin Random House, Ages 8 to 12, $7.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Grade

ISBN: 978-0-399-55741-5


As I said last week, this year of horror is almost over and I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping for 2021 to be better. So, to that end I’m going to focus on the good things that await us—at least us writers and illustrators.

I’ll start with all the good stuff that SCBWI (Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators to the uninitiated) is doing as usual. If you are a writer or illustrator of children’s stories and have not joined this wonderful organization you are most decidedly depriving yourself of a wealth of information and comradery. https://www.scbwi.org They have online and in-person workshops and conferences, plus ways of promoting your work and articles on how to find publishers or improve your writing/illustrating. You’ll feel every so connected with the rest of the writerly tribe. I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t just encourage and cheer for beginners, including authors and illustrators and editors who are widely recognized as on the top tier.

Since I started writing for publication, I’ve lived 2 states—Maryland and North Carolina—and have found many organizations that help writers, both locally and state wide. The state organization in North Carolina is North Carolina Writers Network. Again, they hold conferences and have a website where you can learn about writing, promote your latest publication, and learn about what contests they are holding. One of the biggies is the Thomas Wolfe Award. They also list what writers groups in each county are doing. For instance, in Craven (don’t you love that name?) County, where my handsome devil and I live, there is the NEXUS Poet group that meets on the first Tuesday of each month in the charming and very artistic New Bern. nexus@nexuspoets.com

If you look around your area, I’m sure you’ll find at least one independent bookstore that will be happy to sell your books for you. If you’re lucky, the store will also give you a spot to hold a book signing for your latest book. And, if you’re really lucky, will publish a literary journal where you can try to have your short stories, poems, or artwork published. New Bern’s Next Chapter Books and Art is the place here. It’s run by the talented and delightful Michelle Flye. https://thenextchapternc.com/

Your area will most likely have at least one local writer’s forum that meets once a month or so and hosts a guest speaker. If you go to the meeting, you’ll get information on how to write better and how to market your stories, but you also develop new relationships with people like you. In the Coastal North Carolina area, there are several in addition to NEXUS Poets. In the Pamlico County there is Pamlico Writers which generally speaking host a yearly one-day writers’ conference in the charming town of Washington inside the grand old Turnage Theater. Just to go see the theater is worth the price of admission. https://pamlicowritersgroup.wildapricot.org/ BTW, if you write for children you’ll probably heard of Sheila Turnage, who’s grandfather started the theater.

We also have Carteret Writers, which at the moment is having COVID break, but is hoping that someone will take over the reins in 2021. http://www.athomecomputersupport.com/writers/  This group usually sponsors a writers’ contest and publishes the winners in a literary magazine entitle Shoal. Again, they have a monthly speaker. Those of us who have put in a lot of effort to keep the organization going hope that a new group of people will raise their hands to take over the reins. (I know, I know, how can you take over the reins while you’re raising your hand?)  Look around your neck of the woods because I’m sure you’ll find someplace to have a writerly home. If not, start your own. To paraphrase a line from the delightful movie “Field of Dreams,” start it and writers will come.

The other thing you can do is look on websites or writers’ magazines and you will find lists of places to submit your sterling work and a number of them give you suggestions of what to write to have them interested in your work. Look on websites for magazines such as Writer’s Digest https://subscriptions.writersdigest.com , or Poets&Writers https://www.pw.org/literary_magazines/al, or The Writer https://www.writermag.com. Just use your favorite search engine and look for writer’s magazines. I use Author Publish when I’m looking for places to tell my readers about in the monthly newsletter I write for Carteret Writers. (The newsletter is aptly named “The Write Stuff.”) They do a lot of research about who’s looking for submissions, both articles and books. (We don’t need to rely on just the now 4 mega-trade publishers.) https://www.authorspublish.com/

You see? There’s plenty to look forward to in 2021. It may be the year you’ll end up on the New York Times best seller list. Hey, we can dream, can’t we?  Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, or whatever else happy you want to celebrate.

Here’s to Surviving 2020 and Hoping for a Better 2021!

I wrote this first paragraph back in March, thinking that we’d be back to normal by August at the latest. Foolish me. In this time of sequestering, things are not much different for a writer. We tend to hunker down in our offices anyway. But now I tend to procrastinate more than usual because what else am I going to do with my time? My husband does the grocery shopping and someone comes in twice a month to clean our house. We can now Skype or Zoom or use some other version of tele-communicating with our friends and family and we can get carryout dinners when we don’t feel like cooking. The carryout dinner thing is really cool. We order from our house, drive to the restaurant, and honk the horn. Someone from the restaurant comes out with our food with surgical gloves on and we pay. Home we go to have a nice meal.

It’s now December and this horrible year is coming to an end. Like everyone else, we’ve read in the newspaper and seen on TV news that people are dying in the thousands, not just in the U.S., but around the world. And driving 40 minutes to and fro for a meal to eat at home, got to be old in a hurry.

The good news is that my handsome devil has rekindled his interest in cooking. Turns out he’s good at it. I’m a good cook, but having been cooking almost nightly for 60 years takes the joy out of it.

The pandemic has also reduced the incoming flow of new children’s books to read and review. Which means I haven’t had much reviewing grist for my blog mill. But, being a writer and a storyteller, now I just blog about whatever comes into my head.

I have been working on some short stories, including the one I mentioned in an earlier blog. I called that one “Trust,” because it has to do with the trust between a horse and rider. I have now sent the story off the Terrain magazine and hope to hear back from them in about four months. I also finished the sketch of the bad guy’s face.

Don’t judge me too harshly, this is my first ever attempt at drawing something that I think highly enough of to let see the light of day.

I also have had a short story accepted for the second edition of Next Chapter Literary Magazine. This story, entitled “Heart’s Convergence”, is about a teen boy rescuing his would-be girl friend from a raging river. I also had a story accepted for the first edition. The theme for the first edition of the magazine was Quarantine and the theme for this second one is Convergence because New Bern—where I live and the Next Chapter Books and Art is located, is on the convergence of the Neuse and Trent Rivers. https://www.newbern.com/the-next-chapter-books-art.html

The other good news is that we adopted a kitten two weeks ago. We named her Pandie. Can you guess why? Friends have guessed Pandora, Panda Bear and other such “pandie” words. My hint is to think about what the theme of this post is.

My hope is that 2021 will be a better year for all of us. And that we lose no more friends to this pandemic. (Everyone who has died was a friend to someone.)  Have a happy holiday season.