As most of you know I review books for Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database and then I write blogs about them. I thought the latest batch of books had been sent but got lost in the mail or was redirected to someone else in the community by mistake. So, I posted a message on our community listserv asking if someone else had received my books. A neighbor said he didn’t have my books but would I review a picture book his daughter had illustrated.
“If you or your daughter would review one of my books and post your review, I’d be happy to return the favor,” said I. He agreed and here’s my review of Mama’s New Do.
Mama’s New Do
Gretchen M. Everin
Illustrated by Tara Britt Story
In case you haven’t noticed, we humans have made a mess of this planet. So now we have flooding in some places and drought in others and devasting wildfires in others. The point of this sweet book is to make young children understand how to try to rectify the problem. When Grandma comes home all gussied up, the child wishes her family could do the same for Mother Earth. Maybe we can make her look better by not wasting water or generating electricity in more sustainable ways. Or we can even go back to hanging our clothes on lines outdoors to reduce the use of electricity. Of course, to do that, we’ll have to do something about the pollution destroying our planet. Though I personally prefer line drawings like those in the original Winnie the Pooh or Wind in the Willows, the illustrations in this book are sweetly done, making this an appealing look for youngsters. The book is designed for very young children who will need to have someone read it to them. But the younger the better for children to learn how to correctly manage this world.
BIBLIO: 2015, Wandering the World Press, Ages 4 to 6, $9.13.
Erika has traveled to and lived in many countries because she thinks the world is cool. Starting at age 18, she has lived in, or traveled to, 30 countries. Before she settled down to raise her family and publish her books, she worked as an au pair. Now she’s focusing on teaching children about at least some of the places she’s lived and traveled.
Her first book, Mission to Australia, is about an intrepid foursome of young travelers visiting Australia. The group of children is interesting in its own right since one of the travelers must use a wheelchair, but is undaunted by difficult places to access. The group represents many different cultures and ethnicities.
Questions for Erika
What compelled you to dream of visiting and living in different countries? Honestly, I have no idea. I did not grow up around people traveling to other countries. I just thought it sounded interesting and after visiting my first country, I enjoyed learning about the culture, history, and seeing the new sites so much that I wanted to see as many as possible.
How did you become an au pair? What hoops did you have to jump through to? There was a program I found online. It was a long time ago, so I don’t remember the details, but I know I requested to be an Au Pari in Spain. I believe I was provided with some information about families who were interested in me, and it was up to me to select. My grandma spoke Spanish so she spoke to them, and that was it. I requested the time off with my boss and I headed to Madrid.
Did you have a friend who inspired you? Or did a book lead you in that direction? Neither. I did not have any friends or family who traveled abroad. In fact, several of my families asked me why I wanted to go out of the country. I really have no idea what inspired me. I’m assuming seeing certain movies or pictures of places around.
Did you have to convince your parents that it would be safe for you to pursue this dream? Yes, but I was 18 when I first traveled, so there wasn’t much they could do to stop me. So, they chose to support me instead.
How did you pick the countries you wanted to visit? If you’re referring to Spain specifically, I didn’t do a lot of research. I just knew I wanted to go and since I had the program looking out for me, I thought it was a safe option. For countries since Spain, I research how safe it is, the best time to travel based on the weather, and what sites I want to see / experiences I want to have (i.e., all tourist sites, more cultural experiences, art, etc.)
What research did you do about the countries you wanted to visit?
I chose Spain because I believed I was Spanish (only recently learned I am Mexican) and I wanted to learn more about my heritage. After that, I started looking into the countries that I had heard about from people I have met on my travels, through people I have met through FB/FB groups, and now through my travel podcast.
What were your duties? It honestly wasn’t a good experience, so I usually don’t go into details as I don’t want to deter others from doing it. I honestly don’t believe my situation was the norm. I was supposed to teach the children English, but I only did this once. The rest of the time was spent cleaning and taking care of the kids. I believe my host family took advantage of au pairs, unfortunately.
Do you still keep in touch with the families? No.
Did you stick to just English-speaking countries? If not, did you already know the host country language? I spoke a little Spanish because of what I had learned in high school, but I was not fluent. I definitely spoke better Spanish when I came back though!
When you decided to be an author/publisher, did you go to school to learn how? My degree is in Business Administration with an emphasis in Marketing. I did not go to school specifically to be an author/publisher. I spent a long time doing my own research, joining author/publishing groups, taking online courses, and asking a lot of questions. Luckily, there are some authors/publishers who are happy to help new authors/publishers.
And do you plan to do more traveling with your family? What was your son’s reaction to visiting other countries? I believe you said he’d already visited two. Oh yes! We just got back from two weeks in Ireland. He had a wonderful time and came back with so many memories and experiences. When we asked him his top three experiences, he could only narrow it down to eight. Now we talk about him possibly doing summer camp in another country. We still have a long time to think about that, but that’s how much he loved the experience.
My son was only five when I first took him out of the country, so he doesn’t remember it as much, but he loves looking at the pictures and I know it’s helped to make him interested in other countries and cultures.
What is the next book in the series? Ireland!
And, lastly where are you and your family going next? This is tough because we keep getting different ideas, but I think it’s going to be southern Italy.
A lot of you may not remember the fall of the Soviet Union. I expect that Mr. Mikhail Gorbachev is turning in his grave with what Vladimir Putin has done to his country. So much for freedom and openness. But before that, the Soviet Union was not a nice place to live and part of Germany was under the Soviet Union’s control. Talk about repression, they wrote the book on it. This first book addresses how desperate people were to leave for a more just world. The second is also talking about repression but in a more oblique way.
Beyond the Blue Border
Translated by Elizabeth Lauffer
A fascinating tale of two teens escaping East Germany during the waning days of the Soviet Union. But they don’t just escape by sneaking through a break in the wall that still exists between the two parts of Berlin. No, they decide to swim across part of the Baltic Sea. Even in late August the water temperature is very cold, especially the closer the swimmer gets to more northern countries such as Denmark. The story is told by Hanna Klein who is very athletic and has trained as a swimmer most of her young life. Her swimming partner, Andreas, is not trained but is driven to escape his dismal life with an abusive father and no career options than factory work. Part of the reason the two are fated to bad career choices is due to Hanna’s anti-Communism grandfather who posts a petition for people to sign protesting the East German communist leaders. He signs Hanna and Andreas’ names to the poster as the supposed authors. No more school for them, but Hanna is able to continue with her swimming coach though not on the elite swim team. Ulrich, the coach, figures out why the girl is practicing so much and helps her meet her goal. The story switches between the two main characters’ time in the sea and their time when they were in school and met a new student, Jens, who ends up getting out legitimately with his parents. The end of this book is a bit confusing, but the story is so compelling and horrifying the reader will want to finish and remember the book. There is much for teachers to use for classroom discussion in the book, but a larger map at the front would have helped immensely.
An intriguing fantasy story with lots of thinly veiled messages on religion and loyalty, this story could use a big edit to weed out all the extra verbiage. The book is just shy of five hundred pages long and has a group of main characters who are trying to free an abrasive god who wants to world to behave his way or die. He has been captured and imprisoned in the soul of Beru who fits a losing battle to contain him. Her sister is the “Pale Hand” and has the thankless job of murdering people who go against the leaders’ wishes. And then there’s the deposed prince who should be ordained king of one part of the world, plus a host of other main characters with varying roles to gain control of the world. The story is a good yarn and interesting with lots of philosophical issues to discuss with students. Just remember to allot a number of hours to the project. The fly sheets have a map of the characters world to some extent, but could have been a bit more detailed. This appears to be the final story of a series called the “Age of Darkness,” but also works well as a stand-alone novel.
BIBLIO: 2021, Henry Holt and Company/MacMillan Publishing Company, Ages 14+, $19.99.
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
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
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
It seems to me that my last few posts have had a sour feel to them, so I’d thought I do a more upbeat, its own way, post this time. To that end, I have one YA Fantasy/Fairy Tale story, one early chapter book for children with dyslexia, and one middle-grade ghoul story.
I may be 81 years old, but I still believe in the possibility of werebeasts and fairy tales. And, of course, hopefulness that good will prevail in the end. So, enjoy the convoluted story in the first book. This author has a great imagination.
Into the Bloodred Woods
Keep in mind the various characters playing significant roles in this story, because there are a few. But if the reader likes fantasy with all trimmings, this is the story to read. Based on just about any fairy/folk tale you can think of, plus “were” creatures, evil kings, a child born of the woods, Hansel and Gretel-like children, magic, and much more. Most of them gather together to defeat the evil, insane, newly crowned king, who is jealous of his twin sister’s werebear abilities, not to mention her being the firstborn heir to the throne. The plot is convoluted but very engaging and the reader will have fun figuring out what fairy tales are invoked. There are also messages interwoven about learning tolerance of people who are different from the reader. The theme of each section of the story is introduced by a blind beggar with a mechanical monkey, which gives the reader as to what fairy tale is being invoked. The story is a convoluted, fun romp into the world of fantasy and fairytales. Teachers can use the book as a way into discussing folklore, among other things.
Good books for children with dyslexia, but just fun for any kid learning to read.
Meg and Greg The Bake Sale
Elspeth Rae and Rowena Rae
Illustrated by Elisa Gutierrez
This is book 3 of the series of phonic stories. The stories are intended to help children with dyslexia understand words that have a silent “e” at the end. For instance, the words “bake” and “sale” in the title have an “e” at the end which does not sound, but this makes the way the previous vowel sounds. The “a” would have the “short” sound of “ah” without the silent “e” at the end. Each story has a different vowel in the middle. The stories are simple, but engaging with a slightly complicated plot line to keep the child reading. The first story is about Meg and Greg baking “Red Velvet” cupcakes to sell and emphasizes the “a” as the first vowel. The second story uses the “i” “e” combination and is about taking a bike ride. The third story uses the “o” as the first vowel. And the last story features the “u”. Each story is followed by simple games to cement the concept into the child’s brain. Children will be eager to read these stories and will understand the concepts well.
BIBLIO: 2021, Orca Two Read/Orca Book Publishers, Ages 5 to 7, $14.95.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Early Chapter Book Phonics
The Ghoul Next Door
Cullen Bunn and Cat Farris
Illustrated by Cat Farris
Eleven-year-old Grey lives in a New England town that is legendary for its tales of being haunted. He finds out this is actually not a legend when he walks through the cemetery after dark and meets a ghoul named Lavinia. They become friends, and she makes sure Grey understands that Ghouls and Ghosts are not the same things. The story is full of wonderful plays on words that the title suggests and Lavinia helps Grey out with a school project. Written as a graphic novel and, though a fantasy, the story has a number of subtle morals brought out along the way. Teachers will even find topics to discuss such as believing in using one’s imagination and learning to keep an open mind when viewing the world, along with looking for the best in everybody. Also are lessons about having faith in oneself. It is best to believe in possibilities no matter whether about yourself or others.
BIBLIO: 2021, HarperAlley/HarperCollins Publishers, Ages 8 to 12, $21.99.
I’m not very good at posting reviews of the books I’ve read, but I’ve enjoyed this series. It’s imaginative and painlessly introduces English history to young, and not-so-young, readers. Plus, there is always a bit of a mystery involved and sibling rivalry. The secret lake is reached by going through a time tunnel that only reveals itself when the moles dance. In this book, the 1920s protagonists must reach the children from the 21 first century to find antibiotics to save a life. Plus, they must keep a friend and his dad from going on the Titanic traveling steerage. The author’s description of the clothes from the two eras and other changes to the culture also make the tale interesting. The children are believable and have the same kinds of problems that all people face. The author’s descriptive writing pulls the reader completely into the story. I’m looking forward to reading the 3rd book in the series due out in the near future. You won’t even need to go through the time tunnel to get it.
For Mother’s Day our daughter Michelle gave me three books she thought I might like. Oddly enough, I’d read the first one already for the Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database. It addresses the issue of bullying amongst children. My impression is that children, even those who are popular and successful, are plagued with self-doubt as much as the less popular children, so, some of them are bullies just to not be caught out as being less than they seem to be.
The second book is about an old woman talking about her experiences during WWII as she, her brother. and their mother escape the town of Dresden, Germany. In addition to their journey to safer territory, it also about their journey with an elephant their mother rescued from the Dresden Zoo. The bullies in this story are the Nazis who wrote the book on how to be evil.
The last book is an autobiography of the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy of education for all people. Again, why do men seem to feel so threatened by females that anybody who isn’t male should be kept down. It isn’t just Muslims who make their women second class creatures. It wasn’t so very long ago that even females in the United States weren’t treated as equals.
But amongst all the cruelty we find hope, courage, and love. May it prevail
Holding Up the Universe
This is a well-written story of two damaged teenagers. Libby Strout ate so much after her mother died, she had to be lifted out of her house through the roof by a crane, which, of course, destroys the house. After several years of therapy and homeschooling, she tells her father she’s ready to go back to school at the start of her junior year. She girds herself for the torment she knows will come. Of course, the “in crowd” boys start a game of who can ride the fat girl longest with Libby and Iris Engelbrecht, a girl even fatter than Libby, as the targets. Iris ends up as the first target, but when she tells Libby what happened, Libby chases the culprit, who is only saved by a truck going by. Jack Masselin, the perpetrator’s friend watches the whole performance, cheering for the girls the whole time. Jack has a secret he doesn’t share with anyone. A glitch in his brain denies him the ability to recognize faces. He can’t even pick out his parents or siblings in a crowd or at home without recognizing one of their “tells.” At school, he plays it cool and waits for someone to come to him. Then he uses that person to let him know who others are. But after he and Libby get into a fight and have to serve detention together, their relationship changes. Jack learns that it’s what on inside of another person that really counts. Soon, they begin to see past their surfaces and become friends. Jack and Libby begin to hang out together, sharing secrets. After he tells her his secret about not recognizing anyone else, she encourages Jack to seek help. She even goes with him to give him moral support and he encourages her to take the test that will see if she carries her mother’s cancer gene. Because he hasn’t ever told anyone about his problem, his parents put him in embarrassing situations, like having to pick up his youngest brother from a birthday party. His brother doesn’t want to leave the party, so he doesn’t respond when Jack calls for him to leave. Jack pulls the wrong kid out of the party, which scares the boy, horrifies the birthday boy’s mother, and leaves Jack in a heap of trouble. You’ll end up rooting for both Jack and Libby, but wishing they would solve the problems whose answers are right in front of their noses. There’s a lot going on in this book that will engage the reader and teachers will have a field day orchestrating discussions around the issues.
BIBLIO: 2016, Alfred A. Knopf/Random House Children’s Books/Penguin Random House, LLC, Ages 14 +, $17.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Young Adult
There have been a plethora of books about the horrors of WWII and especially the Nazi’s part in the conflict, but this one will definitely grab your heart and soul, especially if you are an animal lover.
An Elephant in the Garden
The book is based on a true story and is very compelling. It is told by the nurse who is taking care of an aged woman, Lizzie, in Canada, but it also told mostly in dialog by Lizzie about her journey from her home in the beautiful town of Dresden, Germany. For most of Hitler’s war Dresden remained unscathed and the German residents went about their lives. When the Allied forces were advancing on Germany, Dresden came under attack and was pretty much destroyed by bombs. The storyteller’s mother was a caregiver at the zoo and witnessed the birth of an elephant. Unfortunately, the elephant’s mother dies leaving her child to grieve. When it becomes apparent that Dresden is due to be destroyed by bombs, the storyteller’s mother get permission to save the young elephant by taking her away from the zoo and keeping her in the family’s garden, hence the title. When the bombing starts, the family is taking the elephant they’ve named Marlene after Marlene Dietrich for a walk in the neighboring park. Marlene panics when the bombs start to drop and runs away with Lizzie’s family hot in pursuit. They end up caught up in the massive exodus from the city and head toward Lizzie’s aunt’s farm. The rest of the story is about their journey to safety in Switzerland. Lizzie meets her future husband along the way who is Canadian. Again, although there is much hope in the story, it is set against the hideous cruelty and bigotry that was Hitler’s way of cowing his fellow Germans, though he was actually Austrian. This book will most decidedly keep you reading and even move you to tears in parts.
I have never understood why men are so frequently terrified of letting women have equal rights. I remember a very bright female high school classmate who wanted to go to college back in 1959, but her father refused because it would be a waste of money given that she would end up getting married and raising a family. The rest of us were appalled and I believe in the end her father relented. Whether or not she finished college or had a career I don’t know, but the same point was not made for the guys. I also had a friend who left school when she graduated from Junior High School so she could get married and have a family. I don’t know what happened to her either. She was very happy to leave school and become a housewife. But many of the Muslim men in our world are so frightened of their females’ potential they refuse to let them even learn to read and write. I remember trying to teach a Yemeni woman with five children how to speak and read English. Because she’d observed men in Yemen reading from right to left, she started out trying to read English that way. Her husband was encouraging for the most part but was adamantly against her going to a gym because she’d not be able to exercise in her full proper burqa. Why are men so frightened that all other men are out to rape their wives? Why do they feel it’s the women’s fault if these men can’t control their urges? It wasn’t that long ago that American women were the inciters when they’d got raped. The teller of this story made headlines with her bold advocacy for female rights not only in her native Pakistan but then all around the world. I’m not a big fan of non-fiction, but this book will keep your interest throughout.
Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick
This young woman, with the help of her father and the support of her country, is trying to change the world for females and, at her tender age, has already been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts. She has also been almost killed by Pakistani Taliban members because they think she’s defying Allah’s will by standing up for her right to an education. The book is told in her voice and because she is, indeed, the author is autobiographical. But since English is not her native language another person’s name appears alongside Ms. Yousafzai’s as the supporting author. The story is horrifying for what is happening around the world, particularly to Muslim females under Taliban or other Sharia religious groups who have found what they think is “God’s Rule.” But I guess no one has asked them why any god would make females capable of rational, intelligent thought and then declare they can’t use such abilities. Malala grew up in a small poor area of Pakistan where all children at least were allowed a primary school education, after which a lot of girls were married off at the tender age of eleven. Malala’s father runs a school where girls are encouraged to finish high school. That is until the Taliban take over. But even before then, girls are expected to wear figure-hiding clothing and cover their hair as is common in many Muslim countries. But even after the Taliban take over, Malala’s father keeps his girls’ school open though fewer older girls come anymore. And, at the age of 12 or 13, when Malala and her friends are riding home on the school bus, a Taliban fighter jumps on the back bumper and shoots Malala in the head, also wounding two other girls. Luck was with Malala on that day and she ends up being saved by doctors from Birmingham, England. Her recovery was paid for by the Pakistani government which didn’t support the Taliban’s efforts. Brave girl that she is, Malala still is fighting for females’ equal rights around the world and still going to school. And her mother is now learning English. May we all live by their bravery.
BIBLIO: 2014, Salazari Unlimited/Little, Brown and Company, Ages 12 +, $16.99.
Up until recently, I have always been proud of my country despite its flaws. And, in my heart of hearts, I am naïve enough to hope we can indeed live up to the hopes of our founders. The French part of my father’s side of the family, the Maurys and the La Fontaines, left southeastern France because they didn’t believe King Charles’ version of God. They were part of the Huguenot migration. They had their good points, though I must own up to their racist slave-owning past in Virginia. But my 5th-generation grandfather was the childhood teacher of Jefferson and Madison and one of my 5th-generation uncles was Mathew Fontaine Maury, otherwise known as the Pathfinder of the Seas. Some parts of the Bunker family, my mother’s paternal family, I believe left Germany because of religious persecution since they were followers of Martin Luther’s new church.
My point is though some of them were racist, they still did good things. Many generations later, both families tried to adhere to the ideals of being good people and believed in making a better life for us all. I grieve that my father and grandfather died in WWII to maintain and further a better, more equal life for all peoples; Black, White, Brown, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or whatever. And who cares if a person loves and wants to make a life with someone of the same sex? What does it matter as long as those involved are caring individuals? But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Maybe my father and grandfather died in vain?
It would be easy for me to climb up on my soapbox and rant and rave, but that’s not the point here. The point is for us all to be tolerant, me included.
Anyway the two books I’m reviewing here deal with these issues. Hope you find them interesting.
The first book deals with bullying and sexual discrimination, plus where schools do indeed mete out punishment fairly.
The (Un)popular Vote
Mark Adams didn’t start out life as a boy. Instead, he was born a girl and christened in the Catholic Church as Madison Teagan, daughter of Graham Teagan who is the U.S. Congressman from California’s second district. Dad shows his true colors when Mark reveals who he really is. The congressman insists that his daughter hide her new identity from the voting public. So Mark and his mother move to a different part of California, but she still appears at campaigning events or other political shows. Mark registers as Mark Adams, using his mother’s maiden name, and becomes friends with other superbright LBGTQ kids in school where he witnesses the bullying of a friend who asks for privacy about the incident. The friend is suspended for punching the star athlete who bullied him. Mark decides to take a stand and run for School President, which does not sit well with his father. As the story unfolds, Mark shows tremendous self-awareness growth and ends up coming out to the world, which, of course, tanks his dad’s chances of being the next governor of California. The book is well written and addresses many of the issues now plaguing modern-age children. All of the more important characters in the book show multiple sides to themselves, which is always a good thing. Teachers will find many areas in it as teaching points.
BIBLIO: 2021, Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins Publishers, Ages 12 to 18, $18.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Young Adult Fiction
The second book deals with racial/religious intolerance and secondarily with sexual preference and the tendency for schools to let athletes get away with more bad things.
Zara Hossain Is Here
Social and cultural equality have always been the myth of the United States of America, but have they ever really been the truth of this country? Zara Hossain has lived in Corpus Christi, Texas fourteen of her seventeen years. When she was three her parents left their Pakistani homeland to give their daughter what they thought would be a better life. Well, in part this is true, but all of them have felt the scorn of whiter skinned people. Zara is bright and a hard worker whose parents accept that she’s bisexual and that she tries to conform to the so-called American way. She does have friends in school who try to protect her, but they can’t always be there. One football star in particular seems out to get her and ends up causing her and her family to leave the country for good. There are so many compelling teaching points and discussion issues in this book, teachers could probably spend at least a month addressing them.
It occurred to me that I’d been discussing a lot of dark books lately so I’m trying to lighten the tone this week, though I didn’t quite succeed with the second one.
I have always had a great imagination, probably because my mother encouraged us all to imagine the fanciful. This first book is a picture book and is a great encourager of the use of imagination. I wanted to be all the various animals in this book.
I’m not Sydney
Illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay
Children’s imaginations should be encouraged to blossom and this book will help. Anybody who’s ever seen the 1947 version of “Miracle on 34th Street” will remember Santa Claus teaching the little girl to believe in pretending by making Natalie Woods’ character pretend to be a monkey. Imagination is an excellent way to stretch a person’s mind and thinking capabilities. This book does an outstanding job of showing that. The pictures are fun and the adventure Sydney goes on as he and his friends pretend to be different animals is inspiring. This is a good book to encourage children in the art of expanding their minds. Though hanging upside down in a tree or on a jungle gym can be scary for the parent to watch it is a good way to stretch both physical and mental muscles. Sydney pretends to be a sloth and then his friend pretends to be a spider monkey. The next child to join them pretends to be an elephant, and then an anteater friend joins to group. Next comes a bat who wants everyone else to be quiet because they’re interrupting her daytime sleep. Soon enough it’s time to turn back into their children’s selves, but boy have they had a good day. Teachers and caregivers should use this book regularly to encourage children to stretch their minds. The illustrations are enchanting, showing each child accurately portrayed in animal and human form.
BIBLIO: 2022, Groundwood Books, Ages 3 to 6, $19.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Picture Book
The second is quietly beautiful in discussing a very sad concept for anybody, but probably more so for a child.
Illustrated by Emilie Leduc
Death is always a hard issue to talk to children about and is probably worse if the dying person chooses to have an assisted suicide death, but this book will help make the passing at least gentler. Sad to say, the book may not be discussable in schools, but parents can use it as a teaching tool. But this story is so poignantly told, it would seem to be a hug for anybody reading it. The child’s age is not mentioned, but she does appear to be about 8 or so because she’s allowed to go snorkeling in her paternal grandmother’s wet suit. The girl and her father spend the last week of the grandmother’s life with her, greeting the friends who stop by to leave food and to say goodbye. The child is sad, but does seem to understand the situation and spends as much time as she can sitting with her grandmother. Not only can families discuss an impending death with this book, but also the issue of an assisted suicide death. The physical book, rather than the ARC sent to reviewers, will probably be in color, but somehow the illustrations presented in the ARC in gray and black tones add to the quietness and serenity of the story.
BIBLIO: 2022, Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, Ages 4 to 7, $14.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Picture Book
The third book is a self-published magical story about how to save the Polar Bears which are now in great peril of being wiped out by our warming climate. The author, Margaret Pollock, did her research about the bears and the Mohawk Indians who play a major role in the story. There is magic and compassion throughout.
Nikki Brant is at the annual Mohawk’s Strawberry festival in her town with her cousin and best friend, Charlie-Chum. Nikki is proud of her Mohawk heritage on her father’s side and loves seeing all the lovely and inspiring creative work on display. But this time she’s reluctantly pulled in by a possible witch who has a special wooden carving to give Nikki. The polar bear carving is indeed magical and comes to life when Nikki holds it. He tells her that his name is Followme, and that’s what she does. Together, along with Charlie-Chum she magically flies to the arctic with the bear and a Peregrine falcon she names Windy, who is good friends with the polar bears. There they convince the bears to move south to live amongst the brown bears. Turns out the two bears share a common ancestry. There is the usual mixture of tension and love along the way and they get to meet Mother Nature. It’s a good read and has a lot of useful information for teachers to use in discussions about the climate and the arctic and the Mohawk Indians.
BIBLIO: 2021, Margaret Pollock, Ages 8 to 12, $15.
When you were a child were you confident or did you struggle to think people would like you, especially the other children in your class? I was a mix, though I generally thought of myself as not being likable. Thinking back on it, people did like me and thought I was worth getting to know.
The children in these three books have different issues to contend with and so I thought it would be of interest to you for me to talk about them.
The first book is about a confident child dealing with a catastrophic loss in her life and how she copes with it.
Harvey and the Extraordinary
Illustrated by Anna Bron
Miriam MacNeil, who is called Mimi, just knows she’s extraordinary and that her equally extraordinary father is absent on her birthday because he is performing in a traveling circus. Of course, no one else believes that, but then no one else is as close them him as she is. She lives with her real-estate agent mom and Dominic, Mimi’s older brother. She doesn’t have any friends and, because of an incident at school, she is staying at home. She spends a good part of her day with her paternal grandmother who supervises her schooling. The story is told mostly by Mimi, well actually all of it is Mimi’s account, but part of the story is told as if her father is the main character. Mimi is given a hamster for her birthday and she names it Harvey, which is her father’s name. She has shunned her former best friend because the girl doesn’t believe what Mimi has told her. In the end, Mimi does have to face the reality that her father is not coming back ever. But by then she has learned to reconcile this with the story she’s made up. Teachers and caregivers, including parents and grandparents, will find this book very useful in helping children deal with painful truths. The story was originally a play.
BIBLIO: 2021, Annick Press, Ages 8 to 10, $9.95.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Young Middle- Grade
The second book is about a Chinese/Canadian girl who is caught between two cultures. She was born and is being raised in Canada, but her grandparents and other relatives still live in China. They constantly harangue her to make her parent proud by studying hard and being accepted into a medical doctor’s university or some other supposedly high-paying career. Olivia wants to be an artist.
Living with Viola
Illustrated by Rosena Fung
Growing up is hard enough for anybody, but add to the mix an evil naysayer living in your brain and you despair might. That’s what Olivia feels as she tries to meet what she thinks her family’s expectations are. Her imaginary demeaning twin, Viola, constantly harps and snarls that Olivia won’t ever have any friends. Eventually, she does find her worth, but partly because her parents understand that she needs professional help. This is such an important problem for children, but also for adults since we all feel inadequate at least part of the time. In addition to this, cultural differences are discussed throughout the book, since the main character is a first-generation Chinese/Canadian. Her relatives who still live in Hong Kong belabor their expectations that she be a dutiful daughter who should want to become a doctor or lawyer or some other high-paying career. Olivia wants to be an artist. Some readers might find the depiction of Viola to be distracting, especially at first, but the message is strong enough to push the reader to finish the book. And teachers can use the book to spark classroom discussions on showing tolerance to those who appear different. The descriptions of various Chinese dishes that Olivia’s family eats are mouthwatering and the short glossary of Chinese words for relatives and foods is helpful.
BIBLIO: 2021, Annick Press, Ltd., Ages 10 to 12, $17.95.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Middle-Grade Graphic/Comic Novel
The third book is about overcoming the school bully and discovering your own worth even if you are overweight, i.e. fat. It is important for children to understand that their physiques are not who they are. I did have a problem with this book not gently trying to show the boy how to make healthier eating choices.
The Supervillain’s Guide to Being a Fat Kid
Twelve-year-old Max Tercero’s first day at middle school isn’t any different than his last day at elementary school in that he’ll still being picked on by the school bullies. In particular, the eighth-grader super jock has targeted Max as his special bullying target for the year. Max is not just plump, he’s downright fat. Nobody should be targeted for bullying on any grounds, but overweight people do seem to get the brunt of bullying no matter what their ages. The new school has strict rules against bullying but Johnny Properzi seems to get by doing whatever he wants to whomever he wants. The whole school seems to be afraid of him. Max decides to fight back in the only way he knows how. He contacts Max Marconius, a.k.a. Master Plan, who is now in prison for life, but who also has done some good things in his life. He is the nemesis of the city’s superhero. Master Plan writes back to Max Tercero and helps him learn to feel better about himself and take charge of his life. Max does make friends in school and does learn to change the odds in his favor. He even gets Johnny suspended for bullying and learns that he is a worthwhile person even if he is fat. The only quibble that teachers can address is Max’s eating habits. He is depicted as having waffle sticks dripping in syrup for breakfast at school every day. Even if he is getting breakfast through the school program there surely is a healthier meal for him to have. Max is a good-hearted soul who shares his food with his friends who can’t afford to buy breakfast or lunch. There are a lot of good discussion points in the book.