Are Bullies Always Just Mean People?

Illustrations by Irene A. Jahns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My two pages are: EARTHQUAKES at


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


I remember when my family was living in Los Angeles during World War Two, we had a black maid. Well, all our maids were black, and we always had a maid because my mother worked full time.  But this particular woman was an especially good woman. She had a son who was about the same age as my oldest sibling—my brother Richard—and she would bring him to work with her sometimes. We all were horrified when she beat him with the flat side of the butcher knife because he and Richard had gotten into a fight. But she was just doing what she thought would keep him safe from being harmed by having an altercation with a white boy. My mother explained to her that it was just two boys having a childhood fight. That Richard was probably as much to blame as the maid’s son. But this was when white and black families didn’t live in the same parts of the city and certainly didn’t go to the same schools and black people were supposed to “obey” the white folk not matter what.

My mother did try to make us understand that black people were just as important as white people, but she also was a woman of her generation and had always had maids, so we all called our maids by their first names. Naomi, Geneva, Virginia, are the names I remember. Still, we were taught to respect the people who were different from us and not just black people. We were taught to respect Asians even though the Japanese Army was responsible for the deaths of my father and maternal grandfather during the war.

Anyway, what I want to do with my blog today is note the talented authors of color who are children’s books writers, a number of whom live in North Carolina.

I’m not listing them in any particular order, just when their names come into my head.

I’m starting with Kelly Starling Lyons who writes charming stories about Jada Jones, a fourth-grader who’s finding her way in the world. but Kelly also writes picture books. The illustrations are delightful and what I like about the books is that, though Jada happens to be African-American, she’s basically just like any other fourth grader. If you ever meet Kelly, you’ll have a friend for life. Check out Kelly’s stories at her website:  

Next one who comes to mind is Carole Boston Weatherford, who writes historical fiction such as her book on the Tuskegee Airmen and biographies of people like Harriet Tubman. She currently lives in North Carolina. Her books are well written and her son’s illustrations are excellent. Carole is very engaging person and will help along other authors. Her website is:

Then there is author/illustrator Kadir Nelson who writes and illustrates books such as the one of the life of Nelson Mandela. He has also illustrated books written by Spike Lee and other celebrities. I do remember being impressed with his writing in the Mandela book, but I don’t personally know much about this author. I’ve also read and enjoyed his book on Michael Jordan entitled Salt in his Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream. The more I’ve researched him, the more of his books it turns out I’ve read.

And, of course we can’t forget the beloved Nikki Grimes who writes wonderful books when she’s not tending her roses or taking walks in her southern California neighborhood. Her poetry is lyrical and lovely, and will suck you into her stories. Her website is:

But then there are books out there by Native American writers and Asian American writers. These parts of our culture are under recognized and we should work to change that. Read their books and learn of their contributions to our so-called civilization. Though, at the moment, I’m not sure we can be called civilized.

Here are a few names I’ve run across from these authors.

A Dog Named Haku: A Holiday Story from Nepal, by Margarita Engle, Amish Karanjit, Nicole Karanjit is in part written by authors with Nepalese connections.

Nicola Yoon has a number of books out aimed at teen-aged readers. The Sun is also a Star deals with the possibility of being deported.

 I’ll do more research on other writers who don’t fit the “Lily-White” category and post them next time.  But do let me know if you’ve come across someone you’d like mentioned.

 I’m ending with a nod to my friend Kathleen Burkinshaw who wrote The Last Cherry Blossom which tells the story of her mother surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Kathleen bears the legacy of what atomic poisoning can do to one body. Kathleen just got back from speaking at the United Nations about her book. She’s another North Carolina writer.

I know most writers are sympathetic souls who believe in all of us, but let’s all try to be at least a little bit kinder. Let’s try to walk in the shoes of those of us less fortunate. I, for instance, have lived a shelter life, never having had to go hungry or have people hold me in distain because of the color of my skin. Though as a woman growing up and now old from the 1940s on, I’ve had my share of gender discrimination, at least I wasn’t denied advancement because of the color of my skin or the slant of my eyes.

Stay well and happy and pray for better times. I’d love to know what books written by authors of color you’ve read.


How Did You Get to Be the Person You Are?

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


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

Kissing Lessons: Learn from the Best

Sophie Jordan

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 9781328977076

ISBN: 9780358067412


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

No True Believers

Rabiah York Lumbard

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult Fiction

ISBN: 9780525644255


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

The Circus Rose

Betsy Cornwell

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

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

REVIEWER:  Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Early Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-32816-3930-9

ISBN: 9780358164432

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

The Excellent, the Fun, and the Eh.

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

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

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

Paris on Repeat

Amy Bearce

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader/Beginning Teenager

ISBN: 978-63163-437-6

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

The Oddmire Book Two: The Unready Queen

William Ritter

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader Fantasy

ISBN: 978-1-61620-840-0

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

Open Fire

Amber Lough

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult Historical Fiction

ISBN: 978-1-5415-7289-8

ReBlogged Post of My Interview by Joan Y. Edwards

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

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

Indians, Native Americans, American Indians, or First People

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

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

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

First Peoples: Cheyenne

Valerie Bodden

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Nonfiction Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-64026-223-2

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

First Peoples: Comanche

Valerie Bodden

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Nonfiction Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-64026-224-9

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

First Peoples: Hopi

Valerie Bodden

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Nonfiction Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-64026-225-6

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

First Peoples: Shawnee

Valerie Bodden

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Nonfiction Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-64026-228-7

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

How Not to Write a Book if You’re Manic

My usual way of writing a book is to think out the blot in my head and then write it down, editing as I go. That way I have the skeleton of the story already to roll. Then as I write down what I’m thinking I go back and catch as many errors as I can.

That’s how I wrote my first two novels, Terror’s Identity and Emily’s Ride to Courage. The process took several years each, but I had pretty clean copy to send to the publisher. Keep in mind that nobody’s perfect and errors do slip in.

As I was writing those books, I had my critique partners look at each chapter and give me ways to improve the story. Since my husband and I moved half way through the writing time, I not only had my Maryland critique group help me, but then my North Carolina group weighed in. Thanks to them all.

Also, while I was writing the stories, I did the research to make sure the stories rang true. What? You didn’t realize that fiction authors have to do research? With my first published novel, Terror’s Identity, I had the main character move from very-high-scale Lake Forest, Illinois, to not-even-close-to-high-scale Dundalk, Maryland, because I follow the old adage of get your main character into trouble and then make the trouble worse. I also had to research whether the U.S. Secret Service had anything to do with investigating terrorists groups in our country. Fortunately, one of my neighbors worked in the Secret Service and was very helpful.

For Emily’s Ride to Courage I had to research more than I already knew about horses; easier, in a way, because we were living on our horse farm and I have studied about horse almost my whole life. Still, I had to make sure I had the medical parts correct. (Thank goodness for a friendly vet.) I also had to research American medical services being provided by Army personnel in Afghanistan where Emily’s mother goes missing.

Now on to how I wrote my third novel, Earthquakes. In November of 2018 I decided to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November as part of that year’s NaNoWriMo contest. Not something a manic person should ever do. Especially someone like me who likes to edit as she goes. But I put my editing aside and plowed ahead, writing 50,235 words by November 26th. (Good thing my handsome devil knows how to cook and is very supportive of my writing endeavors.)

Then I took a couple of days to bask in the glow of having accomplished my goal and to get my heart rate down to normal. Plus getting some much-needed sleep.

The next challenge was to see how much of the story made sense, where I needed to do research. Since the story takes place in 1942 Hollywood, CA, and though I was indeed alive and living there, I was only a bit older than one year. The people in my birth family couldn’t be of much help, being either dead or extremely forgetful, I had to go to history books and the internet. I also unearthed the family photo albums.

Thanks for reading. Please let me know what you think. Sarah

Then my critique groups and said Handsome Devil, told me what was working and what wasn’t. When it was done and people had given feedback, I sent the manuscript off to my favorite editor, Teresa Crumpton of AuthorSpark. She’s never steered me wrong and is a font of advice and information.

Fast forward to October 2019 and I sent the manuscript to a small indie publishing house that promptly turned me down. In part, they turned me down because I hadn’t edited the book as carefully as I should have. Though they kindly said it was too intense for their house.

Then I sent it to Jera Publishing and they expertly formatted the story for publication and designed a dynamite cover. But the editor there has the patience of Job, since she has cheerfully made the changes I found each time I looked at the manuscript and hasn’t charged me a dime more. Even when the manuscript was sent to IngramSpark for printing, I found more errors. Now I think I’ve caught them all and the book will be a physical presence in hard copy and eBook formats on January 30th. But I will never write a book that way again. It’s best for me to plod along correcting as I go, so I’ll go back to plodding and keep the manic part at rest.

Who Are You? And Why Does that Matter?

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

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

A Pinch of Magic

Michelle Harrison

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 9780358193319

ISBN: 9780358272921

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


Natalia Sylvester

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978035124351

ISBN: 978035830806

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


Helge Torvund

Illustrated by Mari Kandstad Johnsen

Translated by Jeanie Shaterian and Thilo Reinhard

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-68137-374-4

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

A Special Book for Us All

You Call This Democracy?

Elizabeth Rusch

The subtitle of this thought-provoking book is “How to Fix Our Government and Deliver Power to the People”. Whatever your political bent this book will make you think carefully about how our system of government works and whether things could or should be changed to make it better. For instance, should we continue to have an Electoral College decide who wins a presidential race? Or should we go with just the popular vote? Would that leave the smaller states without a vote. Hope about the way we hold primaries? Do the states that hold primaries later in the election cycle without a say? Should we lower the voting age to 16 or 17? The book is full of statistics and graphs and other visuals. The various gradations of grey on the maps will be, hopefully, better defined in the final copy of the book. It’s a bit hard to discern the various gradations of gray in this advance reading copy. Take your time reading this book and be prepared to research some of her statements.  It’s the kind of book that the reader will want to tell friends and others about. It’s especially important for young people and people applying for citizenship to read, but everyone else would benefit from reading it.

BIBLIO: March 2020, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ages 10+, $9.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Non-Fiction

ISBN: 9780358387428

Did That Really Happen?

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


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

Dactyl-Hill Squad: Book Two Freedom Fire

Daniel Jos Older

Illustrated by Nilah Magruder

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-338-26884-3


Tarnished Are the Stars

Rosiee Thor

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

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

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-338-31227-0

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

The Year We Fell from Space

Amy Sarig King

Nina Goffi: Interior Art Designer

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

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

FORMAT: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 978-1-338-23636-1