How to Write What You Want to Say.

Though I’ve started a new book, a chapter book tentatively entitled Space Junk, I’m still having to mull it over in my brain. I am drawing some images for it. I mean if you’re writing a book about traveling into space you have to put in at least ONE alien. But what does the alien look like? And what does the human who’s interacting the said alien look like? Well, Keandra Maria Diaz came to me all by her curly headed self, full of curiosity and determination, but her new friend, Shellorba, is shy about appearing in my head. And since he is capable of mind traveling around the universe, I’ve got to figure that part out as well.

However, while I’m cogitating on that, I can’t not write. Which prompted me to write something to submit to the nature magazine, “Terrain.”  It’ got interesting stories in it and allows the writer a max of 6000 words. My short stories tend to be very short, so I’m thrilled to have this extra number of words to play around with.

The plot line is based on an incident that happened when I was out for a trail ride with a friend and we got caught in the edges of a grass fire roaring up from the Patapsco River on the grass covering a gas pipeline. We had heard a helicopter flying above us while we were in the woods almost as it was tracking our movements. When we got close to where we’d come out onto the pipeline, which was fortunately buried fairly deep, we thought we heard to the helicopter land off to our left.

We emerged from the woods and did see the helicopter on the ground and two men—presumably the pilot and co-pilot—walking toward us. We stopped to figure out how we were going to get by the whumping machine without spooking the horses, and my horse, Gemini, casually turned his head to the right to look down the pipeline. The area was quite hilly. When I turned to see what he was looking at I saw a wall of almost black smoke rising up from the hill. A fire! A big fire! Gemini’s reaction was ho hum. Not what one hears a horse doing in a fire. The pilots realized we were not in danger and when I signaled that we would ride past where the helicopter was, they got back in and lifted off the ground. I figure that at least one of them had some experience with horses because they raised that machine straight up into the air until they were tree-top high before they flew in our direction.

Well, that’s not much of a story to tell! I mean where’s the danger? Where’s the heart-throbbing action? When I wrote the story the first time, I added spice to it and named it “Trust,” because horse and rider do have to trust each other or somebody’s going to get hurt.

It turned out the fire was a case of arson and I don’t remember hearing if the culprit was caught. Again, not very exciting in a story. Enter the bad guy, who really is just pissed off that the state had bought the family farm many years early to make the state park. And this man, the surviving would be heir, never got over the assault on his family’s land.  

Since the magazine likes the stories they buy to have a lot of environmental description in them, I am adding a lot about the Patapsco State Park, which, BTW, is a spectacular place to hike or bike or ride through and the river is quite navigable at that point either by canoe, row boat, or kayak. So if you ever get a chance to see a bit of it, head to the border between Howard and Baltimore Counties, Maryland. There are several places to park in the area and there is a more cultivated area called the McKeldin State Park.

Anyway, the story is progressing and at the urging of a critique group partner I am putting in the bit about another time I was riding in the park and the horse I was riding that day wanted to go a different way home. We turned left off the pipeline to ride between an over-grown pasture and a small stand of oak trees. Out of the woods, again tree top high, flew a red-tail hawk carrying what appeared to be a six-foot-long black snake twisting and turning in the hawk’s talons as if to say, “Hey, you can put down any time now.” The hawk had babies to feed so she just kept on flying. Another wonderful memory from my time with horses.

As you can see, writing any story is more complex than the reader ever understands, but what else is a writer going to do? The stories just keep popping up in a writer’s head and must be put down. I’ll end up finishing my space story. In the meantime, I’m toying with doing the illustrations for it myself. What would your space alien look like?

Are Bullies Always Just Mean People?

Illustrations by Irene A. Jahns

When I think back on my childhood, I realize that I wasn’t just a shy, insecure girl, I was also a bully. Why? Because to make friends I would respond to other people’s signals by picking on and even beating up other children. I’ve come to this realization because of all the children’s books I’ve read about bullies and how to deal with them.

Bullying is never good, but the person being bullied can try to make the situation better by working to understand why the tormentor is being so mean. Not an easy thing to do and the bullied person may need help, but there is generally a way to ease the situation.

That is what Cat Michaels and Rosie Russell’s new book is about. Entitled Just Between Sam and Me, the book is due out in the December. Look for the enticing cover art of a very satisfied orange marmalade cat smugly taking his regal place on top of his person’s stuff. Irene A. Jahns’ drawings throughout the book are very nice line drawings and include a map of small Missouri town, Spring Hope, plus pictures of Olivia Martin’s family farm and of course Sam the cat, who is definitely depicted by a cat lover.

And in the category of “you’re never too old to learn new things,” I learned that not all states in the U.S. go by the usual divisions of Elementary School being 1st through 5th Grades, Middle School being 6th through 8th grades and High School being 9th through 12th grades. Turns out at least in some parts of Missouri, Middle School is just 7th and 8th grades.

We meet Olivia, affectionately known as O, as she tries to eat some breakfast after waking up from her nightmare of being attacked by big yellow bees. She’s worried about starting sixth grade without the support of her best friend, Isabella, who is still visiting her grandmother in New York City. During this chapter we also meet Olivia’s favorite hen, Henrietta, and Olivia’s horse, a Palomino named Star.

We also are introduced to the girl writing to her cat in the journal her father gave her. She feels comfortable telling Sam her feelings. And calms herself down before school.

When she gets on the school bus, she is forced to sit with the new girl, who turns out the be very unhappy about her unwilling move to what she considers a “Podunk” town. Candace Mazare really isn’t interested in having a conversation, she mainly just wants to whine about how much she hates being in Spring Hope.

Of course, Candace ends up bullying Olivia and turning two of the local girls against O. As the year progresses Candace’s bullying gets worse, but Olivia figures that it must somehow be her fault.

Olivia shows a lot of emotional growth and, in the end, takes the high road. Even going to comfort Candace when a tornado hits the town.

Of course, the whole time Olivia does have help, wittingly from her friends and family and teacher, but also unwittingly from her animals. And she comes out a better person herself, with an understanding of why at least Candace became to be a bully. Be sure to look for this book’s launching in December.

And take the lesson that maybe you are sometimes the bully and sometimes the victim.

For more information about Cat Michaels, Rosie Russell and illustrator, Irene A. Jahns, check out Cat’s and Rosie’s webpages:

            And in the interest of self-aggrandizement, my second novel, Emily’s Ride to Courage, also deals with bullying—this time by an older sister.

            Also check out the SCBWI Book Stop pages. There are plenty of good books posted there and I’m sure a few will have bullying as a theme.

My two pages are: EARTHQUAKES at


BTW, I’m hoping that in writing this blog I will be encourage myself to blog regularly. In the hopes that you all are well I hope to see you soon. Sarah

How Did You Get to Be the Person You Are?

I can’t imagine anybody in high school not feeling like an outsider at some point. I expect even the athletic heroes and the cheerleaders and all the other so-called popular students don’t believe their good fortune in being well thought of. And I know from personal reflection through sixty-one years of life after high school that we nerds were better thought of than we’d ever believed. High school is hard emotionally, mentally, and physically. But most of us do make it through and discover that we’re better than we thought we were. These three books touch on those issues quite successfully in their own ways.


Do you remember the girls in high school who were considered to be tramps? You were afraid to be friends with them because it might tarnish your image? I’m sure you do remember. And I’m sure you feel as I do that you should have tried to get to know at least one of them. I think we can all empathize with Hayden in this story.

Kissing Lessons: Learn from the Best

Sophie Jordan

Hayden, whether she wants to be or not, is considered the high school tramp. The supposedly good girls sneer at her behind her back and the boys lust after her. Because she comes from a less than stellar family background with a tramp of a mother, Hayden doesn’t think she deserves better treatment, but she also knows she’s more than what others think of her. Emmaline, the younger sister of Nolan, a guy Hayden finds attractive, asks her to give kissing lessons. In doing so, Hayden begins to have a friendlier relationship with Nolan. Through the journey of the book, all the characters learn how wrong it is to judge people by their appearances and what other people say about them. This is one of the better books about how hard it is to grow up and how easy it is to believe what others say. All the characters begin to show their true selves in this book, which is at times sad and dark and other times amusing. The reader will develop quite a lot of sympathy for Hayden and the other characters. This should be appealing to all teens as they struggle to find their places in the world.

BIBLIO: 2020, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 9781328977076

ISBN: 9780358067412


Maryland schools were being integrated the last two years I was in high school. My homeroom teacher was a very nice black woman having to deal with racism and she did it well. Religious differences were not discussed, though they were present I’m sure. After 911 fear of Muslims and the Islamic religion took a good section of center stage and, sadly, still does.  This next book deals quite well with this subject.
The book also addresses the concern over hacking on websites.

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 these seems 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 must 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 third book I’ve selected has magic in it, but is primarily about finding one’s self during teenage years. There is a lot of whimsy in the story, but an understanding of loyalty and being one’s own unique person.

The Circus Rose

Betsy Cornwell

A book of magic and love and loyalty, the story is about fraternal twins, though in this case the girls should be rightly called “maternal” twins. Yes, they were born on the same day to the same mother, but to different fathers. Rose is an athletic redhead who loves performing aerial acrobatics. Ivory, the white-blonde twin, loves tinkering and designing new circus sets. Their mother’s circus is their life and their home, and the people of the circus are their family. The story tells of their journey toward self-awareness, with magical creatures like Bear and evil religious zealots to help or hinder them along their journey. The author weaves a good story which pulls the reader along. There are hints to folk/fairy tales like the Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and real-life issues such as finding one’s place in the world. The reader will become very fond of the characters and teachers will find much to discuss with their students.

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

REVIEWER:  Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Early Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-32816-3930-9

ISBN: 9780358164432

Be well and stay safe during our time of lock down. And enjoy reading all the books you’ve put aside for a rainy day. Here’s that day. As always, I’d love to hear from you. Sarah

The Excellent, the Fun, and the Eh.

            One of the things we can do while being in quarantine mode is to read. Of course, lots of us read anyway, but now we can not worry that we’re not getting other things done. We’ve cleaned our rooms and washed our clothes and made special dinners or decided what restaurant we’re going to get carry out from. We’ve also taken our solitary walks and pulled all the weeds from the garden, if that’s ever possible.

            So now we can read and not feel a smidge of guilt. Here are three books that might keep the real kids in our lives occupied. That is after the grownups have read the books under the guise of deciding that’s the books are appropriate to read.

The first one I’m sharing is my least favorite of the bunch, but still has merit to it. Especially for those who dream of visiting Paris.

Paris on Repeat

Amy Bearce

A variation on the Bill Murray movie, “Groundhog Day,” this is the story of a very shy girl who is on a class trip to Paris, France. The reader might not want to finish the book after the first go-round, because main character Eve is so self-absorbed, she’s not sympathetic. She is very shy, and feels so sorry for herself that she is whiny. If the reader sticks with the story, fortunately Eve does gain confidence and does begin to notice how other people are feeling and does become less whiny. But she really isn’t an appealing character. Though the descriptions of Paris are interesting, one would hope that most readers will find it odd that the class is able to tour the Cathedral of Notre Dame since that was severally damaged in 2019 and is no longer open to tourists. The author does have a note about this at the end of the book, but some readers would probably stop reading before they got to the end. There is a bit of fun magic in the story which is what causes Eve to keep repeating the day until she gets it right and learns her lesson. Still teachers might be able to use this book to discuss French history and architecture and art.

BIBLIO: 2020, Jolly Fish Press/North Star Editions, Inc, Ages 8 to 14, $11.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader/Beginning Teenager

ISBN: 978-63163-437-6

The second one is a sequel and, in my view, is quite charming. The main character is quite spunky and the story is appealing. I’d show a picture of the cover, but just because I dd it once doesn’t mean I can do it again. Sorry.

The Oddmire Book Two: The Unready Queen

William Ritter

For the fantasy/folk tale/magic fans out there this is an enchanting book. Fable is the daughter and heir-apparent to the Queen of the Deep Dark. The book is an analogy for encouraging people to get over their differences and work to find their common interests. But it also about taking care of our environment and our planet. Told in third person omniscient tense, the story moves from the points of view of the queen, her daughter, some of the towns people and the Chief of the Goblins. A man has come to town to make his fortune and he doesn’t care who or what he destroys along the way. Inadvertently, he discovers a special substance that makes whoever ingests it super strong, so he, of course, wants to keep it for himself and sell it bit by bit for a fortune to those who want to feel stronger or recover from an illness or injury. In the meantime, Fable wants to get the know about town life and a village girl wants to learn about the forest. The queen is not at all thrilled with her daughter going into town and would rather Fable learn more about protecting the forest. The book is ripe for classroom discussions about the relevant issues plaguing modern society, but is also just plain fun to read.

BIBLIO: 2020, Algonquin Press/Workman Publishing, Ages 8 to 12, $16.95?

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader Fantasy

ISBN: 978-1-61620-840-0

Though the cover graphic might make you think of Sci-Fi, you will soon realize that you’re looking a face hidden by a WWI gas mask. This is historical fiction at its best.

Open Fire

Amber Lough

Katya Pavlova is working in a munitions factory in 1917 doing her part to support her beloved Russia while her beloved father Colonel Pavlov is off fighting against the Germans during World War I and her brother is supposedly recovering from war wounds at home. The brother, Maxim, is gambling and losing all the money he has plus any he can get off of Katya. As the story progresses, Katya has to come to grips with her brother’s gambling addiction and she has to come to grips with the possibility of Russia not winning the war against Germany. Along the way, she learns about an all-woman battalion of women being taught to be soldiers. The hope is the female battalion will such courage that the many male Russian soldiers planning on deserting will be shamed into to staying in the army. In the mix of this are the beginning of the communist revolution. The story is well told and seems to be quite accurate in its depiction of life in 1917 Russia. It ought to be considered a must read for high school students studying world history. One nice touch is the front piece of each chapter telling the story of a hero that Father Pavlov is telling to Katya Pavlova when she was young. This book is a winner and will spark many class room discussions.

BIBLIO: 2020, Carolrhoda Lab/Lerner Books, Ages 11 to 18, $18.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult Historical Fiction

ISBN: 978-1-5415-7289-8

ReBlogged Post of My Interview by Joan Y. Edwards

Since my third novel, Earthquakes just came out, my good friend and blogger extraordinaire, Joan Y. Edward, interviewed me. Here is the link to her post.

Please leave a comment either on her blog or mine. For today, I’m giving away an e-book copy of the book. Something to do while you’re stuck in your house “self-isolating.” As an aside, I must say it’s nice to have house chores like laundry more easily handled when your bored spouse wants to do something more active than vegetating. Thanks, Sarah

Indians, Native Americans, American Indians, or First People

The first people of the continent go by many names. Grouped together, white people have called them various names and lumped the various tribes and nations under some ugly titles. But as a whole, Native Americans are quite diverse. Some are settled farmers, some are wanderers, some are bellicose and some are peaceful, just like the rest of humanity. As a group the first people have always fascinated me. Maybe in part because my paternal grandmother told me we had Cherokee blood flowing in our veins. Looking at her, you could well believe that, since she was a raven-haired beauty with a mischievous sparkle in her eye. My fair-skinned, red-haired visage doesn’t really conjure up a connection. However, people do comment that I have high cheekbones, indicating a possibility. I’d like to think so, especially since I’ve always felt a connection to the rest of nature.

I selected a series entitled “First Peoples” to review. The series is diverse, not just concentrating on some of the Plains group, but also talking about Eastern groups. Perhaps the Western tribes and the Canadian and Central/South American tribes will be talked about in future books, along with the rest of the Plains and Eastern Groups.

I like that the series is called “First People,” since that’s how most think of themselves. Like the rest of humanity, the tribes have creations myths just as complex as more modern religions and most have similar elements in them. The Cheyenne are a Plains group, or at least when white people descended upon them. They may have migrated from somewhere else.

First Peoples: Cheyenne

Valerie Bodden

American Indians or Native Americans or First Peoples, no matter how someone describes them, these peoples were the first known human dwellers of North and South America, so it’s nice to have books describing them to the new generations now living in this hemisphere. Never a singular group of people going by different names, the groups had different cultures and systems of government. Some of the groups carried on wars, or at least skirmishes with other tribes. The focus of this book is about the Cheyenne, who are Plains Indians, from the middle of what is now the United States of America.  Their name, Shawnee, is from a Sioux word meaning “people of a different speech.” But the Cheyenne call themselves Tsitsistas, which means simply “the people.”  Originally, they were farmers before they moved to the plains. They lived in bands and had four chiefs. They had tepees, which they packed up and moved from place to place. The book has many such facts and doesn’t shy away from the damage white settlers did to them and their way of life. Again, the photographs are spectacular. Teachers will find many ways to incorporate the simple text into their lessons. Be sure to pick up the whole series, “Peoples of the Land.”

BIBLIO: 2020, Creative Education/Creative Company, Ages 6 +, $20.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Nonfiction Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-64026-223-2

Judging from the translation of their tribal name, the Comanche have a reputation for being belligerent, though they think of themselves simply as “our people.” But even though they were wanderers, they had concise rules and government.

First Peoples: Comanche

Valerie Bodden

American Indians or Native Americans or First Peoples, no matter how someone describes them, these peoples were the first known human dwellers of North and South America, so it’s nice to have books describing them to the new generations now living in this hemisphere. Never a singular group of people going by different names, the groups had different cultures and systems of government. Some of the groups carried on wars, or at least skirmishes with other tribes. The focus of this book is the Comanche, who are Plains Indians, from the middle of what is now the United States of America.  Their name, Comanche, is from a Ute word meaning “anyone who wants to fight me all the time..” But the Comanche call themselves Nermernuh, which means simply “our people.”  They lived in small bands run by a head chief and a council. Like the Cheyenne, they had tepees, which they packed up and moved from place to place. They had many horses and moved frequently to give the animals good pasture. They hunted on horseback. The book has many such facts and doesn’t shy away from the damage white settlers did to them and their way of life. Again, the photographs are spectacular. Teachers will find many ways to incorporate the simple text into their lessons. Be sure to pick up the whole series, “Peoples of the Land.”

BIBLIO: 2020, Creative Education/Creative Company, Ages 6 +, $20.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Nonfiction Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-64026-224-9

The third book in the series describes a more sedentary group from the southwest who lived in pueblos and are, to this day, farmers and herders.

First Peoples: Hopi

Valerie Bodden

American Indians or Native Americans or First Peoples, no matter how someone describes them, these peoples were the first known human dwellers of North and South America, so it’s nice to have books describing them to the new generations now living in this hemisphere. This was never a singular group of people going by different names. The groups had different cultures and systems of government.  This book in this series is about the Hopi who live in the North American southwest. Their name means “peaceful people,” and they are considered by other tribes to be “the oldest of the people.” They are farmers and artisans who have lived at the edge of the Painted Desert for more than 1,000 years. The photos of the people and the area they live in a breathtaking. The photos of their weavings, pottery and textiles are quite appealing. The harm that Spanish priest did to these cultures and then the harm the other white cultures did is horrifying and it’s nice to see it mentioned in these books. Teachers will find many ways to incorporate the simple text into their lessons. Be sure to pick up the whole series, “Peoples of the Land.”

BIBLIO: 2020, Creative Education/Creative Company, Ages 6 +, $20.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Nonfiction Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-64026-225-6

And the final book in the series that I’ve reviewed is about an Eastern group. They, like so many of the East Coast groups, were farmers and hunters. Any kid who was a girl scout or boy scout probably went to a summer camp where the cabins were named after various tribes. I’d like to think that my cabin was called the Shawnee, but I sure don’t remember.

First Peoples: Shawnee

Valerie Bodden

American Indians or Native Americans or First Peoples, no matter how someone describes them, these peoples were the first known human dwellers of North and South America, so it’s nice to have books describing them to the new generations now living in this hemisphere. Never a singular group of people going by different names, the groups had different cultures and systems of government. Some of the groups carried on wars, or at least skirmishes with other tribes. The focus of this book is about the Shawnee, who were originally from the eastern part of what is now the United States. Their name, Shawnee, is from a word meaning “southerners.” They lived south of other tribes speaking similar languages. Their homes were amongst forests and close to rivers or other inland water sources. They lived in villages protected by two chiefs and a religious leader called a shaman. Each family lived in a wigwam, some of which were made of logs and animal hides. But they also had traveling wigwams that the families could take on hunting expeditions. These consisted of massive pieces of tree bark, some of which were warped to curve toward the top, and held together by a system of limbs curved to stabilize the structure. The Shawnee soldiers painted their bodies in elaborate designs before they went into battle. The women farmed during the growing season and they gathered wild fruits and nuts. Their clothing was usually decorated with beadwork or feathers. Teachers will find many ways to incorporate the simple text into their lessons. Be sure to pick up the whole series, “Peoples of the Land.”

BIBLIO: 2020, Creative Education/Creative Company, Ages 6 +, $20.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Nonfiction Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-64026-228-7

As a couple of final notes, I try to put in photos as was suggested, but sometimes I can’t do it. This is one of those times, sorry. Also, I’m trying very hard to get my new website up and running, but don’t know how much success I’ve had. Please let me know if you can get on it and what you think. Thanks, Sarah

Who Are You? And Why Does that Matter?

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

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

A Pinch of Magic

Michelle Harrison

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 9780358193319

ISBN: 9780358272921

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


Natalia Sylvester

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978035124351

ISBN: 978035830806

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


Helge Torvund

Illustrated by Mari Kandstad Johnsen

Translated by Jeanie Shaterian and Thilo Reinhard

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-68137-374-4

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

Did That Really Happen?

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


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

Dactyl-Hill Squad: Book Two Freedom Fire

Daniel Jos Older

Illustrated by Nilah Magruder

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-338-26884-3


Tarnished Are the Stars

Rosiee Thor

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-338-31227-0

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

The Year We Fell from Space

Amy Sarig King

Nina Goffi: Interior Art Designer

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

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

FORMAT: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 978-1-338-23636-1

Outlining a New Story

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

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

Plotting Structure outline:

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

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

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

A: Physical description:

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

B: Action:

1.Waking up? (Why?)

2. Cooking? (What? And Why?)

3.Driving? (Where? And Why?)

4.Walking? (Where? And Why?)

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

C: Reason for the scene:

1.Going to work?

 2.Meeting someone for dinner?


4.Getting married?

5. About to murder someone?

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

A: Beginning:

1. Does the alarm go off?

a. Does this awaken the character?

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

2.What’s her reaction?

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

B: Middle:

1. Character takes a shower:

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

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

C:  End:

1.Dressed and fed, she leaves her abode

a.What’s she thinking about?

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

b. Does she pause and listen?

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

                      a.  Car won’t start?

b. Or the bus is late?

c. Or the heel breaks off her


d. The bad guy shoots at her?

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

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

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

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

What I Learned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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