Lily Unleashed Is a Winner!

Lily Unleashed

Front Cover

Jo Anna Dressler Kloster has written a heart-wrenching and compelling middle-grade novel which addresses the ever-present angst and problems of being on the cusp of teendom, such as finding oneself feeling physically attracted to a close friend, or understanding the changes her former best friend is dealing with.

The main character, Lily Grabowski, who loves her English class and her extraordinary teacher, Ms. Stadler, is dreading discussing a story she wrote for a class assignment because it’s about her beloved German Shepard agility dog who died just after winning their last agility competition. She thinks it’s her fault the dog died. But she ends up finding a new dog that needs her love. Unfortunately, the dog is from a puppy mill and has severe emotional trauma issues. With the love and support Lily gives the dog she names Cagney both learn to grow stronger and more confident.

The book is well written and quite compelling, showing plenty of growth for all the characters in the story, both two and four-legged. Even the bit players in the story show compassion and emotional change, with much grace and charm. There are pithy study questions at the end of the book to help teachers further discuss the topics with their students.

The story takes place in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where Ms. Kloster and her husband lived for many years. They now live in the much warmer climate of New Bern, NC, though they still root for the Green Packers football team.

BIBLIO: 2022, Empty Cages Press, Ages 8 to 12, $13.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Grade Fiction

ISBN: 979-8-9855316-0-2

Jo Anna Kloster and Cagney
  1. What prompted you to incorporate a story about Puppy Mill dogs into your coming-of-age story? Answer: The story was always about dealing with the residual behaviors that my puppy mill survivor, Cagney, had.  This story was completely inspired by Cagney.  Over time his behaviors became more challenging including extreme separation anxiety and being very protective of me and of our property.  I started writing about Cagney during Writer’s Workshop with my elementary-age students.  In every writing class I had ever taken, I was always told to write about what I know. So that’s what I did.  And the students had so many questions and concerns about Cagney and this thing called “puppy mills.”  I decided a book needed to be written to help them understand why puppy mills exist (to feed the pet stores that sell puppies) and what we can do to help end this pipeline and cruel industry of factory-farming of dog. As far as the storyline goes, that was all made up.  Yet, so much is based on my life and experiences.  I needed to create a book, a vehicle, that would inspire young people to speak up for these voiceless dogs and victims of greed. 
  2. Tell us the process of writing this book. Answer: I don’t know if I had a process. I did extensive reading of middle-grade novels to find ones I loved and then I dissected them to see what the author did that drew me in and made me like the book.  Some of my favorites are Kate DiCamillo and Barbara O Connor as well as Sheila Turnage.  I love humor and animals, especially dogs, so I read lots of books about dogs.  I also read lots of research about puppy mills and about how living in horrid conditions at the mills affects dogs emotionally. I also took lots of writing classes, found coaches online, as well as critique groups, to guide me and offer suggestions.  My home library has a collection of books devoted to the writing process and how to create conflict and storylines that pull the reader in.  I guess you could say I am self-taught and earned a seat-of-the-pants writing degree from the school of many mistakes. 

3. How long did it take you to finally get it published? Answer: Ten years!  I guess I’m a slow learner.  Or a late-bloomer, just like Lily.  But I didn’t have a lot of time to devote to writing.  I worked 12-14 hour days as an elementary teacher who planned a lot of special projects that took lots of time.  So, each summer I’d spend hours working on my manuscript.  When it was all said and done, I had written six full revisions.  According to Newberry Award-winning writer Sheila Turnage, that’s about right.  So, I feel like I’m in good company.  I actually enjoyed seeing the story evolve and finding ways to create greater challenges for my characters. 

4. Did you have other writers look at it to tell you what was good about the book and what needed fixing? Answer: Absolutely! When I was living in Wisconsin, I belonged to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and had several critique sessions with editors and accomplished writers.  And when I retired the state chapter of SCBWI for  North Carolina directed me to a local critique group that had room.  And my husband, Patrick, was my first and last editor.  Poor guy was subjected to multiple revision readings of each chapter. He was there every step of the way. 

5. Why did you decide to go the “Indie” route instead of the “Trade Publisher” route? Answer: I actually submitted the manuscript to quite a few trade publishers.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I needed control over this story.  It has a purpose: to educate young readers about puppy mills and to inspire them to action.  I wasn’t ready to release it to someone who would start changing it  – to what they think it should be and possibly dilute the message or change the story.  And also, to be gentle, it’s not one of the topics that seem to be “hot” in the market these days.  This was my baby, I knew what it needed to do, so I became incorporated as Empty Cages Press LLC and published it myself. Now it’s all rolled into a campaign, Empty Cages Press, whose goal is to educate others “until every puppy mill is closed.”

6. Is your style of teaching similar to that of the main character, Lily’s favorite teacher, Ms. Stadler, who is very inspiring to anyone reading about her? Answer: Yes, Ms. Stadler and I would get along well.  This is one area that is very close to home.  I was a teacher for twenty-five years.  And spent lots of time learning how to be a better teacher.  So, yes, I had the chimes in my room.  We did lots of group work.  And I used lots of music and lots of humor that my students seemed to like. I was a marshmallow when it came to discipline just like Ms. Stadler. I get that from my mom. 

7. What do/did you teach and are you still teaching here in New Bern? Answer: I started as a Special Education resource room teacher, then split my day as resource room teacher and Reading Recovery teacher after getting certified for that. This reading program is amazing and has nonreading first graders actually reading inside of twenty weeks with solid skills to last their lifetime. Then I moved into the classroom as a general education teacher moving among first to fifth grades.  Finally, I ended my career as a teacher in the gifted and talented department working with grades K to 6th.  Presently, I am an ESL tutor working at our local high school with students who are classified as refugees.  It’s very rewarding. 

8. Campaigning to get rid of Puppy Mills has become a passion of yours because of your dog Cagney. Answer: Tell us a bit about Cagney and how you came to get him. That’s an interesting story. Some close friends had recently acquired a dog from a mostly reputable breeder.  It was a Maltese which we had never heard of. We fell in love with Bogey.  And then this couple adopted a tiny seven-pound puppy-mill-rescue named Cooper. He had been used as a breeder male.  He was quite timid and insecure – and didn’t take to new people.  Well, the Smiths needed doggie sitters one weekend. We watched Bogey and Cooper and had a great time.  In fact, Cooper really took a shine to Patrick.  Well, when the Smiths saw how well Cooper did with us, they shared that good news with Mary Palmer, the president of the North Central Maltese Rescue that saved Cooper when she called to see how the little guy was doing.  You know where this is going.  So the next day, in our email inbox was a picture of the brightest shining face of a tiny Maltese named Cagney.  And the rest is history, as they say.

9. Tell us what you did to socialize him and how successful were you. Answer: We tried doggie training classes at our local PetSmart.  Cags was always the smallest dog there and usually the most timid.  I also had people come to the door and play the game Lily plays with Cagney, the Go to your bed game when the doorbell would ring.  It was somewhat successful at first. But you must be consistent which is not easy for me.  And, of course, the biggest mistake I made was babying him….just like the way Lily refers to herself when she gives treats to Cagney after he barks at someone. I guess there are just some dogs that will always be hesitant with strangers or be protective when people come to their home.  Cags was that way. 

10. What can other people do to help get rid of Puppy Mills?  Answer: STOP BUYING PUPPIES FROM PET STORES. That’s the first and foremost thing you can do.  Dry up the demand.  And tell others why they shouldn’t purchase puppies from pet stores. Also, people can write editorials to newspapers, and post this info on their social media. It’s the only way.  And then our elected officials will hear this rumble and be more receptive to requests to ban the sale of puppies at pet stores. 

Lily Unleashed is available at Next Chapter Books, 320 S. Front Street, New Bern, NC 28560,

Amazon Books. I had a problem just adding the link to the page here, so just look it up at:

Ms. Kloster’s website is: and her Facebook page is:

A Blog Post of Its Own

This book deserved to be mentioned all on its own because it’s so enchanting and important for people to read. Language lovers will enjoy it, as will people who like to know what other people look like and wish to do with their lives, no matter how much time they may have left to live.

a reference book for us all

How Old Am I? 1–100 Faces from Around the World

JR, Inside Out Project, with words by Julie Pugeat

Touted as the “first-ever” children’s visual reference book on age, this is a delightful book showing that, with all our supposed differences, we generally want the same things. The first image is of a one-year-old girl named Gwen who was born in the United Kingdom and can crawl fast, say a few words, and loves to have books read to her. Each year the photo is of a person from a different country which is pointed out on a world map and each person is a year older. At the top of the left-hand page, the person greets the reader in whatever is the greeting of the culture. Readers who like to explore different languages will soon pick out similar words, for instance, the way that Muslim countries generally say some form of salam meaning peace. For Spanish-speaking countries, the greeting will be some variation on Hola meaning “hello.” The photos were taken by photographers from around the world involved in a project started by French photographer, JR, to make mural-type art of peoples’ images for his “Inside Out Project.” The book has information at the back about how the reader can be involved in the project. Teachers will happily use the book to discuss what the students wish to be when they are on their own and where they want to live and how they can help make lives easier for people in poor countries.

BIBLIO: 2021, Phaidon, Ages 4 to 8, $19.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book Reference

ISBN: 978-2-83866-158-8

Humans Are not the only Animals of Note

I’m tired of talking about humans, so I thought I’d talk about other species this week. And pardon me if I’ve already posted about these books. I don’t think I have, but they have been out for a few years. I’ve always been an animal lover, even having gotten over my primal fear of snakes after seeing them so frequently in our barn when we lived in Maryland. Most rodents do have their cute points. I mean, who doesn’t think rabbits are cute? Or squirrels with their impish natures.

A neighbor’s oldest child was always fond of our horses and I remember once she asked me if I could choose only one animal what would it be? I think she assumed it would be a horse and looked a bit crestfallen when I said a dog. At the time we had three horses, a dog, and a cat. Still, there is something regal and awkwardly graceful about a giraffe and certainly, lions are indeed imperious, but one can always cuddle with a dog.

First, we’re vising Nepal to learn some customs and meet a cute dog.

Take Me with You!

A Dog Named Haku: A Holiday Story from Nepal

Margarita Engle, Amish Karanjit, Nicole Karanjit

Illustrated by Ruth Jeyaveeran

Written by the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate, this story tells of a Nepalese holiday to honor animals. But this particular year, the Nepalese decided to honor the service dogs that had hunted through the rubble caused by a massive earthquake. Young Alu and Bhalu hunt for a stray dog to feed, finally finding a black puppy to take home. They feed their mother’s festival treats to the dog and everybody ends up happy. The tale is simply told and introduces the reader to Nepalese customs, especially through the lovely illustrations of typical rice paintings. Teachers might use the rice paintings as a way to understand another culture and how to paint with unusual substances. The book is also, in general, a good lead in discussing other cultures’ customs. A glossary at the end explains Nepalese words used in the story, such as the children’s names. The puppy is named Haku, which means black. And other activities featured during the festival are shown.

BIBLIO: 2018, Millbrook Press/Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., Ages 5 to 9, $19.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-5124-3205-3


Don’t you just love to watch the way giraffes seem to float along the ground leading with their long necks. I believe they have somewhat prehensile purple tongues.

Wanna See my Tongue?


Valerie Bodden

What fun to read about interesting animals and look at excellent photos of them. That’s what this series of books, “Amazing Animals”, tells the reader about. This particular book is about giraffes with lots of fascinating facts. The reader might have guessed that giraffes are the tallest land animal, measuring between but might not know that they have the longest tail of any land animal and an enormous blue-black tongue that they use to rip leaves off of trees. Or that they are so tall they could look into the second story window in a house. The photographs in the books are clear and beautiful, making the reader want to linger over each shot.  The books in this series have some words in bold type to let the reader know a definition of the word is at the bottom of the page. Each book in the series has a short tale at the back. The giraffe’s story is why he ended up with such a long neck.

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Nonfiction Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-64026-203-4


One of my favorite jokes is: King Lion awakes from his comfortable bed at the edge of the jungle feeling quite refreshed and arrogant. He marches out onto the plain and spies an elephant. The lion grabs the elephant by its trunk, swirls the poor animal over his head, slams him onto the ground. “Who’s the King of the Jungle?” he roars. The elephant scrambles to his feet and, with a shaky voice says, “Why you are, sir.” Lion beats all the animals into submission and they all agree that Lion is indeed king.
That is until he grabs a little field mouse. He beats the mouse to a pulp almost taking off the poor creature’s left ear. “Who’s the king of the jungle?” Lion roars again.

The mouse shakes herself, scrambles to her feet says, “Yeah, but I’ve been sick.” Most people don’t understand the joke, but I just love the mouse’s moxy. Still, there is something so commanding in a lion’s demeanor, that they probably are considered the rulers of the jungle.

King of the Jungle?


Valerie Bodden

What fun to read about interesting animals and look at excellent photos of them. That’s what this series of books, “Amazing Animals”, tells the reader about. This particular book is about lions with lots of fascinating facts. Lions are the second-largest cat in the world. The male may be the king and be the first to get his share but he expects the female to do the hunting.  The photographs in the books are clear and beautiful, making the reader want to linger over each shot.  The books in this series have some words in bold type to let the reader know a definition of the word is at the bottom of the page. Each book in the series has a short tale at the back. The lion’s story is why he ended up being the king of all animals. Teachers can do a lot with this series, from learning the facts to helping their students make up stories.

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Nonfiction Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-64026-206-5


Until next week, the last week in February already, hope you read and/or write amazing stories. Please share those with me if you like.

The Resilience of Children

The Resilience of Children

Do you remember when you were a child you had to face hard problems? At least they seemed hard to you. And you didn’t feel you had any support from the grownups who were supposed to take care of you and comfort you.  That’s what these stories are about.  Sometimes the support you didn’t think was there actually was, but you couldn’t feel it. Most of us really aren’t alone, but then some of us are. That’s what these books are about. I wish I could comfort the children and tell them that life is smooth sailing once you’re grown. Haven’t found that to be the case.

And You Think You Have Problems?

The first book takes place in a not so wealthy west African nation—Ghana—bordered by Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Togo. Women in particular must struggle to feed themselves and their children. Their female children more often than their male siblings are expected to leave school early to help with younger children and bring in money. If a girl is raped, she is more likely to be blamed rather than considered a victim. Actually, not too long ago the same was true in the U.S.A.

Even when Your Voice Shakes

Ruby Yayra Goka

Amerley’s goal is to have her own sewing machine so she can earn a living altering and making clothes to sell. Life in Ghana is hard. She has to quit school not because she wants to, but because she’s now the main supporter for her family. Her father has abandoned the family of four daughters for a woman who will bear him sons. And her mother is pining away, seeming to take no interest in how to pay for her daughters’ education. Amerley is sent to be a servant for a wealthy family in the city, theoretically with the promise that it will be only for a year. Then the family will get her into the respected fashion design school. While she’s there, she is raped and beaten by the older son. Thanks to the family she helps out with their baby two times a week, the crime is sent to the courts, and Amerley’s abuser lands in jail. Amerley’s story resonates with other girls and young women who have been assaulted, who then speak up about their experiences. As is the case in many places around the world, the women who’ve been abused are considered to be somehow provocative and deserving of their mistreatment. There are many good teaching points in this well-written book, especially about the culture of Ghana, however, it would have been nice to have more clarity as to the meaning of Ghanian words that are used throughout the story. There is a glossary at the back, which is helpful. Amerley is taken under the wing of the woman whose baby she watches a couple of days a week and ends up becoming a lawyer.

BIBLIO: 2021, Acord Books/Norton Young Readers/W. W. Norton & Company, Ages 14+, $18.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult African Fiction

ISBN: 978-1-324-01527-7


The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on all of us. Whether or not you feel you have to follow the orders to get vaccinated or wear a mask, it has been hard to stay isolated and not interact with your friends. This applies to all of us. This book is about families in an apartment building and how they cope, or don’t cope, with the isolation. I know I have a hard time putting on a cheery face all the time. Can you imagine not having anybody to support or comfort you?

Sunny Days Inside

Sunny Days Inside and other Stories

Caroline Adderson

This is a delightful series of stories about children and their families being shut in because of COVID-19. The families live in the same apartment building and the stories are titled by the apartment number where the family lives. In the title story, “Sunny Days Inside,” sisters in apartment 4A cheer up their mother who is depressed because they have to cancel their vacation. The twin boys in 2D pretend to be cavemen children for a school project about something historical. They practice living like cavemen including making up their own language. In apartments 3D and 4B, Juliet helps her neighbor, Reo by timing him while he runs laps on his balcony. In 3C Conner discovers he misses his teacher and helps his dad overcome depression. In apartment 1C Louis helps his mom’s hair salon keep afloat by setting up a business plan where she can do “virtual” hair cuts and styling and he begins his own business to keep the family dog from being too overweight. For a school project, Jessica of 2A learns sign language and strikes up a friendship with the deaf Meena of 2C.  Together they save old Ms. Watts who becomes ill in her apartment. The final story has all the children sneak out of the building and take a walk after dark. They meet Ms. Watts relaxing after her stay in the hospital. There are a lot of good discussion points for teachers and parents to use to promote discussions about how we can all get through this ongoing pandemic.

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Grade fiction

ISBN: 9781773065724

ISBN: 9781773065731

ISBN: 9781773065724

Why Can’t Grownups Tell the Truth?

Have you ever felt that people you love and look to for support really aren’t on your side? That they are keeping truths from you? I’m sure we all have. But running away, tempting though it may be, is not the answer.

The Art of Running Away

Sabrina Kleckner

Maisie lives with her parents at the family’s art business. Dad is the painter and Mom handles the business end of things. Maisie does the initial drawings and sketches for whatever portrait has been commissioned. Maisie’s older brother, Calum, ran away several years earlier without so much as a goodbye to her. As far as Maisie knows no-one has a clue where he is. All of a sudden Maisie’s life is uprooted and she’s shipped off to Scotland to spend the summer with an aunt she didn’t know she had. Once there, she discovers that Calum has been living in Scotland and now London, England, having nothing to do with art. He comes to Scotland to see her and then she ends up running away from her aunt to stay with her brother and convince him to help the foundering family business. As usual, things don’t go as smoothly as she’d hoped. And it turns out her brother has not ignored art, but instead does artwork with his partner, Benji, by painting approved pictures on London walls. To add to all this Maisie is slower in her physical changes than her best friend. The story makes a number of good points about dealing with one’s emotions and understanding that truth is what makes us different.  Maisie and Calum end up with a plan to save the family business and heal the rift between Calum and their parents. Teachers can use the book to spark discussions about family relations and sexual preferences and the changing dynamics of friendships.

BIBLIO: 2021, Jolly Fish Press/North Star Editions, Inc., Ages 8 to 14, $9.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Grade Fiction

ISBN: 978-1-63163-577-9


Hope you all are doing well and at least being able to get a bit of your lives back to what you consider normal. I’m working on my YA novel, “Bad Hair Day”, my chapter book, “Excuse Me, Is this Yours?”, starting on a new short story for the next issue of Next Chapter Literary Magazine, and doing final revisions—I hope—on a short story titled “Thunderstorm.” Please drop me a line if you’re in the mood.  

Some Funny Stuff for You

Never lose faith in yourself or lose your ability to laugh at yourself or the world around you. After having hit you with two weeks of more serious books, I thought we’d all enjoy some more on the lighthearted side.  Happy Groundhog Day. I hope you’re bracing for 6 more months of winter weather. Though, here in Coastal North Carolina, I do hope no more snow or ice. Stay safe where ever you are. And laugh a lot.

Arnold is good with the phone. Well somebody should be!

Each of us has some kind of superpower, even we don’t think we’re anything but ordinary. For instance, there’s Arnold. I’ve grown rather fond of him.

Arnold the Super-ish Hero

Heather Tekavec

Illustrated by Guillaume Perreault

Most people feel inadequate in some way or another, but all are superheroes in their own way. Perhaps one could feel sorry or embarrassed for Arnold, who comes from a family of superheroes since he doesn’t seem to have a single extraordinary skill. He can’t lift very heavy objects like a firetruck, let alone with just one finger. Nor can he fly at lightning speed or bounce high enough to leap over tall buildings. Arnold, however, is quite good at answering the phone. But one day when the phone rings, nobody else can come to the rescue. It is up to Arnold to save the day and the city and the people. And in his small, ordinary way, he does just that. The moral of this charming story is that we all have superhero talents, even if it doesn’t seem that way. The illustrations are perfect for the story and perfect for any superhero. Teachers will be able to encourage all their students to have confidence in themselves.

BIBLIO: 2021, Kids Can Press, Ages 6 to 8, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-5253-0309-8

Bunny and his food

What kid hasn’t played with the food? Have you ever watched the “Christmas Story” about Raphie’s time of wanting a bb gun? And how his younger brother, Randy, won’t eat his dinner until his mother lets him play with it. That scene of the boy with mashed potatoes all over his face and in his hair and on his bib is hilarious.

Bunny! Don’t Play with Your Food.

Paul Schmid

Illustrated by Paul Schmid

Children and the grown-ups will find this book amusing. The children because they’ll see they’re not the only ones who play with their food and have great imaginations. Grown-ups will smile affectionately because the book will remind them of their bunnies. The bunny in question makes his carrot snack into a Bunnysaur and eats the green stuff at the top as a dinosaur might. As a tiger might, this bunny can attack a tasty “Carrotpotomus,” or defeat the evil space beings in the Carrotship or be the zombie bunny, that is until Mom orders him to just eat his food and not play with it. Bunny, of course, says he is eating. He’s just having a bit of fun while he does eat. The story would most likely encourage even the pickiest of eaters to try a new food if allowed to use his/her imagination while doing so. The illustrations are whimsical and cute. Parents could use this book to discuss how food can be fun.

BIBLIO: 2021, Andrew McMeel Publishing/Andrew McMeel Universal, Ages 3 to 5, $8.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Board Book

ISBN: 978-1-5248-6469-9

Even an elephant might forget a thing or two.

I used to have an excellent memory. My husband says he relies on me to be his “cloud,” but of late I’m warning him that his cloud is dissipating.

Edmund the Elephant Who Forgot

Kate Dalgleish

Illustrated by Isobel Lundie

The embarrassment of it all! Elephants are supposed to remember everything, right? Not Edmund. His mother encourages him to sing her special song so he won’t forget and then she sends him off to collect the supplies for his brother’s birthday party. He’s sure he’ll get everything she told him to get because he’ll sing the song she taught him. Do you think it helps? Do you think he remembers everything? Follow along in the book and see what happens. Even though his friend Colin the Cricket tries to help Edmund, things do not turn out as planned. The young elephant proudly marches off pulling his little yellow wagon sure he’s going to get everything his mother told him to, but when he reaches for his list, he discovers he’s left it at home. That’s alright, he’ll just sing the song and then he’ll remember. His brother ends up with a very unique birthday party. The reader should try to spot Colin in each picture. Teachers can use the book as a way to teach young children tricks for how to remember things. The illustrations are sweet and whimsical.

BIBLIO: 2021, Scribblers/Salariya, Ages 3 to 6, $16.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-913337-39-1


Happy Groundhog Day. I hope you’re bracing for 6 more weeks of winter weather. Though, here in Coastal North Carolina, I do hope no more snow or ice. Stay safe where ever you are. And laugh a lot.

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 ( 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: 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.